Interview: Ross Gresham

Please welcome Ross Gresham, author of White Shark and other works.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
A beach, naps, books, booze, cheesecake…. No, probably not. Isn’t it terrible to discover that pleasure doesn’t bring happiness? My happiest days are those in which I accomplish something, like writing a funny scene, or even just rewiring a bad electrical circuit in my dusty attic. No fun at all!

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?
Ribs (as meal–though fragrance plays a role).

whitesharkWhich books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?
I’ve read crime books since I was a teenager, of all kinds, from Agatha Christie to Jim Thompson. When I was in high school I wasn’t choosey. I read like a vacuum cleaner, up and down the shelf. Most of the time I couldn’t have told you the author. Those seem like glorious days.

Later I went through a phase of liking smart-aleck books, like the Fletch books or Donald Westlake, and I think they had some influence. Then for a while my favorites were books with tough-guy detectives (James Crumley, James Lee Burke). But I wonder if the mystery world is changing. After reading Gone Girl, or the new Rowling books (written as Robert Galbraith), some of the classic knight- of-the-mean-streets stuff seems a little…dated? Old? Maybe my tastes are just evolving. Recently I tried to re-read Ross Macdonald and John MacDonald. It was labor, not fun. I wanted the hero and world to be more nuanced. I wanted a more complicated plot.

Do you listen to music when you write?
Only if my daughter is practicing violin or my son is practicing piano. They inspire me to write scenes of savage violence. Quit playing the easy part over and over again!

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Maybe one of these new boutique bars. You know the sort? The chocolate makers just scoop the beans off the forest floor and grind them into a disk like a soap patty. They’re such purists that they disdain to add sugar. Anyway, the chocolate is pure, crude, and dark.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
The novel is set on a tourist island in the northeast, a smaller version of Martha’s Vineyard. Most tourist places make us a little uncomfortable, don’t they? Tourists are only welcome because they bring money, and it’s no fun being reduced to a walking credit card. It’s dehumanizing. Don’t kid yourself: You put away your wallet, they quit throwing leis (I’m mixing islands here, I know). Also, if it’s a seasonal place, the wealthy residents and visitors interact with an army of poor, transient workers who can’t afford to buy the meals that they cook and smell all day. As they’re making your lobster roll, you keep telling yourself that you’re doing them a favor, that it’s a free exchange….

Anyway, to me, that world seems spring-loaded with tension. An outsider detective could have a lot of fun crashing into it, don’t you think?

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
I only wish I could claim trends! I dream of it. One theme in my novel White Shark is an old chestnut from crime fiction: authority and power. It’s a standard cliché of crime fiction that authority twists people into unnatural shapes. Now I get older and find out that it’s completely true. Half the rich or powerful people I meet have lost the capacity for human conversation, at least conversation with me.

I read a good op-ed piece from a nurse explaining the Ben Carson phenomenon. Apparently it’s not Ben Carson’s fault at all. This nurse said that all surgeons are exactly like that. In Ben Carson’s world, people have nodded to everything he’s said for forty years. He bosses every room he comes into. No surprise, then, that he has come to believe that he has authority and insight in matters about which he knows literally nothing.

Tell us about your main character.
He’s a young ex-soldier recently drummed out of the army for trying to save a man’s life. We’ve seen cases of this all over the news, like the Special Forces soldier discharged because he kicked the ass of one of our Afghan allies. Our warlord ally had a little boy chained to his bed as a sex slave. Our soldier got tired of this and kicked his ass. There was also the US soldier who cleaned out a prison in Haiti because of the inhuman conditions. The Army told him he should shut up and ignore the situation but instead he put on his body armor and cleaned house. Of course he was fired and prosecuted and whatnot.

Whatever has changed about tough-guy detectives, one appeal remains: They defy the forces of moral compromise that the rest of us must succumb to, however reluctantly.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
His namesake, Jim Hawkins (from Treasure Island) who was game and brave (if a little naïve). You know who else I would love to have in there? The two detectives from the TV series The Killing. The American version. I loved those two, and they kept that show alive for years after the plot wasn’t worth following.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Dangerous! Kate Atkinson, Charlie Stella…. For some reason all the mystery writers I know are volatile characters. Would you really put six of them into one room? I’d probably choose six brand-new writers, still shiny and grateful and eager to talk. The old powerful ones would just bring corruption.

What’s next for you?
A sequel! Jim Hawkins burnt his bridges in the East. Time to go West.


Ross Gresham teaches at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and is fiction editor for the journal War, Literature, and the Arts.

Amazon author page:


12 thoughts on “Interview: Ross Gresham”

  1. Ross, I love MANY things here…this may be my favorite, though > “I read like a vacuum cleaner, up and down the shelf. Most of the time I couldn’t have told you the author. Those seem like glorious days.” 🙂 What a perfect description. Also am partial to your discussion of theme, and I cannot wait to read your book. What is the exact launch date? Need to add to my calendar. Thanks so much for visiting us!


  2. Welcome, Ross. I love your boutique chocolate description. Up here in Alaska, there is a bumper sticker, “If they call it tourist season, why aren’t we allowed to shoot them?” I, on the other hand, really do like tourists. They’re like little kids showing their mommy something furry or slimy they’ve seen for the first time and its wondrous to them. So if I bump into them on the street, I ask them what they’ve seen and done, what their plans are and tell them where to find the good coffee.


  3. Great interview, Ross! Violin and piano is the soundtrack of my life, too. I’m with you regarding the Robert Galbraith comments.


  4. Welcome, Ross! Yes, good days are quite often ones where you *do* something, although sitting around has it’s place! And I agree with you about characters needing to be nuanced. The simple “tough guy” isn’t as attractive to me, either. I want some depth.


  5. Keenanpowell — Really? You like tourists? Even when a whole cruise ship docks in the harbor? This changes my entire world!


  6. Oh, how fun and different this interview was! Thanks for stopping in to chat. I’m looking forward to meeting Jim Hawkins.

    I, too, recently tried to re-read some old favorites and they just didn’t do it for me any more. I certainly pick up on more nuances or notice the lack of depth. I haven’t decided if I’m just getting older or if the stories weren’t as great as I remember or…something else. I think I’d like to meet some of the mystery writers you know! Volatile? Hmm. Fascinating!

    Side note: As someone from New England–and originally from Maine–we have lots of those bumper stickers about tourist season, Keenan! I love your comparison to excited kids. (Sadly, too many of our tourists seem bent on rudeness, rather than enjoying what we have to offer, so the bumper sticker represents a more reasonable question. Ah, well.)


  7. Fantastic interview, Ross. So cool that the tourist-locals relationship inspired your story–there’s a lot of material there! Can’t wait to check out White Shark!


  8. I appreciate that insight into Ben Carson. Gonna broach this with my husband at dinner. Great interview!


  9. Among so many things to love about this interview, this is what stuck out to me: “Whatever has changed about tough-guy detectives, one appeal remains: They defy the forces of moral compromise that the rest of us must succumb to, however reluctantly.”

    I felt a “yeah” and “ouch” moment at the same time.


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