Muscle Cars and 8-Track Tapes: MysteryPeople Q&A with Eric Beetner

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

9788283550047Eric Beetner’s Leadfoot serves as a sequel to Rumrunners, his incredibly fun ode to the the great rural car chase films of the Seventies. This one actually takes place in that decade with Calvin, the patriarch or the McGraw family of outlaw drivers, showing the ropes to his son Webb and getting into trouble that takes more than a fast car to escape. We caught up with Eric, to talk about the book and the McGraw clan.

MysteryPeople Scott: What veered you to do a prequel to Rumrunners instead of a sequel?

Eric Beetner: I had plans for two more books that took place after Rumrunners. The publisher suggested maybe a prequel since we’d both noticed that Calvin was really the breakout character. I thought it was a great idea and I enjoyed having the chance to push Calvin to the forefront of the story in Leadfoot. And also to see Webb do a little work since he got such little time in Rumrunners. Plus, if you’re going to be writing about muscle cars, the 1970s is the time to be.

MPS: Was there any challenge with the Seventies setting?

EB: I didn’t want it to be overly “period”, so I think I make mention of a few things that specify the era, but not too many. I tried not to go too over the top with lingo or describing clothes or any music playlist of top 40 hits of that year. I think as long as people know what year it is set, they can fill that in with their own imaginations. They didn’t need me reminding them at every turn – hey, guys, remember it’s the 70s! Bell bottoms! Pet rocks! 8-track tapes! A little goes a long way in a period setting so familiar to most people.

MPS: Calvin has more in common with Webb in this book than he did with the grandson, Tucker, in Rumrunners. What do you think differentiates father and son?

EB: Webb learned at his father’s side in a way that Tucker didn’t in Rumrunners. Tucker rejected the family business while Webb wants to join up as soon as he can. In a way both Webb and, later, his son, end up disappointing Calvin and they have to deal with that dynamic in their own way. And really, each man comes into his own while trying to fix that disappointment. But Webb rather idolizes Calvin, and that’s the way Calvin likes it. In Rumrunners he never could abide the way Tucker rejected the McGraw lineage. Calvin saw it as a personal affront.

MPS: When I read about the McGraws, I can’t help but think of Smokey & The Bandit, The Dukes Of Hazzard, and their grittier Seventies exploitation versions. Are you inspired by film as much as you are by prose?

EB: I’d say more so. I started as a film guy and always will be one. I went to film school. I work in the industry. Films were the first place I really started to break down narrative and study how stories are constructed. It’s been said about my books more than once that they read like movies and I take that as the highest compliment. That is certainly how I see them. It’s why I write shorter, more spare prose. I started in screenwriting which is very skeletal and lean. My books keep that story sense in place. When a film is well done you get all the story you need in 90 minutes or 2 hours. That proves how efficient storytelling can work. Why then do I need to tell a story over 500-700 pages? I don’t think you need to. Not a pulpy action story any way. Longer books tell their stories and they need to be that length for the story, but for a thriller – I say keep it tight and moving fast. Plus, that way when they make a movie of your book they won’t have to cut as much out 🙂

MPS: In Rumrunners, Calvin says the members of their family are outlaws, not criminals. What is the difference to you?

EB: I think it’s the difference of allowing the crime or causing the crime. The McGraws can distance themselves a bit because they don’t pull the trigger or sell the drugs or pimp the women. They leave all that to the Stanleys. McGraws only drive. If other driving jobs paid as well, they’d be doing those instead. In Leadfoot Calvin has a bit of a crisis while he entertains the idea of getting out of criminal driving and going legit with it. These aren’t guys who are 100% committed to the criminal lifestyle. They like the money and the excitement and the freedom. That’s an outlaw. An outlaw never has to wash blood off his hands. But, there wouldn’t be a story if they didn’t get their hands a little dirty now and then…

MPS: Do you have further plans for The McGraws?

EB: I’d love to revisit them, but no book is scheduled as of yet. The trouble with being a prolific writer is that I have too many projects all going forward at once. I have the next book in my head, it’s a question of finding the time to write it. But you haven’t seen the last of the McGraw clan. I’m so grateful that people have responded to them probably more than any other characters I’ve created. So as long as people keep reading about them, I’ll keep writing about them. A few letters to the publisher wouldn’t hurt 🙂 If the readers ask for it, then the publisher will ask me for it.

I think the next one will take place in between the time of Leadfoot and Rumrunners. Then after that I can go way back to see how Calvin got his start. It’ll be the most roundabout series timeline ever.

You can find copies of Leadfoot on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

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