Monday, December 16, 2013

Twenty Questions With Todd Robinson

Twenty Questions comes heavy today; Big Daddy Thug is in the house.

Todd Robinson is best known as the publisher, editor, and general conscience (if that word can be used in this context) of Thuglit, possibly the premier website for neo-noir fiction. Thuglit has published three anthologies, and I have never felt prouder as a writer then when my story “Green Gables” was selected for the Blood, Guts, and Whiskey, given the respect I have for the work of those who suddenly became my peers in that one small way. Among the authors discover by Thuglit are Stuart Nevillle, Hilary Davidson, Jordan Harper, and Frank Bill.

Todd’s success as an editor has, somewhat unfairly, overshadowed his talent as a writer. His writing has appeared in Danger City, Demolition, Out Of The Gutter, Pulp Pusher, Crimespree and Writers Digest's The Years Best Writing 2003. He has won over six Honorable Mentions in various writing competitions/awards, making him the official bridesmaid of the form. (His short story, “Peaches” was nominated for an Anthony Award this year.)

Even with that resume, it may well be Todd’s longer form work that brings him greater renown as a writer. His first novel, The Hard Bounce, received the following review from Booklist: “Robinson, creator of the website Thuglit, peoples his first novel with a host of imaginatively drawn thugs, villains, victims, and rascals, and he has filled his story with top-shelf tough talk, mayhem, lots of raunch, some laughs, and a vivid sense of place. Readers who enjoy a good wallow in all of the above will feel right at home with The Hard Bounce.” Publisher’s Weekly wrote, [The Hard Bounce’s heroes] “wrap up their first case, neither tidily nor predictably, leaving enough setup for what may become a sturdy new crime fiction series."

Todd agreed to take time from his busy schedule of all of the above—plus a day job and life in general—to play Twenty Questions.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about The Hard Bounce.

Todd Robinson: It's my long-suffering novel about two Boston bouncers (Boo & Junior) who are looking for a teenage runaway.

OBAAT: Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)

TR: Came from a bunch of places. Mostly from the years I spent working the door at Boston's legendary Rathskeller. Different incidences, characters, etc. The place was a treasure trove.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write The Hard Bounce, start to finish?

TR: About two years. I learned to type along the way. I'm still not great. I only use four fingers.

OBAAT: What’s the back story on the main character or characters?

TR: Boo is mostly a reflection of myself, but younger, with better hair, better-looking and smoother with women. So…not me at all, really. I think most writers make their protagonists out of pieces of themselves, only grander—the people they kind of wish they were more like. Junior is a mixed bag of a couple people, but their interactions, their no-bullshit attitude towards one another is directly from my relationship with my oldest friend. When they're talking, it's me and Julius all the way.

OBAAT: In what time and place is The Hard Bounce set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?

TR: Setting is incredibly important. I don’t know how I could tell that particular story in any place other than Boston. I've lived in New York for almost two decades now, and that story just wouldn't have worked here.

OBAAT: How did The Hard Bounce come to be published?

TR: Ten years, five agents and four publishers later, Tyrus Books saw fit to run with it.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?

TR: I like a little bit of everything. I try to keep it varied. Obviously I read more crime fiction than anything else, what with Thuglit and all. All-time favorites are John D. Macdonald, Stephen King, Harry Crews, Joe Lansdale and Elmore Leonard.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?

TR: The above-mentioned favorites. Of late, I really admire the work of Donald Ray Pollack, Daniel Woodrell and Scott Wolven. Scott's fallen off the map of late, but the guy is one of the greatest short story writers alive. If you read this, Scott come back to us!

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?

TR: I outline in the mush between my ears. I like to keep it loose, because I want to see where the story takes me. Sometimes, you can surprise yourself in the middle of it all.

OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?

TR: I try not to edit as I go. For me, therein lies madness. Madness!!! I try to muscle through, then go back and work the whole thing over again. Then it goes to my wife…then all over again.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?

TR: Tell your story. It really is that simple. It might not be for everybody, but what is?

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.

TR: Playing Superheroes with my kid.

OBAAT: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?

TR: Wait…there's money in this shit???

OBAAT: Would you stop writing if someone paid you enough money so you’d never have to work again, on the condition you could also never write again?

TR: Yup. I love writing almost more than anything else. But there is one thing that I will always love more:


Just kidding. The answer is reading. Reading is still my greatest love.

OBAAT: If you were just starting out, which would you prefer: 1. Form your own indie publishing house and put your work out in paper and e-book yourself? 2. Go with a small or medium traditional house that offers very little or no advance, a royalty that is only a fraction of what you'd get on your own, and also makes no promise of any type of publicity push, keeping in mind that you also will lose the publishing rights for a period, sometimes indefinitely?

TR: That's a good question. I've worked both sides of that street. They both have distinct advantages and disadvantages. I think that starting out, a traditional route is still the best option. You can have access to reviewers and sales outlets that you don't have with e-books or self-pubbed manuscripts. most successful self-publishers started in the traditional machine and benefited greatly from that machine. Then they turn around and bite the hand that built them. Even worse, they convince new and desperate writers that they're idiots if they follow the same path that built them in the first place.

Publishing is fucking hard. I know this from the Thuglit. It's a loooooot of goddamn work to get it right.

The writing business is like any other. Break the rules after you learn the goddamn rules. I'm still learning the rules. I may choose to break them someday, but not right now.

OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?

TR: I've been on a hard cider kick lately. I think it's a side-effect of my menopause.

OBAAT: Baseball or football?

TR: Baseball.

OBAAT: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?

TR: That one

OBAAT: What’s the answer?

TR: "That one"

(Editor’s Note: We may have to retire these two questions. No one is going to beat those responses.)

OBAAT: What are you working on now?

TR: The second Boo & Junior novel, work-titled Rough Trade. Taking my time with it. I'm terrified to disappoint all the people that have been so kind as to show their love to The Hard Bounce. It's a side-effect that I wasn't expecting. The response has been humbling, to put it mildly.

Based on what I’ve read of Todd’s work, he may have to get used to being humbled.

Don’t miss out on The Hard Bounce, or you’ll have no idea what the cool kids are talking about and will be forced to wear a pocket protector and find work as a wedgie mannequin. For the best short noir fiction, Thuglit is still the place to go.

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