As previously noted, I will be part of Peter Rozovsky’s Bouchercon panel, “Hard-boiled, Noir and the Reader's Love Affair With Both.” Among the noteworthy authors whose reputations I will diminish by my presence is Eric Beetner. I read Eric’s latest novel, The Devil Doesn’t Want Me recently and had a few questions for its author.
One Bite at a Time: We’ve not met before, so give our dozens of readers an idea of what the deal is with Eric Beetner.
I write hard-boiled crime fiction. I don’t mind the label. Call it Noir if you want, but I deal in what I consider hard-boiled in that there is a lot of action, virtually no good guys, and I use way too many similes.
My day job is as a TV editor so I work in a creative field. I am a film school graduate who wrote screenplays for years, though nothing got produced. I’ve been a musician, painter, acting student among other things. Now I write books. Oh, I also design book covers. Go figure.
I’ve written quite a bit, way more than what has been published. Six unpublished novels to be exact. Someday soon though . . . In the meantime, I’ve got eight books you can get in one way or another, and I’ve been fortunate enough to appear in over 16 anthologies at this point, with a few more coming later this year.
The ideas keep coming and I keep typing so if all goes well, the crime fiction world won’t be able to get rid of me any time soon.
OBAAT: I read The Devil Doesn’t Want Me last week and loved it, though I’ll admit I had to shift gears part way in. The first third or so reminded me a lot of the dynamic between Armand and Richie Nix in Elmore Leonard’s Killshot. Is that because I had Elmore Leonard on the brain last week, or did you feel some of that, too? Hell, have you read Killshot?
EB: Y’know, when Mr. Leonard passed away recently I was forced to admit that I was woefully lacking in my Elmore Leonard reading so I went online and I ordered up I think seven books, Killshot among them. So I haven’t read it yet, but I plan to soon.
It’s embarrassing how little Leonard I’ve read. And shameful for a crime writer, I know. In my defense, Stick was one of the first crime fiction books I ever read. My 8th grade science teacher gave it to me. Not sure if that is exactly ethical, but she was awesome and I remember really liking the book. Since then I think it’s been so easy to see films based on Leonard’s books, I would go to see if there was something of his I’d want to read and realize I already knew the story from a movie. But I’m going to catch up now, I promise. A little late for Dutch, but still.
And any comparison to him is a high honor, even if you thought I was stealing a little bit.
OBAAT: The progress of the story changes after the first major event, which I won’t describe here because I want people to be curious and read the damn book. It has much more of an action movie vibe after Lars and Trent have their—uh—disagreement. Did you mean to change the tone there, or is this just me?
EB: I do love stories that change. I like mixing up the rhythms, and I like to keep a reader off balance a little bit. When the hooks are in you while reading a good story, I love it when things kick into a higher gear and you are along for the ride 100%.
And thanks for not spoiling anything. I’m a weirdo and like to know next to nothing about a book or a movie. Don’t you hate when you know the major plot point from the back jacket text and still have to wade through 50-100 pages to get to something you know is coming? (Editor’s Note: Yes. I avoid reading jacket copy whenever possible, and rarely read reviews of books I’m pretty sure I’ll read.)
But, yeah, I don’t think a story needs to change from comedy to drama, but think of Psycho. The great genius of that story – the movie and Bloch’s book – is the big switch of (I shouldn’t have to say spoiler here, but I will) killing Marion. When that happens and you get thrown for a loop, the reader is experiencing the rest of the story knowing absolutely anything can happen. I like that.
OBAAT: When the movie is made, who would you cast as Lars? Trent? Shaine? (Old and dead actors can be used. “A younger Scott Glenn” or “a living William Holden” are okay.)
EB: I honestly haven’t thought about it much, but I always default to guys who are lousy box office draws. I love the actor David Strathairn and I think he’d make a great Lars. Or maybe Fred Ward in his Miami Blues days.. Someone fairly grizzled and not too pretty. Although, maybe Kurt Russell could do it now. He’s old enough these days and he can do anything in my eyes. Yeah, I’m gonna go with Kurt.
For Shaine, that’s tough. Her whole thing is she’s not classically pretty in the Hollywood sense and I’m sure they would change that if it ever got made. They’d go with someone like Scarlett Johansen when she was in The Man Who Wasn’t There.
I’d say maybe the New Zealand actress Melanie Lynskey back in her Heavenly Creatures age. She’s still a fantastic actress, but for that age she was really wonderful in that film.
Trent is tough because you want someone who can be enough of an asshole, but still be a bit likable. Would a young John Cusack fit the bill? Maybe.
OBAAT: The contemporary idea of the FBI and similar government agencies is of omnipotent, eye in the sky or Big Brother operations. The feds in The Devil Doesn’t Want Me aren’t all that bright, are a step or two behind Lars and his antagonists all the way, and, frankly, kind of lazy. (Or at least uninterested.) I like how it was done—I’m sick of books where the good guy knows what the bad guy will do almost before he does—and I’m wondering what your thought process was when you decided to make them like that.
EB: Those are my kind of guys. I like the less-than-perfect types, be they criminals or law enforcement. I’ve written some really lousy criminals in my time. But the feds in here I think I was just trying to be real. Finding the needle in a haystack that is Lars in this story would be really hard. I have no desire to tell a story about guys with spy satellites tracking someone’s every move and blowing shit up. I’d rather write a character like Earl Walker Ford who just wants to be done with the whole damn thing and does his job like a normal human. When was the last time you interacted with a government employee and came away thinking, “Man, that guy was really killing it today. Above and beyond. Confidence in the system restored.”
OBAAT: Who do you consider to be the most prominent influences on your writing?
EB: I try not to emulate anyone’s style. I’d fail miserably if I did. I do like simple, direct writers like John Rector and Johnny Shaw. I love the wild flights of imagination of Duane Swierczynski and Joe R. Lansdale. I love the dark humor in Victor Gischler and Allan Guthrie. I love some off beat writers like Barry Gifford or Jean-Patrick Manchette. And I love classic hard-boiled writers like Chester Himes and Lionel White.
All of it seeps in somehow, I’m sure. You can’t read a great book like Sean Doolittle’s The Cleanup or Jake Hinkson’s Hell On Church St. or Peter Farris’ Last Call For The Living and not be inspired.
OBAAT: Do you outline, or make things up as you go?
EB: I’m an outliner. I like to know where I’m going, but in a very skeletal way. I think it was Robert Frost who said, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” (That, by the way, is the only time in my life I’ve ever started a sentence with “I think it was Robert Frost who said” and I promise it will be my last)
I know all the beats, but sometimes those beats can be as simple as: He goes to the apartment. That will end up as a 2500 word chapter. And outlines should be flexible. Nothing is ever written in stone.
OBAAT: What’s next?
EB: My agent is out working hard to sling the new manuscripts at publishers. There is some good stuff in there, I think. Hopefully someone else will think so too. Unfortunately, in that great slush pile of my work is the sequel to The Devil Doesn’t Want Me which is not going to be put out as of now. Complicated story. They liked it, said it was as good as the first book, but there are other reasons Guilt Edged is not putting it out right now. But it’s there and all ready to go when someone wants it.
Beyond that, I have a novella called White Hot Pistol which will be out sometime later this fall as a part of a new venture in e-books. Like my latest novella, Stripper Pole At The End Of The World, I like writing these shorter books in between trying to sell the novels. Keeps me sharp and it’s a good boost of confidence when I know something will actually get released, even in a very small way.
I’m in the new Kwik Krimes anthology, the new Shotgun Honey anthology, Reloaded. A new antho based on titles of Bruce Springsteen songs, one antho that is more comedy stories and one benefitting the Books and Booze podcast that I wrote a non-fiction piece for. That’s different for me.
I continue to co-host the Noir at the Bar reading series here in Los Angeles. I’m outlining three different novels right now and trying to decide what to write next.
ISN’T THAT ENOUGH? WHAT DO YOU PEOPLE WANT FROM ME?
(The “Hard-boiled, Noir and the Reader's Love Affair With Both” panel will take place Friday, September 20 at 10:20 and includes Mike Dennis, Terrence McCauley, and Jonathan Woods.)