10 Questions With Rob Hart
The LitReactor team loves Rob Hart. Seriously, without Rob, a solid portion of the site’s content would be in absolute chaos, so obviously we value the guy around here. Also, as you all know, on top of his LR duties and his full time gig with Mysterious Press, Rob’s also one hell of an accomplished crime writer, whose debut novel, New Yorked, hit the streets yesterday from Polis Books. The first book in the Ash McKenna series is one of the few P.I. novels I actually enjoyed reading in a very long time.
What was the first story you ever wrote, and what happened to it?
Way back when, more than 10 years ago probably, I joined the writing workshop at The Cult—just when it was starting, before you even had to do reviews to earn enough points to post your own work. I had just read Chuck Palahniuk's essay about submerging the I in first-person narration, so I wrote a short story called "Diffusion," and tried to make as few instances of I as possible. I got it down to one, in the last sentence.
It got a great reaction in the workshop, and I saw a couple of people were submitting to Dogmatika, an online zine, so I sent it there and they picked it up. Dogmatika is long since gone, but I recently brushed off "Diffusion," because I've got more than a dozen short stories I'm thinking of putting into a collection.
It'd be nice to include, for history’s sake, but I'm not sure if it'll make the cut. I really can’t tell if I like it or not.
When you sold your first piece of writing, how did you celebrate?
I think the first story I wrote that I got paid for was in Thuglit. When I got the money, it was a rush—just the thought that someone was paying me for a bunch of shit I made up in my head was pretty incredible. I don’t think I did anything special to mark it. I was just very happy.
When I sold New Yorked, with my advance pending from Exhibit A at Angry Robot, I bought an XBox One. Then they shut down and never paid me. So when Polis bought it, I was more conservative. I got a nice bottle of whiskey.
Tell us about your process: Pen, paper, word processor, human blood when the moon is full... how do you write?
I start on pen and paper. I get Moleskines—the thin, flimsy ones, because they're easier to stick into a bag or a pocket, and easier to fill up. I take a ton of notes. I also keep a Google Doc file handy for each new project, for when I'm sitting at the computer and come across something I want to hold on to.
Then I outline. I learned this from a friend: Go chapter-by-chapter, and then trash it. A day or two later, do it again. You remember the good stuff and forget what doesn't work. I do that three or four times, until I feel good, and then it's all typing. I used to be a reporter and did a lot of transcribing interviews over the phone—when I’m in a groove I can get within spitting distance of 100 words per minute.
I like being home, or just alone. I like some ambient music. Lately, Bach’s cello suites, or something electronic, like Chroma Key. That’s best case scenario. Now that I’ve got a baby, sometimes it’s a matter of waiting until she falls asleep, cracking my laptop, and typing furiously until she wakes up.
What's the biggest mistake you've made as a writer?
When I was in my mid-20s, I thought I couldn't write until I was struck by divine inspiration. I never appreciated that it's about applying ass to seat and writing like a motherfucker. So there's a lot of lost time in there.
What kind of catharsis did you achieve from your latest work?
I just finished a pass on City of Rose, the follow-up to New Yorked, so that would be the most recent, and that was me working out a few issues with feeling displaced. Of getting to a point where I feel like a grown-up. But I'm not there yet. Being stuck in an in-between place.
The whole series is about a dumb kid growing up and finding his moral compass, so a lot of this series is about catharsis. And there are times I barely feel a step ahead of Ash.
Which fictional character would you most like to have a drink with, and why?
Mark Watney from The Martian by Andy Weir. We can talk about how to survive on Mars, which is a subject I am keenly interested in.
Seriously. You know that project where a private company wants to send people to start the first settlement on Mars, with the understanding it’s going to be a one-way trip? Were my life in a different place—if I didn’t have an awesome wife and kid—I would have applied.
Where do you buy your books?
Mostly The Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattan. I run one of Otto Penzler’s imprints, so my office is in the basement. For non-mysteries, I used to go down the block to the Tribeca Barnes & Noble, but now with the kid, I've developed an affinity for Amazon Prime.
I'm also a big fan of eBooks, for two reasons: I spend a lot of time traveling and commuting, and having a few books queued up makes life easier. Plus, my wife and I have hundreds of print books between us. We're running out of room. I'm getting choosier about what I buy in print.
How do you handle a bad review of your work?
One outlet kicked me in the teeth over New Yorked. The review was so bad it felt personal. And for most of the day I saw it, I was fucking bereft.
But I had a good support system. My wife pointed out that the reviewer clearly took issue with one character, which shaded his or her perception. And my mom offered to go beat them up.
It still stings, but you can’t please everyone and there’s no changing that. The first step is acceptance.
What's the worst advice you hear authors give writers?
It's hard to pick one thing. I've seen a lot of writers giving very bad advice about a great many things. Everyone who's a writer is looking to build a platform, and one of the ways to build a platform is to be perceived as an "expert." And so often, people have no idea what they're talking about.
My favorite example of this is once seeing a self-published author on Twitter, asking someone to explain a program to her—Kindle Unlimited or something. The reason was, she was about to be interviewed about it and didn't understand it.
So here's someone who's essentially pretending to be an expert so she'll get her name on something with a buy link to her book underneath it. It's upsetting to see stuff like that, because there are a lot of writers out there who don't know better, and will listen to any asshole on a blog.
Writing advice is like any other kind of advice—consider the source, and do your research.
I work for the godfather of crime fiction. I've self-published and traditionally published. I've published more than a dozen short stories. I was a working journalist at a daily newspaper in New York City for four years, and ran the press shop for a politician for four years. I am very fortunate and I have learned a lot. I would never claim to be an expert.
Your protagonist in New Yorked, Ash McKenna, goes after a group of ‘noir’ LARPers. What inspired you to incorporate Live Action Role Playing into the storyline? Also, have you ever LARPed?
I have never LARPed. I shared a suite in college with a guy who did, and one time came home—really absurdly drunk—to find a big goony lizard-ninja standing in the living room. It was a weird night.
There was a story in a newspaper about a hard-boiled role-playing game in New York that I read years ago, and it stuck with me. Just one of those things you file away in the back of your head. And I kept coming back to it.
Part of living in New York is pretending to be something you’re not. Plus, in a general sense, I think people around my age, and Ash’s, are locked into this cycle of infantilization. Kickball leagues for grownups and shit. So I liked the idea of taking serious subject matter and twisting it into a game of make-believe.
This might not be my last foray into LARPing, either. A few years ago I was getting brunch with a friend in Park Slope, and she walked me down to Prospect Park. Apparently, on certain Sundays during the summer, there’s this big gathering of LARPers, and it’s pretty much the perfect Sunday afternoon, because you can get bombed and then watch people get into sword fights.
That gave me an idea for something I hope to explore soon. Especially now that I’ve got a daughter, because I want to write stuff for her—stories she can read before she’s 18.
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