Q&A with Eli Cranor

Article | Issue: Aug 2022

ELI CRANOR played quarterback at every level: peewee to professional, and then coached high school football for five years. These days, he’s traded in the pigskin for a laptop, writing from Arkansas where he lives.

Eli’s novel Don’t Know Tough won the Peter Lovesey First Crime Novel Contest with The New York Times calling it, ‘Southern noir at its finest, a cauldron of terrible choices and even more terrible outcomes.’


What do you think it was about Don’t Know Tough that helped you break through as a debut novelist?

You know, I almost said it was my protagonist’s voice. Billy Lowe is this hard-nosed kid from Arkansas. He’s a running back for the high school football team. And his voice just cuts straight through. But honestly, I think it was the fact that this book took five years to get published that made all the difference. I was constantly working on the manuscript over that time, taking advice from agents and friends. Every revision got it leaner and cleaner. That’s the trick with writing, isn’t it? Any line that’s worth a damn was revised down to the bone.


How did your experiences as a quarterback and coach impact your writing?

In the States, coaches are charged with being mentors to their players. That’s a good thing. You want to use sports as a way to sharpen the boys into better young men. The problem is we put so much emphasis on winning, that oftentimes coaches lose sight of the most important part of their job. It was that pull of loyalties that really started the friction I needed to write this book.


Are characters like volcanic high school footballer Billy, his California transplant coach Trent, and others, inspired by people you’ve met on your own footballing journey?

This is the question I get the most, and the truth is they’re all this strange mixture of coaches and players I came in contact with. At the same time, there are also parts of me in every character in this book.


Why do you think the sports world can make a great setting for crime stories?

Sports are perfect for crime novels because there’s a whole subculture already built in. Nobody peels back the layers of these subcultures better than Megan Abbott. She’s done it with cheer and most recently ballet in her amazing book The Turnout. Sport provides a tightly confined space. There’s nothing more harrowing than violence in close quarters.


What are you working on next?

My next novel, Ozark Dogs, is loosely based on a murder in my hometown from a few years back. The book will be published by Soho Crime in the US spring of 2023 [autumn in Australia].



Nationally-bestselling author Eli Cranor lives and writes from the banks of Lake Dardanelle where he is the “Writer in Residence” at Arkansas Tech University.

Visit Eli Cranor’s website


Author: Eli Cranor


Book Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: Headline

ISBN: 9781641293457

RRP: $22.99

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