SheKnows sat down with author Ilie Ruby at the Tucson Festival of Books in March to talk about her novel The Language of Trees. Here’s what this beautiful author had to say.
SheKnows: The tone of the books and the way you set up your style is very interesting, how did you develop that and what is your writing process?
Ilie Ruby: I am of the mindset that there is a place for poetry in fiction. I’m a proponent of reading your work out loud in order to get a sense of the cadence of a passage, its meter, its rhythm. What you’re picking up on perhaps is the sense of the book as an epic poem. The Poetry of Place, which I’m teaching at the festival, is an encapsulation of this particular way of viewing writing. The title of my debut novel The Language of Trees couldn’t be more fitting—citing language and nature. This class today focuses on how we use language to create atmosphere, to elicit a dynamic and create movement in a story. Good writing, to my mind, is about capturing the “otherness” of a thing in a very intimate way through poetic elements like those I’ve mentioned.
SheKnows: Going along with that, you really highlighted your characters and showed us their depth and history, what is your process for coming up with your characters?
Ilie Ruby: There is truth in all fiction. Every character is a compilation of people I know, or have met briefly, or have read or heard about. And then there are those who just spring up from the imagination. No doubt there are elements of my own story woven in there, too. This novel, however, in its earliest form was written from the perspective of Luke, a spirit. He narrated the entire journey, and the whole landscape of Canandaigua, where the story is set. The original first 150 pages were written in the 1st person from Luke’s point of view, and he introduced me to the characters. But as I found my way, it became clear to me that this was going to become a story set in heaven. This was not exactly the direction I wanted. I wanted to ultimately create a world that was inherently spiritual. I decided to change the point of view. However, when I did that, the whole story opened up. And because it had been written from the perspective of this heavenly being, the story was infused with spirituality. My point is that I didn’t intentionally make it that way. Rather it was one of the joys that came out of revision. I really wanted the mystery to become an opportunity for all these characters that are seemingly not connected to find their connections to each other as they come together in their search for Melanie. All these old love stories begin to surface. All these secret connections that people have kept silent are made clear. At the heart, it’s about second chances and synchronicity.
SheKnows: How much of this place you created was reality and how much was fiction?
Ilie Ruby: I chose to set the story in a real place, Canandaigua, NY. You can’t write about a place, however, without infusing it with intuitive and subjective vision—interpretation is what gives a story texture. I’ve always been very attuned to nature and atmosphere and I’m interested in places, specifically their histories and their folklore. As a kid, I’d spent a good deal of time at Ganondagan, the Seneca village and today, Education Center. When writing the novel I did months of research, and eventually went back to Ganondagan as an adult to interview the folks there. I will say that when I gave a reading in Canandaigua—there were over 150 people there, old Canandaigua families, wonderful historians, they expressed their excitement about the book and its place in their town. The people were very good-hearted; they didn’t mind an element of a fictional cave that added to the magic—they were just very appreciative and lovely to me and they were pleased with my attention to detail in remaining true the landscape of Canandaigua—it was very heartwarming.
SheKnows: So what is next for you then?
Ilie Ruby: I’m finishing a new novel. It’s called The Salt God’s Daughter. It’s a modern day love story woven with Scottish folklore. It deals with female rites of passage and issues of love, connectedness, motherhood, and the choices that we make — as girls, as teenagers, as mothers and women in love.
Click here for the review of The Language of Trees.