Monday, September 10, 2012

1/2 Dozen with Ilie Ruby

Here is a Q and A with the wise and wonderful Ilie Ruby. Her new novel THE SALT GOD'S DAUGHTER is now out!

Current obsessions -- literary or otherwise.

I'm still obsessed with the characters in The Salt God’s Daughter, especially Ruthie, and I imagine I will be for a time. I’m not sure what it is about this character, but her journey through adolescence and into motherhood is hard to let go of. I find myself thinking about her and her daughter a lot, perhaps because motherhood is the landscape of my life and I've got a teenager at home as Ruthie does. I am also obsessed with my 5-year old daughter going off to kindergarten (I'm bringing tissues to the bus stop), with my 7-year old son learning to swim, and with my eldest’s entree into the wilds of middle school. I'd love to add one more obsession if I might—Tori Amos' music, which is mythic in my new novel. Other than that, I'm not obsessed at all.

I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?

While this book is woven with magical realism in a mythic landscape, and while the writing process was an exhilarating experience (a little like being on the Indy 500 speedway), the inspiration was raw, gritty, real life. I had learned of the stories of girls who were being bullied and who could no longer stand it. Research took over my life for a while as I tried to learn more about their stories. My heart broke a little bit and I wanted to do something, to affect positive change. I wrote their names out on a piece of paper one night on my desk and I felt what can only be described as a strong sense of purpose. I remember thinking: Do I want to try to tackle this? Can I do these girls justice? Is this going to be the next book? I knew I had to try, and that this tale had to be told now. Inspiration is an agreement, I think—not only to receive, but to do your part, all it takes to bring a piece to life.

Some writers hate to write. Other writers love being engaged in the creative process. How would you describe your relationship with the page?

The page and I have a long history together. I was off to a grand start when I was 26—fresh out of a writing program with a handful of awards and a collection of short stories. I spent years trying to publish my first book, while fighting lupus in the process. I used to write all day and night, anywhere I could. I wrote holed up in closets that were set up as tiny offices. I wrote sitting on the floor of a studio apartment. I once wrote at the top of a Guatemalan temple in Tikal during a stint on a PBS archaeology series. Now I can only write at night after my kids have gone to bed. When I am able to carve out time during the day I spend far too much time organizing my library and thinking about all the housework I need to do. Something about the sunset and a quiet house lulls me into that state where I can write. Usually, I will write for four or five hours until dawn and then have to force myself to go to bed. I’ve always been an insomniac, but now I maximize those hours because I have so few of them. Still, I really have to watch it and take care of myself or the body just says stop.

Tell us a tale from the publishing world – something, ANYthing about that process from your perspective.

 For this book, I wanted to work with a particular editor who had seen the book in its very early stages and loved it. I was given a lot of advice, and I just felt that he was the right editor for this book. We worked together really well. A long time ago, I used to play acoustic guitar in a band, and I remember what it was like to play music with other musicians—there’s a sense of collaboration bordering on magic. You’re following your own rhythm, but creating something together that is bigger than all of you. That’s how it worked with this book.

What kind of child were you, inside of what kind of childhood, and how did it shape you as a writer?

Everyone in my family thought I'd become an artist like my mother. I always wrote stories and painted, and I tried to avoid organized activities that required running around in the hot sun, chasing a ball. I probably became good at writing and art because I was terrible at sports. I was the girl at camp who stayed in the arts and crafts pavilion as long as possible. I hoarded books and each night, read under my blanket with a flashlight, well into the dawn (do you see a theme here?) My mother was highly creative and worked odd jobs as a painter, folksinger and pianist. She was a bit of a hippie—in the early 60s—so my sister and I grew up singing and playing folksongs, one of which became the crucible for The Salt God's Daughter. My mother, despite her zest for life, suffered from a chronic illness, and my sister and I became her nurses. Though I felt the weight of this responsibility, this would help me as a writer and as a mother. I learned how to work with the artistic temperament—how to take care of others while maintaining my own endeavors. There was so much creative energy swirling in the ether when I was a kid that I had no choice but to find a way to express myself.

This is a vast question. Interpret it at will. What’s the future of publishing?

Holographic books. And then, telepathic books. I'm half serious. Ok, fully serious. That’s my prediction. My grandchildren will likely be the first ones to experience this. Or maybe their children will. Regardless, stories will survive beyond publishing. I don’t think the good old fashioned hardcover will ever really die out, though. It will become iconic. In some ways, it already is. Real books that you can hold in your hands are artifacts, and I love them. I save them. I hold onto them forever.

Ilie Ruby is the author of two novels and two children's books. 
Her new novel, The Salt God's Daughter has been called "lushly woven" by Booklist, and was a Library Journal Editors Pick from BEA. 
Her debut novel, The Language of Trees 
was chosen as a Target Emerging Authors Pick.  
Ruby is the winner of the Edwin L. Moses Award for Fiction, chosen by T.C. Boyle and is the former fiction editor of The Southern California Anthology
Her essays have appeared in the New York Times Motherlode and CNN. 
She lives in Boston with her husband and three children, 
and is at work on a new novel.