Interview courtesy of Justin Stokes , launchengine.io
To many readers, the name “Joe Lansdale” triggers a sense of familiarity. And it should. The prolific writer of 50 novels, 400 short pieces, numerous comic books, and even the occasional screenplay has penned works in the crime, mystery, suspense, Western, fantasy, science fiction, and horror genres, all of which contain his signature mix of grit, humor, and just a touch of the bizarre.
According to his website, “His stories have won ten Bram Stoker Awards, a British Fantasy Award, an Edgar Award, a World Horror Convention Grand Master Award, a Sugarprize, a Grinzane Cavour Prize for Literature, a Spur Award, and a Raymond Chandler Lifetime Achievement Award.” Also a member of the Texas Literary Hall of Fame, Joe may be best known for his “Hap and Leonard” series, which was adapted by the Sundance Channel in 2016 as a three-season television series.
June 22 saw the release of his latest book, “Moon Lake,” which he promises will be a wild ride for fans that ends in a “beautifully cataclysmic moment.” The book has been praised by The New York Times as “a winning mixture of curiosity, hesitancy and gumption.” Joe discusses this book, as well as some of his other works below.
What can you share about your latest book “Moon Lake”?
I think those people who like suspense or crime or mystery or… novels about nostalgia and mysterious things would be attracted to the book.
As for what it’s about… I will say that it starts with Daniel Russel, who is 13 in 1968. He’s on a bridge with his father at night, and his father is discussing with him that the water below that bridge of Moon Lake covers a town. That’s where he met Daniel’s mother, and that’s where the father’s parents lived. And that’s where he had grown up. And there is a certain nostalgia from him about what’s under the water and a sort of dark mystery about the father right there that the son is trying to figure [out], because the father and his mother are separated and [Daniel] went with the father, who is very much in love with her. Eventually, he drives them off the bridge into the lake, trying to kill them both. And the boy is rescued by a fisherman and his daughter who ends up taking him in for a time until they can find one of Daniel’s relatives.
Then, 10 years later, he gets a call from the sheriff telling him that the lake has dried up. And they found the car that his father drove off the lake and they found some of his remains and in his trunk, they found somebody else’s remains. That sets up the mystery and this investigation… Daniel Russel, who is now a reporter in 1978, decides to go there and find out what happened.
What was the genesis for this story concept?
I had read for years about these towns that were underwater—where they had dammed up something and flooded them. Because, you know, the towns are old, and they felt like this would be a better thing. And people were forced to move. They did it in Tennessee, when they did all of those projects to bring electricity and such to people in rural backgrounds. I have a friend who once told me about going to one town that they had covered up with water, and… the buildings were high enough that you could just walk across. And he said as a kid, he swam down under and he could see all the structures that had made up the town. That stuck with me.
You’re also planning on releasing a novella based on a former slave-turned-gunslinger character in some of your other stories?
Yes, that’s “Radiant Apples,” and it’s Nat Love, who was the main character in “Paradise Sky,” “Black Hat Jack,” [and] “Everything Sparkles in Hell.” And this is when he’s older and working as a porter on a train line in East Texas. That’s coming this fall.
On top of those two projects and departing from your usual releases, you’ve shared that you’ll also be releasing a book of poetry in the near future, right?
“Apache Witch and Other Poetic Observations.” I’m not exactly sure when, but it’s not long from now. I’m no poet. I mean, you know, Robert Frost is safe—and all the others! But I’m a poet enough that I think these are fun.
Some of them are dark. Some of them are funny. But a lot of them are really just stories. I always find that the best songs and the best poems are also stories. And it’s one of the things about older country music that I always liked—because they told stories. Kris Kristofferson, people like that, they wrote poems that were actually stories, revelations about characters and things. And I think that the book does that. But it also plays with just some ideas, and it plays with a lot of horror themes. It also plays with just some personal themes. It was a nice change.
You’ve been an international bestseller for years, with larger audiences in countries like Italy enjoying your work. Recently, you’ve made a push via social media to get “Moon Lake” onto The New York Times Bestseller List? What prompted this?
I want to be on the bestseller list, if I can, with this novel, because I do have some other things I would like to do. I sell really well, and I sell consistently. And, you know, unlike a lot of bestsellers, I’m not just there at the moment. I have books that go back to 1981, so I’m not hurting any. But it would just be nice to hit The New York Times list once. And also it would open up some other avenues for things that I would like to do. Because, as good as my finances are, if they were a little better, I would like to spring off on some other plans.
I’m working on some films. And it would make it a lot more comfortable for me to be able to take some time off and direct a film I’d like to direct. And we have producers who are putting money into it and paying me and my son—who wrote the screenplay based on the story of mine—on a regular basis. But I’d like to control more. That’s part of it. You know, when you bring in investors and they start saying, ‘Well, you know, we need this big star.’ …and things that you’re not going to get or if you do get are going to cost you so much budget that it’s not worth making the original, independent, low-budget film you wanted to make. So that is what I’ve got in mind. [It] is more “liberty money” to take a little bit more time to spend working on development.
Perhaps it’s because you’ve written in so many genres, but you have a very loyal fanbase. How do you keep those fans satisfied?
I love the fans, and the core fans are the ones that keep up. You know, it’s a mixed bag.
But the truth of the matter is—I don’t worry about them…The idea of trying to keep the fans never comes to me, except in the sense that if I think I write something that I will like, I’m more likely to write something honest and something that entertains me. And then, I may have a connection to the fans.
I always have a saying: “I write like everybody I know is dead.” When I’m writing, I don’t write for agents. I don’t write for editors. I don’t write for my publisher. But I don’t try to tailor it to readers’ expectations because there are too many readers for me to know who’s who and what’s what. Trying to please everybody just makes you nervous and puts the brakes on it. And you’re worried about “Who would I offend?” or “Who would I not offend?” Well, I don’t worry about those things.
I always felt if you go far enough left, you’re going to meet the far right in the back. They’re all the same people. I always use the example of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn.” The right hated it because it’s anti-racist, and the left hates it because it has an offensive word in it, and they don’t look at what it means. It’s not about the words. It’s about the intent. It’s about the context of the story, and if you don’t get that, you’re missing it.
“Moon Lake” is available now via bookstores and online retailers. For further information about Joe Lansdale—including where to find his books and the latest on his work—be sure to visit his website and social media.