Author Interviews: Rick Moss and Tellers

Rick Moss is the author of two novels. Tellers is his second.

It centers on the grieving residents of a small farming collective in New York’s Hudson Valley who, following a horrific assault, unburden themselves by telling stories.

Rick Moss’ first novel, Ebocloud, is a near-future thriller about a cataclysmic social media movement. He also writes short stories and, in his professional life, does a lot of business writing. His essays have been published by USA Today and Forbes. Mostly, he focuses on the intersection of digital technology and personal lives.

When and why did you start writing?

I didn’t begin writing creatively until middle age. Early on, I gravitated toward drawing and painting. I studied visual arts from grade school through college — painting, printmaking, photography and video. I took up design as a career, doing everything from video editing and animation to website development.

At a point when I started my own online publication with my partners, I was saddled with some of the business writing responsibilities, so I was forced to learn the craft. Then around 2007, I had an idea for an essay inspired by the passing of Kurt Vonnegut. The essay didn’t seem to want to end. I spun out a narrative from the Vonnegutian ideas I’d come up with. That became Ebocloud, my first novel. Ebocloud got some notoriety within scientific circles for its prediction of the coming “social singularity” (simply put: hive mentality made possible by linking individual human minds to social networks).

I found writing liberating after the restrictions of visual media. With writing, there are no limits to the images and characters and worlds you can create. I’ll always love painting and drawing, but I know now I’ll devote as much time as possible to being the best writer I can.

What inspires your writing?

I get hooked on world-altering ideas and find it easy to imagine characters who commit themselves — obsessively, in most cases — to carrying them forward. I don’t necessarily take the ideas seriously, but I’m fascinated by visionaries — the Buckminster Fullers of the world — who manage to push humanity forward even when written off as crackpots.

In Ebocloud, there is a leader of a faraway planet who hatches a plan for world peace. He decrees that: For every dollar spent on warfare, the government must spend two on avoiding war. The Ebocloud network of the title is a social platform where everyone is adopted into one of many “ebos” (extended families) so that no one will be alone when in need of guidance or assistance. In Tellers, the quasi-spiritual leader of a farming cooperative is working on a plan to turn inner city neighborhoods into self-supporting agricultural centers. While I have a lot of fun spinning plots around these “crackpot” ideas, exploring philosophical notions keeps the stories grounded for me. It lends a purpose to my efforts beyond entertaining readers, which I believe is critically important as well to the art form.

I also try to motivate myself with challenging narrative structures. Ebocloud is a sci-fi thriller the includes a pulp sci-fi novel within the novel. Tellers is essentially a collection of short stores — each told in the voices of one of the characters — wrapped in a sort of nour-ish thriller. I’m not sure why I’m so hard on myself. One day, maybe I’ll write a straight-up plot.

How would you define creativity?

Wow, good question. Probably best to first try to understand how the process works. The yearning to be creative is deep in your gut when you’re an artist. For me, it’s physical, like a hunger pang. I remember early in life, not understanding what was causing the discomfort until I started drawing. In those moments of need, I want to produce something that isn’t there, but I’m only satisfied if I feel that I create something unique. So creativity for me is a process of challenging conventions. At every decision point — and you hit hundreds of them an hour as you work — I try to recognize cliches and the status quo so I can head in the opposite direction. Creativity is succeeding at being different.

Do you have any writing rituals to get you in the mood for writing?

Not so much. I rarely have the luxury of spending long, uninterrupted periods of time writing. I have had to learn to jump in and out of it without much fuss. Sure, I prefer sitting on a park bench or in a quiet cafe, but I can work anywhere. So no, no rituals — although coffee is usually involved.

If you could, what would you go back and tell yourself as a writer starting out?

  1. Don’t sound like a writer.
  2. Stop trying to impress yourself.
  3. Get used to the idea that everything is expendable

What do you believe makes for great writing?

Finding the right verb for every sentence. By using “ambled” you avoid having to write “walked slowly without apparent purpose.” Every word is currency. Good writers spend wisely. (Hmmm…what verb means “spend wisely”?)

Which writers have influenced your writing?

The sounds of great writing stay with you, so the cop-out answer is, everyone I’ve admired, from Dickens to David Foster Wallace. Ebocloud includes a novel within the novel — The Venaries of Planet Flounce. That was an homage to Kurt Vonnegut, or more precisely, Vonnegut’s pulp sci-fi writing alter ego, Kilgore Trout. Other than that, I haven’t tried to emulate other writers per se because it pulls me off track, but I do go to them often for lessons. Elmore Leonard is a great instructor, as is Hemingway and Kafka. And I often read a short story by George Saunders if I need to get my head in the right place (or the wrong place, as it were).

How do you measure success as a writer?

I don’t — I refuse to — try to measure success. That would be counterproductive. I get way too much satisfaction when people say they enjoy my writing, which makes me overconfident, which makes me write stupid. So I don’t want to feel successful. I want to feel unsatisfied.

Have you ever hated something you wrote?

Of course. The process of writing for me is writing stuff down and then eliminating all the awfulness, rewriting and eliminating and rewriting and eliminating. I edit fanatically. I revise continually as I’m writing — back and forth through each paragraph. I’ll get a complete draft done, go back to page one, and rework from front to back. Then I’ll start again. With Tellers, I did at least six complete rewrites over the course of about four years. All that comes from hate. Hate is my friend.

What’s your biggest fear as a writer?

Running out of ideas would be awful, but that doesn’t seem to be likely any time soon. For now, the greatest fear is sounding formulaic. I don’t mind using common conventions to accomplish my aims, but the aims can’t be conventional. I worry that I think I’m more original than I am.

What traits do you feel make a great writer?

The ability to look at things as others do and, then again, as no one else does.

Describe your latest book to our readers

Tellers is about the residents of a Hudson Valley farming collective called the Colony. The group shares a close-knit life and a vision for remaking urban neighborhoods with the skills in self-sustainability that they are learning. They have also shared a loss so devastating they fear the shock will undermine all their efforts.

In a scheme to unburden themselves, they turn to storytelling. Through their heartrending accounts, we view blighted American cities from society’s fringes — from the squatter homes of Detroit to the embattled streets of Philadelphia. We meet a veteran who returns home to find his neighborhood walled off into a ghetto, an architect who drafts blueprints from the dreams of the dispossessed, and take a hellish subway ride through a dystopian New York. In their tales, we witness the tug of war between blame and forgiveness and, ultimately, the cathartic power of storytelling.

What would you like readers to take away from your writing?

That we should look to the eccentric artists and crackpot visionaries of the world for inspiration and even leadership. These people can see fundamental truths that allude us, so pay attention to what they have to say. Also, every person has a unique story to tell and deserves a chance to tell it. Don’t assume you understand people or judge their worthiness without first listening to their stories.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

Don’t try to please anyone, not even yourself. Instead focus all your energy on finding the words that cut to the essence of what you want to say. Do away with everything that deters you from that mission.

Can you give our audience a writing prompt to help get them writing?

Tell me a story about someone who can change the world.

What’s next for you?

I have a good start on my third novel. Again, I’m chasing down a crackpot philosophical notion and, again, I’m working within a unique narrative structure that reflects that philosophy. Metaphorically speaking, it’s about pretzel logic written in a flow that twists like a pretzel. But I’m on curve number three with many to go without a firm grasp yet on how to end back to the beginning, which is my goal, so lots of fun hours ahead.


tellers-cover-500x772Tellers

by: Rick Moss

The Colony is in mourning. The residents of the Hudson Valley farming collective share a close-knit life and a vision for remaking urban neighborhoods with the skills they are learning. They have also shared a loss so devastating they fear the shock will undermine all their efforts.

In a scheme to unburden themselves, they turn to storytelling. Through their heartrending accounts, we view blighted American cities from society’s fringes — from the squatter homes of Detroit to the embattled streets of Philadelphia. We meet a veteran who returns home to find his neighborhood walled off into a ghetto, an architect who drafts blueprints from the dreams of the dispossessed, and take a hellish subway ride through a dystopian New York. In their tales, we witness the tug of war between blame and forgiveness and, ultimately, the cathartic power of storytelling.

About the Author

Scott Mullins is a freelance writer and digital content manager. When he’s not finding ways to distract himself from writing his novel he writes killer copy for companies all over the world. Connect with Scott on Twitter @ScottMullins86 or LinkedIn. He’s always looking to connect with other writers.