Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Rock Bottom Noir: A Conversation with City of Rose author Rob Hart

Rob Hart is on fire. His first novel, New Yorked, debuted last year and since then he's been on a roll. His second novel with protagonist Ash McKenna, City of Rose, just hit shelves this past February and the third installment, South Village, will be available this coming October. He's also got this little writing thing going on with James Patterson... in addition to all the other projects either currently taking place or forming in his mind. Last year I was lucky enough to catch up with Rob to talk about New Yorked and now I'm thrilled to bring you a following up focusing on City of Rose and the continued adventures of Ash McKenna. Read on as Rob and I talk character development, strip clubs and why reading outside of your writing genre is important (among many other things). Enjoy!

Steph Post: City of Rose is the sequel to your debut with PI Ash McKenna, New Yorked. In New Yorked, the city itself was an essential character to the story and it seemed hard to imagine Ash functioning in any place else. Part of the evolution of Ash's story, though, is his move in City of Rose to Portland, Oregon. In writing this new novel, were you nervous about taking Ash out of his element? Were you concerned at all that since the city of New York is such a part of your identity of a writer, this drastic change of setting would be a jolt for readers?

Rob Hart: I was excited to take Ash out of New York. He's got this quality that's common to New York natives: That New York, and being raised there, has made them smarter and better than everyone else. It was time to dissuade him of that notion. And I needed the challenge--I wanted to get out of my own element. So in a lot of ways, me and Ash were on the same page--we were both navigating a place we weren't very familiar with. My hope is that it's exciting for the reader, too.

SP: In addition to shipping Ash all the way to the west coast, you land him in a vegan strip club. In all honesty, I found this a little startling at first. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I'd never even heard of a vegan strip club.... Where on earth did you get the idea for this and why did you choose this as this the place where Ash ends up?

RH: Vegan strip clubs are real! Portland has at least one, maybe more. There's a law in Portland--any place that serves booze has to serve food. And they take food pretty seriously out there. I originally had him working in a coffee shop and it was okay, but not really clicking. Strip clubs in Portland are weird--the audience is usually equally male and female, at least in a lot of the ones I've been to. Going to a strip club in Portland is like going to a bowling alley in most places. It's an avalanche of storytelling opportunities.

SP: City of Rose is the second in a four book series of novels starring Ash McKenna. What is it like writing so many stories all centering on the same main character? In some ways, it must be comfortable, because you are so familiar with Ash, but I can also see it having its own particular set of constraints. Have you ever been frustrated with your commitment to this character?

RH: Honestly, yes, it can be a little frustrating. There are other stories I want to tell, plus I get worried that people will be less inclined to jump into a series mid-stream--which is why I try to make all the books stand alone. You can read them individually and still get a complete story, but if you read them all, you see a more complete arc. That said, I don't regret this decision. I feel like I'm working through some stuff, both personally and as a writer. And Ash is just really fun to write. His voice comes naturally to me, so even the hard parts of the process are still fun.


SP: With City of Rose and the Ash McKenna series, you've firmly established yourself as a modern noir serial author. What is it about the noir genre that you're so attracted to? Have you always been interested and/or influenced by noir in literature? How about noir in film or visual art?

RH: I've always been a fan of noir and darker stuff. I feel like you don't get the true measure of a person until they've hit rock bottom. And noir is all about rock bottom.

SP: Your third novel in the series, South Village, is due out this coming October. How do you keep up such a productive writing pace? How much time do you allow for each novel and do you take time off between works?

RH: I type fast, which helps. My wife is understanding, about giving me space. It's a lot of nights and weekends, or just finding time where I can. Recently I was touring the West Coast for City of Rose and I used the downtime to finish South Village. I don't really have a set timeframe for anything--to my mind, the book is done when it's done. I do try to build in breaks. For example, while I was writing South Village, I was also writing a novella with James Patterson. I'd finish a draft of South Village, move over to the novella, finish the draft of that, move back to South Village. It was a nice palate cleanser.

SP: In addition to this series, it seems like you've always got your hands on some other project. What else are you currently working on or preparing to work on? Anything coming out of left field?

RH: Right now I'm finishing up the novella with Patterson, which is part of his new BookShots series. That's about as left field as it gets, and it's been a lot of fun--and it's pushed me to be more mindful of things I need to be better at, like plot and pacing. I've also been making moves to get into comic books. That's the next mountain I want to climb. I signed for some comic work that got put on hold, which was a bummer, but it happens. Otherwise, I'm looking toward the fifth--and probably final--Ash novel. And the books I want to write after that.

SP: Though I'm sure you read in the genre you write, do you have any secret reading habits that would surprise your readers? Are there any unlikely books or authors who have influenced your work?

RH: I wouldn't call my reading habits secret--one of my favorite bits of advice is to read outside your chosen genre as much as possible. I read YA, erotica, literary, sci-fi... it's good to have a bubble, but if you spend too much time inside, you'll suffocate. And when you read outside your chosen genre, you're introduced to new storytelling tropes and techniques, but you find a lot of the scaffolding is the same.

SP: Finally, as always, I'd like to spread the love. Give me three upcoming novels (this year or next) that I should have my eye on.

RH: Rough Trade, the new Boo and Junior book from Todd Robinson, is fantastic. No one writes like Todd--he's got this big, booming voice that is so engaging and so unique to him. Underground Airlines by Ben Winters is brilliant--it's set in an alternate version of the United States, where slavery is still legal. I begged the editor at Mulholland for an advance reading copy-- I got it as a Word doc, before the galleys were even available. Worth it. And Down the Darkest Street, the new Pete Fernandez book by Alex Segura, is awesome. A solid entry in what I hope is a long series. 

So many thanks to Rob Hart! Be sure to check out New Yorked and City of Rose, both currently available from Polis Books, and keep your eyes open for the upcoming South Village. Cheers!


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