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Kay Ellington has worked in management for a variety of media companies including Gannett, Cox Communications, Knight-Ridder, and the New York Times Regional Group, from Texas to New York to California to the Southeast and back again to Texas. She is the coauthor, with Barbara Brannon, of the West Texas novel The Paragraph Ranch.
Joe R. Lansdale has written for comics, television, film, and newspapers. He has received the Edgar Award, eight Bram Stoker Awards, the Horror Writers Association Lifetime Achievement Award, the British Fantasy Award, the Grinzani Cavour Prize for Literature, the Herodotus Historical Fiction Award, the Inkpot Award for Contributions to Science Fiction and Fantasy, and many others.
Much of his work has been adapted to film, including the novella Bubba Ho-Tep. His story "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road" was featured in Showtime's "Masters of Horror." The movie Cold in July, based on Lansdale’ book of the same name, was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
He is writer in residence at Stephen F. Austin State University, and is the founder of the martial arts system Shen Chuan: Martial Science and its affiliate, Shen Chuan Family System. He is a member of both the United States and International Martial Arts Halls of Fame. He lives in Nacogdoches, Texas with his wife, dog, and two cats.
East Texas native Joe R. Lansdale is a noted writer in various genres, including horror, science fiction, western, mystery, and crime fiction. Born in Gladewater, Texas, and now residing in Nacogdoches as writer-in-residence at Stephen F. Austin University, Lansdale has produced more than forty novels and some thirty short-story collections.
Throughout Lansdale’s career, he’s received numerous accolades—most notably nine Bram Stoker Awards, including the one for Lifetime Achievement in 2011. He was inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame in 2012. Five of his books have been adapted into films, including Cold in July (1989) and Bubba Ho-Tep (1994). Lone Star Literary Life caught up with Lansdale via email after an appearance in North Carolina.
LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE: Joe, you’re a prolific author whose work has often been adapted for film and television -- sometimes with you as the producer. How has that phenomenon informed your writing? How are the two forms different, and how do they complement each other?
JOE R. LANSDALE: When I write a prose piece I don't think of it in film terms. I write for story, character, and style. But as a fan of films, art, music -- those are all part of my interests and will influence me in a more general way. You learn things from all the mediums.
Where do you suppose the East Texas tradition of storytelling comes from? When I was a kid, I’d go visit my mother’s relatives who lived in places like Quitman, Yantis, and Sulphur Springs, in small houses in the woods, and after supper, they’d tell stories that’d scare the bejesus out of me. I recognize that gothic suspense in much of your work. How did growing up in Gladewater in the fifties and sixties color your craft as a writer?
My family had storytellers too, and they are a big influence, along with my being an avid reader and a comic book and film fan. Gladewater had its own mysteries and real events that have inspired me. East Texas is full of colorful stories, and it's more Southern Gothic than the rest of Texas.
You’ve mentioned that when you were trying to break into writing, you were working in the rose fields (I’m guessing around Tyler) and your wife was working in a meat-packing plant. Who gave you your first big break? What event occurred to make you think that you could make it as a writer?
Yep. That's what we were doing. I think my wife insisting I take three months to do nothing but write was a major turning point, but I had already been selling nonfiction so I knew I could do it. First thing I ever sent in, an article sold, so I was hooked. But there were little things along the way that pushed me forward made me convinced I could do it.
In the past you’ve discussed your martial arts style -- shen chuan, founded from all of your studies of other systems. Do you continue to modify and refine this style? Would you recommend martial arts to other writers?
I love martial arts, but everyone has to find their own passion. For me its been a lifetime pursuit and has taught me discipline, confidence, and focus. I still teach and enjoy it.
It sounds like you have a very creative family: a recording-artist daughter, a writer son, a wife who encouraged you to write when you were getting started. What can you share with us about projects in the works, and how your family collaborates creatively?
My wife is primarily the manager for me. I have agents, but she runs the home business. My daughter has her own team of managers and publicity people, but she and I often do events together. We did one in North Carolina today. I tell or read stories or discuss writing, and she sings. My son and I have written comics together, and my daughter and I have written fiction together. My brother John and I have written comics, and he has written comics on his own. My wife and I have collaborated. We cross paths in our work a lot.
How has teaching writing changed since you started? And has the changing nature of Amazon, e-books, self-publishing, and hybrid publishing influenced your teaching? Where do you weigh in on the question—can writing be taught, or is talent inherent? How have students changed since you began teaching?
Writing is still the same. Read a lot and write regularly. I think you can awaken and sharpen talent, but you can't give someone the ability or the drive to achieve success as a writer. Creativity is somewhat inborn, but most of it is love and dedication to the craft.
Do you think it’s harder, or easier, for writers to break in these days, and why?
It's always been hard, but there were a lot of markets when I started, but far less than a generation before. However, TV and games, as well as self publishing offer markets. Self-publishing however anyone can do. There's no governor on that, and most self-publishing ventures end up in storage. Exceptions for everything, of course.
What’s a typical day for you as the writer-in-residence at Stephen F. Austin?
I'm only there when I teach, and for the last three years travel and film have made it impossible. I usually teach one day a week when I teach, and for several hours. I tend to know my subject matter, so there is not a lot of preparation. Reading manuscripts is the most detailed part of it.
Which Texas writers do you admire or read?
A lot of [Larry] McMurtry, especially up to Lonesome Dove. James Lee Burke writes about Louisiana and Montana mostly, but he's from Texas.
So tell us, Joe, what is your quintessential Texas meal -- the one that you must have, after you been away for a while?
Ice tea is the main thing I miss. I like tortilla soup and now and again a ribeye steak.
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Lansdale's next novel, Paradise Sky, is due out from Mulholland Books in June 2015.
"Paradise Sky is a rowdy, funny, suspenseful, and often quite moving yarn."—Booklist (starred)
"This fast-paced Western with its multicultural cast of characters is a winner."—Library Journal (starred)
"How did Deadwood Dick get his name? Readers can learn this, and a whole lot more, in this picaresque Western from a master of the form...Paradise Sky goes down smooth and easy as a vintage sarsaparilla."—Kirkus
"Reading Joe Lansdale is like listening to a favorite uncle who just happens to be a fabulous storyteller."
"Too often overlooked in American literature is that lineage descending from our early humorists such as Bierce, and from Twain: regional, darkly comic, bizarre. That's where Joe Lansdale lives. He's very Texan, very American, very funny--and a stone brilliant writer."—James Sallis, author of Drive
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