Bio: Ron Marasco
is a professor in the College of Communication and Fine Arts at LoyolaMarymountUniversity
in Los Angeles.
His first book, Notes to an Actor,
was named by the American Library Association an Outstanding Book of 2008. His
second book, About Grief, has been
translated into multiple languages, and he is currently completing a book on
Shakespeare’s sonnets. He has acted extensively on TV—from Lost to West Wing to Entourage to originating the role of Mr.
Casper on Freaks and Geeks—and
appeared opposite screen legend Kirk Douglas in the movie Illusion, for which he also wrote the screenplay. Most recently, he
has played the recurring role of Judge Grove on Major Crimes. He has a BA from Fordham at LincolnCenter
and an MA and Ph. D. from UCLA.
Welcome, Ron. Tell us how much of
yourself you write into your characters?
I do not consciously put myself into my characters. As
someone who is also a professional actor I have learned that the less you think
about yourself, the more you have two good things happen. First, when you step
aside, you make room for a creative force beyond yourself to come through you.
Second, even when you don’t overtly think of using yourself, un-conscious parts
of yourself come through and, as most creative people know, the stuff that
comes from the un-conscious is the good stuff. I think it’s the God stuff!
What is the quirkiest
thing you’ve ever done?
To be honest, I think this book, The Dog Who Was There,
may be the quirkiest thing I have ever done. If quirky can also be considered
somewhat serious. The idea of writing a book about a small dog living in
Biblical times whose path crosses with Jesus and who eventually witnesses his
crucifixion seemed crazy at first. Until I began writing it. As I worked on it,
I could feel myself getting swept up in the story in a way that was different from
anything I had experienced. I’ve known the gospels my whole life and had even studied
the history of the time period for a long time; but when I began looking at
Christ’s suffering through the eyes of a small, scruffy, mangy, hungry,
opened-hearted dog, I found myself dissolving into very strong emotion as I
worked. I knew—and I know—that the idea of the book is fairly “quirky,” but I
felt somewhat “guided” the whole time. I kept hearing a voice—and not a voice
that seemed my own—telling me to keep going. It was only after I finished and
began to share the book with few friends that I realized the reason for the
whole project. It was that people who would never have read the Bible or who
would have dismissed the Passion of Jesus as something that “only those
Christians would care about,” could be brought to the story of Jesus—because a
small dog could lead them to it. I
realized that was what the voice was all about. It was telling me to use the
story I was writing as a vehicle to bring people to “the greatest story ever
When did you first
discover you were a writer?
In a way, that’s a little like asking: When did I realize I
was speaking English? Writing didn’t start for me, it’s just always was. It’s a
way of being in the world. Writing is very holistic—it involves how you
imagine, how you formulate words, how you feel, and how acutely you notice.
It’s a process that is going on all the time and happening long before one sits
down to write a book. I think it’s like singing in a way. People who sing seem
to have always sung. They don’t wake up one day as a grown up and start
singing. That’s, at least, how it has been for me. Probably, as an infant, I
was in the crib looking around thinking, Hmmmm…interesting…I
gotta remember this…someday l write the scene about all these annoying
relatives looking down at me making funny faces….
That said, I imagine there are people who suddenly discover
they are writers. In those cases, I would think they were writing inside all
along; they just didn’t know they were. That must be a very exciting thing for
someone to discover. I recently read the book When Breath Was Mortal. I recommend it. In the book, you watch a
man who is a surgeon literally become a real writer in the throes of writing
his first and, sadly, his last book. There is a quote in the book from John
Bunyan that I think describe well what a writer becomes a writer. “He’ll not
fear what men say/He’ll labor night and day/To be a pilgrim”
Born or made, to be a writer is to labor night and day.
Writers are Pilgrims.
Tell us the range of
the kind of books you enjoy reading.
I read very eclectically, very eclectically. At the moment,
I am working on a project that involves a particular period of history, so much
of my reading these days is non-fiction/historical. But for fun I read a great
variety. I get three newspapers every day and about a dozen different journals
and magazines. As to books, I love good biographies the best (I’m reading one
now about Jane Jacobs). But my interests are so all-over-the-place that the last
three books I’ve read have been: 1) a children book, 2) a book from the
Christian fiction genre, 3) a novel written in 1945, and 4) history of the town
I recently moved to Stamford, Connecticut. There’s always a wide variety on my
nightstand. Maybe it’s because I am also an actor, so I like to jump into
different and disparate and worlds and characters and genres and time periods.
How do you keep your
keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
First of all, I love that phrase of yours: “our run, run,
run world.” Well, here’s what I do: I take a nap every day of my life and I
take a bath every night. Anyone who
knows me knows that those two things are sacrosanct. Whatever measure of peace and sanity I’ve
been able to maintain in this roiling and unforgivingly-demanding world it is
because of those two simple, daily rituals. Neither one of those things—the nap
or the bath—can be done while multitasking! (Although I do sometimes do the
crossword puzzle in the tub.)
How do you chose your
A name is like a song, to me. It has to have a tone, a key,
a melody that makes you feel how you want the character to make readers
feel. In The Dog Who Was There,
for example, there’s the sweet older couple who had raised Barley. The woman’s
name is Adah. I wanted a name that was soft, comforting, homey. Adah has a
quality of “ahh” in it: the sound we make when we relax and feel comfortable or
safe. But there is another character in the book, one of the supporting
characters, who is crass, selfish, unpleasant to be around, and a little bit
comic. His name is Hog. Now, of course, there is the obvious, visual imagery of
that word which conjures a pig. But, more important, to me is the song of the
name, that “ugh” sound: the sound we make when we find something repugnant or
roll our eyes at the ridiculous.
What is the accomplishment
are you most proud of?
I did a movie in which I played a wonderful role opposite
the Hollywood screen legend Kirk Douglas. He
is a great human being and a great actor. And also a man of immense personal
spirituality. Playing those scenes with him in that movie was an experience I
will treasure forever. On a somewhat less personal level, I am very proud of
the book I co-wrote on the subject of grief (About Grief: Insights, Setbacks Grace Notes, Taboos Rowman and
Littlefield, 2010, co-written with Brian Shuff). I hear all the time from
readers what a helpful companion that book has been to them on their long walk
through the rocky desert of grief. The great writer James Baldwin once said,
“Suffering has everybody’s number.” And it does. If a book can know that, and be there for somebody when they are
alone and in pain—well, that’s a thing to be a little proud of. And I guess I
am, now that you’ve asked.)
If you could be an
animal what would you be and why?
I would want to be a dog owned by me! Because I give my dog
steak or organic chicken—every night of her life. And she is totally spoiled
and overly adored. And now that she is older and can’t quite jump up on
furniture like she used to, I have little ottomans all around the house so she
can hop up easily on her favorite comfy chairs and couches—ottomans that I
regularly crack my shins on as I maneuver through the house! So, if I had to be
an animal, I’d want to belong to someone who cooked me organic chicken and
sacrificed his shins for my comfort.
What is your favorite
I tend to like what food-writer MFK Fisher called “honest
food,” meaning simply prepared meals but with ingredients that are as good as
each ingredient can be. When ingredients are themselves good, all you have to
do is prepare them honestly and the meal is splendid. Just think how sublime a
perfect piece of fruit tastes, or fine cuts of meat, or just-right and
just-ripe salad vegetables. It’s hard to improve upon nature, and sauces can
only compensate so much for lousy core ingredients. Which, in a metaphoric
sense, is true for a lot of things in life.
In fact, it may not be a bad motto: “Less sauce, better ingredients.”
Tonight, for example, I am having a thin pork chop broiled
in sea salt and butter, Yukon potatoes, a salad of tomatoes and yellow peppers,
and bread from Arthur Avenue—the street in the Italian neighborhood of the
Bronx—a bread well worth the effort it takes to get it. A good ingredient.
What is your greatest
writing roadblock and how do do overcome it?
This may sound odd, but I think the best thing to do with
roadblocks is to ignore them. Or just turn around and, maybe, take another
route. Or kind of tip-toe over them, perhaps. Thinking about them too much is
not good at all. Obsessing is the work of the mind, not the soul. So I try not
to bring up so-called roadblocks. It’s like saying to the pilot of an airliner
before he enters the cockpit: “Hey Captain, I hope are thinking about how
horrible a crash would be!”
Pros don’t think about crashing, they are too swept up in
focusing on the interesting details of flying the plane. That’s what they think
about. Further, the feeling that you are at a roadblock can be a sign that you
should take a slightly different path. Oddly, as is true of most spirituality,
if you are on the correct path, it feels good and flows easier than it does
when you are on the wrong path. Of course, even the right path requires our
stamina and effort and many Fitbit’s worth of steps on the journey. But it doesn’t
require our frustration. The term “roadblock” to me bespeaks frustration.
Frustration is not a spiritual force. The proper path is usually not bumpy—just
In Matthew 7:14 it says, “Small is the gate and narrow the
road that leads to life, and only few find it.” It doesn’t say the road has
roadblocks. And I think this is true for writing. The key is to find the right
road, however narrow it may be. That sort of discernment is often more fruitful
that trying to power your way through a block. Forcefulness is not talent. In
fact, maybe its opposite. Talent is
always about grace. And grace to me is the ability to flow freely and smoothly
around and over obstacles. When you are writing well it feels graceful as
opposed to pushy, if that makes sense.
Tell us about the
The Dog Who Was There is rooted in my belief that—sometimes,
truth be told—dogs are more virtuous creatures than we human beings are. Thus
they have a good deal to teach people about how to love as unconditionally as
the Christian message asks us to. A dog doesn’t care if we are good-looking or
have money or got a high score on your SATs or are unemployed or physically
challenged, or ill, or even just a huge screw-up in a zillion different ways in
life. All they know is if we are kind
enough for them to approach us. All dogs ask is for a few basic things: some food each day and a person or “pack” of
people they can belong and who will accept them into their family or home. To
me, that right there is the essence of The Lord’s Prayer. “I need food and I
need understanding,” and then life is good. In exchange for that, dogs give to
us their loving presence. All people
with dogs know how healing that presence is. Anyone who has ever taken a dog to
a nursing home or a hospital—as I used to do with my dog—know how
transformative a dog’s presence can be for someone who’s sad or broken or
needy. Just their presence is all it takes to feel better, to be notionally
healed. That’s why the book it’s called The Dog Who Was There. The only gift
Barley can give to Jesus, as he stands far off and watches this Kind Man (as he
calls him) suffering, is just his presence.
All he can do is just be there, and stay nearby someone who he likes. As
I am writing this, across the room my fifteen year-old dog is snoozing on the
couch. She’s had her dinner. She’s happy. She belongs—she to me and I to her,
here, in this room as she lay sleeping while her nutty master types. At times
like this, those of us blessed with dogs, share end-of-day moments with them
that have a quiet solemnity and peace that can be a kind of meditation for us,
almost a prayer. Dogs can lead us into a place where we are more open to the
prompting of the spirit.
No one expected Barley to have an encounter with the
He was homeless, hungry, and struggling to survive in first
Most surprisingly, he was a dog. But through Barley’s eyes, the story of a
teacher from Galilee comes alive in a way
we’ve never experienced before.
Barley’s story begins in the home of a compassionate
woodcarver and his wife who find Barley as an abandoned, nearly-drowned pup.
Tales of a special teacher from Galilee are reaching their tiny village, but
when life suddenly changes again for Barley, he carries the lessons of
forgiveness and love out of the woodcarver’s home and through the dangerous
roads of Roman-occupied Judea.
On the outskirts of Jerusalem,
Barley meets a homeless man and petty criminal named Samid. Together, Barley
and his unlikely new master experience fresh struggles and new revelations.
Soon Barley is swept up into the current of history, culminating in an
unforgettable encounter with the truest master of all as he bears witness to
the greatest story ever told.
Please give us the
first page of book.
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home
or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the
gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes,
brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in
the age to come eternal life.” —Mark 10:29–30
Barley was lying with his snout resting on the hearth,
looking up with his alert brown eyes, watching Adah cook dinner. She was sitting,
as she always did at this time of night, on her small stool and stirring a pot
of something that, to Barley, smelled delicious. It was nightfall in the small
home that Duv had built, all by himself, when he and Adah first became husband
and wife, many years before Barley had come into their lives. The walls of the
homey, one-room house were thick, made out of light-colored stone and coarse
mud, from the region of Judea they lived in…
How can readers find
you on the Internet?
I hate to say it, but I’m not too much of a social media
person. So I am not on Facebook and rather than Tweeting, I prefer to express
my opinions, face to face, over coffee.
So, if you want to have coffee with me you can e-mail me. My e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org . Everyone asks
what the 154 is. My favorite poetry on earth are the Sonnets of William
Shakespeare. And he wrote 154 of them, the rmarasco154. I guess the reasoning
behind that makes me a nerd, a wonk, an eccentric, lol. (But also a writer.)
Thank you, Ron, for sharing this book with us.
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