Joe R. Lansdale
This month's Special:
Joe R. Lansdale tells The Horror Zine about when he learned to write about the South, and how Ardath Mayhar helped him to do that
IN THE "SPECIAL PAGE" ARCHIVES:
JOE R. LANSDALE TALKS ABOUT HIS EARLY DAYS
(and about Ardath Mayhar)
I love Ardath Mayhar like an aunt. We've known each other for years....thirty-five or thirty-six, I think. She was the first writer I ever met.
I read a story of hers in an Alfred Hitchcock anthology, and it took place in East Texas and was written in East Texas vernacular, and at that point my life changed. I was already writing, but I was trying to write like a New Yorker or someone from Los Angles, and in that moment, when I read "Crawfish," my brain switched and went South where I belonged. I've always thought career-wise that there were some major turning points for me, and my reading of "Crawfish" was in some ways the second most important.
Back then, I was living with my wife in a rundown farm house out in the sticks, and doing farm work to survive. I was reading and writing in a journal, now thankfully lost, about our time doing truck cropping and trying to survive. I planned for that to be my first book, a non-fiction book. I sold a few articles that I would have incorporated into it, but that book never happened.
What I really wanted to do was write fiction. I was reading a ton of it between getting up at the crack of dawn to do farm work, and then dead tired, I would still come home to more writing and finishing up about eight at night. Karen and I would read in bed until ten thirty, then I would get up and write till mid-night, then back at the farm work, repeat and rinse.
Everything I wrote was awful. I had been trying to write about things I didn't know and people who lived in places I had never been, and about things I had never experienced.
And then I read that story, "Crawfish" by Ardath Mayhar, and things changed. Hers was an East Texas voice, at least in that story, and it was not too unlike my own real voice, and from then on, I knew what to do.
So here is my advice for new and upcoming writers: write what you know, write what you are, and write where you are. The authenticity will come out, and the heart of your story will show.
Without realizing it, Karen and I had moved from the very place where Ardath lived. I think she had been living in Oregon before that, but East Texas was her home, and she had come back. At that time, our paths had yet to cross. Of course, I didn't know that, because I didn't know Ardath back then. I knew that story and I knew that name, but I thought it was a man's name for some reason.
I don't remember exactly how Ardath and I met, but when I arrived back in Nacogdoches, someone told me about her, and I called her, and we met, and have been friends ever since. We founded a writer's club together that lasted for about twenty years. Gone now. Most of the writers moved off, some dead, some no longer writing. But during that time Ardath and I became close friends.
When we met, she had sold a few stories and lots of poetry. She was trying to break into novels. She is one of the most natural writers I've ever known. She has a gift for writing readable, correct prose at the drop of a hat. She was a great aid to me, and is the only one of two writers I can personally give credit to having helped me understand my style and develop it. The other was a friend of mine named Jeff Banks, a literary professor who read my manuscripts and advised me. He wrote articles about genre fiction, and had one novel published under the name Rufus Jefferson.
I remember how excited I was when Ardath sold her first novel to Doubleday. I don't remember what year that was, but I know it wasn't long after that I sold my first two novels a week apart. The first was a pen name novel, the second was ACT OF LOVE. I had already sold quite a few short stories, but when those two novels were sold, I was able to stop working as a janitor.
Oh! I forgot to mention this one, didn't I? I got that janitor job as soon as we moved to Nacogdoches. Funny how things change in life. I was a janitor in the very University buildings where I now teach creative writing and screenplay courses from time to time. I might also add that I never did get my degree, and long ago gave it up.
I was doing, and am still doing what I want to do, and I have Ardath Mayhar to thank for much of it. Though I've told her before how important that story was to me and my career, it never hurts for her to know again. So, Ardath. If you're reading this. Thanks again. I love you dearly.
About Joe R. Lansdale
Joe R. Lansdale is the multi-award winning author of thirty novels and over two hundred short stories, articles and essays. He has written screenplays, teleplays, comic book scripts, and occasionally teaches creative writing and screenplay writing at Stephen F. Austin State University. He has received The Edgar Award, The Grinzani Prize for Literature, seven Bram Stoker Awards, and many others.
His stories Bubba Ho-Tep and Incident On and Off a Mountain Road were both filmed. He is the founder of the martial arts system Shen Chuan, and has been in the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame four times. He lives in East Texas with his wife, Karen.
You can see all of Joe R. Lansdale's books HERE.
About Ardath Mayhar
Ardath just celebrated her 81st birthday on February 20
HAPPY BIRTHDAY ARDATH!
Ardath Mayhar was born a poet, writing verse as soon as she could hold a pencil. Not until she neared the age of forty did she begin writing novels, which a this point number over sixty, most of them now being reprinted by Borgo Press, an imprint of Wildside Press.
Dozens of her verses have been published by magazines as diverse as The Lyric and Fantasy Book, though once she began marketing novels and short stories, she let her poetry slide. Now nearing the age of eighty, she lives alone in the woods of East Texas, supervised by six cats and an array of opossums, raccoons, coyotes, and other wild creatures.
See "Crawfish" HERE.
Read poetry by Ardath Mayhar HERE.
Please feel free to see the entire collection of Ardath Mayhar's books HERE.
BOOKS BY JOE R. LANSDALE:
Praise for Devil Red:
It is nice to have Hap and Leonard back. No series of crime stories makes me smile, laugh, cringe, or move to the edge of my seat as often as this one does. Joe R. Lansdale (who quite possibly is one of the greatest writers in the history of ever) balances slapstick humor with serious dread with such aplomb that he makes it appear effortless, which it isn’t. Not by a long shot.
I shot through Vanilla Ride like a bullet down a barrel. It is hard to think that you won’t do the same.
Read the article HERE.
See Devil Red HERE.