Monday, November 19, 2018

Beau Johnson, Author of The Big Machine Eats

Beau Johnson is carving out a sweet niche for himself in a sometimes forgotten area of crime fiction: short stories. Crime fiction grew from short stories and just because I can’t write them worth a shit doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate them. Beau was here last year to talk about his first collection, A Better Kind of Hate, so I looked forward to continuing the conversation as his new collection drops November 26.

One Bite at a Time: Before we even get to talking about the stories involved, where did you
get the title The Big Machine Eats and why can’t I think of titles like that?
Beau Johnson: Ha! Yup, soon as I wrote that line it stuck with me. It’s from a story in A Better Kind of Hate called Bobby Charles. In that story an eighteen-wheeler hits and obliterates another vehicle, and as it goes: the big machine did eat. The line stayed with me for quite some time too but morphed as this new collection came together. On one hand I see the title as a reference to life, as it is always hungry, starving in fact, and if we aren’t as careful as maybe we should be it can swallow us whole. On the flipside is Bishop Rider, and yup, he is just as hungry.

OBAAT: Tell us a little about the stories in The Big Machine Eats. (Man I love that title. I even like saying it. ”The Big Machine Eats.”)
BJ: Hmmm…let’s see. I wouldn’t want to give too much away so let’s maybe go with a cannibal or two. Add a couple of direct sequels to stories in A Better Kind of Hate and then perhaps we’ll finish with the continuing struggle of Bishop Rider and friends. Hell, there may even be cake!

OBAAT: Bishop Rider is back. Tell us a little about him and why you like to return to him in your stories.
BJ: Funny thing, that. I never thought he’d be back. Thought I was done with him in fact. Wasn’t until I broke a collarbone and my butt got put in a chair for roughly eight weeks that he returned. It’s nice he came back, even nicer he has remained, but man, I really hope to never go through that again.

OBAAT: You’ve established yourself as a short story writer. What is it about them that keeps bringing you back? Any plans to write a novel? I don’t say that to in any way give short stories short shrift. To me writing a good short story is the hardest things to do as a writer.
BJ: Great question, Dana. Excitement. That’s what it comes down to for me. I get such a rush when the idea I have comes together and gels on the page. As for a novel, I will never say never, but no, I still seem unable to crack that particular code. I am what I am: a short story writer.

OBAAT: When you were here last we took a brief digression into the inherent good of cheese. Knowing what a cheese aficionado you are, does it bother you when people use the term “cheesy” as a put-down?
BJ: I can’t say that it does. And hey, sometimes a little cheesy is good!

Beau Johnson, author, cheese aficionado, and Mark Harmon impersonator
OBAAT: Sharp cheddar, mild cheddar, or Colby Longhorn?
BJ: Havarti, m’man. The King of cheeses!

OBAAT: Does cheese figure strongly into your stories? If not, why not?
BJ: As of yet, no. And yes, I will admit that is weird. Lemme see what I can do.

OBAAT: Okay, enough about cheese. I hate it when interviewers ask me to “Pick your favorite” or “What are your top three” of anything, so here goes: Pick your favorite short story, with the understanding that by asking for one I know and fully accept that I’m going to get at least three. What is it about it (them) that resonates with you so strongly?
BJ: “Survivor Type” by Stephen King blew my mind when I read it all those years ago. First, it’s just f’in bonkers that someone could even think of something like that. Second, that the man could pull it off and ground it. Third, lady fingers! They taste just like lady fingers! In my best Chandler Bing voice: could there be a better last line? Anyway, I could go on and bore you with my love for Mr. King as well, but I believe that’s old hat by now. As for stories 2 and 3? Let’s go with “The Raft” by King as well and end things with “Tell Her” by Marietta Miles. She might not want to admit it, but that short piece of flash is a how-to of emotion. Everyone should give it a read.

OBAAT: What’s next, now that The Big Machine Eats is out there? (See how I found an excuse to use that title again?)
BJ: Ha! I’m working on a few things. Rider is involved in a couple of them and there are also a few stories slated for publication over at Story and Grit. Besides that, I live until the next idea hits. Ah, the life of a panster!

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