I was lucky enough to pick up WJ's short collection, The Robber: Selected Works of WJ Rosser, when he promo'd it for free recently. Had I known how good it was, I would have waited and gladly payed my $2.99. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and you can read my review over at See Spot Read.
But after reading it, and also because I'm nosey, I wanted to interview WJ and see just what makes him tick. The interview~
1. How long have you been writing?
I started writing when in was in high school, something like…um…a very long time ago. Actually, I think I started much earlier. I always thought of writing as my future, and when I hit college, I sent hundreds of poems and short stories out. It was strange as the rejection letters flooded in. I got plenty of acceptances, too, but it was so weird to get so many letters saying “no thanks.” I’d grown up in a small town, and it’s easy to be a big fish in a small pond, and it was strange for me to be a little fish. When I had my first of seven kids at twenty, I made writing a lower priority and got a “real” job. I got back to it a few years ago.
2. What is the first thing you ever had published?
My high school had a writing competition. I wrote a collection of stories and poems and it won first place. There were a number of chapbooks printed out and given at the awards ceremony. I don’t have it anymore, though I remember I called the collection Oblique Wave. I was a pretentious little bastard. Later, when I got into college, I had a poem published in a university literary journal. It was heavily influenced by the great imagery writers like William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound.
3. Do you write full time or you do you have a day job?
Yes and yes. I make all of my income writing, but about ninety-nine percent of the money comes from contracted work, ghostwriting. It’s a big help. I don’t have to gear myself up to get the office out of my head and sit down to write. It’s also great because if I hit a bump in one project, I can jump on another to clear my head.
4. What is your writing routine and where do you write?
I wake up at four in the morning and write for four or five hours until the house is alive. Then, I work another six or so but only get two or three hours of real work done. We homeschool the kids, so the four that still live with us are always around.
5. What is your favorite genre to write?
That’s a difficult question. I love the literary writing when I’m finished with it, but it’s devastating to write. It literally knocks me on my rear. You mentioned The Robber. It’s about thirty-five hundred words. I usually kick out about twelve thousand words in a day in various projects. That thirty-five hundred words took me a week to write and I was useless for anything else. Then, when I finished, I was depressed for a week more. Most of what I write as WJ Rosser does that to me.
On the other hand, I really love pulpy action-packed fiction. I have a ton of fun writing it. I tend to write like Elmore Leonard and Quinton Tarantino rolled into one. That stuff is fun to write and it’s a fun read. Still, it’s not what defines me as a writer. I guess I like the pulp writing but want to be remembered for the literary work.
6. I know that you write both as WJ Rosser and Jerry Wright. Why? And how do you keep them separate?
I write so many damn things. I guess you could say I have a hundred pen names. There are items on Amazon and Smashwords and in bookstores in almost every genre, and I wrote them all. Really, though, I settled on these two names for my own stuff. I write fiction I loosely label “commercial” as Jerry Wright. The literary genre is all WJ Rosser. I chose Rosser because that was my father’s name.
I keep them separate for a simple reason. I think someone who buys a book expects something from it. Anyone who has read WJ Rosser will be disappointed by a Jerry Wright book if they think they’re getting a WJ Rosser book. It’s the same in reverse. WJ Rosser is emotionally draining with cerebral language and dense imagery. Jerry Wright writes fun, action-packed stuff.
Evan Hunter did the same thing. He wrote compelling psychological fiction. Wonderful stuff. He’s much better known as Ed McBain, which is the pen name he used for his very famous 87th Precinct novels. Essentially, there are two different audiences. If someone wanted a police procedural and picked up an Evan Hunter book, they’d be really disappointed. So, he kept them separate. He did write a brilliant book that he marketed as a collaboration between Hunter and McBain. Brilliant book. Maybe I’ll do that someday.
I keep the names separate in a kind of tongue-in-cheek way. Rosser always calls Wright his “evil twin.” Wright always calls Rosser his “propellorhead brother.” They make fun of each other. Rosser calls Wright’s stuff forgettable and cliché, and Wright says things like, “who evidently thinks it takes eighty words to say three.” They’re really different personalities. Wright dedicates his books to “My wife Kathy and my mistress Michele.” (They’re the same person, by the way. It’s my long suffering wife Kathleen Michele Wright.) Rosser says things like “For Kathy, my everything.”
7. What other authors do you admire?
I love William Faulkner. If I could write a novel as well as he…ah, I can dream, right? I really like Rick Moody and Tom Rachman. Man, there are just too many to mention.
8. What inspires you?
That’s a hard question to answer. I get inspired by the strangest things. Of course, every female character I’ve ever written (if she’s an object of affection, anyway) is pretty much my wife. In fact, I usually write using the name “Kathy” and then replacing it with another name once I’m done. Ideas come from all sorts of places. I wrote “In the Shade of the Ocotillo Hedge” thinking about my father’s funeral. I came up with Genny looking at a picture of a girl eating chocolate. I wrote The Willow inspired by a poem I wrote that was inspired by a news story. I don’t know. I’ll go out to dinner and a couple dining a few tables over will stay in my mind. Once that happens, I have to write it.
9. I loved "The Robber." Spoiler ALERT: I was literally in tears at the end. How did you imbue such a depth of emotion into such a short work?
First of all, thanks. I’m not sure how to answer that. I think the short story is the best structure for all writing, frankly. Novels are fun, but I think short fiction is better. Since the style is very stream of consciousness, I can make comments that have very little relevance in a longer work that resound in that one. In one part, I wrote about how the main character’s wife called him her “Grizzly Adams, her Jeremiah Johnson, her wild mountain man” and the words had more significant context because of the rest of the story. We get a glimpse of the way she loves him and the way he loves her.
There’s also the affair and the betrayal of his brother by his brother’s wife. Since that sets up the entire fearful tone of the main character and his wife’s constant reassurances that she would never do such a thing to him, the entire story is a cycle of intense love and just as intense fear of loss. When the end comes, it blindsides us because we’ve become reassured as much as the main character has.
I think that pain is also common to humankind. I can write about what makes me happy, but it’s not all that universal. You might find joy in completely different things. Pain and sadness, though—those are universal emotions. We all experience hurt. We all experience loss. Even if we haven’t been through something devastating, we all fear it. It makes a story like The Robber a punch in the nose.
10. What is your favorite thing about the Indie movement?
In today’s world, there really are no middle-tier publishers. That means an entire section of literature that isn’t necessarily a big economic opportunity but is nonetheless good reading is just gone. The indie movement takes that gigantic fact and makes it irrelevant. Anyone can be published now, and that’s good. That’s also the worst thing about the indie movement. Anyone can be published. There’s a whole lot of junk out there. It will all sort itself out, though. I think we need to think of literature with a long term perspective. The best books will still be around. In fact, the indie movement may help make those books last.
11. What advice would you give to newbies?
Write. Write, damn you, write! Just write. Don’t get caught up in anything else. Once you’ve got something written worth putting out in front of the world, then worry about the how. For now, just write. Write. Write some more. Then write.
W.J. Rosser is a freelance writer and novelist currently living in Orange County, California. With more than twenty years spent educating in institutional, business, and homeschooling settings, he's become quite opinionated about education's process and product. A spirited rhetorician fully committed to reasoned argumentation as a means to reach the best conclusions, he can often be found in conversations with complete strangers attempting to provoke thought and avoid punches.
Rosser's stories have been published in the Menda City Press, Static Movement Anthologies, and elsewhere. His poetry has been featured in Poems From The Dark Side. One novel and three novel collaborations are due out later this year.
You can find The Robber: Selected Works on Amazon.com. And you can connect with the author on his Facebook page. You can also check out his book review blog.