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Interview with Joe R. Lansdale 2012

author, Joe R. Lansdale

American author, Joe R. Lansdale, has written over thirty novels, numerous short stories and has won numerous awards across various genres. His work has appeared in national anthologies, magazines, and collections, as well as numerous foreign publications. Quite a back story in its own right and, having read his latest outing, Edge of Dark Water (Hodder & Stoughton), it easy to see how success has come his way. Set in Depression hit Texas, the novel is one of coming of age, discovery, violence and reconciliation that is – to say the very least – powerful. Here, the author takes time out to chat with Chris High.

What is it about this area of America that inspires you to write?

This part of the country is what I know best. It’s different than the rest of Texas. More Southern, but it is in many ways it’s own thing, large enough for a small country, and varied enough as well. I know the people here, I know the terrain, and in some ways I know the past I never lived because it hasn’t changed that  much, until recently, and I know my parent’s pasts, because when I was growing up I heard a lot about it. They were older parents when I was born. My brother and I are about seventeen years apart. So my parents went through the Great Depression, and my brother was a child then, stories got passed down.

And, similarly, why set Edge of Dark Water in 1930’s America and are there, in your opinion, any similarities between that period of history and today’s America?

I think we are having a period where people are scared of the financial situation, but I must hasten to add that this is nothing compared to what it was like then. You ended up without a home or money, there wasn’t any job relief money. You were on your own, completely. Families had to watch out for one another, you found out who your real friends were. That’s kind of what this book is about as well. Because when your family isn’t dependable, you create your own family.

Edge of Dark Water is both beautifully time-and-place driven and, also, beautifully characterised. What is it that comes first for you, the story or the people who relate it?

I think the river came to me because I grew up on that river. In some ways a river is timeless, or near so. The Sabine is not a mighty river, but it is a long river, and it is the Kingdom of the Snake, not to mention alligators. The river is where people go to fish and hunt along its wooded banks, and it’s where some people have dumped bodies and weapons and all manner of trash. It’s a microcosm for humanity, and that’s a pretty mixed bag. So the river was first, and then the time period, and then the characters just sort of showed up, ready to go. I don’t plot or plan ahead that much. Once I sort of get the nudge on a story it’s more of a feeling than an exact character or event. I get that nudge, and then I just get up in the morning and it’s there. Some stories come quicker and easier than others, but most seem to be lying in wait to ambush me when I get up in the morning. It’s pretty much always been that way, or at least it was after the first few years.

Sue Ellen is the narrator of story but, equally, Terry, Jinx and Helen add their own particular strengths to events. Was it difficult writing in a predominantly female voice?

You know, I felt at home. I grew up with a strong woman. My mother. My wife and daughter are strong women, so I felt comfortable writing from her view point. My father was great as well, and he’s been the model for many things I’ve written, or at least part of who he was. But in this one I was eager to write from that view point. It’s not the first time, actually.

The men in the novel are far from innocent. Was this always the intention?

I have written from many perspectives, good men and good women, but I wanted to sort of show how a strong woman dealt with adversity that was often masculine in origin, and to show how a not so strong woman, Sue Ellen’s mother would do under those circumstances, what the trip would do for her. I certainly wasn’t man bashing, as I am one of the group. But I thought it was an interesting way to go at it. When you get right down to it, the women in some cases in the book, one who has a major role, were not all good and strong. They had their defects. All the characters did.

Do you enjoy the process of researching, writing and editing your stories?

I enjoy writing and researching but most of my research happens when I don’t know I’m doing it. I read and study what interest me, and later it may show up somewhere. I might have to go back and reference something, but I sort of just absorb it. I think a lot of writers are like that. I don’t love editing, and I try to do most of that as  I go. I do one draft and a polish. If I were to look at the draft and see there was a big problem, then I would do another draft, but it doesn’t work that way for me. Some of the proof editing can wear you down, just because you have to rethink things, but that makes a better work. It’s mostly spelling and goof ups then, and a good in house proof reader can keep you from looking like an idiot. A bad one can just make you angry all day. I know the language of people here, and it does set me off a bit when they try to tell me how people ought to talk when they don’t know how my people talk.

Do you have any particular superstitions or routines when it comes to your writing?

Not really. I prefer to work mornings, and I like to do it not too long after I get up, take out the dog and have coffee, answer email and check my fan page on Facebook, and then I take my vitamins and write. I write about three to five pages a day, unless I’m having a big day, and I have a number of them, and I usually for three hours or less. I do like to wear the same kinds of slip on shoes when I write. But that’s comfort, not superstition. I can write in any shoes. I write five to seven days a week most of the time. Sometimes I take the weekends off. Holidays are optional.

What are the three most valuable pieces of advice you’ve been given when it comes to writing and what is the most difficult obstacle facing aspiring authors today?

I don’t know if it was advice, or just something I picked up over the years. Maybe there is one thing I did get in advice from a lot of writers. I never met a writer until I had been doing it for years, but I read where a number of them said have a set time and place to write and do it. That’s one piece of advice, and I believe that. To hell with the muse. You create your own muse by practice. It boils down to put your butt in a chair and write. The other one I would say is absolute. Read, read, read. And not just in the area where you want to write. And finally, only write if you would do it for free. I love making money at it, and I have a business side, and I have agents for books and film, and I listen to them until I don’t. Because I got into this primarily to enjoy myself and do what I feel I must. Write. I make a living, and will do what is necessary to make a living, but mostly what I’ve found to be necessary is wanting to do it, and loving it. That’s the main thing, don’t do it if you don’t love it. Read, have a regular time to work, and write.

What are you currently reading, which book have you read and enjoyed most recently and what do you do to relax in between writing?

I am rereading Hemingway’s short stories. I often read them between novels to clear my palate. I’m reading from In Our Time right now. I also have those stories in The Complete Stories of Ernest Hemmingway, but I just like handling that little book, easier to read, and it has a number of my favourite stories by Hemingway in it. Not all of them, but a number. I like the way he writes more than I like what he writes about, but these stories, especially those about Nick Adams I like both the story and the subject.
What’s next for Joe R. Lansdale and can we expect to see you in the UK any time soon?
I’m preparing to start a new novel. But I don’t talk about works in progress. I don’t like to do outlines and extremely detailed synopsis. I like to feel the story first, and then I let it out of my skull.


If you would like to comment on this interview with author, Joe R. Lansdale 2012, please feel free to contact me - GUESTBOOK

“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit.” - Chris High 2003.
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