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The Sirens of Suspense




Johnny Shaw is the author of the Spotted Owl Award–winning Jimmy Veeder Fiasco series of novels—including PLASTER CITY and DOVE SEASON—as well as the Anthony Award–winning adventure novel BIG MARIA. His short fiction has appeared in Thuglit, Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey, Plots with Guns, and various anthologies. He was the creator and editor of the hard-boiled fiction magazine Blood and Tacos. He lives in Portland, Oregon.


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item1 THE CARROT KING item1

On February 6th, I will have the honor of performing my duties as the Grand Marshal of the 69th Annual Carrot Festival Parade in Holtville, California. Beyond riding in the back of a convertible down Main Street, I’m not 100% sure what those duties are. I’m really hoping they involve a sash and/or cool hat.

If you’re from the city, I’m sure the idea of a Carrot Festival sounds a little funny. Upon hearing the news, I’ve had plenty of friends make carrot jokes (who knew there were so many?) or refer to me as the “Carrot King.” I get it, but there’s no taking away from the small town charm of it. And what it means to me as an author and Imperial Valley native.

Why carrots, you ask?

Well, duh. My hometown, Holtville, California, is the Carrot Capital of the World. It is one of the towns that make up the large agricultural community of the Imperial Valley. An anonymous spot in the bottom, right-hand corner of California, bordering on both Arizona and Mexico. Most people don’t know it’s there, but a large percentage of the nation’s melons, lettuce, sugar beets, and many other crops are grown in the Imperial Valley.

But in Holtville, carrots are king.

Seriously, if you eat carrots, there’s a good chance you’ve eaten one grown by someone I know, maybe even a relative of mine.

While I draw from the entire Imperial Valley and vicinity as the setting for my books, Holtville will always be my home. Even though I didn’t officially grow up in the town. I grew up “in the country,” but I went to school in Holtville from kindergarten to high school graduation (Go Vikings!). It is the place that shaped who I am. A place still filled with friends and family (cousins are my primary sales demographic). I am a proud son of a farmer and a proud son of Holtville.

So much so that when I sat down to write my first novel (which would eventually be published as DOVE SEASON: A JIMMY VEEDER FIASCO), I knew I had to write about a subject I was familiar with, one that held deep roots. At the time, I had very little confidence in my ability to describe places and actions so that a reader could visualize them. I hadn’t written a short story since junior high school. I had been writing plays and screenplays, but there’s little care for prose style in a medium only read by a handful of people.

By setting DOVE SEASON in Holtville and the surrounding area, I didn’t have to make anything up. I only had to change a few of the names. I set the story in places that existed or used to exist. Anyone familiar with the area would easily recognize the real locations that appear in my novels as the J&M Cafe, Morales Bar, Pinky’s, the Owl Cafe, Camacho’s, etc.

Aside from trying some of the carrot recipes, eating great Mexican food, and riding on some ride at the carnival while I’m down for the Carrot Festival, I’m planning on taking a few interested people on a “Jimmy Veeder Tour.” It will start at the house that my fictional hero, Jimmy Veeder, grew up in across the street from the fictional Morales Bar (coincidentally very similar to the real house I grew up in, which is coincidentally across the street from a real bar).

As a guy who grew up on a farm outside of a small town, I can’t think of a greater honor than to be asked back by the people of my hometown to be in the parade. It really is the icing on the carrot cake (you see what I did?).

I have received incredible support from readers in the area. It makes my day every time I receive an email from someone that lives down there or knows the place beyond driving past it on the freeway. Even though I write a fictional version of the place, I still strive to get it right. Trust me, the folks in Holtville tell me when I don’t. I’m looking forward to going back down and hearing more things I got wrong. And collecting some new stories to include in future books.

Being in the Carrot Festival parade is an amazing honor, but the real honor is that I am able to share a place that I truly love with the rest of the world.



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