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Eric Beetner is in that tradition of crime fiction practitioners of wild violent tales that get more wild and violent with each generation. With The Last Few Miles Of Road, he injects pathos into a story of a man whose act of vengeance after he gets fatal diagnosis sets off a chain of lethal events when a young woman, Breanna witnesses him. Eric took some time to talk about the book.

SCOTT MONTGOMERY: How did the idea for The Last Few Miles come about?

ERIC BEETNER: Y’know, sometimes you’re sitting around and thinking about murder, but if a story is only about a murder then I don’t think that’s very interesting. I like writing about the consequences of violence or choices to do bad things. So when I thought of a man who wanted to seek revenge I tried to think of how I could put him in a situation where committing a murder is very out of character for him. Then I wanted to see how it would change his approach to it if he truly had nothing to lose, and that’s where his terminal diagnosis came from. 

So for me, the murder parts might always be there bubbling beneath the surface, but the truly interesting stuff is what’s on top in the mind of the character. 

S.M.: Is there anything you had to keep in mind when writing an older character?

E.B.: I like writing older characters and the main thing for me is not to forget that they are first and foremost regular people. They have a different perspective form the high perch of age and wisdom, but they also come with all the same attitudes and emotions as anyone else. They don’t need to be treated gently or kept from the dark truths. They can hold their own and you need no other proof than how far they’ve made it in life. Someone who has that much experience can surely handle themselves fairly well.

S.M.: Brianna is such a vivid character. How did you go about constructing her?

E.B.: Giving Carter an opposite seemed interesting to me. And with the loss of his daughter he will surely see a little of her in any young woman he meets, but he sees in Brianna a chance to give her opportunities his daughter never got. So it helps drive his decision to help her despite not wanting to make a habit of violence. But in his shifting perspective on his criminal behaviors, he realizes that he can help her by doing this one bad thing. She really changes him quite a bit and I thought that would be interesting.

Bree is someone who has her own desperation but isn’t in the same position as Carter to do what needs to be done about her situation. So when she finds she can rely on him to help her out, it becomes a very symbiotic relationship which was fun to write.

S.M.: Writing for animals is often seen as a challenge. How did you go about making Chester a fully formed character and create his relationship with Carter?

E.B.: The cynical writer answer is that Chester came about because Carter was alone so much I wanted him to be able to talk to someone. As a dog owner I know how shamelessly we talk to our dogs and it made a good device to get Carter to vocalize some of his thoughts and feelings so it wasn’t all internal monologue. Then when it came time to figure out what kind of pet to give him, I liked the idea of Carter choosing another animal with a short time left (because Carter didn’t want to be irresponsible and get a puppy he knew he couldn’t care for in the long run) Chester gets a new lease on life, Carter gets a companion and I get someone for Carter to talk to for the next two books.

S.M.: I loved the way the resolution fell into place and well as the last chapter.I mean it as a compliment when I say most of your work seems like the seat of your pants, but did this one involve more pre-planning?

E.B.: I’m an outliner and I like to know the ending for sure before I start. Even if the ending is leading, like it was here. I knew I had two more books to write in the series so I wanted the end to be a set up for what was to come. 

My outlines are fairly skeletal with very few details, but enough structure to hang the meat off the bones. And any outline should always be flexible. Things come up, change, take tangents and better ideas crop up along the way and if you’re not malleable enough in your story then you end up losing some great opportunities.

That’s great that you think the stories seem more impromptu. That’s what I strive for. Overly-constructed stories always read stiff to me. I like to keep a reader on their toes and expecting anything could come next. Sometimes the only way to do that is through meticulous planning, oddly enough.

S.M.: While you have a distinct voice, I can also feel a connection to the crime writers of the past. Who are some of your bigger influences?

E,B,: I do read a lot of vintage crime novels from writers like Lionel White, Charles Williams, Gil Brewer, Cornell Woolrich.

These days I will read anything by Laura McHugh, Jake Hinkson, Ken Bruen, Brian Panowich, Steph Post, Attica Locke, Joe R Lansdale, Duane Swierczynski, Richard Lange.

If a novel can be thrilling and also have a big ol beating heart, that’s what I respond to most. Stuff like Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. Raft of Stars by Andrew J Graff, Small Moving Parts by DB Jackson, The Familiar Dark by Amy Engle, We Are All The Same In The Dark by Julia Heaberlin, In An Instant by Suzanne Redfern, Nothing More Dangerous by Allen Eskens or anything by David Joy, Samuel Gailey, Robin Yocum.


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