I had an opportunity to chat it up with the crazy busy Eric Beetner, author of Dig Two Graves and The Year I Died Seven Times. His newest, Rumrunners, from 280 Steps, just came out today!
Think fast: give me a ten word pitch for your latest, Rumrunners. Go!
A reluctant revenge thriller—turbocharged and fueled by broken dreams.
Tell me how the ball got rolling with Rumrunners. What was your inspiration? What made you decide this was a story you wanted to tell?
I think I first grew attached to a story of a guy who is trying to leave behind the criminal heritage he’s inherited from his father and grandfather. He wants nothing to do with the family business. But he gets dragged into it out of a deep sense of loyalty and a search for the truth. And a little bullying never hurts.
But from there the story grew and I really started to like these guys, the McGraws. The potential for good suspense and drama was there in a guy like Tucker who wants to find out what happened to his dad, but a big part of his motivation is just to be done with it and get back to his own life. Then when the criminal inside him starts to grow, it gives him a nice transformation, kind of in the opposite way a character might usually. He doesn’t learn his lesson and go straight. He learns how to do it right and break bad.
You’re no stranger to the noir/crime/pulp genre. What initially drew you to it and what keeps you engaged with it?
I write for the same reason I read – to be transported to a different setting and interact with characters different from myself. I’m very grounded in reality though, so science fiction has only a marginal interest to me. I hate comic book characters and stories because they just seem silly. I like to taste the grit and smell the blood in fiction.
That said, I also like to be taken out of my own life experience, and my own experience is one of lawfulness, abstinence from drugs and alcohol, devoid of any prison or jail time—in other words, boring. So I like to write and read about criminals because they fascinate me because I know I’ll never be them. Cop stories don’t even interest me that much because I could see myself being a cop, maybe.
And to see characters in those most extreme points in life – where their life is on the line or someone else’s life hangs in the balance, that is interesting to me. With my more noir stories they are usually about an ordinary guy (which I consider myself to be) getting in tough situations and how they try to extricate themselves. It’s just interesting to me to put myself in the story.
You’ve got a pretty extensive multimedia background (writer, musician, TV editing) I won’t ask which is your favorite, but do you feel they bleed into each other? Does what you do in one field help with the other?
They absolutely do. With editing my whole world is about trimming out excess and shaping story. I cut mostly non-fiction TV and so I have incredible freedom to craft a story from the elements given. And I’m always thinking about pace, about revealing story points, about when to bring in the twist. It’s all storytelling in different forms. I’m also really good at jigsaw puzzles. Same parts of the brain. Order out of chaos. I’m always analyzing the structure and rethinking the story. It gets to be instinctive. I feel I have a good sense of when a story needs to speed up or when it needs a breather or a lighter beat.
Music helps with rhythm and pace. It helps my editing work which in turn helps my writing. Although I do write in silence. I can’t write to music. It distracts me too much. I’m fascinated by people who can do that and tune it out or let it subtly seep into the work.
As one of the founders of LA’s Noir at The Bar, I’ve seen you mention that live readings are an essential part of being published. What’s one of the most important lessons you’ve picked up from live reading that continues to benefit you?
Getting a live feel for what people respond to is interesting. It’s something you almost never get as a writer. I’ve seen readings go over in total silence and I’ve seen readings where people are laughing and engaged. For a live reading humor goes a long way. Big action, too.
At last Bouchercon, I read a short section of what I think was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever written: a guy gets decapitated and then vomits up the open neck hole.
On the surface that sounds like an awful thing to read to a room full of people, but it went over very well. It’s important to know your room. I would not, for example, read that section to the ladies auxiliary club or the cozy mystery meeting at the local library.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, what would it be?
If I go way back I’d say The Phantom Tollbooth. I remember really enjoying that book and feeling so immersed in that world. I’m waiting to share that with my kids and getting to re-experience it through their eyes.
Later in life I’d say Sunset and Sawdust by Joe R Lansdale or A Simple Plan by Scott Smith. Two books that really cemented my love of crime fiction as my go-to genre.
What have you got coming down the pipeline?
This is a busy year for me. I’ve already seen the release of my serialized novel, The Year I Died Seven Times, in the full omnibus edition. After Rumrunners I have two books coming out this year with Down and Out books that I co-wrote with other authors.
I’m excited about my newest collaboration with JB Kohl called Over Their Heads. She and I wrote two books that were period set noirs, One Too Many Blows to the Head and the sequel, Borrowed Trouble.
Then I’ve got a book I co-wrote with Frank Zafiro called The Backlist and it’s part old school mob novel and part violent hit man story. Of course I couldn’t resist writing a hit man who pulls off the worst jobs ever. Frank’s side of things is much more controlled, much like he is.
At the end of the year I’ll have a novella out with All Due Respect called Nine Toes in the Grave which is pure noir. And at some point I should see the release of my novel Criminal Economics as an ebook with Blasted Heath, but under a different title that I’m still finalizing. That book has previously only been available as a limited edition print run so this will be the wider release. That’s the one that has the decapitation scene in it.
Any projects you’re looking forward to coming from other writers this year?
So many. Owen Laukkanen’s new novel, The Stolen Ones. The new John Rector, Ruthless (any John Rector is a big deal for me), the new Victor Gischler, Stay. Sympathy for the Devil by Terrence McCauley. Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich. Burn Cards by Chris Irvin. The Killing Kind by Chris Holm. Paradise Sky by Joe Lansdale. I know Jason Starr has a new one and I don’t even know the title, but it’s Jason Starr so I’m excited.
Smokey and the Bandit meets Justified and Fargo in this violent crime-family saga with a sense of humor. “Buckle up…RUMRUNNERS is a fast and furious read.” -Samuel W. Gailey, author of Deep Winter Meet the McGraws. They’re not criminals. They’re outlaws. They have made a living by driving anything and everything for the Stanleys, the criminal family who has been employing them for decades. It’s ended with Tucker. He’s gone straight, much to the disappointment of his father, Webb. When Webb vanishes after a job, and with him a truck load of drugs, the Stanleys want their drugs back or their money. With the help from his grandfather, Calvin-the original lead foot-Tucker is about to learn a whole lot about the family business in a crash course that might just get him killed.