What was the first thing you remember reading?
The first books I really remember reading were Roy Rogers’s western adventures when I was in the first or second grade. Shortly after that, I discovered were Robert Arthur’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators books. They were like the Hardy Boys, only way cooler and…with Alfred Hitchcock! Somewhere along the way, I started reading lots and lots of comics too. I loved superheroes and remember stealing a giant volume collecting all of the earliest Superman strips from my local public library. I was a bit of a thief. But my favorite comics were war comics like Sgt. Rock, Sgt. Fury, and GI Combat, which I would steal each month from a grocery store I would later work at as a teen. I might have felt bad having stolen all those comics from them, but I ended up getting fired by the bastards (for cursing, not for stealing), so fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.
Was the New Wave SF influential to you?
Not really, although I certainly love Harlan Ellison. I also love Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut, who are sometimes mentioned as being writers who dabbled in that world. I don’t consider myself a sci-fi guy at all, although I love, love, love Star Trek: The Original Series. I have been considering reading some Philip Jose Farmer since Joe Lansdale has talked about him on numerous occasions, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.
What book or movie did you enjoy that not many people would think you’d like?
The Notebook. I’m not joking. I would have loved to have written that. Or Bridges of Madison County. But Let It Kill You, which has a fuck-load of murder and crazy shit in it, is likely the closest I’ll ever get to writing an actual romance novel. But I’ve mellowed a lot as I’ve aged, so who knows what the future will bring? But the truth is, I’ve always been a fan of romance movies and rom-coms—generally more than the woman I was with at whatever time.
What type of writing do you enjoy more, Fiction or Non-Fiction?
I enjoy both quite a bit. Fiction is more fun, but nonfiction tends to be more rewarding at this point in my career. And I must say, doing both has kept me sane. When I get tired of working on one kind of project, I move over to work on the other. I always have six or seven projects going on at once. When I was younger, this process came easy for me. But in the past few years—this past one especially—I’ve found working on multiple things at once much harder for some reason. So now I’ve been trying to focus on one of my copious projects at a time, getting that finished and then moving on to the next one. I turned in a nonfiction book the first week of January. I’m about to turn in another in the next couple of weeks. Then I have a comic to work on and a book I’m editing to work on. Lately, the fiction has been very slow for me for some reason. I think it’s because the last one, American Trash, came so easily and felt so natural that it spoiled me. Now nothing else feels as comfortable or as right, so for the first time, I’m starting and not finishing a lot of projects. In the last six months, I’ve started three or four different novels and wrote at least 20,000 words of them before shelving them to move on to something else. I’m just not finding anything I’m passionate enough about to finish. So in that regard nonfiction is better, too, because there’s not that sort of passion maintaining needed to finish them.
Do you think your environment, where you live, has an effect on the type of art you create?
Maybe. I live in Pig-Fucker, Kansas, where there is nothing going on. Ever. At least nothing that interests me. So that has made me want to write about bigger places and interesting or outlandish scenarios as a means of escape. In the last couple of years, I’ve started writing some about the areas that surround me, like Tulsa and Kansas City, which are within driving distance, so that’s been interesting.
Is it easier for you to create if given an assignment or does it get in the way of your creativity?
It just varies for me. Assignments are kind of hard sometimes, honestly. But deadlines are helpful too. It can go either way for me. I know this isn’t a definitive or overly interesting answer, but it’s the truth. I am a slave to my writing, but even more, I am a slave to my depression, which really dictates how much I’m going to get done. I recently placed my forty-fifth book, so I’m pretty productive. But that is misleading because I want to do so much more that my depression hinders me from doing. Last year I put out three books, I think, and I considered that a relatively unproductive year. But this is great compared to 2015, 2016, and 2017 where I was almost completely shut down due to health problems and depression caused by all of the things that were going wrong in my life.
What are your methods of creating a story or novel?
I don’t really have a method. I just come up with an idea and hope it will stay interesting enough for me, long enough that I can get it finished. I’m trying to be more selective. I’ve had two books that I powered through that I wasn’t feeling at certain points. Even though the reviews for those are good, I can see the difference in the quality of those books. Indie writers get paid jack shit, so if I’m going to put this stuff out and not make any money doing it, I want it to at least be as good as it can possibly be.
But methods… I don’t outline. I write short chapters now, so I tend to write a chapter in a single sitting. I try to make each chapter as good as I can, but I know I will do extensive rewriting later. Besides, the mistakes and goofs are easier to spot later on after the soup has cooled, so to speak. I do go back and read what I wrote the day before each time I sit down to write a new chapter, so I will clean up the things I do spot. So I do some rewriting as I go, but I am not one of those guys like Kurt Vonnegut or Elmore Leonard or Lansdale who get it all done and done right in a single draft. I’m a three or four draft guy, depending on the project.
What have you written that you are most proud of?
There are multiple answers to this, and honestly, those books have all been fairly recently. My favorite book overall is a tiny short story collection I put out last year called Ssssstories!. It was not my best collection, but it had cover artwork by my oldest daughter, Jordan, and a short story that was conceived and co-written by my youngest daughter, Josslyn, during the Covid shutdown. That was a project I just wanted to do so I could give them something to remember me by if something happens to me.
My favorite novels are American Trash and Layla’s Score, for completely different reasons. I wrote Layla’s Score about a little girl who was loosely based on my four daughters and mostly my youngest, Joss. I wrote it when I was very sick and again because I wanted to leave something special for my kiddos. It’s probably my second-best novel, but it means so much to me. My favorite novel in terms of artistry is American Trash. I think it’s probably the best writing I’ll ever do. It’s dark and nasty and a lot of people won’t like it, but it’s good. As a result, I don’t know where to go from there.
My favorite of my nonfiction books is, by far, My Best Friend’s Birthday: The Making of a Quentin Tarantino Film. It’s special because Tarantino was a huge influence on me. The biggest. My first book was supposed to be about Tarantino, but it sort of fell apart. And that’s good because it offered nothing new or original. But there is nothing like My Best Friend’s Birthday, which is the most exhaustive look at pre-fame Tarantino that exists. I also got to interview Tarantino for that and I made a life-long friend in Tarantino’s one-time co-writer Craig Hamann with that. It’s a special book and it’s a necessary part of the study of Tarantino and his work. It’s important. And best of all, it’s good. There are some younger people saying that Tarantino’s work is overrated or isn’t all that great. Those people may say the same about my work. To those people, I say a big fuck you. What have you done that’s on par with that? I realize each generation comes along and tries to tear down the work of the previous generation and I get that, but films like Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown and real and important works that cannot be erased or suddenly made unimportant just because some dipshit states or wishes that it is.
What was the oddest thing you’ve ever been asked to do in your writing career?
Nothing super odd comes to me at the moment, but there have been some annoying things. I’m a big hip-hop fan and I see KRS-One as being one of the all-time greats. One time KRS’s manager asked me to ghostwrite a book he wanted to write for no credit, no upfront money, and no contract. I bailed on that. I don’t think KRS even knew that was all happening, but I’m not making that deal for anyone. I am not writing someone else’s book for no credit and no money. Fuck that.
The most annoying thing I get asked is to help people who have never written anything in their life write and publish their books. People see what we do as being so simplistic that they believe they can just now, at the age of forty or whatever, go to a laptop and write a bestseller without having done all of the necessary legwork like having put in years of writing and honing their craft. Oftentimes they don’t even know what they would write about, but a lot of fucking idiots believe the only thing that’s stopping them from having a bestseller of some kind is the time to sit down and hammer out their magical one draft. It’s super annoying. No one would go up to a heart surgeon and say, “I’m gonna be a heart surgeon one day, I just haven’t had the time yet.” Not everyone can do it, period. It’s hard work to write, be published, and actually be good. Every time someone says any variation of the things we’ve just mentioned I want to slap the shit out of them.
What projects are you working on now?
I have a new short story collection called Songs of the Dead coming out soon. I’ve got the book I edited with you, Joe R. Lansdale: Interviews coming, as well as an anthology of hitman stories I edited titled Dead-End Jobs: A Hitman Anthology. As for the future, I’m primarily focusing on nonfiction. I’m finishing a book on Elmore Leonard titled Perspectives on Elmore Leonard: Conversations with Authors, Experts, and Collaborators, which is a sort of follow-up to my similar book on Stephen King. I might soon be working on a new book about Stephen King with two notable King experts, but I can’t really talk about that at the moment. I have another Tarantino-related book coming up, an oral history of The Room, a biography of cameraman and director Gary Graver, a book on the Melvin Van Peebles film Watermelon Man, actress Erica Gavin’s autobiography (which I’ve been working on for five years), and a book on micro-film pioneers Mark and John Polonia. I think that’s it, but I’m sure I’m forgetting one or two projects. I stay busy.