Joe R. Lansdale Interview


Q&A with Joe R. Lansdale

BookVoice wanted to publish a “Literary Treasure” edition of THE MAGIC WAGON to showcase the significance the classic book has had on the career of Joe R. Lansdale and act as a lasting tribute for his fans. We asked the Texas author a few questions about this limited edition release.

BookVoice: How would you describe THE MAGIC WAGON to someone who might not have heard of the story?

Joe: That's a toughie, but I will say this, if you think it's a standard Western, you're wrong. If you think it's something else, oddly, you're also wrong. It takes place at the turn of the century, 1909, and the West as we think of it was gone, but there is a residual somewhat ghostly residue of its existence, though much of what we think about the West is wrong and is built on movie images. That's part of what the story is about. We don't even know if this is Wild Bill's body, not actually. But in Billy Bob's mind it is for certain. And for him the Dime Novel idea of what the West was is pervasive with him. He prefers the myth to the truth. The myth gives him comfort. What's going on here is a story told by a kid who has had a rough life in a short time, and he's telling a story that manages to be about age and race and broken dreams. It deals with some real historical figures, but the truth is, Buster is an unreliable narrator. He tells what he thinks he knows, and senses what he thinks is going on, a kind of supernatural aspect, but that may or may not be more in his head than in reality. And hey, you get a wrestling chimpanzee.

BookVoice: What makes THE MAGIC WAGON worth revisiting, more than 30 years after it was first released?

Joe: The book has its fans, and it's been in and out of print, but I'm excited to have this edition out there. Also, it's great it has one of my rarer short stories in it, as well as a really nice afterward by my son.

BookVoice: In the all-new introduction, you fill the reader in on your writing process at the time. Did writing THE MAGIC WAGON feel different than your other works up to that time, what about since then?

Joe: When I was writing THE MAGIC WAGON, it did feel different, and it's the first book I wrote that I felt was me. I had begun to write short stories that I felt were me, but it happened in the novel as well, but, I didn't know if it was any good. I had a year to write it and I took most of the year to do just that, but in the meantime I wrote short stories and articles as well. When I turned it in I was uncertain about it. It seemed simple to me, but that's because it was closer to my own voice, of course channeled through who I thought Buster was, and how he would tell the story from his experience and the time in which it was written. It wasn't until my editor showed excitement about it that I began to suspect it might be better than I thought. I read the page proofs before it came out, and found that I liked it, and it was then that I shifted from being a professional, to being a true professional with my own voice and attitude. I let me come out, and everything else be damned. It was a big shifting point in my career. So, I'm nostalgic about the novel and hope others will respond to it. Bottom line is I'm really glad I wrote it.

BookVoice: Who would you like to see star in the inevitable TV/film adaptation?

Joe: That's a toughie. I always think of my books as the books, and I really have to shift gears to start thinking of that sort of thing, though when something is filmed, that's always a treat. I like film, and am involved in it, and have been, so far, happy with my adaptations. I have some quibbles, but the author always does. Film requires a lot of voices and egos and the weather has to go right, and so on.  That's why I prefer prose for one thing, and also because for me it crawls inside the head and lives there when it's good. With a novel you do fifty percent of the work creating what's not there, but the author has to suggest it in a way that your imagination takes the spark and lights the fire. Why many people quit reading as they age. It's easier to watch TV and movies. But everyone sees pretty much the same thing when they do that, though they can have a variety of reactions. But a novel, and especially for me, short stories, are another thing altogether. We each see it differently. If I had to cast it, I'd really have to spend a lot of time thinking about it. Lot of people I might have liked in the role have aged out. So, I don't know. Sorry about that one. I just don't. It would take me days to mull that one over, and then my picks might not get cast anyway. If I could go back in time, the older Woody Strode, Brandon De Wilde as the kid, and as Billy Bob Daniels, wow, that's the toughie. But the bottom line is all the actors I would have liked are of course dead, and the new ones I would have to spend more time on. What I can say, however, is I love this book, and there have been a few nods toward filming it, but so far that hasn't materialized. I have passed on a couple of interested parties just because I didn't like them, or I didn't think they got the story. I realize film and books are different, but the film folk have to get the story and want to stay close to the core. When they say "we are going to work in the spirit of," make sure you've still got your pants, because they may have stolen them when you weren't looking, and they most likely have your wallet in them. Usually "the spirit of" is code for, "well, once I get my hands on this sucker you won't realize it was once yours."

THE MAGIC WAGON is now available from BookVoice in a signed limited edition hardcover. Includes an all-new introduction by the author “his ownself,” new artwork and inside sketches from artist Charlie Bullock, a rare Western short story by Joe, an afterword from Keith Lansdale and more. Limited to a single printing of 500 copies.
Click here for full product information.

East Texas native Joe R. Lansdale is the author of fifty novels and more than 300 short stories. The Sundance Channel has adapted his Hap & Leonard novels for television, now in its third season; his novella Bubba Ho-Tep was adapted to film by Don Coscarelli, starring Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis; his story "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road" was adapted to film for Showtime's "Masters of Horror;" and he adapted his short story "Christmas with the Dead" to film his ownself. The film adaptation of his novel Cold in July was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
He has received an Edgar Award, ten Bram Stoker Awards and a Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award, a Horror Writers Association Lifetime Achievement Award, an American Mystery Award, a British Fantasy Award, an International Horror Guild Award, a Spur Award, a Grinzani Cavour Prize for Literature, a Herodotus Historical Fiction Award, a Burroughs Bibliophiles Golden Lion Award, the Inkpot Award for Contributions to Science Fiction and Fantasy, and many others. Visit for more information about the author.
East Texas author Joe R. Lansdale, Joe Lansdale, joe r lansdale
Joe R. Lansdale