El Segundo resident and devoted dad Eric Beetner is a prolific author of escapist fiction.
By Maureen Kingsley
Eric Beetner (right) with his family
Not having met Eric Beetner, author of more than 25 published crime novels with such titles such as Dig Two Graves, Borrowed Trouble, and Two in the Head, one might reasonably expect him to be intense and brooding, perhaps with an edgy, slightly dangerous past. Spend some time talking with him about his writing and his life in the South Bay, however, and you’ll soon find he is a friendly, hard-working, law-abiding family man with an easy sense of humor. It’s this dichotomy that makes him so interesting and fun to interview.
By day, Eric is a career editor and producer for television, and you’ve probably watched at least one episode of a series he’s edited: The Amazing Race, Fear Factor, The Bachelorette, and Wipeout, to name a few. At night, however, this productive creative escapes his edit bay to spend time on his second career: writing crime fiction, thrillers, mysteries, and noir. “I wrote my first novel in 2008,” he says, after many years of writing screenplays of various genres. “Screenwriting is story-driven and efficient,” Eric explains, and his works of fiction are, too. His novels and short stories feature fast-moving plots, terse dialog, sharp wit, and ordinary characters in extraordinary situations—often criminal in nature.
“I think like an editor,” he says of his storytelling style, meaning he keeps his plots moving, his characters engaged, and his dialogue zipping along. The result is highly readable escapist fiction tinged with sardonic wit.
Eric also produces a podcast for readers of crime and mystery stories called Writer Types, and, in times untouched by a global viral pandemic, hosts the Noir at the Bar reading series in Los Angeles.
Here in our June issue, he answers questions about his background, his literary inspiration, his process as a storyteller, his life in the South Bay, and more. Read on to get a glimpse of Eric’s fertile imagination and self-effacing sense of humor for yourself.
The El Segundo Scene (TESS): I know you said you lived in Culver City before moving to El Segundo. Where were you born and raised?
Eric Beetner (EB): I was born in Iowa, quickly moved to Northern California in Cupertino, heart of the Silicon Valley. Then back to Iowa after my parents’ divorce and then to Connecticut by the second grade, then a different town in Connecticut in fifth grade where I stayed through high school. Because of all that moving, I became an introvert and began a life of learning how to entertain myself when I was alone while my single dad was out working late or on weekends.
TESS: What do you think draws you to crime fiction, mysteries, and thrillers as both a reader and a writer?
EB: I am a very straitlaced person. I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs, and I never have. I read to be taken to a different world with different people, so I think a life of crime is about as far from my own life as I can imagine. I also think stories of ordinary people thrust into tense or dangerous situations are always entertaining. I like stories that make me think, “What would I do?”
TESS: What types of characters and plots do you most enjoy writing?
EB: I don’t write about cops or PIs; I could never write about the world’s greatest spy or the head of the FBI. I like normal folks who might take a step off the straight-and-narrow and find themselves in over their heads. Or criminals who are maybe trying to go straight. I’ve written about people who get drawn into criminal acts to keep their family together, people who are trying to extricate themselves from a life of crime. People who make one small mistake that spins out of control and people who get trapped in a web of their own making. I guess you could say I like to torture my charachters a bit. I certainly wouldn’t want to meet any of them in real life, or I’d have a lot to answer for.
TESS: Does writing crime fiction/thrillers/noir require quite a bit of research? If so, what sort of research do you do?
EB: I am lousy at research. I do it only when absolutely necessary. I think if you ground any book in characters who are realistic, the rest will follow. If you create a world and stick to the logic and emotional beats of that world, then you don’t need to research every little thing. I look up things like details about guns, because if you don’t get those right, readers will let you know. Mostly the things I have to research are fairly twisted. My Google search history probably has me on a few watch lists, and if my wife ever went missing I’d be Suspect Number One. The police would immediately be at my door: “Mr. Beetner, did you do an internet search on which poisons are tasteless?”
Novels by local crime, mystery, and thriller author Eric Beetner
TESS: Of the novels and stories you’ve written, do you have any favorites?
EB: The newest, shiniest piece is usually the first one that comes to mind. My novel All The Way Down I think is a good example of what I do well: cinematic, propulsive from beginning to end. My novel Rumrunners has probably been my best reviewed, along with the prequel, Leadfoot, which was also award-nominated. And an early trilogy of books about a hit man trying to get straight I still really like. That begins with The Devil Doesn’t Want Me and it’s one of the only books of mine my wife has read. She said I did a good job of making a guy who kills people sympathetic and someone you root for, which is exactly what I strive for. I want you to like the “bad” guys as much as the good guys. Of course I think some of my best work is in the new novels I haven’t sold yet. So my answer will change when those come out, eventually.
TESS: Who are your favorite authors to read? Your favorite screenwriters/directors?
EB: I read so many authors, and a few are instant must-buys for me like Joe R Lansdale, Laura McHugh, Ken Bruen, Duane Swierczynski, Jake Hinkson, Steph Post. If anyone needs to borrow some books, my shelves are overflowing, and I always keep a stack of loaners of books I love. If I see one out at Goodwill or a dollar bookstore, I will snap up an extra copy to give away and get a great book in someone’s hand. I also have a huge collection of vintage novels from the 1930s through 1950s. I like to know the history of my genre, and some of them are my absolute favorite books.
For films I love the Coen Brothers. I am a film-school grad, so I can get a little hipster sometimes with my choices like Hong Kong director John Woo or French director Jean-Pierre Junet. I really seek out something new and exciting since I’ve seen all the tropes of mainstream movies so many times before—not that I don’t enjoy a good formula film. And I am a huge classic-film fan, particularly film noir from directors like Fritz Lang, Anthony Mann, Robert Siodmak, and Phil Karlson. I watch a whole lot of old black-and-white films, and my kids are just used to walking through the living room and being transported to the 1940s when Dad’s watching the TV.
TESS: The covers of your novels feature bright, primary colors and simple but commanding graphics. How does the process of creating/choosing your covers come about? EB: That’s kind of you to say, because I have made most of my own book covers. I am a completely untrained designer, and I don’t even have the full version of PhotoShop, but I’ve managed to create over 100 covers for dozens of authors and a few different small presses, all in the crime and mystery genres. I am the kind of person who will try anything, which has led me to being a musician for a long time, a painter when I just wanted something on my wall, and I guess a writer when I wanted to read the story ideas in my head. But I firmly believe we do, in fact, judge books by their covers, so I am drawn to strong graphics, and simply seeing an arresting cover can absolutely make me pick up a book. Working with small presses means I have a lot of say in the cover design that larger press authors don’t get. And I’m still amazed that other people hire me to create covers for them.
TESS: What do you enjoy most about living here in the South Bay?
EB: I work freelance in my day job as a TV editor and producer, so one month I might be in Hollywood, then Encino, then Glendale. Wherever in town I work, the South Bay feels like coming home. When I first moved to LA right out of college, I landed in Glendale because I came out knowing I had a job in Pasadena. When my wife (then girlfriend) moved in with me, she said, “We’re Westsiders now,” so we moved to the Marina, then bought our first condo in Playa, then went to Culver City. When our two daughters were old enough for us to start thinking seriously about a long-term solution for schools, we looked around and settled on El Segundo easily. I had done a lot of work down here, so I knew the area well, and I love the lifestyle. It’s been a fantastic place to bring up our girls, and we know we made the best decision, not only because we got in just before real estate went through the roof. We probably couldn’t afford to move here now, so I’m really glad we moved when we did. The way it worked out made it seem like fate. It even turned out one of my best friends from high school lives only a mile away from me! And after all that moving around as a kid, this is officially the longest I’ve ever been at a single address.
TESS: Does living here (in the greater LA area) influence your writing at all?
EB: In a weird way I generally avoid writing about LA. I have an unsold book set in the film business which was suggested by an old agent of mine. He couldn’t believe I hadn’t written about my day job in my books. I tried to explain that when I write I want to leave work behind, so I wrote a book about the job I always wished I had as a kid—a stuntman! But there have been so many great books set in LA and Hollywood, I chose not to compete with that market. And I like the small stakes in Midwest towns or rural areas, often unnamed in my books. If you’ve ever had any sort of trying situation in your own life, you know a small problem becomes your whole world when it affects you directly, so that type of story doesn’t need a big city or high-profile location to sell the real emotion of it.
TESS: What about hosting your podcast do you find most rewarding?
EB: I created Writer Types with another local author, SW Lauden. I do it solo now, but we wanted to help promote other authors and get to talk to our friends and make new ones in the industry. I have the technical know-how, and I’m pretty good on a mic, or at least I’m not afraid of it, so I jumped in. I like making things, so it satisfied that part of my personality. And I really love talking with authors. Everyone has a different way of doing it, a different story of how they got their book published. I talk to all crime/mystery/thriller writers, but within that I talk to all sorts, from big military thrillers to cozy mysteries. I’ve talked to huge best-sellers like Gillian Flynn, Sara Paretsky, Jeffrey Deaver, and Lee Child, and up-and-coming writers on their debut novels. I’ve also talked with authors all over the world, from England and Australia to Sweden, France, Germany, and Iceland. I work hard to have a diverse slate of guests, equally balanced among men and women and established and newer writers. I keep the show light, moving quickly and geared toward readers, rather than other writers, so there should be something for fans of the books and not just want-to-be-writers. It’s become very well established within the crime and mystery scenes (even award-nominated), and I have publishers sending me books all the time trying to get their authors on the show. I feel bad for my mail carriers for all the packages that come to my house!
TESS: You mentioned you have a large network of writer friends. Are they from all over? Any LA-area authors specifically you associate with?
EB: I’ve been lucky to make friends with hundreds of writers all across the world. But, yes I have so many great friends and mentors here in LA. Much of that stems from the reading series I have been hosting and organizing for the past 9 years: Noir at the Bar. We have meet-ups every few months and feature six to eight readers, and readers and writers get to mingle and chat at a bar, which makes it a less stuffy reading than most reading events. So many LA-based writers have been such a help to me in my career, like Christa Faust, Rachel Howzell Hall, Stephen Blackmoore, SW Lauden, Naomi Hirahara, Ryan Gattis, Gary Phillips. The list goes on. LA has such a vibrant crime-writing scene; whenever I go to other cities they are jealous of how many great writers we have all around us.
TESS: And finally: where can readers buy your books?
EB: Small presses don’t have it as easy getting into big bookstores. My books are easily available, but you usually have to ask for them to be ordered from a bookstore. Of course, Amazon has everything in print and eBook. My website has buy links to everything. I have given several of my titles to the El Segundo Public Library, and I need to give them the newest ones, but since they’ve been shut down I haven’t been able to. I need to get on that! But for small-press authors, if you request a title for a library to carry or order it special from a bookstore, it helps us immeasurably by raising the profile of our other books and generally getting us known to the all-important heroes of the book world—librarians and booksellers! And hey, if anyone orders a book, I’ll meet you down at Blue Butterfly and sign any book you want me to.
Eric Beetner lives in El Segundo with his wife and two daughters. A shorter version of this Q&A appears in the June 2021 issue of The El Segundo Scene.