Conversations with the Bookless: Todd Robinson

Does Big Daddy Thug even need an introduction at this point? I’ll do one anyway.

The web and all of the things that happen on it run the risk of being ephemeral. When it come to older things on the web you can only access something if you knew it was there. This isn’t very conducive to archives and rediscovery. I’ve talked about this plenty when it comes to zines. You aren’t going to stumble across Hardluck Stories or Mouth Full of Bullets because they don’t exist anymore. I mention this for two reasons.

The first is because Todd Robinson was the editor of one of the great crime fiction zines, Thuglit, which is on an indefinite hiatus. So get those stories while you can.

The second is because I remember receiving an email waaaay back in 2007 asking people to consider reading a first chapter that had been entered into a contest and voting for it. Which I did and did. That opening chapter was from The Hard Bounce by Todd Robinson (I’ll let you in on a little secret, that link still works. And if you can find the first chapter then the second is easy to come by too).

I’m surprised after all this time that The Hard Bounce is still making the rounds and hasn’t made it to publication. I’m surprised after all this time that I’m including Todd Robinson in the Conversations with the Bookless series. But it is and here he is. At Spinetingler we love Todd, as many do, and we hope he soon leaves his Bookless title behind. He deserves it. So who better to close out this year’s series of Conversations with the Bookless then Todd Robinson.

Where are you, right now, as you’re writing these answers?

2:00 a.m. at my desk. Should be in bed., but suffer chronic sleep issues.

Who are your influences and what is your unlikeliest influence?

My original influences were Elmore Leonard and Andrew Vachss. A lot of my ideas were on the dark side, and I had never really read anyone who wrote darker material than what I had in my brain. On my worst day, Vachss makes my work read like Shirley Temple on Ecstasy. The first time I read Elmore Leonard, it blew me away just by showing how good the genre can be. Other people who have squeaked their way into my writing subconscious are Dennis Lehane, Harry Crews, Daniel Woodrell, Joe Lansdale and Cormac McCarthy. I don’t necessarily want to write like them, but as I said they keep aware of how good the genre can be in varying fashion. Of a quality I should always strive for in my own, even if I’m not there yet.

Unlikeliest is Patrick McManus. I read him at an early age, and his work left an indelible mark on how humor plays into my writing. (Although he might not want the honor, considering my subject matter. He seems like a nice man.)

Why do you write?

I have to. Nature has dictated that I only possess three skills. I pour a mean drink, tell a decent story, and wield a nasty capacity for controlled violence. I’m getting too old for two of those three. The hoity-toity answer is that the only time I feel like a fully active participant in my life is when I write. If I go too long without working on something, I suffer anxiety issues.

What issues or ideas about fiction have been foremost in your mind of late?

That there are truly no rules, at the end of the day. BUT you better learn the fucking rules as set out before us before you think you’re good enough to break or ignore them.

When did you start writing and what prompted you to do so?

I began writing a Hardy Boys book when I was five. Since I was too young to have fully developed writing skills – literally – I just dictated the story into a tape recorder. I’ve always written since then, but only started taking it seriously around twelve years ago.

What do you most value in the fiction you love?

The ability to lose myself in the story. A big stamp of quality to me is the MMS read. That’s a book that has me so engrossed in it, that I Miss My Station on the subway. Most recently, Don Winslow’s Savages gets that nod.

How would you describe your style?

Winging it.

What’s your favorite story written by someone else?

Whoo, that’s tough after five years of Thuglit and the hundreds of great stories that I was blessed to read. But one struck me in particular. Right time, right story. I was just heading into fatherhood when Sean Doolittle hit me with “Care of the Circumcised Penis”. Man, I love that story. I could easily name a dozen more, but that one, like I said, right story, right time.

What is the value and purpose of short fiction in mystery/crime fiction for you personally and overall for the form and genre?

For me, it’s where I test things out, run writing exercises on myself. And frankly? Some ideas are just short executions. For the form and genre, it serves as the minor leagues in a way, a way to build up your stats, show you got the goods to play in the majors. But some people have no desire to write a whole novel, to try to make it their living. Some people just want to write great short stories for love of the form, and I truly respect that.

Who is the best short story writer that people haven’t gotten hip to yet?

Another tough one. Again, with all the guys I got to read in Thuglit…

Here’s a short list: Frank Bill, Jordan Harper, Justin Porter, Matt Funk, Jedidiah Ayres, Joe Clifford. All guys with whom I worked with on Thuglit, all bookless but for Frank Bill (although that might be changing soon for a couple of those names). Whenever I got a submission from any of them, I’d get excited. Even if it wasn’t a story that made the cut, it was always an interesting read.

What do you like most about short fiction?

Crime fiction is like boxing. Sometimes you don’t want twelve rounds of Sugar Ray Leonard-like artistry. Sometimes you just want that one-round, Tyson hook to the skull.

Of your stories, which is your favorite; the one that showcases best your abilities?

Can’t say. As I said, my short fiction is where I test ground, try to exercise out a new skill set. For example, I’ve been working on a second-person short story for a bit. Massive fail.

Ironically, the story that keeps coming to mind is one that most people don’t even know I wrote. Early on in Thuglit, I had to drop a trunk story into an issue when we didn’t have enough stories submitted. I threw a pen name on it, so I wouldn’t seem that egotistical. I mean, hell, I was rejecting other’s stories and putting my own in their place. Kinda made me feel like an asshole for doing it. Then the goddamn thing got nominated for a couple of awards, making me feel even worse. Like a literary reverse-Milli Vanilli.

Do you have any short story publications forthcoming?

Got one coming out in Crimefactory and one in Needle. Got a couple more sent out. Been able to write a hell of a lot more without the responsibility of Thuglit on my back. Kinda miss the old girl sometimes, tho’

Where can readers check out some of your work?

They can go to and go to the editor’s link. Click on “Read his crap here” under my bio. The previously mentioned story isn’t linked, though. And some of the links are dead. And it’s not a complete listing. Hmmm…should fix that…

What are you working on now?

I’m currently project-less. Probably going to work that shitty second-person story into third person. That’s the nice thing about being under no deadlines from a publisher or self-imposed under a website. I have a little Eric Cartman living in my brain going, “I do what I want!” whenever I sit at the computer.

How do you plan to rectify your booklessness?

I have no plans. Previous plans have blown up in my face like a hand grenade in a septic tank. But I think my agent has a great big shiny scheme to get me bookful. Even if she doesn’t, Stacia Decker over at Donald Maass has been phenomenal. She’s the agent you don’t think exists after you’ve dealt with a couple of shitheads, and I’ve had four shitheads.


Do you have a completed manuscript floating around? Care to tell us about it and maybe share a paragraph or two.

It’s called The Hard Bounce.

Here’s the first line:

The Boy was eight years old when he learned how to hate.

That’s all I’m giving. Same goddamn manuscript that has been floating around (see: septic tank) for the last decade. Had a lot of pratfalls, worked with some scam-artists, idiots, charlatans, and flat-out batshit lunatics.

But I got a good feeling THIS time!



Todd Robinson’s short fiction has appeared in Plots With Guns, Beat To A Pulp, Out of the Gutter, Pulp Pusher, Demolition and Danger City. His writing has been nominated for a Derringer Award, short-listed for Best American Mystery Stories, and selected for Writers Digest’s Year’s Best Writing 2003. His non-fiction editorials have appeared in Crimespree Magazine. He is also the editor of the crime fiction anthologies Thuglit presents: Hardcore Hardboiled (2008 Kensington Books) and Thuglit presents: Sex, Thugs and Rock & Roll (2009 Kensington Books)

The stories he’s edited for have been nominated for several awards, including an Edgar, several Derringers (presented by the Short Mystery Fiction Society), many Million Writer’s Awards, and been have been selected for Best American Mystery Stories and Best Noir 2006.

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Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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About Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

6 Replies to “Conversations with the Bookless: Todd Robinson”

  1. Robinson’s one of the true unheralded talents of crime fiction. Brilliant writer, brilliant editor, and I KNOW the Hard Bounce will find a publisher

  2. Righteous. Funny and fierce. Way to bring your personality across while working some wisdom in there too.

    Good handle on The Hard Bounce too. I cannot wait to see that in ink, man.

    Keep kicking for that football.

  3. Big Daddy kicks ten kinds of ass with a single sentence. Then the rest of his words will gag you with heartache and violence, be afraid, very very afraid. He’s coming!