Cedric the Entertainer’s bootlegger grandfather inspired his novel

Cedric the Entertainer looked no further than his own grandfather to inspire his first novel.

“Flipping Boxcars,” out Sept. 12 (Amistad/HarperCollins), tells the story of Floyd “Babe” Boyce, a bootlegger in Caruthersville, Mo. (Cedric’s hometown), and unfolds over July 4th weekend in 1948.

“Babe is my [maternal] grandfather and these would be stories that I would hear, my mother and her brothers talking about him or somebody telling the story of his personality and some of the things he had done,” said Cedric, who stars in “The Neighborhood” on CBS and who wrote the book with Alan Eisenstock.

“[Babe] had passed before I was born but I would still have these very clear images of him, sometimes in my adult life, of things he would say to me and what he would be wearing at the time — and it was really weird.

“I tried to think of our connection to our family, our lineage and sometimes how people would say, ‘You walk just like your uncle … you have the same cadence or the way you say a word,’” said Cedric, 59 (born Cedric Kyles). “And I started thinking about that connection and about how to write a story about someone that I feel I know — but who I’ve never met.

Cedric the Entertainer's novel, "Flipping Boxcars," is out Sept. 12. This shows the book cover. It's a man with his back to the camera wearing a hat with the words "Flipping Boxcars" across his back and a pair of dice underneath that.
Cedric the Entertainer’s novel, “Flipping Boxcars,” is out Sept. 12.

“And that’s where the fiction part comes in.”

As the novel progresses, readers are transported into Babe’s world and meet his partner in crime, Karter (they served together in World War II). Together, they make a deal with Chicago crime syndicate boss Tommy Wojak and need to raise $54,000 to buy 3,000 cases of untaxed bourbon arriving by railroad from Canada.

Things go awry after Babe, who can read cards, loses big at the craps table and, in an effort to save his marriage and his family, tries to pull off a train robbery with unexpected results.

Cedric said he and Eisenstock collaborated on the novel by talking several times a week.

Cedric the Entertainer and Tichina Campbell as Calvin and Tina in a scene from "The Neighborhood" on CBS. They're standing in a kitchen and Tina is holding a coffee mug.
Cedric the Entertainer and Tichina Arnold as Calvin and Tina in a scene from “The Neighborhood” on CBS.

“I had a lot of little notes and I would send him over themes and thoughts of what the characters looked like and dressed like,” he said. “We sat and talked about what I thought the book should be — the tone … I’m a big fan of the Walter Mosley ‘Devil in a Blue Dress’ era, where I felt black men in America had this desire to be very powerful and entrepreneurial but found that the times were really different.

“But if you saw them, they looked like gentlemen, they dressed like gentlemen and they moved in a totally different kind of way,” he said. “I just loved that part of the culture of us finding and defining and pushing through and prodding to say, ‘Hey, I’m here, and I deserve equal ground.’”

Cedric said he “most definitely” thought of “Flipping Boxcars” as either a movie or TV series.

“One of the things that led to the book was that I’d started to break out a series, which has a lot of these same elements,” he said. “But I thought the series needed to be in a more metropolitan area, so I started to develop it around my grandfather coming to St. Louis later in life, later than [‘Flipping Boxcars’] takes place.

Cedric the Entertainer onstage at the Comedy Laugh Fest in Atlanta in 2022.
Cedric the Entertainer onstage at the Comedy Laugh Fest in Atlanta in 2022.
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“I felt I could tell more in the novel form in fictional tales and after meeting Alan became more intrigued with this,” he said. “I thought a book, and possibly a series of books, would be more enjoyable — and then spin it into a TV show … or a great movie.”

“When you think about [Babe] you start to feel like, ‘Oh, man, there are so many ways to take this story,’” he said. “Even in this book we have three different cliffhangers that draw you back in like, ‘What happened here and what happened there?’

“I’ve already started to break out a couple of ideas in case we have the opportunity to start a second book.”

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