The Joe Lansdale interview – The Hemingway of East Texas – Part 1

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Joe R. Lansdale – photo courtesy of Wyatt McSpadden, Texas Co-Op Power Magazine

One of our favorite writers at 1428 Elm, Joe Lansdale dropped by our offices for a chat. Join us as we talk about his formative years, Bubba Ho-Tep, Bruce Campbell and his latest venture Bubba Ho-Tep and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers comic book series plus so much more!

“Never, but never, f*** with the King.” – Elvis in Bubba Ho-Tep

Genre Breaker, Risk Taker

Joe R. Lansdale is an interesting man. As a matter of fact, he is like the Hemingway of East Texas. We have long been admirers of his work at 1428 Elm. So, when the chance came up to talk to him about his latest project, Bubba Ho-Tep and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers comic book series, we jumped at it.

A man of varied pursuits such as martial arts, he is also a genre breaking writer. In a homogenized world where it is better to blend in, Lansdale definitely stands apart from the crowd. Not one to be categorized, his writing freely moves between horror, science fiction, crime and historical stories.

He has lived a full and rich life which shines through his best works. Tackling themes such as diversity, race relations and aging he not only entertains but he makes us think. That is the hallmark of a great writer.

Get ready to delve into his formative years, his affection for Bubba Ho-Tep, the brilliance of Bruce Campbell and Don Coscarelli as well as his advice to up and coming scribes.

The Interview – PART 1

The Legend Begins in East Texas

The Legend Begins in East Texas – Courtesy of Wikipedia

1428 Elm: You grew up in the East Texas town of Gladewater. Several interesting things about your hometown is it is known for being a base for Elvis’ during the early years of his career and Johnny Cash wrote “I Walk the Line” there. This location permeates all of your stories. How did you know that you were going to become a writer?

Joe Lansdale: I always knew I was going to be a writer. Comics did it. By the time I was four, I was reading on my own.

I learned to read with them. My mother helped me. Then later I went to school and deepened the ability. I could read pretty well when I went to first grade.

Comics made me want to write stories so when I was four or five years old I was already leaning in that direction. I didn’t know that I wanted to do that for a living, I just wanted to tell stories and write them.

I found out I liked writing better than the art partly because I was better at it. It was more deeply satisfying. I had these sets of comics that were made from classic works like Crime and Punishment. They also featured Poe’s work and Mark Twain.

I started reading those and that lead me to reading the original works. At this time, television was coming into its own and Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and Tarzan movies fired my imagination.

Power of Music

Power of Music – Courtesy of You Tube

JL (Cont.): There was also music because I remember hearing Elvis Presley for the first time on the radio as well as Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. All of them played in Gladewater. These people were circulating through East Texas.

When I was a child, I would hear about all of them. There is a museum in Gladewater that is dedicated to some of those country, rock and roll and rockabilly artists. Black artists on the Chitlin circuit used to come through town too, so I learned about that.

All of those influences, music, comics, books and films collided with me and just made me energetic to be a writer. When I started reading Edgar Rice Burroughs, it fired my imagination so much that I didn’t just want to be a writer, I had to be.

1428 Elm: Would you say that your work is influenced by music to a certain extent?

JL: Oh, absolutely! I never listen to music when I write. It doesn’t work for me. I start getting too involved with it.

When I’m not writing, I listen to music a lot. My brother who is 17 years older than me tried to record at Sun Records in Memphis. He wasn’t successful but his wife went to school with Elvis Presley and she graduated with him. In a passing way, my brother knew him.

He met Johnny Cash as well. Music was in the family. My mother always wanted to become a singer. She never became one. But she was an artist so art had a lot to do with influencing me as well.

My father couldn’t read or write. We were very, very poor but I was always encouraged to pursue those paths.


1428 Elm: As with anyone who has a creative disposition, I vividly remember a story that you wrote which told about a soul sucking job that you had making chairs. Every artist at one time or another has to pay their dues. While you were doing that, how did you stay focused on your objective of becoming a writer? Any advice you can give to people so that they can keep going when it seems like they might not be able to escape?

JL: When I was working in the chair factory I was working nights while I was going through my last year of high school. We had work permits.

It took twenty minutes to get there from the school. My heart would just sink the closer I got to that aluminum chair factory. After I graduated, I worked there for the summer and then I moved on to other soul sucking jobs.

My second wife really got me to focus. I began to sell non-fiction in 1973, I wrote under my Mom’s name. Unfortunately, back then I was one of those writers that was waiting for inspiration.

That was a joke. The more you show up, the more the inspiration does. I was doing farm work and there was a time when it was really bad and my wife told me just take three months off and write.

I wrote a short story a day. So, I wrote 90 stories in 90 days. Then what I did, I took those stories and I sent them out.

Over a four-year period, I got a thousand rejections but, in that process, I began to get all the junk out of my system. They were all bad stories. Maybe three or four were reasonable.

Showing Up

JL (Cont.): I just kept writing. Originally, I used to write all day long but in time, I figured out that didn’t work for me. My advice to other writers is simply this, show up.

I show up five to seven days a week mostly seven. In the mornings, I work anywhere from one to three hours and then I’m done. I do my best work when I don’t push it too hard.

It’s rare when I don’t feel excited or inspired. There is no magic moment. You can create those magic moments for yourself.

For me, I have that high of creation every day. If I can write one good sentence, then perhaps I can write one good paragraph. What that leads to is more work.

Also read and not just in the field that you are interested in or write in. If you like crime that’s great but read all the classics that you can find like Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Joyce Carol Oates, Flannery O’Connor and Harper Lee.

I am always reading because reading is important to understanding how to write. Don’t just have the stink of a library on your work. Go out and live your life!