Plaster City Blog Tour: Interview with Johnny Shaw

INTERVIEW

 

What inspired you to write your first book?

Johnny Shaw: It took me twenty years to realize how unique and interesting the place I grew up was. There’s nowhere like the Imperial Valley of California. The border, the desert, the farms.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

JS: My stories tend to be about male relationships: fathers and sons, friends, brothers, etc. There are male/female relationships, as well, but I really feel like those male relationships are rarely explored in depth in genre work.

 What books have most influenced your life most?

JS: The Fabulous Clipjoint by Fredric Brown, The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley, Tapping the Source by Kem Nunn, Fast One by Paul Cain, Murder in the Madhouse by Jonathan Latimer, Fat City by Leonard Gardner, Cutter and Bone by Newton Thornburg, The Long-Legged Fly by James Sallis, Get Carter by Ted Lewis. I could go on. I read a lot.

What book are you reading now?

JS: Cottonwood by Scott Phillips. I’ve read all his other books and I’m a big fan. Somehow this one got past me. Really great so far.

Do you enjoy writing girl characters or boy characters the most?

JS: While my main characters are men, the women in my stories are always smarter than the men. I enjoy writing both and the interaction between them.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

JS: Todd Robinson, Matthew McBride, Christopher Irvin, Glenn Gray, Dan O’Shea, Samuel Gailey.

Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.

JS: There are few people that have been more supportive of me and my work than Jacque Ben-Zekry, formerly my Author Relations person at Thomas & Mercer (my publisher), now in Marketing. She is an absolute rock star and an author’s best friend.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

I started writing screenplays in college as a film student. It all built from there. I still occasionally write screenplays and I have an idea for a new stage play, but I’m pretty focused on the novels right now.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

JS: The writing. I’m a pretty harsh critic of my own work. I tend to do a lot of drafts. It’s all about putting in the time for me.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

JS: In my opinion, Robert Benchley is one of the funniest people to ever live. I don’t even know if he’s in print, but everyone should seek him out. I remember reading him for the first time and thinking, “This guy is just ripping off Woody Allen.” And then I realized he was doing it forty years before Woody Allen. Wholly original and laugh-out-loud funny, his writing constantly surprises me.

Where would you like to travel someday to do a book signing?

JS: I’ll answer for my wife. Paris.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

JS: The doubt. You write this thing and it makes sense to you, but you never really know if it’s going to make sense to anyone else.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

JS: There’s a character that’s a version of my father in my first novel. He passed away in 1997. The writing of that book gave me the opportunity to have a few more conversations with him. Not ones that we had, but ones that we could have had. That was something special. I still learn from him.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

JS: Don’t give writing advice. It always bites you in the ass.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

JS: I’m going to try to make you care about people that you wouldn’t like if you met them in real life. Give them a chance.

What books/authors have influenced your writing?

JS: It’s hard to pin down, but Jonathan Latimer, a somewhat forgotten hard-boiled crime novel from the 1940s had a huge influence on me. While Hammett and Chandler are obviously big, Latimer’s books are really funny, while still hard-boiled. And that was something I wanted to try to do.

Do you ever experience writer's block?

JS: I don’t really believe in writer’s block. I write every day no matter what. It’s hard to get writer’s block if you just keep writing.

If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?

JS: Coffee and Beer: A Johnny Shaw Fiasco

 

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