Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Writers With Day Jobs: Ryan Sayles

Ryan Sayles is a writer you should get to know. His novel The Subtle Art Of Brutality, out now from Snubnose Press is a good place to start. In case you want something a little shorter as a get-to-know-ya' you can read my conversation with Ryan below. 
The guy's got some crazy stories of his day job as a campus cop. And he actually managed to keep his typical sense of sarcasm in check to answer honestly and in depth. For the other, snarkier side of Sayles, see any of his interviews over at  Out Of The Gutter (including one he did with me!)
But now, on to Ryan.

Tell us what you do and how it is like or unlike a novel?

I’m a campus cop at a medical center in the ghetto. Whereas most campus police break up dorm room frat parties, we deal with gang bangers who’ve just shot one another, dudes high on PCP that we have to fight after the ambulances bring them in and psychiatric patients who’ve been off their meds for months and are neck-deep in their latest break from reality. I’ve handcuffed a 6 foot tall white girl who honestly believed she was Jesus. I’ve stopped gang cars that were trying to dump their shot-up buddy out on the Emergency Room entrance and drive off. That same car was wanted by the city cops for having just fucked up a nightclub. Those dudes were armed to the teeth. My buddy and I got an award for that. 

Like or unlike a novel? I suppose the way that last paragraph reads it sounds really cool, but in all honesty, those things just kind of happen and then it’s over. There are days when jack shit happens. But, if I got the bug to do it, I could write a 100,000 word novel based off of real things which have happened to me and then just tweaked to sound cool. Like I did in that last paragraph.

Describe a time when your job influenced a story of yours?

It does a lot, actually. I have a story in Yellow Mama called Accidental Discharge that’s about two dudes who smoke PCP, and then one guy confronts the other about porking his girl. Instead of trying to kill his friend, he just commits suicide in front of him. Then, in his death throes, he spasms and shoots his friend to death.

Now, that kind of happened. We got a report that we had two gunshot wounds coming in. That usually means they shot each other. And in this neighborhood, that usually means gangs. When an ambulance rolls up with that kind of mess inside, you give it a few minutes and family arrives. That means mom and all the gang members. And if we have both sides showing up simultaneously, now we have a real shit storm brewing. There’s always retaliation for a gang shooting and if we can avoid it, we don’t want that in the hospital.

But, what it really was turned out to be this: one dude with a history of suicide attempts decides he’s going to have his family over and blow himself away in front of them all. He does it, then drops with the gun still in hand. Spasms. Shoots his friend in the foot. And the horrible/funny thing is this: the guy shot himself in the head and lived. Just fine.

So there you go. That’s how it went from real life to a story.

Destroying Ryan's Hardboiled credibility one cute fatherhood picture at a time.

Have you ever been tempted to turn your campus cop expertise into a book or a series? I know publishers love to have an "expert" with experience behind a book. Do you see that as a possible shortcut to fame and fortune, or is it too scary to be labeled as that guy who writes the campus cop series?

Yes. I have enough war stories from the emergency room alone to build a novel. In fact, when I finish the follow-up novel to Subtle Art of Brutality, I might just ruminant over that... Shortcut to fame? I wish. No idea on that, but if my major career is launched on a campus cop book, so be it. It's actually a cool job. 

Some of the city cops walk around and regard us like we were the guys who couldn't make it on there and so we came to the "easy" job. Not so. We have a few dingbats like everywhere else, but the context in which we deal with folks in much different. We deal with more psychiatric patients than any street cop for sure. When outside agencies bring in a mental they are uncomfortable as hell. They just want to dump off the person and roll out. 

One night a family found their schizophrenic son/brother on the street after being gone for liek three months. No meds, no nothing. He was very volatile, very paranoid. He shaved all the hair on his head and face and went back through and drew it on with a Sharpie. He actually did a fantastic job. Straight lines like a drafting engineer, no criss-crossing, nothing. Arguing with people who weren't there. Try giving task direction to a man of formidable size that believes he's going to be executed by folks who don't really exist but are taking up all of his attention.

Some of those nights are long.

I wouldn't mind be labeled as the "campus cop" guy. I get it now from folks on the street. Even after they've been arrested they go on about me not being a real cop. I ask them what kind of a man they are then, letting themselves be arrested by a fake cop. My handcuffs are real. The jail is real. They have no response. Or they'll try and fight. That's my favorite. We're in the ghetto, we don't have dorms or anything like that. We don't bust a frat boy with his beer and call mommy and daddy. Some people mistake us for those kinds of cops and they find out the hard way we're not. Unless the school needs us we're in the Emergency Room or out on the street doing the usual stuff. We avoid the city's calls because those are their calls, just like they avoid ours. I've heard from gangbangers that we have a reputation of finding their guns and warrants. 

Because we do.

Also, people might doubt one of my campus cop stories until they read one. Then campuses everywhere will be flooded with applicants wanting to be half as awesome as I am. They'll fail. But they'll apply. You're welcome, campuses across the world.

What would it take for you to quit and write full time?

Same answer as everybody. Money. My wife stays at home with our kids and that’s very important to me. We live a lifestyle that can accommodate that; one car, no expensive hobbies, no extravagant purchases, etc. It’s fine, and I like it. It keeps the focus on my family and not whatever piece of crap I think I have to buy next. So money, money money. 

Do you think people respect writing as a job, or does it come off as less "work" than a labor or office job?

I think they envy it. It seems like folks hear you write, and all of a sudden they imagine what they’ve seen on TV or in the movies. Some artsy-fartsy dude agonizing over a type writer in his clean, expansive study with a bottle of Jack next to him. A shoebox full of papers printed on only one side. An impending deadline they’re racing against, and in the end they always write the Great American Novel. 

Inevitably, they imagine the cocaine, the hookers and the fast convertible. Now they hate you because while you’re cheating on your wife with some Vegas whore and snorting fat rails off her ass, they’re flipping burgers and agonizing between buying cigarettes and paying the water bill. Then they get bitter and start a fight. Then you beat them into the ground and go to jail. All because of Hollywood’s BS movies.

A lot of folks, when they find out I write, they stare at me for a second. Then they say it makes sense because I’m so full of shit anyways. Then they look for the cocaine smudges under my nostrils. Then we fight.

Be honest, if you wrote full time, do you think you'd be disciplined about it?

I do think I would be regimented as hell. If that was my income, I’d install a punch clock in my home just to make sure I was getting in the time. Not to sound all queefy, but I’m a father and husband first. That’s why I had to back out of BoucherCon 2012 the week before it went down. Had the room reserved, had the time off of work, had plans to meet face-to-face with some writers. But real life and expenses got in the way. A lot. I couldn’t ask my family to take the hit coming with BoucherCon as well. That’s not fair to them and without them, I am nothing.

What job, other than writing, would you most like to have?

Professional adventure racer. Hands down. I’d bike, trek, land navigate and kayak all over the place. Also, I like being a cop. I’d love to be a National Geographic photographer, so long as I don’t have to eaten by a lion or roasted on a spit by some hidden tribe.

What has been your best job? Your worst?

Best: police. Worst: tie between moving houses and being an E1 in the military. Being a cop, despite all the shit that comes with it, is very rewarding. Most folks deal with a cop at their car window when they get the ticket. Or they want a cop to work magic and the cop can’t. They don’t want to get involved as a complainant or as a witness but they think that shouldn’t stop the bad guy from being arrested. It don’t work that way. The Constitution says so. But, a single mom had her week’s paycheck worth of cash stolen from her purse and I got it back for her. That day. Rare, but it happened once. People have lost their kids and I’ve found them. Bad men try and hurt the nurses and I get to stand between them. That makes me feel like a knight in shining armor. 

Being an E1 in the military means you get all the shit jobs. Everything. And you can’t leave without doing it. Moving houses was just filthy, thankless, back-breaking and underpaid. 

I cooked a lot, but I like to cook so it was cool.

Has your job, or past jobs, had any influence in inspiring you to become a writer?

I like to write down the holy shit stories you hear from people, so in a way, yes. It spiraled from there.

Is your job harder than writing?

Not really. I’m not a very good writer and I’m not very good at my job so it works out. 

Imagine your job in the plot of an existing book (or movie, I'll give you that much leeway), where does it fit best? Would you be a character in a Jack Reacher novel? A Sam Spade mystery? Matt Scudder? Mike Hammer? What else?

I’d be a background character in an 80s Schwarzenegger movie. One of those faceless, nameless guys that gets shot while he strolls unstoppably through fields of enemies and kills them all. Or, I might be a quirky cop in a Joseph Wambaugh Hollywood Station novel. That’d be cool as hell, actually. Or, in a Nora Ephron book. She’s so wonderful.

How would a character with your career be a good or a bad protagonist for a novel?

My career—as a cop, not as a male stripper—is what crime novels are based on. Even if it’s not a cop book, a cop shows up somewhere, guaranteed. He might be slovenly, covered in powdered sugar, selling drugs on the side, corrupt as the devil and only interested in looking down the blouse of the lead female, but he’ll show up.

What do you think is the best work experience for a writer to have?

Real life. Stories that people care about are stories about people. Whether it’s a cashier job at a burger joint, a janitor, suicide prevention hotline call-taker or dietician, jobs where folks interact with other folks are where it’s at. All you have to do is listen to what actually happens to people and then tweak it some. Not much. Maybe none at all. But if a story is good in real life, make up something about it and then it becomes great. Or it at least helps you not get sued.    

Monday, October 29, 2012

Around the web

My press blitz for The Devil Doesn't Want Me (such as it is) has hit the web with a guest post about the history of Guilt Edged Mysteries over at Elizabeth A. White's blog. And interview with Noir aficionado and cocktail expert Vince Keenan. And a short Q&A over at writer Erik Arneson's blog.

In other news, the weekend long Q&A I did with Owen Laukkanen over the weekend he stayed at my house is on the YouTubes. My chat with Greg Bardsley is coming soon.

Friday, October 26, 2012


My new novel, The Devil Doesn't Want Me, was released this week. This ebook original is out from Dutton's Guilt Edged Mysteries and it already getting some good press. The first review is always the most nerve-wracking, but this take on it over at Criminal Element really made my day.

Some highlights (just because I like reading them again, hey I'm human) 
" I loved Lars and this book. This book is like if you took Lawrence Block’s famous hitman, Keller, and made him the lovechild of Elmore Leonard and Quentin Tarantino. But what really sold it for me was Beetner’s writing."

I also felt great when Brian from Spinetingler magazine posted this on Facebook:  "Finished The Devil Doesn't Want Me by Eric Beetner. Simply put, I think that Beetner has what it takes to be a huge crime writer. Hell of a crime novel and highly recommended."

Let's hope I can keep rolling on like this and that people continue to find the book. If you feel like dropping an Amazon review, or even just hitting that ol' LIKE button, it does help out an author. I've been excited to see the last few Amazon emails go out featuring Snubnose Press titles and that's all about what I like and what other people are liking. So if they are sending me tips on books they think I'd like and, in fact I do, then maybe my books will make it into someone else's email. You never know.

Being on Guilt Edged has awoken the collector in me, and since I owed myself a present on release day I went and bought my self a Guilt Edged original from 1955. Then, since it's my birthday soon, I took the check from Grandma and bought three more. I'll soon run out of titles I can get for a reasonable price, but someday I hope to have them all.

I'll be doing some interviews around and about, some guest blog posts and I even recorded a podcast which will be up in a couple weeks.

I need to thank everyone who helped make this happen (and happen so fast after a long time shilling the book to publishers) David Hale Smith, who never lost faith. My editor Jessica who was great to work with and then jumped in to save my ass from a rogue typo at the eleventh hour.

And all the other authors who have helped me out and become such good friends. I had the pleasure of having both Greg Bardsley and Owen Laukkanen stay at my house last weekend for their readings at Noir at the Bar and two nicer fellas you will never meet. It only reinforces that crime writers are the nicest folks. 

More on that visit soon, hopefully. But until then, I'm about 45K words into a new novel and it's getting crazier as it goes along. Could be a fun one.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Writers With Day Jobs: Tom Pitts

I can go on and on about the quality of Snubnose Press releases. One of the most recent releases, Piggyback by Tom Pitts, is the kind of lean and mean noir tale Snubnose was created to release. 
It's short and twisty, brutal and dark. It's written by a guy you'd think had to work nights or something.
Hey, look, he does!
Tom Pitts is a name to get to know, and here's your chance. From the graveyard shift – Mr. Tom Pitts:

Tell us what you do and how it is like or unlike a novel? 

I’m a graveyard dispatcher for taxis in San Francisco. Think Louie DePalma without any fun-loving, likable losers lurking around the cage. I work from 12 midnight to 8am, four nights a week, meeting the demands of an impatient, tough to communicate with, suspicious mob. And those are just the drivers.
If this job resembles a novel, it would probably be something like Camus’ the Stranger. There is a drudgery in grinding through the wee hours that is best suited for depressed existentialists. 

Do you think working nights gives you a more cynical or darker world view? I can only picture Travis Bickle and imagine the kind of people you meet working the graveyard shift.

When I was out on the street driving, it definitely gave me a more Bickle-esque view of the world. The hookers, the drug runs, people trying to fuck and fight in your backseat (and let’s face it, there was more fighting than fucking going on). Now, the people I deal with are mostly drivers. Middle Eastern, North African, Russian, Nigerian, very few Americans. It’s a bit more like working at the U.N. Except there are no translators and world peace takes a backseat to “how do I get a ride to the airport?” The cynicism comes into play when I realize that, having come from the places they do, the drivers all work under assumption that you’re absolutely corrupt. It can be very disheartening. It takes a while from them to realize you’re just another underpaid schmuck trying to feed your kids. 

How often do you steal work time to write?

Almost every night in some capacity. Sometimes it’s reading submissions for the Flash Fiction Offensive, other nights it’s editing and correcting my own stuff. The nuts-and-bolts of writing, though, are too tough down here at the yard. There’s always a phone ringing, a driver who needs help, something or someone demanding my immediate attention. You can’t concentrate for more than thirty-seconds without an interruption. I am, however, answering this question while on the job. 

Describe a time when your job influenced a story of yours?

I thought I’d take away more from the being behind the wheel, but cab fares quickly blur into and endless series of forgettable faces. So much of that stuff is gone in an instant. I keep telling myself that I need a little more distance to write about it. I’m hoping it may regurgitate itself one day in the form of a great novel, but it may take a hypnotist to do it. 
Sometimes little vignettes will bubble to the surface. When they do, I don’t fictionalize, I report them as I remember them. A charming little piece called At Four A.M. was published in Powder Burn Flash not too long ago. A classic tale of a hooker on a drug run.

What would it take for you to quit and write full time?

That elusive lotto ticket; which, since I never play the lottery, is unlikely to ever find its way into my hands. Seriously though, I suffer through the off hours, the stress, and the
upside-down sleep schedule for money. And, that’s what it would take. If I could find a way to meet my financial obligations and only write, I would do it in a heartbeat. 

Do you think people respect writing as a job, or does it come off as less "work" than a labor or office job?

I think they respect it as a job if one is successful at it. Lee Child has a great job. Stephen King has a great job. Down here in the dregs it falls just below telling people that you want to try out for American Idol. You are a deluded crackpot. If you’re foolish enough to mention that you’re having something published, the next comment is inevitably, “Are you gettin’ paid?” I do think there is an underlying resentment people have when they hear that someone is a writer, and, if said writer is getting any traction, there is an assumption that the writer is doing well: “You’re a big-shot writer now, why don’t you buy the damn drinks with your royalty checks? Hey everyone, this next round is on the big brain over here!” What they don’t realize is that most royalty checks would only cover one round of drinks. (In my case, it may be only a six-pack at the liquor store) 

Be honest, if you wrote full time, do you think you'd be disciplined about it?

Yeah, I do. I’ve learned a hearty work ethic by having to get up and go to work at midnight every night for that last eight years. In retrospect, being a junkie in my younger years also taught me a lot about getting your ass in gear when you least want to. That monkey on your back doesn’t feed itself, you know. You got to drag yourself out and scrounge up some dough even when you feel like you’re going to die.  

What job, other than writing, would you most like to have?

I’m going to give the answer that my wife, Cheryl, would like to hear and say blow job. 

What has been your best job? Your worst?

The pat answer to that is when I was young, in a rock band, and touring the country in a van. That’s a little too easy, though, because it wasn’t really a job, it was something I did, something I was trying to build. Much like writing isn’t a job now. Taxi driving was okay, but by that point in my life I was so mired in addiction it’s tough for me to remember the good parts. The truthful answer to the question would be when I was a bike messenger. I didn’t appreciate at the time how free and fun that job was. I was out on the streets of San Francisco all day long, able to drink beer and smoke dope to my heart’s content. At that time, it was a real bohemian occupation, populated by musicians, artists, and other fringe folk. That job, like so many others, has gone the way of the horse and buggy, though. 

The worst was being a busboy in a big nightclub downtown. Mopping up vomit, picking up broken glass, and being physically pushed around by the megalomaniac owner. I was strung-out on heroin at the time and it was always a struggle to make it though the night without withdrawals kicking in. To make matters worse, it doubled as a sex club every third Saturday. There’s nothing so painful as giddy young blonde asking you what you think of her new boob-job when the only thing on your mind is getting out of there and back to the spoon.  

Has your job, or past jobs, had any influence in inspiring you to become a writer?

No, unfortunately my jobs have always been a means to an end. The inspiration for becoming a writer comes from life and the way I view it, and, I guess, from my desire to tell its story from my twisted point of view. 

Is your job harder than writing?

Yes. My job is very stressful and I’m forced to worry about a lot of stuff I don’t really care about. Writing comes very easy to me. The hard part of writing is the extraneous stuff: The promotion, the interviews (no offense), the submissions and queries, the social networking. When I’m behind the keyboard and lost in a story, the act of writing becomes almost automatic. Sounds corny, but it’s true.

Imagine your job in the plot of an existing book (or movie, I'll give you that much leeway), where does it fit best? Would you be a character in a Jack Reacher novel? A Sam Spade mystery? Matt Scudder? Mike Hammer? What else?

I’d probably end up a character in a Bukowski novel, hopefully one that would get fed up enough to quit his job in search of actual adventure. 

Do you ever see a time when you are writing full time?

Yes. I have to; it’s what keeps me going. I can’t keep on dispatching forever. I’ve no other skills to fall back on. If I don’t keep the dream of writing full-time alive, I fear I may wither and age prematurely. Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?

How would a character with your career be a good or a bad protagonist for a novel?

A bad one. You’d have to use a cheap plot device—like the suitcase full of money that gets turned into lost and found—to force a story out of the monotony. That being said, I believe it’s the character that makes a story, so I guess it wouldn’t matter what job he had. If you stick the guy in the right situation and let the character work himself out, it doesn’t matter where he starts off; it’s where the story carries him. 

What do you think is the best work experience for a writer to have?

Criminal. I think my experience in illegal activities as a young man taught me a lot about how things really work, how people really act. I’m still the skeptic in the movie theater that’s saying, “That would never happen.” I think it’s important to convey some sense of realism in your work. If not within the plot, then at least how the characters react to it. Cars don’t blow up when they crash, faces swell up after they’ve been punched, not everyone has a gun (and if they did, they’ve often sold it for drugs), and criminal lowlifes are generally just that, unlikable assholes.   

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Good Week

So much good news and I've been so lazy about posting, but now at least I have some substance to write about.  First off, less than a week until the release of The Devil Doesn't Want Me. Couldn't be more excited about that. I have some interviews coming up, a podcast, some more fun stuff too.

And it's been a big week in anthology news. I found out my flash fiction story Break In, featured at A Twist of Noir's 600-700, challenge has been selected for an anthology edited by Mr. Otto Penzler himself. I know the competition for this was intense because of the sheer number of possible entries.

Then, to add to the thrill I found out I made the cut for Atomic Noir, the collection of only 4 short stories organized by Out Of The Gutter for the upcoming NoirCon in Philadelphia. My story, The Neon Come-On was picked and I'm so happy to be included. A copy of the book will go to all the attendees of NoirCon and all the fabulous attending authors. Wish I could be there.

So many others have posted great accounts of Bouchercon so I won't go on about it. Safe to say I had a blast and it was great reconnecting with people I only see once a year and getting to meet some new folks too. Big congrats to Duane Swierczynski for winning a Shamus award and to John Rector for reaching 100,000 in sales for Almost Gone, a great book that deserves every bit of it.

Now I'm off to prepare for this weekend's Noir At The Bar event here in L.A. It's going to be a great one with several out of town guests like Johnny Shaw, Owen Laukkanen, Chuck Wendig and Greg Bardsley. Then there is local gal Katherine Tomlinson and little ol' me with my first public reading of The Devil Doesn't Want Me. I'm lucky enough to have Greg and Owen staying at my house (part of the lure to get them down here was my wife's cookies) Time to prep the guest room and prepare my reading. 

And in case anyone is listening, if you wanted to get your copy of The Devil Doesn't Want Me on tuesday and have an opening day spike in sales that drove the book up the charts, well, that's fine by me. Just saying.