This week, I bring you an interview with Rob Hart, author of New Yorked (out June 9th from Polis Books)- a crime thriller drenched in classic noir. Hart clearly knows his genre and has the skill to deliver, as evidenced both by his tale of the brooding and volatile Ash McKenna and this interview. Read on...
Steph Post: Okay, let me just say- I am not a New Yorker. I have never even been to New York City. Just as I'm sure there are many things people find unfamiliar when they read my work, there were parts of New Yorked that were alien to me. I love this, of course, because I love reading and learning about new places, but I have to ask: do you think readers not from New York, or who have never lived in a big city, will 'get' New Yorked? And does it matter if they do?
Rob Hart: Part of the reason I wrote the book was to preserve my memory and experience. So I hope people will read it and see the message: “This is how I saw the city and this is what it means to me.”
I do think the book will be read differently by non-natives versus natives, and I like that. I like that lifelong New Yorkers might catch a shared experience, while a non-native is seeing something through a new set of eyes.
SP: For me, New Yorked was built upon the strength of two things: a deep, noir plot and engaging, unforgettable characters. When you are actually in the process of writing, does one of these elements trump the other for you? Do you enjoy developing plot more than characters, or vice versa?
RH: Part of this book are pulled from my life and from people I know. So the characters were never really hard—Ginny Tonic and Lunette and Bombay and the Kellis are all based on friends. Ash is my id. I could hear them all very easily.
The plot was a different story. The first draft of this, I wrote on the fly. Then I kept going back, trying to make it work. This is the result of twenty-something edits, and some of them were so big that it changed the fundamental structure of the book.
I wish I had outlined it beforehand. That’s the lesson I learned: For my second book, City of Rose, I went into it with a tight outline. It took me six months to write (compared to five years on New Yorked), and ultimately, I feel like it’s a better book for it.
SP: New Yorked is written in first person and, in all honesty, I am often wary of novels written in this point of view style. Yet, it definitely works here. Do you find writing in the first person p.o.v. difficult? Freeing? Natural? Is point of view something you have to think about before writing or does it become determined organically for you as you go through the writing process?
RH: This is a little funny to me: I hear from a lot of people that they have a hard time writing in first person. I have a hard time writing in anything but that, and try to avoid third whenever possible.
I think I’m an outlier on this, but third person is really hard for me--I feel like I’m using a different, atrophied set of muscles, and it always takes me a little while to find the rhythm.
I like first person because, to my mind, it makes the story more immediate and visceral. Someone’s accountable for everything on the page, and you can filter things their his or her perception. It makes me feel closer to the story, too, to process it through my own experiences, rather than pretend I’m watching someone else do it.
SP: New Yorked is a classic noir tale- dark, gritty and full of underbelly characters. Why do you think readers are so drawn to this genre?
RH: You don’t get the true measure of a person until they’re at rock bottom. And noir is all about rock bottom.
And, too, we read because we’re looking for a little escape. Genre fiction has got escapism locked down. Faced with a 400-page literary meditation on the futility of suburbia and marriage, and a dark crime story about murdering and kidnapping that uncovers the dark beating human heart—I’ll take the latter nearly every time.
SP: Though New Yorked is your debut novel, you've published quite a few short stories in magazines such as Shotgun Honey and Joyland. You're also the author of The Last Safe Place: A Zombie Novella. Do you have a different writing process for novels, short fiction and shorter fiction? Aside from the length, what do you think the differences in these genres are? And do you prefer writing one over the others?
RH: I treat short stories like a palate cleanser between projects. I’ll finish the draft of a book, then nail out some shorter stuff, just to try a new voice, or explore an idea, or stretch a little. Shorts are fun because they’re easier to see the breadth of, so you can play around and experiment.
As for preference--I like them both, really. It’s distance running versus short sprints. Both are good for you. Both of them will make you stronger, just in different ways. There is something to be said for how fast a short can be turned around and published--weeks or months, versus years for a novel. Sometimes you need a little shot in the arm, and a publication credit certainly works.
SP: As always, I want to know what people are reading. So, at this very moment, what are you currently reading and what's at the top of your to-be-read list?
RH: I just read Hit by Delilah S. Dawson and Jigsaw Youth by Tiffany Scandal, both of which were excellent. Currently: The Mercy of the Night by David Corbett. Corbett is a phenomenal author, criminally under read. After that, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, because I think it’ll help on the third Ash McKenna novel, which I’m starting soon.
Thanks to Rob Hart for stopping by! And don't forget to pre-order your copy of New Yorked. This debut novel drops in less than a month...