What: Todd Robinson is the creator and Chief Editor of the multi-award winning crime fiction website THUGLIT.COM His short fiction has appeared in Plots With Guns, Needle Magazine, Shotgun Honey, Strange, Weird, and Wonderful, Out of the Gutter, Pulp Pusher, Grift, Demolition Magazine, CrimeFactory and DangerCity. His writing has been nominated for a Derringer Award, short-listed for Best American Mystery Stories, selected for Writers Digest’s Year’s Best Writing 2003 and won the inaugural Bullet Award in June 2011. His first collection of short stories, DIRTY WORDS is available exclusively on Kindle. THE HARD BOUNCE, his debut crime novel, was released by Tyrus Books in January 2013.
Where: New York
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
THE HARD BOUNCE was a real page turner with surprisingly lovable characters who populate an unforgiving world—especially “Boo” Malone. How did you come up with the plot and setting?
I worked at the Rathskeller in Boston for a number of years. And if you never heard of it (it shut its doors in 1998), it was a rock & roll club of legend, a real bucket of blood kind of joint. Every day in that place was a story inspiration.
As for the plot, we used to do Sunday all-ages punk shows. I was fascinated by these kids, their lives. I got to know a few, talked to them about their day-to-days. I remember thinking how bold they were, at such tender ages, to find community in their personal damages (and they all had them). I was impressed that these kids chose to stick out at an age where most would do anything to fit in.
There are also a lot of great details in THE HARD BOUNCE that bring the story to life. How much of the novel is autobiographical? Are you more like “Boo” in real life, or Junior? Or the magical mixture of both?
I always say that Boo is a reflection of my younger self, if I were a little thinner, had better hair, and more skill with the opposite sex. And when you see how bad Boo is around women, you’ll get a sense of how terrible I was, in that I aspire to his levels.
Junior is an amalgam of a couple of people I’ve worked with over the years, but the dialogue springs mostly out of my lifelong friendship with Julius Franco. We met when we were fourteen, and our friendship always provides me with stories and dialogue.
The novel had tons of skin-on-skin violence and gun play, but there was a sort of blue collar morality snaking throughout. How did you strike that balance? Why was that juxtaposition important to the story?
That developed a couple of drafts in. Originally, the characters were living in an action-movie universe, where violence had no true repercussions—either physically or socially. While it had that fun cinematic sensibility to it, it just didn’t strike me as feeling truthful. Even as exaggerated as the characters and action remain, I wanted it to bear at least a sense of honesty within it. The blue collar morality itself is my own, how I was raised.
You also really pummel the reader with neck-snapping plot twists. Was that your plan from the start? How did the story evolve once you sat down to write it?
I don’t really plan for them. I let them formulate as the story rolls along. With everything I write, I usually have a beginning at the top of the mountain and the ending at the bottom. Then I let that rock roll down the hill and follow it as best as I can.
I have a saying that I apply to my writing that I call “The Big Stupid.” I like to try something that could be construed as dramaturgically idiotic. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But it usually provides a good twist, will put a bang into the narrative, and keeps me on my toes.
Can we expect a second “Boo” Malone/4DC novel? What other publishing plans do you have in 2015? Spill it.
The second Boo & Junior novel (ROUGH TRADE) is with my agent right now. Will it even come out? Who the fuck knows. I don’t even know if it’s any good yet. My contract for THE HARD BOUNCE was one-and-done—and THAT fucker took ten years, four agents, and three publishers before it saw the light of day.
NOBODY wanted it.
This is the point where I mention that it was nominated for the 2014 Anthony Award for Best First Novel. So there, publishing world. Nanny, nanny, boo-boo.
My career is like my writing. Except I don’t know the ending. I’m just chasing a big fucking rock down a hill. I’ve got some ideas for 2015, but life has a way of fucking with what we mortals call “plans.”
Do you drink and/or smoke anywhere near as much as “Boo” Malone? If so, how do you manage to write anything—much less get it published?
I used to do as much of both when I started the book. I’ve mellowed out a bit since. I’ve got a wife and a five year old now. Now whiskey doesn’t interfere with my writing time nearly so much as Curious George.
Your short fiction has been nominated for several awards and honors, and you have published the short story collection DIRTY WORDS. How does your approach to short story writing differ from your novels? Do you prefer one over the other?
I love both, but they’re very different. Short stories are where I experiment with my voice, and narratives. The longer stuff takes a hell of a lot more commitment.
It’s like sex. Really.
Short stories are one night stands. You experiment—see what you like to stick in where without a commitment. You can throw in whipped cream and handcuffs to see if it suits you. And if it doesn’t, no harm done. Go back to the bar the following night and find the next person with self-esteem as low as your own.
Novels are like sex within relationships. Long relationships. More emotional attachments are not only part of the package, but needed to make it work. You can still get your freak on, but a consistency is required. And one hell of a commitment.
You are also the publisher of Thuglit. How has that role changed your view of short fiction? What advice do you have for writers trying to get published with sites like yours?
I tell them, “No, you’re not. And if you are, you’ve already failed.”
There is no such thing. Good is good. Period. Just because we have looser restrictions than a lot of other magazines with regards to usage of sexual themes and harsh language—that doesn’t mean it’s requirement.
Just give me the best you’ve got. And even then, it might not be good enough. Learn. Grow. Read more. Try the fuck again.
If you could fight one writer, living or dead, who would it be? Who should I bet on?
Then I met Josh.
That fucker is huuuuuuuge. Also, thankfully, one of the nicest bastids on the planet.
So I’d give it even odds. In a fair fight, Josh kicks my ass.
But I fight dirty (wink).
If you recommend ONE piece of your writing to somebody, what would it be?
DIRTY WORDS. It’s got two Boo & Junior stories and is a Whitman’s Sampler of my early musings. There are some strengths (and a couple weaknesses), but you get a sense of who I am as a writer overall.
S.W. Lauden is a writer and drummer living in Los Angeles. His short fiction has been accepted for publication by Out of the Gutter, Akashic Books, QuarterReads and Crimespree Magazine. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published by Stark Raving Press in June 2015. He is currently putting the finishing touches on his debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION. You can read one of his recent short stories right HERE.