Eric Beetner, author of Two in the Head which was enjoyed and on the blog yesterday was kind enough to answer a few questions for me regarding his writing, his books and brussel sprouts, as well as a few other things.
I’m guessing the book writing’s maybe not full time? If not, what’s the day job and can you give us a quick biography of yourself?
producer. So I’m not a cubicle jockey in a tie and dress shoes. My whole world is story and structure and keeping things lean. I think a lot of that translates into my fiction. I’m working on a show you would certainly know - Top Gear. But the U.S. version which I have to say this latest iteration is the best yet. And I mean that sincerely. I’ve long admired the editing style of Top Gear UK as the best in the biz so it’s quite an honor to be the Co-Executive Producer and lead editor of the US version.
I’m currently reading your latest offering Two in the Head which drops soon – published by Down and Out Books. Can you pitch it to a potential reader in 50 words or less?
(Finished reading - very good, plus it's now available!)
It’s a weird book and my hardest yet to summarize. Basically it’s this: A crooked DEA agent tries to extricate herself from the drug lords who pay and control her. They try to kill her in retaliation and she ends up splitting into two people - her good side and her bad side. The bad Samantha tries to destroy the good Samantha and everything she loves. A whole lot people die and things blow up.
You’ve written over twenty novels, including several short series and several collaborations with other authors, novellas and multiple short stories, across several genres. You have a popular podcast and you design book covers. Is there anything you don’t turn your hand to?
Not much. I’ve done western and horror too. I’m lousy at traditional mysteries and I wouldn’t even try a locked room story. I’m not smart enough to extricate myself from a plot like that. I admire those who do it well.
I’ve also been a musician, a painter, an actor. Jack of all trades, master of none.
Do you have a personal favourite among your prodigious output? Is that like asking if you have a favourite child?
My favorites are usually the ones not published yet. Someday I hope they make it out into the world so I can see how wrong I am.
Which one would you press into the hands of a new reader?
I usually steer new readers to either Rumrunners or The Devil Doesn’t Want Me. Based on reader feedback and reviews, etc. those are my most popular books and I think they both represent me well as a writer. If you like what you see there you can trust you’ll like the other books too.
Can you remember what your first published piece was and when?
Do you have a favourite format - short story, novella or novel and a favourite genre to work in?
I think I like novels best, though shorts give you that immediate satisfaction. And my books tend to be on the shorter side. Maybe my ideal length skews more toward a novella, but I like a story where many things happen and a character can go through changes. And I like straight ahead crime stories and noir best, though neither of those sell all that well.
Do you have a typical writing schedule?
I’m a late night writer. I do it after my family goes to bed. There is less distraction from the world in general at night, which is I prefer it for all aspects of life.
Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters?
Sometimes. For Two In The Head I borrowed more names than usual. Calder and Rizzo are sons of a good friend. They were about 5 years old at the time I wrote the book. They still have a ways to go before they can read it. But it’s a slippery slope using names because the assumption is the character is also a proxy for the name, but most of the people I write about aren’t anyone you’d want as your namesake. Naming a character after someone isn’t always a compliment, sometimes it’s revenge.
When you have an idea and you sit down to construct your story – do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like? Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?
I am an outliner. It comes from my screenwriting background. I like to know where I am going so I don’t waste time meandering on the way there. I’m not big on rewriting or revisions so I try to have it set in an outline before I really get going. It’s another film production technique. Pre-production is key to a smooth shoot so why not pre-produce your book so the writing itself goes easily?
Are there any subjects off limits?
you’re trying to be shocking with excessive violence or violence toward women or children which is off-putting, then nothing should be off limits. There is an audience for everything.
I'm curious to know how a co-authored project works. Is it a vastly different process to a solo project?
Every team works a bit differently. I’ve had really good luck. I was smart enough to team up with great writers who are also nice people. The books I’ve co-written were also done as two first person narrators so the writing is still fairly solo. The plotting takes place by kicking emails back and forth and agreeing on a storyline. From there you go off and write your chapter, hand it off and wait for the other chapter to come back and you make minor adjustments and tweaks as you go.
More scope for disagreements and stress, or double the fun? (Though I don't actually know that writing is fun, it seems like bloody hard work from this reader's limited knowledge.)
I’ve had good luck as I said but I don’t always recommend it to others. It is fraught with pitfalls and it if fails you have to be able to walk away and stay friends and say it didn’t work out but no harm.
Back to the current baby, how long from conception to completion did Two in the Head take? Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the road along the way?
It went smoothly. It’s a wild concept so keeping the rules I had given myself for this story that departs from reality was the hard part. Giving good Samantha limitations on what she could do, since she literally can’t do anything wrong - like speeding when she is trying to rush home to save her fiancé’s life - was tough but also really fun writing myself out of those limits.
Did the end result mirror your expectations at the start of the process, or is it a very different book to what you imagined?
It’s what I imagined. I tried to channel my inner Duane Swierczynski or Victor Gischler for this one. I had a lot fun just going for broke with the action.
Not having gotten too far along with my reading, and without spoiling it for me, is there scope for a continuation with your main lead character from Two in the Head, or is it a one-shot only outing?
This one is a standalone. I wanted the stakes to be real. Anyone can die at any time. Nobody is safe.
Are there any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?
I am sitting on five unpublished manuscripts currently. Working on a new one, too. Gems? We shall see. So far, no agent wants to take me on so the books might all suck. Who knows?
What’s the current project in progress?
I’m very early on to a new novel about an old guy settling a very old score. I like writing about people with age and history. I find them rich mines of stories to tell. Plus, I’m not so young anymore myself.
What’s the best thing about writing?
Getting to see a story you’d want to read come to life. I write because I think of a story and I say, “Oh, I’d want to read that” So I get to!
The business of it is really heartbreaking most times. It’s that meeting of art and commerce that is a necessary evil of any creative endeavor.
What are the last five books you’ve read?
The Hundred Dollar Girl by William Campbell Gault
I’ll Bury My Dead by James Hadley Chase
The Cipher by Isabella Maldonado
Murder In Old Bombay by Nev March
When These Mountains Burn by David Joy
Who do you read and enjoy?
I always look forward to a new Joe R Lansdale book. Owen Laukkanen never lets me down. Brett Battles. Laura McHugh, Ken Bruen, John Rector. And I love diving into my shelf of vintage novels and finding old books that have been forgotten.
Is there any one book you wish you had written?
Only about a million of them.
Favourite activity when not working or writing?
I love volleyball and I haven’t been able to play since Covid. I miss it terribly.
What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?
A French Thriller called Lost Bullet I really enjoyed.
TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Beetner household?
It’s my business so I watch a lot of TV guilt free. My viewing habits are totally different from the rest of my family. I keep trying to get my wife to watch Ted Lasso, though. It’s not too dark for her, even though she’ll watch hours of true crime documentary stuff that is way darker than the shows I watch.
My daughter will watch The Office (US version, sorry) on a loop 24/7 if we let her.
What are the last three pieces of music you’ve listened to?
I constantly have music on. I recently got a new guitar so I’ve been plucking away at learning some songs lately. I will spare anyone from having to listen to me, though.
RANDOM TRIVIA FUN QUESTIONS
What’s your favourite vegetable?
Brussel Sprouts. If my ten-year-old self could hear that he’d think I’m nuts
When did you last have a fist fight?
Never. I’ve come close, but I’ve avoided them all my life.
Have you ever been thrown out of a bar or a club?
Nope. I don’t drink so I think that gets back to why I’ve never been in a fistfight either.
Do you have any tattoos?
Surprisingly, no. By all accounts I’m exactly the kind of person who would. Now my wife doesn’t want me to so despite having several that I’d probably like to get, I remain ink free
What was your first pet’s name?
Fang, a cat
What’s the worst meal you have ever eaten?
Hard to say. It’s about context really. I’ve had some dreadful tasting meals, but sad roadside grease bomb food when there is just no other alternative is often the worst. Or that one time meeting my girlfriend’s parents and they had so badly over-salted the meal that none of us could choke it down but I did my damndest to be polite and make a good impression. That was pretty bad.
Do you have any irrational fears?
No. I’m not afraid of much. Probably should be.
What’s your favourite holiday destination?
Anywhere with my family, really. We don’t get to go many places so I don’t have a lot of experience to pull from, but as long as we’re together we can make any place a good time.
When did you last tell a lie?
I lie to my kids all the time. It’s fun
Visit him at his website - ericbeetner.com
Catch his Writertypespodcast - here
Follow him on Twitter - @ericbeetner
and check out his books! Starting with his latest.....
TWO IN THE HEAD
The other Samantha stands over her and regards her twin. Something is off about this new face. It is her, sure, but harder somehow. The new Sam turns and walks away, back toward the building she came out of before her car exploded. Back to see the two drug kingpins in the top floor offices. And somehow Samantha knows—back to take the deal she just turned down.
Samantha Whelan is a DEA agent, and not always a straight and narrow one. She’s been taking bribes and doing favors for Calder and Rizzo—twin brothers and big players in narco traffic in southern California—for years. She turned down a deal that night, a deal to make her millions, but it meant killing her fiancé, an assistant district attorney building a case against Calder and Rizzo. And it meant betraying her DEA brethren more deeply than she had so far. It was too much. So Calder and Rizzo tried to blow her up.
What happened then…she split. Samantha became Samantha and Sam. Two halves of the same person. The good side and the bad side. The two opposing forces living within her for so long were now free to fight it out to see who will win control.
So begins a nightmarish rocket ride for Samantha to save her life and the lives of everyone she holds dear before Sam, her bad half, can burn it to the ground.
Praise for TWO IN THE HEAD:
“Two In the Head is a straight shot between the eyes. A gangbusters plot, punch-drunk pace, and gut-punch action propel this black hearted thriller fr