In East Texas thriller author Joe R. Lansdale's Born for Trouble: The Further Adventures of Hap and Leonard, the book's protagonists stumble upon a half-nude woman bleeding to death near Caddo Lake — a bayou bordering Louisiana and the Lone Star State.
Her feet are a bloody mess, and an arrow juts from her side. With her last breaths, the woman reveals she's a sex worker who's been abducted by a pair of psychos fixated on raping and hunting her for sport.
Somehow, though, the grisliest aspect of the scene is the mound of fire ants she's managed to fall on while fleeing her captors. It's the kind of detail only a veteran writer would think to include, and it's enough to make even the most fearless reader wince.
Fans of Lansdale's writing won't be too surprised, though. Since the early 1980s, the author has racked up a formidable following and plenty of awards for describing the bleak side of the universe.
In recent years, Lansdale's work has gained a wider audience thanks to Sundance's 2016-2018 Hap and Leonard series based on his crime-solving duo, and from movie adaptations of his Cold In July and Bubba Ho-Tep.
Despicable people, despicable ideas
"Writing is supposed to be challenging," Lansdale told The Current. "Sometimes it's about writing despicable people and despicable ideas, which doesn't necessarily mean that you're representing those as your beliefs, but that's what fiction is. That's what makes it challenging."
Dealing with dark and nasty themes is something Lansdale has embraced through his career, which has included writing horror, mysteries, Westerns, adventure yarns and even comic books.
"Sometimes I do it to point at certain things and say, 'Look at this' — and not to get a gross out, but to consider what this is about and why it occurred. How we can do better," Lansdale said. "Also, a lot of it's just that pure fascination we have with darkness and evil. And the reason we're fascinated by it is all of us have that element in us. That doesn't mean all of us are evil, but it means we recognize it and are appalled by it because we know that it exists. Inside us. There's some place in there where we understand where that comes from, and that's the scary part."
Lansdale has been writing about Hap and Leonard for more than 30 years — "The Boys," as he calls them. Hap Collins is "a self-proclaimed white trash rebel," and Leonard Pine, "a tough-as-nails Black, gay, Vietnam vet and Republican," the author notes. The two are as close as friends can get.
Since their debut in Lansdale's 1990 novel, Savage Season, the pair has gone up against serial killers, white supremacists, deranged cultists, crooked cops and even the Dixie Mafia. All while cracking jokes with each other and munching on copious helpings of vanilla wafer cookies.
Beyond their appearance the Sundance series, which starred James Purefoy and the late Michael K. Williams, the duo has turned up in more than a dozen novels and a handful of story collections.
Books to screen
Hap and Leonard wasn't Lansdale's first rodeo with film and television. He also wrote one of the original screenplay drafts for his novel Cold in July, in addition to episodes of Shudder's Creepshow and an upcoming George R.R. Martin short film adaptation of the Howard Waldrop's short story "Night of the Cooters," directed by and starring Vincent D'Onofrio.
Fans of Batman: The Animated Series also owe Lansdale their adoration for contributing to several episodes. Same goes for the film Son of Batman, which Lansdale penned.
One of Lansdale's best-known horror stories, "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road" was adapted for Showtime's Masters of Horror, and three more were adapted for Netflix's Love, Death & Robots.
However, aside from the Hap and Leonard series, his best-known adapted work might be Don Coscarelli's Bubba Ho-Tep, featuring Bruce Campbell as a geriatric Elvis Presley battling a mummy in an old folks' home.
An adaptation of Lansdale's novel The Thicket was announced in 2014 with Peter Dinklage attached to star. However, Lansdale said the Game of Thrones star has since parted ways with the project and it's no longer under development.
Writing about now
Even so, the movie side of the Lansdale empire shows no sign of slowing down. The author is set to direct his first film, an adaptation of his short story "The Projectionist" from a screenplay by his son Keith — assuming COVID-19 doesn't get in the way.
Lansdale isn't sure how much the pandemic has affected his writing, however.
"I do believe some of that has seeped into maybe my last couple of novels," he said. "Otherwise, I don't know, but I've always been of the opinion that you're always writing about now, whether you write about the old West, whether you write about the future, it's still now, because that's what you know, and that's what you're experiencing. You can't avoid your own society."
Born for Trouble: The Further Adventures of Hap and Leonard was released March 21 through Tachyon Publications.
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