A Q&A with author Joe Lansdale on cult classic zombie short story
While Joe Lansdale may not be a household name like Stephen King or Dean Koontz, he has achieved cult stature with his quirky short stories and novels. While he is best known for his horror, which tends to have a satirical edge, he has dabbled in other genres such as westerns and detective stories.
His best known work is perhaps the short story 'Bubba Ho Tep,' which was made into a film of the same name name starring Bruce Campbell. The story involves a mummy, a convalescent home and a former Elvis impersonator that may actually be The King himself. The film marked the final film appearance of Ossie Davis.
He is also known for his series of novels about amateur sleuths Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. These novels, which among other things feature a gay conservative bad ass as one of its heroes, are being adapted as a television series for the Sundance TV.
I discovered Lansdale while reading the short story collection 'Book of the Dead' -- an anthology featuring short stories based on George A. Romero's 'Dead' trilogy of classic zombie films that started with 'Night of the Living Dead' (there have since been more films, of course). Most fans regard the Stephen King story 'Home Delivery' as the gem of this collection, but there are others in it that are quite good.
Among them is Lansdale's contribution -- 'On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks.' The plot features a post-apocalyptic zombie tale that plays out like a western. It features a bounty hunter named Wayne, an outlaw named Calhoun and a cult led by a former scientist. And of course, it has flesh-eating zombies. It's obscene, gruesome and funny as hell.
Geeksagogo.com had a few words with this unique writer about this short story, which is one of a few literary ventures that he has made into the realm of the living dead.
Q: On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks was interesting to me. Despite being published in a collection of zombie stories it had a developed setting that went beyond merely people fighting zombies. What were your inspirations?
Lansdale: There are so many inspirations they are impossible to name. In a slightly indirect way, Jack London, if you can believe that, and certainly Philip Jose Farmer, at least in spirit, and strongly Roger Zelazany, and, of course, George Romero. But I've always read a lot of satirical fiction, and respond to it well, so that was in there as well. Toss in a ton of B movies, and you have the sources, I suppose. In some ways it jumped out. I had written the opening and a few pages of the story without zombies. It went dead. I was then asked to write a zombie story for Book of the Dead, and the previous science fiction piece I had started fit, and that became the final story. Once I had the zombie factor, the story wrote itself. I was much more interested in the world that had been created, than the zombies being part of that creation. It gave me room to write adventure as well as satirize a few things, including the very genre I was writing about. I should also add that Westerns were a big influence, fiction and film, and maybe the ghost of Sam Peckinpaw runs through it as well. Q: When I started reading your Hap and Leonard series, the witty banter between the characters reminded me of some of the dialougue in Cadillac Desert. Do you have any thoughts to offer on this?
Lansdale: That makes sense. I think that kind of thing was growing in me, and it had it's greatest manifestation later, in the Hap and Leonard series. I've always liked buddy stories, from Sherlock Holmes onward. I like the way each character can play off the other. So, again, natural progression.