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Yesterday, in response to a query from Ilie Ruby, I posted a few lines from a novel in progress
and then invited all my Facebook writer friends to do the same. I wanted to shatter, for that one day at least, the loneliness that can stem from writing. I wanted to celebrate those who had published and those who will soon publish—to make it clear that we are all of the same yearning community, no barriers between us.
The response was enormous. Friends told friends told friends, and Facebook became a map of beginnings, a crest of awe, a wild fire net of encouragement and surprise.
Late in the day, my husband and I headed down to the city to take place in another act of essential community—the memorial service for Gerald M. Cope, the theatrical and compassionate leader of the architecture firm (Cope Linder Associates) where I worked as a new graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, and where I met my husband before he left (within a handful of weeks) for graduate work at Yale. We had made enduring friendships at this place. Gerry, and his son Ian (who now leads the firm) would come to our wedding. My husband would return to work at the firm for many, many years more. Yesterday, at the Union League, we saw these old friends again for the first time in a decade, more.
Those who spoke at the memorial service—Gerry's children, his brother, his friend, his wife—brought Gerry back to tangible life, reanimating this glorious man who was committed to engendering joy. Gerry understood, one person said, that it wasn't what you said that would be remembered, or what you did. It was how you would make others feel. Gerry Cope had a way of making us all feel charming and charmingly important. He united us, and yesterday we were again all friends once more.
Several days ago, my extremely talented friend Ilie Ruby
invited me (along with others) to share a few lines from a work in progress. I hadn't written for many weeks. There wasn't much progress to report.
But yesterday, as I noted here
, I did at last return to the Florence novel. I'm sure I'm breaking all the rules of Ilie's prompt, but here, Ilie, are some words for you:
He has risen like a ghost from the crypt, red flowers in his arms, and he runs like he’s been running for a long time now, like no one will ever catch him. Beneath the green arches and the false rectangles, toward the patch of sun near the open door, through the cage of nervous birds, the boy runs—his loose laces slapping the marble tiles and the flowers banging around in his clutch. If he sees me, he doesn’t care. If he thinks he’s free, he’s not, because now the monk appears from up above, bald and thin, his robe the color of San Lorenzo brick and his belt rope swinging in anger.
By: Beth Kephart
Blog: Beth Kephart Books
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New York Times
, Inside Out and Back Again
, Ilie Ruby
, Vaddey Ratner
, Kristen Cashore
, YA/Adult novels
, YA novels
, In the Shadow of the Banyan
, The Salt God's Daughter
, Thanhha Lai
, crossover novels
, Add a tag
The other day I pondered my own capabilities as an interviewee
and concluded that I still need a bit of work.
A lot of work? Yes, indeed. A lot of work.
In this New York Times By the Book
interview, Kristin Cashore, author of the esteemed Graceling
(which I read and loved) and Fire
(and, now, Bitterblue
) shows us how a real interviewee chooses words rightly. For Cashore's unwillingness to cop to easy answers or generalizations, for her range of knowing and wisdom, I respect the whole conversation.
I especially respect Cashore's response to the question, What makes a great young adult book — as opposed to a great book for full-fledged adults? Her answer:
Perhaps I celebrate this response because I hold this opinion this myself—and have often tried to express it, with varying degrees of eloquence, in interviews and on panels. Just as I have fretted over the labeling of individuals, the attaching of classifications or lower-case nouns (oh, he's a manic depressive, oh, she's a workaholic), I do not cotton to the label-ization of books, to distinctions between young adult books and adult books, say, or to the assignment of fixed and self-limiting categories. What adult, for example, should not read Thanhha Lai's Inside Out & Back Again, and what teen should not read the never-officially-stamped-or-stickered To Kill a Mockingbird? Why should the first thing one is told about Julianna Baggot's Pure
The fact that at the moment the distinction is being made, a young adult, as opposed to an adult, is the one reading it. In other words, I don’t entirely believe in the distinction. A great book is a great book, and it’s impossible to say what part of a person is going to connect to it. Age and experience aren’t always among the most relevant factors.
be that it is a dystopian novel, as opposed to an intelligent and artful and imaginative novel? Shouldn't the readership of Vaddey Ratner's astonishing, forthcoming "adult" novel about a child growing up in the Cambodian killing fields, In the Shadow of the Banyan,
be both teens and adults? Doesn't Ilie Ruby's forthcoming The Salt God's Daughter
have much to offer any age, and can't we talk about its gentle mysticism, its magic as poetry as opposed to brand or tag?
Certainly, I know how hard this would make things for booksellers and librarians. I know that commerce requires labels, depends
on it. But wouldn't it be lovely if readers talking to readers dropped the labels and distinctions? If we said, among ourselves, You must read this book because it is, quite simply, a great book, and because it will transport you.
A few weeks ago, Jillian Cantor, a novelist and friend, mentioned Ilie Ruby and her new book The Salt God's Daughter
to me in a Facebook message. It was, Jillian said, one of the best books she'd read in a very long time, and she was rooting for it. And so when Ilie herself wrote and offered me an early look at the book, I of course said yes.
I'm so happy that I did.
Readers of this blog know that I am a gigantic fan of Marilynne Robinson and Housekeeping
—its vivid attention to place and details, its evocation of lonesomeness and ache in two sisters who lose their mother too soon. With its lush and outrageously unexpected particulars (about the sea and sea lions, about the artificial waterfalls that disguise man-made drilling platforms, about all varieties of moons, about bougainvillea blooms, about the old hotel that becomes a home and salve), Ilie's book put me in a Housekeeping
state of mind, as did her wonderful Ruthie, whose story this primarily is. Ruthie is one of two sisters. She and Dolly lose their mother—mercurial, poetic, forever vanishing—precipitously. They are shuffled here to there, and in the process they grow wild. They will be hurt, especially Ruthie, by the savage greed of others.
And then Ruthie meets the love of her life.
Ruthie's man is not like regular men, however. He spends a lot of time at sea. His textures are slightly different, and so are his eyes, and when Ruthie becomes pregnant with his child, the slight strangeness that has permeated these pages morphs into something tangibly odd, deliberately magical. Enough so that those who one day meet Ruthie's daughter, Naida, begin to call her Frog Witch.The Salt God's Daughter
is ripe with tides and moons, the smell of ocean, the lingering sensation of pink petals and blue nights. It's luxuriant writing, thoughtful, pleasingly moody, rustled through with wind. Yet, no matter how surreal the story becomes, it offers real places, true landscapes, every day truth. I share my favorite paragraph:
A good death could make everyone feel better about your life. When Saul Green died, Mrs. Green tied a light blue ribbon around the thin green trunk of the Sentry Palm in the courtyard. Those who passed by it would recognize the symbol of gift, a sign that reminded you to notice the gifts all around you, mostly the ones that faded into the landscape of your life. Mr. Green considered himself exceptionally lucky and he told his wife every day. This, she said, was the mark of a good marriage—when both partners considered themselves lucky because of the other. But more, when they acted on the gratitude they felt This had nothing to do with giving presents. This had everything to do with the gift of awareness. If you could do this, your partner would always feel as if your life together was a gift.
Posted on 7/20/2010
The Language of Trees by Ilie Ruby
Today is the release date for Ilie Ruby’s debut novel, THE LANGUAGE OF TREES. We read an early copy of this beautifully crafted novel and were impressed by her use of magical realism in telling a story of such enormous depth and heart. Here is an interview with Ilie:
1. Tell us the story behind the story. How did The Language of Trees come to be?
I wrote the book over a period of several years. I was inspired by the gorgeous landscape of Canandaigua, where my family spent childhood summers. The area is teeming with Native American folklore and ghost stories. It is also an extremely evocative place. Every rented cabin that we stayed in had a ghost story attached to it. In the cabin next to ours lived a woman with 13 cats, she was the secret keeper of the place and we were enthralled with her stories and folklore.
2. What was the most challenging aspect of writing your debut novel?
I actually started with the character of Luke, a blithe spirit. I felt his character very strongly but knew that if I wrote the story from his perspective I would have to create a spirit world and maintain that for 350+ pages. I realized that I wasn’t so much interested in creating a spirit world but more a world that was spiritual.
I also found it hard to know when to stop creating new versions. One of the hard things about writing something over a long period of time is that your tastes change, and your wisdom about writing changes. Then you have to reconcile your own phases and styles.
3. What is the message you want readers to take away from your book?
That although you may go through hard times, there are such things as second chances—you can fall in love after tragedy. You can start anew.
4. Describe your background.
My mom was an artist. I grew up writing and painting every day. I actually thought everyone did these things every day. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that this was not a way of life for most people.
5. Describe your writing schedule. Do you outline? Any habits?
I don’t outline novels. I outline short stories. I am a night owl so writing late at night is the best for me. I usually write in long stints—10 to 12 hours per writing “session.” I can’t do that anymore now that I have 3 little kids, so I am having to alter my writing schedule.
6. What books are on your nightstand? What are you currently reading?
I am reading a lot of humor writing at the moment: things that make me laugh—David Sedaris, old Woody Allen, Ayelet Waldman, among others. Also some books on “mommy-ing,” and adoption.
7. Which authors inspire you?
Alice Hoffman, Alice Seybold, Anita Shreve, and a bevy of poets: Jack Gilbert, Jorie Graham, Mary Oliver, etc.
As a child, my favorites were Judy Blume, Norma Fox Mazer, C.S. Lewis
8. What have you learned from this experience?
To be cautious about where galleys are sent and make sure they end up in the right hands.
9. What is your advice for aspiring writers?
Stick with it no matter how long it takes. Learn to respect your own individual timeline. Respect your first drafts.
10. What are you working on now?
I am actually going to outline a second n
An essay by Ilie Ruby, author of The Language of Trees, appeared in The Sacramento Book Review. Check it out here.