DETECTIVE COMICS #402 – The downside of wearing hand-me-downs as a kid can be summed up in a photo of me in front of the school bus wearing red plaid pants and an aquamarine shirt with an iron-on of an owl on it. The upside was that some of those hand-me-downs were comic books. The story in this particular Detective Comics isn’t particularly relevant, it’s just the first comic I remember owning. The image of Batman and Man-Bat on the cover etched in my memory. In a way, it symbolizes my lifelong love for the medium. Comics were my earliest lessons in the art of telling stories.

FAT CITY – Both the book and the movie sit on the top of my list for Best Boxing Book and Best Boxing Movie. But more personally, the Leonard Gardner novel was one of the first books I had ever read that told the story of people I knew. Set in Stockton, it shifts between the streets, gymnasiums, and fields, telling a story of survivors and fighters that only dream of a little bit more. It showed me that you could portray the working class and underdogs with grace and respect. An amazing accomplishment.

GUNGA DIN – My Pop’s favorite movie and one of mine. After I finished my third novel, Plaster City, I realized that this is the movie all my stories aspire to be. A perfect balance of action, comedy, and character relationships. Some people might not be able to get past Sam Jaffe and Eduardo Ciannelli in brownface and some of the portrayals of the Indian people, which I get. It’s still one of the greatest adventure movies of all time.

THE MUCKER – When I was 13, the only books I read had covers painted by Frank Frazetta. That meant a lot of Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. This 1913 Burroughs novel is a clinic in pulp writing. Each chapter feels like it shifts genre from boxing pulp to high seas adventure to jungle survival, moving from one location to another fluidly (and not-so fluidly). It’s a book that couldn’t care less about rules or conventions or even making sense, but rather is all about pace and action. I’ve never gone back to see if it holds up, mostly because I prefer my memory of that first read.

FAST ONE – This hard-boiled novel by Paul Cain was the book that knocked Hammett and Chandler off the pedestal and made me seek less-known authors, leading me to Elliott Chaze, Fredric Brown, Horace McCoy, and others. Fast One reads like a French movie with a heavy metal soundtrack, tragic and brutal, but far more emotionally resonant than any of the other hard-boiled novelists that I had read. It’s a shame that this was Cain’s only novel.

Johnny Shaw

Johnny Shaw was born and raised on the Calexico/Mexicali border, the setting for his award-winning Jimmy Veeder Fiasco series, which includes the novels DOVE SEASON and PLASTER CITY. He is also the author of the Anthony Award-winning adventure novel, BIG MARIA. His latest, FLOODGATE, is in stores now.

His shorter work has appeared in Thuglit, Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey, Plots with Guns, and numerous anthologies. He is the creator and editor of the fiction magazine, BLOOD & TACOS, which recently added a phone app, a Podcast, and a book imprint to its empire.

Johnny received his MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA and over the course of his writing career has seen his screenplays optioned, sold, and produced. For the last dozen years, Johnny has taught writing. He has taught at Santa Barbara City College, UC Santa Barbara, LitReactor, and numerous writing conferences.

Johnny lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, artist Roxanne Patruznick.