In celebration of Austin Ross’s debut novel release, The Masters Review proudly presents this interview between the author and Joanna Acevedo. For those who have utilized our editorial letter option in the past or read recent interviews or book reviews on our site, these names are likely familiar. Gloria Patri, a novel that Dan Chaon has called “ominous, gripping” and a “cleverly structured thriller” is available now through Malarkey Books. Congratulations, Austin!
Joanna Acevedo: Your novel is about a young man who gets involved with a domestic terrorism cell, and the different players who come into contact with him, including his family and friends—and the aftermath. What inspired this group of characters, and what was your writing process like?
Austin Ross: I had been attempting to write a version of this novel for about fifteen or twenty years. It had always been centered around the idea of this isolationist family, but after several failed attempts over the years, I had the idea to include the element of this extremist militia. That seemed to give a shape to the novel that it hadn’t had before and allowed me to finish the book. The characters are a mix of elements of people I’ve known in my life and also from a lot of research. I read a lot of books on some pretty disturbing topics, as you might imagine—things like Columbine by Dave Cullen and Shadowlands: Fear and Freedom at the Oregon Standoff by Anthony McCann—but I wanted this to be as realistic as I could make it.
My writing process was pretty fast once I figured out how to make the book work. I have young kids, and so have found that the only time I really have to write for extended periods of time is in the early morning. For this book, I got up at 4:30 each morning and wrote for a few hours. I hadn’t gotten up early to write previously, but it’s a habit that I’ve stuck with ever since. (Though now I get up closer to 5 only on weekdays—and that doesn’t always happen, either!)
How many stages or drafts did you go through before you got to this final version?
I wrote 2,000 words each morning for the rough draft, so that was completed in about a month and a half or so. After that, I threw it all out and started over. Sometimes people are surprised when I tell them that, but I knew that I could either make it about 20 percent better if I try to tinker with what already existed or I could potentially bring it to another level entirely if I started over. To me, the rough draft is the process of figuring out what the book wants to be. Once I know that, then I can better shape and craft the story, cutting extraneous bits and elevating others and layering in story elements that I now know will become important later on. Each draft meant I threw out less and less material, but all told it was probably about twenty drafts before it was done.
Your novel switches perspective and inhabits the minds of Andrew, Naomi, and Ruth. What was it like to write from three different points of view?
I love multi-POV books. It gives me freedom as a writer—if I’m bored with one, then I know I have a chance to work with another character soon. Each voice is different and fun to develop in their own way.
What, in your opinion, makes the writing of a novel different from that of a short story?
They’re so different in my mind. There are similar elements, certainly, but for a short story I tend to write them slowly, revising as I go, whereas with a novel I write very quickly for the first draft because I know I just need to figure out what the book is about. Writing a story is a bit like spinning a top—if it doesn’t start the spin quite right, it won’t work. Writing a novel is more like the pinewood derby—you make the car as best you can and see how fast it is. After that, it’s a process of refining what you have to make the car faster and more efficient.
What prompted the decision to publish with Malarkey Press? How did that come about? What was the experience like?
I’ve written about this elsewhere, but basically: I had queried a number of agents, many of whom had beautiful feedback and expressed regret at passing on it. I debated trunking the book and working on another, but I found that I believed in this story too much to do that. Malarkey puts out killer titles all the time and Alan Good—who runs Malarkey and is a true hero of writers—had published a few of my stories previously. I sent it to him and was thrilled when he said yes.
Who were your influences as you worked on this project?
I’m a huge Denis Johnson fan, and Angels in particular was a big influence on me as I was writing this. Not necessarily in terms of plot or characters but in vibe, if that makes sense. Johnson was able to create these sorts of effects with his prose, and I hope I’m able to achieve even a fourth of the kind of power he was able to with his work. Dan Chaon has been one of my absolute favorite writers for about ten years or so, and his novel Await Your Reply has burned itself into my brain ever since I read it years ago and was blown away. I found myself returning to that book again and again for a similar vibe. (It also is multi-POV, I’m just realizing!) When Dan agreed to blurb the book, I was beyond thrilled.
What’s next for you? What are you working on?
I’m working on a novel that’s inspired by another absolute favorite Denis Johnson book—this time, Tree of Smoke. When Peter gets word that his brother (who works for the CIA) has died while living in Central Asia, he travels across the globe to oversee last rites—but quickly learns that his brother has staged his death after going into hiding and is in fact secretly wanted by both the US and the Central Asian governments. Peter is drawn into a dangerous chase across the globe to find his brother before it’s too late, discovering along the way secrets about his brother, their relationship, and the lengths governments will go to protect their secrets.
Interviewed by Joanna Acevedo