Ilie Ruby grew up in Rochester, NY and spent her childhood summers on Canandaigua Lake, the setting for her debut novel, THE LANGUAGE OF TREES. She is the winner of the Edwin L. Moses Award for Fiction, chosen by T.C. Boyle; a Kerr Foundation Fiction Scholarship; and the Phi Kappa Phi Award for Creative Achievement in Fiction. Ruby is also a recipient of the Wesleyan Writer’s Conference Davidoff Scholarship in Nonfiction and the Kemp Award for Outstanding Teaching and Scholarship. She has worked on PBS archaeology documentaries in Central America, taught 5th grade in Los Angeles on the heels of the Rodney King riots of 1992, and written two children’s books, MAKING GOLD and THE LAST BOAT. In 1995, she graduated from the Masters of Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California, where she was fiction editor of The Southern California Anthology. Ruby is a painter, poet and proud adoptive mom to three children from Ethiopia.
What two or three things would you do differently if you were starting your publishing career today?
I’m not sure anything I could have done would have hurried things along for me. I had to wait a very long time. I worked very hard for many years and I never gave up. I am a late bloomer and had to accept that there is a unique time schedule for each of us. For some it happens quickly, for others, it takes a little bit longer.
Publishing is so different today than when I started my career as a writer decades ago. Today there are many different avenues for emerging writers to bring attention to their work via social media networks, sites such as SheWrites, and others. These places are a great vehicle for people to gather support, information, and feedback about their writing. The world of online media also provides that vital sense of connectedness in what is indisputably a solitary profession. Still, it can be distracting and every writer knows that distraction is the muse’s nemesis. So my best advice is that it is important to stay focused and maintain at least some sense of isolation, even if it is just an hour a day so you can be with your thoughts and your process.
What one issue makes you struggle the most as an author? How do you handle it?
Knowing when it’s time to let go—this has been the most challenging aspect of my writing process. It’s hard to let creative work go, and to know when you’ve done just enough. The process of painting has taught me lessons about writing. For example, when one is creating a painting, one extra brush stroke can make the work seem “over-worked”. You can draw a blue line in a predominantly pink painting and you’ve just completely changed the whole tenor and pulse of the work. The same is true for writing. As writers we must learn when to leave well enough alone. I think only experience and confidence can transform this into innate knowledge. Also, I don’t believe that we are necessarily smarter or better writers in our 3rd or 4th drafts. After revising my novel, The Language of Trees, several times, ultimately I found myself going back to my original drafts—those contained the most authentic “heat”.
What is the best writing (or life) advice you have ever heard or wished you had followed? Why?
Write where there’s heat. In other words, write the things that make you feel intense emotion, the things that pull at your corners of your mind, that keep you up at night, that make your face turn red, the things that make your heart beat fast, the things that you are scared to say, because these are the things that inherently contain the deepest truths—the universal truths. These are the things that readers will relate to and be interested in.
What one issue ignites your passion? Does your passion fuel your writing? What would you do with your life if you didn’t write?
Poetry is my passion. I love to read it. I love to write it. I believe prose should be comprised of sound and sense. If it doesn’t sound pleasing to the ear when I am reading my own work, then I know there’s more work to be done. For me, language is pivotal, primal, even. And the words on the page must create a beautiful texture to go along with a compelling plot. These elements must work together and when they work well, it’s pure magic.