Bone Gap: An Interview with Author Laura Ruby
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I recently read—actually, I devoured—Bone Gap (Balzer + Bray, March 3, 2015) by Laura Ruby. I had heard about the book a lot and knew it had won the prestigious 2016 Michael L. Prinz award for excellence in Young Adult Literature and was a finalist for the National Book Award. And now I know what the fuss was all about. Bone Gap is a magical book.
Here’s a brief description of the book from Ruby’s website:
Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?
Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.
As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.
With Bone Gap, Ruby tells an amazing story. The writing is beautiful, the characters care ompelling, and the world building is dynamic. It’s one of those books I will revisit someday just to experience again.
I had the extraordinary pleasure of interviewing Ruby (pictured below) via email. (Did I mention I love my job?!) Here are the highlights:
EZ: In a post you wrote for Hamline University, you say that you wrote Bone Gap because you were tired of being angry and to find your way back to what you love doing after losing heart. What specifically did you do/have you done to enable you to want to write (a novel) again?
LR: In a comment on that article, the writer Peter Pearson mentioned the fact that writing is not something you choose only once, but rather something you choose again and again. And I think that’s true. In my case, I had to get to the point where I could give myself permission to choose NOT to do it, if that was a better choice for me. Stories are as necessary to humans as food is, but there are so many people writing so much incredible stuff that you could spend a hundred lifetimes reading and never get through it all. As soon as I understood that I didn’t have to write anything if I didn’t absolutely love it, if I didn’t have anything worth writing about, that’s when I could write again.
I think it’s important to keep your options open, and to be flexible about your definition of success. So, for a while, “success” might mean your novels making enough money to support you financially so you write full time. At other times, “success” might mean writing work for hire projects or teaching or taking a day job and writing on the weekends. There’s no one way to be a writer, no one way to be successful.
EZ: I also read on your website that you make a mean vegetarian lasagna. What are your favorite vegetables/lasagna ingredients? And are you a vegetarian?
LR: I’m not a vegetarian, though I used to be one a million years ago, and one of my kids is. But I love vegetables and like using all sorts of them in my lasagna. My favorites are eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms and peppers (the eggplant I like to roast in the oven with garlic and put in the tomato sauce). I also like to replace some of the layers of noodles with thinly sliced squash. But the great thing about lasagna is you can use almost any combination of vegetables and cheese and it will be delicious.
EZ: Was there one thing or experience or person that/who sparked Bone Gap?
LR: I first got the idea for this story when my late father-in-law gave me an article about a woman who lost her child in the mall but could not describe him to police. The article was intriguing, but didn’t mean much to me so I set it aside. But, at the same time, I was doing lots of school visits in rural Illinois, which meant I had to spend many hours driving through the cornfields. If you’ve ever driven through cornfields, you’d know that they whisper as they grow, that they’re beautiful but also seriously creepy. I started to wonder what could be hidden in those fields, who could be hidden in those fields. But it took many years before the whole story came together in my mind.
EZ: At what point in the writing process did you decide to use multiple points of view to tell the story? And did you write the story in order or did you jump around?
LR: The book simply came out that way, though that’s not unusual because most of my books are multi-vocal (and many of my all-time favorite novels written by other people are written in multiple points of view). I write scenes in the order I think they will be read—whether those scenes are linear or non-linear—but I usually have to shuffle scenes around during revision.
EZ: Did you outline for Bone Gap or use a different process to write it?
LR: In general, I take a bunch of notes before I start writing, write about 50 pages, and then outline. I will use that outline to write the rest of the novel. But that doesn’t mean I’m done. I do dozens and dozens of revisions, sometimes massive ones that strip the book back down to the bone only to flesh it out again in a different way. I’ve tried outlining earlier in the process, I’ve tried different kinds of writing tools or exercises in order to make the process faster for me, but nothing makes it faster. I revise until my editor peels the manuscript out of my hands.
EZ: It sounds like you did a tremendous amount of research on everything from specific medical conditions to bees to cornfields to being an EMT for Bone Gap. How did you organize your writing and researching time? Was there any method behind your madness (not that you’re mad)?
LR: No method, really. I do a lot of research before I write, but I also research as I go (which might mean reading books/articles or doing interviews with experts).
EZ: How did you feel while writing Bone Gap? Did it, at times, make you mad or scare the heck out of you?
LR: I felt all sorts of different things, depending on the scene I was writing. Sometimes I was scared, sometimes furious, sometimes tremendously sad (which made the writing hard to do). But if you don’t feel anything as you write, your reader won’t feel anything as they read.
EZ: Did you write Bone Gap in a specific place or in several different places? (with or without music/noise/other people)?
LR: Some people love writing to music but I can’t do it. I LOVE music but find it really distracting. I also love people, but as I’ve gotten older and more set in my ways, I’ve found it harder and harder to write when there’s too much activity around me. I have a nice office with a huge window and that’s where I do almost all of my drafting. I revise all over the house, though. Wherever I can spread out and mark up my manuscript pages. On the dining room table, on the living room floor.
EZ: How do you like to #moveitorloseit and stay fit and sane when much of what you do (writing) is often a sedentary and solitary activity?
LR: When I’m crashing a first draft, I’m not the healthiest person. I sit for hours, eat nutrient-free food and am generally the poster child for lower back pain and carpal tunnel. But generally, I run a few miles four or fives days a week and try to stay away from the snacks.
EZ: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received—and what advice would you, an experienced and accomplished writer, give to aspiring novelists?
LR: The best advice I’ve gotten and the best I can give is the simplest and the most obvious: read. Read widely, read the genres that you like and try genres you’re not sure you’ll like, read outside your culture, read translations, read poetry. And when you can’t absorb any more words, feed your head with other kinds of art: go to art exhibits, architecture tours, concerts. All of it will inspire you.
EZ: Bone Gap has won numerous awards/honors/starred reviews. Please tell me you’re extremely proud of it!
LR: I’m extremely proud of it! This book is an odd one, and I wasn’t sure it would resonate with other people. I’m thrilled and grateful that it got the reception it did.
To learn more about Laura Ruby and her terrific work, visit her website.
Also, here are a few recent reviews of Bone Gap:
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