Chris Ross beat the odds: he escaped Indiana. But he didn’t stop there. He went on to study writing at the City College of New York, where he earned his Master’s Degree.
Born & Raised, his first novel, follows Sean as he forges his way through the 1980s, striving to understand himself, his family, and his fellow Hoosiers. Over a few drinks deep in Brooklyn, Ross took the time to answer a few questions for KGB Bar Lit.
KGB Lit: We’ll get to Born & Raised in a minute, okay? Can I ask you—I don’t know—a hypothetical question, and if so, will you answer it?
Chris Ross: Yes. I have not been invited to read at the Franklin Park Reading Series.
KGB: Good to know. Now, you wear your hair damn short. Are you a natural blonde? If so, prove it.
CR: I am. I walked around my first year in New York pronouncing the Flatiron building as the Flay-Tie-Ron building. I thought it was a French word.
KGB: Another round then?
CR: [nods, coughs.]
KGB: So, tell me: do you think place is as important as character in a novel? Was it so for your novel Born & Raised?
CR: I grew up in Southern Indiana, a place without much character, which is why I write about it.
KGB: I remember when we first met in the early 2000s and you asked me this question, which I never could answer. So I feel it’s only fair to return the favor: If you were up to your neck in shit, and someone threw a bucket of puke at you, would you duck?
CR: You could never answer that? It’s a trick question, right? Like the one my dad still tells where the doctor is actually the son’s mom? Anyway, I don’t think I could move if I was up to my neck in shit. Is this the hypothetical question you wanted to ask me?
KGB: Black Chuckles. Why?
CR: Candy isn’t just for children. The elderly need to enjoy their sweets, too.
KGB: Would you classify your work as Lit Latte?
CR: Sure. My mom says I’m a better writer than Dean Koontz. And my Aunt Terri has described my work as, “Oh, yeah. Uh-huh. I mean, yeah. This is good. Mmm, yeah.”
KGB: Discuss “manhole covers” and their binary opposite.
CR: I’m thirsty. That’s not my answer by the way.
KGB: [goes to bar, comes back with two beers/two shots]
CR: Okay. So I had this girlfriend in high school that worked at Ponderosa. It was a rainy Friday night, and I was parked out in the employee section of the parking lot. When she came out of work and I showed her the birth control sponge I had bought for us, she said, “I’m not putting that inside of me.” I said, “I heard they’re comfortable.” She said, “You’ve been out here for two hours.” I said, “I love you.” She said, “Get that thing away from me.”
I’m a product of divorce.
KGB: What’s the first thing you think of when you hear “congo beef?”
CR: I’d eat that.
KGB: If the hole in the ozone layer keeps getting bigger, and the space shuttle makes that hole in the ozone layer, why do they keep sending up space shuttles?
CR: Well, it’s all a part of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative in which he believes that targeting double-parking will bring down the number of traffic-related deaths. A ticket for double-parking is now $115. Vision Zero. One term.
KGB: Have you ever had bedbugs?
CR: I’m glad you asked me that. My writing process begins with a line of dialogue, maybe a bit of description, something very specific. I wonder where it came from, what it might mean. And I go from there. I write on a laptop.
Do you dream in your dreams like I do?
It seems like everyday media plays a role in your novel, a kind of layered atmosphere to the tension within the characters (e.g. movies like Lethal Weapon, Urban Cowboy, and The Dark Crystal, and music like Meatloaf and ZZ Top). How much influence does pop culture play in your writing--music especially?
CR: My first kiss was to the single Pac Man Fever. I recorded the event by drawing an orange Crayola star on my Garfield calendar.
KGB: Where do you see yourself in five years? Please use Stalin’s Five-Year Plan as a guideline.
CR: I’ve been using Stalin’s Five-Year Plan as a guideline ever since I moved to New York in 1996. Jeter is retiring. I’m just getting started. But to quote Scarlett Johansson, “I’ve always been very determined, ever since I was a little girl, to make my way.”
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