Today, I’m pleased to be joined by my fellow Swanky Seventeens member, Ruth Lehrer, whose debut, Being Fishkill, is scheduled to come out Fall of 2017 from Candlewick Press.
JR: Hi, Ruth and thanks for joining us today! Before we begin, can you tell us a little bit about Being Fishkill and the impetus behind writing it?
RL: The blurb reads: When Fishkill Carmel, born to a family of abuse and neglect, meets the eccentric, fearless optimist, Duck-Duck Farina, her life begins to change. But is it changing too much? Fishkill had forged an impenetrable, don’t-mess-with-me identity to fight off poverty and bullies. If she lets that down how will she deal with the hard times ahead?
I think of it as a story about friendship and what defines and sustains a “family.”
I got the first seed for the book several years ago when my partner and I ended up driving from western Massachusetts to Queens, NY every weekend to see her parents. Up and down the Taconic Parkway for months, passing the FISHKILL/CARMEL exit sign each time. “Doesn’t that sound like girl’s name?” I said. And so it began.
JR: I read on your site, www.ruthlehrer.com that you made books in braille, which I find fascinating. How did you get into that?
RL: Yes, a long time ago I worked as a Library of Congress Certified Braille Transcriber. We transcribed print books into Braille. The field was just starting to computerize transcription so we were partly doing it by hand on a Perkins Braille typewriter, and partly on the computer with a Braille printer. That job helped me understand about the privilege that people who are able to read print have, to pick up any book any time and read it. Since then I’ve been very conscious of the accessibility or lack there of of literature, websites, magazines etc. There’s a lot of talk in the book community about “diversity” but not a lot about accessibility. They should be interconnected.
JR: Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey getting to this point?
RL: I wrote and started querying another novel before BEING FISHKILL. I learned a lot, both from writing it and researching agents. I stopped querying that book because I knew that Being Fishkill was going to be much much better. I sent Fishkill around for maybe six months before I found my great agent, Victoria Marini. It took a bit of searching but we eventually had two offers, one of which was Candlewick Press. During this period, I also had a poetry chapbook published by Headmistress Press, a small lesbian press in Seattle. The poetry world is much different (and much quicker) than the fiction world. Although it took years to write all of the poems in that collection, it took about six months from sending it around, becoming a semi-finalist in a Headmistresses chapbook contest, to publication.
JR: What’s your writing process like?
RL: It really varies. At times I write every day. At times I only write in groups. At times, I have to fool myself into writing at all, making notes in my phone. Sometimes they are lists or poems, and other times they are little scenes.
JR: What’s your favorite book and who’s your favorite author?
RL: I have to pick one? Not sure I can do that. I’m a great fan of Ann Patchett and Barbara Kingsolver. My most recent love is Kathleen Glasgow’s book GIRL IN PIECES.
JR: Something people would be surprised to learn about you?
RL: I have something between a brown thumb and a green thumb. Plants grow, but not all of them. I try very hard, but only a certain number of flowers bloom.
JR: Do you do a lot of research when you write?
RL: It depends on the piece. For BEING FISHKILL I researched a reasonable amount, things like the foster care system, and how many Yodels come in a package. My WIP is incredibly research heavy. I didn’t exactly realize what I was getting myself into.
Love Yodels, though nothing beats Ring Dings!
JR: Here at the Tuesdays, a big part of our success and the purpose of this site, has been being involved in a critique group. Are you involved in one and if so, how has it helped you?
RL: I’ve been in various writing groups at various times. I think the folks who advanced my writing the most was the group at Flying Object (of blessed memory) in both poetry and fiction. All the writers there were smart dedicated artists and were great role models.
JR: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received and is there any advice you can give to writers looking to break in?
RL: I think we should all write what we need to/have to/want to write. Don’t worry about the market, don’t worry about what people say will sell or won’t sell.
JR: What are you working on next?
RL: The book I’m working on now is big and complicated and about two sisters who live in a rural town with a CANDY FACTORY.
JR: Is there anything else that you want to share with our readers or perhaps tell them how they can follow you on social media?
RL: I’m on Twitter as @duckduckf and my Facebook author page is https://www.facebook.com/RuthLehrerauthor/ Come say hi! I have a non-existent newsletter that will eventually become existent and you can sign up for that on my website: ruthlehrer.com
Before we go, I always like to ask, who’s your favorite member of The Tuesdays? And I’m begging you, absolutely begging you to please pick me.
Oh come come, I don’t play favorites.
JR: Sigh…okay, never mind. Let’s just delete that comment. At least it wasn’t Faran.