Q&A with Joe Lansdale

If you’re a fan of Joe Lansdale’s Hap & Leonard, get ready to be happy for a long time. A new novel Rusty Puppy is out (which Joe will be signing and discussing February 23rd along with author Kathleen Kent), followed by a limited edition novella, Coco Butternut, and a
mosaic novel dealing with their early years, Blood And Lemonade, coming in March about the time when the second season of Hap & Leonard on The Sundance Channel. We caught up to Joe to talk about some of the projects, his characters, race, and political correctness.

9780316311564MysteryPeople Scott: Rusty Puppy is one of your best plotted novels. There are times when even Hap and Leonard find themselves surprised that they are thinking like private eyes. Did you have it mind to write a more traditional detective novel?

Joe Lansdale: Thank you. I don’t always think so much of plot lines as I think of story lines, and to some extent, they are different but can overlap. A story can grow naturally out of situations, not clockwork mechanisms, so I try to write plots that seem to be solutions to the events, not manipulations of the events. Sometimes it’s a bit more of one than the other. I do like a clockwork plot from time to time, but Hap and Leonard are usually a lot more free willing. I think this one seems more plotted, and I’m glad it works for you. I like to mix up my approach on the Hap and Leonard novels. Series are hard, because for them to be successful you have to ring certain bells already rung, and yet you have to try and make it feel fresh. Not always possible, or as satisfactory as you would like. You want the characters to remain the characters, but I’ve written Hap and Leonard as adventure novels, mystery novels, character pieces, road novels and even creepers, and sometimes all at the same time. Frequently, in fact.

MPS: The book deals with the subject of police corruption, especially with minorities. What did you want to address about the subject?

JL: I have addressed it before, so there was nothing new about that. It just came up at a time when we’re seeing a lot more of that. Sometimes I think there’s a backlash of racial hatred that’s trying to undue all the good the civil rights movement has done. I especially find it ridiculous to think minorities have undermined the white class. I’m white, and
I’ve never felt it worked against me, and still done. It’s been an advantage, and maybe too often, too much of one. Racism is a constant them in much of my work.

MPS: Some of the best moments in the book are with Leonard arguing with Reba, a foul mouthed little girl in the projects. Can you give us a rough idea how a character like that comes into being in your work?

JL: Usually it’s someone I’ve encountered, maybe in passing, and I extrapolate. In this case Reba kind of grew full blown, but I’m sure their are influences I’m unaware of. With me so much comes from my own life and observations of others.

MPS: Elmore Leonard said he found it difficult not to picture the actors who played characters he wrote when he went back to using them in another book. Craig Johnson says it’s the same guy he’s always written about. How has it been with you and Hap and Leonard after the first season of the show?

JL: Same guys I have already written about.  I can visualize them as the actors for about five minutes, and then they become my vision. They have been with me too long, and the TV show violates some of the character’s major characteristics. I don’t. I love the show, but
little things like that make me wince. Overall, I try to influence when I can and pass when I can’t. Sometimes TV and Hollywood want the writer to go somewhere and die off quietly, because they know the writer knows more about their characters than they do. My dislodge may not be the best, but it’s the best for my characters, and so on. That said, I am overall very pleased with the series, and it has increased Hap and Leonard sales, and if the series continues for awhile, that should increase. Sundance TV is a fine channel, but it doesn’t have the viewership of some, and I like to think Hap and Leonard might just
help that change. They are owned by AMC, and AMC is doing a lot to promote the series.

MPS: Following Rusty Puppy, you’ll have two other Hap & Leonard projects, a novella, Coco Butternut, and a mosaic novel Blood and Lemonade. How would you best describe Blood and Lemonade?

JL: Well, a Mosaic novel is a fancy term for short stories that have the same characters or world in mind. I love Blood and Lemonade. It’s about Hap and Leonard, especially Hap, when they were young. I think it might be the best of the Hap and Leonard books in a way. I think Rusty Puppy is one of the best Hap and Leonard books, as well. I think the big difference is I pulled it in and returned to its closer crime roots, not as broad. Doesn’t mean I’ll stay there, but for awhile that’s where I’ll be. It’s time to change back a bit, but at some point it may be time to change more. Some characters might change or die, or the type of story I want to tell might change, but they will always be Hap and Leonard. Some of the more outrageous stories with those guys are actually based on real stories in the news, and it can surprise you how much wild insanity is actually out there. Coco Butternut was a kind of one off humor and adventure piece. It’s one of the elements in all of the novels magnified. Hoodoo Harry is a long short story that is out now from Mysterious Press, and is more crime/mystery oriented. A ebook long story will come out later in the year, and it’s titled Cold  Cotton.

MPS: I couldn’t help but thinking most of the stories of adolescent Hap were autobiographical. How close am I to being on the money?

JL: You are very close. Some are not, but most are, and those that are not have autobiographical elements.

MPS: In politics and and other places the term “politically correct” has been used and misused to say some pretty offensive things to certain people. As somebody who writes books that have never been politically correct, but I don’t see offending someone for who they are (unless they are a racist jug head), where do you see the line?

JL: Politically Incorrect doesn’t mean you get a pass to be an asshole, but in novels you present characters as you see them. They may not be politically incorrect, but assholes, and that’s how you’re supposed to see them. It’s the way people use the term satire these days. Say something offensive and they call it satire. Satire has a point in mind, and not just meanness. My characters when they are political incorrect are meant to be a certain kind of character, and you can use the idea to present satire, irony, etc., or to capture how I hear people speak, and often people who would be misunderstood by others who didn’t know them.

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