The Special Page

On this month's Special Page:

New writing tips from Joe R. Lansdale


Ramsey Campbell
John McLoughlin
Ray Garton
Jonathan Maberry
Trish Wilson

Joe R. Lansdale tells us how he writes

A writing tip that has worked for me: to think of some point in my life that was important, or at least interesting to me, and think what might have happened had it got a slightly different direction. This was how Hap and Leonard were created in Savage Season, and the series has a lot of these moments, along with some exact ones from my life. You take the truth, the could-have been moments, the possibilities, the mistakes or potential mistakes, shake them up with storytelling lies, and serve.

A way to get started on a story could be to write yourself a letter telling of true things that happened to you, then insert something that is untrue, but fits within the context of the letter, and then gradually add more untrue elements, along with true ones from present or past, until you start to have a story. It may, in fact, work as a letter-story, or you can begin to let the letter fall away and just leave the story. It's worked for me a few times back when I was learning how to write and tell a story. The first time I did this, I was actually writing a letter to someone and began to think how something might have gone another way, and so I thought, yeah, I'll write that, and then the story blossomed out of what would have been common correspondence.

Dreading work is far worse than working. Once you get started it has a life of its own. I start quickly after waking up. When I begin writing there's an energy to it. I rarely miss a day. When I do take a day off, which is rare, I try and know the difference between taking a day off and goofing off.

What I've found, is one of the greatest joys in life is the writing itself. Even if I feel I have nothing—that the well is dry—sitting down and trying to write one or two sentences will generally stoke the juices, and before I know it, I have three to five pages and a greater feeling of accomplishment and contentment than not working. It then becomes a habit. You don't wait for the muse, you wake it up. Say, look, you've got one good sentence, right? And then it happens. The one sentence, and then the next, and the next....

Each to his own, but the idea of multiple drafts is not necessarily a good idea. A writer can get lost in all those drafts, and think the more drafts the better the book. I polish as I go, so there's essentially one draft, though by polishing as I go, I'm doing a lot of little daily rewrites. I don't outline or plot, except subconsciously, I just write, correcting each page the day it’s written, after the juices are done with the creative part. Then I look over yesterday's work the next morning before continuing, touching up here and there. For me, this creates a more polished draft.

About halfway through I reread the whole thing to regain momentum, polishing if needed, then I write the rest, and reread it all and polish. So it's one draft and a polish. Now, this may not work for everyone. There is no right way, but this is my way. I can only offer as evidence a forty-six year career. Others may feel they need to do a lot of drafts. I don't. I also have found the more I've worked like this, the tighter the work is first time out.

Write for yourself. I don't have a perfect reader in mind. That works for some, but it makes me write for them which means I might not be writing for me. I have no idea what anyone else will like. I only know what I like, so I write for me. It's a wonderfully selfish moment. When I'm done, and the book or story is out there, then I hope a lot of folks like it. But face it, you can't be universally admired, so don't try to be.















































































About Joe R. Lansdale

joe lansdale

Champion Mojo Storyteller Joe R. Lansdale has written novels and stories in many genres, including Western, horror, science fiction, mystery, and suspense. He has also written for comics as well as "Batman: The Animated Series." As of 2018, he has written 45 novels and published 30 short-story collections along with many chapbooks and comic-book adaptations. His stories have won ten Bram Stoker Awards. a British Fantasy Award, an Edgar Award, a World Horror Convention Grand Master Award, a Sugarprize, a Grinzane Cavour Prize for Literature, a Spur Award, and a Raymond Chandler Lifetime Achievement Award. He has been inducted into The Texas Literary Hall of Fame, and several of his novels have been adapted to film.

Frequent features of Lansdale's writing are usually deeply ironic, strange or absurd situations or characters, such as Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy battling a soul-sucking Egyptian mummy in a nursing home (the plot of his Bram Stoker Award-nominated novella, Bubba Ho-Tep, which was made into a movie by Don Coscarelli). He is the winner of the British Fantasy Award, the American Horror Award, the Edgar Award, and ten Bram Stoker Awards.

His Hap and Leonard series of ten novels, four novellas, and three short-story collections feature two friends, Hap Collins and Leonard Pine, who live in the fictional town of Laborde, in East Texas, and find themselves solving a variety of often unpleasant crimes. The characters themselves are an unlikely pairing; Hap is a white, working-class laborer in his mid-forties who once protested against the war in Vietnam and spent time in federal prison rather than be drafted; Leonard is a gay, black Vietnam vet. Both of them are accomplished fighters, and the stories (told from Hap's narrative point of view) feature a great deal of violence, profanity, and sex. Lansdale paints a picture of East Texas which is essentially "good" but blighted by racism, ignorance, urban and rural deprivation, and government corruption. Some of the subject matter is extremely dark, and includes scenes of brutal violence. These novels are also characterized by sharp humor and "wisecracking" dialogue.

These books have been adapted into a TV series for the SundanceTV channel and a series of graphic novels began publication in 2017. Season 2 of the television series is based on the second Hap and Leonard novel, Mucho Mojo, and season 3, which premiered on 3/7/18, is based on the third novel, The Two-Bear Mambo. Much of Lansdale's work has been issued and re-issued as limited editions by Subterranean Press and as trade paperbacks by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Publications.

His current new-release publisher is Mulholland Books. Lansdale also publishes with Dark Regions Press and Tachyon Publications, and with his daughter Kasey he has started a new publishing company called Pandi Press to control the re-issue and publishing of his older works.


jane goes north

more better deals