The Pain of Living: MysteryPeople Q&A with Todd Robinson

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

In Todd Robinson’s Rough Trade, his bouncer heroes Boo and Junior investigate a murder involving the Irish mob, relationships, and sexual hang-ups. Last month asked Todd a few questions about the novel.

MysteryPeople Scott: Rough Trade deals with homosexuality and homophobia in a unique way. What did you want to explore about the subject?

Todd Robinson: It wasn’t a particular exploration about sexuality for me so much as taking a look at the characters, and who they are, and some of their warts. Homophobia worked thematically for the exploration of that sensibility and sensitivity. It also gave me a fresh way to look at identity and fears and for me, a fun new way to craft a mystery around people’s ignorances, prejudices, and preconceived notions.

Read More »

MysteryPeople Review: ROUGH TRADE by Todd Robinson

Todd Robinson joins us for our next Noir at the Bar event, coming up Tuesday, September 20th, at 7 PM at Threadgill’s off of Riverside. Noir at the Bar features readings from several authors at a cozy locale – come grab a brew and enjoy the show! We’ll be giving away some of our favorite titles of the year. Todd will be joined by authors Zoe Sharpe, John Lawton, Rick Ollerman, and Jesse Sublett, with a musical contribution from Mr. Sublett to kick things off. 

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

97819438180061Rough Trade is Todd Robinson’s second book to feature Boo and Junior, two Boston bouncers working at a bar called “The Cellar” with a penchant for for trouble. We’ve had almost four years to wait for this one after the debut of Hard Bounce. Todd has made the wait pay off.

Boo and Junior are asked by their co-worker, Ginny, to throw a scare into Byron, her abusive ex. They smack him around and put him in a trunk. When Byron is found dead with Junior’s cell phone, he becomes the main suspect. It’s up to Boo and their small but tight circle of friends to clear his name.

This is classic hard boiled fused with modern themes. Robinson gives us a plot involving a mysterious saxophone case, Irish mobsters, fun and funny dialogue, and a lot of punching. The book is also an intriguing look at homosexuality and our responses to it. The novel starts with the two bouncers trying to stop some skinheads from beating up two men they found making out. Robinson follows through on the theme with an exploration of  Junior’s hang ups. He jettisons political correctness to get to the heart and emotions of the matter.

The book never stops entertaining as it deals with these issues. Boo’s narration is engaging and often humorous, cracking the fourth wall. Rough Trade delivers the sex, violence, grittiness, and male friendship one would expect in a book like this with a theme that both clashes and connects with its genre roots. I look forward to the next misadventures of these knuckleheads.

You can find copies of Rough Trade on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

Three Picks for August

 

  • Post by Scott Montgomery

August brings us new works from favorite authors, new explorations of old cities, and new variations on old themes for a set of books that do justice to the classics while forging their own path.

9780399169359


The Sixth Idea by P.J. Tracy

After almost a decade, The Monkeewrench crew is back! Here, they put their skills to use with a mystery that goes back to the cold war. The mother-daughter team of P.J. Tracy are masters of mixing humor and vivid characters into their suspense. The Sixth Idea comes out today! You can find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

9781617752988


St. Louis Noir edited by Scott Phillips

Finally Akashic looks to the city with the highest U.S. crime rate. Scott Phillips has assembled a talented group to explore the race, class, and social divisions of this decaying city, providing levity with some dark comic relief. St. Louis Noir comes out today! You can find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

9781943818006


Rough Trade by Todd Robinson

Robinson’s follow-up to Hard Bounce has his bouncers Boo and Junior pinned for the murder of a man they playing a hand in beating up. Using a touch of humor and humanity, Todd Robinson proves he is one of the masters of modern tough-guy fiction. Rough Trade comes out August 9th. Pre-order today! 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Matthew McBride

On Wednesday, the 27th of August, at 7 pm, our Hard Word Book Club will discuss A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride. The book follows a chain of violence triggered by a moment of weakness from a sheriff’s deputy when he takes $52,000 from meth dealer Jerry Dean Skagg’s trailer. The book was our July Pick Of The Month, so we can’t wait to discuss it. Matt was kind enough to take some questions from us.


MysteryPeople: How do you feel about all the favorable reactions to the book?

Matthew McBride: It’s very nice, and still kind of hard to believe. As a writer, you hope people will buy your book and you want them to like it, but I never expected to sell as many copies as I have. It’s mind-blowing, and I’m grateful. Having strangers write you and tell you they love your book is cool. Because I know how it feels to read something you love and feel that way. You want to connect with the author, so you reach out to them. I’ve done that.

MP: While meth is in a lot of rural crime fiction, it is practically a character here. How has it affected where you live?

MM: I’ve been tempted to brand the book Meth Lit, because meth really is a character in this book, and it has affected my life and the lives of those around me in various ways. In Gasconade County, if you’re sick, you can’t even buy Actifed from the pharmacy without a prescription. For some things you have to show a driver’s license. For other things you have to drive to another county. And while Gasconade County is not now technically considered the meth capital of the world as I mention in the book (that distinction now belongs to one of our neighboring counties), it has certainly been called that at times. In the 90’s and into the 2000’s—and even still to this day—meth labs are raided almost weekly. And it was much worse a few years ago. You can read about it every week in the Gasconade County Republican. Someone is always getting busted or someone’s house is getting raided. People get caught cooking meth and they go to jail and they bond out and the cops give them a few weeks to regroup and resupply themselves and then they hit them again. Sometimes guys get caught for the second time before they’ve even been to court for the first time.

It’s all about Pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient harvested from these pills; the component meth cooks need most to perfect their product. About ten years ago they started making you show your drivers license and sign a sheet of paper at the pharmacy window. Now Gasconade County prevents you from buying anything with Pseudoephedrine in it period without a doctor’s prescription. So unless you want to pay an office visit, you have to drive 40 miles to a different county, show your driver’s license, then sign a piece of paper stating you will not cook meth. While these laws are inconvenient for law-abiding, non-meth producing citizens, they were actually created to make it harder for chefs to get the pills they need to cook with, and these laws have made a difference—to an extent—but for every new law that’s made to curb the accessibility to precursors, there’s a guy who cooks crank that’s a very resourceful gentleman and he will just find a new way to make it. If such and such pill cannot be obtained without a prescription, he’ll just find the next best pill that will work, and then that pill becomes the new pill. The quality of the product may suffer, but people will still buy it. And they’ll love it. Even though the product is inferior to what they had previously known. They’ll still snort it or smoke it or shoot it and be grateful for it, while already scheming about how they will get more crank when the crank they have runs out.

But for old schoolers that have been in the game for the long haul, they remember what the good stuff was like. How pure it used to be and how easily it was obtained, and I’m sure a small part of them (guys like Jerry Dean Skaggs) will always look back with fond memories of previous product and long for the good old days.

MP: Frank Sinatra In A Blender was more along the satirical lines, while A Swollen Red Sun is a bit weightier (but no less entertaining). Was the change in tone conscious?

MM: If I had any real goal with my second book, it was to write something completely different from my first book. The characters are much deeper, and they’re drawn in such a way you can relate to them because they’re dealing with real world problems. Issues that we all deal with: Death and disease and loss. Suicide and infidelity and drug addiction. And the extremes people go to to satisfy those addictions.

While Frank Sinatra in a Blender was about embracing addictions, A Swollen Red Sun is about being a slave to them.

MP: Two of your favorite authors, Daniel Woodrell and Dan Ray Pollock, have endorsed the book. What from their work do you hope to apply to yours?

MM: They have become literary heroes to a generation of writers and if I could write half as well as either one of them I’d be walking in tall cotton. But honestly, when I wrote A Swollen Red Sun back in 2010 all I could think about was how cool it would be to meet them. Then maybe I could figure out a way to ask them to read my book without feeling like an asshole. But eventually I did meet them both, and over the years I’ve gotten to know them well, have even read and drank with them, so having their names and words on the cover mean a lot to me. The very same writers who have influenced me now believe in me, and not a lot of writers can say that—plus, there are blurbs from: Todd Robinson, Hilary Davidson, Johnny Shaw, and Ben Whitmer. Writers I genuinely care about as people and whose work I admire.

Between both books, I’ve gotten some amazing blurbs that I’ll always be thankful for. So anytime I see these people at a bar, I owe them a drink. Always. Because that’s the rule.

MP: You have a reputation among your peers as one of the best self-editors. Can you talk about your process after that first draft?

MM: Surely you’re making this up; I cannot imagine anyone saying this. In fact, I know five or six editors who are giving you the finger right now—but!—if I have become a good self-editor, it’s just because I have worked with much better editors than me and I’ve learned from them. Truth is: editors don’t get enough credit. They don’t. And sometimes they don’t get any. But they should. Because it’s the editor that really ties the book together. They polish the words and tighten everything down. The more you write and publish, the more you’ll work with editors and the more you will learn. You don’t even have to try. You just pick things up and they stick with you. Small skills you didn’t even realize you had until you found yourself using them. But I’m also very obsessive/compulsive, so that surely plays a role. It’s a curse, really. I write quickly, but I’m slow to let things go. I need to reread everything fifty times. I’ll do ten or twenty rewrites of anything before I’ll even show Stacia (my agent), who is actually my first editor.

What it comes down to is this: I loathe the thought of anyone reading something I’ve written that’s not as good as it can possibly be. If I think there’s a way to improve what I wrote and make it better I have to try. It’s all about editing: rereading and rewriting. In a way, writing books has ruined me. I look for mistakes all the time now. Even when I’m dining out. I can’t read a menu. I proofread everything.

MP: Would you tell us what you’re up to next?

MM: I don’t even know myself. Maybe nothing. Then again, I might start a new book a half-hour from now. When it comes to writing, I don’t plan a single word. Planning what I want to say robs creativity from the process. For me, writing is about total freedom.


The Hard Word Book Club meets the last Wednesday of each month in BookPeople’s cafe at 7 pm. Join us on Wednesday, August 26, for a discussion of Matthew McBride’s A Swollen Red Sun, available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Top 5 Debut Novels of 2013

This year’s debut list means a lot to me. Three of the authors (Todd, Thomas, and Dan) have been good friends whose work I’ve been waiting to see in novel form. They prove they deserve to be widely read. Terry and Elaine (aka Anynomous-9) are others who I discovered this year who became good friends. Congrats gang, hope this was an early step to a road of success.

1. The Hard Bounce by Todd Robinson

A rich hard boiled novel about two Boston bouncers hired to find a missing girl. Tough and smart, with a lot of wicked humor and fist fighting.

 

 

2. Blade Of Dishonor by Thomas Pluck

This novel of non-stop action has an MMA fighter caught in battle between a ninja and samurai over a sword that his grandfather brought back from World War II. It’s the most pure enjoyment I’ve had this year. Pulp in epic scale.

 

3. A Killing At Cotton Hill by Terry Shames

Shames looks at her central Texas community the way Craig Johnson looks at Wyoming and Louise Penny look at Quebec, with the intimacy and expertise of a native. While not bloody or violent, it resists pulling punches when it comes to small town life, greed, politics, family, and nearing the end of one’s life.

 

4. Penance by Dan O’Shea

A sniper shooting outside a church pulls a Chicago police detective into dirty local and Washington politics, CIA assassins, and a 1970s cover up connected to the murder of his father, who was a cop. With strong characters and plenty of action, it’s like your favorite ’80s cop movie  given a literary treatment.

 

5. Hard Bite by Anonymous-9

This may not qualify, since technically it was available as an ebook in 2012, but I can’t neglect this offbeat and often violent tale of a quadriplegic who uses his helper monkey to kill hit and run drivers and runs afoul of the Mexican mob. Unique and also incredibly well crafted.

 

 

_______________________________

Copies of all of these books are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com

Crime Fiction Remembers Lou Reed

lou reed 5

When Lou Reed died on October 27th, not only did musicians feel the loss, but just about anybody who has fearlessly created since the 1970s. He brought a darker, literary sensibility to rock n’ roll, as he explained in this interview on Night Flight:

It’s no surprise he had a lasting impact on those who write crime fiction.

On the day of his death, Reed Farrel Coleman, author of the Moe Prager series, posted this on facebook:

“Lou Reed taught me a lesson about art, though we never met. It was the mid-70s and I had played the shit out of Transformer and Rock and Roll Animal. I could not stop listening to the latter and thought that I had to go and see Lou Reed live and hear that kickass band of his. Well, when tickets came on sale to see him at what was then the Academy of Music on 14th Street, I got tickets with my friends. The concert was the most disappointing concert I had ever seen and, to this day, is the most disappointing. Lou Reed had completely changed his band. In Steve Hunter’s place was a sax player, not even another guitarist. Reed played almost none of his old music–his own or from the Velvet Undergound. What he did play was all slow tempo and utterly downbeat. Frankly, I hated it, but have thought more about that show than any other concert I have ever been at. I guess in some ways, it is the most memorable show I have ever been at. Art is not always meant to be pleasing to the audience.”

“I discovered Lou Reed as a teenager in a kind of backwards way, through R.E.M.’s covers of Velvet Underground’s ‘Femme Fatale’, ‘Ill Be Your Mirror’, and ‘Pale Blue Eyes’,” said Megan Abbott (Dare Me). “That sent me on a multi-year fixation with Lou Reed and VU–a writer’s dream, those albums, because they evoke whole, shimmering worlds. You listen to those albums and you are transported, in the truest sense. Every time, over the years, that I have listened to those songs, however dark (maybe especially the dark ones), I wanted “in.” His stories always felt true, earned, and beautiful.”

Josh Stallings, author or the Moses McGuire series, came of age during Reed’s rise as a solo artist. “As a teenager, Reed convinced me I could write about the world around me, the junkies and transvestites I knew had a place to be heard. He did for music what Mean Streets did for film. They spoke directly to me and said it was ok to tell the truth.”

Chandler wrote about LA in the ’30s and ’40s; Lou Reed’s territory was the New York of the ’70s and ’80s. The dangerous New York. Any of the people he sung about could have been questioned by Matthew Scudder, Lawerence Block’s private eye from that era. While using the same style and attitude as Chandler, it could be argued his influence had the inverse effect (like many original artists do). While Chandler looked under the the glossy sheen of his city, Reed looked at the damage and decay that littered New York and saw the poetry in it’s dark misfits.

“Lou Reed was the patron saint of freaks and weirdos. The poet laureate of those who walk margins and push boundaries,” said Chris F. Holm, author of The Collector series. Holm’s work is greatly influenced by the books, movies and music of Lou Reed’s era.

“I came to him from punk, following the smoke back through the decades to the folks who lit the spark.” Holms explained. “But discovering Reed’s work wasn’t a history lesson, so much as a revelation. He was more than simply a precursor or progenitor; his songs painted pictures of a world no one else dared sing about — pictures at once beautiful and grotesque, biting and achingly sympathetic. Reed had the rare gift of being able to simultaneously convey affection and contempt, honesty and artifice. His songs taught me how much weight a single phrase can carry. And they taught me there’s no subject matter so dark, something beautiful can’t be made of it.”

Tim Bryant, a Texas musician, publisher and author of the Dutch Curridge PI series, respected his clarity in the bleakness. “Lou became his character and spoke in a clear voice. You didn’t have to read between the lines or guess what he meant. I heard him mention at least once that he was attempting to bring a novelist’s eye to songwriting. I think he very much succeeded. (Only Warren Zevon comes anywhere close to matching him in this regard.) I likewise took his fearlessness, his willingness to look straight into the dark and not blink as a lesson in my fiction writing.”

Scott Adlerberg (Spiders and Flies) said, “He was fearless in what he chose to write his songs about, something to be admired and emulated. You know that he wrote songs he cared about and wanted to write, audience reaction be damned (a good lesson for writers ideally), and he developed the material in a lot of his songs as narratives, with an emphasis on the telling detail. Also, there’s emotion in his songs but not sentimentality, a distinction always to be remembered, I think, when writing.”

“I don’t know if you ever noticed, but Lou never sang. He spoke his lyrics as though they were short stories.” Tom Pitts (Piggyback) commented. “A song like ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ is a great example of encapsulating characters and delivering them with tight poetic verses. But for me, no song /story of his is as great as ‘Street Hassle’. Especially the version on Take No Prisoners. When he talks about dropping the overdose victim in the street, it pulls you right in to a place in time like no other .”

Jon Steele, author of the Angelus series agreed. “‘A Walk On The Wild Side’ is a novel”

Others mentioned their favorite song or record, as well.

“‘The Gift’ is a great horror story.” Liza Lutz said. “I loved Waldo Jeffers, but maybe because he sounded like John Cage. Now I have to listen to that again.”

Todd Robinson (The Hard Bounce) played him while writing, at times. “I wrote the entirety of my short story Peaches listening to Lou Reed and Velvet Underground to get my mind in a specific New York time and place.

“I did the same with my book The Forty-Two,” said Ed Kurtz. “Loads of Lou, especially New York and ‘Set the Twilight Reeling.'”

The person I knew I absolutely had to ask about Lou Reed was musician and hard boiled author Jesse Sublett, whose book Grave Digger Blues has the edges, satire, darkness, and don’t-give-a-damn attitude of Lou Reed’s work.

“For me, writing and music have always been jumbled up together, so from the first pages of the first detective story I ever wrote, Lou Reed was in there. For starters, there’s the alienation thing, where the detective or the criminal or the victim, take your pick, feels outside of the everyday world, like a fugitive or a stalker or the tarnished knight on everybody’s hit list. And for that, you don’t have to be on drugs, or a criminal, you just have to have stumbled out onto the twilight edge of experience. Since Lou died, I’ve heard from a number of people who knew me right after my girlfriend was murdered in 1976, and they remember me playing Lou Reed’s Transformer 24/7. When I was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in 1997 and also, one morning after sitting with my dad in the hospital as he was dying and he had morphine hallucinations and said, “The ceiling is on fire, flames shooting out of the wall, and it’s dripping down on your head,” I walked outside, as I have many times in such situations, and the birds are singing and leaves on trees are glowing with chlorophyll, and I’m thinking, Wow, the world is so beautiful. That’s what I mean by the twilight edge of experience. Lou got that so well. If you’ve been there, you understand. I’ve played “Sister Ray” probably 500 times on stage, “Waiting for my Man” even more, and a dozen other songs. Lou’s songs aren’t all about transvestites and shooting drugs any more than Raymond Chandler is about murder and perversion. And by the way, LouReed was a big Raymond Chandler fan, and when I saw Lou saying something about that, then I saw Bryan Ferry say the same thing, I said to myself, I ought to check out this Chandler guy. Goodnight, Lou. Goodnight.”

Painting it Black: Bouchercon 2013

On the town with Detectives Without Borders blog founder Pete Rovovsky and author RJ Ellory.
On the town with Detectives Without Borders blog founder Pete Rovovsky and author RJ Ellory.

Albany is a quaint city, with rolling hills (I swear I was always walking uphill, even on the way back), historic buildings and friendly people who say, “Absolutely,” when you ask them for a favor. Into this bucolic atmosphere descended thousands of crime fiction writers, publishers, booksellers, and fans like a plague of dark, drunken, philosophical rats from September 19th – 22nd. I can say this because I was one of the them attending this year’s Bouchercon, the world’s largest mystery conference.

Debate went into high gear during the New Noir panel. Moderator Reed Farrel Coleman introduced the idea that there are now two different kinds of noir fiction. One is traditional that relies more on mood and psychology. The newer form relies on violence and shock value. It was probably the most engaging discussion at the conference, with Duane Swierczynski defending the new form along with Jason Starr admitting that his works tend to fall into this category. The discussion wrapped up with a few jokes about Reed’s age and a quip from Hilary Davidson that would make any femme fatale proud.

Les Edgerton’s Pulp Fiction, Baby! panel also discussed playing on the dark and moody side of the street. As happened last year, Les had the best line of the year: “Paint your character black and the light will shine through.”

Josh Stalling talked about how he enjoyed hiding real ideas and social commentary in pulp fiction. He also cited James Crumley’s Dancing Bear and the original Winnie The Pooh as the books most influential in his process. When asked which Pooh character he relates the most with, he answered, “I’m always Eeyore.”

The Shameless Dead Cats & Bad Girls panel hosted by Laura Lippman dealt with taboos in crime fiction. Megan Abbott cited Gone Girl as proof that the mainstream has embraced the type of dark fiction that was more marginalized in the past.

0921131611Discussion of what is taboo in noir fiction was the theme amongst most panels at Bouchercon. Taking advantage of that, David Corbett turned his I Go To Extremes panel into a drinking game with the words, “noir,” “taboo,” “transgressive,” and “Tarantino.” Unfortunately for David, he forgot Todd Robinson, Glenn Gray, and I were in attendance. We’re three guys known for being loud and opinionated even when we’re sober.

The panels definitely covered a lot outside the question of what has become taboo.

I learned more about Austin author Mark Pryor at The Liar’s panel, where they played a game with the audience to guess when Mark was telling a lie, the truth, or a half-truth.

At the WW2 and Sons panel, Martin Limon spoke about how the culture clash he witnessed as a GI stationed in Korea between the locals and the US military lead to writing the Sueno & Bascome series.

In a discussion about writing unreliable narrators, Megan Abbott talked about how she believes noir protagonists will always be unreliable, since they are always attempting to justify their actions. Laura Lippman agreed, adding that the

y are also trying to convince the reader that they would have done the same.

0920130043a
With party hosts, Reed Farrel Coleman, Tom Schreck, and Jon and Ruth Jordan.

You couldn’t let this group of dark, philosophical rats go without a night of revelry. On the first night of the con, authors Reed Farrell Coleman, Tom Schreck and Crimespree magazine’s Jon and Ruth Jordan threw a spectacular party. The Franklin Towers Bar was all shook up with classic rock n’ roll covers flowing from the stage, with Johnny Rebel And The Jail House Rockers at the helm. It was overwhelming to see such a who’s who in crime fiction. The place was so packed, even the sidewalk outside was crowded.

I would love to share more details, but it might be a little too risqué for the blogosphere.

I hung on until the bitter end, so I was able to see every dark nook and cranny of this year’s Buchercon. I went to the annual Dead Dog Dinner with those left over on Sunday night. Then, the next morning, it was breakfast and sightseeing with author RJ Ellory and bloggers Ali Karim and Peter Rozovsky before we had to catch our trains.

I don’t know if we attendees ever answered the question about whether or not we’ve gone too far in noir fiction. Maybe we have.

Will we push it further? Absolutely.