Our latest guest on From the Front Porch: Creativity Interviews is author, Alison Ruth. Alison’s publisher got in touch with me last year to do a blurb for her debut novel, Near-Mint Cinderella. Whenever I’m asked to do a book blurb, I’m a little afraid that I won’t like the book and that it will be hard to come up with something nice to say for the back cover. But thankfully, I LOVED Alison’s book, loved her writing, and loved the story. Whew! Here’s the blurb I created for Near-Mint Cinderella:
“Gritty. Gripping. Beautifully written…Alison Ruth is the writer version of a rising rock star.”
Please welcome Alison to our Creativity Interviews.
Tell us a little about yourself. Perhaps what do you do for a living and where you live?
I’m a short story author and novelist, and my writing is based all across the United States. My first novel, Near-Mint Cinderella, is set in a tree-topped vista of the Appalachian Mountains; my second novel, Starlight Black and the Misfortune Society, is set on the carnival boardwalk of Asbury Park, New Jersey. My short stories are set in Los Angeles, the Catskills, Miami, and the Nevada desert. There’s a story everywhere, if I can just get there and find it for myself.
When are you the most creative? (Who are you with? Where are you? What are you doing?)
Early in the morning, window open, pine trees and birds. I read Walden this year, and Thoreau’s concept that a person is a conduit for nature, and that nature in turn, is a conduit for ideas, really resonated with me. Words try to capture nature, even if nature can’t be perfectly defined.
Music is another way to connect with creativity. Songs become abstractions over repeated listening, so sound itself can shape a work. I listened to the first two Kris Kristofferson albums while I wrote Near-Mint Cinderella, and even when I wasn’t writing, his songs helped keep my story in mind, like an echo.
What inspires you and why does it inspire you?
Books, music, and film are inspirational to me. Art connects memory with imagination, and reflexively, imagination evokes memory. Music is the most abstract; film the most concrete, and books somewhere between the two. Imagination is the wondrous result of free association, and art, like a kite, connects a grounded person with dreams.
Share a favorite quote:
From my dearly beloved grandfather: “There’s a helping hand at the end of your arm.” You need to believe in yourself before you put pen to paper.
What creative project are you working on now or do you hope to work on?
I’m working on a short story anthology, a collection of antiheroes who struggle to grasp their last shred of their American Dream. From a carpenter defending his foreclosure in upstate New York to a wounded veteran trading his last dollar for a dream in Los Angeles, my short stories and novels speak for those who are mostly forgotten.
Share a photo of something you find beautiful:
My Old-growth coast redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument, Mill Valley, California.
Name one of more of your favorite books. What do you love about them? If they changed your life in any way tell us why.
S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. The writing has such honesty, such clarity. The greasers are so real in their time that they transcend it. It was a perfect example of what great YA has the power to do: make the specific experiences of youth universal.
Name one or more of your favorite films and tell us what you love about it/them.
Jane Eyre. My favorite version is 1943’s Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. A lonely antihero and a lonelier heroine; a Gothic castle juxtaposed on the English countryside; Welles glowering at Fontaine. Brontë’s beautiful black-and-white book mirrored on celluloid.
Name one or more of your favorite songs or pieces of music and tell us what you love about them.
Outlaw country: Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Jerry Jeff Walker, Gram Parsons. It’s like listening to Western movies come to life. The songs are spare, stark, conflicted; they leave a mystery in the words they don’t sing. Cash’s “Man in Black,” Walker’s “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train,” Kristofferson’s “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” Parsons’ “Return of the Grievous Angel,” are just a few of the countless tales that make the listener wonder what happened in the end.
Name one or more of your favorite pieces of art (painting, sculpture) and tell us what you love about it/them.
Clarence John Laughlin’s mid-20th century photography of the ruins of New Orleans. He documented what was considered lovely and turned it haunting: boarded-up mansions, Spanish moss, statuary. The absence of where people used to live, how they used to live, as if they still might live.
What is your favorite place to be in nature? (In general, and also one or more specific places.)
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Sandstone rock formations colored deep red by iron oxide. It’s outside of Las Vegas, but it might as well be on Mars.
What are you grateful for? (Today or in general.)
Freedom, literally and metaphorically. You need space to be free in, and America has so many highways. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways. Onto the next scenic lookout and the next sheet of paper.
From James Lipton, host of Inside the Actor’s Studio
- What is your favorite word? Spangle
- What sound or noise do you love? the whistle of trains going by; baseball games on AM radio
From JL’s Uncle Jessie Meme:
A song/band/type of music you’d risk wreck & injury to turn off when it comes on the radio?
Commercials that ruin great songs.
A favorite show on television?
Breaking Bad. High-definition desert sunsets, high-fidelity ferocity.
If you could have anything put on a t-shirt what would it be?
“Professional stunt driver on closed course. Do not attempt.”
A favorite meal?
A table in the Caribbean Sea.
A talent you wish you had?
Rodeo riding. The barrel races: the horses just fly, rounding barrels til they almost scrape the dirt sideways, then run flat-out to the finish line.
What’s on your nightstand?
Les Miserables. Hugo leaves the reader hanging at the end of every chapter.
What’s something about you that would surprise us?
I love to watch drag racing. If I owned a 1970 GTO, I would take it to the track and give it a shot.
When you’re a writer, there’s beauty everywhere, if you look closely.
Alison Ruth was a feature writer for the popular music magazines Creem, Rock, Rock Fever, and Wavelength. Her short stories have been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize and are published in Confrontation, Curbside Splendor, J Journal, Kestrel, Southern Indiana Review, G.W. Review, Pamplemousse, and Tulane Literary Magazine. Her first novel, Near-Mint Cinderella, published by Aqueous Books in 2014, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her second novel, Starlight Black and the Misfortune Society, was published by Prizm Books in 2015.
Important: Book Giveaway!!
Alison Ruth is giving away one autographed copy of her novel, Near Mint Cinderella. Please make a comment to get your name in the hat for a drawing on August 1st, 2015. You won’t want to miss this book!
Also, please take a moment to let Alison Ruth know what you appreciated about this interview. Be sure and check out her website, too.
P.S. A quick note about the title of this series, From the Front Porch:
Here in the South, we love our front porches. They are where we get to know our neighbors and take a load off with our friends. Ideally, I would invite Alison Ruth here to my house, we’d sit with a glass of iced tea, and I’d interview her while a cool breeze moved through the oaks, accompanied by the sound of two rocking chairs squeaking on the floorboards. Instead, I’ll ask you to use your imaginations. I hope you enjoy the breeze!
Susan Gabriel is the acclaimed southern author of The Secret Sense of Wildflower (named a Best Book of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews) and other southern novels, including Temple Secrets, Grace, Grits and Ghosts: Southern Short Stories and others. She lives in the mountains of North Carolina.