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Discount Noir's Eric Beetner

Eric Beetner is a fellow contributor to Discount Noir, an e-Book flash fiction anthology available now from Untreed Reads.  He is the co-author (with J.B. Kohl) of One Too Many Blows To The Head and the upcoming sequel Borrowed Trouble (Feb 2011) He is an award-winning short story and screenwriter with more than two dozen short stories available for reading at his website ericbeetner.blogspot.com.

Gerald So: How did the idea for your story, "Inside Man", develop?

Eric Beetner: I love a small bit of inspiration for a story, and in this case it came in the form of the website People of Walmart. The site essentially makes fun of what could mildly be called hicks or rednecks, in other words - the reason other countries hate us and Americans are, in many cases, self-loathing. Just stop by to see the humanity on display and there is inspiration on every page.

For my story, Inside Man, I wondered how often big discount stores like that get robbed. It must be all the time, right? They are designed for a lower income customer so right away you're inviting a criminal element in, even if they are criminals by necessity. I think some stores even have banks inside these days. So I immediately went to a robbery.

The logic I used for the criminals in my story was my own. Rob the ten items or less aisle because it means more cash and higher traffic. Seems logical to me. (for the record I only use "ten items or less" under protest and because it is real to the locale. In fact that is one of my biggest grammar pet peeves and I'm disgusted that so many stores use the improper wording)

Beyond that I just dreamed up two hapless brothers and set them loose. In all of my fiction I tend to write about marginal criminals. I'm not ever going to write about the world's best assassin or the greatest cat burglar ever. I like the losers, the small timers, the guys on the fringe.

I also find I write quite a lot about brothers even though I don't have any. Not sure what that says about me.

After the initial kernel of the idea came it all fell into place rather quickly. I love the idea of a bunch of guys working at a gun counter who finally get to break out the goods and use them to thwart a robbery. I just have to think they've been waiting for that moment for years.

The thing about a challenge like this that is so appealing is to see all the different takes on the inspiration. After sitting and thinking about it for a while I could have come up with 42 stories of my own but none of them would have been what the others thought up and I love that.

GS: What appeals to you about flash fiction?

EB: The economy of words is fun to play with. As much as I like being inspired by something, I enjoy being constrained by something too. It forces you to really think about the bare essence of a story. To strip away all that isn't needed and get on with it.

As a reader it is always fun to get a little taste and then move on. I always see flash pieces as holding up a frame to a larger picture to pick out one detail. A good flash piece must always have the impression that it extends out beyond the borders of what you are being shown, but the author has chosen just this section to share for a very good reason. That's why most of my flash pieces start in progress and end rather open-ended.

Any flash piece should feel like you could turn it into a novel if you wanted to.

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