If you don’t know the name Landon Beach, you should. And if you aren’t reading his fantastic Great Lakes saga, you definitely should be.
One of the most underrated authors in the game today, Beach has made a name for himself by writing fast-paced thrillers set around Michigan’s Great Lakes. Though all part of the same saga, the books aren’t technically direct sequels to each other, which means that anyone can pick up his latest adventure, The Hike, and dive right on it. Centered around Brad, a concerned brother who is worried about his sibling, Conrad, after he goes missing—Beach weaves a heart-racing mystery together with a hard-boiled crime thread that involves the Detroit mafia and a dangerous plot to destabilize the local mob.
Thankfully, just after the book’s release, I was able to catch up with Landon Beach, who was kind enough to go on the record for our Five Questions segment, and I asked him about everything from how he came up with the story idea for this one to what’s next for him. Check out the full Q&A below, then make sure to pick up your copy of The Hike, now available in ebook and paperback, with the audiobook (narrated by legendary voice actor Scott Brick) on the way.
TRBS: Love the new book, man. How did you come up with the story idea for this one?
Beach: Thanks, Ryan. Every family has at least one outcast, and I have always wanted to tell a tale about one of these so-called troublemakers. I have found that many of them are misunderstood or become estranged due to either asserting independence or just plain old screwing up—repeatedly. However, the story eluded me until a few years ago when, on a walk around my neighborhood, Conrad Cranston popped into my mind and would not leave until I had told his account. Additionally, I wanted to tell a story that involved organized crime in some way. Looking back, I suppose the seed was planted the first time I watched Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece The Godfather. Certainly, there is no mafia novel that I know of that showcases Detroit. Is there a crime organization called “The Association” in the motor city? No. However, a lot of material in The Hike comes from real-life examples, which is both scary and intriguing.
TRBS: Walk me through your writing process. What’s that like, and how has your process changed over the course of your career?
Beach: Before writing, I spend a lot of time getting the idea right, which usually entails finding a subject that I want to know more about (if I’m not invested in the research phase, the story doesn’t get written) and then convincing myself why telling a story about that subject would be a worthy yarn. For The Wreck, the idea was: What if gold really was carried aboard ships that sailed the Great Lakes? And—what if it was carried on the holy grail of Great Lakes shipwrecks (that has still yet to be found)? The Sail was about a dying father and his son taking one last trip together…and finding themselves in a nightmare that gives them the adventure of a lifetime. The Cabin was about me reaching middle age and looking back on my years as a Generation Xer paired with the endlessly fascinating subject of espionage. I had to be pried away from the research phase by my wife—kept saying to her “Just one more book, and I’ll be ready to write this one.” I describe the evolution of The Hike’s idea in the previous question, but one phrase (the one you use in your blurb)—Breaking Bad meets The Godfather—was the driving engine behind the book’s writing.
While I research, I also work on creating the characters and plot before I start writing the book. For thrillers, I work from a loose outline with the exception of the climax. I have to know where the story is ultimately headed. But, once I know the destination, there is a lot of room to maneuver in terms of getting there. After the first draft is done, my process probably falls in line with most other writers: rewrites, editing, beta reader feedback, more editing, copy editing, and then a few extra passes for good measure. By the end of the process, I really don’t want to see the book again.
Note: I recently finished a draft of my first mystery novel, Huron Breeze, and the process is a lot different. I had to know everything up front: how the murder happened, why it happened, etc. Because I knew who the murderer was, the outline had to be much more comprehensive in order to guide the private investigator on her quest of narrowing down the suspects and finding the villain. A detailed outline also helped me engineer the twists and turns of the story—especially with the difficult job of making it seem like a host of people could have been the murderer for most of the novel.
TRBS: How have you spent time during COVID, and was writing harder for you these last 18 months?
Beach: One of the blessings during this challenging time was that I got to spend a lot more time with my wife and two daughters—especially last spring and summer when, to varying degrees, we were all forced to push pause on our lives. As of right now, I am still an educator, and I went back to work full-time last August. It was a teaching year unlike anything I have ever experienced in my career. I am very proud of my school and all of its stakeholders for banding together to make it through the year and providing the kids the best experience we could give them while navigating the pandemic. We did some distance learning, but I was in a classroom with kids for the entire year too. In short, I will be grateful when I never have to open Zoom again for daily teaching purposes. Most of all, I am proud of my students who hung in there, adapted, and overcame the less-than-ideal conditions. I have high hopes for the fall semester and a return to normal. The pandemic has also made me a much more grateful person—for our medical professionals, our postal workers, our truckers, our grocery store workers, and the list goes on.
At first, the writing was more difficult because my routine got thrown off. I was used to visiting the local library for at least three days a week from about 4 until 6 to write. I also write in the mornings before everyone is up and at night after everyone has gone to bed, but when the library was closed due to COVID, I had to make up for those lost hours. Let me just say that I now see how people get nothing written at home! Hence, some of The Hike’s various drafts and the first draft of Huron Breeze were written on my back porch and in my garage.
TRBS: Will Scott Brick be narrating this one, and speaking of audiobooks, have you listened/read anything good lately?
Beach: Absolutely. I can’t wait to hear him perform The Hike. Scott is a one-of-a-kind talent and has become a good friend. While working together, we discovered that we share some similar interests, and it has been a pleasure getting to know him the past few years. Not only is he an incredible narrator, but Scott is also a master teacher. If you are an aspiring audiobook narrator, sign up for one of his seminars; the business is booming, and he is at the summit of the mountain.
Let’s see…good listens and good reads…I recently listened to Scott’s reading of Somewhere in Time (again, I was a fan long before we started working together), and it is splendid. What a story. Of course, being a Michigander, I have some extra affinity for the movie because it was filmed at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.
Good reads—here are the latest to leave my bedside table and return to the bookshelf: End Game by Frank Brady, Moseby Confidential by Matthew Asprey Gear, Claude Rains: An Actor’s Voice by David J. Skal with Jessica Rains, First Blood by David Morrell (Rambo’s father’s masterpiece deserves to be enjoyed and studied again and again), Battlegrounds by H. R. McMaster, and, perhaps, the most important book I read all year, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle.
TRBS: Lastly, what’s next for you?
Beach: Right now, I’m working with my editor on Huron Breeze and also writing the finale to the Great Lakes saga, The Bay. Busy times, sir. The beginning of the new school year looms large, and there is a lot of work to be done. Happy 4th of July, everyone—and happy hiking.
Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. Additionally, he co-hosts ThrillerTalk, a new podcast with K.J. Howe. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.