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Interview with John Ross

John Ross is the author of the award-winning novel UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES, which can be ordered from Amazon.com.

When and why did you decide you were a writer?

I felt I was a writer in small measure when I started getting magazine pieces published and was getting paid for it. This was in the 1980s and early 1990s. However, writing was a fairly small part of my life, and I would have corrected anyone who introduced me as "a writer." Fortunately, no one ever did...

When my first novel went into multiple printings and I started getting fan letters and requests for paid speaking engagements, I became slightly more comfortable with the idea of "John Ross, the writer." In my own mind I can't help thinking of myself as "John Ross, the guy that wrote this one book that's done pretty well."

Some writers claim that they write only for themselves and don't care what others think. I am the opposite. I believe a book, story, or article that no one else reads or cares about might as well never have been written. Conversely, when utter strangers remember your characters' names, and the things your characters did and said, and when they start talking about your characters as if they were real people,
you have created something that will live in the hearts of others long after you are gone. THAT'S when you've become a writer.

What have you had published?

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES is my first novel, not just the first one published but also the first one I've written. I have also written technical articles on firearms and shooting that have been published in magazines that serve that market. Right now I have two more articles that are almost ready to send out.

Do you set goals for yourself about how many pages or how much time you will spend writing each day?

I have never set a page goal, but I do set time goals. The main one is to write SOMETHING every day. When I stick to this plan, I get a lot done. Once I start writing, it's seldom difficult to continue. It is when I don't sit down to write at all that I begin to fall way behind.

How do you get re-inspired when writer's block hits?

I read the news. There is almost always something (national, local, or personal) that can be reshaped for a plot element. 

How do you deal with the isolated work of a writer?

I wish I had more isolation! Many aspects of my life demand near-constant interaction with other people. Time alone with my thoughts and without distractions is a real treat.

To whom do you turn when you want feedback on your writing?

A very good question. I have different people I use, for different purposes. One thing I do (which I suspect many other writers neglect) is I always try to find someone literate who also knows real people similar to the main characters I've created. I want to know "Would real people you know in these professions and situations behave this way and make these decisions?" In too many of the novels I read, the characters behave irrationally. As a reader, I hate that.

Any person you use for feedback should be someone who reads a LOT.  Voracious readers will have the most and best insight on whether your book is confusing, drags in spots, has continuity problems, etc. 

You should also use people who regularly read the kind of book or story you have written. If you've written a long book, get feedback from a Clavell or Michener fan, not someone who has never read anything over 300 pages. If you've written a police procedural, don't get feedback from someone who only reads Harlequin Romances, even if you are sleeping with her. Find the guy with the "I sell mysteries only" bookstore.

Having family and friends who don't read much of anything critique your writing is the worst possible thing you can do. If improving your work is your goal, feedback from these people is worse than none at all.

What has been your proudest moment as a writer?

There were a number of good memories, such as getting my first four-figure check, seeing the pallets of bound copies of my novel at the publisher's warehouse, doing my first public book signing, and getting asked to address a discussion club for the first time. 

However, these all pale compared to what happened when I listened to my voicemail messages one day and heard the following message:

[Agitated woman] "John Ross? Is this thing recording? I just thought you'd like to know that you and your goddamn book have ruined my honeymoon. Probably my marriage, too. I can't believe my-" [muffled sound, a second voice, faint, as if a hand is over the receiver, then the hand being pried off] "Give me that... you bastard, you haven't
even-" [more muffled noises, then a man's voice on the phone:

[Man] "Mr. Ross?"

[The woman, from several feet away] "It's his answering machine."

[Man] "Oh." [relieved] "Uh...Mr. Ross, this is, uh, well, never mind my name, but-"

[Woman in background, yelling] "His name's _________! [name deleted for privacy]

[Man] "Yeah, uh it's_________, that's right. Uh, Mr. Ross, I'm kind of on my honeymoon, and-"

[Woman, screaming now] "KIND OF on your honeymoon?" [muffled sound of hand covering receiver, alternating screaming and soothing tones, but I can't make out the words]

[Man] "Listen, I started reading your book on the plane 'cause it was a four hour flight, you know, and now I just can't put it down. And it's pretty long, you know, so I'm still not finished, and my wife, well, I haven't been paying enough attention to her, and-"

[Woman, screaming loud enough for me to hear even though the man quickly covers the mouthpiece again] "IT'S THE SECOND DAY OF OUR HONEYMOON AND YOU HAVEN'T EVEN FUCKED ME YET!" 

[Man] Um, I guess you heard that, Mr. Ross. Look, everything's going to be okay, I'm almost finished with it and I can't tell you how much I'm enj- GIVE ME THAT BACK RIGHT NOW!" [Sound of scuffle and phone being hung up].

I got a follow-up call a day later, where the husband assured me that everything was all right and his wife wasn't going to file for an annulment.

What is one lesson about writing you wish you had learned earlier?

It is far easier and faster to write something bad and rework it into something pretty good than it is to write something pretty good out of thin air.

How important is it to take classes or read books about the craft of writing?

Both are very helpful. The writing classes I took in college were over 20 years ago. In recent years, I've only read books on writing. I am utterly convinced that all good (prose) writing shares common traits, and any book that helps you recognize these traits and strengthen them
will help you be a better writer. This was driven home when I read an economics book recently laying out a compelling case for deflation in the near future and realized the text fit a number of my "Seven Suggestions" for a novel.

Do you feel pressure after the success of UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES?

Yes. I'm working on a sequel, and naturally I'm afraid no one will like it. 

Any advice you wish to add for new writers?

Get some direction. Too often I hear "I love to write, I have all these great ideas of things to write about, I really want to be a writer..."  This is like saying "I love exercise, I want to be a famous athlete" instead of "I want to run a marathon without ever stopping to rest, and do it in less than 3 1/2 hours."

If you want to be a writer, come up with ONE story, whether it's a newsletter article about a high school football game or a 600-page novel. Find the dramatic concept of your story, and make it so compelling and the events of your story so engrossing that a man who starts reading it
won't be able to put it down. When a sexually aroused woman with the body of chorus girl throws herself at him, he'll say "In just a minute, soon as I finish this..." 

 

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