The willows here grow to enduring heights of one hundred feet, their narrow leaves and long branches bent toward the ground, never forgetting their home. ~The Language of Trees
And sometimes, trees harbor secrets.
Ilie Ruby’s debut novel, The Language of Trees, is a story about place, as much as it’s a story about the people who live there. It is the sight of the Diamond Trees along the shore of Canandaigua Lake that draws three small children to the scene of a tragic accident. And, it is the power of that place that implores two of the main characters, Grant Shongo and Echo O’Connell, to return home to Canandaigua.
While Grant and Echo travel back to Canandaigua separately, their past, and the mysterious disappearance of a young woman named Melanie Ellis, brings them together. As they help search for Melanie, Grant and Echo find healing, they rediscover their faith in family and in love, and they uncover the truth behind a secret that has haunted Canandaigua for years.
The Language of Trees is full of surprises and revelations — about the characters and about life. Ruby masters the craft of imagery and prose throughout her novel, hinting at answers but keeping the reader guessing. I’m honored to host Ilie Ruby here today.
At the end of the interview, leave a comment and you’ll be entered into a drawing for a copy of her novel, The Language of Trees. *Random.org will choose the winner on Tuesday, May 17th.*
CC: One of my favorite scenes in your book is between Lion and Melanie on their first date: Lion realizes that “memories were something you could decide to make, rather than the results of things that just happened to you.” That scene is such a sweet moment between two people and one of healing for them both. Do you have a scene that was your favorite to write?
IR: I’m so glad you like that scene. It takes place during a blizzard and it was one of my favorites to write. You know, I spent half of my life learning how to navigate a world of snow and ice. It will come as no surprise then that many of my childhood memories took place during blizzards. Blizzards are, come to find out, a good time to be inside with people you like (although when you’re a teenager you want to be out there in the midst of them). With everyone in an atmospherically-compressed space, lovers collide; intense family bonding or strife is created.
It’s hard to pick a favorite scene because all the characters came alive for me and have their own voices, magic, and sense of urgency and purpose. But Joseph’s scenes were especially meaningful because I based his character on a magnificent friend who has passed on, who had a way of enveloping those he held close in what can only be described as immense grace, perhaps the most powerful feeling of warmth, love and protection that I’ve ever felt in my life. It both startled and comforted me as I re-experienced that grace while writing Joseph’s scenes. I still feel that sense of comfort when I re-read the book and any scene that has Joseph in it. I hope others do, too.
CC: What was the inspiration behind writing a character that is a spirit?
IR: I think one reason I write is to learn about things I’m compelled by or exceedingly interested in. Part of what fuels the desire to write about spiritual things is a wish on some level that we exist in a benevolent universe, that there is a rightness to it that can be defined in human terms. From the age of about nine onward, after learning about the loss of so many of my relatives in the Holocaust, I voraciously read everything I could find about religion and spirituality. In this novel, I wanted to show how the dynamic coexistence of light and darkness is reconciled through generations—ultimately, how a child can bring healing and triumph over a painful legacy. The character of Luke, a healing spirit, must transcend the darkness of his father, a hunter, both on this plane and from the spirit world. There is a wheel of energy at work. The character of Melanie fights addiction in order to mother her own child, becoming a person that uses art to transform pain into beauty so in my mind hers is a spiritual gift as well.
CC: What are you reading these days?
IR: I’m re-reading The Giant’s House because Elizabeth McCracken has an incredible gift for making the unfamiliar relatable. She’s a writer that takes chances and I’m awed by her creativity and her ability to render the human heart and the complexity of relationships so uniquely and beautifully.
CC: What is your advice to writers?
IR: Write truth. Write where there’s “heat”. Follow your questions and relate them to universal themes. Know that if you’re wondering about something, it’s likely other people are, too. If your book evokes questions and discovery, that’s a good thing.
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 recipient of several awards and scholarships, including the Edwin L. Moses Award for Fiction and the Phi Kappa Phi Award for Creative Achievement in Fiction. 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.
And, don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered into the giveaway!