Shelter magazine veteran Charles L. Ross opens his debut novel with the following scenario: The art director of a high-gloss shelter magazine finds the editor-in-chief dead in her bed holding the new “White House” issue. Though the plot line sounds much like a murder-mystery, Ross intended INSIDE to be a biography of a magazine and a character study of the editor and the art director. A former art director at Architectural Digest and Veranda himself, Ross admits that the main character Anthony Dimora is largely autobiographical.
This reporter talked with Ross about his career, the ideas in the book and what’s next.
When did the idea for this book come to you?
I began writing Inside more than 30 years ago when I was still the art director of Architectural Digest. All these years my biggest fear was that someone would start an interior design magazine called Inside. It seemed such a perfect title, especially since it has a double meaning of showing interiors but also going behind the scenes.
How did you come up with the content for the book?
I have diaries dating back to 1971. When I first decided to write Inside, I searched my journals for any mention of my work experience. Since they were written before I got a computer, I had to copy everything on an IBM Selectric typewriter. That took a long time, and although the diary excerpts showed a life, or at least a major portion of one, it wasn’t a story. It had progression but no plot. That’s when I decided to write a novel.
What inspired the murder-mystery plot line?
In real life, Bradley Little, the editor of Architectural Digest in 1971, was murdered in a botched robbery. The murderer was never captured. That gave me the idea to start my novel with the death of the editor—by poisoning—and the rest of the book flashes back to everyone who had a motive.
So, are parts of the book non-fiction?
Of course. It’s important to note that Inside is a novel. So many people, after reading a provocative chapter or two, have asked, “Did that really happen?” I’m quick to point out a novel is fiction. Not only does fiction allow you to have fun, I could create the lives and outcomes I wanted.
Are any of the characters based on real life individuals?
There is only one character based on a real person, and that’s the art director, Anthony Dimora, who is very much me. We share the same birthday, are both Italian-American and had the same career—but not the same love life. During my time at AD, I had two lovers; neither one is in this book. Although other parts of Inside are fiction, Anthony’s career is my professional autobiography.
There are two amusing things about Anthony. His last name means “home.” And look at his initials.
Why did you write the book the way you did?
The reason is pragmatic. I hope Inside will get some attention because of the subject matter—and it’s light and fun. Then I can publish a book that’s more serious. I’ve already written it. In a way it’s a prequel to Inside, because it’s about Anthony Dimora’s early life and his relationship with his father, focusing on homosexuality. Although it has amusing incidents, it’s a more thoughtful novel and mostly biographical.
Have you always had an interest in writing?
I always wanted to write—and I always have. I went to the University of Michigan School of Art and Architecture, but I also took writing classes. Inside was the perfect combination, especially since I designed the book and took the cover photograph.
What have you been up to since your art direction days?
After I left Veranda in 2004 and relocated to Fort Lauderdale, I rewrote Inside—changing it from third person past tense to first person present tense—which was an extensive project. But I missed designing. Fortunately, I discovered Stonewall National Museum & Archives, where I write and design exhibitions about LGBT history. It’s a wonderful outlet for me, and I enjoy the research as well. Soon we will be opening a new location with a much bigger gallery space, so that’s exciting.
What’s ahead for you?
My dream for Inside is to have it made into a movie or miniseries starring Julianne Moore as the editor and Zachary Quinto as the art director. If you don’t have a dream, how’s it going to come true?