Noir on a Hippie Commune: MysteryPeople Q&A with Rob Hart

Interviewed by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Rob Hart’s Ash McKenna series gets better and better with each book. This time, in Hart’s latest, South Villagewe find our tarnished unlicensed investigator trying to find peace on a commune, working as a cook. Of course murder interferes. Rob will be joining Reavis Wortham and Tim Bryant for a discussion on Friday, October 21st, at 7 PM. We got to grill him about his setting, writing, and food.

MysteryPeople Scott: How did a hippie colony become the latest setting for Ash’s latest novel?

Rob Hart: Something like 10 years ago, I visited a place called The Hostel in the Forest down in Georgia. A friend of mine was a manager at the time. It was a lot of fun, and I came away wanting to write a book set in a place like that.

It struck me as a good fit for a couple of reasons: First, It’s a logical step for Ash to take following the events of the second book. Second, I wanted to focus on how he related to other people, and the world around him, and a commune is a good place to do that. Finally, I get to tell people it’s noir on a hippie commune, which is a fun hook.

Ash is the kind of person who uses substances to handle his problems and I needed to get him away from that impulse. Plus, if I’m going to have him hallucinating and freaking out, may as well be in the woods.

MPS: What did the rural setting to for you as a writer as opposed to the urban settings you had in the first two?

RH: This is something I wrote about in the book, but: When you grow up in a place like New York City–like I did and like Ash did–you’re surrounded by this electric hum. Like a television constantly left on in another room. And it’s so incredible to be in a truly quiet, rural place. Like in the desert, or deep in the woods. It’s actually a little unsettling, until you get used to it. Ash needed the space for some distraction-free introspection.

Plus, it’s a challenge. I’m a city kid. I like being out of my comfort zone, because it makes me work harder. Same with Ash; the less comfortable he is, the more fun he is to write.

MPS: You give Ash the added trouble of going through the DTs at the worst time. Besides an added hurdle, was there another reason you wanted to do that?

RH: A lot of private eye characters are drinkers–sometimes heavy drinkers–and you don’t always see the consequences of that, outside some wicked hangovers. Ash is the kind of person who uses substances to handle his problems and I needed to get him away from that impulse. Plus, if I’m going to have him hallucinating and freaking out, may as well be in the woods.

I’m a city kid. I like being out of my comfort zone, because it makes me work harder. Same with Ash; the less comfortable he is, the more fun he is to write.

MPS: You have a lot of vegan cooking in the book. Are those your own recipes?

RH: They are not! Here’s the thing: I like meat, and I also love to cook. As I’m getting older, I’m trying to incorporate more vegan and vegetarian meals into my diet. But it’s not a preference, so that Ash is working in a vegan strip club in book two, and in this one, as a chef on a vegan commune–I don’t know, it probably means something but I’m not sure what. Maybe I’m just going for easy jokes.

It was important that Ash be a chef in this because I didn’t want him to be doing security-related work. I wanted him to be trying to get away from that type of stuff–but still falling into a job where he’s taking care of people. Because that’s who he is.

I wanted to focus on how he related to other people, and the world around him, and a commune is a good place to do that. Finally, I get to tell people it’s noir on a hippie commune, which is a fun hook.

MPS: What is the biggest challenge Ash provides for you as a writer?

RH: Keeping him fresh, and at the same time, kind of broken. I want him to evolve from book to book, but I can’t evolve him so much that he’s fixed. At least, not until I’m done. I feel very lucky in that, as I’m finishing the edits on the fourth book (The Woman from Prague, due summer 2017 I think?) I’m not tired of his voice. And I’m excited for the fifth, which I’m laying the groundwork for now. That one is going to be the last one, probably. Then he’ll be fixed, and our time together will be done.

You can find copies of South Village on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Come by BookPeople this Friday, October 21st, at 7 PM, for a panel discussion featuring Rob Hart, Reavis Wortham, and Tim Bryant.

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