I’m thrilled to have Johnny Shaw on the blog! If you haven’t discovered his books, now’s the time, and he kindly stopped by to talk about his new book, Floodgate. Please give him a warm welcome!
Will you tell us a bit about Floodgate and what inspired you to write it?
When I played cops and robbers as a kid, I always preferred being a robber. No surprise there. For Floodgate, I wanted to create a story where the robbers were the good guys and the cops the bad guys, but in a believable way. For that to work, I had to create the right environment. That’s where Auction City comes in.
About a dozen years ago, author Bart Lessard and I collaborated on a similar premise, but as a comic book. We did some of the world building together, but due to a ton of factors (all my fault), the project had to be abandoned. However, it stuck with me.
Bart Lessard is actually the one that came up with the name “Auction City” for the location. His book Dead Men’s Teeth and some other stories are set in Auction City in the past. The same Auction City, a different one? I don’t know, but they’re great reads. As I shifted from screenwriter to novelist, I eventually found a way to approach the idea as a book. With Bart’s blessing I took the premise and ran with it. The result is Floodgate.
What makes Andy Destra a compelling character? Why do you think readers will root for him?
My intention was to create something closer to Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct books. One character at the center, but a cast of characters that rise and fall in importance as the story progresses. A riff on the police procedural. The next one might not even have Andy as the main character, but in a more supporting role.
That said, for this book Andy is definitely the hero. He is a flawed character. He’s smart, but he can also do dumb things. He’s tough, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t get frightened by a real threat. Too many characters–in the author’s effort to keep them “in character”–can remain one-note and predictable, because they have too narrow an emotional range. People are more complex than that. There’s an internal logic that has to be consistent, but can appear chaotic. The same character can be patient about one thing and impatient in another situation. Not for the sake of making an element of the story work, but as a character trait on its own.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
In my brain, I think I like doing research. But when I sit down to do it, one of two things happens. I either get lost in it and I forgot what and why I was researching or I get so overwhelmed by the minutiae that I lose interest in the subject. So for Floodgate, I made up the city from scratch.
I needed Auction City to have a very specific history. Rather than research, I had to construct a three-dimensional city and communicate it without the history and exposition taking over. That was the biggest challenge, the balance between too much and too little. The place has to feel real quickly, but if there’s too much exposition about the world, you’ve hit the story brakes and nothing is happening. I ended up incorporating some stylistic elements to make it as economical as I could.
What supporting characters did you enjoy writing the most?
The women. My three previous books were masculine stories, exploring the nature of male friendships and the father/son dynamic. For this book, I wanted to bring more of a balance in terms of the gender roles.
A tough city breeds tough people. The women of Auction City are no exception to this. From Champ, the woman that raised Andy, to Agnes, a mysterious West African woman that shows up at strange times, the women really took over the story. And it was fun to see happen.
It’s been a while since we caught up. Have you read any good books lately? Anything you’d recommend?
YOUNG AMERICANS by Josh Stallings is fun as hell, a disco-era heist story that’s got great characters and momentum. HASHTAG by Eryk Pruitt is really good. He’s a writer that you’re going to be hearing about. Jordan Harper’s collection of short stories, LOVE AND OTHER WOUNDS, is fantastic from cover to cover. Finally, BLACK GUM by J. David Osborne is a mean, quick read. There’s dozens more I’m sure, those are off the top of my head.
What are you currently reading?
Chris Offutt’s MY FATHER, THE PORNOGRAPHER. Offutt is one of my favorite essayists, really one of the strongest voices about the class divide in the United States, but also the widening gap between the rural and the urban. I will read anything he writes. This book is about his father, Andrew J. Offutt who wrote hundreds of books, most for-hire, including tons of pornography.
What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’m currently writing the third Jimmy Veeder Fiasco, tentatively titled ALAMO RIVER, which comes out sometime around Spring 2017, I think. It will take Jimmy and Bobby into Mexico. That’s about all I can say at this point.
I’ll probably start a new Floodgate book after that, but I don’t like to plan too far ahead so I can allow myself inspiration. I have an idea for a stand-alone that I might toy with, as well. Who knows?
You’ll know when I know.
Andy Destra is a mostly honest cop in the most notoriously corrupt and crime-ridden city in America: Auction City. After discovering explosive information that reveals corruption within the highest levels of the police department, Andy is kicked off the force, framed, and disgraced, left to wage a lonely one-man crusade against conspiracies he can’t prove.
Andy’s investigation plunges him into a blackly comic maelstrom of one-armed gang members, slick pickpockets, criminal syndicates, hired mercenaries, escaped convicts, sewer dwellers, and one sinister ice cream truck. At the same time, he must contend with a mystery closer to home: the true identity of his parents, his most unshakeable obsession. Understanding their past may be the key to Auction City’s future as it teeters on the brink of chaos.
If Andy can’t solve this case, the Floodgate will fail…and his city will burn.