For more than thirty years, writer Joe R. Lansdale has been sending his iconic characters Hap and Leonard out on adventures both long and short. In the following email interview, Lansdale discusses the latest batch of the latter, Born For Trouble: The Further Adventures Of Hap And Leonard (paperback, Kindle), a collection of previously uncollected short stories.
Photo Credit: Karen Lansdale
For people who haven’t read any of the Hap And Leonard stories, who are Hap Collins and Leonard Pine, what do they do, and when and where do their adventures take place?
Hap and Leonard are East Texas born and raised, yet they don’t fit the stereotypes of East Texans, though in some areas they do. They grew up in the sixties, but they don’t age as I do, as I stop time when their adventures aren’t happening. So I’m turning seventy, but they’re in their fifties. Hap is a liberal minded guy who was part of the sixties movement. Pro Civil Rights, Anti Vietnam War, that sort of thing. He’s an atheist, as is Leonard, so they don’t fit in there. Leonard is conservative, in a kind of Reagan Conservative way, but he’s a lot more flexible about certain things, not being religious is one of them. He might fit in with the George W. Bush conservatives, but not the Trump folks. Truth is, neither he or Hap fit in anywhere comfortably. There’s also the fact that Leonard is gay and a tough guy, and Hap is straight. Their differences don’t keep them from having formed a bond of friendship that’s more like family. They’re like brothers. Quarrelsome, but they love each other and stand for each other come what may.
And then, in relation to the other Hap And Leonard stories, when do the stories in Born For Trouble take place, and is there any direct connection between any of these stories and any of the other books or any of the other short stories?
These stories happened over the years, so I can’t say they fit in any one time period, and you don’t need to know where they fit to enjoy them. I think they are in their late forties during most of these adventures, but the timeline is of little interest to me. I write the stories as they come to me, and even though I stop them from aging when I’m not writing about them, I never try and patch in what year it should be since the last adventure. I have the writerly conceit of just starting where we are now, even if I stopped aging them when I last wrote about them. But again, these stories have been gathered from over the years. What’s cool about these stories is they’ve never been collected, and they haven’t had wide exposure.
What about connections between the stories in Born For Trouble, are they connected in any way?
They are connected in the sense that they are Hap and Leonard adventures. They are the more action-oriented tales, which are the opposite of much of [his 2013 short story collection] Bleeding Shadows and [his 2020 Hap and Leonard short story collection] Of Mice And Minestrone, more like the collection Hap And Leonard of some years back.
And lastly for the connection questions, are there any real-world connections between the stories in Born For Trouble? Like, are they all stories that were previously published in various journals but never in a collection like this before?
They have not been collected, and have only seen singular publication. This is their first time to be gathered together and widely distributed. I never expected to write short stories or novellas about the guys, just novels, but I’d miss them from time to time, but not enough to write a new novel just then, and so I’d write shorter works. I found I loved doing it. Short stories are my favorite form anyway. New novels are forthcoming, if all goes according to plan, though I plan in a general way when it comes to what’s next down the road.
You said the stories in Born For Trouble were more action / adventure stories, but are there other kinds of stories in this collection as well?
There are all those things in these stories. But their primary purpose here is the relationship between the two characters, action and adventure. I like to experiment with my work, including Hap and Leonard. Some stories are more introspective, some are more external. These are mostly of the external sort, but to try and brand Hap and Leonard is like trying to brand an amoeba with a branding iron. Unlikely to happen.
They also weirdly sound like they might be like those Encyclopedia Brown stories. Except, of course, for adults, not kids. Do you think I’m right or that I need to have my head examined?
I think they are in some ways like adult Hardy Boys. At heart, both are kind of Boy Scouts gone sideways. But in the end, the tales are sort of morality tales without religion. They’re about two guys trying to do right, and failing in some ways, doing well in others. They do things no one should do, but the stories work as the aforementioned morality tales. They change here and there as they go, as we all do.
If Wikipedia is to be believed, Born For Trouble is the twenty-fifth Hap And Leonard book, and sixth collection of short stories.
That’s wrong. There are twelve novels and four short story collections, and there was a book that collected one novella and excerpts from several novels, done as a small press book. If you include that collection, then there are five collections, and that means novels and story collections amount to sixteen books about the boys.
Putting aside the shock that Wikipedia could be wrong about anything…are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a particularly big influence on the stories or a specific story in Born For Trouble, but not on any previous Hap And Leonard stories?
Generally speaking, there was a series called Hardman by Ralph Dennis that was marketed as this hardboiled, sexy man’s adventure series, but it wasn’t. It was about two regular guys, black and white, who worked together in Atlanta as private eyes. That is an important influence. Chester Himes was a big influence. Raymond Chandler. John D. McDonald, and the Spenser novels by Parker. Lots of Southern novelist and short story writers like Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, Harper Lee, Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Some of the influences is content, some of it is style, and trying under the outrageous adventures to touch on real people and real concerns, though the latter in these stories is of less importance. Again, their emphasis is excitement. But they are definitely their own thing.
How about non-literary influences; were any of the stories in Born For Trouble influenced by any movies or TV shows?
I have always been influenced by films, but the only film I can directly relate to as an influence on the characters is Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. The relationship between those characters, and the humor.
Speaking of which, there was a Hap And Leonard TV show a few years ago, one that had Michael K. Williams as Leonard. Do you think any of the stories in Born For Trouble could’ve worked as episodes of the TV show?
I think so, but the novels worked better for seasons as they are more complex and show greater depth to the characters, their times, and environment.
Finally, do you think Born For Trouble is a good place to start exploring the Hap And Leonard series?
I think they are fine for that, but I’d love for people to read this and become interested enough to start with the first in the novel series, Savage Season, because the series grows from that. Mucho Mojo and Rusty Puppy stand alone, and they are my two favorite novels in the series.