Joe R. Lansdale is the author of over thirty novels, several short story collections, essays, plays, screenplays and teleplays for Batman the Animated Series. His latest novel is Vanilla Ride from Knopf. (Photo by Alex McVey)
Charles Tan: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. I’ve heard you describe your fiction as “Joe R. Lansdale” fiction (as opposed to any specific genre). Could you elaborate more on that?
Joe R. Lansdale: I try to write stories that come from me and are not of any particular school. It’s what I think all writers who care about their work do. Like writers who have written a lot, the material can vary, but I try to have a level I never fall below.
JRL: They asked, and the books had been out of print for awhile. The third one had only seen small press print. I thought it was time. I love the way it was packaged.
CT: What is it about the drive-in as a concept that fascinates you?
JRL: I grew up during the hey dey of drive ins, and was still going during their decline. They were original family entertainments, but turned to teenagers who frequented them most, due to the growth of teenagers during the baby boom. There was disposable income, more than before WW2, and it was a place kids could hang, and have private time with dates. For serious discussion of the films, of course. Ha. Also, movies were being made with just teenagers in mind, and they worked well at drive ins, and in time, that was who it catered to more. They had dusk to dawn events, special events, etc. But originally, it was for famlies, and even had a playground up front for the smaller kids to play on while the movie, or movies, were shown. Nearly always a double or triple feature.
CT: What made you decide to write sequels to your Drive-In series? What is it like visiting them again after all these years?
JRL: I wrote the second one because I had material left over that I didn’t include in the first, and the rest of it grew as I wrote. I wrote the third years later because I wanted the whole thing to become more mystical and baffling and interesting. I think the first will always be the best because it was the first. I hated writing it and the second one, but loved writing the third. The first two were hard to do. Reading them doesn’t take long, but writing them–though both were written quickly–was hard because for all their humor, they are really very dark novels. I consider all three of them serious satire. Each has the same voice, but a different intent.
JRL: Well, that’s been over twenty years, and probably twenty-five years since the idea first occured to me. Some of the ideas appeared in an article I wrote for Twilight Zone Magazine before it became the first book. There’s a kind of raw enthusiasm that’s there; I’m not aware of what could go wrong, and I had a contract to fullfill and thought I was writing the worst kind of loser. When I reread it in galleys I was very happy with the results.
CT: What were the challenges in writing The Drive-In books?
JRL: I was going through a transition as a writer. I had broken out into my own style, my own approach in 1986, and these were follow ups. I was living on a shoe string compared to now, had two babies and bills to pay, and a lot of ambition. I still have the ambition, and I still have the bills, but the kids are grown up.
JRL: I love them all, really. Short stories are my favorite, but I love novels as well. If I had to write one and could make a living at it, I’d write short stories. I seem to be moving back to a more plot driven kind of novel now, where before I was more idea and style and character driven. NOT that I don’t intend to keep those elements. But the stuff I’ve written, a lot of it, the best of it, was more style and experimental. The experimental is not always blatant, but it’s been there.
JRL: I love ERB, and he was the most important writer I ever read because he fired my imagination and made me want to write. I already wanted to do it, but he made me so excited about the possibility that I couldn’t do anything else. It was an honor to complete the novel. I tried to be Burroughs like, without being a mockingbird. It was fun. But I didn’t want to be a mimic. There is only one ERB, and I didn’t want to pretend to be him.
CT: You’ve also edited several anthologies in the past. What made you decide to pursue editing? Has the experience had any impact on your fiction?
JRL: I edited books I wanted to read. I like it, but it can be wearing. I’m doing more, but I may curtail it for awhile. I go years, then get the bug, do a few, then stop. You do refresh yourself by reading other stories with an editorial eye.
CT: As a professional writer, what are the challenges in making a living out of it?
JRL: You have to give your work regular exercise, and you have to produce. Sometimes that can wear you, but I have so much fun I think the work is fun for the readers. I don’t expect to be universally admired. That’s stupid. I write as well as I can each time out. Some times I’m writing better than others, but it always has my stamp.
CT: Anything else you want to plug?
JRL: Watch for Devil Red next year from Knopf, and All The Earth Thrown To The Sky from Delacorte, the latter is a Young Adult novel. Also, By Bizarre Hands Rides Again is forthcoming, and is limited. It’s my first collection with some new material in it.