Monday, February 24, 2020

12 Gauge: An Interview with Beau Johnson

For this edition of 12 Gauge we’re taking a trip outside the Deep South to the Great White North. Frequent contributor and friend of Story and Grit, Beau Johnson, is our guest today. 

You can find Beau everywhere. All the best sites have published him including S&G. He has a new collection of short fiction coming out later this month. You can preorder All of Them to Burn now. 

We’re going to talk about that book and a wide range of other topics. 

On that note, let’s get this interview started out right…

The Avengers save the world for the umpteenth time and you get the chance to treat them to a dinner cruise and thank them on behalf of mankind. Who did they save us from and how did they do it?

The world is in peril, my friend, or was, if we’re sticking with your hypothetical---it means Cap, Tony, and the rest saved us from Trump, doing so by what should have prevailed from day one: common sense. Not everyone will agree with this, and that's their right, but it still makes them wrong.

I love story titles. There’s nothing better than coming up with one that hooks the reader. Each of your short story collections have the most badass titles. What’s the story behind each of them?

Good question.  A little look-see behind the curtain.  I’ve always liked those. A Better Kind of Hate presented itself really, near the end of an early Rider story called, coincidentally enough, A Better Kind of Hate. The Big Machines Eats had the same type of birth but fails to come from a Rider story. The unconnected tale in question involved an eighteen wheeler, its grill, some bone, and how “it” ate. The parallel between that rig and Rider didn’t come until later, however, but when it did hit, the title, as they say, it slid into place.  As for All of Them to Burn, the same thing that happened with A Better Kind of Hate happened here--- just Rider and his hate and rage spilling onto the page.

You’re going on a road trip with three characters from Stephen King's work. Who are they and where y’all going?  

Oh man.  Oh man. I have to save the Tower. Or at least help Roland finish his quest. If I die, so be it. Ka, as ever, a wheel. 

You’ve got what some weaker folk might consider an unhealthy love for Hannibal. Say you get to insert Bishop Rider into his world. Who comes away from that showdown alive?

Ha! Very true. Very True.  I have loved Thomas Harris and books for ages.  Most of the movies too. But ever since Fuller took a crack at it on the small screen, man, it hit another level.  And I’ve said this before, and no offence to Anthony Hopkins, but Mads is Lecter now. As for the showdown? Let’s just say Rider, he wouldn’t be jumpin off no cliff..

Lately on social media you’ve been posting about life lessons or things you’ve learned along the way. It made me wonder what you’ve learned from writing a recurring character. Any good lessons from that?

Yeah, it’s weird how one gets on kicks, isn’t it?  Anyway, for those who may have missed it, I did in fact do a list to this very question. For those who commented, unto them cake was bequeathed. Did I bake it myself?  Well, that would be telling now, wouldn’t it.
  1. The more I take from him the more determined he becomes.
  2. Catchphrases emerge, slowly at first, then it’s as though they’ve always been there.
  3. I’m looking at you “taking the moment” and “time to go to work.”
  4. Supporting players/secondary characters open up a story in ways I couldn’t have predicted.
  5. Bodies, they stack like wood.

Over 10 years of writing my literary aspirations have changed from wanting to become a world fantasy author of an epic fantasy series to wanting to create a character as cool as Burt Reynolds. A new goal I can add to that list is having something I publish appear in one of your book selfies. How did those selfies come about and what’s the idea behind them?

They’ve become a thing, I know.  And I still dig it, I do, but sometimes, you know, you gotta start thinking people are probably tired of seeing your mug.  Christ, I know I am somedays. Anyway, it started as an appreciation thing. For the people who took the time to help me out before and just around the time A Better Kind of Hate was published.  I started them on people’s birthdays.  Sarah M. Chen was the first I think. Followed by Marietta Miles.  Angel was pretty cool at Bouchercon too, where he and some guys took me out for dinner and drinks.  It sorta snowballed from there, up to and including Beau’s Book Nook Beginnings and Not Beau’s Book Nook.  Weird how things happen, m’man. So weird.

When you’ve written as much short fiction as you have about a single character does it kill any desire you might have to turn one of his stories into a novel?

Funny you should say that. I’m of two minds about the subject. I want to write a novel and I don’t think I CAN write a novel.  I CAN write a short story, though. So, what about a short story novel? Interconnected tales of a man’s life and how he’s chosen to deal with his grief?  Okay. Fine. You’ve talked me into it. Look for Brand New Dark, a collection of Bishop Rider only tales coming to a 2021 near you!  

One day Marvel or DC comes calling. They give you the opportunity to take any character you choose and write a one off or series. Which company are you working for and what character are you writing?

No Martha here, m’man.  Marvel to the bone. As for the character? Man, there are so many goodins. Who do I choose?  Who do I choose? The easy play would be Frank Castle, as I think I have a pretty good base there, but I enjoy hope immensely, as much as I enjoy character, so I’d have to go with Spidey for the win.  Not because he’s my favorite, but because me, him, and his Uncle Ben have a connection that affected me early in life.  

Building on that last question, if you’re given the opportunity to work with your dream artist who would that be and what work drew you to their art?

Alex Maleev.  His and Bendis’s Daredevil run kicks all the ass.  However, Gaydos from Alias also does it for me. Damn you, Mark!  Why must you make me choose?!

Recently we were having a discussion about our writing process on Twitter. You mentioned that all of your writing is done on your phone. Can you take us through the process of that?

Again, so weird.  But yup, fer sure I can. Long story short, I broke my collarbone just after A Better Kind of Hate came out.  As I healed, sitting and sleeping in a chair for ten weeks, I finished writing The Big Machine Eats. I thought that was the end of it.  Not so. When I sat down at my laptop after, once I was healed, nothing. Zilch. Nada. When I was at the boats, however, and found some downtime, I wrote on my phone. Soon after, I realized I couldn’t go back.  So now I write it all on my phone, then I email it to myself, transfer to a document, edit on the laptop, and go from there. It ain’t pretty, I’ll give you that, but whatever gets it on the page, right?

If you were going to teach a class on the craft of writing what writers/books would make up your curriculum? 

Stephen King’s On Writing.  Crazy good.  I’d probably read it to them twice.  I’d also throw some Elmore Leonard in there for good measure, seeing how I love it when people get the chance to tell me they dug coal together.

To build on that, and bring this 12 Gauge interview to a close, what aspect of the craft would you emphasize as the most important part to your students?

Everyone writes differently, sure, but people read differently too.  It has to flow. It has to make sense. If a reader has to work at, man, it’s pretty much downhill from there.  Be clean. Be concise. Strip it. Say it out loud. If it feels off, realize it is. Dump it. Reword it. Let it breathe.  Make it hum. And remember, I don’t need to know the exact shade of jean your main character is wearing. I don’t need to know what they’re doing in the washroom either.  I can make that jump in logic myself. If we’re being honest, most every reader can.

I want to thank Beau for stopping by. You’re not going to find a better guy around. We’re long overdue for a meetup and I owe him about two or three beers.

Get out there and buy his work. 

Y’all have a good one,

Mark
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Monday, February 17, 2020

12 Gauge: An Interview With S.A. Cosby

I’ve admired Shawn A. Cosby from afar for a while now. Nobody needs to know about the amount of time I’ve spent stalking him on social media. He’s funny, compelling, and a badass writer. 

I was introduced to Shawn’s work through his story Doubt Thou the Stars are Fire in TOUGH Magazine. I still get jealous that I never saw the ending coming and that I didn’t think of it first. Shortly after reading that story I bought his novel My Darkest Prayer and can’t wait for the release of Blacktop Wasteland

I’ve wanted to interview Shawn for a while now and have only just worked up the courage to make it happen. It’s a pleasure to have him here at Story and Grit. I owe him a Woodford for it. 

Now… let’s start this interview off with a bang…

Pick three characters from any story you’ve written and decide which to fuck, which to marry, and which to kill. What’s your picks?

SAC: Jumping in to the deep end, huh? LOL. Well I think I'd fuck Lisa from My Darkest Prayer not because she's a porn star but because I think she'd be the most fun to hangout with for a casual encounter. I'd marry Mya from my current work in progress. She is tough and takes no crap and she has a deep well of common sense. I’d kill Lazy from Blacktop Wasteland. He’s an unforgivable bastard. 

If you could develop a story around your favorite Southern superstition what would it be and what genre would it fall into?

SAC: I’d love to write a horror novel based on the Southern superstition of opening the windows if someone passes at home. What if you didn’t open the windows and the soul gets trapped in your trailer? Because I can’t think of anything worse than a haunted trailer….

What Southern authors helped influence you as a writer and storyteller?

SAC: Oh man that’s a long list. I mean it goes all the way from Flannery O’Connor to Alice Walker to Ernest J. Gaines to William Faulkner to Larry Brown, to Jim Thompson to William Gay. The breadth and width of Southern fiction is a deep well from which I’m blessed to be able to drink from..

Say Blacktop Wasteland is made into a movie. The studio brings you in and wants you to help build the soundtrack. What Southern music is going to be on that album?

SAC: Well when i was writing it The Allman Brothers were on my playlist. I wrote scenes with a soundtrack playing in my head. For instance , in the first half of the book there is a car chase and I had  “Midnight Rider” playing in my head. Or the opening scene which is a drag race, Empty Arms by Stevie Ray Vaughn is playing. I’d love to have Buddy Guy “Long Way from Home” and Howling Wolf “ Killing Floor”  Maybe throw some funky juke joint cuts on there too like Marvin Sease or Clarence Carter.

You’re hosting a movie night for friends from outside the South and have to pick your favorite Southern films to introduce them to the region. What movies are y'all watching?

SAC:  I think you would have to mix it up. Throw on Gator starring Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed. Then pop in The Color Purple with Whoopie Goldberg. Find a good film version of The Glass Menagerie. And finally Sounder.. I’d add a film that’s not strictly Southern but Hell Or Highwater would make a great coda to the evening.

I’m always interested to hear authors talk about their writing and research process, and hopefully this question isn’t too vague, but what was that process like for Blacktop Wasteland?

SAC: That’s a good question. The genesis of Blacktop Wasteland was initially my desire to tell an outlaw story like Whtie Lightning but with a black cast. I wanted to tell a story that reflected the characters and people i grew up with on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. But at some point during the process it became a story about broken men and the inheritance of pain we are sometimes handed from our fathers.. I’m  a gearhead so the technical aspects of car chases were a lot of fun to research. I actually contacted some car manufacturers about the specs on certain vehicles and what they could actually do within the confines of physics. Because while I wanted to tell a moving tale of fathers and sons and question what it means to be a good man I also wanted to have some badass car chases. So there’s 71 Plymouth Duster in the book and cousin that son of a bitch can HUNT.  

If there’s a famous Southerner that you could resurrect from the dead and spend the day with who would it be and what would y’all do?

SAC: Zora Neal Hurston and we would drink whiskey and make cornbread and pork chops.

Has there been any sort of adversity that you’ve dealt with in the publishing industry because of the region of the country you’re from?

SAC: It’s funny. When I first started trying to get published I found that I was in a kind of no man’s land as far as the publishing community went. I was too black for the whtie publishers and not black enough for the black publishers. There just weren’t a lot of authors writing about rural noir with Arfican American lead characters that take place entirely in the South. I had some editors ask if I could make my writing more “urban”  and I had some editors say that no one was interested in the subjects I was interested in. However I was blessed to meet people like Austin Camacho at Intrigue Publishing and my agent Josh Getzler and the folks at Flatiron Books who all realized that there is a place for these stories and that the Southern Experience is not defined by Confederate apologists.

What are some of your favorite under the radar Southern novels that people need to read?

SAC:  I think people are really sleeping on Eryk Pruitt. All his novels are excellent but I really think more people should read What We Reckon. It’s like what Jim Thompson would write if he had had a better sense of humor. It’s subversive and insightful and it stays with you long after you read the last page. I’d also like to turn some eyes to Kelly J. Ford and her magnificent novel Cottonmouths. It’s so authentically southern you can nearly smell the chicken shit coming off the pages. 

I love to hear writers talk about their weird habits and quirks. Using myself as an example, I write all my first drafts longhand and walk around the house reciting dialogue out loud until it sounds just right. What weird quirks do you have as a writer?

SAC:  I know this will seem crazy but I act out fight scenes in my living room to get the blocking in the scene right. I know it freaks my neighbors out because sometimes I don’t close the curtains. Another thing I do is flip through Pinterest and write little short stories about the pictures. Most of these never go anywhere but they help to keep me sharp. 

What’s one aspect of Southern culture that you wish everyone could experience?

SAC: Down home Southern cooking . There is a communicative connection that happens when you eat real Southern food prepared with love and care. When you have dinner at your nana’s house or your Auntie’s it’s not just dinner. It’s akin to a religious experience wrapped up in a festive embrace. There is nothing like it in my opinion. 

You’re on death row and can have your favorite Southern meal one last time. What is it?

SAC: Baked chicken, cornbread and oven made mac and cheese. With a jug of moonshine, preferably with peaches at the bottom of the mason jar.

I appreciate Shawn stopping by Story and Grit and participating in a 12 Gauge interview. I hope he’s someone that stops by here again and that I get to buy him that first round of Woodford. 

Blacktop Wasteland hits shelves July 14th, and is available for preorder now. Y’all get out there and buy this book. 

Have a good one, 

Mark
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Monday, December 9, 2019

Updates, part 4 - Back From Hiatus

It's about time, right?

Yall'll have to forgive me. Not a lot happens in the trailer park during college football season. As of this writing it's championship Saturday and the Dawgs are playing LSU in the SEC championship game in a couple of hours. How that game goes will depend on how the rest of my weekend goes.

Another contributing factor to Story and Grit's hiatus is my laptop decided to take a shit. But thanks to my good wife, she took care of me on my birthday, and we're back in business.

The problem is that all previously submitted stories were saved on the other laptop. You won't be seeing those published on Story and Grit. Apologies to all the writers who were looking forward to seeing your work on the site. It's a big disappointment for me because there was some damn good stuff there.

With the return of Story and Grit you can expect a few changes. I'm going to lower the word count and create submission windows.

The magazine will now be publishing stories that are between 1,000 to 1,500 words. I've found that stories at that length get the most traffic.

The first submission window will be from January 1st to March 1st. We'll start publishing stories in May when Story and Grit celebrates its 3rd anniversary.

Hope yall're excited about the magazine's return. I know I can't wait to read yall's work!

Yall have a good one,

Mark
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Monday, May 13, 2019

Six Stabs with Jesse Rawlins


JHR: Welcome to 6 Stabs, Paul. What six words best describe your book LAST YEAR’S MAN?
PDB: Nostalgia really is what it was.
JHR: We first catch sight of aging hit man Tommy Bennett in London—but dire events send him scurrying to his birthplace Seatown—a cliffside coastal hamlet about 148 miles northeast of the capital city. What led you to choose these primary locations for this tale?
PDB: As Dr. Johnson said: ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, innit?’ In Last Year’s Man, Tommy is tired of his life. I wanted Tommy to find out that there’s no place like home but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Black and white can be just as vivid as colour. Seatown is an askew version of my own hometown and its environs so it seemed to make sense for Tommy to return there.
JHR: Possible 3-part question but I’ll only stab you once. For those who don’t know, you were born in England but have spent much of your life living in Poland. Do you feel living abroad has changed how you once thought and felt about England? If so, how? And have you had occasions to revisit your own birthplace?
PDB: I think I’ve always lived in my own bubble and being abroad helps with my view askew. Before I moved to Poland, I lived in London for ten years. The last time I was in Hartlepool was 7 years ago, for my 50th birthday.
JHR: We’ve no idea how many people Tommy Bennett has killed during his life. But if Tom Leins and Beau Johnson teamed-up to write a revenge story—and claw hammers were used to dispense Justice—what do you estimate the body count would be? And have you yourself written any tales involving claw hammers?
PDB: Oh, I think Tom and Beau’s protagonists are much more effective killing machines than Tommy! I don’t actually know if I’ve used a claw hammer in a yarn but I did used to know someone who was charged with attempted murder and used the fact that he only used a ball hammer instead of a claw hammer as part of his defense.
JHR: We find songs in an array of genres and eras woven throughout your novel. Any idea how many readers will find in this book’s Playlist?
PDB: Well, Sandra Ruttan kindly made a list over at Toe Six Press. She spotted the following twenty musical references:
Last Year’s Man by Laughing Lenny.
Songs For Drella by Lou Reed and John Cale
Murderer by Barrington Levy.
Roxy Music – for your pleasure/In Every Dream Home a Heartache
Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
Ed Sheeran
AC/DC Highway to Hell
Miles Davis
The Banshees Happy House
Peter Gabriel
Lee Perry Super Ape
The Upsetters The Return of Django
Black Sabbath War Pigs
Frank Sinatra Watertown, Fly Me To The Moon
Ella Fitzgerald
The Saints I’m Stranded
Lou Reed – Satellite of Love
The Doors
Iggy Pop – Lust for Life
The Beatles The Times They Are A Changin’
JHR: Would you describe LAST YEAR’S MAN as similar to or different than most of your other books? And if different, how?
PDB: More of the same, really. It’s another screwball noir. Maybe Tommy is a bit more likeable than some of my other protagonists!

Badass Book Reviews
For the Grab-n-Go crowd I awarded LAST YEAR’S MAN five stilettos—go forth buy and enjoy.
Meeting aging hit man Tommy Bennett’s a bit like listening to accomplished professional athletes waffling about whether or not it’s time to finally quit the sport that’s consumed much of their life.
We catch our first glimpse of Tommy while he’s on the job—pissing in a Pepsi bottle. Despite his professional pride the gig does not fare well for Bennett. And though he’s pushing sixty years on this terra firma, as an independent solo contractor, the unfortunate Mr. Bennett spends his early-morning hours shirtless: digging a grave and dumping bodies.
As a life-long criminal, Tommy knows a lot of miscreants. And Brazill parades a steady stream of them. Amusingly, some of the zaniest don’t live in bustling London—they hail from Bennett’s birthplace Seatown—a place he fled from in his youth, but where he suddenly returns while wisely seeking refuge. But this ain’t the Wizard of Oz folks. And “there’s no place like home” don’t apply to Bennett the way this slogan applied to Dorothy. If one believes in Carl Jung’s theory of “meaningful coincidence however, Seatown, England is well-known for its Jurassic period fossils—and a fossil’s what Tommy’s become, a mere shell of his former self.
But Brazill leads us to suspect Bennett’s always been a bit “empty.” Tommy’s only close relationship? A life-long love for alcohol. While Tommy manages to stay out of her arms for quite some time, when trouble comes a knocking Bennett doesn’t waste much time chasing down his familiar mistress.
Tommy’s also fond of food and music. Yet he seems to lack passion for almost anything else. So while the aging hit man proves he’s capable of “change” Bennett sometimes hesitates to fill his voids in healthy ways—even when opportunity beckons. Instead he’s caving under pressure as his victim’s ghosts haunt even his daytime hours.
Anyone who reads noir knows not to expect a happy ending. But Paul aptly described this book as a “screwball noir.” Crazy criminals like Drella and Sniffy, as well as Tommy’s ex-lover Bev, keep us humming along while shaking our smirking heads—and make for fun but reflective reading if we look beyond the comical ties Brazill lays in our tracks.
I recommend the buy-n-ride.

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