Joe Lansdale has a knack for murder, though thankfully he limits that talent to the fictional adventures of crime-fighting duo Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. In Rusty Puppy, the 12th in his Hap and Leonard series, the author plots a brackish pond mucked up with sawdust as a fitting crime scene. “I used to farm and make a compost pile. The sawdust makes it into mush. It eats up a lot,” says Lansdale, who coined the term “rusty puppies” to describe the corroded dogs – and humans – who float to the surface in this murky grave.
He says he knows his characters so well – he's been writing about them since 1990 – and they're always doing a ride-along in Lansdale's brain. “I don't plot my stories; I let them happen. That's why my wife drives,” says Lansdale. “I just have an idea. I'll see something, I'll read something, and I'll ask, 'How will my guys react?' and 'How will this affect me?' It happens all the time.”
Rusty Puppy does dovetail with current headlines, working in themes of police brutality and racial tension. “I know that had always been a social issue with the black community and the police. As I was writing, all this was happening in the media,” says Lansdale, who grew up in east Texas, which he considers part of the South. He says he always has a social aspect to his books, finding ways to be entertaining while also making a statement.
The author also has seen success in the crime thriller television show, Hap and Leonard, starring James Purefoy as the white-trash rebel and Michael Kenneth Williams as the gay black Republican Vietnam vet. “The TV show has been nominated for a GLAAD award,” says Lansdale, noting that it's his portrayal of the characters as being human rather than deviant that resonates with viewers. “That's about social justice. That's about humanity. Two guys just as different as they can be.” He says he has friends who don't share his viewpoints, but that shouldn't deter friendship or tolerance.
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We wanted to know if people he meets in his day-to-day life ever end up on the pages of his books. “Very rarely does anybody show up as who they are, or full blown. It will be a mixture. Hap is very close to me, and actually I share a lot of attributes of Leonard; he's a mixture,” says Lansdale. “Most of the time I get some aspect of a character, or some element of somebody I've met.”
Lansdale is coming to Houston to discuss and sign copies of his book. “I've signed at Murder By The Book for years, and I've always appreciated how much they support authors, and they're one of my favorite places to sign,” says Lansdale. “They really know something about your career, your approach to your work. It's a wonderful place to be.”
Kathleen Kent (The Heretic's Daughter, The Traitor's Wife, The Outcasts) also is scheduled to appear at this book-signing event. She'll be signing and discussing The Dime, in which her Big Apple detective, Betty Rhyzyk, takes on Mexican drug cartels and cult leaders in Dallas.
The book signing for Joe Lansdale and Kathleen Kent is February 22 at 6:30 p.m., 2342 Bissonnet, 713-524-8597, murderbooks.com. Free.