IF YOU LIKE JOE R LANSDALE…

When the term “Texas writer” comes up it’s hard not to think of Joe R. Lansdale. His voice, humor, and knack for entertaining make him one-of-a-kind, but here are some that come close for that Lansdale fan you may be holiday shopping for.

Tim Bryant – A former student of Joe’s, Tim Bryant has turned his unique voice toward his series character private detective Alvin “Dutch” Curridge, whose beat is postwar Fort Worth, brought alive by its music and people (First Book- Dutch Curridge). He also has a couple of great westerns featuring John Wilkie Liquorish a psychopath who becomes a hero in The Flashman vein. Bryant has colorful characters to spare and one hell of a voice.

Frank Bill – Much like Joe Lansdale, Frank Bill uses the vernacular of his region, Southern Indiana, as a part of his tales of crime and violence. His short story collection, Crimes in Southern Indiana, and Donnybrook, a novel of several ne’er do wells on their journey to an illegal fight competition, not to mention it’s apocalyptic sequel The Savage, which will unsettle you in the best way.

Ralph Dennis- Dennis created the Hardman series in the seventies. Its lead, Jim Hardman, was a disgraced ex-cop working the mean streets of Atlanta as an unlicensed PI with his more able-bodied back up, ex-NFL player Hump Evans. Gritty and blue collar with great banter between the two men, this series served as an influence on Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard.

One Brings Knowledge, the Other Brings Enthusiasm: Interview with Joe & Kasey Lansdale

Joe Lansdale has written several short horror stories featuring Dana Roberts, an investigator in the supernatural. Later on his daughter Kasey joined him on the stories that have Dana team up with her character, Jana. They recently released a collection of all the stories, plus a new one in Terror Is Our Business. Joe and Kasey will be at BookPeople August 23rd at 7pm to discuss and sign the book. We got to ask them a few questions early about working on the stories and together.

MysteryPeople Scott: How did the character Dana Roberts come about?

Joe Lansdale: I was reading some old style ghost stories, and stories involving psychic detectives like Carnaki, Jules De Grandin, John Silence, thinking about The Nightstalker TV show, and I thought, you know, I’d like to write something like that, but in the older more “sober” tradition, as that wasn’t commonly in my wheelhouse, so I wrote a couple stories about a modern supernatural detective, she calls herself a detective of the Supernormal, meaning that she believes all things have a rational and scientific answer, even if we don’t know what it is yet. She’s a bit stiff as a character, in the old tradition, and I liked her quite a bit. I think both of the original stories were picked up for Best Horror of the Year, and I thought, okay, that’s it. But I had the urge to write a couple more, and did, one for an anthology Kasey edited titled Impossible Monsters. Later on, Kasey and I wrote a story together for a Chris Golden anthology, and Jana was born. She didn’t have a connection to Dana, but later we decided to put the two together. And truthfully, that overly sober Dana was wearing me out. I wanted some spice. Dana had that. She was a lot like Kasey, and Kasey came from a horror background, but like me, her interest are broader, and in fact, she was more excited by what is often called Women’s Fiction. I hate the term Chick Lit, as that designates the origin of the usage, which is that women are like hens, running around without design or purpose. But hey, there it is. We blended the ideas, with Kasey taking the helm and me pulling up the sails on that ship.

MPS: How did the stories change when Jana appeared on the scene?

Joe: They got funnier, more irreverent, less serious, at least from Jana’s viewpoint they were. They were still the same sort of stories, but Jana became the narrator. I think it made Dana more interesting to have Jana observe her and comment on her.  Dana is the master, and Jana is sort of the sorcerer’s apprentice.

Terror Is Our Business: Dana Roberts' Casebook of Horrors Cover ImageKasey: When Jana came in the picture, it felt like a natural transition, closer to the way dad and myself usually see things. Darkly humorous. It seemed like Jana’s existence allowed Dana to lighten up some, and find a middle ground with one another like real relationships of any sort do.

MPS: What do you think each of you bring to the stories?

Kasey: I think the female prospective has always been something my father is good at, but it was fun focusing on things that were from my point of view, in my current consciousness in certain instances. I think Jana allowed the humor to come in a little more since Dana was written intentionally stiff.

Joe:  One brings knowledge, the other brings enthusiasm.

MPS: Are there any particular authors who influenced the stories?

Joe: I mentioned my influences for this type of story in the first question, but to pin it more, William Hope Hodgson, Algernon Blackwood, Seabury Quinn, and Richard Matheson’s original Night Stalker script, which established the character. There were others here and there.

Kasey: For me there wasn’t a particular author I was channeling, more the character of Jana kept calling for me to tell her own story. I felt very character driven with these stories.

MPS: These kinds of tales partly rely on an eerie mood. How do you approach that aspect of the writing?

Kasey: I think for me I just imagine the things that I find eerie. What are the things that make me uncomfortable and scared in a good way, and then try to channel that into the stories.

Joe: With me it’s something that has seeped into my bones since a child. I’ve read a lot of this stuff, and all manner of fiction. I learned by reading, absorbed it.

MPS: What makes them worth coming back to?

Joe: I did it out of nostalgia, but when I did, I began to learn lessons all over again. They’re more severely plotted than a lot of my work. The ones I did alone I didn’t plot out, but my internal knowledge of the stories plotted them as I wrote. When Kasey and I wrote together, we had some discussions, laid out some basic plot lines, thin, but directions. Otherwise, working together, we were riding our horses off in all directions at once. That doesn’t work too well.

Kasey: I think the relationship between the two characters is really the key. The juxtaposition of these two women is really what I am drawn to. I know women like both of the characters, and in some ways I am like both of them, though admittedly more like Jana. It’s about watching them both grow as individuals and as a team, and seeing how even very different people can come together for the greater good.

MPS: Do you see a novel length investigation for Dana and Jana?

Joe: We’ve discussed it. It may be in the cards.

Kasey: We definitely see more adventures for these two in the future. The response has been tremendous, and I enjoy getting to do work with my dad.

Interview with Joe Lansdale

CrimeReads, the new crime fiction site, spun off by LitHub and partially overseen by our former Director Of Suspense, Molly Odintz, has been getting a lot of attention in the past few months. Recently, they asked MysteryPeople’s Scott Montgomery to interview his friend Joe Lansdale. So, hopped up on medicine for Cedar Fever, Scott discussed politics, religion, and writing. Check it out if you dare to know the results.

 

 

3 Picks for October

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October is here, and as the weather cools, the end of the year stealthily approaches. But 2014 still has plenty in store for us, this month especially. Here are the three MysteryPeople picks for this month:


 

thicketThe Thicket by Joe Lansdale

One of the best from 2013 is finally coming out in paperback. At the turn of the last century in east Texas, a young man hires a bounty hunting dwarf, an African American tracker, and their hog find the outlaws who took his sister. Peter Dinklage just bought the rights to turn this into a movie. Full of humor and adventure, this book is loved by everyone who has read it.

 


final silenceThe Final Silence by Stuart Neville

Neville’s latest with Belfast police detective Jack Lennon. Lennon is asked by a former lover to look into go off the record to look into eight possible murders that may have happened and could compromise her politician father. Neville is a skilled storyteller who looks at the sins of his country with an unflinching and entertaining eye that becomes universal.

 


prison noirPrison Noir by Joyce Carol Oates

This may be the darkest book of the Akashic Noir series. The short stories, most written by current and former inmates, all take place in our country’s incarceration facilities. These are looks into life without freedom, both well written and unflinching.

SHOTGUN BLAST FROM THE PAST: They Don’t Dance Much by James Ross

they don't dance much
I came by James Ross’ They Don’t Dance Much when it was recommended to me by Joe R. Lansdale. Daniel Woodrell had suggested it to him. Even Raymond Chandler was a fan. Last year, Mysterious Press came out with a reprint of the novel (including a forward by Woodrell). The book shows that rural noir could be just as mean, nasty, and engaging as it is now, possibly more so.

Our narrator is Jack McCall. When is his farm goes bust, Jack throws in as a manager with Smut McCall, the charming local bootlegger, who opens up a road house. Smut’s saviness and ambition are only outmatched by his lust for the wife of the town operator, who he sees as often as he can. When Smut pulls Jack into a crime, holds out on his share of the profits, the two play a cat and mouse and mouse scenarios that out Tom & Jerry to shame.

The book is a mix of Chandler and James Cain soaked in Southern barbecue. The prose style grabs you from the first paragraph, makng Jack’s dialect and manner as its style. Much of the suspense is built through his desperation. Ross gives us detail in the day-to-day business (both legal and not) of running that road house, showing the constant moral compromises these men make and thier justifications. It’s not a shock when murder is treated indifferently.

They Don’t Dance Much is more than just a look at one of the first rural noirs. it’s an involving, seedy tale of compromised men who become thier own undoing with enough twisted humor to satisfy a Lansdale fan. Read it and you’ll recommend it.

Book to Film Review: COLD IN JULY by Joe Lansdale

cold in july
Book To Film Review: Cold In July by Joe R. Lansdale

Cold In July, one of Joe Lansdale’s first crime novels, has recently been turned into a film released in select cites and On Demand. When I saw the moody vampire movie Stakeland by the filmaking duo Nick Danci and Jim Mickle (Danci directs, Mickle acts, they both write the script), it looked like they could handle Joe’s dark East Texas world. The film proved they could.

The film starts out much like the book. Everyman, Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall), shoots an intruder in his house. The perp’s father, Russel, played like a snake always ready to strike by Sam Shepard, has just got out of prison and stalks Dane and his family Cape Fear-style. If that wasn’t enough, when Dane sees the photo of Russel’s son, it isn’t the man he shot, although the shady sheriff (Micklel) insists otherwise.

From there on out, we get twists, turns, and reversals aplenty. This is where Mickle and Danci had their work cut out for them in the adaptation. A few of those twists, including one very major one, are the kind that often work better on the page than on screen. Lansdale’s style and use of interior monologue have us buy what is hard to sell if it was just played out in front of us. Danci and Mickle make a few changes that make it both plausible and fitting in tone with the novel.

It’s after that major reversal when we get into full gear with some help from Don Johnson. He plays Jim Bob, a good ol’ boy private eye and pig farmer brought in to help out. He plays him with a laid back bravado and good natured swagger fitting the character. You’re always looking forward to him speaking. Johnson may have been born to play Sonny Crockett, but he was supposed to grow up to be a Joe Lansdale character.

Cold In July satisfies from all directions. It works as an involving dark, hard-boiled flick shot in a style that recalls thrillers from the Eighties, but never overwhelms it. It should please Lansdale fans, capturing his characters, tone, and go-wherever-the-hell-you-feel attitude. It’s been reported that Danci and Mickle are developing a a series with Joe’s Hap Leonard characters. Cold In July is proof the series couldn’t be in better hands.

MysteryPeople’s Top 5 Texas Mysteries of 2013

1. The Thicket by Joe Lansdale

A mix of Southern Gothic, crime, and western with that distinctive Lansdale voice. A young man journeys with the son of slaves, a whore, and a dwarf bounty hunter seeking justice and his abducted sister in turn-of-the-last-century Texas. A grand yarn told in high style.

 

2.  The Right Side Of Wrong by Reavis Wortham

A group of Texas lawmen have to contend with the new drug business and the violence it brings to their part of the state in the early ’60s, causing them to cross lines both geographic and moral. Great sense of time and place with one hell of a climactic gun battle.

 

death rides again3. Death Rides Again by Janice Hamrick

Jocelyn Shore visits the small town where she grew up for a Thanksgiving family reunion to find her cousin, Ruby June, missing and Ruby June’s husband murdered. Janice Hamrick’s light, funny mystery takes on some heavy ideas about family, relationships, and modern small towns.

 

4. These Mortal Remains by Milton T. Burton

If Chandler ended up in east Texas, he may have written something like this tale of a small town sheriff dealing with race, politics, and three murders. An involved plot, pitch perfect tone, and rich voice make this one engaging novel.

 

5. Long Fall From Heaven by Milton T Burton and George Weir

To solve the murder of their friend, two private security men in 1980s Galveston have to also uncover a string of murders that happened on the island during World War II. Filled with dark secrets and Lone Star history, both authors blend their styles to create an involving and moody thriller.