Rob Brunet for me has been one of those people in my life who magically appears one day, then reappears a few months later at a different venue, then reappears more months later via a completely different Crime Writers of Canada Program, and then the next thing I know, he’s hitting Montreal at his very own book launch. And in fact, our mutual friends are equally coincidental – including one fellow all the way down in Texas.
So it’s been fun for me, watching Rob launch his writing career, and it’ll be one I’ll continue to watch – because I can say “I knew him when..!”
On to the show.
9DW: The last time I saw you, we were at one of many of your reading events – this one in Montreal. You mentioned a little bit about the genesis of STINKING RICH. Can you tell me a little more about how your debut novel came to be?
Rob Brunet: The germ of Stinking Rich came on a car ride to Toronto from Montreal, staring out the window at alternating bush and farmland. I let my mind wander among strange tales I imagined might take place there. As the geography scrolled by, I was struck by how many places someone could hide something if he really wanted to. And what he might need to hide. If you’ve read the book, I think you know where this is going.
The story revealed itself to me character by character. My job became weaving them together into a single plot that made sense. Telling stories from a criminal point-of-view gave me a lot of room to examine motivations—or just plain impulses—of people playing out their lives on the fringe of polite society. Whether plucked from small town newspapers or inspired by guys I’ve met over too much beer, I think my characters start out real enough. That they wind up whacko says more about me than the people who populate rural Ontario.
9DW: I’ve only just started reading your book. What can I look forward to? I know it’s a crime novel, but what else is it? Noir? Comedy?
RB: Call it black humour. We put “A Crime Novel” on the cover so that people wouldn’t confuse Stinking Rich with a non-fiction treatise of bankers and software geeks, though I may want to have fun with that some day. Seriously, though, classification is hard to get right, especially when you’re looking in the mirror. I set out to entertain, to make people laugh. And, believe it or not, to slip in a bit of social commentary between all the scat. I just wanted to tell the kind of story I thought people would enjoy reading.
9DW: You had a great turnout at the Montreal event, so we didn’t have much time to chat in person. At the time I’d wanted to know more about your publisher, Down & Out Books, because I’d never heard of them before. They seem well organized and supportive of their authors. What’s been your experience so far, working with Down & Out?
RB: Down & Out are one of the new crop of indie crime publishers bringing fresh voices to market. Since they’re about to celebrate four years in business, they’re practically veterans in that space. One thing I love about them is how flexible they are. Since I’m leaping into writing with both feet, it helps to be working with a publisher who’s responsive and doesn’t mind fielding a lot of questions from a keener.
9DW: There were a few details about your launch and marketing technique that have me impressed. To begin with, how many stops were planned between, oh, the beginning of September to mid-November? And how did you arrange them all?
RB: I’d done about thirty appearances by the end of November. There were a few good breaks built in, both on the road and at home in Toronto. Putting together the list involved Google Maps, a good spreadsheet, and a lot of phone and email work. I tried to hit a combination of population centres and better-known crime fiction bookstores. Besides the readings and sit-and-signs, I stopped in at another few dozen stores along the way. Because there’ll be more books.
Bottom line, I met a boatload of great people passionate about crime fiction. It’s a terrific industry to be part of.
9DW: Earlier, you had events in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. After Montreal, you were into New England. On your website you list several more of the upcoming events, including several stops in New Jersey, New York, Missouri, Wisconsin, and California. On behalf of all us working stiffs, I have to know: how are you attend all these road trips?
RB: It’s something I decided to do a few years ago. The dog-eared original map circa 2012 is still taped above my desk. And while this was about promoting Stinking Rich, extended road trips have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I’ve been self-employed since the 80s, but even when I worked in the federal government, I banked vacation and overtime and worked my tail off and then asked my boss for six weeks off. He told me I was crazy to even ask. I grinned and nodded. Then he told me what I’d have to do to make it work, and I did.
I don’t mean to belittle legitimate constraints—be they financial, family, or otherwise—but I’ve always believed that dreams beget plans beget reality. Plenty of people undertake far bigger adventures on far less. For me, the single biggest concern was whether my ancient car would hold out. (It did, and I’ve got more road planned for it this year and next!)
9DW: On top of that, because there’s so much distance between stops and so many people buying your books (I think you nearly ran out of the two boxes full that you brought to Montreal): how do you ensure that you have enough books at each of these venues?
RB: That took a bit of planning, but I had books shipped ahead to several locations and only had to order one additional shipment en route. The reality is, drop-shipping a few boxes of books can happen as fast as you’re willing to pay for. A lot of the stores ordered their own, of course, but I traveled with trunk load to make sure we were covered.
9DW: You started off fairly well prepared, what with books, post cards, even a poster. What else do you think you did well, in preparation for this massive book tour?
RB: I don’t think I can take credit for this, but one aspect of the tour did work better than I dreamed it could. I’d envisioned a lot of lonely nights in crappy motels. Frankly, I had even convinced myself that would provide some kind of twisted inspiration, never mind a ton of quality writing time. Instead, my outreach to old friends and new writing pals filled my calendar to bursting. Not only was I hosted in home after beautiful home; almost every appearance resulted in a dinner, a visit, one or more new friends, and a head full of stories.
9DW: If you could rewind a few months, what would you tell yourself to do differently?
RB: I’d start booking events sooner, by about three months. The thing is, my earliest calls were greeted with breezy reflections on how open the calendar was six months out. But we needed to change the route for logistical reasons, and that left me calling the Midwest with about six weeks notice, in peak season, as a debut author—a tough nut, indeed. I still got a couple gigs and I did meet the booksellers en route, some of whom I’ll see again soon, but that leg could have been stronger.
9DW: Would you do it again?
RB: Without hesitation and, in fact, I plan to. The whole road trip thing is something that turns my crank and may not be for everyone. But I heartily recommend getting out to bookstores, libraries, literary bars, or whatever is available to any author serious about finding readers. It’s not about selling books, at least not in the immediate sense. It’s about finding out who wants to read you, meeting people who sell books for a living, and making connections to counter the aloneness which is such a necessary part of writing for most of us.
Rob Brunet’s 2014 debut, STINKING RICH, asks What could possibly go wrong when backwoods bikers hire a high school dropout to tend a barn full of high-grade marijuana? Dubbed “deviously funny” by Canadian Mystery Reviews, the novel was listed on Crimespree Magazine’s Book Picks for 2014, and named one of the year’s top debuts by MysteryPeople. Brunet’s short crime fiction appears and is forthcoming in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, Noir Nation, and numerous anthologies. Prior to writing crime, Brunet ran a Web boutique producing award-winning sites for titles like Frank Miller’s Sin City and cult television series Alias. He loves the bush, beaches, and bonfires, and lives in Toronto with his wife, daughter, and son.
Buy STINKING RICH at