Rob Hart and Alex Segura Discuss 'Bad Beat', An Exclusive Digital Short Co-Authored for Polis Books

Alex Segura, Co-writing, Rob Hart, Short Stories

Back in March, Alex Segura and I were having dinner, and as it so often does when comic book nerds convene, the subject of crossovers came up. As in: Why didn't they happen more in mystery novels? So many of us are writing series characters. It seems like it would be a good fit.

We left that dinner with a very loose notion of teaming up my amateur PI Ash McKenna and his trouble-magnet journalist Pete Fernandez. And the idea grew from there—fairly quickly, we had a pitch, which we sent to our publisher, Jason Pinter.

Besides it being a fun project, we figured it would be a good promotional tool. My first Ash novel, New Yorked, hit in June, with the sequel, City of Rose, due in February. Polis is re-releasing the first Pete novel, Silent City, in March, with the sequel, Down the Darkest Street, due in April.

Jason encouraged us to pursue it, and 8,000 words later we had "Bad Beat"—which Polis will release as a digital short on Jan. 12, available wherever eBooks are sold. It includes teasers for both New Yorked and Silent City!

Here's the synopsis:

When beloved college football star Raleigh "The Gun" Davis is suspected of shaving points, sports reporter Pete Fernandez is tasked with digging up all the dirt that's fit to print. Mired in his own mounting personal problems and drinking himself blind, Pete slams into an unexpected brick wall: Ash McKenna, an amateur private investigator with a very bad attitude. Both are looking for the AWOL QB, but their goals run counter to each other—Ash is trying to help an old friend, while Pete is looking to redeem his once-promising journalism career.

What they find is more than they bargained for—and more than they can handle alone. Can the unlikely duo find common ground in time to bust a dangerous crime ring? Or will they get tangled up in their own egos and agendas?

Acclaimed crime writers Rob Hart and Alex Segura pair up for a unique adventure that brings together their series characters Ash McKenna and Pete Fernandez for an untold tale of vice, double-crosses and the back alleys of suburban New Jersey. Before NEW YORKED and SILENT CITY, there was BAD BEAT.

Given this is the first official announcement of the project, we thought it'd be fun to talk about its conception, and the process of putting it together.


Rob: So—where did this idea even come from? I can't remember which one of us had it.

Alex: I think we were having dinner after an event at The Mysterious Bookshop and talking about comics, and how cool it was, as a kid, to see your favorite character cross over with another, and how that'd get you tuned in to other books. We both dig comics and prose, so I think we just started wondering why it didn't happen more often with mysteries. I think we both started riffing on it around the same time—then we started thinking it'd be cool to see how Pete and Ash could interact. We didn't talk much plot at that dinner, I think we were just basking in the glow of the idea. 

ALEX: I was a little apprehensive at first—you never know how you're going to collaborate with someone, and working on a short story together was still relatively new to me. Especially one that featured my character.

I know it struck us as a really cool, organic way to promote each other and have fun collaborating. You do a lot of stuff beyond writing novels—like your duties at LitReactor—and I write comics and other stuff, too, so I think we're both tuned to collaborating with other people and see the benefit of that. I remember leaving the restaurant really excited about the possibilities. How do you recall it coming together?

I remember it about the same. It just sort of happened organically. I remember being excited, toobut also a little cautious. Collaborations are tough. You never know if your style is going to mesh with someone else's. You come from a comic background and I come from a journalism background, both areas where you have to work with other people and you can't be too precious about things. So that helped.

I was really worried about follow-through. I figured it might drop off when we both realized we have nine million other things to do. But when we pitched it to our publisher, he was enthusiastic, and that gave us another nudge.

Honestly, I was surprised how quickly it came together. We spit balled the story first, trading ideas, and then dove into Google Docs, taking turns on it. It wasn't long before we had a working story. Were you as surprised by all that?

The process was 100 percent painless, which I hadn't anticipated. I think our combined journalism backgrounds helped—I've had stuff moved around and edited and tweaked to no end. I also try to be receptive to notes. If I'm right, our only real disagreement was after the story was written, and it was about back cover copy—and it was super minor, resolved in one email. That never happens in these situations.

I was a little apprehensive at first—you never know how you're going to collaborate with someone, and working on a short story together was still relatively new to me. Especially one that featured my character. I think it really helped that our work ethics are pretty similar, in that we're basically thinking or working on stuff all the time. So, there was no email that seemed to come at an odd hour and everything really came from a desire to make the story great.

We were both revising novels at the same time, if I remember correctly, plus day jobs, family obligations and the curve balls that tend to appear whenever you think you're utterly slammed. I was pleasantly surprised we wanted to write about the same things.

Google Docs was really helpful. It allowed us to dive in, brainstorm, then hammer those ideas into a functional outline. It was a nice peek at your process, too. I tend to outline but not too heavily, because you never know where the characters are going to take you. I liked that we put up some tent poles, even sprinkled in details, but left ourselves enough room to pivot when the story wanted us to. 

Were you jittery at all about having Ash interact with Pete? I ask because I was a bit.

Yes and no. Ash and Pete are both fuck-ups. They have that in common. But Ash is a bruiser who likes to hit things as a problem solving tool. Pete is a guy who likes to think stuff through (when he's sober) and is less inclined to throw a punch. I figured, if anything, that would lead to some rich storytelling opportunities.

The thing that really threw me was writing in third person past tense. Because I've only ever written Ash in first person present. When I said you could get started and write the first section, that's not something I thought about. So when I jumped into the Doc to pick it up I was like, "Oh... dammit."

That scared me a little. I'm not comfortable writing in third, and not with that character. But it turned out to be a big help for me. It forced me to work some dormant muscles, which is always a good thing.

One of the things we talked about was keeping Pete and Ash true to themselves, and the feedback we got from Jason was that Pete felt a bit of a beta to Ash's alpha. But that's something you thought was necessary to the story—especially given the point in Pete's life, right?

I thought you handled the POV change pretty seamlessly. You were upfront about your apprehension, but when it came time to deliver, you handled it well. And I know we split the writing pretty evenly, but when I go back and re-read the story, there are sections I'm not sure about in terms of who wrote what, which is great. I feel like our two voices meshed nicely.

ROB: I'm happy we were able to get them together in a way that's both organic, and also gives them both a stake in the story.

As for Pete and Ash—yeah, the story finds Pete pre-Silent City, which to me is a life-altering series of moments. So, for that book to ring true, he has to come in as an inexperienced guy when it comes to crime and violence. That really tempered a lot of what he did in "Bad Beat". He's more cautious and thoughtful about the whole thing, which opens up a lot of space for Ash to be a bruiser—and I think that contrast makes for a stronger story. As we get further into the Pete series, he becomes more comfortable with violence, but as this is a prequel, I wanted to show a Pete that is slightly different. Did you find yourself doing something similar with Ash?

I really like that the story deals with both characters directly—making it a story only they could share. Raleigh is an old friend of Ash's and it happens on Pete's sports beat, so they're both pulled into it naturally. Would you agree?

The Ash in "Bad Beat" wasn't so different from the Ash at the beginning of New Yorked. If anything, he was more used to violence and bad decisions, and the point of New Yorked was to move him away from that. So to a degree, I knew I could go into the story with no restrictions. He could be his regular boozy, obnoxious self for a little bit.

I'm happy we were able to get them together in a way that's both organic, and also gives them both a stake in the story. Ash's cause is a touch more noble (protecting a friend), but it's not unfair for Pete, as a reporter, to be chasing a hot story.

It makes me wonder if we could do it again. Given that they've both moved around—in City of Rose Ash is in Portland, whereas after "Bad Beat" Pete relocated to Miami—I don't think it could be as simple as them stumbling across each other. That might be too contrived. They might have to seek each other out.

What do you think? Should we try it again in the future? Or, now that we've established that characters published by Polis are in the same universe, should we just team them all up, Avengers style?

I'd love to do it again. I think it's hard to find a good collaborator that also leads to a stronger product. Hell, let's lock in a sequel right now!

There's a definite—pardon the pun—beat between Silent City and Down the Darkest Street that allows for a unique version of Pete. I'd also love to see Ash in Miami or Pete in Portland, depending on timing.

But yeah, it'd have to be more linear than them literally bumping into each other. But after "Bad Beat", I think that would be plausible. It's funny, because you and I had a meal with Dave White recently and it got me to thinking that Jackson Donne would be a good fit to join the party. We'll just have to see. I like the idea of Pete and Ash living in the same universe, and I've found ways to mention "Bad Beat" in the books, which is cool to a comic book nerd like me.

Rob Hart

Interview by Rob Hart

Rob Hart is the class director at LitReactor, as well as the publisher at MysteriousPress.com. He's the author of New Yorked, nominated for the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, as well as City of Rose and South Village. Short stories have appeared in publications like Shotgun Honey, Thuglit, Needle, Joyland, All Due Respect, and Helix Literary Magazine. Non-fiction has appeared at Salon, The Daily Beast, Birth.Movies.Death, The Literary Hub, Electric Literature, and Nailed. He lives in New York City. Find him online at www.robwhart.com

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