Friday, February 25, 2011

Special Guests: Eric Beetner and JB Kohl

Since I'm out of town for a few days, I found a pair of authors who were ever so kind to take over the blogging responsibilities for me today. Eric Beetner and JB Kohl have now published two books together, their second BORROWED TROUBLE just came out this month. Their team writing approach is fascinating and their discussing an age old series question, so I hope you'll enjoy their conversation today. Take it away, y'all (I'm in Houston today)!

Eric Beetner and JB Kohl on writing Borrowed Trouble and the stress of the series:

Rather than rehashing out backstory (we’ve never met in person and yet managed to write two novels together, One Too Many Blows To The Head and the newly release Borrowed Trouble) we decided to explore an area of anxiety for Eric. We did this post the way we write books - exchanging emails and adding on where the other left off.

Eric: I know I need to let it go but I get a rash and shortness of breath when I think of someone reading Borrowed Trouble without first reading One Too Many Blows To The Head. Paranoid, I know. I feel like we wrote with new readers in mind and, while it is a richer experience to start with One Too Many, it is not a requirement.

I hate to think some of the wonderful plot twists will be spoiled by reading Borrowed Trouble first. It has been really hard to pick a section to read from at signings. I guess I am plot point retentive.

Do I just need to relax about this?

JB: First of all, congratulations. I'm sure "Plot Point Retentive" will probably appear in the next edition of the Merck Manual for medical students. And yeah, I know what you mean about reading one first and the other second; but I also think that it's really no big deal. If people want to get to know the characters, they can truly do that by reading either book first. It's true that who Ray and Dean are in Borrowed Trouble is a little different from who they are in One Too Many Blows To The Head . . . they've evolved and changed, as characters are prone to do. But I think readers can read either first, knowing that if they like the characters there's another book out there with them.

I noticed we didn't have quite as many revisions to the outline for this book as we did with One Too Many Blows To The Head. Did it seem that way to you too? I'd like to think it's because we've gotten so good at our craft, but maybe it's because the outline was tighter this time.

EB: I feel like we changed the outline more on Borrowed Trouble. As we were writing though. I guess we worked more to solidify the outline for One Too Many beforehand but then it didn't change much at all during the writing. For Borrowed Trouble we adjusted many more little things as the story fleshed out. Remember they were going to go out to Catalina island at one point?

I think the whole starting-at-the-beginning thing is why I tend to stay away from a lot of series. The few that I read are ones I've gotten from the start. I would be too scared off from a 10 or 15 book series like Lee Child's Jack Reacher or something. I just have no desire to make that commitment. I think trilogies are fine. Maybe four or five but beyond that I need to move on. But I would never think of jumping in to something midway through. That's my character flaw though. I'm okay with it. (this is starting to sound like an AA meeting)

I know I didn't imagine this as a series when we started but I'm so glad we went for another one. Writing Borrowed Trouble has made me see the appeal of the series. Whatever it takes to keep writing with you, I guess. Are there series that you read? I realized we don't discuss books much. I'm not that up on what you read.

JB: Hmm . . . series that I read. You know, not really any more. I think I've read one or two Sue Grafton books. I used to be a heavy Janet Evanovich reader about ten years ago, but I lost interest after about the sixth one I think. And believe it or not about 15 years ago I read the entire Belgariad series by David Eddings. I'm not a fantasy fan at all, but they were my husband's books and he said the characters were great. And I have to agree. Eddings can really put a character out there.

Series are tough. I like books with the same characters but I hate them if they have a common story line that goes from book to book to book. I like to be able to pick up a book with my favorite characters and just read it as something suspended in time, regardless of what was published before or after.

Right now I'm on a kick with the classics: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Mary Roberts Rhinehart, Erle Stanley Gardner, etc. These are all stand alone books with the same characters throughout. They are tight and predictable and when I'm writing a lot on a project, they are simple things that don't weigh me down too much. Right now I'm in the midst of reading The Best American Noir Century, which I'm really loving. I can't write short stories so I'm always in awe of those who can.

What about you? What are you reading right now?

EB: I’ve honestly tried to get into some series. I caught a few from the start which is good. Rebecca Cantrell’s Hannah Vogel series, I’m looking forward to Kelli Stanley’s next Miranda Corbie book. The eventual release of Christa Faust’s Choke Hold. I love Joe R Lansdale so I am making my way through his Hap And Leonard books because I’ll read anything of his but those books are so much more restrained compared to his other stuff that really excites me. The one that surprised me is Steve Hockensmith’s Holmes on the Range series. I read the first one and loved it. I got two more for Christmas and I plan to catch up and keep reading those for sure.

Mostly I read standalones though. I still try to stick my pattern of one contemporary and then one classic in my reading. I just picked up a handful of old 1940s and 50s pulp paperbacks and though I bought them based on the lurid covers and titles what I’ve read so far has been really good pulpy fun. I’m having a good year for reading so far. Got a lot of books read so far and some really good ones. My TBR pile is still taller than my daughters though. Don’t doubt me. I have photographic proof.

You know what I’m looking forward to? Can you imagine the day we notice someone reading a book of ours in a cafe or something? How cool would that be?

Of course I would probably walk up and ask if they started with One Too Many Blows To The Head. Nerd.

What has been your most gratifying moment of being a published author (so far)?

JB: Just gotta say, I LOVE Steve Hockensmith and his Holmes on the Range. I especially like the part in the second book where Big Red "Kecks all over the train tracks" . . . because believe it or not, Keck is my maiden name. And now we all know what it means.

Most gratifying part of being an author? Well, there are monumental moments – like the request from a publisher for a manuscript, or having someone at a book signing say they are a fan. But then there's the day to day gratification of it – reading a good paragraph I've just written or discovering a new character I didn't know I had in me. I really like meeting and working with other writers. I haven't met a writer yet who wasn't willing to talk about their work or listen to me talk about mine. But I think my favorite part of it all has been our collaboration. I've learned a lot about my own work through writing with you. A book is a big project. There are things to think about constantly: plot, characters, point of view, pacing, voice, etc. Add a second writer and all of those concerns can increase exponentially. The interesting thing for me is that I really think very little about those things when you and I are on a project. It all seems to just fall into place. I'd have to say that defines gratifying for me.

So I'm curious, when do you write during the day. I know you work a lot. Do you ever sleep?

EB: As I write this it is 12:30 am and I just finished getting 2100 words done on my new novel so I feel pretty accomplished tonight.

I don't sleep as much as doctors or my wife say I should. Keep in mind I have two toddlers as well so as much as I'd like to sleep in to about 8 or even 9:00 which would fit with my work schedule I'm usually up by about 7:00 and since my side of the bed is closest to the door I get the first flying leap of the morning. My wife is really good about letting me sleep in on weekends.

Writing at night is hard. It does force me to be focused though. If I had all day to fart around I bet I would waste a lot of time. I'm glad I have an office that is detached from the house in an old converted garage. It's nicer than I just made it sound and I get to fill it with all my books and cover the walls with Film Noir posters. It has no heat so I'm thankful I live in southern California but it still does get cold. I think I'm going to dedicate my next book to my space heater.

I'm very thankful to Jen for hosting us in this little conversation. I'm so glad to be able to get our story out there as well as our stories, y'know? You'll be seeing us around. We don't plan to stop writing with each other. We don't plan to meet either. Maybe someday when we're accepting our lifetime achievement award or something. I think we can finally risk jinxing it if we make it that far.

For now it’s giveaway time. We have a copy of the new book, Borrowed Trouble, and as you have just read I’m paranoid so I’m also going to include a copy of One Too Many Bows To The Head and on the off chance that someone already owns that one, I’ll substitute a copy of Jennifer’s first novel, The Deputy’s Widow. Signed, of course.

All you have to do is leave a comment about what series you’d recommend to someone and whether or not you need to start with book 1. A winner will be chosen at random.

Thanks Eric and Jennifer! And don't forget if you're leaving a comment for their giveaway, make sure we have a way to get ahold of you if you're chosen!


Karen B February 25, 2011 at 10:55 AM  

Carla Neggers' Black Falls Series - Cold Pursuit, Cold River and Cold Dawn. You can read them as stand-a-lones but I would suggest reading them in order.

Chris February 25, 2011 at 2:18 PM  

I'd recommend Donald Westlake/Richard Stark's Parker series. And yeah, you need to start with the first one. Great stuff!

Anonymous February 26, 2011 at 11:40 AM  

I recommend C J Box's series of Joe Pickett novels. I've really enjoyed all 11 of them. I'm suggesting reading them in order starting with "Open Season" which is the first one. C J has also written two great "stand alone" novels, one of which, "Blue Heaven" won the 2008 Edgar Award. Larry Janicsek

MysDawg February 26, 2011 at 8:42 PM  

Micheal Connelly's Harry Bosch or Robert Crais Elvis Cole. You can start anywhere but you will want to read them all. LA Requiem is required reading.

Anonymous February 27, 2011 at 4:29 PM  

I will also recommend the Parker series by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake). One should start with the first and chronological order is preferred, but not necessary, with the rest. (mnivis[at]iki[dot]fi)

S. MacDonald February 27, 2011 at 6:01 PM  

In keeping with the "theme" of co-writing I'd suggest Ken Bruen and Jason Starr's Max and Angela series. You need to read them in order to fully appreciate them.

Eric Beetner February 28, 2011 at 2:16 PM  

Thanks for the comments, people. Some good tips on series to check out. The Stark books have long been on my radar and I need to just suck it up and start to knock them off slowly.
A winner will be announced soon.

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