The Todd Robinson Interview
Kate and Dan: We are beyond excited for the release of your second novel, ROUGH TRADE! Your debut book, HARD BOUNCE, is one we recommend frequently (and we aren’t just saying that just to be polite). It was that potent blend of best friends/snappy dialog/and raw emotion that keeps HARD BOUNCE so high on our list. What can readers expect this time around for Junior and Boo in ROUGH TRADE?
Todd: The second time around, I wanted to mess up the narrative a little bit. I wanted to explore things a bit more about who Boo and Junior are, and the hard-wired prejudices that sometimes go along with those kinds of upbringings. I wanted to challenge both myself and the reader’s loyalties a little more.
And it’s precisely those prejudices that land them in hot water this time out.
I’ve been terrified about what the reaction was going to be, but so far the reviews have been along with me for the ride AND the challenge. I can’t expect that all the readers will be up for it, but it’s no fun for me if I don’t try.
K & D: Speaking of HARD BOUNCE, you’ve had some success with that book not only here in the US, but also in France. In fact, many in the mystery community have been embraced by the French. What is it about American noir that appeals to the French? Is it the kissing? The braiding? Or the fries? It’s the toast, isn’t it?
T: The toast doesn’t hurt…
And if I’m going to be honest, THE HARD BOUNCE wasn’t really all that much of a success here. Don’t get me wrong, the readers have embraced it to a humbling degree, and we did relatively well with almost zero put behind it promotionally, but I’ve sold probably double the number of books in France in six months than I’ve sold here in three years.
As for the why? Who the hell knows? The one thing that kept coming up was the main reason major American publishers shat on the book for years. They all said it was “too different” or “too niche.” In France, that’s precisely why they’ve embraced it—BECAUSE it’s different. And by “different”, I mean that there are a lot of dick jokes. The French must love a good dick joke. Therefore, I love the French.
I’ve also said for years that being unsuccessful is the greatest thing that could happen to me as a writer. It enables me to write whatever the fuck I want. And I like writing whatever the fuck I want. It’s taken me over a decade, but it seems like I’ve finally found that elusive broader audience, it just happens to be in France.
K & D: You are very much an institution in the mystery community with your work at Thuglit and your welcoming attitude. Everyone seems to know Todd or have a Todd story. Who played that role when you were looking to break into the mystery community? Who did Little Todd look up to? Also, please include a photo of Little Todd.
T: Oh, Ken Bruen, definitely. He was the most warm and inviting character in the entire community. And I mean, Character…with a capital C. Ken is one of a kind.
And I love that everyone has a story, although I’m sure that many of those stories would make me groan with embarrassment. I do have trouble keeping my mouth shut, even when my foot is already firmly ensconced in it. I also don’t give two fucks about what anyone thinks of me. I’m going to be me. I’m going to say what I’m going to say. I don’t put on airs, and I don’t pretend to be anything I’m not. That doesn’t always work out in an artistic community, where sensitivity runs high.
And no, I will not include a picture of Little Todd. I don’t do dick pics…………………………………………………………any more.
K & D: During one of your Facebook videos, you said that you don’t get to read for fun because you are always reading Thuglit submissions or doing magazine work. Now that you’ll have the chance to read for pleasure, what books or authors are at the top of your list?
T: Oh, God… So many. YEARS of reading to catch up on. Mostly, I’m excited to get back to my standbys. I still have John D. MacDonalds, Elmore Leonards and Richard Starks to read. I ration all three of them, since I know they’re finite. I’m excited to read some horror and sci-fi, too. I haven’t had a crime fiction palate cleanser in ages. That was also part of the problem with being buried all those years. there’s only so much anyone can or should read of one type of genre. It can make a reader lose his objectivity about what makes one thing or another great. Fear of losing that objectivity (and an honest belief that I was beginning to) is especially problematic when you’re the goddamn acquisitions editor for a genre fiction magazine.
K & D: When did you first go to Fenway Park? We made our pilgrimage 10 years ago this summer and it blew our minds. Our Christmas card that year was us on top of the Green Monster. What’s it like living as a Boston ex-pat among the uncivilized Yankee fans of New York?
T: I was probably about five? I remember walking down the ramp and seeing that field of green for the first time with my dad on one side and my grandfather on the other. Not long after that, I got to go into the Sox locker room while Jerry Remy—the Rem Dawg himself—signed baseballs for us. Remy is from Fall River (my hometown) and he and my father played ball together when they were younger. It was pretty magical.
As for living amongst the savages? Meh. It ain’t so bad. At least not lately. During the late nineties, when the Yankees were the juggernaut team of the century, the fans were pretty insufferable. Some still are. I usually get them to clam up with this:
Q: How many Yankees fans does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: They don’t change it. They just sit around and talk about how great the lightbulb used to be.
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.
K & D: When did you finally say, “Yeah…I’m gonna write stuff for a living. And it will be AWESOME.”
T: (Sigh…) I still don’t say either of those things. I’m currently working almost 60 hours a week in bars to supplement my writing “habit.” And If I ever say anything I’m going to write will be “awesome,” please fucking slap me. No one should ever write something thinking that it’s awesome. Every writer should just tell the best story that they’re capable of putting out there and hope that the readers will deem it such.
K & D: 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!”
T: Oh, man. I know the exact moment. When I was working on the very first draft of The Hard Bounce, I was working a graveyard shift in a 24-hour restaurant, then going to a diner with a pad and a pen, often falling asleep with the pen in my and on my fourth cup of coffee. I was just free-writing through my exhaustion, and suddenly, Boo had a sister. Straight out of the fucking aether. And the whole shebang— the story, characters, motivations—it all opened like a floodgate. It was the most gratifying “Holy Shit” moment I’ve ever had as a writer.
K & D: What was the moment that made you say, “Writing books is amazing”?
T: Still haven’t said that yet, either. I’ve only got two books under my belt, but I love, love, love something I heard Sara Paretsky say once in an interview (and my apologies to Ms. Paretsky for my undoubted paraphrasing). It was along the lines of, “I’ve written nearly twenty books, and each time I begin one, it’s with the unshakeable belief that I won’t be able to do it.”
That line has gotten me through many a moment of self doubt. Still does.
Writing books is a hell of a lot of fun for me, clearly, but the night is dark and full of terrors, so to speak.
K & D: The standard Beatles or Rolling Stones question: Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett?
T: Hammett. All the way.
K & D: Parting thoughts?
T: Stop reading this. Pick up an awesome book, even if it doesn’t happen to be mine. Buy a second copy of that book and give it to a friend. Spread reading. Spread the love.
ROUGH TRADE is available at your local bookseller on August 9. You can preorder your copy here.