Let's not fuck around, big daddy thug, Todd Robinson is a world class motormouth who doesn't pull his punches. It's a relief. In a world where no one can get a damn thing right, he concentrates on writing about the wrongs. He's the founder of Thug Lit, the popular online destination for readers and writers of hardcore crime fiction; stories teeming with authentic characters that you probably don't want to know. We're not talking about overblown John Grisham Armani driven drama.
Robinson and his team of hard working editors look for bruises that look like their own, dirt under the nails like the dirt they've seen up close, and Todd's just as likely to be stepping between some warring couple on a Saturday night as he is to be getting some time off work to work on his novel. The stories they gather are mercifully populated by the people you once knew, from your home town, the kids you grew up with and wondered what would happen to them once you got away.
This is a two part interview, part one, (here) Todd talks about ThugLit's genesis and in part two talks about the work he is putting into his own novel, provisionally titled, 'The Hard Bounce'.
OL: When it started, how long had you been thinking about it?
Todd: When it started, it went pretty fast from concept to reality - maybe two months total from concept to product.
OL: What made you start it?
Todd: The first thing anyone doing a crime fiction webzine has to do is give props over to Plots With Guns. They were the first website to open up the internet as a legitimate source for short, edgy crime fiction. When they closed their doors in 2003, nobody picked up the slack. There are other webzines that do what we do, but they all muddy their own waters with book reviews, interviews and the such. We do fiction. That's it. Well, some rambling from the editors, but otherwise, that's it. And nobody is doing stuff like we are. As a writer, I was sick of the available markets being geared towards elderly housewives. I wanted to make a place where writers who share a creative like-mind with me could find a home for their fiction. Also, a lot of the zine's that I've seen springing up lately tend to veer into mutual admiration society and are put together by people who can't get published elsewhere (I recognize a lot of the names from out rejection pile) and just want to put up their own and their friends writing. We've pissed off some people, but fuck 'em. If it doesn't qualify, it doesn't qualify.
OL: Maybe name some of the key people involved.
Todd: Robert S.P. Lee (Caesar Black) edited with us for a while before going with his own old-school pulp webzine (Blazing! Adventure). Good friend, great writer. John Moore (Johnny Kneecaps) also edits and is our motherfucker of a web guy. Without John, the website couldn't exist. I don't know dick about doing a website. I'm fond of saying that we're the dog that climbed the tree. How did he do that? Nobody told him he couldn't. I call John and say 'Hey, can we do this?' and he says 'Sure' and makes it happen. He's the reason that we look as cool as we do. It might be simple stuff, but it's all beyond me. Last, but certainly not least is Allison Glasgow (Lady Detroit). She edits and is the number one supporter, cheerleader and foot that flies up my ass when I slack. For the first nine months, I was a complete megalomaniac with the site. Until it became too much, I did it all (except the actual web stuff, as I said). Now, I couldn't do it without their help.
OL: You seem to have a little trouble getting good original, thuggish content, contemporary and urban, that doesn't either veer into horror - or has already been done?
Todd: SOME cross-genre work is outstanding. For instance, we did a fantastic story about a vampire dentist. But sometimes, I just don't know what people are thinking. Yes, you wrote a touching story about visiting your grandfather's grave in Argentina, but why the fuck would you think that we would print it? Like the saying goes - There are no new crimes, only new criminals and new ways to commit them. The same applies to crime fiction. Whatever story you can think of, it's been done. At least try find a new way to tell it. And NO GODDAMN SERIAL KILLERS. Last month, the best overall story was a serial killer tale, but I was forced to reject it simply because it would have opened the gates for a thousand other James Patterson wanna-be's to drop their bullshit on our heads. Besides, it also meant that the dumbass didn't read our submissions guidelines.
OL: Can you comment on submissions in general?
Todd: I tell the editors to break all of the stories down into a four tier system. Outstanding, Qualifies, Maybe and Hell No. Maybe two or three stories an issue are in the Outstanding pile. Six or seven Qualify. Three or four are Maybes that struck us in some shape or form. The Hell No's are an overwhelming majority. A couple of our Maybe's actually won some awards last year, so it goes to show you how much I know.
OL: How much is shit, I mean, no matter how ill intentioned, it is not worth your time.
Complete shit? Anywhere from 50-70% of out submissions are complete shit. The line that seems to be drawn is: good story - can't write. Or great writing - no story. It's infuriating.
OL: While I completely understand nuance of just "getting it" as opposed to not getting it - what qualities make a good ThugLit editor?
Todd: A good editor for us is someone who has a passion for the literature and understands the darkness. All of the editors bring something different to the table, which is why we each have control over our own issues. I do have final say, but so far that's only been on proofing issues. I trust my peeps and want them to be as proud of their own issues as possible. Robert and I became friends through the Mystery Writers Association. We bonded, since we seemed to be the only people in the room more than a decade away from or over retirement age. John and I are old bar buddies who share a passion for the form. Allison was the wild card, being a newbie to the genre, but boy does she know good writing. Overall, her first issue stands as my favorite so far. And she gives us some serious sex appeal. The rest of us are uglier than Frankensteins dick.
OL: Does say, at least an overnight stay in the cells help to some degree.
Todd: Couldn't hurt.
OL: Who is the most menacing?
Todd: Sheeee-yit. Me.
OL: Who has the longest rap sheet!
Todd: That's a tough one. Could be mine, but we've all walked that walk. My greatest ability has been to slip out of shit that I've stepped in... no... stomped on, so I'm lucky that mine isn't significantly longer.
OL: If some one wanted to contribute a story, how could they do that?
Todd: Send it on in. Go to the site and e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org - but for fuck's sake READ THE GUIDELINES FIRST!!!
OL: Whereabouts are you? Where is the base of thug operations?
Todd: We are in NYC
OL: What about the future of the magazine, a print edition maybe? (is there already a print edition, I don't know)
Todd: Whew, that's a biggie. We're considering going into print, but I like the fact that we can do what we do online at a minimum of expense. We don't have any money people over our heads bitching about sales and no advertisers to deal with - we don't do ads. All of the expenses for the site come out of my pocket personally and I like being responsible only to our readers.
However, we're about to enter into a three-year deal with Kensington to produce an annual Best Of anthology for the site. The coolest part is, they're going to sponsor a Best First Novel competition through us with the grand prize being publication through Kensington, a nice chunk of cash, and representation with a major New York agency. It feels good to know that we'll be able to help some writer avoid all of the bullshit that I've been through. The next step (hopefully) will be to produce a Thuglit line of novels. The market is there and is hungry. Kensington is the publisher who believes in that.
Read Part 2 of the Todd Robinson interview here
For more info, visit ThugLit.com