Written by Ray Slater Jnr. (Edited by James Keen)
“Fiction is based on reality unless you’re a fairy-tale artist, you have to get your knowledge of life from somewhere. You have to know the material you’re writing about before you alter it.” -Hunter S Thompson.
Joe Richard Lansdale has been publishing ‘fiction’ now for close on thirty three years and in that time he has managed (somehow) to snag the prestigious Bram Stoker Award eight times (nominated another nine times) the British Fantasy Award, The American Mystery Award, the Horror Critics Award and many others. Many readers looking at this list of accolades might share the same sentiment as this contributor: that Lansdale is not trying hard enough, that there’s an obviously lazy attitude that is redolent throughout all of his scribblings. And just when is the man going to step up to the plate and at least try and give it his best shot?
Given the faint praise that has been heaped upon his output to date, it’s interesting that the more notable work offered by Lansdale over the last three decades has come from his pseudonym(s). Who can forget ‘Ray Slater’, ‘Brad Simmons’ and ‘Jack Buchanan’? Three nom de plumes that have unfortunately overshadowed his ouevre as Joe R Lansdale, and stand as shining examples of a writer willing, albeit in a covert fashion, to take literary risks and truly engage the discerning reader. It’s arguable that his collaborations with Andrew Vachss and son John L Lansdale have afforded the Texan-born author a healthy taste of just what it is that constitutes ‘informed and insightful’ reading material.
In an unpublished interview for the (now sadly cancelled) publication, ‘Nacogdoches End Times‘ Lansdale admitted that the success of his counterparts – his pen-names – had left him with a sobering realization that he would be forever dwarfed by their cultural impact and so, upon advice from other ‘concerned’ writers who felt that he perhaps might be wasting his time with publishing, it was suggested he be introduced to the world of Shen Chuan martial arts as a way of venting his creative frustrations in a dignified manner, while still quietly and secretly continuing to struggle with his ‘writing hobby’.
‘The Bottoms’, ‘Edge of Dark Water’ and ‘The Drive-In’ books amongst many others have all been high literary watermarks for Mr Lansdale, doubtless helped no end by the recommendations of his peers and critical publications, even though these critical ‘nods’ may have impacted the writer’s bank balance for it must be noted that recommendations from Stephen King and Dan Simmons do not come cheaply these days. After allegedly blackmailing certain faculty members at the Stephen F. Austin State University, Lansdale is currently active as the Writer In Residence there where he continues to espouse his peculiar views on what constitutes solid creative fiction to an understandably wary audience.
And so in summation –
Editors Note: Writer Ray Slater Jnr was sadly unable to complete this decidedly ‘fawning’ editorial for unfortunate medical reasons. The primary one being he complained he found it difficult to use a keyboard while wearing his ‘special jacket’ and the other that he found his meds to be of such sufficient potency that it incapacitated his ability to juggle two specific tasks at once, namely thinking and drooling.
Stephen King once wrote in his preface to the novel, ‘It’ that “fiction is the truth inside the lie”and surely that underscores the intention of all serious writers, no matter what the genre they choose in which to relay their tale? That no matter how fantastic the narrative conceit, how horrible the metaphor, there is a fundamental ‘truth’ that resonates throughout a story and gives it an incisive and revealing ‘hook’, a haunting though sometimes jubilant deliberation on the human condition? This contributor really does not care very much what literary form Joe R Lansdale elects to utilise in order to get his creative point across, just that he continues to do so in such a commendably rewarding fashion and to continue to do so for many more years to come.
For this reviewer, Lansdale shares one thing in common with writers like Straub, King, Simmons, McCammon, Malfi, Farris, etc, in that when picking up a book by any of these authors I’m not at all interested in reading the back dust jackets to get an idea of what I’m about to read, a sound-bite synopsis of plot, a comparison perhaps to other notable efforts, I intuitively know whatever the result may be that I have a piece of fiction in my hands by an author concerned with honest storytelling and earnest intent. Sure, they fumble the ball every now and again, but it’s certainly not for lack of trying, and even in their worst creative attempts there is at least some edifying wisdom to be gleaned and savoured from them.
In closing, I’ll leave the reader with this codifier for the revealingly truthful and richly gratifying humanistic quality of Lansdale’s fiction:
“Writing is, in the end, that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” – Pico Iyer