JB Kohl and Eric Beetner, authors of “One Too Many Blows to the Head” and “Borrowed Trouble”

What are your books about?

EB: One Too Many Blows To The Head is a crime/noir novel set in 1930s Kansas City about an ex-boxer, Ray, who manages his brother’s boxing career. He watches as his brother is killed in the ring during a fixed fight. He sets out into the night to find those responsible.

At the same time Detective Dean Fokoli, who has serious issues of his own he is dealing with, is assigned the case of why so many in the boxing underworld are turning up dead. From there we get the cat and mouse chase through the nighttime streets of Kansas City from both perspectives.

JB: In Borrowed Trouble, the sequel to OTMB, Ray ventures from the house he’s been hiding in for the past year to seek the help of Fokoli, the cop who tried to put him away. Ray has received a package from his sister—one he never before knew existed—a sister who needs his help. Together, Ray and Fokoli travel to L.A. and stir the soup that is Tinsel Town. The stuff that floats to the top isn’t what anyone expects.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

EB: While Jen and I were brainstorming ideas of what to write together I hit on the idea of writing both sides of this crime. I write the character of Ray and the idea came from close to home for me. My grandfather was a professional fighter in the 1930s, and his name was Ray. Even his last name, Ward, is a shortening of my grandmother’s maiden name. Everything after that is entirely made up. I don’t want to smear his good name by implying he’d be involved in any of the mayhem that happens to Ray in the book.

At least not that I am aware of . . .

JB: By the time we hit Borrowed Trouble we were well-acquainted with our characters. We knew that they could go forward as a team because they were each good men at heart, flawed, but good. To put these 2 guys in a “When Good Girls Go Bad” type novel was easy to do. We both like crime/underground stories. It was a good fit.

Tell us a little about your main characters. Who was your favorite? Why?

EB: Ray was a decent boxer, but saw more talent in his little brother, Rex. He has a complicated relationship with his abusive father who skipped town years before. He views life like a boxing match, and he is prone to bursts of violence because of it.

When he sets out to seek vengeance on the men who killed his brother, he really is doing it out of a skewed sense of heroics. His personal definitions of what is justifiable in the name of justice get him into a world of trouble.

In Borrowed Trouble, he is again the driver of the “rescue” of a sister he didn’t know he had, but along the way his methods skim the line of what is morally questionable. He realizes his own shortcomings and his tendency for things to devolve into violence, and he is remorseful, but ultimately he finds he can’t always control it. And quite often he is fighting for his life, and the lives of others, from very bad men.

The biggest challenge was to write a guy like Ray, who does some questionable things, and make him sympathetic and likable.

Same thing with Fokoli, which is why I like what Jen did so much. Fokoli is a guy with deep flaws, and yet you end up rooting for these two damaged men in whatever they get up to.

JB: Of course when you create a protagonist, you can’t help but love him a little bit, you can’t help but want him to succeed in everything he does. I liked Eric’s character, Ray, because I felt as if everything he did, no matter how horrible, was justified. I wanted him to succeed. I wanted him to have a good life when it was all said and done.

Fokoli was the same for me. I wanted him to have a good home life, a good career. I wanted him to succeed in his endeavor to give up the crooked ways responsible for his current dilemmas.

Having said all of that, sometimes, when you write, you just wanna make a character who’s bad, a guy who can do whatever he wants and get away with it. You wanna make a guy who is the compilation of every frustration, every traffic jam, every broken dish, every case of PMS, and you wanna give him free reign. So I gotta say, for that reason, I like Baron. In Borrowed Trouble, Baron was the kind of guy who killed to prove a point, killed because he had a headache, killed just because he had a bad day. Now, before you go taking me out of context, let me just say that I am very much a non-violent person. I’m gentle, loving, kind. Do I like Baron? No. Not particularly. Do I aspire to be like Baron? Not at all. But I think he came out being a truly evil character and that is what I like about him.

How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it?

EB: We outline in a very skeletal fashion. We know where the story is going, but whole chapters can be summed up in a line or two just to get the geography and timeline straight before we head off to write our chapters.

If anything needs to change along the way, though, it can and does. Borrowed Trouble took a few sharp left turns as we were writing. But you go with what is working and often a character or scene the other writer comes up with sends your own imagination in a different direction. I hate to use to tired old, “Like improv jazz” analogy but it’s not too far off in our case. I’ll say we have sheet music, but we like to go off on a solo every now and then.

JB: I agree. We do outline. And we outline by volleying back and forth. Then we swap chapters. We did a blog post once and one of the folks who left a comment did, in fact, liken what we do to being musicians jamming in a garage. What Eric and I do isn’t exactly like that, but I can see where one would come up with that comparison. We both have characters who we’ve created and who we each, for the most part, are responsible for. If you’ve read our books, you’ll notice in OTMB, we were very separate. The book was very much 2 parallel stories running simultaneously, the hunter and the hunted. Borrowed Trouble let us into uncharted waters with each other, giving us more and more overlap with one another’s characters. Outlining, I feel, became more important at that time. Being able to write like Eric writes became more necessary, making sure Ray sounded like Ray was more important in that book because he was being written from Fokoli’s point of view. Because of that, outlining was a little tighter in that book.

What was the most difficult part about writing the book?

EB: Waiting for Jen to finish her chapters so I could read them.

JB:  Hmmmm. If I take myself back all the way to the first book we’ve written together (We are on book #4 now, 2 published thus far), I would have to say that in the beginning, with OTMB, it was letting someone I barely knew read my raw, first draft. That’s a very personal, vulnerable thing to do. It’s hard to remember ever feeling that way because now we just work. We outline a book, we make a plan and we move on it. But initially, way back when, it was stressful.

Do you prefer to write at a particular time of day?

EB: I’m a night writer. It is the only time I get with my work schedule and my two kids. I like it though. I wonder if I ever wrote full time if I’d ever do it during the day.

JB:  More and more I’m a night writer as well. Three years ago, four, I probably would have laughed at the thought of me writing at night. But . . . life takes over. Day jobs take over and rule my time, for better or worse. I, like many, many writers out there, burn the midnight oil in order to get those few precious words on paper before I fall asleep at night.

What was the first story you remember writing?

EB: Not too long ago I found an early story in a batch of old school work and papers my Dad saved. I was nine or ten, I think. It was a crime story about a kidnapping and car chase. I found it hilarious to find a crime story from so long ago. I guess I was destined to write this dark material.

JB: John, The First-Time Quarterback. That was my first foray into the world of, what I like to call, “Unassigned Writing.” I was 9 years old. Fourth grade. I still have the story. I invented the word “whiskly” in it. For those of you who don’t own my dictionary, whiskly is a combined word for briskly and whisked and fast.

Does writing come easy for you?

EB: Yes. I never quite understood the people who wring their hands and struggle with writing. It’s fun to me. If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t do it. I was a screenwriter for years and have written sixteen feature length screenplays and a number of shorts and a few episodes of TV.

Knock on wood, I’m never short of ideas. Sometimes too many.

JB: Yes and No. I don’t struggle with the writing, I struggle with finding/making the time to write. I love writing. If it was something unpleasant, I wouldn’t do it.

What advice you would give to an aspiring author?

EB: Just do it. Don’t talk about writing. Write. Don’t read advice about writing. Write. Write a whole lot and know you will throw it away. If no one reads the first thing you write, write something else.

Personally I don’t like classes, writers groups, critique clubs or anything like that. It works for some people, not for me. That’s another big one – there is no correct way to write, only what works for you. And you won’t know what works for you unless you buckle down and do it.

JB: Pencil to paper, hands on keyboard. Whatever you need to do to get words on paper or on the screen. Sit your butt down and do it. No excuses. Life if short. If you want to do it. Do it. Don’t do it for millions of dollars. Don’t do it for fame. Do it because it’s what you want to do.

Have you ever had difficulty “killing off” a character in your story because she or he was so intriguing and full of possibility for you, his or her creator?

EB: If that were the case I’d never get anything written. In our books, no one is safe!

JB: Nope. No problem. That’s not to say I won’t ever have a problem, but I’ve killed off plenty of people in all my books, and it was always the best thing for the book.

What is your goal for the book, ie: what do you want people to take with them after they finish reading the story?

EB: I want readers to have a thrilling time and maybe tear a few pages because they are turning so fast. All the feedback we’ve gotten has been so positive and we’ve heard exactly the kind of response we really wanted from readers. Namely, that they were riveted to the story, that each chapter had them hanging and wanting to know what happens next, and that the surprises in the books gave them real shocking moments.

Especially in One Too Many Blows To The Head there is one big twist that so far, no one has seen coming. That is very gratifying.

JB: When I read I want to be entertained. I don’t want to be preached to. I don’t want to have to swallow someone’s opinions. I want to have fun, maybe be a little scared, maybe fall in love a little, maybe worry, maybe cry. I hope my writing gives a little of that to the readers who take a look at my work.

Who designed your cover?

EB: I did for both One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble. The artwork on One Too Many was painted by a good friend of mine named Marc Sasso who is a professional artist and he did a huge favor by slumming it and knocking out the incredible painting. I sent him some reference photos and described what we wanted and he nailed it. I added the type and layout.

For Borrowed Trouble, the plot centers around a mysterious can of film so I like the idea of using that as a visual motif. I lifted the image of the man fighting with a woman from an old public domain pulp magazine from the 1950s. Again, I did all the layout and Jennifer and I gave notes and tweaked until we both liked them. It was quite easy, as everything with Jen is.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself or your books?

EB: I’m so glad our partnership has continued. The writing is effortless and so fun and I’m so proud of the books we’ve created. I really can’t wait until we get this next series out there. The books are a little lighter and fun. It’s actually been a struggle sometimes for Jen and I rein in our darker tendencies.

I’m grateful for the chance to be around in this new era of publishing. It has allowed me to get a great deal of work out there for readers to find. I’m not breaking the bank, but I’ve met so many great people and many of my heroes in the crime writing field and it is amazing to have them consider me a peer.

In this time of indie publishers like Second Wind hard work and tenacity really pays off. The really motivated writers with talent can make a splash without waiting around for someone to let you in the gate.

Above all, I hope people continue to find the books and get in touch and let us know what they thought.

JB: I think we’ve covered everything that needed saying!! We have the perfect partnership–no midnight phone calls, no creative arguments, just the writing–the great writing. I’m proud of the work we do together.

Second Wind has been a great home for us and our works.