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Atomic Noir's Eric Beetner in all his glory

ERIC BEETNER IS a busy guy. He sets the meet after his workday, and somehow I find myself in a private sauna with him. I’m self-conscious and wear a towel. Him…not so much. 

“Do me a solid and support this for me while I stretch,” he says, throwing his leg up to my face. I catch it, hold on while he does some yoga pose that would tear my hamstrings and break my back all at once. Also, I only get a very muddled view of his face. “Hey,” I say, leaning around to try and meet his eyes. “Thanks for finding the time, and congrats on being included in Out of The Gutter’s incredible Atomic Noir collection, done in association with NoirCon 2012.”
“No problem and thank you. That’s very kind and I honored to be included.” He switches it up and all of a sudden I smell something. “Sorry,” he says. The warmth really relaxes you.”
“Sure. Also, thanks for doing me a solid and hooking up Brian Panowich with that signed Les Edgerton book. It was a big deal.” I had initially made plans to go to BoucherCon2012 but had to cancel. I made a promise to Panowich to get the book for him since Edgerton and I were going to be a few of the Noir at the Bar readers that weekend. Since I had to bail Beetner picked up the torch and even mailed it to Panowich.
“Yeah, it’s cool. For real.” Beetner sits up and I thank God that’s over. Then he faces me and leans back. Puts his heels on my shoulders. “Just one more stretch and I’ll be ready.”
“Okay.” A groan. Then, trying to distract myself more than anything, tell him for the umpteenth time, “The cover for my book gets a lot of compliments.”
Beetner is the art director over at Snubnose Press. He’s done the vast majority of their covers. My book, The Subtle Arts of Brutality, a tremendously incredible hardboiled detective novel about a PI named Richard Dean Buckner who accepts a case to find a missing woman and discovers that he’s not the only person looking for her, but he’s the only one who wants her alive, has a very cool cover indeed.
I remember waking up and seeing it as an email on my phone. Talk about a joyous occasion. All thanks to Beetner here. So I swallow whatever disgust is rising up and take his heels. I owe this guy.
“I really like your cover,” Beetner says, supporting his body weight on his shoulders while his heels are on mine. “It’s one of my favorites.”
I just stare. How can I do anything else? This goes on forever and all I hope is the warmth doesn’t loosen up anything else. I wonder what the steam is gong to do to my interviewing pad of paper.
Eventually he eases back down onto the bench and exhales long. Satisfied. “I’m realigned. I’m ready.”
I say nothing. Beetner looks at me quizzically. Says, “Please stop staring.”
I shake my head. I’m un-aligned. But I start asking questions anyways. Damn you Matt for the situations you put me in for this column. I’m starting to think you and Joe actually sit around and see what I’ll put up with.
***
Define noir for the masses, please.
Someone smarter than me once said something like - noir is you're fucked on page one. The rest is trying to get unfucked, often unsuccessfully. I buy that assessment. I like the non-private eye version of noir. Not that I don't love a good detective film, not so much in books though. I prefer sordid tales of ordinary men and women getting trapped in a web of their own making, which is also a definition I stick to. I think noir stories are about relatable people making completely irrational, and yet totally relatable decisions out of greed, desperation or some deluded notion that this time it will all work out.

But really, if you want to know noir all you have to do is read it. It's like porn in that way. I can't tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it.

So get out and pick up a copy of Hell On Church Street by Jake Hinkson or Say It With Bullets by Richard Powell or (harder to find) You'll Get Yours by Thomas Wills. The short stories of Cornell Wollrich, Dope by Sara Gran and the early Jason Starr novels Twisted City, Hard Feelings and Tough Luck will tell you everything you need to define noir and you'll have a hell of good time while you're at it. 


Where does the grit in your work come from?
My grit is entirely made up. I am the opposite of gritty. I think that's part of why I'm so fascinated by the types of low lifes I write about is because they are so different from my real life. I have a lovely wife, two beautiful daughters, I’ve never taken any drug, I don't drink alcohol, don't even drink caffeine. I've never been in jail. I have a very strong work ethic, I'm very responsible. In other words - boring. I write about gritty people and situations to have an outlet.

It's also why I could never write those great domestic thrillers like someone like Sean Doolittle because it's too close to home. My wife is disturbed enough by my writing. If I made it too realistic the way something like Safer or Lake Country is, I'd give myself nightmares. 


It's my understanding you began in the biz as a screenplay writer? Tell the world about all of that.
Yeah, I was poised to make the big time. I signed with an agent at a small agency and shortly after she moved to ICM, one of the biggest agencies in the world. I was writing, how do I put this? not very mainstream scripts. She liked them and I sold a few, but nothing ever got made (which is very normal in Hollywood and not a slight on the writing) When we went to the bigger agency there was more pressure to write mainstream and also Hollywood was beginning more consolidation. My sensibilities were not right for the marketplace. And keep in mind, I wasn't really writing much crime stuff. I was all over the map, something Hollywood also doesn't cotton to. I had very dark comedies, tender dramas, period noir that wasn't very good. I wrote a script with a partner that is a 200 million dollar FX extravaganza about the battle between heaven and hell. 

Which is, more or less, just like my wife and I’s naughty time. Extravaganza, battle between good and evil. Ends with a huge bill and lots of satisfied observers. Keep going, please.

Excuse me? Are you serious?

I said keep going.

Okay…the most fun was when a really weird script developed some fans in a few actors and a director and they did a staged reading. We had Joe Mantegna, Charles Durning, David Allen Grier, Dan Lauria, Barbara Bach and more. It went over really well in the room that night and a studio guy came up to me after raving about it and how much he liked the writing. "I mean, it's not a movie," he said. That, in a nutshell, was my screenwriting career. 

Not that I'm out of the game entirely. The 16 scripts I wrote may never see the light of day, but I'm a good candidate to adapt my own work. 

And there is always the movie I directed and wrote that nothing ever happened with. Write to me, I'll send you one.


This Fight Card series...do I have it right that you and a few other authors write those books under one shared penname? How did this come about?
The mastermind behind Fightcard, Paul Bishop (along with Mel Odom, but Paul got me on to the team) asked me to write one after we realized we both were writers on the last day of working together on a TV project. We were standing on set in Chicago and he came over to me (he was on camera talent and I was a producer) and said, "You're not the Eric Beetner who writes novels, are you?"

The books of mine he knew of were One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble, both co-written with JB Kohl and both set amid the world of 1940s boxing. So my resume was a perfect fit for Fightcard. I write fast so I ended up with the third book in the series, Split Decision. Paul liked it as much as I liked his first entry, Felony Fists, and he said if I ever felt like writing a sequel the door was open. I ran with it and wrote A Mouth Full Of Blood in about six weeks. They're novellas around 27,000 words so they go down quick and you don't need to be a fight fan to enjoy them. Now we have almost a dozen titles all by different writers. So far I'm the only sequel though I know Paul has written one called - get this - Swamp Walloper, which is a sequel to his. Not sure when that will be out. But yeah, the hits keep coming and I wish everyone would discover the series. It's so much fun and interesting to see what everyone does so differently within the world Paul and Mel created.


All right. Enough about you. How many push-ups do you think I can do? Keep in mind I am huge.
I'm picturing you in a Rocky-style montage of oiled up one-handed pushups and maybe a few two handers with a girl in a bikini sitting on your back. I'll say 100, easy. Then you drink five raw eggs, carry a log up a hill and wrestle a bear.


Nailed it, bro. It amazes me how people can just sense what kind of badass I am. But, I guess I’m not really that amazed, because I am so incredible people should just know it. How deep did you go into the research for the scorned-gay-prison-lover aspect of Dig Two Graves?
Hey, settle down there. I just make shit up. I make a lot of jokes about the prison blowjob aspect of Dig Two Graves, but really the relationship is quite tender. And we all know what a real prison blowjob is, right? It's not pleasant. You take the new inmate, against his will, knock out all his teeth so he can't bite down on you and do your business. There's none of that in the book. And no, I'm not telling you know I know about that.


No need. Even though we try to remain as anonymous as possible, I see you skulking around the same glory hole I frequent. How did you wind up doing the covers for Snubnose? Because for realsies, I've seen a lot of small press book covers and your shit rules.
Total accident. I designed the cover for my first novel, One Too Many Blows To The Head and had a good friend paint it for me as a favor. Lucked out there. I sent him reference photos and he nailed it. For Borrowed Trouble he was too busy to do me another freebie so I did it myself using an old 40s pulp image integrated into my design. So I'd done covers before when Dig Two Graves came around. The guys who had been doing excellent work for Snubnose for those first few releases had to bow out for various reasons, so I said I'd do my own and sent in the gun and tombstone cover on the eBook. I also made up the one I use for the print version as an alternate. Brian went with it and when his guys couldn't come back he asked me to do a few so he could stick to his release schedule. Cut to 15 covers later and I'm named Art Director. I do it for free to support Snubnose and all the great authors. I have no idea what I'm doing. I don't even have the full version of Photoshop. I've never taken a class. Have no training. I just throw shit at the wall to see what sticks. I am very proud of many covers (yours is one of my favorites) and I keep thinking I should take a class and figure out what the hell I'm doing. 

I'm glad people are digging them. I agree many self-pubbed or small press covers are total crap, but it might just be my aesthetic too. If your crap cover sells you books, then it's successful. More power to ya. 
I'm in the middle of doing my first cover-for-hire job but I don't plan to make a habit of it because I make way more money in my real job and it's time I should be writing.

Check out our Pinterest page for some of the rejected covers and early drafts. The rejected Karma Backlash is a personal favorite. I like the final too, but I need to find a title to recycle that rejected one.


Pimp your writing, please. And, if you so choose, pimp anything else you want.
Well, I'm so very excited about my new novel The Devil Doesn't Want Me , which is out Oct 23rd from Dutton's Guilt Edged Mysteries. It's an eBook original and it's only 3.99 for a full novel that I really love. After working with several indie presses it will be interesting to see how different this will be, if at all. It's been great so far. I love my editor and I love what they are doing with the imprint. It's like the little indie division of the larger machine. But you have no idea how psyched I am to be with the re-launch of Guilt Edged, an imprint that was around from 1947 - 1956 and was the original publisher of Mickey Spillane, Fredric Brown, Lionel White and more. The new titles they have are really fun and interesting too. I think it's really going to be a destination for fans of hardboiled and pulp noir.

Of course I have soft spots for all my books. I still want people to find the first two I wrote with JB Kohl. For the few people who have read One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble the response has been amazing. People have really loved them, or at least been very kind to me about them. I always want them to get a little more love. 
I talked about Fightcard. You can get both books in one volume in print if you want to read them as one novel.

And I'm always so proud and honored to be included in an anthology. I've been in 8 or 9 by now. Each one is a great collection I stand behind. Pulp Ink 1 & 2, D*cked, Grimm Tales, Discount Noir, Off The Record 1 & 2. I mean, how did I get so lucky?

And if you like shorts, my other Snubnose release is my collection A Bouquet of Bullets, which has one of my favorite covers I've done. 


Your latest book, The Devil Doesn't Want Me, is a big deal for a few reasons. One, it's your foot in the door at the "indie wing" of a large publishing house, and two, it follows in a grand tradition of other noir authors so it's like the torch has been passed to you. Comments on that?
I am so proud and stoked to be on the Guilt Edged Mysteries imprint from Dutton. Being a part of the legacy they created from 1947-1956 is incredible. And let me say this, I've been reading the new stuff they've put out including some not-yet-released books and the tradition is definitely being upheld. There is great stuff there. I hope my book fits in with the level of quality.

And I like being on the smaller division of the larger publisher because I feel less pressure. I don't know how I'd handle any more than I already put on myself. But everyone there has been outstanding to work with and true professionals, whom I also have to say has been my great fortune in my entire publishing history. Working with indies like Snubnose Press really isn't that different when the level of professionalism and commitment to quality writing, the editing skill, the presentation of the work is so high. I know I've been terribly lucky to have great experiences all along the line. Seven books now. Crazy.

But now to be mentioned alongside the other great authors of Guilt Edged is a true honor. My next goal is sell enough that we do a print run. You can never beat the thrill of holding a physical book in your hand with an eBook. It's great, I love eBooks, I embrace them, but part of me will always want the print in my hands.


The YouTube trailer for Dig Two Graves is very cool. I showed it to some friends at work and everybody had that satisfied look when it was over with.  Same look when we, as an all-male group,  arm-in-arm, watched Debbie Does Dallas. How'd that come about? Just looking for a way to pimp your stuff?
I work in TV/Film and I went to film school so making little short films and music videos is something I still love to do. I'd never pay someone else to do a book trailer; I just don't think they are that effective at selling a book. But I had this idea to do something I thought might go viral, at least in the book world, so I did it by myself in my office. I shot it with my iPad. That's me in both roles with a little digital compositing. Took about an hour. I still would love people to watch it and pass it on to other people. So far my viral campaign is a dismal failure. 
I haven't done anything for The Devil Doesn't Want Me but I just hit on an idea I might try. I'll have to run it by the folks at Guilt Edged first and see if they want me to do something a little cheeky. Yes, it would involve more guns and headshots.


Returning to the "how many push-ups can I do" question, do you think I do them with a shirt on?
Shirt on? Hmmm, with the extra weight...I'd say you could manage only about six. But do you do anything with a shirt on? I heard otherwise. 


If the world could only have one Eric Beetner story, which would it be? Why?

Oh, for fuck's sake, making me pick? Damn. I've got over 75 short stories out in the world.

No bragging.  It sickens me.

I still have a lot of love for “Ditch”, one of my very first stories. It ran in Thuglit, which was quite an honor and was nominated for a Million Writers Award that year. It is in the Million Writers Award Best New Online Voices anthology. So that is a good candidate. It's a story told in reverse and I think the device works.

My story “Fingerprints” in A Bouquet Of Bullets is a favorite too and one that got some good press. Of course we're always most enamored of our latest thing so the story that was selected for the Atomic Noir anthology for this year's NoirCon I'm really proud of. It's one where I really feel like I nailed the old school noir attitude and plotting. There's no profanity, very little on-screen violence, but I feel like it captures a nice noir sense of impending doom and unavoidable fate. 

So pick one? Pick one yourself. 


If I wanted to do that I’d have to actually read your stuff. Not happening. If you could have a theme song start playing everything you walk into a room, what would it be?
Y'know there is actually a song called One Too Many Blows To The Head by one of my favorite bands of all time, The Dismemberment Plan. I could do worse than to have that play when I arrive on the scene.

Now, head on over to Eric's blog and check out his interview with me. We didn't plan it this way but incredible things have a way of working out. Ryan love you long time.

***

Next week—our very own Court Merrigan. With a name like that guy’s, you know he has to do something to stand out. His new book, Moondog Over the Mekong—incidentally put out by Snubnose Press with a cover by Beetner—is out now. We’ll explore Merrigan’s firsthand take on all things Asian and rural Midwestern. Maybe grow beards together.



Eric Beetner is the author of The Devil Doesn't Want MeDig Two Graves, co-author (with JB Kohl) of the novels One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble, and he has written the novellas FIGHTCARD: Split Decision and FIGHTCARD: A Mouth Full Of Blood under the name Jack Tunney. His award-winning short fiction has appeared in Pulp Ink, Pulp Ink 2, D*CKED, Discount Noir, Grimm Tales, Off The Record, Murder In The Wind, Needle magazine, and the Million Writers Award: Best New Online Voices. He was voted Most Criminally Underrated Author by the Stalker Awards, which he takes a compliment. For more information, free stories and random thoughts visit ericbeetner.blogspot.com/