In an effort to keep everyone from being bored with this blog (including me). Today marks the first installment of a new feature. I’ll still do some Twenty Questions interviews, but those are really only good one time around. Once people have answered them, there’s not a lot left, even though I make an effort to swap out the questions from time to time.
A good interview should be more of a conversation, so that’s what we having here today. And not just some boring conversation with some droog off the street. The break the cherry of this new feature, we got Todd Robinson, founder and editor of the late, lamented Thuglit, and internationally published author of the The Hard Bounce and its sequel Rough Trade. Most of you already know Todd, at least by reputation. For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure…well, there’s a lot I could tell you, but it’s better to hear it from Big Daddy Thug himself.
You’re a Boston boy through and through. How’d you end up in Yankeeland?
A series of bad decisions. Add on another twenty years of bad decisions, and I'm still here. New York is that unforgiving kind of town that grants a person enough of a living to stay here without allowing the means to accumulate enough to fucking leave. It's insidious.
But at this point, my boy is here, so I'm here. I'm raising a New Yorker, so the best I can do is accept a lifetime with a Mets fan.
Needless to say, he is being raised with the concrete belief that the Yankees represent all that is wrong in the world.
Thuglit was considered by many to be the premier neo-noir outlet in the country. A lot of now big names were published there before they became big deals. What gave you the idea to start it up?
I got tired of the shitty longstanding magazines tendency to publish bland crime lit suitable for Nana. They weren't representing the kind of writing I was doing, and they sure as shit weren't representing the shit I liked to read.
What do you like to read? Not necessarily who, but what keeps you going through a book and what will bring you back for more?
I'm reading a bunch of different stuff. As much as I love crime fiction, I'm a little burnt out after eleven years of reading submissions for the magazine. It's important for me both as a writer and a reader not to burn out any further on a single genre. I just finished Birdbox (horror) by Josh Malerman, Deer Hunting With Jesus (current affairs/non-fiction) by Joe Bageant, and just cracked open Utu by Caryl Ferey (crime fiction).
I have to admit my reading focuses a lot—maybe too much—on crime. What is it about crime fiction that drew you in originally? Is it the same as what keeps you there?
What drew me in was that I recognized the characters and lives as reflections of the world I lived in. I recognized the desperation and the lack of societal care for people who were hurting and how they lashed out in a fashion that was sometimes criminal. And I also recognized the humanity underneath the surface of the people others might classify as damaged.
I write about my people. I like stories that relate to those experiences and emotions. Sure, I take those characters and scenarios down some fantastical roads, but do my damnedest to keep the innate truths about the people themselves intact.
I hear you’re going back to France for another tour. Who’s your French publisher and how did you get hooked up with them?
Gallmeister Editions publish my books in France. They have a unique way of finding authors. They find an author they want to publish, then ask that author who they think they should look at—someone that they might not have heard about. This is how they've gotten their fingers on so many authors who are considered "underground" here, and help them find a broader audience in France. Their stable includes some of the bravest and most ferocious writers in neo-noir...and then there's me.
Benjamin Whitmer recommended me into the company. I owe that man at least a steak.
Are French author events different from those you’ve been to here in the States?
Yes. People show up.
Forgive me for this, but I don’t get out much and live vicariously through my more successful friends, and I have a question I’ve wondered about since your first trip to France. Are the events in French or English? If French, do you speak French, or is there a translator?
The events are in French with an interpreter. God help me if I didn't have one. I learned some key phrases to engage people, and apparently my accent was convincing enough for them to sometimes believe that I was a naturalized speaker—perhaps one who'd suffered a recent head injury. Nevertheless, often people would just continue the conversation in French...at least until they saw the panic in my eyes as I frantically searched the room for my interpreter.
Here’s the big thing I wanted to talk about today: You’re a respected voice in and for noir fiction. The late Roger Hobbs referred to you as “the most important name in contemporary American noir.” I’ve read all three of your books (Dirty Words, The Hard Bounce, and Rough Trade) and, while I find many of the short stories to be noir (especially “Peaches,” which I consider one of the handful of best short stories I’ve ever read), the novels strike be as black comedies not unlike some of Shane Black’s films, such as Kiss Kiss Bang and The Nice Guys. What does “noir” mean to you, and how noir do you think you are?
Meh. Noir has become such a malleable term so as to become almost meaningless. It just sounds good because it's French. How noir am I? Who the fuck knows? I'm just telling stories how I want to tell them. Some darker, some with more of tongue-in-cheek sensibility. I call my own style Idiot Noir. And I'm sure there are some who'd argue that what I do isn't classically noir at all, due to the humor. That said, my French publisher has included me in their Neo-Noir collection, so there's that. And those beautiful bastards coined the term. Ergo, the noir purists can suck it.