Mary Akers: I love your Shorts On Survival piece “Hopeless in St. Henry of Uppsala.” The title alone makes me want to read it. Titles are so important and something I struggle with. How do you find titles for the pieces you write (do they come first? after? in the middle of writing?) and do you enjoy the search?
Mindela Ruby: Thanks for the kind words about the piece and its title. Titles come to me late in the drafting process and not especially easily. I usually get a project going with a place holder title until a catchier alternative occurs to me. This story started out titled “Hopeless.” It takes place in the community room of a church that I rather blandly identified in early versions as St. Peter’s. Eventually I researched lesser known saints and changed the church name to St. Henry of Uppsala. To answer your question about the search, I enjoy discovering a phrase lurking in one of my paragraphs that I can copy to the title space and with luck capture the essence of the piece—or at least someone’s notice.
MA: The narrative voice you employ in “Hopeless” is wonderful. She’s got a tough veneer, this young woman, but I think there’s something softer inside. Makes me think of Abby on NCIS. How does that sit with you? (Me likening your character to a TV character?) It’s okay if it bugs you. I’m interested in exploring how authors are able to or unable to “let go” once they create a character who becomes real to the reader.
MR: Yes, you totally get the personality of my protagonist. Characters who put up a protective shield of bravado to hide vulnerability and need tend to appeal to me. They don’t do a great job of hiding their tender core, and those chinks in the armor can be telling and endearing.
Much as I’d love to agree that the voice in my story is reminiscent of Abby from NCIS, I have never seen that show, despite being addicted to TV. It doesn’t bug me to have my protagonist likened to a TV character. In fact, my piece in r.kv.r.y. comes from my novel, in which the main character’s TV viewing favorites get documented—akin to Facebook TV preferences, though my novel’s time frame predates Facebook by a few years. If this personality I’ve conjured comes off as real enough to warrant comparisons to memorable characters from any of the arts, that’s satisfying and worth letting go for.
MA: I also enjoy the inventive wordplay in your piece: “At chicken o’clock” and “For gratifactual distraction” and “this flounderous fish tale” are just a few examples. Does this sort of wordplay come naturally to you? Or is it something you worked on specifically for this character?
MR: Language intrigues me, and the narrator in this piece allows me to indulge in delicious verbal waggery. A friend pointed out that my technique here is similar to skaz, a traditional Russian narrative style that captures a slangy oral idiom in fiction. Street lingo, neologisms, buzz terms, foreign words and other vernacular and metaphoric diction work their way into Boop’s voice. Does this come naturally to me, the writer? Yes and no. Some of the wordplay is spontaneous inspiration, some the result of slang research, and much wrought from the sheer labor of painstaking layering of appropriate “bon mots” and excising of what doesn’t sound true. Someone at a writers conference pegged Boop as a person whose linguistic inventiveness is entertainment and solace for her. The voice in her head keeps her company when she’s lonely or alienated. In this way, she’s a lot like a writer.
MA: I understand you were a punk rock deejay in another life. How does that affect and inform your writing?
MR: Punk plays a big role in the subject matter of my novel. The protagonist manages a garage girl band, and punk clubs and practice spaces form part of the backdrop. Punk’s anti-mainstream ethic and unintimidated ballsiness are reflected in the style and tone. Chapters (and stories I’ve excerpted for journal publication) are short and gutsy, like punk songs, and my goal was to not shy from taboos. Also, there’s a theatricality and gamboling-jester quality to the punk music scene that I wanted to capture. Other stories I’ve composed are not so obviously tied to a punk sensibility, yet my core rebelliousness, that I partially trace back to The Misfits, Sex Pistols, Minor Threat, etc., always manages to come sneaking, willy nilly, into my writing.
MA: Your bio says you have a completed novel. Would you like to say a little something about that? Do you have a 30-second “elevator pitch” for it?
MR: Well, I’ve already expounded quite a bit about the novel, which is titled Mosh. I’m in the process of shopping it now. Here’s a short pitch: It’s 1999, and Boop, self-professed “love junkie” and punk “riot grrrl,” grudgingly admits her dangerous sexcapade-fueled lifestyle is, like the millennium, fading fast. With the help of the most unlikely friends, she escapes the throes of addiction and reclaims her soul.
MA: And finally, what does “recovery” mean to you?
MR: Recovery is clawing your way back from disorder to equilibrium. Gosh, put this way, it sounds like physics. As every fan of your literary journal knows, recovery really means something much more emotionally fraught.