Monday, May 18, 2015

A Conversation with Crime Writer Eric Beetner

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Eric Beetner

We are delighted to welcome author Eric Beetner to Omnimystery News today.

Eric's new crime novel Rumrunners (280 Steps; May 2015 trade paperback and ebook formats) is characterized as Smokey and the Bandit meets Justified and Fargo, a violent crime-family saga with a sense of humor.

We recently had the chance to spend some time with Eric to talk about his work.

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Omnimystery News: Tell us a little more about Rumrunners.

Eric Beetner
Photo provided courtesy of
Eric Beetner

Eric Beetner: My newest novel, Rumrunners, is a standalone (for now; it could possibly become a trilogy) that introduces the McGraw family of criminal drivers. For generations since the prohibition days the McGraws have been transporting all manner of illegal substances for the Stanley family of crime kingpins in rural Iowa. But Tucker, the youngest McGraw, wants nothing to do with the family business. Until his dad goes missing while out on a run. Now Tucker must team up with his granddad, Calvin, to find out the truth.

I was drawn to a guy (Tucker) who is trying to break free of his family's criminal past and what his father and grandfather see as his destiny. But then he's dragged back in against his will in order to find his dad.

That tension inside Tucker was fun to write.

OMN: Do you prefer writing stand-alones?

EB: I write mostly stand-alones, but I've done a few sequels and I've enjoyed them. Often times for me it's a real roll of the dice whether a character will make it out alive at the end of my books. Or at least they might go to prison. Those aren't your typical series characters.

I enter everything thinking it is a stand-alone. I need to know anyone can happen to anyone at any time. The main reason I don't read many series characters is that the tension evaporates for me when an author tries to put a series character in jeopardy. I know they're going to be around for a good long while so I have no reason to be concerned that something unsavory might happen to them.

That's not true for all series characters, but too many for my taste, usually.

The series characters I tend to like are the wrecking ball types like Parker or Max Allan Collins' Quarry. It's more about what happens around them or because of them than them getting into any sort of situation I'm supposed to think they might not make it out of.

OMN: Do you find it difficult finding the right voice for your female characters?

EB: Rumrunners is predominantly male, but I've written female leads before and I like it. I don't think it matters too much as long as you take the time to get the details right.

Of course I suppose I've cheated by writing about women who are very tough and could be considered masculinized I suppose. It's my safety net in a way.

OMN: Into which genre would you place most of your work?

EB: I usually say Hard-boiled. I've been called Noir, and that's true on some books. As much as I'd like to say labels don't matter, I do consider them as a reader so it would be silly for me to not think of my own writing and how it fits into a category. Some labels I find too specific, some too broad. I use them usually as a red flag for books I know I want to avoid based on my personal taste. I'm not a cozy reader, I generally won't do political suspense, police procedurals with a few exceptions. Serial killers don't interest me. So I use genre labels to choose what I read so I don't have a problem with anyone flagging my work as one thing or another so they know what they're getting.

OMN: Tell us something about Rumrunners that isn't mentioned in the publisher's synopsis.

EB: The person who kicks the most ass in Rumrunners is the oldest character. He happily takes on younger tough guys. He never backs down from a fight and at one point he even force feeds a guy a crack pipe. I love old guys who are badass. That's Calvin McGraw.

OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in the book?

EB: Rumrunners is set in Iowa near where I was born. After that, I made it all up. I'm lousy at the write-what-you-know thing. I much prefer to tell an entirely fake story.

OMN: Where do you most often find yourself writing?

EB: My writing office I've branded the Noir cave. In my old house I wrote in a converted garage from the 1930s. It got freezing cold, but I loved it. In my new house I'm in … a converted garage. Well, half a garage. I have it decorated densely with some of my vintage film noir movie posters, weird ephemera (Human skull anyone? Fetal pig in a jar?) And of course I'm surrounded by books on every wall. I'm completely out of space for the books, and yet it doesn't stop me from buying more.

I love having a space separate from the rest of the house where I can go without distraction and I'm surrounded by objects that inspire me.

OMN: How do you go about researching the plot points of your stories?

EB: Mostly internet research. I don't tend to write stuff too technical. For Rumrunners I did research on the cars I picked. For another book I consulted a doctor because I wanted to make sure a character's death would plausible.

I've written a few period pieces and I like adding in details like a song on the jukebox or having a character take a cable car and that takes checking on what songs were popular or if they city even had cable cars. Stuff like that.

OMN: You mentioned that Rumrunners is set in Iowa. How true are you to the settings of your books?

EB: I've written a lot of fictional or more anonymous places. I've also written a lot in the Midwest where I haven't lived since 1978. I do like off-the-beaten-path locations. I'd rather write about some tiny, out-of-the-way town than about New York or L.A. (not that I haven't if the story fits)

I like to leave things spare even with a real location. I don't want people thinking of maps or subway layouts when they're reading a story. I let them bring their own experience in a place if they have one, otherwise it can read as anyplace U.S.A. if it's place you're not familiar with.

Sometimes, as with Iowa in Rumrunners, it's more a feeling. People have an opinion about Iowa usually. A bit backwoods, a bit behind. A that's fine. I'll use that to my advantage.

Setting can be a huge influence on a story. I think of someone like Daniel Woodrell in the Ozarks, Raymond Chandler in L.A., Tim Hallinan in Bangkok. All essential to the stories they are telling.

OMN: If we could send you anywhere in the world to research the setting for a book, where would it be?

EB: My wife would want me to say Paris …

I'd say Iceland or Norway. Scandinavian mystery books are so popular that I'd love to find out what the appeal is. I've always been fascinated by the region but I've never been. It's very different from where I live in southern California and that appeals. When I was in Japan and China I felt very foreign and I actually liked that. I like being taken out of my life for a while. It's why I read. I want to be taken someplace I've never been and meet people I'd never see in my day to day life.

OMN: What is the best advice — and harshest criticism — you've received as an author?

EB: Early on an agent gave me a very … um … honest assessment of my first novel. That stung but it was all fair criticism. He compared me to another of his big time authors and said I didn't get it right the way he did. So fine, that's him comparing me to someone else. If writers do that to themselves they've set themselves up for failure.

My takeaway from that was I needed to search even harder for my own voice. I didn't want to do anything that was even close enough to someone else so as to invite comparison.

I think finding your own voice is so important to new writers. The only way to do it is to write and write some more. Don't be shy about tossing out huge piles of pages. It's not wasted time. It's the search fro you as a writer.

Best advice for any creative type I've ever heard is attributed to Steve Martin. He said the way to succeed is to "Be undeniably good."

That takes practice and a lot of failure along the way.

OMN: Complete this sentence for us: "I am a crime writer and thus I am also …".

EB: A nice guy. Seriously, have you noticed how crime writers are, across the board, the nicest bunch of folks you'd ever like to meet? All this darkness inside and yet you walk to halls at Bouchercon and it's like you've stepped into a Stepford situation.

I expected fierce competition and fighting for shelf space in the writing community, but it's been the opposite. Nice folks eager with support and a helping hand.

It's weird. I think we're all up for a collective snap and then a thousand crime novelists go on the nation's worst rampage. No one can say they didn't see it coming.

OMN: How did Rumrunners come to be titled?

EB: Since the origin of the McGraw family's trade goes back to the depression I latch onto the title Rumrunners early and I loved the sound of it. I think it fits the rogue outlaw nature of the McGraw's too. They aren't vicious criminals. They ply a trade which so happens to be illegal.

OMN: What kind of feedback have you received from readers?

EB: I like about anything. Writing is a solitary endeavor. Discovering something I've made up in my head in my little half garage has reaches another human and entertained them for a time — that's an amazing feeling.

The first person with a critical thought is usually my father. He's taken me to task on really minor details in some of my period pieces. I was happy to show his proof that I got a song playing the background correct even when he thought I missed it by two decades.

OMN: Suppose Rumrunners were to be adapted for television or film? Who do you see playing the key roles?

EB: Can I pick dead people? Late era Paul Newman would have been perfect for Calvin McGraw. Maybe Bruce Dern could play him now.

Tucker should be someone typically know for comedy. I like when comedic actors play straight. Maybe Will Forte, but I may just be poaching the whole cast of Nebraska.

John Cusack could do it.

I'd love to see Kurt Russell as the head of the Stanley clan. I think he's underrated and due to make a real transition to older roles.

OMN: What kinds of books do you enjoy reading yourself?

EB: I'm almost exclusively a crime fiction reader. Mostly stand-alones. I've been getting into more series lately now that I've found some I like. Joe Lansdale's Hap and Leonard is a favorite. Steve Hockensmith's Holmes of the Range series. Max Allan Collins Quarry and Nolan books. The Sailor and Lula books by Barry Gifford are an all time favorite.

I think what all those series shave in common is a strong and unique voice.

Hockensmith and Gifford couldn't be more different, but each is distinct and could only be those writers and those characters. That keeps me interested over the course of multiple novels.

Lansdale's Hap and Leonard are great for their ass-backward approach to crime solving. I like characters like that who are reluctant heroes. They fall into trouble like a mud puddle and then have to shake it off.

OMN: Create a Top 5 list for us on any topic.

EB: I started in screenwriting and I work in the TV/Film business here in L.A. So here are my picks for the Top 5 crime fiction to film adaptations, films that bridge both worlds the best way.

1. A Simple Plan — novel by Scott Smith, film by Sam Raimi.

2. The Big Heat — novel by William P. McGivern, film by Fritz Lang.

3. No Country For Old Men — novel by Cormac McCarthy, film by the Coen Brothers.

4. The Killing — novel by Lionel White (as Clean Break), film by Stanley Kubrick.

5. Cold In July — novel by Joe R. Lansdale, film by Jim Mickle.

OMN: What's next for you?

EB: 2015 is a busy year for me. I've already seen the release of the full omnibus edition of my serialized novel The Year I Died 7 Times. I have two novels that I co-wrote with other authors coming out this year. Over Their Heads with JB Kohl and The Backlist with Frank Zafiro.

I also have a novella coming out late in the year called Nine Toes In The Grave as well as the ebook release of one of my early novels that has until now only been available in a limited collector's edition print run of 100 copies.

I'm also editing an anthology and have stories appearing in a few others. And somewhere in there I'll find time to write new novels.

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The author of many crime novels, novellas and short stories, Eric Beetner lives in Los Angeles, where he also co-hosts the Noir at the Bar reading series.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at EricBeetner.com and his author page on Goodreads, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Rumrunners by Eric Beetner

Rumrunners by Eric Beetner

A Crime Novel

Publisher: 280 Steps

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)

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.

Rumrunners by Eric Beetner

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