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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