Past achievements include multiple ADDY Awards and an optioned screenplay and play (both currently unproduced). Other screenplays earned Honorable Mentions or runners-up citations in the Monterey County Film Commission, FADE-IN and the LGBT One-In-Ten Screenwriting competitions. Most recently, he won the 'Most Creative' citation in the
2012 Key West Mystery Fest writing compition.
He is currently at work on his second novel and is a contributor to the essay anthology 'The Other Man: Twenty-One Top Writers Speak Candidly About Sex, Love, Infidelity, Heartbreak and Moving On' coming in May 2013 from JMS Books. He is also a producer of the upcoming documentary 'The Little Firemen'.
Rodney lives in Key West, Florida.
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
How long have you been an author?
When wasn’t I would be a more accurate question. The inclination to write is so embedded, I cannot imagine NOT writing.
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.
As a graduate of Butler University, I parlayed my schizophrenic English and Journalism degrees
into documenting the human condition as…a TV reporter. I spent more time worrying about the crease in my pant leg than cultivating reliable local sources. The thick cosmetics, ironically, made me feel naked.
Rather then seeking truth, I decided to lie for a living. So began twenty-plus years in the bloodlust stadium of Advertising.
Promotions came as quickly as creative sustenance proved elusive. I began to appease the writer lurking within me by penning screenplays and plays in my off-hours (not, given the rigors and treachery of advertising, especially
plentiful). I refer to this as my “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” era. I accumulated various citations and honors. For Chrissakes, I was even a finalist in the Lucille Comedy Writing Competition! An original play was optioned, a screenplay was optioned, but neither bore the fruit of actual production. I danced close enough to the fire to get crisp around the edges but never experienced full immolation (more gruesome than my bridal analogy).
I left the Agency I was by now a full partner at. Due to careless wording in my non-compete contract, clients were able to follow as I became that dreaded word: consultant. My own agency, Script & Screen, Inc., flourished. I also began to formulate another plan, and that was to semi-retire by my late-40’s and harness skills honed by surviving client red pencils, hateful focus groups and an earnest desire to tell a story that lasted more than thirty seconds.
I essentially retired to Key West in early 2009.
Here, with its literary legacy and ghosts of writers past, I immersed myself in fiction writing, culminating in the publication of my first novel, ‘The Cool Part Of His Pillow’ (‘TCPohP’), from Dreamspinner Press.
Why this story? What was your inspiration to write it?
Being a gay male, certainly -- and permit me to be a little precious as I add one of a certain age -- I
wanted to voice something relevant to a certain demographic: loneliness borne of not abandonment or cheating or even illness, but unthinkable circumstance. I am fortunate to be with a man who has tolerated and treasured me for a very long time. If our relationship was measured in dog years, it would be something out of Jurassic Park. Having known
this bliss, I wanted to talk about the absence of love after having had it…when AARP is about the only thing that may come courting. 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 45thbirthday, a horrendous construction crane collapse kills Andy and their two pugs. His plunge into widowerhood is surreal -- being offered someone else’s snotrag, a parasitic grief support group -- yet Barry is damaged, not destroyed, and he slowly rebuilds his world.
What was your favorite part of the book to write?
The chapter called ‘The Drilled and The Notched.’ Seeking not really a hook-up but just company, Barry rushes into a series of unfortunate dates, gleaned from online forums, chatrooms and other websites. The chapter title is a reference to, in the 1970’s, a music store’s wont to drill a hole or notch a corner off of album overstock and mark it down to 99 cents. (The younger generation, reading this, has no fucking idea to what I am referring.) The album isn’t defective and it’s probably playable in a forgettable way, but poor sales accelerated its expiration date. That’s what Barry goes out with: hapless men
too eager, too weird, too damaged, too young and too old.
Is there a message you want your readers to take away from this book?
My hope is anyone who has experienced loss, felt backed into a corner, dealt with know-it-all-but-well-meaning-friends-and-relatives or retreated into denial, will find resonance. But, mostly, I hope readers laugh. ‘TCPohP’ is full of wicked observation. Not rimshot jokes nor Neil Simon-ish set-ups…more humor that naturally emerges from situations…placing two very different people in a room and letting them have at it…characters who don’t seem to have a self-edit chip in their head. 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.
Have there been any surprises along the way?
Well, I’m still on the journey, but I not-so-fondly reflect upon writing letters of inquiry and sending novel
samples – “send us your best chapter,” some implore, as though I can disconnect one from the other as a perfect stand-alone example of my ability. It’s an especially brutal process, one that embodies the word dread.
My favorite rejection letter was an E-mail from a literary agent, a 3 word response to what I thought was a succinct plot summary coupled with a witty turn of phrase or two and the first three chapters.
The E-mail read: Not for me
No greeting, no signature, not even a period. She didn’t have time to close the fucking
I’ll also be candid. I resist pigeonholes in life, so some of the reductive tendencies of consumers, critics and the publishing industry have startled me. The book really isn’t a romance, although its marketing suggested it so; it’s more about the loss of romance and the distinct possibility it may never be reclaimed. I’m not so keen on HEA or HFN. I didn’t even know what they meant when first flung about on GoodReads and other review sites. In the narrative of ‘TCPohP’ it would be a boring simplification. I think the m/m publishing arena has given firebrand and wildly-talented authors tremendous opportunity that mainstream houses won’t, and that landscape is evolving, but I feel strongly that LGBTQ literature can be more than Parrish-blue skies, glistening torsos and feverish sex scenes. I wrote the book I wanted to, about a gay man, once one of two learning how to be the me of we.
Do you have any other upcoming releases or projects you would like to talk about?
The next thing to have my name attached to it arrives in May of this year from JMS Books. It’s an essay anthology entitled 'The Other Man: Twenty-One Top Writers Speak Candidly About Sex, Love, Infidelity, Heartbreak and Moving On'. I’m probably the least notable name among those invited by editor Paul Alan Fahey and, because I didn’t have personal experience to anguish about adultery and abandonment, my own submission took a little twist on the topic.
Beyond conceding that I AM at work, my next novel is a big sssssssshhhhhh. It’s certainly not M/M in any way; it doesn’t particularly fall into the LGTQ category beyond the reality that it’s written by a big ‘mo. I can say that it’s about bad luck, and good -- the paths chosen when fortune smiles on us, the desperate measures taken when it doesn’t.
Where can readers find you?
On weekends: in the gutters of Key West or, if I got ambitious, shadowy vestibules in Miami or staggering along Wilton Drive in Fort Lauderdale.
I unapologetically have no website. I’ve neither the time nor interest in ranting or ruminating on a blog when I could be working on my next book or short story. I am, however, stalkable. I occasionally tweet @RodtRoss, and I can also
be confronted at:
Who is on your "to be read" shelf?
‘Beautiful Ruins’. ‘Gone Girl’. ‘The Fault In Our Stars’.
What are you reading now?
Really, nothing, except maybe a cookbook recipe or something mindless about the perils of Hollywood stardom. I’m up to my chapped lower lip in research, writing and rewriting. I edit as I go along, unlike other writers who get it all on the page, then return to their output and revise. Immersing myself in the work of another author, especially one I respect, like John Irving or Michael Cunningham, might affect my own writing. The way some tend to subtly acquire the accent when in the company of someone from the South, I worry the literary voice, pentameter or style of another will reverberate into my
If you could only pick one book from your childhood to preserve for others to read, what would it be?
‘Valley of the Dolls’ by Jacqueline Susann, which probably tells you more than you need to know about my childhood.
How do you find your muse?
Gosh, I wish I were so refined as to have a muse. Writing is hard. It’s always a challenge, being depressingly aware that the final polish is so, so distant. Writing is so damned isolated, and isolating. Most is nature….a bit is nurture…all of it is
heavy lifting. A writer -- this one at least -- seeks distraction: the litterpan to scoop, sit-ups to attempt, a martini that’s just yelling to be shaken.
Mostly, I make shit up, but it’s couched in realism. 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. My focal character Barry has a pessimistic skepticism that comes easily to me, and his mother in the novel mangles the English language the way mine sometimes does.
I’m a stickler for accuracy. Scant or lazy detail in novels is inexcusable. 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 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 cryptkeepers at the front desk, the photocopying and note-taking.
Where is your favorite spot to write?
Anywhere: farting in bed, on the crapper, naked poolside, slumped at my desk wondering why I drank so much the night prior. I’m an obsessive note-taker. I love observing people both unknown and known to me. I find great sport in sitting 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 nastyass 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.
I always try to have a notepad and pen, or a mini-cassette recorder, handy. If I DO have a muse, I treat it like a sneeze: I
gotta catch the spray when I can!
What book do you think should be made into a movie?
Mine, goddamn it. I’ll also script, produce, direct and star. If Lena Dunham can do it with ‘Girls’, so can I. And my tits are
(Preface: Widower Barry Grooms has relocated to Manhattan, still on the journey back to
himself. After an especially bad date, he comforts himself with too much Grey Goose and, in a gay bar men’s room, finds a flyer for a PRIDE weekend workout class called‘Nudercise’. Upon return home, he decides to take ‘inventory’, as
this chapter is called, of what fellow fitness enthusiasts will see once he disrobes.)
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. 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 tie a towel low around my hips. I turn in profile and twist, a photo trick that whittles the waistline but will be impossible to maintain during a workout. As lean as I was in my 20’s, I was never cut like that. Now I’m pleated.
I retie the towel higher. 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 soft folds.
My nipples used to be Hershey Kisses. Now they’re sun-dried tomatoes. Maybe I should go boil some water and macerate them. 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.
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 and my earlobes grow goatees if untended. I stick out my tongue. It still 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.
I remember how Mom was always trying to bolster my sister Olivia: “Look around, 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.