Joe R. Lansdale
"I have neither the credentials for (nor the interest in) 'literary criticism.' But I can pick winners. Which is a damn good thing—otherwise, NY's lovely system of having you take the Bar Exam in July, but not allowing you to practice law for a minimum of another six months, would have forced us to survive on a cab driver's pay while trying to amass enough equipment to open an office. Impossible but for my ability to ... as I said, pick winners. That ability is key to understanding the Foreword (below) I wrote for Act of Love: it was written eons before all the prizes, honors, awards, movies, comics, and acclaim all of you now associate with Joe R. Lansdale. Can I pick 'em, or what?!?"
(to Act of Love, by Joe R. Lansdale)
by Andrew Vachss
If you're looking for cute, keep moving—I consider this opportunity an honor, and I'm not about to squander it on air-pumped hyperbole.
Writing the foreword to a significant piece of work has but one rule: tell the truth. It's not a job for a blurb-meister. If you want adjectives, visit the paperback rack at your local airport. If Joe wanted some stream-of-consciousness, thesaurus-busting river of praise, he would have asked someone else.
But Joe doesn't play ... not that way.
"Genre" writing is an endangered species ... for all the reasons any species starts to run out of road. Over-population, in-breeding, lack of natural predators, limited food supply. Words don't work as stand-alones: they gather their power from juxtaposition ... from context, from precision placement. But, in our game, words have become devalued currency—you can't count on them anymore. Our field is overdosed with flab: take some gratuitous, implausible violence, throw in some unrealistic sex, splatter some guts and hair on the nearest wall, sprinkle in a touch of mystical reference ... and you're walking the "dark" side.
The genres ... horror, crime, fantasy, whatever ... all have their built-in places to hide. Write something stupid, it's a metaphor. Write something mean-spirited and small, it's satire.
Spare me. Skeletons charging out of closets isn't my idea of liberation.
The real monsters aren't in basements, they're in families, incubating. In parishes and prisons, drive-ins and day-care centers ... waiting their time.
They're not "fiction" either.
But ... in this corner, Joe R. Lansdale. Son of a carnival fighter whose truest legacy was stand-up values. Married to a genuine, long-stemmed Texas blonde beauty he surely doesn't deserve on the basis of his looks. Blessed with two glorious children, with his own legacy to pass along. A high-ranking karateka whose body shows the marks of tuition. A man who has worked with his hands from everything to slopping hogs to self-defense—and who is still ready to go either one if pushed.
Here comes Joe R. Lansdale, now. Walking a samurai's walk. If you can't get down, you best step aside.
This is the real deal.
The true, blue haiku.
Reading Joe's work, I'm reminded of nothing so much as a fine pit bull. No posturing. No threat-displays. Ready to pay what it costs. Not the biggest ... but sure he's the best. Dead game. And driven by love.
Read Joe Lansdale and see it for yourself. Feel it. You can always tell when a virgin's writing a sex scene. You can spot the kinetic impossibility of the violence when the writer hasn't been in a fight. You'll never see this in Joe's work—it's not there. He knows "hard" isn't the same as "heartless." Read Joe Lansdale and see the true writer's gift ... he's felt it, and he'll let you in on the feeling.
He's driven the cars, chased the diamonds, known the girls, listened to the psychopaths. Felt ... and fought ... the fears. He's been in the ring, been out of luck, been down ... and come back. He knows you have to bring some to get some.
He knows the truth. He writes to share it.
It's called empathy, people. You use it, or you lose it. And it's a delicate line. In this repulsive age of Serial Killer Chic, Joe hands us "Drive-In Date" ... understated ice. Anyone titillated by this horror classic needs to be on medication. Joe can do whatever he wants to do, from respectful homage to the Gold Medal paperback originals of the '50s like Savage Season and Cold in July to theme-anchored fantasy like "Cadillac Desert" to blood-morality tales like "Steel Valentine." He can write about shape-shifting demons—he can write about swamp-dwelling humanoids. He can write comic books, movie scripts, hilarious film critiques. He can create his own genre ... some miraculous fire-dance between private-eye, horror, and comedy. You don't believe me, check out "The Events Concerning a Nude Fold-Out Found in a Harlequin Romance." He can deal with the consequences of things ... and their roots. Look at "Night They Missed the Horror Show" or "By Bizarre Hands" and you'll see what I mean. Feel it, too.
Subtle doesn't mean secret. Joe is right out there with what he hates: domestic violence, racism, bullies, child abuse, sexual sadism ... dishonorable creatures doing ugly things. He's not writing some nonsensical "noir" fiction ... he's shining a white-hot light.
Act of Love is a raw book. A high-wire act by a then-emerging writer. A significant stage in Joe's evolution, going back more than a decade. You can see the struggle for mastery. And the refusal to surrender. Is it his "best" work? I don't think so. With Joe Lansdale, naming anything his "best" is a judgment subject to rebuttal. Not just because reasonable people could disagree, especially given his huge body of work, but because Joe's working all the time. He may be swimming at the horizon of writing perfection ... but he's not getting tired.
This is an important book. Proof that Joe understands survival. And never stops punching. Joe R. Lansdale is an American Original. We won't see his like again.
Remember I told you that the genre market was in trouble? A dragon's coming soon ... coming down hard. It's going to walk through the jungle, clearing out the dead vines with its breath, stomping on those that can't get out of the way. A hard, cleansing wind is going to blow.
Joe knows this too. He's been getting ready a long time.
And when Darwin shows up, Joe's going to kick his ass.
Copyright © 1992 by Andrew Vachss.
All Rights Reserved.