10 Questions with Thuglit's Todd Robinson
There are a number of polarizing figures in the crime fiction community: Jon and Ruth Jordan of Crimespree magazine, Steve Weddle of Needle: The Magazine of Noir, and, of course, the one and only Big Daddy Thug, Todd Robinson, founder and editor of Thuglit. During its first five year run, Thuglit produced three print anthologies and helped spark the careers of such writers as Stuart Nevillle, Hilary Davidson, Jordan Harper, and Frank Bill.
But as too often happens, editors/publishers become the publication, and their skills as storytellers are ignored. But the powers of Big Daddy Thug are impossible to deny, particularly when reading his fierce debut novel, The Hard Bounce.
I hope you dig the interview and a book which I'm sure will be one of the best reviewed debuts in 2013.
What was the first story you ever wrote, and what happened to it?
It was called "Last Call," and I wrote it in 2002. It was never published, but received an Honorable Mention in Writer's Digest's 2003 short fiction competition. Like a lot of writers, I hadn't developed a full sense of what my voice needed to be, and wrote the piece at a time when I wanted to be Andrew Vachss. Recently, I re-wrote it in what has become my "style" (if one can really say I have one) and included it in my collection, Dirty Words.
When you sold your first piece of writing, how did you celebrate?
The first piece I ever sold was called "So Long, Johnnie Scumbag," and was a part of the same Writer's Digest competition in 2003. It won a little prize money, then was printed in their Year's Best Writing edition, for which I got a little bit more cash. The good news was, I was able to pay a month's rent out of the winnings. That was how I celebrated. The bad news was, it started me off with a skewed worldview about how much money there was to make in the short story market.
Tell us about your process: Pen, paper, word processor, human blood when the moon is full...how do you write?
Before I learned how to type, I wrote everything out longhand as a first draft. Now it's all on a computer. I'm still not a great technical typist, although I can knock out 40-50 WPM using only four fingers.
What's the biggest mistake you've made as a writer?
Hoo-daddy. The list of mistakes I've made could be a book unto themselves. Some things I've done on the business end that I thought were mistakes ended up being fortuitous down the line, so you never know when today's mistake could end up tomorrow's blessing. Just to narrow things down a bit, I'll just stick to the technicals. I have a tendency to go metaphor-nuts (never metaphor I didn't like). I've fought the urge over the years and believe I have it under control now.
What kind of catharsis did you achieve from your latest work?
The latest work of my own of major note was finishing up the final edit of The Hard Bounce. It's been such a long road, that the catharsis part still hasn't kicked in yet. I'm still finding it hard to believe that my long and painful journey with that baby is pretty much over, as a writer.
As an editor, we just put together the first print editions of my short story mag Thuglit. It was incredibly gratifying to hold a physical copy in my hands for the first time after seven years in existence.
Which fictional character would you most like to have a drink with, and why?
John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee. There's not a person alive who hasn't read one of those books that didn't want to sit on the deck of Travis's houseboat, The Busted Flush, and enjoy a cold beer with the guy.
Where do you buy your books?
I try to support the independent stores when I can, but it seems like they're disappearing weekly. When I moved to New York sixteen years ago, there were six different independent mystery bookstores alone. Today, there's one (Otto Penzler's magnificent Mysterious Bookshop on Warren St.). I don't want to name names, but a recent encounter with the independent store I normally frequent was so distasteful, the staff so goddamn rude and self-important, that they lost my business. Forever. While I still try to encourage shopping at the offline stores, it kills me to see some of those old fantastic stores (Black Orchid, specifically—you are still missed Bonnie and Joe) disappear along with their staff filled with people passionate about all types of writing and writers, and the remaining staffed with arrogant collegiate lit pricks.
How do you handle a bad review of your work?
I try to do it with humor. Frankly, I understand that my writing isn't for everybody, and I'm not going to stand on a mountaintop and yell, "You don't understand my work!" Hell, my mother hates what I do. Bad reviews are part of the business. I embrace them as much as I do the good…just not as warmly.
Recently, I got an anonymous bad review on Amazon from someone calling themselves "NYC Book Reviewer" that didn’t say anything about my writing, but essentially accused me of ripping off my stories from other writers and real-life events. With that moniker, I thought it strange that I was their one and only review. I copied-and-pasted the review onto my Facebook status along with my suspicions, and within five minutes, the review was pulled—which can only mean that whoever posted it ALSO follows me on Facebook. That's a little disturbing.
Another recent bad review was for an issue of Thuglit where at least the guy posted under his own name. At least THAT I can respect. Then I find out that it's the guy my wife was dating before we met. Seriously, dude? If you read this (and obviously you still take a great interest in what I'm doing), GET THE FUCK OVER IT! It's been seven years, you sawed-off little prick.
There. I said it.
What's the worst advice you hear authors give writers?
Oh, this whole digital do-it-yourselfery versus traditional publishing debate is a fucking mess. Whenever I see new writers arrogantly championing the successes of writers who are only established because they started the traditional route, it makes me want to punch somebody in the throat. And then these flying pricks sneer at anyone who might see the benefit of following the same path that brought them their success in the first place. Like all false prophets, these jackasses will be exposed (and many already have been) and the ones who will have suffered are the poor writers who didn't know any better. There's a reason why I never published anything digitally that hadn't already been through some form of traditional process. There's a value to an editor. There's a value to a reader who calls out a writer's bullshit. It's not always right, and you don't have to agree with it, but it's important to hear.
The screaming masses of unpublished writers who trumpet the Publishing Revolution sound a lot like those deluded tone-deaf lunatics on the American Idol auditions. There are reasons we fail and there are reasons we succeed. If some of these people would stop taking their failures as a personal slight, they might learn a fucking thing and wind up better writers, better successes as a result of it.
Your debut novel, The Hard Bounce, has had a long road to publication. Would you be willing to share the (abbreviated) history of the road you and the novel have traveled, and if you could go back in time, what would you do differently?
Here's the abbreviated history, as it is: Five agents, four publishers, hundreds of rejections from agents and publishers, and somewhere around 37 drafts (probably more). Five different times, editors told my agent(s) that they loved the book, but it was killed in marketing—that the voice wasn't along the lines of what they knew how to sell. Part of the decade-long clusterfuck was a result of misplaced faith in people in the business who were liars, charlatans, or just plain idiots. Some of it was solid mistakes on my own end. Some of it was just plain old-fashioned bad luck. Ken Bruen (one of the kindest class-acts in the business), who was the first writer kind enough to blurb my novel, once called me a "walking cautionary tale of the writing business." He's not wrong. Whatever variation of disaster can befall a writer's career, it's happened to me at one point or another.
As for time travel? The hell with that. I wouldn't change one goddamn thing. Because each faceplant on that broken-bottle and heartbreak-paved road taught me something—either about writing, the business, or myself. Every draft I had to slog through made the book a little better, made my voice a little clearer. If I had "success" the first time I thought it was going to happen, not only wouldn't I have appreciated it the way I do now, but the novel would have been in a lesser state than what I believe the one coming out is in. The last ten years of struggle have been invaluable to me.
Although I'm ready to stop with that struggle now, thank you very much.
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