Story-herder, plot-bunny curator, and weird humour connoisseur, Ruthanne is a woman of mystery because most of her hobbies are done in the dark.
She’s ventured out to teach classes on world-building and writer’s-voice, and she’s taken some nifty pictures, which she posts on Instagram when no one is looking. She also has a popular Twitter feed which is the epitome of random.
Ruthanne is simply herself, and herself is a professional dealer of cat pictures. Currently, she lives in Long Island City, happily married to the IT programmer of her dreams.
Q. What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
Two that count: first, in college, my choir went on tour in Ireland and England, and I was able to take a couple of hours to visit Oxford where the Inklings wrote. I desperately need to go back some day and spend actual time there, but the gorgeous architecture and vaunted atmosphere really stayed with me and inspired me to write epic tales.
The second was when we lived in New England. I didn’t go on a specific pilgrimage, but I explored the woods, saw the lakes, trekked over mountains, and grew to love that absolutely unique, cold, expectant silence of the New England woods. I’ve lived all over the US, and forests everywhere have their own personality, but believe me when I tell you that New England is either haunted or playing at it awfully well, and it can seep into the blood to create some truly shivery tales.
Q. What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
How can I choose? The exclusion of people of colour? The mistreatment of LBGTQ writers? The low pay and low-key mockery afforded female authors, especially if they write “chick-lit” or romance? How about the way large publishers will take advantage of a newbie writer without a good agent?
It’s a mess. I honestly believe self-publishing is incredibly important not only as a passageway for other writers to find their voices, but also to challenge the gatekeepers of traditional publishing and force them to change.
Q. Does writing energize or exhaust you?
During writing, life zips and zags through my veins to tingle in my fingers and wriggle through my toes. I swear that colours are brighter and songs mean things they never did before, sometimes weaving characters out of thin air and sound. More than once, I’ve written an intense passage, then looked up in mild surprise because I forgot where I was.
Afterwards, I tend to be exhausted, but in a good, healthy way – kind of like post-exercise. It’s not the exhaustion of a pointless day of working for someone else’s money and dreams; this is effort that grows my soul and my story, and along with that after-effect of exhaustion, there is always a sweet pond-still calm of contentment.
Q. What is your writing Kryptonite?
When I have many things on my shoulders, I can’t think clearly, and I can’t “hear” my characters well.
Q. Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
HECK YES. Sometimes, I just can’t handle reading things; the words mean nothing, or they make me feel like I could never write “that well,” or some other emotion that gets in the way of creating.
In my experience, this usually happens when I’m not taking care of myself. Stresses are real, and life is crazy; we need to refill our creative wells, or even the act of reading can be too much for our worn-out souls.
Q. Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
This is a funny question. I believe readers want original things. I believe they can see the familiar within whatever original stuff we write (that’s called “relatable content,” kids), and so this isn’t a question I bother with when I create. (HA – and there’s my sign that traditional publishing may never be for me!)
Q. What do you expect from an author when reading a book, short story or article?
If non-fiction, I want to learn something. I want solid reasoning, factually based statements, and sources so I can look up whatever they’re saying and validate it.
For fiction, I want to be swept away. I want to be sucked into whatever that world is, involved with characters, my awareness absolutely devoured by their little world until I stop reading and come up for mental air.
Q. What authors did you dislike at first, but grew into?
Madeleine L’Engle. I should explain this.
I grew up in the woods, home-schooled, fairly isolated; my parents meant well, but yowza, it was a tree-filled bubble. The only books I had access to were very old; the most recent were publications from the 70s, like edition-number-whatever of LORD OF THE RINGS. The rest were delightful but Deeply Eurocentered books like the Junior Classics Library (I believe this was volume 3) and sweet but kiiiiiinda-racist books like CHI-WEE: THE ADVENTURES OF A LITTLE INDIAN GIRL.
As a result, I had zero exposure to where publishing was actually going – and when I tried to pick up something “modern,” I recoiled in horror. What was this bizarre modernity? First-person perspective? Flawed protagonists? Intentionally bad grammar?
Yeah, for a while, I lost my mind over it, and hated everything written past 1940. But that didn’t last.
What changed it all for me was actually a Dracula book. I loved DRACULA with all my heart, and was starving for more… and one day, at a neighbour’s yard sale, I stumbled across Fred Saberhagen’s DRACULA series.
I wanted vampires enough that I pushed past my weird standards, and once I did, found I didn’t actually want those standards anymore. From there, I moved on to L’Engle (thanks to a church yard sale), Stephen King (purchased on the sly in a train station), and Steven Brust (supplied by a wonderful friend), and finally, I never looked back.
Today, I am an absolute urban fantasy gourmand – something ten-year-old-me would have found Quite Distasteful, Indeed.
Q. How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
I’m not honestly sure I follow the question. The moment we ask a reader to step into a fictional person’s life and empathize with their imaginary trials, we’re making demands on them – but at the same time, that IS taking care of them.
The more we read, the more we empathize with beings who are not us, the more we grow in our own understanding of the world, our own compassion, and our own strength.
Good resolutions bring satisfaction. Great character arcs leave the reader breathless and crying and joyful. Seeing the bad guy get it brings hope. Seeing the bad guy get away grounds real life, helping the reader to make it through bad times.
I see making demands of the reader and taking care of the reader as two sides of the same coin.
Q. Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
I do. I even have a Futurama reference in one of them.
Q. Tell us about your travels.
I’ve been privileged to travel to 49 of the 50 states, to New Zealand, to Australia (though sadly just the east coast), to England, Ireland, Scotland, France, and Sweden. I didn’t spend a lot of time in many of those places, but I fully believe that travel helped me in amazing ways.
Realizing people are people underneath cultural trappings is incredibly important.
Realizing cultural trappings shape people in different ways is also incredibly important.
Travel is a privilege, and I know that full well – but if it’s something one has the chance to do, one should take that chance. You’ll change – and you’ll be glad that you did.
Q. Has it (your travels) added to your inspirational well, or taken from it?
Definitely added. The world is vast and wild, and comes in so many shapes and colours and iterations that seeing what’s out there has really helped me to create vibrant, imaginative worlds.
Q. Why ‘The Write Practice’?
Because Joe Bunting is a fantastic fellow writer who really wants to help the rest of us get our books written. I first met him when I was asked to review LET’S WRITE A SHORT STORY, which enabled me to actually write and finish a short – something I’d never done before. Talking with him and watching his interactions showed me he really meant the stuff he said about helping other writers, and so when the members group Becoming Writer opened up, I was one of the first to join. From there, I became a forum mod, and finally was asked to join the team officially.
As a side-note, I’m not currently working for him, but that’s because familial obligations are current devouring my time. I absolutely love The Write Practice, and I can’t wait until life eases up so I can jump back in again.
Q. Do you have any expectations of your readers?
I want them to be able to do what my favorite books do to me: I want them to forget the real world for a while. I want them to feel what the characters feel. I want them to be swept away by unexpected beauty, to be horrified by unforeseen shock, and to feel some kind of resolution at the end – even if it’s not the one they might have chosen. I want them to be able to disappear into my books, because that’s what I do with my faves.
Q. On your writing journey, what has been the lowest and the most painful moment and vice versa?
It’s an odd one: when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to finish NOTTE, which is part of the first story I’ve ever written and by far the most difficult book I’ve ever tried to write. I was on track to finish it a couple of years ago when my husband grew incredibly sick; I ended up dropping everything – including that book – to take care of him.
I have NO regrets about that part, but having to tell expectant readers publicly that I couldn’t deliver what I promised hurt. It hurt a lot, and it also delivered a major blow to my confidence – one I still haven’t fully recovered from, to be honest.
But like all stories, my life is a work in progress, and improving all the time. I’ll recover and finish that book eventually. I just know that dropping that book left a wound, and the fear of “never” getting it done is a dangerous trap. Boy, that inner voice can be a jerk, can’t it?
As for the best moment… I’d have to say when my debut novel, THE SUNDERED, came out. This was after I’d wrestled through the pitfalls of traditional publishing (including an agent who told me he loved it, but it was too weird, and publishers never took risks on weird). This was after I’d realized that if I wanted this done right, I’d have to do it myself.
I taught myself cover design. I taught myself Word formatting so I could have a print version as well as an ebook. I worked and slaved and sweated and cried, and when it was all done, I had – and have – a book I could be damned proud of.
When it launched, I realized I could do this on my own. That moment has kept me going through all the strange changes publishing undertakes.
Would I like a big publisher and an agent someday? Sure – but I don’t need one. It’s an incredibly empowering feeling to see what one can do when one really tries. I think that’s really the lesson here: if we’re willing to fight for them, eventually, our stories will be told.