The lead writer/celebrity will be Jim Lehrer, executive editor and anchor of The News Hour on PBS. He will talk about his novel, Super, to be released by Random House on April 20.
Lehrer, now 75, a Texan whose family once owned a small bus line in South Texas, is a prolific writer who, early in his career, was city editor of the now-defunct Dallas Times Herald.
In what has been a career secondary to his longtime occupation as a public TV broadcaster, he has written 12 novels, some having to do with transportation.
Super is a suspense novel based on a trip by the Santa Fe Super Chief train from Chicago to Los Angeles. One promotional piece touts it as an American version of Murder on the Orient Express. I’ve placed my order.
THE FESTIVAL will feature six other sessions on books, art and culture. Jan Reid and Bill Minutaglio will have as their subject Writing About Texas Music, and a political threesome on Pride and Populism will be made up of H.W. Brands, Jim Hightower and Sissy Farenthold.
But the pairing that really attracted my attention was Joe Landsdale and Robert Leleux, billed as East Texas Scribblers.
I have no acquaintance with Leleux’s work, but have written before about Joe R. Lansdale, who grew up in Gladewater and is related to the Upshur County Lansdales.
Now living in Nacogdoches, Lansdale was given this enconium by another unique Texas writer and personality, Kinky Friedman:
“Among the best fiction writers in America today, Joe Lansdale turns on the juice and cuts the ____ thing loose. Enjoy the ride!”
(Among Kinky’s works is You Can Lead a Politician to Water, But You Can’t Make Him Think. His own political career has not flourished; after failing to get the Democratic nomination for governor, he ran last month for agriculture commissioner and lost again.)
LANSDALE HAS IN common with Jim Lehrer the ability to juggle two careers and succeed in both. In addition to having written more than 30 books, he has been a student of the martial arts for more than 30 years. He founded Shen Chuan, Martial Science, and has twice been inducted into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame.
According to his website, his standard day is six hours at the typewriter, and three hours at Lansdale’s Self Defense Systems, the Nacogdoches martial-arts studio which he owns and at which he teaches.
Self-described as a “Mojo storyteller,” Joe Lansdale is hard to describe succinctly. His work includes yarns in multiple genres: horror, suspense, humor, science fiction, Western, Noir and more, short stories as well as novels.
It’s been said that good writers invariably read a lot, and the Lansdale story bears this out. In one of several interviews available on the Internet, he was asked about this.
He responded as an “avid reader” and went on:
“It started with comics, and grew into novels rather early on. I also read short stories, but my true passion for short stories developed in the ’70s, when I was in my early 20s. I had read many of them before that, but it had never occurred to me to write them on a regular basis. I wanted to do novels. But once I got interested in short stories, I really didn’t want to write anything else for a while. And didn’t. . .”
Asked about the authors who appealed to him then, he said:
“Early on it was Homer and Kipling and Poe and Verne and Wells, and a little later on I went . . . nuts for Edgar Rice Burroughs. I liked Jack London and Twain, and as I grew older I went from liking Twain to adoring Twain. I loved Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont and Robert Bloch and William Nolan and anything to do with Rod Serling.
“I grew into Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald and went nuts for Flannery O’Connor. Raymond Chandler, Hammett, James Cain, William Goldman, you name it. I also read William S. Burroughs, who I found more curious and interesting than good. All the beat guys. Vonnegut. Glendon Swarthout. Jack Schaffer, Brian Garfield. . . “
COMMENTING on the book that put his name on the map, Lansdale said:
“The Bottoms was a novel close to my heart. My parents were in their 40s and late 30s when I was born, and they had gone through the Great Depression, so I’ve always had a fascination with it, and I think that comes through to the reader. I also think that those times gone by intrigue people.
“They are never the good old days as we like to remember, but they are different, and as time moves on, those days seem almost alien. A time when the world wasn’t cut up into small plots and people knew each other better. We miss that. But, there were always snakes in the garden, and that’s what I think intrigues people. I think either it or A Fine Dark Line are my best novels.”
The Bottoms is set in the Sabine River bottoms near Gladewater. I enjoyed both it and his other favorite novel. I can’t make it to Austin for the Observer Festival, but Joe Lansdale has a new novel out, Vanilla Ride. Reading it and Jim Lehrer’s new novel will be a reasonable substitute.