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Back You are here: Home Reports from Real Life Oh, The Things We've Seen! Dispatches From Thunder Road Dispatches from Thunder Road: Stranger Will
Tuesday, 22 March 2011 17:04

Dispatches from Thunder Road: Stranger Will

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Only after the children have been visited by the Sandman is it safe to come out and look for the strange persona known as Caleb J Ross, author of the recently released novel Stranger Will. Chuck Palahniuk once said he reinvented horror with his novels Lullaby, Diary and Haunted because the genre of horror wasn’t something that intimidated readers any longer. He said horror with monsters wasn’t scary any more. But Ross proves him wrong. His novel is horror in its most pure form: it’s all about monsters, cleverly disguised as elementary school principals and badly dressed Santas. Mrs. Rose tries to bring The Solution to an imperfect world; her cynicism is as scary as real life. I should probably pun Shakespeare-style on the semi-homophone of Ross and Rose because it is hard to picture the jovial boy known for his toes poking out of his socks as the same person who writes tales darker than London. Why would a healthy, perfectly normal and nice man, a happily married and loving father, write with this much gusto about apathy and abortion?

Guess what? Stranger Will isn’t all we will have to swallow this year. The novel I Didn’t Mean to Be Kevin will hit the shelves too. It is about a man pretending to be a woman’s long lost son after she pleaded in the papers for her runaway child to return home. Is it a cry to connect with other people? Maybe. Ross seems to crave interaction and embraces the new media for that very reason. “Those media are extremely conducive to fiction writing: social networks and blogging have enabled me to connect with other writers, and, of course, also readers.” He wishes to reach out as far as his arms reach. Reach out to the people taking the effort to read his work. In his short story collection Charactered Pieces he wrote to his readership, “No amount of pandering here can express my gratitude for the simple act of opening this book.”

Ross is generous with his time to promote anything written. He seems to see it as his mission to get books in people’s hands. He loves the smell and feel of books, the sound of flipping pages, but his mission to get people to read makes him root for eReaders as well. Where does this need come from?

It all makes sense to Ross, obviously. The screaming for human contact; the sharing of the pleasure he always found in books. He’s from Kansas, one of the darkest places on earth. There where you’re surrounded by wheat no matter what direction you take; where none but Mandein lua Radauq feels at home. A place with many resemblances to a desert isle. Talking about it, Ross’s desert island pick would be Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, not surprising for someone who focused on metafiction in college. “I could re-read House for eternity,” he says. I tell him he should now, a day in Kansas feels like that. His eyes flicker hatred for a second before they twinkle again – the lad must like it here.

Other writers high on his list are Brian Evenson and José Saramago, two authors who always have struggle and conflict in their tales, something that even a blind fellow would spot in Ross’s work as well. Though he wouldn’t ever dream of comparing himself to these masters: “If I’d co-author with Saramago my contributions would be footnotes that read ‘yep’ and ‘I agree’ and ‘holy crap that’s so good!’”

After every serious word, two words follow that bring a smile to your face. Ross enjoys talking about literature, about the craft of writing, he enjoys thinking about it. “You know what would be good? A book-shaped flask that still functions as a book. Or mini stories written on beer bottle labels with pages and everything.” He’s thankful when someone listens and thinks about the written word and will send embarrassing pictures of himself to show his gratitude. To drop the name I used before, Shakespeare, Ross is like one of The Bard’s fools: silly but if allowed to speak freely, he’s always right.

But talking to Ross for a long time, it becomes less and less clear to me how he can write black as ink; ink that spill through your body as it replaces your blood, fills your heart, fills your brain. He has an urge to interact or he’ll “drink and watch cartoons all day.” The longer I’m around him, the less sense it all makes. He likes cartoons and still wrote chilling stories such as “Car Dodging”: How the bald man with the needle in his median cubital vein said he found God felt like what a rape would be if afterwards the woman zipped up her pants, fastened her belt and said, ‘Thank you, I’ve been so busy lately.

This young writer is more than a mystery to me. Which reminded me of the big mystery, the reason why I’ve looked for him. “You know, Caleb,” I ask. “About eleven?”

He nods. “Ten was unfortunately taken.”

A statement he makes sound like a question. I shake my head, barely noticeable, and say my goodbyes – hoping someone out there knows the true answer.


Caleb J Ross



Caleb J Ross has fiction and nonfiction all over. He is the author of Charactered Pieces, Stranger Will (Otherworld Publications, 2011), I Didn’t Mean to Be Kevin: a novel (Black Coffee Press, 2011), and As a Machine and Parts (Aqueous books, publish date unknow). He is an editor at Outsider Writers Collective and moderates The Velvet Podcast, which gathers writers for round table discussions on literature. Develop an unhealthy relationship with him at www.calebjross.com, stalk him on Twitter (@calebjross), or pester him on Facebook (facebook.com/rosscaleb).

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Last modified on Thursday, 15 March 2012 22:49
Mlaz Corbier

Mlaz Corbier lives in the north of the nether-lands. When he’s not hunting for Thunderlings, he fills his days with laughing at commoners and carefully documenting the adventures of Jimmy Viper sobthat he won’t be forgotten. He instructs his chosen ones at www.red-puffin-tobacco.blogspot.com.

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