Monday, October 29, 2012

Q&A: Eric Beetner

Eric Beetner’s latest novel The Devil Doesn’t Want Me was released last week. I preyed on our mutual affection for film noir and got him to do a VKDCQ&A.

Q. What can you tell us about THE DEVIL DOESN’T WANT ME?

Well, I’ll let others tell you if it’s any good or not, but I can say it is about a hit man named Lars who is starting to realize he’s past his prime. He’s been on the hunt for the same man for the past 17 years, a guy in witness protection, and he is starting to doubt if he wants to kill the guy anyway. When Lars is replaced by the crime family he works for by a young gun, things come to a head and Lars has to go on the run with an innocent girl. That covers the first 40 pages or so. From there it’s part action thriller, part father-daughter road movie, part generational drama, and part blood bath.

The one thing I’ve heard a lot, and it is very gratifying to me, is that amid all the mayhem and bursts of violence there is a strong heart at the center of the story and the characters are sympathetic and people you end up caring about. That was important to me and I’m glad to know I pulled it off. I never want to write only chaos. The best chaos is grounded in real emotions.

Q. Lars, your hit man character, is on the verge of finally catching up with one target he’s been after for almost two decades. Any parallels with your own life? Something you’ve been chasing for a good long while now?

Hmm, deep question. I’ve never thought about it and I’m tempted to say no, but I’m realizing that when I started writing the book it was 17 years since I’d moved to L.A., so maybe my subconscious was pushing things forward a bit. I’m someone who is rarely satisfied with my accomplishments. I’m not a sad sack about it and I love to appreciate the things I’ve done and I’m grateful for everything. And I have done quite a lot, more than most people only because I’ll try anything or at least pursue anything I’m interested in. I went to film school so I work in the TV/film biz. I’ve made films, done the festival circuit, won awards. I was a musician for a long time and did that whole thing. I’ve painted and sold paintings. Been a paid screenwriter. A ton of other things I’m proud to say I’ve made happen by myself, but of course none of them have made me rich and famous. I’m definitely a jack of all trades, master of none kind of guy. But part of life for me is chasing down dreams and just plain old doing what makes me happy and creatively fulfilled.

So I’ve been chasing a lot of things, and will continue to do so.

Q. DEVIL is part of the relaunch of the storied Dutton Guilt Edged Mystery line. How does it feel to be part of that history? Did you have any of the original books in your own vast library?
Oh, man, it is so damn cool to be with Guilt Edged. For my book launch I bought myself a present of an original Guilt Edged title from 1955 called The Big Steal (not the basis for the Robert Mitchum movie, however) I wish I could collect up all the Guilt Edged titles but they are either long gone or prohibitively expensive.

One thing I’ve said before about my own ambitions in publishing is that I just want to be a part of the conversation. To be mentioned alongside other writers and taken seriously. To be a part of the history of pulp/crime fiction that is Guilt Edged is beyond cool for me. I think I’m more jazzed about it than anyone who even works over there since the original lineup of Guilt Edged books is so much what I love about crime fiction.

My dream job, that I’m sure you can relate to, is to work as an archivist for a film studio and get to browse the archives and collections of Hollywood history. Maybe Dutton will let me start a side job as curator of Guilt Edged history and I can set about finding copies of all the old titles so they can have them on display in the offices. Hmmm, I’m going to get a cover letter started ...

Q. You’ve also written several installments in the FIGHT CARD series, and your books with JB Kohl have a sweet science backdrop. Where did your interest in boxing come from? How closely do you follow the sport now?

My interest is from my family. My fraternal grandfather was a professional fighter in the 1930s and was even state champion of Iowa in 1935. So I grew up learning all about that, sneaking looks at Grandpa’s cauliflower ear and occasionally sitting in the living room with him and my dad to watch a fight. Writing about boxing has been fun. I’m setting it aside for a while so I don’t get pigeonholed as the boxing guy, but the four books I’ve written with a link to boxing have been tons of fun. The whole Fight Card series is one I encourage people to look into. My two books (Split Decision and A Mouth Full Of Blood) are a good place to start, and from there you’ll be hooked and want to read them all.

I don’t watch much boxing these days. If I do, it’s not the heavyweights. The best fights are always the smaller, scrappier guys. More punches, they have more energy and last into later rounds, and they seem to want it more.

Q. You’re a huge film noir fan. What about those movies continues to speak to you?

I like stories with morally challenged characters and so many noirs have those type of guys (and gals) at their center. Many of the straight up detective films I like, but my favorites are usually the stories with average Joes falling into a web of their own making. Think something like Side Street or Guilty Bystander or Too Late For Tears. Then there are films that are just tough as nails like The Narrow Margin and T-Men and Raw Deal that keep you guessing.

I’m a romantic about the era, too. One of the primary functions of film is to transport you and I love being taken to a different time and place through older films. You’ve heard me rail before against people laughing at film noirs because I like to try to put myself in that headspace of the era. Those writers and directors were not making comedies. Some of those films are bleak. But in something like Armored Car Robbery when Charles McGraw is so gruff that his only response to his dead partner’s wife is, “Tough break, Marsha.” it always gets a laugh.

Okay, before I get off on a tangent ... But the classic style is also one I love as a student of cinema. I’m not precious about it. Film should evolve, should change in style for each generation. You don’t have to like it, but I guarantee in fifty years there will be film festivals showing the Matrix trilogy and people will sit and say, “Gee, they sure don’t make ‘em like they used to!”

I’m nearing the end of my quest to see everything considered noir from that era (working from Spencer Selby’s nearly comprehensive list, though how films like Smart Girls Don’t Talk aren’t in there is beyond me) and even now when I’ve been so saturated with film noir I can run across something like Kiss The Blood Off My Hands which I saw fairly recently and be blown away by a great story about a desperate man digging his own grave deeper and deeper even as he risks everything for a human connection.

I’m down to mostly the dregs of crime cinema of the era and there are some bad, bad movies there, so when I see something like that one I am reenergized again and reminded why I love these films.

Q. A regular feature on your blog is “Writers With Day Jobs.” Your own paying gig is as an editor, often on reality shows. Ever see something in the raw footage that inspired a story?

The whole reason I started that topic on the blog, beyond giving writers I admire a little exposure, was that I was curious if anyone else felt like me. I happen to love my day job and am very creatively fulfilled by it. I got the impression I was in the minority and I’ve found I was right.

But I don’t think I’ve ever used anything I’ve ever cut as a jumping off point for a story. Certainly it is all about the content I cut. Not really inspiring to a crime writer. I did use a little inspiration, and a lot of locations, for the film I wrote and directed, but that’s not a crime story. It would be easy to work my day job into a novel and I might get some publicity out of it too, but I’d rather leave work in the edit bay and let my imagination take me to new places when I write.

Movie Q. What’s an underrated hit man film?

Okay, let’s start with the great ones people know about. My mind immediately went to several foreign films, interestingly enough. Leon: The Professional, La Femme Nikita, John Woo’s The Killer. There are tons of underrated or at least unknown films from other countries. How about the Hong King film Naked Killer?

Then there is Road To Perdition, which I do think is kinda underrated. I really liked Collateral but I think it got unjustly tarred with the Tom Cruise backlash. I love Grosse Point Blank, that might be a contender.

Since it’s you and me, Vince, let’s get back to film noir, though. I guess Woman on the Run would count, right? I adore that film. Recently given some love from the Film Noir Foundation * plug, plug* - every one should be a member.

How about one few people know outside of noirhead circles: The Lineup. A great portrait of a contract killer and made extra special by Eli Wallach’s performance and the weird codependent relationship he has with Robert Keith.

Baseball Q. I seem to recall your saying once that your favorite time of year was when your co-workers stopped talking about baseball. What’s your problem?

Oh, boy. You remember that do you? Look, I’m glad you like baseball. My brother-in-law is a huge baseball fan. Do I think any less of him? Not really. Then again he is a Cubs fan so I mostly have pity.

I don’t hope to change your mind so I won’t go into why I think baseball is so pointless and dull, I’ll chalk it up to the fact that I wasn’t exposed to baseball at a young age. I have no nostalgia for the game. That said, I do love a good baseball film.

Eight Men Out? Love it. The Natural? Love it. Field of Dreams? Made me weepy. But the live game is like any of those movies being directed instead by Ken Burns. Yeah, that slow.

So, what’s wrong with me? Let’s just say I’m un-American and have no soul and leave it at that.

Cocktail Q. You’re in a well-stocked bar. What do you order?

Sheesh, you’re gonna end up hating me. Um, I don’t drink so my experience with cocktails is less than limited. But despite that, you’ll be shocked to know I have an answer for this. My wife is more of a red wine kinda gal but she had a cocktail not too long ago that she really enjoyed called a Bourbon Cherry Sour. Have you had that one? If I was in a bar I’d order that for her.

My favorite cocktail by reputation only since I’ve never had one, is the Gibson. I love that you can change a whole drink like a Martini by only changing the weird little accent that comes with it from an olive to an onion. And I love the idea that someone put an onion in a drink. And yet, a Martini is still a Martini when you make it with vodka or gin. Why isn’t that a whole different drink? And what’s with the dirty Martini? Salt water? Who the hell thinks of these things?

Probably someone with a lot of time on their hands. Like someone in the middle of watching a baseball game.

Just kidding - GO GIANTS!