MysteryPeople Q&A with Joe R. Lansdale

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Honky Tonk Samurai heralds the return of Joe R. Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard and all their friends. The redneck liberal and his gay, black, Republican buddy are now private eyes with a case involving used cars, prostitutes, bikers, and a clan of inbred psycho-assassins.

Joe will be reading from his latest and signing his substantial oeuvre at our Noir At The Bar on February 16th. Noir at the Bar meets at Opal Divine’s at Penn Field and starts at 7 PM. Joe R. Lansdale will be joined by authors George Wier, Jesse Sublett, and John Schulian.  Joe was kind enough to take a few questions from us.

MysteryPeople Scott: Other than the upcoming show on Sundance, what made you think this was a good time to return to Hap & Leonard?

Joe R. Lansdale: Hap and Leonard have been dormant for four years and it was time. The show encouraged the move, but was itching to do it anyway. Tachyon Press also has a short story and novella collection coming out titled Hap and Leonard. A graphic novel of Savage Season is in the works.

MPS: This book felt like old home week, practically every character we’ve gotten to know through the series makes and an appearance and you even pull characters from your other books, like Booger. What prompted you to catch up with everybody?

JRL: I felt since it had been awhile it was time to get the gang together. A kind of reunion novel. I wanted to define some of the characters in the Hap and Leonard universe and see how they interacted.

MPS: Like any good series that has been around awhile, you’re starting to deal with Hap and Leonard’s mortality. What have you enjoyed exploring about that?

JRL: It’s merely what we all think about as we age, but frankly that has always been a theme. I don’t age my characters as fast as I age. Leaving them about 50, but mortality is something I’ve been aware since a young age. It’s awareness is part of my drive.

MPS: This book, especially near the end when Hap and Leonard round up their allies that had a western feel to it. That’s been a genre you’ve be drawing from or down right diving into. What is it about that genre that you like to work with as a writer?

JRL: I grew up with western movies and tales about the old west, but read few westerns until I was in my twenties. I took to them like a duck to water. I think my finest two books are Westerns. The Thicket and Paradise Sky.

MPS: After all these years, what makes Hap and Leonard always worth coming back to?

JRL: I think of them as holidays, but they are also my favorites of all the characters I’ve created. They are so much me and my background, Hap in particular.

You can find copies of Honky Tonk Samurai on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Come by Opal Divine’s at Penn Field on Tuesday, February 16th for an evening of booze, books, murder ballads from Jesse Sublett, and readings from Joe R. Lansdale, John Schulian, George Wier, and Jesse Sublett. The event starts at 7 PM. 

MysteryPeople Q&A with George Weir

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

George Weir’s latest novel Errant Knight is a a comic book story via Elmore Leonard. Shelby Knight, a former cop haunted by a bad shooting, is framed for a murder. To investigate on the streets of Austin he takes the guise of The White Knight, a costume hero in full medieval armor. With the help of a drunken sensei he searches for justice for himself and others. We caught up with George to ask him a few questions about this quirky crime novel. George Wier joins Joe R. Lansdale, John Schulian, and Jesse Sublett to read and sign at Noir at the Bar. The event will meet at Opal Divine’s at Penn Field on Tuesday, February 16th, starting at 7 PM


MysteryPeople Scott: This is a different kind of story from your Bill Travis books. What prompted it?

George Wier: I suppose you’re right, this is a different kind of story than I’ve ever written. I did want it to be noir–and it is that. But what I wanted was to write a book that travels from the depths of the dark toward the light. I’ll tell you, I had a number of fans of my writing read the book well before I released it, and every one of them loved it. As for why I wrote it, let me just say that when the idea struck me, it didn’t just challenge me to write it. No sir, it dragged me kicking and screaming to the word processor. I mean, I’ve always been interested in the whole medieval arms and armor thing. But taking that and putting it into a crime novel–there was no way I couldn’t NOT write it. When I started on the book, it pretty much consumed me body and soul. It took over my life and wrote it from start to finish without interruption. It was one of the fastest novels I’ve ever written as well. I think it was no more than six weeks from start to finish.

“I wanted to convey the aliveness of Austin. It has its own drumbeat. The rhythm is distinctive, particularly at night. I wanted Austin–and particularly downtown Austin–to be a character in the book, and I wanted Shelby to be challenged by first, its size, and second, its connectedness.”

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MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: HONKY TONK SAMURAI by Joe R. Lansdale

 

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  • Review by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

When Joe Lansdale writes a Hap and Leonard novel, you know you’re in for a good time. The misadventures of the red neck liberal and his gay black Republican partner-in-crime supply a lot of laughs and action. With Honky Tonk Samurai, the boys are back and joined by all their rowdy friends.

By now in the series, Hap and Leonard are officially private eyes. Hap’s girlfriend, Brett, has bought the agency from their friend, Marvin Hanson, who is now chief of police. Their first case is for a salty old woman who wants to find her granddaughter. The clues quickly lead to a used car/prostitution/extortion ring. when the bad guys call on an inbred family of psycho-assassins to do their dirty work, the boys put out the call, rounding up their friends like good ol’ boy PI Jim Bob Luke, reporter Cason, the beautiful and highly skilled hitwoman Vanilla Ride, and Cason’s sociopath friend Booger, like the magnificent seven with fewer and weirder members.

For the fans of the series, it is like getting together with an old friend, especially the one that just got out of prison.

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2016 Preview: Back to Back Events!

  • Post by Molly Odintz

As we wait patiently for the wild mood swings of a Texas winter to die down, we’ve got plenty of events coming up to strike a mystery lover’s fancy – no matter the weather outside. Jeff Abbott ushered in our 2016 events this past Tuesday, speaking and signing his latest thriller, The First Order.

Coming up at the end of the month, Reed Farrel Coleman, a long-time favorite, comes to visit with two new books: Robert B. Parker’s The Devil Wins,  a Jesse Stone novel, and Where It Hurtsthe first in a new series and our Pick of the Month for January. He’ll be here to speak and sign his latest on Saturday, January 30th, at 5 PM.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with George Wier


George Wier is best know for his pulp influenced yarns involving Austin hired gun, Bill Travis. His latest, Murder In Elysium, is a bit more serious (although there is plenty of humor) following a West Texas sheriff who has to deal with a man returning to town after he got him out of murder charge that he thought was wrong, though many in town believed he did it. We caught up with George Weir before he participates in our May 23rd workshop to ask him a few questions.

MysteryPeople: Murder In Elysium has a much different tone than the work you’re known for. What drew you to the story?

George Wier: The idea of the question of guilt or innocence drew me in, initially. I’m from a small Texas town, originally, and the townsfolk seemed to be 1) a tad insular, and 2) opinionated. If, in their eyes, someone was guilty, then usually their minds were made up and they were already on to “bigger and better things.” It didn’t matter that they weren’t there when the thing happened, or what the weight of the evidence was one way or the other, or even the lack of evidence. If you were guilty, well, that was it. Game over, fellah! But from the point of view of the person on the receiving end of the justice system, I wanted to paint a picture of a guy who was on the inside–and I’m saying all that and trying not to give anything away, of course. I think I managed to do that.

MP: Shane Robeling is much more laconic and says fewer words than most of the heroes you’ve written. How much of a challenge was that?

GA taciturn character is far easier portray when you’re writing in first person. You get to give the character’s viewpoint without a lot of dialogue in the way, and you get to paint the bulk of the picture of the other characters through their dialogue; their interactions with the main character. Most importantly, I didn’t want Shane Robeling to be Bill Travis. Shane has the professional law enforcement background that Travis lacks. He’s an insider in that world and he drew the short straw with the FBI, and this has left him jaded him, somewhat. I wanted that to come out as well. Also, I wanted to take him from his federal cases and put him in a small town setting (such as that where I grew up) and see how he would do. In a small town, everything is far more personal. There isn’t a wall between you and the rest of the world. In a small town, you rely on your neighbors. You know them and they know you. And it’s always a surprise to find out how well they know you. I think Shane does all right in Elysium. I wasn’t so sure when I started out with him, but now I’m rather proud of him. You’re right, he doesn’t say much, and I wanted what he didn’t say to be as salient as what he did.

3. The book reminds me of Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series in the colorful deputies and townsfolk who help the characters. Was there any particular one who was fun to write for?

GThe two characters, M.L. “Mucho Love” Harper and Marlene, were my two favorites. I got to throw the kitchen sink into these two characters, even though they have supporting roles. I had so much fun with Mucho Love that I am now mid-way through the prequel, which is tentatively entitled Sentinel In Elysium. It stars Mucho Love as Elysium’s Police Chief (Shane’s role, later on), and all the action takes place in 1975, two years before the Fogel murder, which was the springboard for Murder In Elysium (even though all the action for the first book takes place after the turn of the millennium). In Sentinel, the reader gets to find out why it is that Mucho Love is no longer the police chief, and never will be again. I’m nearing the halfway point in the book, and it’s rather dark, but it’s also humorous and surprising. At this point, it’s my new favorite. Marlene is in there as well.

The town of Elysium, though, is probably the main supporting character for each of these books. In the prequel, I’m latching onto the opportunity to explain everything that’s in Murder In Elysium as far as the layout of the town and its history—how the Blitz Drive-In came about, the community college, the four-plex where the Fogel murder would eventually occur, even why the police department is no longer located in the Courthouse by the time Murder in Elysium rolls around. It’s a lot of fun. No, the town isn’t a thumbnail character sketch. This character has meat on his bones, and skin over the meat, and I did my best to give the skin some real texture. You’ll see. The book will be out, I’m thinking, sometime in May or June. I’m already planning the third book, which will be a proper sequel: the tentative title for which is Elysium Knights.

MP: What draws you to small Texas towns?

GW: I’m originally from a small town. I grew up in the East-Central Texas town of Madisonville during my formative years, and that town has left its stamp on me. I’ll never shake it. Also, there’s a good deal of mystery there. For instance (and this mystery may have long since been solved, but I don’t believe it ever was, officially), we had a firebug in Madisonville all through my childhood and into my adulthood. I believe his reign of terror lasted some thirty years. Every so often there would be a fire on the town square. First, the county courthouse burned when I was no higher than a jackrabbit. Then, spread out every four or five years, each corner of the town square would have a devastating fire. There were never, to my knowledge, any arrests for the arsons, or if there were, it never made any headlines. But…wow! I mean, you go through the town today and you may see the effects of those fires (if you knew about them) but you don’t really see it. Butlet me tell you, those effects are there. So, for me, it’s “what is going on here that nobody sees?” The short answer is, “Plenty!” That’s the real why behind Murder In Elysium. Knowing what I know, how could I not be drawn in?

MP: What is the biggest misconception about them?

GW: The biggest misconception about small towns is that the people are either slow or stupid or some combination of the two. Nothing could be further from the truth. One of the most brilliant men I’ve ever known was from a small town. His name was Paul Johnson, and he was a bird colonel in Air Force; he flew with the Blue Angels. By the time I knew him, he’d forgotten more about aviation, engineering, and physics than most people at the top of those field get to know in a lifetime, and he was still a font of hidden wisdom and he was sharp as a tack.

I think people tend to equate silence with a lack of knowledge or basic understanding. After all, the truly slow people don’t say much. But it’s sort of like looking across the surface of a tranquil pond in a pastoral setting. It looks plenty peaceful, but underneath the surface of that little lake there’s life and death struggle going on. It’s brutal and there’s a lot of motion that is unseen above. Small towns are like that. As I speak to in the book, they have a certain tempo, a beat, if you will, that you can’t detect simply by passing through. Don’t ever sell a small town or its citizens short. In a pinch you could quickly find yourself regretting it.

MP: What do you hope the reader gets out of Murder In Elysium?

GW: That goes back to the initial premise—guilt versus innocence. Nothing is cut and dry. I feel that justice doesn’t work well in the hands of human beings. Oh, we all have an innate, uncanny sense of justice, but it’s in the meting out of justice where we fall short. The death penalty, for instance, is a permanent fix for a temporary problem, and can’t be undone. A life sentence precludes the possibility of rehabilitation. Quite often, justice misfires. When it does, the effects are devastating. I wanted to plant a tiny seed, that’s all. I’m not overtly saying we have to tear it all down. I’m not saying that. But everything is subject to scrutiny. “Why” is far more important than “how.”

Thanks, Scott. Your questions, as always, make me think, and I do appreciate that. As you know, I’m basically a lazy person, and I don’t like to have to think so much, so thanks for making me articulate all of these things.


You can find copies of Murder In Elysium on our shelves, along with the rest of Mr. Wier’s oeuvre. Come by Saturday, May 23rd, for a workshop on crime writing presented by Sisters in Crime and Austin Mystery Writers, to find out more about writing from some of the most entertaining personalities in the whole detective-novel-writing world. George Wier will be presenting alongside Les Edgerton and Reavis Wortham. The workshop runs from 10 AM to 5 PM, and is free and open to the public. 

MysteryPeople, Austin Mystery Writers, and Sisters in Crime Host Free All-Day Workshop


To celebrate Texas Mystery Writers Month, MysteryPeople, along with Austin Mystery Writers and Sisters in Crime, is holding a free workshop for the public on Saturday, May 23rd, starting at 10 AM and going till around 5 PM.  Three of Texas’ top talents of crime fiction will each focus on a certain topic of writing crime fiction.


reavis worthamKicking off the knowledge at 10AM is Reavis Wortham. Reavis is a rising star in the mystery scene, due to his Red River series featuring a group of lawmen and their families in a small Texas town during the Sixties. He’ll be covering the subject of story and plot. You can find copies of Wortham’s books on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

les edgertonAt 11:30 AM, we turn it over to Les Edgerton. Les has had stints as a burglar, convict, teacher, and hairdresser as part of his rich life. He’s put many of those experiences to use in his gritty crime novels like The Bitch and The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping. He’s the perfect person to explore the relationship between protagonist and antagonist. You can find copies of Edgerton’s books on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

george wierAt 2 PM, after a lunch break, George Wier will take us through the editing process. George has made himself  an online success with his Austin “fixer” Bill Travis. His latest, Murder In Elysium, gives us West Texas sheriff Shane Robeling. You can find copies of George Wier’s books on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.


At 3:30PM there will be a panel discussion with Les and George to cover any other topics that those attending would like to learn more about. You can come in for individual portions of the workshop or stay the whole day. Books by the authors will be available for sale and signing. Join up and let these professionals teach you some of the tricks from their trade.

All MysteryPeople events are free and open to the public. Check out our newly updated upcoming events list on our blog to find out more about our summer line-up!

A Writer In Texas Is a Texas Writer: Guest Post from George Wier for Texas Mystery Writers Month

Our celebration of Texas Mystery Writer’s Month continues with an essay by one of our favorite local authors, George Wier. His books are colored with Lone Star history and attitude. Here George explains where it comes from.


A Writer in Texas is a Texas Writer


– Post by George Wier

I found out today that a friend of mine of nearly twenty years duration is from my hometown, and I never even knew him or his family from those old days. I’m from a small East Texas town you’ve probably never heard of called Madisonville. When my family left there to move to Bryan, Texas, long about the Christmas of 1973, the population of Madisonville was roughly 3,500 souls, give or take. Now, it’s about…the same, but mostly take, or so I’ve heard. I met my friend Dan on a trip to Austin back in 1996, but I would see him and his wife and his beautiful daughter quite often after moving to here permanently in 2002. I had beat a hasty retreat from Bryan and College Station. I found in Austin a people who would accept me and my rather odd creative bent. You see, I write books. I write fiction books (known colloquially in the Eastern parts of the state as “those damn lies!”). I have written far more in the last thirteen years since I moved to Austin than I ever did the previous thirty.

The one thing that I have never shaken—and never will, can you say “Amen!” brother?—is the simple fact that I’m a Texan. Molly Ivins is purported to have said, “I dearly love the state of Texas, but I consider that a harmless perversion on my part, and discuss it only with consenting adults.” Well, that was Molly all over again. For my part, there is no perversity in it. There is, instead, something fundamentally grounding. I’m sure it’s the same no matter where a person is from. I do like to think that—I like to think that everyone else feels this same hard thump in their chest, such as when the horses come by on parade and the Lone Star flutters past. Or the sense of lost longing when parted from Texas and home for more than a scant few days. Or the sense of pride when talking about Texas with people who just…don’t know.

Let me tell you something. Now, listen close. I wasn’t simply raised in Texas. I was raised on Texas. In Texas, Texas History is a subject. There are textbooks on it, and some of them are even good. But as I grew up here I found out just how much my own family had a role in the founding of this state (we were first a sovereign country, and no, we’re never going to let anybody else forget it!). But even if the Wiers had only arrived in Texas with my father or my grandfather, my feeling for the state would be the same. Here’s why. My father, Nelson Wier, was one of the original Hellfighters. He fought oil well fires alongside Boots ‘n Coots and Red Adair. He fought them all over Texas and all over the oil platforms and drilling rigs of the Gulf of Mexico. He took me to every major big city in the state before I was ten. He introduced me to Texas oil millionaires (I spent time on Silver Dollar Jim West’s famous West Production Ranch when I was just a kid, and J.R. Parten lived mere blocks from our house) and he introduced me to old black men playing dominoes in Houston’s Fifth Ward, and barkeepers in Waco, to truck drivers and insurance salesmen. He took me to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo where I met real cowboys and real cattlemen, and he took me to meet the wardens of Texas prisons. My father, you see, walked tall among the people around him. He was bigger than life. He was…a Texan.

Later in life, when I was out on my own, I drove all over the state pushing a rolling straight edge to measure the bumpiness of Texas highways for the Texas Transportation Institute, and in that capacity I believe I have been down more roads than anyone I have known, possibly apart from a fellow writer and friend who is a retired Border Patrol Agent. Since those days, I’ve been traveling on my own, whether it’s booksignings, or to visit friends, or just to see the countryside. Sallie and I range from South Padre to Amarillo, and from Texarkana to El Paso. We travel. We travel a lot. And most of our travel is here in Texas.

I have met upwards of probably a hundred thousand people at one time or another, and I’m not sure that I have a single enemy among them. All by way of saying, I know Texas, and I know Texans. But I also don’t think I’ll ever stop learning more, or meeting more people, or making more friends. Texas is simply that big, and life is too good here.

So, for me to write about anything other than Texas would mean that I would have to write…science fiction. Now don’t laugh. Science fiction is about the only thing I can write when I’m not writing about Texas. I suppose that’s what it means to be a Texas writer. You have to write about Texas. I’m not sure I can help it. But it gets worse than that. This affliction is down in the bone, where no treatment can reach. What I mean by worse, is that I live in Austin, so guess what I have to write about? Okay, that one was too easy. Austin has grown on me. It has grown into me. I could no more divest myself of Austin than I could divest or divorce myself from Texas. I love it here, and I’ve only lived in Austin for the past thirteen years.

So, when I’m writing, and I need a character, he or she is going to have a Texas name. He or she is going to have a Texas background. And you know what? That character is going to talk Texan. They’re going to think Texan, and they’re going to have a history that is nothing but Texas.

From time to time Sallie and I will discuss moving somewhere else. We really do. I have never, however, believed it would work. It would be sort of like breaking up with someone you’ve been with and gone through life with, and this pea-picking heart of mine can’t hardly take any more heartache. So, cry me a river, but I ain’t leavin’.

About my friend, Dan—I think I understand him better, now. It’s quite likely he and I saw the same things when we were little fellows. Hell, it’s likely we were born in the same hospital, albeit years apart, and if not the same room, then likely just down the hall. There aren’t many rooms or halls in that little hospital. Yeah, I think I understand him. And I think I know why he’s here in Austin. Dan plays the piano, professionally. He’s incomparable at it. I think he came to the right place.

There’s one other thing, before I close, and suppose it’s this last bit that tells the tale. There’s a level of responsibility I didn’t expect that settled upon me the moment my first publication rolled off the line and started appearing in bookstores. It was as if all of my ancestors, going back to San Jacinto, were standing there in two lines in that bookstore as I walked in to my first booksigning. Like wraiths, all presence and no substance, they stood, taciturn but faintly smiling, as if to say, “Do us proud, son. Make us mean something again. Don’t let them forget us.”

Well, daddy, and my grandaddys, and all of you old southern coots with your women on your arms and your boots dusty from the trail, I hope I have. And if I haven’t, well, I promise you, I’m working on it.


May is Texas Mystery Writers Month. Keep an eye on our blog for guest posts from our favorite Texas writers, all month long. You can find George Wier’s books on our shelves, most of ’em signed. Just give us a call here at BookPeople and we’ll set one aside.