Joe Lansdale is perhaps best known for his Hap and Leonard mystery/suspense novels, which are the basis for a recent television show on the Sundance Channel. But he has also written horror, satire, westerns and other genre pieces (his short novel ‘Bubba Ho Tep’ is a humorous horror tale about an Elvis impersonator, who may be the real “King”, encountering a mummy in an East Texas rest home).
His forthcoming short story collection ‘Dead on the Bones: Pulp on Fire’ is what the title suggests – an anthology inspired by the “pulp era.” The book is due out later this month from The Subterranean Press. We had a chat with him regarding his new book, which among other things contains a new Tarzan story set in Caprona, or Caspak (the setting of ‘The Land that Time Forgot”).
What compelled you to write these stories? Your work seems to have a slightly pulpy feel, but this collection sounds line it will be very purist.
I have a long introduction in the front of the collection that explains a lot of this. Pulp stories varied in type and quality, but I think there was an attitude and I've tried to capture that. With a couple, I did very slavish takes on Sword and Planet stories, ala Edgar Rice Burroughs and Otis Kline. I have done all I will ever do of those, as there is a nice feeling to reworking the idea, but after doing so, no place to go. Tarzan I found a little more flexible, but unless you really change it, and I think the recent movie really knocked it out of the park, you are merely working within the framework. I rarely work solidly within the framework, but the Tarzan story, and the two interplanetary stories were very much in the old style. Others, like ‘Dead on The Bones’, the Poe-influenced Dupin story were more mixed. Mash-ups, and more akin to what I normally do, though still with stronger and more direct pulp influences. As to why, I write what I like. One of the stories, a novella actually, ‘Under the Warrior Star’, I wrote between the ages of eleven and thirteen while under Burroughs magic. I revised it and updated it a bit, but it is essentially the kind of story I set out to write when I was a kid. ‘Wizard of the Trees’ is a somewhat updated story that fits in the same canon.
I understand that the Tarzan story was written with the blessing of the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Does this make the story canon?
To tell the truth, I don't know. All of the stories in ‘Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ were sanctioned, but I have no idea if they are part of the canon. The novel I wrote about Tarzan is, at least the adaptive canon.
What have been some of your previous explorations of pulp? I know you did write a Tarzan novel based on an incomplete manuscript by Burroughs.
A lot of my stories are influenced by the pulps and pulp writers, but there is a lot of other influences, including writers that are considered literary, what have you. I don't worry about it. I wrote what I want.
Do you have any particular favorite pulp characters, writers or books?
John Carter of Mars has always been my favorite, David Innes of the Pellucidar stories. They have dated a lot, but I've never forgotten the original magic I felt. Now days the racists views, sexist views, you name it, stand out more. But I do take them as works of their times, without saying "hey, that makes those things okay". But what I remember about the works, what moved me, was the imagination Burroughs put into his best work. At one point he sort of ran out of gas and kept at it anyway, but the early stuff, nearly all the Martian and Pellucidar series, really captured my imagination.