Rob Hart Crowdsources An Interview for His Food Noir Collection And Settles The 'Is A Hot Dog A Sandwich' Debate
It started as a joke. Someone noticed a food theme in my short stories and asked when the "food noir" collection was coming out.
I like crime fiction, and I like to eat. Plus, crime and food are intersections where passions collide. Every time I thought I'd written as many food stories as I could, I'd get another idea. And here we are. Take-Out has sixteen stories in it. Three have never been published before. Two made honorable mention in Best American Mystery Stories, and one made the final cut. One got nominated for a Derringer Award. Another, the first time I read it at an event, it got accepted for publication by Thuglit before I left the microphone.
I've done this before and it's always pretty fun: I crowdsourced an interview, asking people to hit me with questions on Twitter and Facebook. Here are the results. As you can see, some of my friends are very kind and intelligent, and some are complete blockheads, so it runs the gamut.
What was the best meal you've ever had and why?
This is really tough. I loved La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise when I was in Prague. It’s a Michelin-starred restaurant where the favorable exchange rate meant it was pricey, but not too pricey. They had a carrot in mustard ice cream that I still think about sometimes. Sushi Nakazawa ruined me for regular sushi for a few months—it’s owned by a protege of Jiro Ono (from Jiro Dreams of Sushi) and took me like two fucking years to get a reservation. It was also stupid expensive, but it was special because my wife and I were celebrating the sale of The Warehouse.
How quickly after developing an idea do you decide it is best suited for a short story, novella, or novel?
This is interesting! Because I’m not sure I have a great answer? I always sort of know whether something is a story idea or a novel idea as soon as I have it. The novel ideas tend to be linked more to bigger themes—with The Warehouse: I want to write a book about why capitalism is bad. Whereas short story ideas tend to be a little lighter and more specific: with “Creampuff”, I wanted to write a story about a bouncer at a bakery. I sort of know in my gut whether an idea is big enough to support a novel or a short. And I never really thought of expanding the shorts in Take-Out into anything longer. I think I gave them all the appropriate amount of runway.
How has being a parent affected you as a writer?
A few ways! 1. I’m better with managing my time. 2. I’m more optimistic about the state of the world and the future (which is getting tested pretty fucking hard lately!). 3. I think it’s made me more compassionate and thoughtful but that’s up for other people to decide probably.
Can you talk about the process of choosing the stories, and your general attraction to "food noir"?
It was less choosing and a little more cheating—I think I had like 11 or 12 stories, and I wrote three new ones, but that still left me one or two short for the word count I wanted to hit. There’s one story I specifically went back to and added a food element, so I could get away with including it, and one story that was a bit of a stretch but I point that out in the introduction. And… I guess the general attraction is I really like food. Since putting this to bed I’ve gotten three or four more decent ideas so I guess I’m just wired for it.
What's Ron Howard really like? That was a joke. I want to know what Clint Howard is really like. Love him.
I have not met or spoken to either Howard brother, but the people I have spoken to at Imagine Entertainment are just lovely people. I will admit it has crossed my mind: if The Warehouse actually gets made, who will Clint Howard play?!
What's with you and Todd Robinson? Are you guys dating or something?
To call it "dating" would really cheapen what we have together.
What foods are on your bucket list? What are your favorite food scenes in fiction? (Any medium)
I feel like a fucking charlatan now because I can’t point to a specific book or movie and be like “that food scene was awesome!” So, sorry. As for bucket list—I’ve always been fascinated by the ortolan bunting, which is a small, beautiful bird that’s drowned in a container of brandy, then roasted and eaten whole. Traditionally the diner eats with a shroud over their head to shield themself from the eyes of god during such a decadent and disgraceful act. It’s a French dish and the ortolan bunting is very rare now—because people kept drowning them in brandy and eating them. It’s currently illegal for restaurants to sell the dish in France. I honestly do not know if I have the guts to eat it but as far as bucket list items go, that sounds like a pretty good one.
What's on the menu when you're outlining a story or novel idea? What about when you're pounding out a first draft? Editing a manuscript?
Like, what am I eating while I do those things? I’m not a big snacker, especially since I’ve been trying to be more cognizant of what I eat. If I am snacking it’s usually something on the healthier end: popcorn, fresh fruit, lots of black coffee.
With The Warehouse do you feel like you have moved on from the crime genre and if so would you consider a return in the future?
The Warehouse includes a corporate spy, a security guard, a drug ring, a large overarching mystery… I don’t feel like I left the crime genre. I feel like I added a little bit of speculation and near-future sci-fi. It’s certainly more a thriller than my previous books, but I also believe that, like, 90 percent of novels are crime fiction. The Great Gatsby can be crime fiction. It’s about a bootlegger and the story ends with his murder. So, yeah, I don’t feel like I left, I’m just being greedy and I want more narrative toys to play with.
What food inspires you the most to get the words down (coffee doesn't count)?
That’s an interesting question! I can’t say there’s a link between food and productivity for me. I can say that certain food experiences have driven me to write stories I really love. “Have You Eaten?”, which is the last story in Take-Out, was inspired by the few days I spent wandering around the hawker markets in Singapore. And it’s one of my favorites in the collection because it pretty much sums up the reason I put it together. So I would say, in terms of inspiration, it’s less about food and more about the experience.
Favorite go-to recipe. Or just favorite overall.
Right now, since I’m working with a trainer and watching what I eat, I have one go-to meal that I can make once and split into three portions. And it’s pretty easy. One package of Perdue ground chicken (8 percent fat), a can of petite diced tomatoes, and a can of Goya beans. Onion and garlic, salt, fish sauce, soy sauce, chipotle tabasco. High protein, low carbs, keeps well, heats up well. That’s my dinner most nights. If I really want to impress someone I’ll make a red sauce. For someone who is not Italian I make a pretty fucking good red sauce.
Did you do an "anthology edit" to create thematic links between the stories? I ask because there are a few instances across the stories where characters comment on the same things (dangerous food truck operators, etc.).
I did! With the food truck operators I think that was just a running joke already, but I did go back and make it so the mob boss in “How to Make the Perfect New York Bagel” is the same guy in “The Gift of the Wiseguy.” Originally, he was a different character in “Bagel”, but I liked the idea of linking those two stories up. So… sometimes it’s on purpose and sometimes it’s an accident. Fun thing about the “anthology edit”: I had to be careful about turns of phrase or repeating details, too. Seeing 16 of your own stories lined up next to each other really reinforces how sometimes a writer can lean too much into a bag of tricks.
What do you put on your beard to make it so soft and lustrous?
I am to understand that there are all sorts of oils and conditioners a man could put in his beard. Those things are for weak men with weak beards. I put nothing in my beard. It is powerful enough in its natural state.
When someone says a certain food "tastes like shit," is that 100 percent proof that the person has eaten poop?
What is the deal with the love/hate relationship with ketchup? I agree it should never be put on a hot dog, but how can I tell other people what to eat? Some people say never eat ketchup, but I like it on some stuff.
I dunno man. I think people just like to fight about stuff because it’s a thing to do (see below). That said, while I’m fine with ketchup on a hot dog I think you’re a fucking monster if you put it on your eggs. So… we are all beautiful snowflakes with our own unique likes and dislikes?
Is a hot dog a sandwich?
This sparked a lot of debate on Twitter and I’ve personally been thinking about it a lot lately. I used to say that, no, it’s not a sandwich, because the bread is one piece and not two. Rather, it’s closer in spirit to a taco. But that would make a crepe a French taco, right? And what about burritos? Obviously the wrap is one continuous piece, but what if you’re in one of those places that’s staffed by fucking monsters who slice the burrito in half before they serve it to you? Is it a sandwich then? There’s a meme going around of two people living on opposite sides of the earth who placed pieces of bread on the ground and created an earth sandwich. Which signifies to me it is time to expand our definition of sandwich. I feel like, rather than getting hung up on semantics, maybe let’s just concentrate on eating delicious food.
Go to take-out dish? And why?
Mamoun’s. Their shawarma is the most perfect take-out meal because it is not too small that it won’t satisfy you and not too big that it’ll make you feel grossly full. It’s the goldilocks of sandwiches (there, debate closed). And it has vegetables so it feels like you didn’t make a terrible food decision. I’m not just saying this because I’m pals with the owner—I have been a fan of Mamoun’s since I had my first falafel there at the age of, I think, 17.
What is the literary equivalent to the "is a hot dog a sandwich" debate?
This is the best question. Sorry, everyone else. As established above I think the whole sandwich vs. no sandwich thing is less a legitimate debate and more a way for people to be angry with each other on the Internet. I guess the genre vs. literary debate fits pretty well here, because in a lot of ways, it’s a manufactured argument that doesn’t really impact anything. I feel like, rather than getting hung up on semantics, maybe let’s just concentrate on reading delicious books.
Flatbreads: Legit platform for culinary experimentation, or overpriced bullshit that wishes it were pizza?
Legit platform for overpriced bullshit.
What's your chili recipe?
I was going to make a smart-ass comment but truthfully my chili recipe (which is more of a philosophical guide) is going live at Crimespree Magazine soon. So... keep your eyes peeled for that, fucko.
Why did the barmaid champagne?
I don't know and I will not even go to Google to figure it out.
P.S. Want to win some take-out on me? I'm giving away three GrubHub gift certificates. Check out my website to find out how to enter...
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