Saturday, April 05, 2014

A Warm Welcome to Johnny Shaw!

Hannah here ... first of all, a big thank you must go to Lee Goldberg for introducing me to Johnny Shaw in cyber-space. Having just relocated to Portland, Oregon, Lee thought we would “get along.” And I’m happy to say that he was right. Johnny has to be one of the most versatile writers I know and hugely entertaining. If you check out his website you’ll see what I mean.
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HD: Both of your books, Dove Season and Big Maria, are vividly set in the Imperial Valley where you grew up. Tell us why you decided to go back to your roots.

JS: I never thought that where I grew up was exotic in any way until I left and examined it. I suppose it took that distance to see it for something unique. I realized that few people grew up on a farm across the street from a Mexican field worker bar. Nor did they live on the border or the desert. There’s no place on Earth like the Imperial Valley. And even though I left when I was 17, growing up down there definitely shaped who I am as a person and a writer.

HD: The Imperial Valley is a far cry from Portland, Oregon. How did you find your way up to the Pacific Northwest?

JS: My wife and I had been living in Los Angeles. I was working as a screenwriter and she worked in animation, but we were both ready for a change. I also owned a used bookstore down there. When the lease on the store ended, I had the choice of renewing for five years or shutting it down. We looked at each other and realized that we could live anywhere; that we didn’t need to be in LA. We ended up in Portland and love it, but we were really going away from LA more than we were going toward Portland at the beginning.

HD: I first met you in the pub where you write. What’s a typical writing day like for you?

JS: It depends on deadlines and obligations, of course. But on a typical day, I prefer to write after lunch. I’ve always written in bars and cafes. When I started writing, I was dirt poor, so I always lived with fifty roommates and got in the habit of leaving the house or apartment to get things done.

Between noon and about four or five o’clock, bars tend to be pretty empty. I can sit in a corner and drink coffee without taking the seat of a better customer. It’s important to be in a place where I feel welcome. I found that place in Portland. And when I travel, the first thing I do is find the place I can sit for three or four hours without someone giving me the stink-eye—usually some dive bar.

HD: You are a screenwriter with an MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA, what made you cross over to long-form narrative? Has it given you a different approach to your writing?

JS: I had always been drawn to collaborative media. As much as I like sitting alone and writing, I really like working with other artists. In independent film, there’s an amazing artistic conversation—same with writing for stage. But the bigger the budget, the more at stake. And that means less control for the writer. The discussion becomes more money-driven. I still enjoyed the work, but it was less satisfying creatively.

I hadn’t written a short story since junior high school when I sat down to write Dove Season, but I thought it would be interesting to write a novel. I just wasn’t sure if I could finish one. I didn’t even tell my wife I was writing a novel until about 100 pages into it. I tend to see the characters and scenes visually in my head like a movie. And my knowledge of structure, dialogue, and scene construction definitely come in handy. My work tends to be cinematic in that regard, although I do like to turn a phrase, as well. Which is something you really don’t get to do too often in screenwriting.

HD: What’s next for Johnny Shaw?

JS: My new Jimmy Veeder Fiasco novel, the follow-up to Dove Season, comes out on May 1st. It’s titled Plaster City and follows Jimmy and his best friend Bobby Maves as they drink and fight their way through the desert in search of Bobby’s missing teenage daughter. As you’d expect, things don’t go according to plan.

…And finally, if you’re as fascinated as I am by the action heroes of the 1970s and 1980s “a bygone era filled with wide-eyed innocence and mustaches” check out Johnny’s hilarious FREE quarterly newsletter Blood & Tacos “Because if it’s too cheesy, it’s a quesadilla.”

HD: LOVE IT!

Thanks so much for stopping by.

1 comment:

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Welcome, Johnny. I love the concept of "Blood & Tacos".