Mug Shot: Gary Earl Ross
Playwright, novelist, public radio essayist, and popular culture scholar Gary Earl Ross is a professor emeritus at the University of Buffalo. His work includes the award-winning plays Matter of Intent and The Guns of Christmas and the novel Blackbird Rising. His 1925 courtroom drama The Mark of Cain will be onstage this season at Subversive Theatre's Manny Fried Playhouse in Buffalo and his first Gideon Rimes mystery, Nickel City Blues, will be published in 2017. He joined the MWA in 2006.
What made you decide to be an author?
When I was ten — on one of our regular trips to the public library — I fell in love with Ray Bradbury's prose and decided to become a writer. My parents helped immeasurably. My mother, who'd always read to us, passed on her books without trying to censor my reading (and she read a little of everything). My father (the first African American man in the Navy to work in an office because he could type 100 words a minute) gave me his old typewriter. Also, I read almost everything I could get my hands on, from Agatha Christie to James Baldwin to comic books. From the age of 18 on, I published short stories in a variety of venues but didn't finish my first novel (historical) until I was in my forties. A collapsed book deal sent me toward writing plays. My second play, Matter of Intent, won the Edgar in 2006, and as I moved into the last third of my university professorship, almost all my writing (plays, stories, and finally another novel) was in the field of mystery.
Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants?
I do both. Sometimes a story springs full-blown into my head and almost writes itself. Other stories require a lot of planning, outlining, time, and effort. Some horses can't wait to run while others need spurs to canter.
What non-crime books do you enjoy reading?
I read history and science fiction, as well as "literary" novels and books on film.
How do you handle rejection or bad reviews?
I sigh, shrug, go for a walk, eat a candy bar, and sit down to write. I always feel better the next day.
What advice would you give to beginning writers?
Go for broke. I married early and had a family and pursued a safe career in higher ed (safe once I got tenure). I loved teaching but was never fully satisfied by the scholarly side of things, which is why I continued to write fiction. I longed to get up in the morning and just write stories. I have wondered what my life as a writer would have been like if I had gone for broke early and lived in a hovel as I developed my craft. My children and grandchildren are what make me say I can't regret my choices, but as soon as I could, I retired from university life. In the two years since I've retired, I've published four short stories, written two plays (one onstage this spring), directed three plays (two my own), and completed a novel. Now I get up every morning and write. I've never been happier.