I first met Joe R. Lansdale in early 1988, not long after we moved to Texas. I had moved with a partially completed novel which I submitted to a writing workshop sponsored by Cepheid Variable, a Texas A&M student organization. The workshop was led by two unknown (to me) writers, Lew Shiner and Joe Lansdale. Lansdale had already published The Drive-In, which was becoming a cult-favorite among SF readers.
The novel I submitted featured an amateur sleuth, a junior academic at a research university. Because he had no crime-solving skills, I created a second character, a former cop, and, because I thought there should be some romance, I made this second character a woman.
Lansdale and Shiner ripped my novel (about 20 pages) to shreds. They hated my main character, but like the woman. Their first two recommendations were: 1) Tell the story in her point of view; and 2) Tell it in first person, if possible. I talked to Joe afterwards and he emphasized that to be successful, you have to take risks and get out of your comfort zone. I followed his advice. The result was the Val Lyon series and now the Ava Rome series. Thanks Joe.
Hap and Leonard
If you are not familiar with them, Hap Collins and Leonard Pine are two East Texas characters who have appeared in seventeen novels or novellas beginning with Savage Season (1990). Hap is white, heterosexual, liberal, former draft resister who went to jail for burning his draft card. Leonard is black, gay, hard-nosed conservative, and a Vietnam Nam veteran. The two of them live in the small town of LaBorde in East Texas. Small towns in East Texas are not known for their tolerance of blacks, gays, liberals, or smart-mouths, which means that Hap and Leonard don’t have to look for trouble. It sticks to them like bugs (Texas-size) on a windshield. When mayhem comes their way, Hap and Leonard respond with more.
My bookmark just left . . .
. . . Rusty Puppy the latest novel in the series, which is now 27 years old. Hap and Leonard have both aged. They’ve gained a little weight and maybe lost a little speed, but they haven’t lost their wise-ass mouths. Hap has become somewhat domesticated. He has a live-in girlfriend named Brett Sawyer, a gun-toting, wise-cracking redhead. He also has a German shepherd that he and Leonard rescued from an animal abuser in a previous story, and he has a twenty-something daughter, Chance, who has just entered his life. Chance was the product of a short-lived fling. Her existence was unknown to Hap until she showed up at his house.
Hap is recovering from a stabbing which nearly killed him and Leonard is getting over a break-up with his lover John. Brett has just purchased a private detective agency and hired Hap and Leonard. The agency doesn’t bring in much money, but it does bring in trouble.
The trouble is in the form of Louise Elton, who asks the men to look into the death of her son Jamar, whom she believes was killed by the police. Louise has a daughter, Charm, who was pulled over and sexually assaulted by a bully cop. The cop then takes to following Charm. Jamar takes it upon himself to ask questions and videotape the cop and his partner. Shortly after, Jamar is found dead, reportedly from getting into a fight in the projects. Jamar was an intelligent student, who was not prone to trouble. The story doesn’t make sense to Hap and Leonard and they take on Louise’s case. This is a Lansdale novel, so a lot of mayhem ensues as Hap and Leonard take on the racist police force that has divided their town.
Here is Hap and Leonard on their first visit to the projects where Jamar was alleged to have been in a fight. Hap is confronted by some young toughs and Leonard comes along.
“Leonard had come up behind the boys now. He had already read the situation, and since he had on his badass hat, he was talking shit.
“Get the hell out of the way,” I heard him say, and they parted before him as if he were a Mack truck. Leonard isn’t a little guy, but he’s not supersize either. He always gives the impression of being bigger, way he talks and walks. He leads with his dick, as one old man we trained martial arts with once put it.”— Joe R. Lansdale. “Rusty Puppy.” Little, Brown and Company, 2017-02-21.
Shortly after, they meet a ten-year-old girl named Reba, who matches Leonard in language and wise cracks. Leonard calls her a four-hundred-year-old midget vampire.
“I hope you get et up by a tiger,” she said, walking away.
“Not likely,” Leonard said.
“Leonard, really? You’re going to pick a fight with a kid?”—Joe R. Lansdale. “Rusty Puppy.” Little, Brown and Company, 2017-02-21.
Reba gives as good as she gets. She give Leonard the middle finger and walks away. By the end of the book, she has Leonard wrapped around her little finger. Lansdale pushes the pedal to the floor and doesn’t let up.
Hard-boiled Quote #3
When I got over to Leonard’s Christmas Eve night, he had the Kentucky Headhunters turned way up over at his place and they were singing “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” and Leonard, in a kind of Christmas celebration, was once again setting fire to the house next door. — Hap Collins in The Two-Bear Mambo, Joe R. Lansdale