My resistance to a Rodney Ross website became almost mythic among friends and others who boldly suggested I "get with it". I wanted nothing to do with such an egotistical enterprise. Wasn't Facebook enough? What does anyone need to know that can't be found on the dust jacket, Amazon description or Goodreads review of my work? Why waste time blogging when I could actually be creating something? Or napping?
Then again, I'm someone who still has an aol.com E-mail address, so perhaps I have sorely underestimated how "with it" I am. I admit to being a little on the old-fashioned side. I'd write with a quill pen if practical; I miss the days when TV stations actually went off the air at midnight and played 'The Star Spangled Banner'; I want neither cayenne in my ice cream nor basil muddled into my cocktail. I also still own a blow dryer and, yes, by God, I use it.
Yet I've made the Interwebs leap, which will probably feed into my OCD tendencies; fueled by strong coffee, I'll be posting crazed rants like Roseanne at 3:18 a.m. I don't have a TV show to lose...just a few fans to alienate...so here we go.
My name is Rodney Ross. That is, indeed, my real name. My mother is Diana Ross. She is neither black nor vocally gifted, but having a mother with that name left little to chance that I would be a little bit supreme.
I was a creative child, self-isolating and brooding. I’ve always written: little playlets that I would act all of the characters for into a tape recorder; grade school newsletter/ high school newspaper/college newspaper; magazine freelancer; finally, a Creative Director at a Midwestern ad agency – where, ironically, I did very little writing, my time spent mostly calming manic producers and diva directors. For creative sustenance, in my off-hours, I wrote screenplays -- two optioned but never produced. Later came a play, optioned twice on separate Coasts – again, never produced. The self-pity was abject: “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride!” Until ‘The Cool Part Of His Pillow’ (TCPohP).
I semi-retired and relocated to Key West, FL, the final island of the Keys in Southern Florida, a tourism-driven town steeped in literary tradition, from Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway to, more recently, playwright Terrence McNally, Edmund White, even Judy Blume. It is there that I completed TCPohP and, for that, I am grateful to whatever wordsmith aura still encases the island (when it’s not shrouded in Summer’s oppressive humidity). Since, I have moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. What can I say? I'm shallow. I missed TARGET. And people with a full set of teeth. And, oh, I hate Jimmy Buffett.
When asked for writing advice, or what inspires me, I say this: writers must read. John Irving continues to be an inspiration. 'The World According To Garp' opened my eyes to possibilities in literature that didn’t exist to me prior. His subsequent work has been just as vital, and his style brings an empathy, clarity and humanity to the most unrelentingly cruel encounters and unexpected character pivots. I can only aspire to his literary prowess.
The inclination to write is so embedded, I cannot imagine NOT writing. Most is nature….a bit is nurture…all of it is heavy lifting. Still, it’s a challenge, being depressingly aware that the final polish is so, so distant. Writing is so damned isolated, and isolating. A writer -- this one at least -- seeks distraction: the litter pan to scoop, sit-ups to attempt, a martini that’s just yelling to be shaken. I always have a notepad and pen, or a mini-cassette recorder, handy. I treat my muse like a sneeze: I gotta catch the spray when I can.
I find the observation of people both unknown and known to me the best indulgence of all. I find great sport in sitting quietly in the corner of a ginmill, pedestrian piazza or suburban mall and writing down the detail of humanity on the backs of ATM receipts and fast food bags, cackling the entire time. The nasty-ass parent who thinks they’ll calm a crying child by slapping them ferociously; the slightly-thick man in the too-tight tee against the wall who is holding in his stomach so intently I can feel his back pain; the couple in their twilight years who share a pudding cup and talk in shorthand. Those are the details one might be able to concoct but could never get the minutiae, the way that plastic spoon is dipped, quite right.
Beyond that, little slices of dialogue, or an anecdote, have been purloined from my life, but usually so altered as to be unrecognizable by the people who lived it or said it. While I am not interested in writing some roman a clef, some meaningless guessing game of “Who is really who?” among friends and associates, any writer who denies that his or her characters, certain passages and dialogue aren’t couched in real-life are liars. But, mostly, I make shit up, but it’s couched in realism. I escaped from the 7 Circles of Hell, a/k/a Advertising, so I know puh-lenty about research, stats and historical precedent, so anything I don’t know, I Google. Sloppy fact checking and inaccuracy annoys the hell outta me in fiction. Know where your characters live, where they frequent, what they spend of clothing and liquor, the specific geography, inhabit their era if it’s a period piece. Gone are the days of trips to the library, the stern shushes from the wretched cryptkeepers at the front desk, the photocopying and note-taking. Scant or lazy detail in novels is inexcusable.
The advice: stay at it. Write. Write some more. Worry not about genre; others will make that decision for you. Market yourself as single-mindedly as you did crafting your chapters. In the world today, the author can be as much the product as the printed page --or, rather, the page that floats on a digital cloud – so stay ready for the opportunities to get your work into the hands of others. The endgame is being read and appreciated, but first they must discover you.
I guess that's why I'm here.