But then one day, while roaming the halls of Harper Creek High School, I discovered punk rock. A friend of mine was playing it on his little boombox. What came out of the speakers was the most aurally offense music I’d ever heard.
I was in love.
That same friend made me a mix tape filled with bands I’d never heard of: THE PLASMATICS, MDC, THE MEATMEN, DOA, and SCREAM to name a few.
After listening to that tape, I realized the gatekeepers I’d been trusting with their magic filters didn’t know their asses from a hole in the ground, which I’d already had my suspicions about. I mean, why weren’t they playing KISS? And why when they finally did play SABBATH it was always Paranoid? Why not Planet Caravan or Lord of this World or Electric Funeral?
As I dug deeper into the punk scene, I found out these bands had a DIY ethic that completely opened my eyes to a whole new way of doing things. They were making stuff happen on their own terms. They were writing the music they wanted to write. Not for the money, not for the fame, not for the chicks. They were angry and energetic, and it was a healthy way of pissing vinegar on The Man.
I clung to that ideology over the years with everything I had and carried it through my love of indie films, those gems that obliterate blockbusters in storytelling and originality. The indie books that offer wild plots that haven’t been done before. I even found that for every genre of music, there’s an indie scene giving birth to amazing talent you’ll never hear on the radio. Not just punk. There’s underground funk, jazz, new age, pop, you name it.
Once I'd found my individuality through the discovery of punk and its ethics, I ran from trends. I’m still that way. If a trend starts, I bolt the other way. I pierced my nose 30+ years ago, when the only other person I knew who’d done it was a punk in my band. Talk about drawing attention. But several years later, when my daughter wanted hers done and it looked like that would become the norm, I took mine out and never wore it again. I chopped my dreads off after catching a whiff of a trend there too. But Chad, you’ve got a beard! Yes, I know. I haven’t let the hipsters chase me away from that yet. Instead, I refuse to worship my beard with product and its own special comb.
This might sound like a bullheaded way of thinking (my wife and kids certainly poke fun), but really I’m just an advocate for individuality and paving your own way without checking to see what the masses are doing first.
Fast forward a few decades.
I decide I want to do what I can to make a career out of writing. Right away, I want nothing to do with anything considered mainstream horror. This pretty much rules out monsters and ghosts, but particularly zombies and vampires. And absolutely no dystopian settings. Call it artistic integrity, punk-rock ethics. Whatever. But writing to market is not for me. I’ll leave that to those who enjoy doing it, because God knows the world is full of readers who love those tropes. And good for them. We like what we like, right?
So, I write OF FOSTER HOMES AND FLIES. Very unexpectedly, Jack Ketchum and Richard Chizmar praise it. I couldn’t be happier. So I write a few more “dark fiction” books in the same vein (STIRRING THE SHEETS, WALLFLOWER, THE PALE WHITE), using real-life scenarios and enough ambiguity and bleak drama to hastily slap a “horror” label on it.
During this entire journey, unbeknownst to him, I’m using Joe Lansdale as a distant mentor. Here’s an author who is embraced by the horror community, yet when he changes genres they move from the popcorn line at the blood-spattered drive-in to the back of an old pickup to solve crime, then it’s on horseback to head out west.
But for me, the pull of sticking to what’s expected of me--or even jumping on a bandwagon as it strolls by, waving its zombie-scented money in the air on its way to apocalyptic lands we’ve already been to a thousand times over--is strong. I think about caving often. And I suppose I did when I wrote BLOODLETTER (the first book in a vampire series) as C.E. Lutzke. And it may not be the last time I cave. Matter of fact, to play the devil’s hypocrite here and be completely transparent, I’m not above writing to market under a pseudonym just to make money, because, unfortunately, a mortgage trumps integrity.
But what makes me truly happy is the unapologetic exploration of other genres and mixing them. With THE SAME DEEP WATER AS YOU I wrote a tragic “romance”. It’s bleak, it’s beautiful, it’s angsty, and hearts are broken. It was a total experiment I wrote 100% for me.
It wasn’t the first time I did this. SKULLFACE BOY was an experiment too. A bizarre road trip where I ask the reader to suspend all disbelief right on the first page, when I tell them our protagonist has a skull for a face.
Other than THE NEON OWL--another off-the-road exploration into territory new to me (crime noir-ish)--those two books were the most fun to write. They're loaded with more me than anything else.
While I'm honored to have a readership with reader expectations and hear whispers of anticipated broken hearts with what many have deemed "heartfelt horror," it's also a little scary. If STIRRING THE SHEETS and OF FOSTER HOMES AND FLIES made them cry, how are they going to react when when I've got a one-legged handyman searching for clues on who's shitting in the bushes at THE NEON OWL?
I imagine Lansdale had this same problem at first. The difference is, Joe is more punk than me, and I don’t think he gave a good shit. After Lansdale wrote THE DRIVE-IN, readers screamed, "We've got a splatterpunk guy on our hands!"
Joe said, "No you don't," and wrote a crime novel, while pointing toward THE MAGIC WAGON, stating, "And don't forget about the western."
Joe gave the finger to the pigeons and their holes.
I want to give that same finger.
Joe did for my view on writing what punk rock ethics started at the age of 14. His “fuck-the-reader” and “write-like-everyone-you-know-is-dead” principles are as punk as it gets. It’s why he’s in my list of top 3 writers of all time, right alongside Mr. Ketchum and Mr. King (for me, they're all tied for first).
I’ll never be done writing “heartfelt horror”. It’s in my DNA. But I’m not done writing dark drama or humorous crime stories either. Just know that whatever I write is honest and 100% me, on my terms. And I sure do appreciate you riding along.
But if you’re one who tends to like the same comfortable shoes--as Lansdale puts it--and don’t care much for when I wander too far, blame Joe Lansdale. It’s his fault.