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.
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.