Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Look At Joe R. Lansdale

Since I’m still a little bit over the moon about meeting Joe Lansdale, who is something of a hero of mine, I thought I would revise and republish something that originally appeared on another site. So, here goes:

It’s always hard for me to pin down just who is my favorite author. It changes from day to day, and varies with my mood. But no matter when I consider the issue, there’s always one name at or near the top of the list: Joe R. Lansdale, his ownself.

Lansdale’s work is an interesting combination of the fantastic and the everyday grind. In some areas, he has written books that could be considered transgressive, although that tendency has waned in recent years. Originally he was lumped in with the splatterpunks (although he personally rejected the inclusion), a number of gifted young writers in the eighties who produced some extreme horror stories, but his recent output has been more concentrated in the genre of crime fiction. He retains a gift for very outré violence, and there is a macabre humor to most of his work. His best work, I think, has been in short stories. The must reads of his short fiction would include:

“Night They Missed The Horror Show”
“Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Man’s Back”
“On The Far Side Of The Cadillac Desert With Dead Folks”
“The Big Blow”
“Mad Dog Summer” (the basis for the novel The Bottoms)
"The Events Concerning A Nude Fold-Out Found in a Harlequin Romance”

The best source for these would be the following anthologies:

High Cotton
By Bizarre Hands
Writer Of The Purple Rage
Bumper Crop

Lansdale is best known in long form as the author of the Hap and Leonard novels, of which there are seven at this writing. The best is the first, Savage Season. It contains the same dark humor, but the violence quotient is much higher. This was only widely published as a paperback original, and is long out of print. If you find it, it has a distinctive cover: a hand with a nail through it. A new Hap & Leonard novel will be out in 2009.

Other novels of note:

The Drive-In
, Parts 1 and 2 – A gonzo story of people trapped at a supernaturally possessed drive-in. Weird and wonderful.
The Nightrunners – An early horror novel, with somewhat crude technique, this was partly responsible for the “splatterpunk” movement of the 1980s
Lost Echoes – A crime novel with a little of the supernatural, very well done. Read a review by an idiot here.
The Magic Wagon – A western of sorts, it involves a traveling medicine show, Rot-Toe the wrestling chimpanzee, and the mummified body of Wild Bill Hickok.

There have been a couple of notable screen adaptations:

Bubba Ho-Tep – Elvis and JFK are in an old folks home, having faked their deaths (and, in JFK’s case, being turned black) when the residents are stalked by a soul-sucking mummy. As weird as it sounds, but a cult classic. Supposedly a sequel, Bubba Nosferatu and the She-Vampires, is on its way, although the original creative team has bowed out due to creative differences, and Lansdale is no longer connected to it.
Incident On And Off A Mountain Road – Showtime adapted this short story about a woman fleeing an abusive husband who runs into a greater menace for the Masters of Horror series.

Hope this leads someone to a great but underappreciated author.

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