Writer's Cramp

I hear people talk about all of the worries that rush into their head as they lay it on a pillow at night. Money trouble, marriage issues, family disputes, neighbor misunderstandings.  I rarely have those.

I am kept awake by fake people and situations I made up...dialogue never actually spoken, quarrels never given voice, locales I have never been to , rooms I have never entered or exited.

It would be fair to say "I hear voices," which would get a person locked up, if this country had any sort of mental healthcare these days.

I am not trying to be precious. I sometimes wish that side of my brain fully functioned to process day-to-day minutiae, equations to be solved, things to be postmarked.

But it doesn't. I wake all night, omties evral times in an hour, to write things on notepads that I can barely decipher when the morning comes. Banter. An especially-pithy observation. A vivid, yet concise description. 

Not that I am happy about my outstanding American Express balance. Not to minimize that I had to buy a new washing machine and it sure wasn't in the monthly budget. Not that I don't fret about an aging mother, my vomiting cat and whether that's an ingrown hair or a melanoma on my abdomen.

But the things wanting released from my brain...that's what subtracts my sleep. For any artist, creativity is a gift and curse. It cannot be turned off or even dialed down. Some might say that this indicates something inherently wrong -- that I reside among sketchy phantoms who may or may not ever be birthed, that this is a disconnect with reality. They may be right. I wouldn't trade my flights of fancy...but they might be on to something. 

Unwilling Early Riser

There's few viler sounds than that of a cat preparing to vomit. The convulsive gagging, perhaps preceded by a warning moan...the propulsive retching...then, if you're especially lucky, a splash, because that means it hit tile or other flooring and not an Oriental rug...and all at 5:12 a.m., which means you're up for the day, or until at least the caffeine wears off and you collapse like a marionette whose strings have been sliced.

  • I access CNN on the Interwebs to see if the world has ended; the world as I know it already has, but it's always prudent to see if something big exploded and if I'll need to dodge shrapnel.
  • I light a Bath and Body Works eucalyptus candle, hoping to disguise the residual smell of Friskie's turkey and giblets.
  • I raise certain shades. It is still dark but it's already in the 80's. 
  • I sip coffee from a 'Hamilton' mug and wish I had Lin-Manuel Miranda's royalty check for the week. Reminder to self: write something that will be popular.
  •  My husband opts to get a head-start on Saturday -- he rose, too -- by bringing out the vacuum. There should be an ordinance forbidding housecleaning while it's still dark.
  • I surrender to his energetic dash through the house by doing a load of laundry on Delicate. This setting ensures my clothes don't get any tighter. I don't appreciate any reminders I need to lose a couple pounds, x 10.
  • I check to see if anything shit in the pool overnight. Raccoons often do this. By day, iguanas will. My pool is essentially a big toilet.
  • At first light, I plant a bromeliad, from the porch but now past its bloom, in my front garden. I do so in my robe. While our yard is fenced, I know joggers and early-morning walkers can see through. I discreetly show my penis. They shouldn't be spying on me.
  • It's nearly 8:00 a.m. as I type this. My husband passes me with a Swiffer.


Proceed At Own Risk

I have been cautioned about not introducing politics, debate or inflammatory rhetoric into my website or blog. Why alienate consumers or potential readers, the thought process goes. They don't need to know how you feel about today's climate to enjoy one of your works. This, of course, flies in the face of every lesson about social media and remaining "engaged" with readers, but never mind that. I was helpfully being told to, essentially, "pipe down".

Anyone who knows me would never shush me, or even raise a warning index finger to their lips. I am decades away from being a child, but being reprimanded means I will only get louder, more profane. Ask my husband. I am not proud of the fact that I have become a pariah at a party, but it is what it is. I will not nod blankly as someone offers, "Now, Rodney you have to admit, Trump HAS done some good things." To say nothing is endorsement. Of course, I would never yell "Fire!" in a crowded theatre...nor am I going to let anyone else get away with it.

We reside in this odd new world where everyone's opinion matters, even when it clearly does not, yet I disagree with complicit silence, as much as I disagree that one must always yield to their elders. I was raised to open the door for someone burdened, my senior or infirm and I don't require their political posture to do so. I offer "thank you" and "you're welcome" and "good afternoon" without demanding to inspect a Voter's ID. But I have also learned that my elders must earn actual respect. Simply living a bunch of years connotes neither wisdom nor kindness...now, more than ever. I see long-submerged anger and bitterness festering, bubbling to the surface...the angry, wizened faces who are voting against their own interests becaue fear has been fanned...or the "single issue' voters who chose insanity over IQ because this White House promised to erect a wall, halt abortions and silence a black man's symbolic gesture in the name of patriotisim...I will not lower my own voice to placate a few who wouldn't enjoy my writing, anyway.

If you don't like me, you won't like what I create, so it's really not a conversation worth having.

New Terrain

Inspired by a vivid dream I had the other night -- one from which I awoke convinced it was memory, not a creation of too much fried food -- I am trying my hand at a new form: a half-hour dramedy (part comedy, part drama, for those genre-impaired), intended for Amazon, or Hulu, or Netflix. Its plot I will not divulge, but it's coming to me so quickly it's a little scary. I am writing like a man possessed. I even know who I see in its cast.

* Addendum August 5 2018 Someday I will learn not to piss before my water comes. The inevitable writer's block has descended and everything I HAVE written looks and smells like shyte. So much for the man who was writing like he was possessed. I've apparently been exorcised of plot and characterization. Maybe I need another plate of buttermilk onion rings and breaded calamari...

In Heat

I often question what the hell I am doing in South Florida. I loathe extreme heat and humidity...I cannot swim...I detest sand in my crevices...the black snakes in our foliage terrify me...everything wilts, starting with my coiffure...it rains for 22 seconds every day at 3:00 p.m....and don't get me started on how benign Christmas can be, when all of the cords typically flocked by a Midwest winter's snow are visible in yards., destroying any illusion, as a neighbor in his underpants hauls out flattened boxes for recycling.

I was recently in Key West and the afternoon sun was so intense the bottoms of my cheap OLD NAVY shoes became gummy on pavement. When your shoes are stuck to the sidewalk, it's hot. I watched tourists in XXL knock-off Tommy Bahama shirts zoom past on bicycles or scooters and could only hope, from their red faces and heaving chests, they were looking for somewhere air-conditioned.

Today I have a "bad eye". It weeps and waters for no accountable reason yet its twin is clear and gunk-free. Allergies, I suspect...foliage nearby is blooming, setting seed or has freed pollen. But why only one eye? Benadryl knocks me on my ass, so that's not an option, and eyedrops will only irritate, so I have taken to donning sunglasses indoors (the "bad eye" is also light-sensitive). If I had an eyepatch, I would wear it.

Such heat also bring out the new pest of South Florida: iguanas. Once upon a time, I was charmed by their jarring presence, these miniature dinosaurs who run funny, in colors from lime-green to the hue of the ripest Haas avocado. The spell broke when they began defecating into my pool after a leisurely swim, urinating great gobs of white on my patio and decimating every plant red, orange or pink in my landscaping. They've no natural predators, besides an automobile, and propagate readily, growing as large as small dogs, with mean-looking tails that whip around when chased or confronted.

I take a wad of paper towel in the car when we go anywhere, I sweat so profusely. Dark wet rings around my manboobs are my new accessory, and I am here to tell you this humidity does no favors to my sac, either. TMI? Too bad. 

Back To The Beginning

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, shaking 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. When she died, alone and crazy, years later, I laughed, and I'm not ashamed that I did so. There are few greater crimes than to extinguish the spark in a young person's eye and replace it with your own disappoitnments.

Yet, 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 efforts were marked by 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.

I am still that writer, trying to strike a balance between vivid and verbose...detail versus daunting. That, I suppose, is why God created editors and intuitive-yet-realistic agents like Mira Perrizo...to help your straddle that line.


The Reluctant Blogger

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.