CityBeat recently traded e-mails with Gross, who revealed everything from Jack Webb’s influence on his prose style to why he had no interest in interviewing a Project Runway model.
CityBeat: Writing seems like a cathartic thing for you. What is it that you enjoy about it?
Larry Gross: In sixth grade, I was introduced to some short stories written by James Thurber. I was hooked. I knew I wanted to tell stories like that, too — either making them up or writing about what people were doing around me. I enjoy the creative process, seeing where it’s all going to end up.
CB: You’ve never shied away from delving into your personal life in your work. Why?
LG: Perhaps I do it for selfish reasons, a bit of an emotional outlet, but I also think when I write something personally people can relate to what I’m saying or have been where I am.
For example, in April I wrote about suffering from depression, what I went through and how I pulled myself up from it. I got a lot of mail on it, thanking me for writing it and telling me they also suffer from depression.
Reading that column made them realize they weren’t alone, that it’s all right to talk about it. Also, when a person reads one of my columns, they may not like me, but I want them to know me. After all, this is a column about life, and, for better or for worse, so much of the time it’s a column about my life. I can’t hide from it.
CB: Your writing also has a keen interest in the rather ordinary routines and details of daily life. What is it about these activities that interest you so much?
LG: I don’t know if it’s so much the activities I like as it is simply observing everyday human behavior — what people do on a bus, what they say in a bar, how they act in a grocery store. I don’t want daily life to be boring, because for most of us a common, ordinary daily life is, for the most part, all we’re going to get. I try to find what’s interesting about it. And daily life is real life.
A month or so ago, I had a chance to interview a contestant on this Project Runway show. I think it’s a show about modeling or something. I wanted to be interested in it, wanted to interview the model for the column but the bottom line is it just didn’t interest me. What was I going to ask her: How she stays so thin? Are her breasts real? It seemed so silly to me. It wouldn’t be real. I wrote a column about a girl in Price Hill getting on a bus wearing a thong instead. That’s everyday America. That’s what I’m interested in.
CB: You have a spare, direct prose style. Was that something that came naturally, or was it something that evolved over time?
LG: I’m very aware of the spare, direct prose. It does come naturally, and I think, for the most part, it works for the column, but some of the time I want to try and get above that, and most of the time when I try, I fail. Probably many of the readers of CityBeat won’t know who Jack Webb is (Dragnet), but he had a “clipped” approach — you know, “just the facts,” and I see myself doing that too in my writing. It’s something I’m trying to improve.
CB: The column has drawn strong responses both positive and negative. Why do you think it’s often so polarizing?
LG: While I think the column is more storytelling than general column writing, I think my views on issues become clear. Readers know that I think downtown Cincinnati is unfriendly, they know how I feel about the restaurant closings downtown, they know I was upset when my favorite bartender lost her job. In the storytelling, I’m basically saying what I think, letting the reader know me. Again, they may not like me, but they will know me. I try never to play it down the middle or shy away from what I think. Basically, what you see is what you get.
LARRY GROSS reads from and discusses his book, Living Out Loud, 3 p.m. Saturday at the Main Branch of the Public Library Downtown.