The Rob Hart Interview
Dan (and Kate): Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Rob! We think it’s safe to say that between your work at the Mysterious Press, LitReactor, writing the continuing adventures of Ash McKenna, AND your most important job as new daddy… one could say you’re a pretty busy guy. With so much going on, how do you find the time to get anything done?
Rob Hart: Most of the credit goes to my wife. My parents and my in-laws are a big help, in the sense that they will happily take the baby at a moment’s notice. But my wife is incredibly patient and understanding. She knows that this is a lot of ass-in-seat work, and sometimes I need to shackle myself to my computer. That said, I try to keep a balance. I am incredibly lucky to work some very cool jobs, but my wife and daughter come first.
D (and K): Your debut novel, NEW YORKED, hit shelves this past June, 2015. In NEW YORKED, we meet your unlicensed PI Ash McKenna. Ash is described as being more of a “blunt instrument” than a traditional PI. Also, he has a “bent moral compass.” Ash strikes us very much like Batman, in the sense that he is so tied to his city, it’s a tent pole of his being. Tell us more about Ash, and his relationship with his hometown.
RH: Ash is my id. He’s every bad decision I never made. He’s also, in my mind, a bit of a mash-up between a PI and a comic book vigilante. There’s a quote from the new Ms. Marvel that I love—and will probably be the epigraph of the fourth book—“Good is not a thing you are. It’s a thing you do.” I don’t think Ash is a very good person. He wants to be. And when push comes to shove, he’ll do what’s right, because it’s the right thing to do.
Ash is part of a very particular class of New Yorker—the embittered native. New York used to be a very dangerous city. Not so much anymore. The population is booming, rents are skyrocketing, old businesses are being driven out. It sucks to love a thing and think you earned it and then it’s taken from you, even though it wasn’t really yours to own in the first place. That’s his relationship to the city, in a nutshell.
D (and K): And now, with February 2016’s release of CITY OF ROSE, you dare to plop Ash on the West Coast? How can this possibly work??? (spoiler: It totally works.)
RH: Moving Ash around keeps things fresh, for me as a writer, and I hope for the reader. But there’s also this thing about being a native New Yorker: You get stuck on the idea that you’ve seen it all. The thrust of the series is Ash growing up and finding his moral compass. The only way to do that was to put him in places where he was forced to engage with the world—and with himself—on a different level.
D (and K): With the internet and social media, you don’t have to live down the block from other writers in order to be part of the mystery community. But living in New York and working at the Mysterious Press and LitReactor, some would say that you are at the epicenter of this amazing community. Please pull back the curtain a bit, and tell us more about this.
RH: It’s a little trippy. I’ve got to do some very cool things—run a class taught by Chuck Palahniuk at LitReactor, watch Lee Child buy my book at The Mysterious Bookshop. It’s great to be part of a community, and to access that community from a couple of different angles. Especially because writing is such a solitary act.
That said, I still feel like I’m at the kid’s table. I’m just as nervous and intimidated as I was on my first day of camp. I’m still concentrating very hard on not doing or saying anything too stupid.
D (and K): Follow up question: Being as plugged-in to NYC as you are, could you make the adjustment and move across the country? And if so, how would that affect your writing and overall creative output?
RH: I’ve thought about leaving. My wife and I flirted with the idea at one point. There are some towns in this country I really like—Portland and Austin being the top two picks, probably. The adjustment would be interesting. As I’m getting older, I’m getting more frustrated with the traffic and the crowds. Sometimes I think it’d be nice to go someplace quiet. Though I’m sure it’d drive me nuts after a few weeks.
In terms of creative output—I don’t know. I don’t believe you need to live in a city like New York or Paris to be an artist. But it doesn’t hurt. There’s a great deal of energy here, and a lot of inspiration. Plus, given the cost of living—and knowing it’ll cost the GDP of a small nation to send my daughter to college—it encourages me to stay busy and work hard.
In the spirit of “Inside the Actor’s Studio” and the Bernard Pivot questions asked of every guest, we have our own set of questions we ask of every interviewee.
D (and K): When did you finally say, “Yeah…I’m gonna write stuff for a living. And it will be AWESOME.”
RH: I read Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk in college. I always enjoyed reading. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury was my first great book love. But I put down Survivor and was like, “Holy shit, books can do that?”
D (and K): What was your favorite moment in mystery writing? The moment that when you read it on the page, you smiled and said, “That was so cool!”
RH: It was reading Chandler. The way he used language blew me away. There was an incredible cadence to it, and that’s what attracted me to crime fiction. It was literary AND exciting. The best of both worlds.
D (and K): What was the moment that made you say, “Writing books is amazing”?
RH: I can’t think of one defining moment. This whole business is a collection of small victories. Because even when you win a battle—sign a contract, finish a draft, get your ARCs—the war isn’t over. You’re on to the next thing, sometimes before you’ve had a chance to properly celebrate.
The thing that’s nice is: This stuff never stops being amazing. Getting a short story published or seeing my finished book proofs is just as exciting the second or third or fourth time as it was the first.
D (and K): The standard Beatles or Rolling Stones question: Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett?
RH: I hate having to choose. But since Mysterious Press is releasing Hammett’s Continental Op stories as eBooks soon—I have to root for the home team and say Hammett.
D (and K): Parting thoughts?
RH: This may sound like I’m sucking up, and so be it: I really appreciate you having me here. The people at Crimespree are among the kindest people in the industry. I really mean that. It was an incredible honor that Jon and Ruth invited me to Murder & Mayhem. Conferences are always intimidating—meeting a lot of new people in a new place can be jarring. M&M felt like a family gathering.
There are a lot of things I like about being a writer. One of my favorite is how many new, good people it’s put me on a path with.