Joe R. Lansdale is rare writer who can do it all

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

The productivity of some writers is fascinating. Authors can take forever to finish books. While there are the prolific ones who seem to have a new book coming out every five minutes. Last week I met a librarian who told me whenever James Patterson puts out a new book, which happens frequently, they have to order hundreds of copies merely to meet demand from patrons.

No doubt Nora Roberts occupies that same amazing realm, she publishes books constantly; readers can’t seem to get enough of her. Then there are writers like Joe R. Lansdale, an author who is incredibly productive and capable of writing in just about any genre imaginable.

Recently I was talking to the novelist S.A. Cosby. I asked him about Lansdale. Cosby wrote the introduction to Lansdale’s new story collection, “Things Get Ugly: The Best Crime Stories of Joe R. Lansdale.” Cosby made this astute observation: The author doesn’t write in any particular genre. Cosby stated: “He writes in the Joe R. Lansdale genre!”

And what a genre that is. He has won numerous awards over his long career including many for horror stories. He’s best known as the creator of Hap and Leonard, who have appeared in many books. Those stories have been adapted into a television series, too.

My favorite aspect of Lansdale’s work is his sense of humor; he makes the goriest details hilarious. It’s a gift. In this new collection there’s a story, “Driving to Geronimo’s Grave,” in which a young man named Chauncey is informed he must drive over to Oklahoma to pick up his uncle. There’s one catch; his uncle is dead.

That initial premise leads to morbidly amusing action as Chauncey, accompanied by his smart-aleck 12-year-old sister Terri, heads north to retrieve their Uncle Smat from the chicken coop where he has met his demise. The story is set during the Dust Bowl days of the Great Depression. They cruise through towns with names like Hootie Hoot and have many adventures together, just the three of them.

“Mr. Bear” is one of the funniest things I have read in years. A man is sitting in a plane waiting for the other passengers to get seated. He’s hoping nobody will occupy the seat next to him. Then a bear boards the plane, plops down next to him, and proceeds to become quite intoxicated. They become buddies, sort of.

In “The Phone Woman” a fellow encounters a young lady in the neighborhood asking people if she can use their telephones. This narrative descends into a situation so repulsive it is like watching a slow motion car wreck; although you don’t really want to see it, you cannot take your eyes away from it.

“The Steel Valentine” evokes sheer horror. That feeling is engendered by the presence of vicious dogs just out of sight. As the story builds to an appalling climax we remain terrified by the baying bloodthirsty hounds just beyond our vision. Lansdale is able to transport his readers to unsettling, unsteady places. What a storyteller he is.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit Contact him at

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