Interview: Joe R. Lansdale

Tell us a bit about your story, "Deadman’s Road." What’s it about?

A cursed murderer haunts a road near a cemetery and no one wants to travel it anymore, until my character from DEAD IN THE WEST arrives and tries to free the road of the evil haunting the road. The curse has made the murderer a kind of ghoul, and he has powers over the dead. Lots of flashing teeth and blazing six guns.

What’s was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

My wife and daughter were traveling somewhere and we saw a sign that read: DEAD MAN’S ROAD. It jumped into my head full blown. I think I had been wanting to return to my DEAD IN THE WEST character, the gun toting reverend, so I was primed.

Tell us about the protagonist of the story.

The name has changed slightly in the story. Jebidiah or Jubil Rains or Mercer. All the same character. He is a Reverend cursed by an incestuous relationship with his sister, and he is trying to serve god, who in the view of the stories is a merciless Old Testament god who is as mean as you would expect. The Reverend does what he does because he has no choice, and what he does is seek out evil and destory it wherever he finds it.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

No problems with this one. It wrote itself.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

I’m a non-believer and I’m not fond of religion. I’m not opposed to it and I’ve nothing against people being religious, but, to me the idea of it presents a few problems. I decided if there was a god, he/it/she had to be a thug, so that’s the god my character serves. A thug.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

None. I grew up on the West and Western literature. Doesn’t mean I might not have made a mistake, but I feel pretty comfortable with the story.

What is the appeal of zombie fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about zombies? Why do readers and film viewers love it so much?

Fear of death, confronting it by writing about it. I think the whole idea of the decaying body is a real bother to us living folk.

What are some of your favorite examples of zombie fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

Actually, for zombie fiction, there isn’t much that I adore, though there are some entertaining ones. Brian Keene has done a fine job with zombies. My main influence here, however, is films. I mixed my character with zombies and ghouls. I did something similar in DEAD IN THE WEST, though I think you could call it a zombie/vampire novel, as my main character is more vampire-like and he controls the zombies/ghouls. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, the original, is my favorite. I like both versions of DAWN OF THE DEAD, all of Romero’s films. Much as I like zombies, I wouldn’t mind giving them a little slack right now. I recently did two co-written screenplays about zombies/ghouls.

Any new work of ours just out or forthcoming you’d like to mention, or anything else you’d like to add?

I have a novel coming out called LEATHER MAIDEN from Knopf, and I’m working on a new Hap and Leonard novel, part of my series, called VANILLA RIDE.