By: John M Jerva
Whether it’s a movie or a novel, filmmaker and bestselling author Eric Red knows how to tell a story. From such genre favorites as The Hitcher, Body Parts and the noirish vampire thriller Near Dark, Red has entertained the masses for years with his taut stories and now he’s back with his latest novel which is an adrenaline laced thriller that pits a desperate mom against a sadistic criminal in Stopping Power. The book reads like a cinematic experience and it’s no holds barred capturing the spirit of thrillers from the 80’s and 90’s.
Red recently stopped by Action-Flix to talk about the new book as well as some of the films he’s best known for. Red even gives us some details on his newest film that he’s written titled White Knuckle which will star former MMA fighter turned actress Gina Carano. Check it out below!
1) First of all, Eric, I wanted to say thank you for taking the time to chat with me. I know we are talking about your new book Stopping Power, but I needed to ask you as a fan about writing The Hitcher. It is such an iconic movie for me and a genre classic, so I wanted to know how you came up with the idea and talk about the legacy of the movie today.
When I wrote The Hitcher, got the idea from The Doors song Riders On The Storm about a hitchhiker killer. Thought it would make a great opening for a movie, and broke story on long drive from New York to Texas then wrote it in a month when I got to Austin way back in the 80s. Sold it while I was living in Texas with no contacts in Hollywood through a lucky set of circumstances, and the rest is history.
All I can say is you never know when you make a movie if it will reach an audience, you just make the best film you can, so am happy The Hitcher and several other of my films have stood the test of time.
2) Your new book Stopping Power is out now. Tell us how you came up with the idea for the book.
One day was watching a TV news report showing a high-speed chase of a bank robbery suspect on an L.A. freeway with all the news helicopters filming it. Wondered what would happen if the bank robber switched their getaway car with someone else’s car and used them as a decoy. They might get away with it. Everybody would be watching the other car. But how would you make another driver drive the getaway car? Then I thought what if the escaping bank robber carjacked a parent and child, kidnapped the kid, switched cars and blackmailed the parent into doing the driving the bank robbers car as a decoy leading the police in the wrong direction. It would be a perfect crime, a clean getaway. That was the seed of Stopping Power.
3) Let’s talk about the main character Stephanie Powers. She’s a legit bad ass in this. How did you devise her character? Did you draw inspiration from someone in real life?
Here’s this mother suddenly in this extraordinary situation where everybody thinks she’s a bank robber and nobody believes her daughter has been kidnapped. It’s up to her not only to elude and citywide police manhunt but somehow catch up to the kidnapper and get her daughter back. And the kidnapper is watching her car on a high-speed chase with news reporters on a TV with eyes on her every minute. So the mother is profoundly alone and it’s all up to her to save the day. Stephanie is a normal woman in most respects not a bad ass, but thrown into a situation that forces her to become a bad ass. I think most of us can be a bad ass given the right set of circumstances, those circumstances that usually make for an exciting thriller ride.
Stephanie is a compilation of several women I know. I’ll point out the dedication in the book is my wife and her mom and quit while I’m ahead!
4) The book reads like you’re watching a big budget blockbuster. Talk about how it is to create action sequences that pop for a book. How hard it is to write the physical aspect of the book let alone the dramatic parts.
In a novel you must figure out and fully imagine all the action, a car chase for instance, in exacting detail and write it in sufficient texture that it comes alive. You want to reader to see it, hear it and smell it. In a screenplay one fully imagines action much the same way, as if you are staging it on the set as a director. The difference in a script is that one describes the same action in the tersest and most economical manner possible, using the fewest descriptive words and phrases, so it’s more a blueprint. In a novel, the experience is all in the reading, so you really have to paint a picture with the prose. The trick to a good action scene in a book, for me at least, is writing the sequence in an aggressively immersive fashion, so we feel like it is happening to us and we are right in the middle of the action.
5) Of course, the novel is female centric with both the protagonist and antagonist being very strong women on both ends of the spectrum. Talk about strong female characters in both novels and films.
A balance of three-dimensional male and female characters in any book and film is simply good storytelling, that simple. Always has been. We all know that the thriller and definitely horror genres traditionally involve a strong central female as our identification character…usually a woman in jeopardy who starts out terrorized and by the end turns the tables on her tormenter and kills them, becoming strong through the ordeal. The “what doesn’t destroy you makes you stronger” dynamic. In a story for whatever reason, men and woman both accept a woman in the victim position more than they do a male victim, and men and woman equally love the vicarious catharsis where that woman ultimately becomes a bad ass and beats the bad guy. In horror we call it the Final Girl, of course. No idea why men and woman embrace a female more in the victim role, perhaps it’s biological or due to socialization even in our era, but it’s always been true. Perfect example is The Hitcher. I wrote the victim as a male and wouldn’t change it if I had it to do over again, but the movie might been more successful at the box office if it had been a girl who picked up the hitchhiker. But not have made as good a script or movie, in my opinion.
Yes, in Stopping Power, Stephanie’s best virtues as a mother are brought out through mortal conflict with Ilsa, a woman criminal who is her polar opposite and challenges her on every level. A kite flies highest against the wind. Human beings are often at their best against adversity, when our character is put to the test.
6) Take us through the journey of writing Stopping Power. From your eyes and perspective, what were some of the challenges and rewards that came out of writing it?
The novel has a Speed and Die Hard vibe. I’d never seen this kind of story done before with women and believed it could be more emotionally intense and interesting if it was a mother whose daughter was kidnapped by a female bank robber. There’s something just so evil about one woman kidnapping another woman’s kid with murderous intent, making the conflict between the mother and kidnapper completely primal and visceral. We root for the mom to nail the bank robber in the worst way. And women would deal with each other in this scenario differently than, say, Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman did. For your average mother, in my view, there would be none of the macho posturing and pride guys have and she would be all about doing what she had to do for her child, handling a lady kidnapper very carefully indeed. And women are often more manipulative than men, so the psychological emotional manipulation between heroine and villainess is heightened. All this stuff interested me as an author. I hadn’t seen it before. Stopping Power doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but does rotate the tires.
The most challenging part was definitely the first person point-of-views of both the mother and her teenage daughter. Those viewpoints alternate chapter-to-chapter, showing the chain of events from their contrasting perspectives. That meant not just showing what these women did in terms of behavior and actions but getting inside their heads, describing how they actually subjectively thought and felt moment-to-moment, truthfully. It would certainly have been much easier to write these ladies third person, just showing what they did and their behavior was, but the story wouldn’t have had the intensity or immediacy. First person point-of-view and subjective perception is a wonderful tool one has in a novel you don’t in a script.
7) You’ve written for novels and for the screen. Do you approach both the same or are there differences in terms of creativity?
In a script, our narrative tools are mainly action and dialogue, everything must be revealed externally through physical action, behavior and dialogue. It’s a very terse, spare format. In a novel we have many other storytelling tools in our toolbox at our disposal, including first, second and third person narration, multiple voices, flashbacks and memory, you name it. But the screenwriter’s baseline craft of writing every scene so propels the narrative forwards is a useful skillset to bring to a novel.
8) What do you want the reader to get out of reading Stopping Power? What should they take away from it?
Stopping Power is a story of a parent doing whatever it takes to protect their child, so hopefully it is inspirational and provocative in how it deals with the lengths we all are capable of going to protect those we love, and about how far this woman goes.
But mostly hope readers enjoy the book as a non-stop thriller of relentless suspense, on a page-turner level. I wrote it as an escapist entertainment, the kind of book I like to read. In the world right now, God knows we all can use some escape.
9) Lastly, are there any projects in book form or film that you can give a sneak peek at?
The first of my novels to be made into a movie is White Knuckle starring Gina Carano produced by Dallas Sonnier and Tony Timpone. The film goes into production early 2022. I wrote the screenplay. It’s about a woman who escapes from a serial killer big rig truck driver and hires another long hauler to go on the road with her and hunt the fiendish trucker down. It’s my scariest novel and script, and the villain makes The Hitcher look like a pussycat.
Thank you again for the opportunity to talk about the book. My review will be up later today as I will have finished reading it. All the best in the future!
Thank you, John!
Seidelman & Company publisher and editor Marco Siedelmann says, “There isn’t another novel this year that cuts as quickly to the chase as Stopping Power. Eric Red’s new thriller is tense, tough and tenacious. Once the story evolves from its simple but highly effective premise there’s no exit for the reader: a psychologically clever described mother-and-daughter relationship and a vicious villainess sure make for a hell of a ride – a purist genre narration encased in a very contemporary almost all-female action firework.”