Joe R. Lansdale is a master storyteller who has worked hard to earn the status of an icon in his field. His work has crossed the genres of Science Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Suspense, and Western. Joe is well known for his short fiction as well as novels and has also lent his unique way with words to the storylines of some of the best comics of our day as well as Batman: The Animated Series and Jonah Hex, which appeared as part of the Blue Ray package, Under the Red Hood.
Lansdale's latest work is the eighth installment in the Hap and Leonard series titled Devil Red. His short story Bubba Ho Tep which features Elvis and a certain Kennedy battling mummies from the nursing home was made a cult classic by director/producer/screenwriter Don Cosscarelli (Phantasm, The Beastmaster). The highly anticipated third film based on Joe's work, Christmas with the Dead directed by Lee Lankford is currently in the works. An unconventional zombie flick at its best it showcases his son Keith's skill as a screenwriter and his daughter Kasey's ability to act aside from her career in country music. The chapbook from P.S. Publishing was recently picked up for the British Best of the Year volume. Joe is a member of the Martial Arts Hall of Fame and creator of the Shen Chuan martial arts school. Chinese for Spirit Fist it is a combination of several varied arts.

For our viewers here in the UK who might not be familiar with your background can you tell us a little about your background and upbringing? What were you like as a child? How did your early days most influence you to become who you are today?

I was born in East Texas, Gladewater, grew up there and graduated High School there. Gladewater was an old oil town and had a lot of the old rough elements, as well as a good small town feel. I got a little of both. It was also during a very racist time. I have to laugh when I hear people from that area and that time telling me how the races all got along. Anyway, it has been a big influence in my fiction. Beyond Gladewater, I had a little University time, and worked all manner of odd jobs from farmer to janitor, and a lot in-between. I started selling non-fiction in the early seventies, and then fiction by the middle late seventies, and by 1981 I was full time, and have done nothing else since for a living, though I've done Martial Arts and Self-defense for fifty years as of next year, and I teach at Stephen F. Austin State University one semester a year, and I'm writer in residence there. Produced one very low budget film forthcoming.

What was it like to discover the joy of reading via comics? What was you very first favorite of those?

Comics are why I'm a writer. They introduced me to a world that seemed a lot brighter and more interesting than the one I was living in, though as I grew older I learned to appreciate the world where I lived, and to also have negative feelings about it. But comics brought color and magic to my life, and I wanted to write them. Reading them, CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED particularly, led to me reading books and short stories in abundance, and pretty quickly I wanted to be a writer. I didn't write comics until the 90s, but have written them off and on since, along with screenplays, and my real loves, novels and short stories, the latter being my favorite. I have also written plays, non-fiction, essays and reviews. I like it all, on one level or another. Well, I mean of the comic characters Batman fits my sensibilities best. The Batman I read as a kid was much shinier than the modern Batman, and I loved that one too, and I could always sense the dark side under the gloss. By the time they started doing the solo DETECTIVE COMICS, I had found my favorite version of Batman, and that became darker and more suitable to me when Frank Miller wrote THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. Still to this day my favorite Super Hero comic. I guess I'm saying that view of Batman fits my writerly sensibilities.

How do you think you have changed most since your early days?

I'm older.

What is a typical day in the life of Joe Lansdale like?

Get up, take the dog out, have coffee, read a bit, write for about three hours, lunch, maybe a movie, read, teach martial arts once or twice a week, one of them a two hour class, exercise at night by walking and stretching, read, go to bed. On the weekends we might go to movies. Sometimes we go to town for lunch and coffee, and that changes the mid-day part of the schedule. We travel quite a bit, Italy a lot. I have a lot of readers there in the Italian market, but other places as well. Conventions now and then. Lots of time with family just about every day. Our son and daughter live nearby with their spouses. Kasey, our daughter, is a singer, and she's gone a lot, spends time in Nashville and elsewhere, but we talk to her by phone daily, see her when she's home. Frankly, it is a wonderful life.

Do you happen to remember what the first story you ever wrote was?

I wrote some poetry and odds and ends when I was small, a play even. But I think the first story I ever wrote was a kind of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Haggard kind of thing. It was called LAND OF THE STONE AGE CANNIBALS. It may still be in my files if I didn't throw it away. It was exactly what it sounds like. An expedition gets lost in the jungle, finds a tribe of cannibals and all hell breaks loose. It was primitive and pretty silly.

Can you tell us a little about how martial arts have changed your life for the better? How would you describe Shen Chaun?

My dad started by showing me boxing and wrestling. I was born in Gladewater, but didn't mention that we moved away for about five or six years. Lived in a place called Mt. Enterprise. A very small town of about 150 people at that time, more now, about 400. It was like Mayberry. When we moved back to Gladewater in the fifth or sixth grade, I was picked on as the new kid, and then I really got interested. My dad also knew a bit of jujitsu he had picked up. He had ridden the rails in the Great Depression and fought at fairs for money from time to time, so he was a pretty damn good street fighter. But he was forty-two when I was born, so he was well into trying to make a living and didn't have time to teach me as much as possible, and my only partner was him, and he was bigger and stronger. He and my mother enrolled me in a Judo class at the Tyler YMCA eventually, and I was introduced to other arts there, and kept studying. The arts gave me a lot of confidence in everything I do. It also eliminated bullies, and taught me the kind of confidence to avoid most situations, or to discourage them. It also gave me focus and discipline. I love it. It made my life so much better.

Where did the idea for the story of Christmas with the Dead come from?

I really don't know, except I had always wanted to write a horror Christmas story, and I thought that if you survived a zombie apocalypse, and had put together some kind of life style, that at some point you'd get bored. There was also the fact I think you would try to make your new life like your old life, it if it was a good one. And part of that would be the annual Christmas decorations. Our man decides zombies or no zombies, the lights and decorations are going up. The story grew out of that simple idea. It's a simple story. My son expanded it into a screenplay.

Where exactly did the Zombie lore originate? Do you have any favorite myths dealing with the subject?

Modern zombies are most influenced by the George Romero zombie, but Richard Matheson's vampires in I AM LEGEND are a big influence as well. Before that, zombies were more of the voodoo variety, and in films and books, they mostly choked people to death, were sent as emissaries of evil. Go back and watch White Zombie to see that old version. There were also the stories by Seabrook about Voodoo. There's a great chapter in one of his books that is often printed alone, titled ZOMBIES WORKING THE CANE FIELDS. I think that's the title, something similar, and it shows zombies as slaves, and hints that they may exist. THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW, a book written later explores the idea of zombies as created by mind altering drugs, and there seems to be some truth to this. All fascinating stuff. The latest craze has been the speedy zombie. In the forthcoming version of CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEAD, Keith made them much more old school. Hungry, but mostly passive unless riled. And they're not very strong. It's just that they're a lot of them.

What has it been like working with Lee as the director of the film? When is it expected to be released?

It was hot. That's what it was. It was filmed during record Texas heat, and that's saying something. It wasn't always fun, and it wasn't always easy, but Lee got it done. The editing is going on now. We'll see when it's edited if we have a picture.

Did you enjoy having the chance to show the world what the film school at Stephen F. Austin University can do? Do you like being a writer in residence there?

That chance hasn't happened yet, but that's what I'm hoping for. If I can raise the money, I'll direct a film myself in 2013. That's the plan if the investors can be gathered.

I know Keith wrote the script and Kasey who has a lead role in the film has also written some books of her own. Do you feel proud of them to have followed in your footsteps?

Kasey isn't a lead, but she's an important character in the film. She wrote two songs, to be used ironically in the film, and she is an editor in progress. Meaning she's editing an anthology now. Keith has done some comic work before, and he and I are doing something for Dark Horse starting next week. He did a wonderful job on the screenplay. He had to take a very short and simple story and make it into ninety minutes. I like what he did. He had to lose a few things due to budget, unexpected restrictions on time and location, etc., but no matter how the film turns out, his script was very good.

How did becoming a father change your life and you as a person?

I think it made me kinder, and more tolerant. I like to think I had both of those aspects before, but that having children strengthened them. I know it did.

Being from Texas as you are, do you find people in other places sometimes underestimate us Southerners? What do you love most about living there? Did you find influences coming from where you are from came in handy while writing your Western work?

This part of Texas isn't all that Western. This is East Texas, but there's a cross hatch between Southern and Western culture, more Southern. I think we are underestimated, but I'm not proud of a lot of what I see going on right now. A sort of embracing of ignorance, a distrust of education, a blind fundamentalist approach to religion. It's creepy. Sort of like falling back in time, drifting into a kind of Dark Ages. And it's not just here.

Who would you say are some of your favourite living authors at the moment?

Andrew Vachss, Chet Williamson, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, William Nolan, James Lee Burke, Elmore Leonard, William Goldman (not writing much these days), Pete Hamill. There are many others, but those pop to mind.

You once said you would love to write an old school sword and sorcery story. Do you think we'll get to see that eventually?

I'd have to be in the right mood, and I think it just might happen.

Do you have any more plans for future movies?

Yes. There are a number of things under option, and I've placed some screenplays, so we'll see.

As someone who has written fiction based on Elvis were you a fan of his growing up? Why do you think his work left such a lasting impact on so many people?

I was and am a fan. He was original. He was a game changer. That simple.

What do you think of the current state of the publishing world?

Exciting. I think eBooks are the new paperback. I don't have the gloomy feel about it some do. The publishers are scared, and in their case, I get it. But for writers it may offer a lot of personal ownership, cutting out the middle man. But it can also put us in competition with anyone who can bother to put a book on line. Mixed bag. But I'm mostly optimistic.

What projects are you currently working on? What do you think would come of you if you ever stopped working as hard as you do?

Writing an adaptation, a modern update actually, of THE DUNWICH HORROR by Lovecraft for comics. I think if I stopped working like I do I would implode, though it is nice to pull back now and then, and I've done more of that this year than in many years. I do take time off to travel. My son in law and I drove through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona looking a sites, visiting with friends. He saw some stuff I had seen before, but I wanted to see it again. And we saw together stuff that I haven't seen and was curious about, historical sites for Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid. We even visited Smoky Bear's grave.

Joe was talking with Tina Hall