Please welcome Johnny Shaw to the blog! His newest Jimmy Veeder Fiasco, PLASTER CITY, just came out, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions. Also, there’s a giveaway going on for a Kindle Fire and an ecopy of PLASTER CITY, so be sure to check that out too!
Congrats on the new book! What can readers expect from Jimmy and Bobby this time around in Plaster City?
It’s two years after the events of Dove Season. Jimmy has settled into the quiet life with his girlfriend and son. When Bobby’s daughter goes missing, Jimmy doesn’t hesitate to help him look for her. Torn between his obligation to his family and his loyalty to his best friend, it really tests both. Of course, nothing goes right in their search, pitting them against Mexican bikers, wannabe gangsters, and real gangsters. What do you expect? It’s a fiasco.
You have a background in screenwriting, but have you always wanted to write fiction? Will you tell us a bit more about yourself and about that progression?
When I started writing, it would never have occurred to me to write fiction. I was rabid about making movies, working in a number of capacities on independent film projects: writing, editing, sound recording, producing. Eventually I focused on just screenwriting. But even as that expanded to an interest in stage plays and graphic novels, I was still only drawn to collaborative media.
Almost twenty years from when I started writing, something clicked and I felt like I had a novel in me. When I sat down to write Dove Season, I hadn’t written a short story since junior high school. I wasn’t even sure I could finish it. Lacking any confidence, I didn’t tell anyone, including my wife, that I was writing it until I was about 100 pages in.
Why crime noir? What do you enjoy most about reading, and writing in the genre?
I would never classify what I write as noir. It’s just not that bleak. The world of my stories has darkness to be sure, but they tend to have happy endings, give or take. Maybe not happy, but optimistic. Hard-boiled may be a better classification.
I see my stories as simply working class fiction. About regular folk. The fact is, the working class in the United States have a closer proximity to crime. It’s just the nature of being poor. Whether it’s the neighborhood, one’s family, friends. It’s more likely that crime will have had some impact on one’s life when you have less money.
How dark should dark get? Is anything personally off limits for you?
My biggest problem with a lot of crime fiction is too consistent a tone within a book. Whether conscious or not, it always feels constructed to me. A dark, rainy, noiry world that is always dark and rainy and noiry. With no humor, there is no counterpoint. Then there’s the other end, all jokes, but nothing grounding it. Life is neither humorless nor constant comedy. Life is that gray area in between. I try to go dark and show that part of the world, but I’m enough of a showman to try to get a laugh on the same page. The challenge to pull that off is much more intriguing to me. And when it works, it has a better chance of capturing the inconsistent tone of real life.
Nothing is off limits. Absolutely nothing. That doesn’t mean that you can just throw it all out there and it’ll work every time. But there isn’t a subject that can’t be addressed in art. If it exists in life, then it has a place in fiction.
You grew up in the same area that is the setting for Dove Season and Plaster City, and it’s almost a character unto itself. What about it and its people made such an impression on you, and other than the whole write-what-you-know thing, why did you decide to set the books there?
It takes leaving a place and looking back sometimes to realize that where you grew up is actually exotic. The things that you took as ordinary are surprisingly unique. I grew up on a dirt farm across the street from a field worker bar about five miles north of the Mexican border. Why wouldn’t I write about it?
What authors have influenced you the most in your writing?
The most interesting thing about the writers that I feel influenced me most is that my work is nothing like theirs. It’s usually their original approach that I admire. And liking originality means that I’m not going to copy them, only their ambitious nature.
James Crumley, Leonard Gardner, Robert Benchley, John Dos Passos, Patricia Highsmith, Fredric Brown, Cornell Woolrich, Jonathan Latimer, Hubert Selby Jr., just off the top of my head.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which would it be?
Ask me tomorrow and I’ll answer differently, but I’m going to go with The Talented Mr. Ripley. That was a book that I picked up and knew nothing about and as I read it, I never knew where it was going. Purely original, unpredictable, and beautifully realized. I’d love to have that surprise in a read again.
One of my prized possessions is a letter from Patricia Highsmith. I wrote her around 1993, basically a fan letter but also an inquiry into the film rights for her book The Cry of the Owl. She wrote me back berating me and my lack of knowledge of her work. Typed on both sides of a three-by-five card from Switzerland with her signature on the bottom. I would have been disappointed if she had been anything but surly.
What are you currently reading?
The final assignments for my college screenwriting classes. When I’m done grading those, The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya is on the top of my TBR stack. Been looking forward to that one for awhile.
How about movies? Seen any good ones lately?
I live a few blocks from a second-run movie theater that serves pizza and beer, so I’m there at least once a week. But everything I see came out four months earlier, so I’m always a little behind. I tend to be less critical of movies than books. I think I just like being out of the house and watching the pretty colors on the screen.
The best movie I’ve seen in the last few years is the Korean movie The Yellow Sea. Just a great crime movie. I just saw The Raid 2 and that was fun as hell.
What’s next for you?
There will eventually be a third Jimmy Veeder Fiasco, but right now I’m writing something that’s a bit of a departure. The working title is Floodgate. Still a crime novel and fun, but told in a different way. It’s not set in the desert, but in an urban environment, for one. More satirical. Bigger scope. But at the same time having elements of classic pulp. I know, pretty vague. But I rarely talk about a work in progress. It’s not that I’m secretive, it’s that I usually don’t know what it’s about until I’m done.
About PLASTER CITY:
Jimmy Veeder and Bobby Maves are back at it, two years after the events of Dove Season—they’re not exactly the luckiest guys in the Imperial Valley, but, hey, they win more fights than they lose.
Settled on his own farmland and living like a true family man after years of irresponsible fun, Jimmy’s got a straight life cut out for him. But he’s knocking years off that life thanks to fun-yet-dangerous Bobby’s booze-addled antics—especially now that Bobby is single, volatile, profane as ever, and bored as hell.
When Bobby’s teenage daughter goes missing, he and Jimmy take off on a misadventure that starts out as merely unfortunate and escalates to downright calamitous. Bobby won’t hesitate to kick a hornets’ nest to get the girl to safety, but when the rescue mission goes riotously sideways, the duo’s grit—and loyalty to each other—is put to the test.