Friday, April 12, 2024

Q&A with Michael Gross




Michael Gross is the author of the new novel Spillage. He has had a long career in crisis communications, and he lives in Brooklyn and Fire Island.


Q: What inspired you to write Spillage?


A: When I began writing Spillage, back in 1976, I was in my mid-20s, around the same age as my main characters, and living through the kaleidoscopic chaos of bankrupt New York City.


My father had just died suddenly of a heart attack, and I’d just fallen in love with the woman I’d ultimately marry, so love and death were on my mind. So what better than to write a love story where the dead come back to life, and to try to capture the spirit of my beleaguered hometown?


Q: How did you create your characters Joan and Eliot?


A: I began the novel with no preconceived notions of who my main characters would turn out to be. I wrote the first line -- “Eliot asks Joan to marry him” -- and then just took it from there, line by line, and let the story unfold.


The early drafts were fundamentally about how far I could take my imagination, how many rules I could break and get away with, how I could depict a world gone off the rails. 


It was only when I returned to the novel many years later that I focused on giving the characters greater depth and making them more emblematic of their time.


Eliot and Joan are both total fabrications, but their youthful experience of the crumbling city and their search for identity amidst the sprawling chaos mirror my own.  


Q: How was the novel’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The title Spillage is the name of central character, rookie pitching phenom Nick “The Swan” Spillage, who was inspired by the quirky real-life pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. “The Bird” burst onto the scene in 1976 with a spectacular rookie season, only to hurt his arm and burn out just as fast. Spillage also represents how the novel spills out.


For a time, I toyed with the idea of changing the title to “Another Little Piece of My Heart,” since the spirit of Janis Joplin looms large in the book, but in the end, I went back to Spillage because it’s more original and authentic.

Q: Over how long a period did you work on the book, and how much did it change over that time?


A: The novel is nearly 50 years in the making. I spent the better part of my 20s writing it, then put it down to concentrate on building a career in communications.


When I stepped back from full time work around the beginning of Covid, I went back to my old office to clean out my files and found the manuscript gathering dust.  Re-reading it, I could see why I was unable to get it published.


But buried within, there was still much I loved about it.  It was, after all, a statement of who I was at the time in all my youthful, anarchistic fervor.


So, I decided to rewrite the novel with the perspective of age, tempering its excesses while trying to maintain its original vitality. The basic structure and main characters remain the same, but most of the prose is fresh.


Q: The Independent Book Review called the novel a “raucous rendition of 70's New York”--what do you think of that description?


A: I think it’s spot on. Spillage is my love letter to New York!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: When I started to rework Spillage, I simultaneously began a diary where I looked back at who I was and where the city was back in the bad old days, and contrasted that with the way I see myself and the world today.


I’ve continued to write the diary. I’m not sure what I’ll ultimately do with it.  It’s possible I’ll turn it into a formal memoir, but I also may use the material as a basis for a new novel, perhaps a sequel.   


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Writers who influenced me when I first wrote Spillage include Tom Robbins, Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Hunter S. Thompson.


While Spillage’s voice is all its own, it does carry hints of these marvelously inventive influences. Spillage is a devilishly fun throwback in style as well as substance.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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