AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Joe R. Lansdale

What is the appeal of “weird west” fiction? Why do writers—or you yourself—write about it? What do you think readers like about it?

I don’t analyze it that much. I grew up on horror films and western films, horror comics and western comics, and many short stories I read, say by Robert Howard, has Western and horror themes. So to me, it came naturally.

“The Red-Headed Dead” is dedicated to Robert E. Howard and Mercer seems like a relative of Howard’s Solomon Kane. Am I overthinking it to see this story as a tribute to Howard’s weird westerns (like “The Horror from the Mound”) and to his boxing stories (with the Reverend pummeling the vampire)? Are there other works–perhaps out of speculative fiction—that helped inspire this story?

This was an all out tribute to HORROR FROM THE MOUND and to Howard in general. I wanted to ring some of the same bells without having it be exactly the same.  But it is a tribute to him.

Are there particular pleasures you have and pitfalls you have to avoid when returning to a character like Mercer? Do you have notes about where this story fits in his life? When Mercer faces a wild monster like this one, do you come up with a backstory for it?

No. A story just comes and I write it. That said, I think this one is a little earlier, maybe not long after DEAD IN THE WEST.

Before writing a historical piece like “The Red-Headed Dead,” do you do a lot of research for the time period? Does the “weird” in weird western give you more room to fudge historical details—or less?

I grew up on Westerns, and on historical material, so I start with a lot of knowledge, but, I do let story carry me along.

“The Red-Headed Dead” has a certain grim humor that feels—for lack of a better word—Lansdalian. What role does humor play in your work?

Humor is very important to me, and it is fact a Western and Southern trait. Laughing in the face of grim situations. I also learned a lot about it from Robert Bloch. He was a master of that.

When most people think of westerns, they probably picture the cinematic, wide-open west: grassland, mountain, and desert. (That is, West Texas.) Why did you place this story in East Texas, with its pine woods? Are there some locales that you think work better in writing than in visual media like film or comics?

Well, Western is a stretched term. East Texas is more like the South, so I put it here because it’s what I know best, and the horror lends itself to Southern gothic quite well, and then bring a western character in, someone who has actually spent time out west, and I felt like I had the best of both worlds.

What are some of your favorite examples of weird westerns (in any media), and what makes them your favorites?

I never cared for Howard’s pure Western tales, as I found them hokey, but I loved his horror westerns. High Plains Drifter is a good weird western. This character though of some Solomon Kane ilk, was primarily influenced by an old horror/western film titled CURSE OF THE UNDEAD. It doesn’t hold up too well now, but it was what led me to writing the first of the Mercer stories, DEAD IN THE WEST. I loved Jonah Hex comics as well. The list could stretch for some distance, so I’ll stop there.