KATHY: Today I’m hosting Rodney Ross, author of the new Dreamspinner Press novel, ‘The Cool Part Of His Pillow’ (TCPohP). Thanks for popping in, RR. It’s a long trip here from Key West, Florida, where you live. I have to first ask: why are you pantless?
RODNEY: I’m kinda whimsical that way. The UPS fellow didn’t seem to appreciate it last week, but later that day the supermarket checkout lady grinned, so I’m batting 50/50. I like arriving minus something you expect, like teeth. It cuts down on the sameness of the whole Q/A format. I like to keep interviewer on their toes.
So sometimes I’ll reveal I have only 9.
KATHY: Before we begin, let me put down this towel for you. There! Tell me about this, your first novel. Exciting stuff! What was it like to receive that acceptance letter and contract?
RODNEY: I about shit my pants. Gurl, calm down. I said about. Your towel is fine. I truly didn’t think Dreamspinner Press would be amenable to my submission. While TCPohP is undeniably LGBT, it doesn’t fall within the confines of their published strictures. There’s very little romance and almost no sex, yet Elizabeth North, the Executive Director, unblinkingly extended an offer for me to join their catalog of works.
KATHY: From conversations with other authors, I know that road to “yes” was paved with a lot of “no”.
RODNEY: As are my most of my sexual propositions. You get used to no, or being slapped, or law enforcement being summoned. Rejection is part of publishing, or any of the arts in general. Writing letters of inquiry and sending novel samples – “send us your best chapter,” as though you can disconnect one from the other as a perfect stand-alone – gives me groin pain. But so does this chair. What is this, the Spanish Inquisition?
I must say, my favorite rejection letter was an E-mail from a literary agent. It was 3 words in response to a succinct plot summary coupled with the first three chapters. The E-mail read: Not for me
No greeting, no signature, not even a period. She didn’t even have time to close the fucking sentence.
Then, of course, there are those friends who will blandly console you upon rejection letters: “Rodney, don’t take it so personally”. Unless I’m Sybil — which I could be, without meds — of course I am going to take it personally! The work is your newborn. Being told it’s ugly, informed it has a clubfoot or just isn’t adoptable can lead a soul to drink. Speaking of which: where’s your liquor cabinet?
KATHY: Your big olives make me want to have a martini, too.
RODNEY: Oops, spilled a little! Good thing I have this towel.
KATHY: Good thing it was stuck to your ass. Tell us a little about the plot of TCPohP, and how it came to be.
RODNEY: Barry Grooms is a success by any measure: expansive interior design gallery, 20-plus years of stability with partner Andy, financial security, he still has all of his own hair and teeth. Then everything changes when, on Barry’s 45th birthday, a horrendous construction crane collapse kills Andy and their two pugs. He plunges into this surreal widowerhood, full of bad casseroles and even worse advice, yet Barry is damaged, not destroyed, and he slowly rebuilds his world, with missteps and revelations along the way. It was almost important of me that it be funny, full of wicked observation. Misery is so much more fun when sprinkled with the macabre or the politically-incorrect, the scatological or the blasphemous. Barry’s smartassedness, his skeptical eye rolls, are what ultimately save him.
I wrote it because, being a gay male of a certain age, I wanted to voice something relevant to a certain demographic: loneliness borne of loss, not of abandonment or cheating or even illness, but unthinkable circumstance. I wanted to talk about the absence of love after having had it…when AARP is about the only thing that may come courting.
KATHY: So how old are you?
RODNEY: 107. But I only feel 98.
KATHY: I like that your cover artwork isn’t typical M/M. It’s abstract…mysterious, a little sad, the empty bed, the pillow…you can tell someone’s gone missing.
RODNEY: Anne Cain, who does a lot of work for DSP, created it. I like the detachment of it, the impassive distance. Look at how the wrinkled sheets trail down and recede into marbleization. One friend, when seeing he proposed artwork, mistook this effect for ejaculatory stains, which says far more about his salacious nature him than Ms. Cain.
KATHY: And with publication come reviews. How do you handle criticism?
RODNEY: With implied or actual violence.
KATHY: I loved the book, then. (I really did love it!!)
RODNEY: Good answer. There was this one literary agent — do you sense a trend here with literary agents? — who noted that my writing was “too jazzy” for her palate. I protested, “But I hate jazz!” I still don’t know what that means, but I do my best now to avoid mentioning saxophones and Ann Hampton Callaway as I wordsmith. But the best praise I got was from a Key West, FL neighbor, once a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, telling me, upon reading the raw manuscript- – before I ever submitted it anywhere with its jazz stylings — that TCPohP gave her an asthma attack from laughter. That’s my new goal: always make someone reach for an inhaler.
KATHY: Have you always considered yourself a writer?
RODNEY: Always. I wrote 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. So I didn’t completely flip the hell out producing 30-second car dealer commercials, in my off-hours I wrote screenplays — two optioned but never produced. Later came a play, optioned twice on separate Coasts – again, never produced. Talk about self-pity: Always the bridesmaid, never the bride!” Until now.
KATHY: I assume we can find TCPohP in the conventional ways?
RODNEY: Gurl, I have more links than a cheap bracelet for you…
KATHY: What other interests and perversion — I meant diversions, of course — do you have, beyond writing?
RODNEY: The inclination to make shit up runs deep. If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing. If I’m not thinking about writing, I’m drinking about writing. That said, I like to garden; I never miss the opportunity to don gloves. I’m a producer on the upcoming documentary ‘The Little Firemen,’ director Quincy Perkins’ film about the lives of young boys who put their lives at risk to save others in an active terrorist zone up in the Andes Mountains. I have three cats, and I fantasize that, one day, one of them will speak the English language and I will go on Piers Morgan. I also dabble in silently farting and blaming others; criticizing those not present; tending my body hair; rushing to judgment; and bicycling. In exactly that order.
KATHY: What are you working on right now?
RODNEY: My third martini.
KATHY: I meant creatively.
RODNEY: Hiding that this is actually my 4th.
KATHY: One more time: any upcoming projects you would like to let us know about?
RODNEY: I AM at work on a new novel, and all I will say it’s about bad luck, and good — the paths chosen when fortune smiles on us, the desperate measures taken when it doesn’t.
KATHY: Do you have a life’s motto, RR?
RODNEY: “Breasts, Mama. They’re called breasts. And every woman has them.” It’s what that ol’ telekinetic Carrie White says to her batshit crazy Mama and, as a gay of a certain age with a neglected physique, truer words were never spoken.
KATHY: Thank you for dropping by, Rodney.
RODNEY: The Greyhound schedule worked out perfectly. Now, Kathy, may I leave you an excerpt?
KATHY: I think you did. On my towel.
EXCERPT PREFACE: Barry has relocated to Manhattan. It is PRIDE weekend. Throwing caution and his jockey shorts to the breeze, he decides to attend a nude workout class, but first contemplates what his Jumping Jacks will look like to the others.
How long as it been since I objectively inspected my body as a means to an end? I have woefully forsaken the Dewey Decimal of my own bits n’ pieces. Could the mid-40’s elasticity of my means snap back? To compete in events of the flesh, I need recertification. So how old was Miss Brodie anyway when she was in her damn prime?
I stare at myself in the 3/4-length closet mirror. My people have an allergic reaction to the neglected physique. Backfat intolerance, it’s called. I could claim that an ill-prepared surgeon destroyed my abdominal muscles like Mom had always blamed Caesarean delivery on her midriff jiggle. With all the strides made, it seems someone should have a flesh lace-up along the backbone that I can tighten, like a corset. If I wear the sheerest Spanx available, will that count as nude? I knead my love handles (although I challenge anyone to actually carry me by them). Only when I inhale until it hurts do I locate my ribs, comfortably resting beneath pinchy folds.
My nipples used to be Hershey Kisses. Now they’re sun-dried tomatoes. Maybe I should go boil some water and macerate them. Andy had a gym buddy whose nipples were like peperoncinis from his foray into titpigdom. It was way too much pulling for my liking, but they sure made a statement. My breasts have begun a doughy slide into my armpits. I can’t see, but I wonder if I have hot dog neck, overlapping pink bands plumping on the back of your neck. Add some baked beans and gnats, I’m a picnic.
I have old hands, my mother’s hands. All of those refinishing solvents, that’s what did it. Old and dirty hands. I must have the shabbiest fingernails of any wealthy person I have ever known, in need of a good cuticle push.
“Well, you could stand to be thinner,” I announce to my reflection. I drop the towel and look down. “And you could be fatter.” Here’s where I’m supposed to swagger that “I ain’t had no complaints…” All cockbluster aside, I wish it looked better in a communal gym shower, but it’s an average penis, not the serious sizemeat that lends itself to puppetry but also not the convenient bite-size God saddled some with.
I cup my stuff with my old, dirty hands -– my tenders, as a friend taught her young son to precociously call them. Well, my tenders aren’t so high or so tight but they also aren’t trussworthy. I don’t yet have to completely hoist my sac to just cross my legs the way I watched my dad’s dad do. I also remind myself of the online profiles that idolize low-hangers and that one guy’s E-mail address: LOVE_THOSE_EGGS!
When did my legs get so puny? My calves were once sturdy.
Why does a knee now look like a witch’s chin?
I turn around. My flabby ass looks like a baseball mitt. That was left out in the sun. After being run over by a car. I turn back around.
Skin tags. What are they? Why are they called that? Tag, you’re it, here’s another for your left inner thigh. I find a constellation of them near my collarbone. I’m turning into an anti-slip mat. What is it Mom said about these, something about a string trick? Tie a bit around each, it cuts their blood supply, they’ll wither. Drawing attention to each dermal growth with a bow. Sounds like a winner. I stop feeling around. I don’t have enough curling ribbon.
My eyes aren’t as blue, my temples are teased with gray and flecked with hyperpigmentation, my earlobes grow goatees if untended and I’m getting those downturned lines around my mouth like Ray Bolger in The Wizard of Oz. I stick out my tongue. It looks gouged. Geographic tongue, my dentist called it when I asked, rough-terrain and denuded but nothing to worry about, maybe try taking zinc. I stared at it for a few days, then forgot about it, since it didn’t impede talking or swallowing and Andy never mentioned that I’d left part of it in his mouth.
I remember how Mom tried to bolster my sister: “Look around, honey, you’re cuter and have a nicer figure than 98% of the people here, what’s the problem?” and Olivia’s monotone reply: “The 2%, Mom.”
If I mix up a pitcher of Master Cleanse right now, I wonder how much weight I can lose by tomorrow morning. Damn it. I don’t have cayenne pepper.
What the hell. What is clothing but armor? I am going to Nudercise.
Title: The Cool Part of His Pillow by Rodney Ross
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: M/M, Contemporary, Romance
Length: 340 pages
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.
To celebrate Rodney’s vastly entertaining and rather illuminating visit here today, he has graciously donated a print copy of The Cool Part of His Pillow for today’s contest.
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