What: Rob Hart is the associate publisher at MysteriousPress.com and the class director at LitReactor. He’s the author of The Last Safe Place: A Zombie Novella. His short stories have appeared in Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory, Thuglit, Needle, Reloaded, Kwik Krimes, and Helix Literary Magazine. Non-fiction articles have been featured at LitReactor, Salon, Nailed, and Mulholland Books. His debut novel, NEW YORKED, will be published by Polis Books in June 2015, with the sequel, City of Rose, to follow in 2016.
Where: New York
I just finished reading an advanced copy of NEW YORKED, and I really dug it. I couldn’t put it down. How long was the process of writing the novel, from inception to final draft? How did the story and characters evolve?
I started writing the book in 2010. It was about three years of writing, maybe 20 drafts, three of which were ground-up rewrites. I took characters out, added them back, combined with others. I was really stumbling my way through. That said, the main character’s journey remained the same. It was a long, tough process, but I’m happy to say I found my voice (the follow-up only took six months and three drafts), and I learned a valuable lesson: Outline. Turns out I work best with a roadmap. I may not stick the main highway for the whole trip, but at least I’ve got a bird’s-eye view of where the hell I’m going.
What did you learn about yourself as a writer along the way? At what point did you know you had something that was publishable?
I’m a native New Yorker, and I love this town, but it can wear on you. There was a period where I was thinking of leaving, and part of this book was me trying to decide that. I knew at the end the narrator was going to stay or leave, and whatever he decided was what I was going to do. (Not that it worked out that way. Which is not a spoiler—the second book has already been announced, and it’s taking place in Portland, Oregon.) As for when I knew it was publishable—that’s tough. I thought it was publishable at a much earlier stage, and then it got rejected by a whole bunch of agents. Then I went back to work on it and did a few more drafts. Then I met up with an agent who liked my novella and wanted to see if I had a novel. She read NEW YORKED, loved it, and took me on. When someone’s willing to wager on you in a professional manner, that’s a good sign things are coming along.
One of the many interesting things about NEW YORKED is the ongoing battle between “old New York” and “hipster New York”—Manhattan and Brooklyn. How prevalent is that in real life? Why was it a topic that you wanted to tackle in this novel?
There’s some goofy shit in this book—like the guy who’s name is Ian but stresses that it’s pronounced “Eye-Anne.” That’s a real thing someone said to me once. I’m worried people are going to say a lot of this is ridiculous, not realizing I’ve seen and heard a lot of it. I’m endlessly fascinated by the new v. old clash. This place really will chew you up and spit you out if
you’re not strong enough. People who’ve lasted wear it like a badge of honor, and really disdain people who show up out of nowhere and act like they own it. At the same time, New York is a city where people flock to live out their dreams and fantasies. It’s by nature a point of refuge. I’ve never read a book where I saw that play out, so I thought it would be a fun arena to play in.
Is NEW YORKED a crime novel in your eyes? How important is genre to you as a writer?
Genre discussions make me go cross-eyed. If I was pressed I’d say it’s a little noir, a little literary. But I’m firmly in the class of: A good book is a good book, and I don’t care if it’s YA or poetry or literary or crime or a cookbook.
How did your experience as a former political reporter and a commissioner for the city of New York influence the novel? How did you make the transition from politics to writing fiction?
I was a reporter for four years, two of which were spent as a political reporter, then communications director for a politician, and after I left politics got a call to sit on a redistricting commission, as a commissioner. I got two things out of these gigs: Brutal efficiency and life experience.
The efficiency is—both reporting and politics are professions where if someone has to ask you for something, it’s already too late. You have to be able to do twelve things at once, and be fast and accurate and good at all of them. And I got to do and see some cool stuff that informed my writing. I like writing about New York, because I know a lot about it. The second book, set in Portland, was a little tough. I’ve been there half a dozen times, but I don’t know the beat of it. Which helped, a bit, because the narrator doesn’t either. But it really showed me how much New York is my comfort zone. As for making the transition—I’ve always been writing, it was just hard to find the time. My productivity exploded after I took the job with MysteriousPress.com, because suddenly I wasn’t working 24/7.
It’s easy to tell what great writing is—it’s writing that you absolutely cannot put down. The press and LitReactor mean there are so many books vying for my attention that I’ve gotten really choosy. If I’m 20 pages into a book and it hasn’t grabbed me, I’ll put it aside. But sometimes I start reading a book and it’s so good I blow off other responsibilities just so I can finish it. I live for those kinds of books.
How does NEW YORKED differ from THE LAST SAFE PLACE?
THE LAST SAFE PLACE came much quicker. NEW YORKED went through 20-something drafts, LSP went through three or four. It was something that I was playing around with around the same time I was learning to code eBooks, so I figured, I’ll finish it, have some friends give me editorial notes, have another friend design the cover, and put it up for sale. People liked it, then I figured I’d learn how to make a print file so there’d be a paperback available. It was a fun exercise. And it helped me land my agent
Prior to the novella and novel you published several short stories with Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory, Thuglit and Needle Magazine—among others. Why do so many crime and mystery writers follow the path from short stories to novellas before publishing a novel? Do you prefer one of the three over the others?
Short stories are great for experimentation and finding your voice, but they’re also a good shot in the arm—when you’re feeling a little low, having a story pop up somewhere can give you a real sense of accomplishment that can sustain you for a little longer. It’s a great arena for crime and mystery writers because you need to have a hook, and you can get a little dirty in the process. I don’t really prefer one over the other. For me, they compliment each other. I’ll finish a draft and then knock out a couple of shorts, to clear my head and try some new things.
You have also hosted a couple of literary podcasts. What drew you to podcasting? How can other writers benefit from podcasts—doing one, contributing to one or even just listening to one?
The podcasting stuff I sort of stumbled into, mostly because I like to talk and I’m an opinionated asshole. LitReactor was starting one and I agreed to co-host, but the recording schedule got tough. Then Renee Pickup was looking for someone to fill in at Books and Booze, and we were friendly and she asked me on. Now that Books and Booze has retired, the two of us are teaming up for another one: Guttersnipes, hosted by Gutter Books, which should be starting later this year. I think they’re great to listen to, because it’s so easy to get yourself stuck in a bubble. Sometimes an outside voice can be helpful, just in re-aligning your thought process a bit.
Be patient. Publishing is a long, frustrating game. I’ve seen a lot of young writers psyche themselves out after a few rejections. I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was 18 or 19. Now I’m 32 and my first book is coming out. Nothing happens overnight. Read a lot, write a lot, find your voice, and don’t get down if things don’t happen right away. It takes time. If you want it, you’ll get there. I wish someone had grabbed me by the sides of the head and screamed that at me seven or eight years ago.
What other publishing plans do you have for 2015?
I’ve got a short story coming out in OCCUPIED EARTH, an anthology edited by Gary Phillips and Richard Brewer, which is a cross between sci-fi and crime fiction. It’s coming out in October from Polis Books, and it’s the first story I’ve written where I’ve really tapped into my political background. I’m very proud of it. NEW YORKED is the start of what I hope will be a five-book series. The second installment, CITY OF ROSE, is scheduled for January 2016, so a lot of this year is going to be edits on that and promoting the first book. And once we’ve all got a better sense of how NEW YORKED is doing, I can have a talk with my publisher about the final three books. Other than that, I’m tooling around with some short stories and drafting out another novel—completely separate from the Ash books. I’m very excited for this, because it’s a dystopian book about a subject that makes me very angry. So far it’s a blast!
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.