Five Questions for...Ilie Ruby
Written by
Five Questions
October 2010
Written by
Five Questions
October 2010
Ilie Ruby, poet and author of the newly-debuted novel The Language of Trees, answers five questions from Rebecca Rasmussen, author of The Bird Sisters, about process, motherhood, and the power of second chances. 1. You have a unique writing schedule. Can you describe your process for us? I’m going to start out rebellious and tell you that although I wish I could paint a romantic picture of myself as the debut novelist/mom to three kiddos who wakes up early before the kids, hums softly to herself while making a cup of mint tea, and settles into her morning writing routine while watching the birds twitter outside her window, well, that’s not me. I’ve always been a night owl so this means I’m a night-writer. I write between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. I have three children so it’s imperative to have a schedule. Good planning on my part—I married a morning person, so he takes the morning shift with the kids. I have the afternoon shift and the night shift. As writers, I believe that knowing and honoring one’s personal rhythm is the greatest gift we can give ourselves. At 44, I can say this with certainty. This, by the way, has nothing to do with discipline. I believe in writing every day. But learning when we are most productive is of primary importance. As to where, I don't write at my beautiful antique writing desk (though I have one in a beautiful office with walnut floors—it’s where I pay my bills). My writing usually occurs while sitting on the couch at night, or in my big comfy chair, with my laptop, surrounded by piles of manuscripts. 2. As I was reading The Language of Trees, one thing that struck me was the beautiful care you take with language. I know you are a painter as well as a poet. How does this vision spill over into your novels? Poetry is my first language. It is the bones of every story I write, so a poet’s eye crosses every page of my fiction. I grew up with an artist-mother and learned discipline by painting every day. I write and paint in layers, going over and over a piece, fleshing out colors and texture, feelings and descriptions, until it all feels balanced. I had a wonderful mentor in my writing program at The University of Southern California who often said poetry was the perfect blend of sound and sense. I think fiction must have this as well. How the words feel when I'm reading them, or speaking them or hearing them in my mind as I write is of pivotal importance to me. Even in the non-beautiful moments of fiction, there must be a particular cadence to the language and its form. I'm a little obsessed by it. 3. There’s a compelling theme of motherlessness and wanting to be a mother in The Language of Trees. Can you talk about where this theme comes from? I think all women can relate to the myriad feelings surrounding motherhood, the yearning to be a mother, the celebrations in becoming one, the mourning of a mother you've lost or the mother you never had. This subject is very dear to my heart. In The Language of Trees, one passage that I keep hearing about from readers is that of a motherless daughter, in particular, one woman who forgets to brush her hair or fix a broken buckle on her shoe, who carries her child self with her like a warning, even as she succeeds in many areas of her life. I have been amazed at the response to this—in particular, the number of women who missed out on being “mothered” in the way they might have wished. In my forthcoming novel, I look deeper into this issue. Motherhood is a messy mix of emotions and configurations. How society deals with women’s choices around motherhood is very interesting to me. Personally, I waited a long time to have children and I adopted my three children from Africa when I was 43—yes, all three at the same time. I became a mother in an instant. Mothering three amazing children, all at very different developmental stages— (one in diapers, one in the throes of puberty, and one in between, none of whom spoke English)—has been a fascinating, beautiful and occasionally excruciating process. They’ve been with me all summer on my book tour for The Language of Trees. Incidentally, I came to She Writes when I found Mother Writer!, and was thrilled to find an environment where women could share the truth about themselves. 4. The novel’s plot often invokes folklore stemming from the Seneca Indians in the Fingerlakes region of New York, specifically Canandaigua Lake. Why does the spiritual past affect the spiritual present for your characters so much? I am fascinated by the idea of “rootedness,” that feeling of belonging in one’s world. I have always been very attuned to place, specifically, how it shapes who we become. My own childhood was filled with real-life characters, my father, in particular, who loved to tell stories and swap folklore. In my nomadic 20s and having traveled extensively in my 30s, it became clear to me how the spiritual past is intrinsically tied to the present in different places in the world. In my novel, I simply could not write about a family living on Canandaigua Lake without writing about the Seneca Nation of Indians, as it is the birthplace of their nation. Their stories are infused throughout my novel, because their folklore informs the current day. 5. Many of your characters believe in second chances and it is often these second chances that eventually bring them peace and turn their lives around. Do you believe in second chances personally? Absolutely. I also believe in practicing what I preach. My children are the epitome of resiliency and the power of second chances. I think we all wish for a second chance at something. And if we can give that to another person through our writing—if we can write something that changes someone’s world view or makes them want to try again, it’s a mitzvah as we say in Judaism. If we are lucky enough to get a second chance ourselves, it's a miracle. Then it’s up to us to make it count. Check out ilie's website at You can join her FB at or follow her on twitter at RELATED: Mother Writer! (the group) Why Do You Write and What's Your Process (the group) Poets on She Writes (the group) Fiction Writers (the group) Five Questions for... (the series)

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  • Clark Lohr

    Like the "process" description-a poet's eye crossing every page and building layers/cadence.

  • Doreen McGettigan

    I too love this interview and both of you ladies...amazing!

  • Siobhan Fallon

    Great interview, ladies!
    Thank you !!!

  • Ilie Ruby

    I second that. How fabulous to have this forum of kindred spirits, many of whom I now call my friends. Persevere ladies. Persevere no matter what and write what you must.

  • Rebecca Rasmussen

    I love all of the support on She Writes, yay ladies, yay Ilie. Thank you all so much! xox

  • April Sweazy

    Love this post for lots of reasons! I love that you respect your inner time clock and know what hours work the best for you and your writing. Being a night bird myself I have never been able to get up early and write so I love that you do things your own unique way.
    I also love that passage in your book referring to motherless daughters. By far my favorite part of the whole book. So glad you are bringing light so eloquently to that subject. Really just love these 5 questions, sort of wish it had been 10!

  • Jaime Herndon

    love! And you're so right about the motherless daughters passage in your book. I underlined that when I read it because it was so beautifully written and perfectly captured that yearning. I loved reading these five q's and getting a peek into your writing process. :) And wow - 9pm to 3am....go you!

  • Amy Wise

    Ilie...just watched it and loved it!! The firefighter comment...good giggle, the nutella comment...well let's just say it's always in my pantry, perseverance....wonderful, your daughter...adorable! Thanks so much for sharing.


  • Amy Wise

    Ilie this post soooo resonates with me! First of all I didn't realize that you adopted all 3 children at once! Wow! Amazing and what a big heart. I was adopted as a baby so I feel your story to my core. As you know I'm married to a black man so the fact that you adopted 3 children from Africa...well...beautiful. And then there's the second chances. Writing has given me a second chance after losing my business to someone's else's negligence over 3 years ago and painting brings me complete peace and relaxation. Both writing and painting have brought new life to my once broken spirit. Thank you for this post, it just reiterates the beauty of starting over, the importance of being a mom, and to always follow your dreams. I can't wait to read your book!


  • Rebecca Rasmussen

    Thank you, She Writes and Ilie, for having me :)