INTERVIEW: RODNEY T. ROSS

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Long and Short Reviews welcomes Rodney T. Ross whose debut novel The Cool Part of His Pillow is available from Dreamspinner Press.

Rodney told me he’s always written—little playlets for which he would act out all the characters into a tape recorder to working on school newspapers from elementary school through college to being a magazine freelance, to finally becoming a creative director at a Midwestern ad agency.

“Ironically, I did very little writing there,” he told me. “My time was spent mostly calming manic producers and diva directors. For creative sustenance, in my off-hours, I wrote screenplays and, later, a play.”

The hardest part of writing for him is actually sitting down and writing while being aware that the final polish is very distant.

“Writing is so damned isolated, and isolating,” he explained.”A writer looks for distraction: litterpan poop to scoop, or sit-ups to attempt, a martini that’s just yelling to be shaken. Yet the inclination to write is so embedded, I cannot imagine NOT writing. I was a creative child, self-isolating and brooding. Most is nature….a bit is nurture…all of it is heavy lifting.”

“How do you develop your plot and characters?” I asked.

“I’d like to wax poetic and say that they gently take my hand and lead me to their destinies, but building believable, dimensional characters is hard work. I feel a certain moral obligation in the LGBT arena to not fall into stereotypes — even though there are those in our communities who willingly fling themselves into every cliche-ridden bejeweled box available — and my objective is to never be predictable. Just when you think someone is going to turn left, I also decide against them turning right, and maybe let them hit the damn guard rail. I carefully outline but remain receptive to the muse; in ‘TCPohP’, a secondary character I became enamored of blossomed into a pivotal mouthpiece. I even subtracted dialogue from another and re-gifted it to him. Rigidity in your nether regions is to be applauded; in one’s writing, not so much. I try to remain fluid. Is that enough phallic metaphor?”

Rodney likes the freedom inherent in writing and considers it one of the most important elements of good writing.

“You can jump to Paris, France…you can take a beloved character and impale them on a picket fence…make cancer go into remission…I relish that ability because, let’s face it, real-life does not offer this liberty,” he said. “On a more workmanlike level, you have to STAY AT IT. I cannot begin to enumerate the number of friends with literary aspirations who have three chapters in a drawer. ‘I got blocked.’ Or there’s ‘I got lonely.’ Well, of course you did. And sometimes writing just typing and, upon review, you find maybe two worthwhile sentences. That’s part of the drill. Practice may not make perfect, but it develops muscle.”

The title for The Cool Part of the Pillow came from a startling moment for the focal character Barry when he realizes he no longer has to, in the dark of the night, pat for, find, and share the cool part of his partner’s pillow when his own is flat and warm. His partner has died, the pillow is his, and it is all cool.

One thing that doesn’t come across in the blurb for this book is the humor in it. Rodney admitted that it’s hard to get humor across in a blurb or in cover art.

” I’m not talking rimshot jokes nor Neil Simon-ish set-ups…I strive for laughs of recognition that naturally emerge from situations, from placing two very different people in a room and letting them have at it…or employing a narrator or secondary character who doesn’t seem to have a self-edit chip in their head,” he told me. “When I began writing ‘TCPohP’, I intuited this could be either casseroles and snotrags and a lot of breast-beating, or I could mine from this horrendous tragedy a lot of macabre observation, and then spin off into the scatological, the blasphemous, the politically-incorrect.”

“How do you keep your writing different from all the others that write in this particular genre?” I wondered.

“I am not so keen on explicit sex scenes in my own work, although I mightily appreciate it when by furnished by others in the LGBT novel arena. For my specific work, it would have seemed a bit reductive: because ‘TCPohP’ is first-person, it would almost come across as a salacious travelogue narrated between bouts of fellatio. And even if I DID dive –so to speak — into an explicit sexual scenario, my instinct is to always go for the unlikely, for humor sarcasm, and it would end being about an unfortunate mole or ejaculate that looked like humus.” He paused. “Upon reflection, perhaps this is something best left to the therapist’s office.”

Rodney received both his worse, and best, pieces of writing advice when he was in high school.

“I had a hateful, obsolete Journalism teacher in high school who was more denture-click-and- hip-pop than willing to provide sound writing advice. She often criticized me for being ‘wordy’. Too verbose, she’d shake a palsied claw at me, as I scribbled notes about what appeared to be her male pattern baldness. You would have thought, from her death rattle lesson plans, that full and vivid description should be avoided like a soul kiss from a herpetic. The woman essentially taught us to write headlines and herself had the charisma of a doorknob, a very rusty doorknob, to a tool shed.

“In that same high school, I was also fortunate enough to be mentored by an English teacher who plucked me from the soul-sucking classroom of conformity and placed me in independent study. I kept a journal, which I submitted once weekly, and was assigned literature — everything from Joyce Carol Oates to Tennessee Williams to Judy Blume — to write essays and critiques of. What a forward-thinking man that teacher was, in his jeans-and-no-tie-and-feathered-hair way, and I am still grateful he and his wife are part of my life. “So, even then, my evolution into a writer was brimming with contradiction. Write less. No, write more. Just the who/what/when/where/why/how. Tell me everything you see. My head spun like Regan MacNeil’s, but I intuitively knew that I had to say what I had to say in the amount of words it took to say it. Now, of course, a good, graceful editor helps you rein in that volcanic impulse. Bless the heart of Lynn West, my editor at Dreamspinner Press, and her equally-considerate staff!”

Rodney grew up in a small Midwestern town about an hour outside of Indianapolis: Frankfort, Indiana. I asked him what he felt about his hometown.

“I couldn’t wait until I could run on my fat little legs as far as I could from its oppressive and repressive and depressive and regressive confines, which I did, first to Butler University, then to that industry of bloodlust and paranoia called Advertising,” he said. “Of course, time bestows clarity, and while I still find the town stifling and intolerant, I am grateful for the work ethic I learned there; the moral compass bestowed me by my parents; and the sense of community that can soar above the pettiness in genuine times of crisis. I’ve recreated this in Key West, Florida, where I now reside. It too is a small town, one that I call Gayberry, a town that embraces diversity, forgives easily (perhaps too easily, in some instances) and rarely judges. People come here to forge a fresh start and there are rarely inquiries into your past and the mistakes or triumphs that brought you here. It’s a very face-value town. The very rich and celebrated will be seated at a bar next to a gentleman who is carefully counting his change for one last beer.”

About the Author: Rodney Ross lives in Key West, Florida.

He is a former advertising Creative Director, so he’s accustomed to making shit up and spouting useless hyperbole.

Past achievements include multiple ADDY Awards and an optioned screenplay and play (both currently unproduced). Other screenplays earned Honorable Mentions or runners-up citations in the Monterey County Film Commission, FADE-IN and the LGBT One-In-Ten Screenwriting Competitions. In other words: always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

Until now.

Find Rodney online at:

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/RodneyTRoss
TWITTER: @RodTRoss

The midforties are that time in a gay man’s life when his major paradigm shifts from sexy to sensible. But when Barry Grooms’s partner of twenty years is killed on Barry’s forty-fifth birthday, his world doesn’t so much evolve as it does explode.

After navigating through the surreal conveyor belt of friends and family, he can’t eat another casserole or swallow much more advice, and so, still numb, he escapes to Key West, then New York. He embraces a new mantra: Why the hell not? He becomes so spontaneous he’s ready to combust. First, he gets a thankless new job working for a crazy lady in a poncho, then has too many drinks with a narcissistic Broadway actor. Next, it’s a nude exercise class that redefines flop sweat, and from there he’s on to a relationship with a man twenty years his junior, so youthfully oblivious he thinks Karen Carpenter is a lesbian woodworker.

Yet no matter how great the retreat from the man he used to be, life’s gravity spins Barry back to the town where he grew up for one more ironic twist that teaches him how to say good-bye with grace.

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