Jerry Rabushka is another of those guys I came across quite by accident. I was looking for new people to interview, as always. I saw a posting from him about his new book Star Bryan. What did I do next? I messaged him, of course, and asked him over to “Novel Ideas” for an interview with yours truly. Little did I know that Jerry is a well read and received playwright who has worked on numerous articles for his own magazines “The Paint Dealer” and “The Paint Contractor”. Then, I discovered that Jerry is also an accomplished musician with his own band. So what did we talk about? Cast your eyes downwards to see all revealed.
Q) Nice to meet you, Jerry. So tell me a bit about yourself.
A) Well, let’s see… I’m 52, I live in St. Louis, MO, and always have. In “real life,” I’m a magazine editor. I’ve written lots of plays, a few novels, I’m a pianist, composer/songwriter, etc. I have lots of published plays that are put on all over USA and sometimes abroad. Anything else?
Q) What’s the name of your magazine?
A) We have two, The Paint Dealer and The Paint Contractor. They are both trade magazines– one for independent paint retailers and one for professional painters. I’ve been at this job for twenty years
Q) You’re a talented guy. Would you agree with that statement?
A) Well, I like to think so.
Q) What would you name as your greatest achievement?
A) I don’t know, I was just thinking about that. I tend to be an overachiever. I think getting this book published was pretty cool, plus perhaps creating a body of over one hundred plays adds up to something useful.
Q) Can you name some of your best known plays? Some have stretched over the ocean to make it to the UK, right?
A) I think my most produced are “Lotto Date,” “Seeking Asylum” and “Jack, The Beanstalk, and Social Services.” I wrote a play called “Cinderella and the Birkenstocks” that was put on in Falkirk, Scotland by the Big Bad Wolf Children’s theater, it looks like it was quite a show! They usually do Disney type plays so I was honored to be in that mix
Q) Have you ever travelled to the UK?
A) Nope… but I’ve been to 49 states and a few provinces in Canada.
A) Not in a while, but yep– well, the Metro area, I guess.
Q) Do you think Detroit deserves its reputation as the most dangerous city in the USA?
A) Well, I know it has lots of problems, but then again, St. Louis is usually rated #3 [most dangerous city] and I live here, and it all depends where you go. I’m sure there’s parts of both cities you’d want to avoid and parts that are really nice. There is a sense that Detroit needs to “start over.”
Q) It’s been said that the police are slowly turning the tide and cleaning the city up– would you place credence in that statement?
A) just from what I’ve read, yep. A lot of cities in the Midwest have declined and there’s a move to bring back central cities rather than expand any farther out
Q) Allentown, PA is another example of a declining city. Have you visited?
A) Nope, but just yesterday I heard a step-relative was planning a wedding there. Because of my job, I would visit paint stores all over America, so I’ve been to big and small cities and there’s cool things about both. I guess it’s natural that certain cities grow and others shrink, and every place can’t be at its zenith at once.
Q)Would you say, as a writer, you are at your zenith right now?
A) Hee hee.. Actually, I think I am much improved. I’m finding a new style lately. I like to think that in creative things like writing and music, that people get better as they get older due to the experience of doing it, and just having lived longer and knowing more things.
Q) So if you could give one piece of advice to your twenty year-old self, what would it be?
A) “Be patient” plus look for support and advice from people who are more experienced because you don’t know it all. Sometimes people will do more to discourage you than anything, and you need to be strong enough to believe in yourself and tell them to shove off.
Q) Have you ever felt as though you weren’t making enough progress with your written work?
A) There was a time I wrote a LOT of plays quickly, and I felt they were suffering in quality, so I stopped for a bit just to kind of recoup. I was lucky in that I found a publisher who really likes my plays and has encouraged me to write a lot. Yep, I guess I’m frustrated sometimes. I wish i was a “bigger name” than I am. I guess a lot of us do.
Q) So how did you start writing? What starting that ball rolling?
A) I used to write little stories even when I was six years old– just always did it. Once, I showed a short story to an English teacher, and she suggested it could be a play, and while I’d written a few plays at that time, that kind of got me more into playwriting, too.
I wrote a novel at seventeen; I guess that was my first “big thing” and I’m thinking of rewriting it now.
Q) Have you looked back and thought, “Yeah, I can make this better” or do you just like tinkering with work?
A) Sometimes you look at old stuff and go “eeewww why did I ever think that was any good?” With that particular novel I think there’s a lot of good in it, but it needs to have some better overall writing. The trick is, can I keep the same perspective thirty-five years later?
However, I think you need to write a lot that might not be so good, and just learn the craft so it’s not wasted time at all.
Q) So your advice to a young writer unsure of their work would be…?
A) Keep writing, plus perhaps find someone who is supportive and not cruel. No one needs to hear “this sucks” so much as “here’s how you might improve this.”
Also, read… I’ve been reading some classic novels and I can see how every sentence is constructed with care and thought, not just slapped together, and why these people are considered masters.
Q) I imagine before you agreed to this interview you checked out my work. What did you think? Did a particular interview help you decide to be interviewed by me?
A) It was that it looked professional, and I didn’t feel I’d have anything to fear about being part of something half-assed. I interview people all the time for work, and I like to pride myself on getting their points of view across, which is why they’ll talk to me repeatedly.
Q) I agree– I try to get that feel into my work. I want my readers to know you as a writer. I must admit it’s a great thing for me working with a pro like yourself.
A) Aww, thanks. I feel lucky I make a living as a writer even if it’s about paint mostly, it’s still writing. Yay!
Q) Same here, we’ve all got to eat!
A) Yep… I like to eat. Too much sometimes, but who doesn’t like a good pancake?
Q) Do you guys have pancake day in the States?
A) Not that I know of, but we should. Besides, every day is pancake day.
I wrote a play where pancakes featured prominently.
Q) You did? What was it called? I need to read that one!
A) It’s “Woof! The Road Show” about a couple guys taking a “gay romance” play on the road. There’s a scene about “I love your pancakes almost as much as I love you.”
Q) I’d love to see it. Would you say your plays and books touch upon taboo subjects?
A) Many of them do, yep. I can run the gamut from clean enough for grandma to dirty enough for your other grandma.
Q) (laughs) That brings me to your latest novel. What’s it called and could you tell my readers what it’s about?
A) It’s called “Star Bryan,” which is the name of the main character. In the tradition of books like “Moll Flanders” and “Joseph Andrews” I thought it was a cool title. Essentially, Star leaves a bad relationship and spends the book trying to “find himself,” dealing with ex-boyfriends, current boyfriend, and other hangers on… plus coming to terms that his family might not be as loving and supportive as he used to think.
It’s hard to put 236 pages into a sentence, but there’s a good synopsis on the publishers website.
For me, Star’s problem is he tries to solve everyone else’s problems, and creates more for himself as well as the people he tries to “fix.”
Q) He’s a good guy essentially?
A) He’s a good guy who makes mistakes and has a problem saying “no” when sexual opportunity comes his way and he should run the other way.
Q) I understand your book deals with the black gay scene, correct? How have people taken to your work so far?
A) Yep… almost all the characters are black. Not sure I’d say it’s about “a scene” but perhaps so. The folks who have read it seemed to like it, they like the characters in it, particularly Star’s sister Arielle. People who aren’t black and gay are enjoying it, too; it’s not like you have to BE the character to like the book.
Q) Exactly, Jerry. So, do you believe this could be a groundbreaking book?
A) Well, I’d like to think so. I know there aren’t a ton of books about this particular topic but there are a lot if you look for them. I think what I’m good at is translating a “gay experience” to real life so that anyone can be comfy reading it. However, on the other hand, I‘ve never really seen a book quite like this but since I read older writing, that would make sense.
Q) I’ve read excerpts from this book. Would you agree with me that the book is suitable for the general readers out there? It’s not specialised.
A) I think so. There’s not a lot of “inside jokes” or anything. I think anyone can relate to the idea of just trying to put your life back together and trying to figure out “who you are.” Actually, to me, one of the cool parts of the book is the whole family dynamic in how he related to mom, dad, sis, etc.
Q) Do you think the whole “gay” stigma has become much reduced in recent years?
A) totally. Not everywhere, but I think it’s less unique. When I started writing gay characters in the ’80s, it was a way bigger deal than it is now. Since I’m gay, it’s where my heart is in writing about someone, as far as I can “feel” him. I think for me, character is more important than plot, though obviously you need a good story or no one will care.
Q) You know, Jerry, I spent much of my teenage life around a guy who was gay and it really taught me a lot about life itself. Being gay was shunned in the small village I grew up in, yet this guy was almost like a father to me. I have never in my life understood why anyone would choose to be “homophobic.”
A) I think it’s taught, obviously, plus people who don’t have a problem with gay people are afraid to say so, because others will just scorn and ostracize them.
Q) Yes, I found that in school quite a bit. People found out my mother’s best friend was “gay” and suddenly people would ignore me or whatever. I think it’s important that we have books like yours to get people out of their small minds and learn to be open-minded and accepting.
A) Well, yep, it should be obvious that gay people are “just like everyone else” but it’s not, because so many people educated their community that we are horrible and perverted, etc. It makes gay folks feel like they are, if that’s all they hear. In the book, I tried to avoid a lot of that but, of course, Star has to deal with problems of prejudice, both in and out of his family.
Q) Do you think it’s important for young gay people to be open and to stand up and say “Yes, I’m gay. Get over yourselves, haters!”
A) More or less, yep. Though if coming out would endanger your life, then perhaps you should wait for better circumstances. But on the whole, you shouldn’t make being gay “your problem.”
Q) I’ve got to tell you, Jerry, I like your book a lot. When will it be available to buy?
Q) Thanks, Jerry. I’ve really enjoyed this interview and I hope your book is a huge success!
I left this interview knowing that this would be an interesting article. Sometimes guys you just have to send a random email to a random person to find a gem. This was certainly a gem.