Friday, October 28, 2016

We're All Outlaws: An Interview with Rumrunner's Eric Beetner

Bouchercon 2016 in New Orleans was a blast and for so many reasons. One of the highlights of the event for me was participating in my very first Noir at the Bar, hosted by Eric Beetner. Rumrunners, Beetner's latest novel, had been on my radar for some time and so, of course, after meeting Beetner in person, I just had to snatch it up. And after reading this interview, I think you will too....

Steph Post: Let me just start out by saying that Rumrunners is a hell of a fun book. Crazy families, fast cars, a classic crime- it’s just an all-around good time. Do you think that Rumrunners exemplifies your “style” as a writer?

Eric Beetner: I do think it is indicative of what I do best, which is center a story on the “bad guys” and yet make you like them. I have no interest in writing about hero cops or the ultimate assassin or a government agent backed by the moral high ground. I like the little guys making their way in the world slightly to the left of the law. But I think to draw readers in, they can’t be all bad. We all have a little outlaw in us so I strive to bring that out in my characters and make them relatable even when they engage in actions the reader would (hopefully) never do.
I’ve gotten great feedback on the character of Lars from The Devil Doesn’t Want Me and the sequels to that, and he’s a professional killer. People love the guy, though, and that’s when I know I did my job right.
I’ve also been called a funny writer, though I rarely do it consciously. I like a light touch in the absurdity of situations rather than trying to write funny lines, which I am no good at. But I think a dose of humor now and then really helps with the pace of a book. A reader needs a little relief after the intensity of some of the violence.

SP: As an author who also writes about the weaving web of crime families, I obviously related to, and appreciated, the relationship between the McGraws and the Stanleys. Tucker McGraw is the one family member spanning both groups who has done his best to avoid the criminal lifestyle. Even if most of your readers haven’t grown up with a kingpin parent, do you think they can relate to Tucker’s plight throughout the novel?

EB: We all struggle to build our own identity, don’t we? Tucker is someone who has to rebel kind of in the opposite direction. His rebellion is to fly the straight and narrow. He doesn’t commit crimes and that makes him an outcast within his family. So in that sense I think he is relatable.
Whether it’s that day you move out of the house or the day you stand up to your parents and tell them you don’t want to go into the family business, being an adult is making that choice. I think many of us never quite recover from the consequences of that tipping point. It can effect the rest of your life if it alienates you from your family or if it is a decision you end up regretting.
Tucker’s slow awakening to who he is really meant to be is intended to be a happy story, even if he breaks bad in a way. He’s sort of going through a very late in life coming of age.

SP: Calvin McGraw, Tucker’s grandfather, is my favorite character in Rumrunners. He’s an eighty-year-old badass and the novel’s opening scene with Calvin versus a cocky hipster in a donut shop is one of my favorite first chapters. Was Calvin based on someone you know or met in real life?

EB: Calvin has definitely been the breakout character from Rumrunners, and I’m glad. I think older characters are underserved in stories. I wish I could say he was based on someone I know, but he isn’t really. I used elements of my grandfather in other novels of mine, specifically that he was a pro boxer in the 1930s and I wrote about a boxer living in that era for two novels. But Calvin is maybe a bit of fantasy on my part of what I hope I can be like at his age. Not the criminal stuff, but the attitude. The guy just doesn’t give a crap anymore. That’s admirable on the one hand and it also makes him a formidable foe on the other, even to people a quarter his age.
And his loyalty is unsurpassed. That gets back to being relatable. Calvin in an unrepentant outlaw. He’s lived his whole life on that side of the fence. But he’s fiercely loyal to his family, and that shows the stand up guy beneath the outlaw exterior. I think most people respect a trait like loyalty more than they do to strict lawfulness.

SP: Rumrunners takes place in Iowa and the Midwestern setting is referenced throughout the novel, especially as the Stanley family is one of territory. Yet I could have very easily see the Stanleys and McGraws in a showdown with the Cannons (characters from my novel Lightwood, set in north Florida). Is Rumrunners uniquely Midwestern?

EB: I also think the Midwest is an underserved locale for fiction. I’ve seen the book called Southern noir or country noir and I think people tend to picture more of a deep south when they hear about characters like this, but the Midwest can be just as backwoods, just as dangerous, just as redneck as the South. Some of the worst meth problems are in the Midwest. Hell, our worst heroin problems today are way up in New England, and that doesn’t fit what most people picture in their prep school/ivy league ideas of what New England can be like. So I think the more different areas of the country are represented with the truth of it, the better.
That said, I hope it’s not an unflattering portrait of Iowa. I was born there, but only lived there briefly. I still have family there and spent a lot of time there visiting while I grew up moving to different places on both coasts. Iowa has always had an outsized impression on me, mostly because I think the vast majority of Americans don't know what it’s really like. I know when I lived in Connecticut and wore my Iowa Hawkeyes hat around, the kids who’d never been out of Fairfield County thought I must have been born on a farm and slept with pigs in my bed. They were that clueless about Iowa beyond cornfields and barnyards. But I have a deep affection for Iowa. Some of my favorite memories are there. I’ve written about it a few times and although I always write about some crime taking place there, I think the setting itself comes off well.
But could the saga of Rumrunners have been set elsewhere? Sure. You have my permission to have the McGraws drive through the background in one of your Florida novels. They wouldn’t be entirely out of place, I don’t think.

SP: I had the privilege and pleasure of being part of your Noir at the Bar at Bouchercon this past September. How did you get started with this event?

EB: I knew of the events being held in St. Louis, unaware that it started in Philadelphia. The Philly events weren’t happening any more, but Jedidiah Ayres and Scott Phillips had a regular thing going in St. Louis that I’d heard great things about. When a place called the Mystery Bookstore closed down here in  Los Angeles, we lost the hub and central meeting place for crime writers in town. I wanted that back so I called up Jed and Scott to ask if I could do a Noir at the Bar in LA. I reached out to a few LA writers to see if there would be interest and everyone was very excited about it.
That was already 5 years ago and since Jed and Scott gave me their blessing, I think other writers in other cities saw it as a franchise opportunity so now there are regular events all across the country and even in the UK. Everyone does it independently, each event is a little different, but the core concept is the same and that’s to give writers a place to come and get in front of an audience, and a place for writers and readers to interact in the flesh. It’s been a real boon to the indie crime community, the younger writers especially. It’s a right of passage now to read at a Noir at the Bar. We’ve hosted national bestsellers and guests from other countries right on down to unpublished authors. We’ve seen several people do their first ever public reading at Noir at the Bar LA and several have gone on to now be published authors. It’s immensely gratifying and as much work as it is for no money and no gain, really, outside the satisfaction of doing it and the fun times at the event, I can’t see stopping any time soon.

SP: I’d ask you what’s coming up next for you, but I already know- Leadfoot, the prequel to Rumrunners. What prompted you to go back to 1971 and explore the roots of the McGraws?

EB: Well, as you said, Calvin was the star of the show once Rumrunners came out. I had a loose plan for a trilogy starting with the action right after Rumrunners, but the publisher suggested maybe a prequel and I thought it was a great idea. So I went back to when Calvin was in his prime and pushed him front and center. I also gave Webb, who vanishes right at the start of Rumrunners, his moment in the sun. So the story is about Calvin getting caught up in a big turf war between the Stanley family and rival gang from Nebraska, all while grooming Webb for the job and sending him out on his first assignment which does not go as planned.
Hopefully people find it as high octane and supercharged as the first book.

SP: And finally, to spread the love (and because you have killer taste), who are some authors you’d recommend to readers interested in the crime and thriller genres?

EB: Not to blow smoke but I’m so glad I got to read your books this year. A Tree Born Crooked was great and Lightwood just went in my bag for me to start at lunch tomorrow.
It’s actually been a great year for dark female writers, which I’ve had a hard time finding in the past. Neliza Drew, Marietta Miles, Sarah Chen. I love having more answers now for when people come asking for female crime writers who don’t do cozies.

Looking back over what I read this year some of my below-the-radar favorites have been Cold Quiet Country by Clayton Lindemuth (you would love it!) A Better Goodbye by John Schulian, All Involved by Ryan Gattis, Gunshine State by Andrew Nette, Revolver by Duane Swierczynski. I discovered Larry Watson this year and I loved Montana, 1948 and American Boy. I read a ton of vintage crime too and really dug deep into the work of Charles Williams and William P. McGivern, who everyone should seek out.
So now, including Rumrunners and Leadfoot, you have even more books to check out! So many thank to Eric Beetner for stopping by and be sure to pick up a copy of Rumrunners. Don't forget- Leadfoot hits the shelves on Nov. 1st and you'll want to throw that in your bag as well. Happy Reading!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Accidental Novel: An Interview with Jesse Bradley, author of The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective

Today I bring you an interview with Jesse Bradley, author of the recently released The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective. Read on!

Steph Post: Your recently published novel The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective is, to say the least, unique. The premise alone- Jesus Christ trapped in the body of Timmy, a twelve-year-old detective- tells readers that your book is going off into uncharted territory. How strange do you personally believe your novel to be?

Jesse Bradley: I would say no weirder than any other boy detective novel where said boy detective has to solve grizzly, soul boggling murders.

SP: In many ways, your novel reads like a serial story collection. Do you have a background in short stories?

JB: It’s funny, I focused on poetry from about 1996-2010. I wrote a smattering of fiction here and there in during that period, but I wrote mostly poetry, especially when I was competing in poetry slams. While I was doing interviews for PANK, I stumbled onto flash fiction and started writing that along with poetry. I discovered that a lot of the narrative elements in poems written for slam transfer well for writing flash fiction. In 2011, I was challenged by HOUSEFIRE to write a 10,000 word novella in six weeks and I used my experience in writing flash fiction to write Bodies Made of Smoke. It was a tough challenge but damn, it was fun. When I stumbled onto the idea of writing these Jesus Christ, Boy Detective stories, I used the events of Bodies Made of Smoke as a major plot point in The Hand of Fate section of JCBD. I started with writing a novel but then when it became intimidating or I got bored, I wrote self-contained JCBD mysteries. Originally, the book was going to only contain the mysteries until Mark Givens at Pelekinesis wanted me to add some background to them. I mentioned I had a long novella/short novel that provides a ton of background (The Hand of Fate). Once I showed it to him, we added it. The stories have been published elsewhere as well as only the first chapter of The Hand of Fate. Everything came together through the editing process. I tell people that I accidently wrote a novel, which I feel like is the case.

SP: You’ve been published by quite a few independent presses and have published chapbooks for other authors as well through There Will Be Words. How important are the indie presses in today’s publishing climate?

JB: Indie presses take chances on work that the major labels won’t. It’s how I discovered writers like Sean H. Doyle, Scott McClanahan, Roxane Gay, John Jodzio, xTx, and Jane Liddle, just to name a few. There’s far more daring, challenging work in indie lit that I wish the major labels would indulge in.

SP: In addition to writing, you run the previously mentioned There Will Be Words group in Orlando, Florida. Can you tell me more about the group and how you got started with it?

JB: I ran a poetry slam in Orlando from 2001-2011. Around late 2010, I was burnt out on poetry slams. I was writing shorter poems that were getting published in literary journals. I got divorced. I wanted a fresh start. I went to my first AWP conference in 2011 and met a ton of writers that I interviewed for PANK. While I was there, I went to my first Literary Death Match and some amazing off-site readings. On my way back to Orlando, I told a friend I was travelling with that I wanted to start a prose reading series in Orlando. There was this amazing space in Orlando at the time called Urban Rethink, which used to be a bookstore called Urban Think. Burrow Press put out its first anthology and I met the publishers (Ryan Rivas and Jana Waring) at the release party. I pitched the idea of doing a reading series at Urban Rethink called There Will Be Words, where chapbooks would be sold with the readers work in it and they were down. The final slam was in April 2011 and There Will Be Words began in May 2011. I’ve been running it now for almost six years and it has been a consistently rewarding experience. Our literary scene has grown exponentially and I’m so proud to be part of that growth.

SP: And finally, what’s next? What can readers expect from you on the horizon?

JB: My Yelp review prose poem collection, Pick How You Will Revise a Memory, comes out later this year through Robocup Press.

Many thanks to Jesse Bradley for stopping be. Be sure to check out The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective and, as always, keep reading, keep reviewing and support the authors you love!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Of Angels and Devils: An Interview with Chris Holm, author of Red Right Hand

One of the books I've been talking up a storm about over the past month, in case you hadn't noticed, is Chris Holm's recently released novel Red Right Hand. A classic thriller, Red Right Hand brings together the FBI, a secret Council with a terrorist plot, and a hit man anti-hero with both a mission and a vendetta. It's a wild ride and one which I truly enjoyed. I'm excited and honored, therefore, to bring you an interview with Chris Holm. Read on!

Steph Post: I was initially drawn to your book by its striking cover and its title, which I hoped was a reference to Nick Cave’s song “Red Right Hand.” I was, of course, thrilled to see that you included an excerpt from the song in the epigraph for the novel. Did Cave’s song, or its imagery or themes, in any way influence or guide you as you began to write Red Right Hand?

Chris Holm: Very much so. In The Killing Kind, I introduced the Council, which is essentially a criminal UN comprising representatives from every major organized crime outfit in the country, and the Council’s right-hand man. In Red Right Hand, that man—whose name is Sal Lombino (the birth name of the late, great Ed McBain)—and his machinations on the Council’s behalf take center stage. I envisioned him as a chaos agent, an emissary of evil, the prime mover of a vast criminal conspiracy. Or, as Cave puts it:
You’re one microscopic cog
In his catastrophic plan
Designed and directed by
His red right hand

The phrase “red right hand” didn’t originate with Cave, though. He borrowed it from Milton, who was a huge influence on my Collector series. While Cave’s “Red Right Hand” has a sinister cast, Milton used the term to refer to the wrath of God:
What if the breath that kindl’d those grim fires
Awak’d should blow them into sevenfold rage
And plunge us in the flames? or from above
Should intermitted vengeance arm again
His red right hand to plague us?

The interplay between the two quotes became the central tension of the book. If Lombino was the Devil’s Red Right Hand, what did that make my series character, Michael Hendricks—a reluctant avenging angel?

SP: I was about halfway through Red Right Hand when I realized that The Killing Kind, for which you just recently won the Anthony Award, preceded this work. Red Right Hand is the second installment in a trilogy series, but I found that it worked very well as a stand-alone novel. Would you recommend that readers begin with The Killing Kind to really understand the story and the character of Michael Hendricks?

CH: I’m glad it worked well as a standalone, because I tried hard to ensure that it would. That said, there’s no question Red Right Hand spoils a thing or two from The Killing Kind, so it’s probably best to start at the beginning.
It’s funny; a number of reviews have mentioned I’m writing a trilogy, but I’ve always intended the Hendricks books to be an open-ended series. Could be all this trilogy talk stems from the fact that my last series was a trilogy—but between you, me, and the internet, I thought that one was open-ended too, until my old publisher told me they weren’t interested in publishing another one.

SP: Michael Hendricks, the main character of Red Right Hand, is clearly an anti-hero. He’s essentially a hit man who goes after hit men, and while he is certainly not evil, he’s not exactly walking around with a heart of gold either. Yet it is this dark edge that makes him so attractive to readers. Why do you think readers like an anti-hero? And are there even such things as “real” heroes?

CH: I believe that there are truly evil people in the world, and truly good, but the majority of us exist in the vast gray middle in between. It seems to me that part of the appeal of anti-heroes is that they allow us to safely explore our own dark impulses. Anti-heroes are a dare. A gut-check. A what-if.
I also think their unpredictability makes them interesting. Heroes, by definition, always act heroically—and you can count on mustache-twirling villains to be villainous. Anti-heroes, on the other hand, are harder to pin down. We read (or watch) to find out what they’ll do next.

SP: One of Red Right Hand’s many strengths is its fast, uncompromising pace. From a craft perspective, how did you maintain the intensity and pace without sacrificing any of the story?

CH: Honestly? Copious editing. My first drafts are pretty bloated and uneven. I usually go through six or seven drafts before a book is done. Red Right Hand only took three, but damn if they weren’t brutal. Every scene streamlined. Every character deepened. Every action beat punched up. I kinda see it like those digital FX reels you see online. The first draft is the wireframe version. Every subsequent draft adds texture and context. Hopefully, by the time it hits the screen, it doesn’t look half-baked anymore.

SP: As I previously mentioned, Red Right Hand follows The Killing Kind. Did you write The Killing Kind knowing that the story would eventually become a series? And once you realized that you would be carrying Michael Hendricks’ story for the breadth of more than one novel, did you outline the series ahead of time?

CH: Is it weird to call your shot? Yeah, I always intended The Killing Kind to be the first in a series. That said, I’m incapable of outlining. I’ve got a rough idea of a few big beats in my head, but that’s about it. When it comes to finding out what happens next, I’m six months ahead of my readers at most.

SP: And just to spread the love, as I always like to do, who would you say is currently writing at the top of the crime-fiction genre? Who or what novels would you recommend for fans of your work who are hungry for more?

CH: Lou Berney’s TheLong and Faraway Gone is as beautiful a crime novel as you’ll ever read. Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me continues her already impressive literary hot streak. Stuart Neville’s Those We Left Behind was absolutely devastating, so I can’t wait to dig into his new one. Ditto Michael Koryta’s Last Words. And I’m in the middle of a gritty, lyrical Florida crime novel by Steph Post called Lightwood that’ll be out early next year.
Okay, I'm not going to pretend that didn't make me smile... But back to Chris Holm. Be sure to check out both Red Right Hand and The Killing Kind, as well as Holm's Collector series (which have amazing covers, by the way) And always, read, review and repeat. Cheers!