Joe R. Lansdale Interview: The Thicket and Beyond!

Joe R. Lansdale, one of the most celebrated genre fiction authors of the last few decades, was kind enough to chat with Den of Geek about his upcoming novel, The Thicket, and more from his illustrious career!

If you haven’t read anything by Joe Lansdale, you are missing out on one of the most vital voices in contemporary fiction. Lansdale is a master at character, pacing, and humor, and his voice is like being told a fascinating story by a trusted uncle who sees the world with clarity and an eye for detail. Lansdale crosses genres like most people cross streets, perfecting horror, mystery, crime, and historical fiction. Fans might be familiar with his work on the Vertigo Jonah Hex mini-series and multiple episodes of Batman and Superman: The Animated Series. In this exclusive Den of Geek interview, Joe Lansdale discusses his upcoming historical novel, The Thicket, his past works, how he uses familial ties to inspire his creative process.Here is the official description of The Thicket due to hit shelves on September 10th, 2013:Love and vengeance at the dark dawn of the East Texas oil boom from Joe Lansdale, “a true American original” (Joe Hill, author of Heart-Shaped Box). Jack Parker thought he’d already seen his fair share of tragedy. His grandmother was killed in a farm accident when he was barely five years old. His parents have just succumbed to the smallpox epidemic sweeping turn-of-the-century East Texas–orphaning him and his younger sister, Lula. Then catastrophe strikes on the way to their uncle’s farm, when a traveling group of bank-robbing bandits murder Jack’s grandfather and kidnap his sister. With no elders left for miles, Jack must grow up fast and enlist a band of heroes the likes of which has never been seen if his sister stands any chance at survival. But the best he can come up with is a charismatic, bounty-hunting dwarf named Shorty, a grave-digging son of an ex-slave named Eustace, and a street-smart woman-for-hire named Jimmie Sue who’s come into some very intimate knowledge about the bandits (and a few members of Jack’s extended family to boot). In the throes of being civilized, East Texas is still a wild, feral place. Oil wells spurt liquid money from the ground. But as Jack’s about to find out, blood and redemption rule supreme. In The Thicket, award-winning novelist Joe R. Lansdale lets loose like never before, in a rip-roaring adventure equal parts True Grit and Stand by Me–the perfect introduction to an acclaimed writer whose work has been called “as funny and frightening as anything that could have been dreamed up by the Brothers Grimm–or Mark Twain” (New York Times Book Review)Den of Geek: This seems to be a setting you return to again and again. As a writer, what about turn of the century or Depression-era Texas keeps drawing you back?Joe R. Lansdale: I can’t answer that with certainty, but part of it is that my parents were older when I was born, my dad early forties, my mom late thirties. My dad was born in 1909, my mother in 1914, I believe. Their life experiences were different than younger parents, so I grew up with a different perspective. My grandmother on my mother’s side lived to nearly 100 years old, and she had seen Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show as a little girl, and had come to Texas by covered wagon.My parents had become adults during the Great Depression, as had many of my aunts and uncles, so I got stories from all of them. They are fastened up inside me, and now and again they have to come out. Also, during my youth the most popular kind of TV show, movie, or book, was the Western, and there were a lot of them. I didn’t read Western novels much until I was in my twenties, but I had a diet of them on film and TV, as well as other things, of course. Probably Science Fiction and Horror were most important to me as child, but the other was there and I loved the films, especially John Ford, and later so many others. That’s bound to have something to do with it.DoG: Can you discuss how tragedy motivates Jack Parker?JRL: Tragedy is something that can destroy a person, or inspire and motivate them. It’s that simple. There is a tragedy and a loss of parent and grandfather, but his sister was last seen alive, so he latches onto that, and along the way creates, un-consciously, a new family. I’ve noticed that my friend Andrew Vachss does that a lot in his novels as well. I like that you can have your own family, but that you can also create family. It’s not about blood, it’s about bond. DoG: Can you talk about the genesis of The Thicket? It’s always fascinating to hear about what early ideas vs. the finished product.JRL: It really was simple. What if a young man’s sister was stolen and he had to ask for help and the help wasn’t exactly what he suspected, and neither was life. It was that simple. I just started with having a terrible tragedy happen, and it came from there. I don’t plot my novels out. I let them unfold.DoG: Shorty, Eustance, and Jimmie Sue sound like fascinating characters. Can you give us some insight on their creation and/or motivations?JRL: Again, they just sort of showed up. I think I had a dwarf character in mind for some reason, had always thought I’d find that kind of character fascinating, and had written about a dwarf villain before, so I wanted to work the other end of the spectrum, though Shorty as a hero might be debatable.DoG: How do you prioritize your workload? When do you know when it’s time to mine new territory like in The Thicket and when it’s time to bring back the likes of Hap & Leonard?JRL: Personal interest. When something is finished, and I don’t feel that sort of tone or background still calling, I wait and another story shows up, sometimes on the far end of the other. I work on short stories now and then. Right now I’m writing a novel, and I paused to write a novella during it, and then went back to the novel. The other was calling a little louder than the novel, but as soon as I finished it, the novel said, Hey, what about me? I was anxious to get back.DoG: You write the most compelling antagonists. What can you tell us about the bandits that Jack and company must face?JRL: I think the heroes are only as good as the villains they meet, or as good as how they perceive the villains. We all have good traits and bad, it’s what side of the fence we come down on the most, how far we step to one side or the other, that determines which we are. We know what a villain is like because they are in us, even if we find them repulsive and wouldn’t act on that side of our nature. It’s a choice we make. A villain goes the other way. But we know them.DoG: The end of innocence seems to be a theme in many of your novels. How does Jack Parker differ from Harry Collins of The Bottoms or Jack Catcher from All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky?JRL: They differ in background and experience. Harry and Jack are more naïve, but Sue Ellen is wise, and a lot wittier than the other two. She’s more mature, as young girls often are. Harry is not a babe in the woods. He lives during the Great Depression, so he knows hardship, but in some ways he’s protected from reality, at least for a while, but he has to grow up quick. Jack is surprised and shocked into change, and when he gets out in the world he realizes that in his own way he’s been sheltered too. Not like kids now, but for a kid of that era. He is trying to save some one as well, where Harry is trying to figure out what’s going on, and later save himself, and Sue Ellen is trying to make a getaway. I like them all, and to me they are all distinct.DoG: Since the advent of social media and e-books, how is the promotion of a new novel changed? Are you reaching people that you feel you never would have reached before?JRL: I’m reaching people I wouldn’t have reached before, but I don’t know if it’s any more people than I’ve reached before. It’s in some ways harder because everyone is jumping up and down looking for attention. It’s a boon on one hand, and a curse on the other. It’s the way it’s going to be though, from now on, and you have to face it and live with it. Good and bad.DoG: What genre fiction are you currently enjoying?JRL: Actually, I’m reading a non-fiction book about the OK Corral gunfight by Jeff Guinn. He wrote a very good one about Bonnie and Clyde. My father knew Bonnie a little, so I really enjoyed that. The OK Corral, and all things to do with Western history fascinate me. Last genre novel I read was a reread, The Deep End, by Fred Brown. I love his mystery novels and have read some of them three or four times. Before that I was reading Hemingway’s In Our Time, short stories, and the genre material I was reading was all older ghost stories, mostly Victorian.DoG: May I storm the offices of HBO with a Hap & Leonard manuscript or a copy of Sunset & Sawdust and beat the executives within with it until they see that the mind of Joe Lansdale would be a gold mine?JRL: Both Hap and Leonard and Sunset and Sawdust are under option, or are in line to be optioned. Edge of Dark Water is under option, some short stories are. Hap and Leonard may be a TV series soon, and so might Sunset. Both for cable channels. Right now Cold in July looks as if it’s pretty close to being filmed. There was an announcement at Cannes Film Festival recently.DoG: What’s next for you after The Thicket? Tell us about the other bullets in the chamber.JRL: I’m working on another historical, and after that, I’m not sure. I do have a few novellas I’m going to do, and seem to be working toward doing less work. I’d also like to direct a film, but we’ll see how that turns out.DoG: Your loyal readers know why The Thicket needs to be devoured; can you give the hard sell to the uninitiated out there?  “If you love (blank) then you will dig my new book.”JRL: I don’t like comparing my work to someone else. It steals from the other and diminishes the other. There are influences in all work. The Bottoms is influenced by To Kill a Mockingbird, but it is far different than some reviewers have said. If a book takes place in that era and has a kid as the narrator it will be compared, not entirely wrongly, but it is quite different.  When I read Hemingway I see Sherwood Anderson, John Dos Passos, for example. But he’s him. I think there’s a bit of Twain in the new one, and a lot of old histories written by people of the time, and well, you name it. But it’s a novel that I like to think is strong on character, action and adventure. Our boy Jack gets help from people he doesn’t expect, and doesn’t really know, to pursue and rescue his sister from some pretty horrible people, all of this back in 1915 in the depths of The Big Thicket, a vast expanse of woods, some of which still exists. They have more than few scrapes and encounters along the way, and then they have THE ENCOUNTER. I’m very fond of it.The Thicket is released on September 10, 2013. You can learn more about Joe R. Lansdale over at his official website!Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!