Like everyone, I am many different things, all at once: A writer and a literature critic. A surfer and swimmer. A displaced Texan. A watercolorist. The wife of a member of the U.S. Foreign Service. That girl you REALLY wished you hadn't asked to tell you about her recent favorite read.
I don’t think I’m the only person doing some serious contemplating during this strange time of illness, panic, isolation. Everything appears so uncertain, unknown. And, of course, with so many now stuck quarantining at home–days once jammed-packed now jerked to a halt–there’s a sudden excess of time to think.
I’m not sure about anybody else, but my brain is not always a safe place for me to wander alone.
Yet, I find myself facing a sudden shock of revelation–in this time of upset, I am not as “upset” as I’d expect. Despite everything, I’ve mostly felt at peace. And it’s because of the strangest thing: old heartaches.
To explain: Those who follow my blog will know that I married into the Foreign Service. The lifestyle offered by my husband’s job has afforded us many wonderful adventures–amazing things I never imagined I’d do: Cuddle baby tigers. Climb castles made of ice. Sleep in the heart of the rainforest. I wouldn’t trade it…. I don’t think.
And the uncertainty on that point comes from this: the Foreign Service life has also caused me a lot of pain.
This past weekend, despite multiple almost-changes to travel plans and the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named, I got to join the husband and a friend for a weekend in gorgeous Costa Rica.
I have majorly fond feelings toward Costa Rica, since the surf trip I took there in 2014 with my brother Hunter and our dad remains one of my all-time-favorite vacations. And I’ve seen quite a few cool spots during my years as a Foreign Service spouse.
Sadly, there wasn’t time to sprint off to the beach this trip. But an afternoon foray to Doka Estate–a coffee plantation–offered a fun substitute.
I’m not sure what I expected a coffee plantation to look like. But I certainly didn’t anticipate the mini-Eden we discovered after a 45-minute (and unsettlingly twisty) drive into the hills. As a gal from South Texas, I have a sharp awareness of landscapes that get plenty of water (having grown up in a place that didn’t). Evidence of tJuhat rain-fed lushness was EVERYWHERE, from hydrangea blossoms the size of basketballs to the flowering vines climbing over everything.
And the serenity of the estate, tucked into the mountain-scape…. It provided a vivid, lovely contrast to the close-quarter hustle of San Jose’s downtown. With glittering sunshine, cool breezes, and clear, flower-scented air, the landscape practically begged me to curl up in the grass with a book for long, lazy hours.
No doubt about it: I’ve been neglecting my blog. I’m a tad appalled that it’s been onetwothreefour months since I posted anything new.
But life off-screen has been a bit busier. There was Thanksgiving and Christmas and all the associated weeks of travel. My wonderful brother’s graduation. A trip down to the family ranch in Texas to celebrate my other wonderful brother’s engagement to a wonderful girl. A move into a new apartment (complete with sunroom/painting studio for me–squeal!) A slew of freelance editing and writing projects.
But perhaps the busiest bee in my hive is this: come June, I will have a gallery show in Rockville, Maryland–my very first. And I’m in a race to the finish line as I try to whip up 12 paintings in the space between December and the end of May. No small feat, given the fact that it usually takes me 6 weeks or so to polish off just one.
No one is more surprised than I am, but despite the constant, quietly humming anxiety of oh-my-gosh-what-if-I-don’t-get-this-done at the back of my brain… I’ve actually been enjoying this intensely packed painting time. It’s meant halving my writing hours, which makes me a bit sad. But it’s also provided a much-needed palate cleanse for my writing mind, allowing me to come back to my keyboard more clear-minded and focused because I took time to step away.
And I’ve even managed to knock out a few paintings along the way, three of which make up a surf/space series for which I have to thank my brother Hunter for inspiration.
(Almost) four down… eight to go!
*Cue nail-biting here*
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So here’s some exciting news: I’ve just had a short story accepted for publication in an upcoming literary anthology.
This isn’t my first short story rodeo. But this one is particularly fun, since my tale, “Moonshine,” will be appearing in the inaugural edition of Keep Texas Salty. The debut publication for new Texas press Quartermarch, Salty is to be a collection of poetry and short fiction paying tribute to the Texas Gulf Coast.
And as anybody who reads my blog will tell you, that sort of theme is right up my Texas-surfer-girl alley. As they say, you can take the girl outta Texas, but you can’t take Texas outta the girl. You can, however, distill it into a work of fiction or two.
A gothic noir (many thanks to the husband for helping me quantify this strange little story set in Prohibition-era Texas), “Moonshine” isn’t what you’d call a polite tale. But it should fit in just fine given Quartermarch’s aim for the anthology:
Lovely. If I was describing Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap in one word, “lovely” would be it.
As anyone will tell you who’s seen my onetwothree four bookshelves, my taste in books is somewhat eclectic. I read everything from stylistically-bizarre literary fiction (looking at you, A House in the Country) to lean-and-mean, plot-driven urban fantasy. And I love it all.
Often, I walk away with an overarching impression of why I loved a particular book. For The Historian, it was “research”–Elizabeth Kostovo does an amazing job of digging into her various histories and settings, then weaving them into a riveting story. For The Night Circus, it was “atmosphere”–Erin Morgenstern evokes her novel’s incredible magical landscape with language and imagination lush and dark.
At first glance, Bone Gap doesn’t sound super unique. It’s about a girl who goes missing, and the boy who’s the only witness to the kidnapping. Any one of a dozen thrillers could be summed up the same way.
But Bone Gap‘s treatment of this story sets it completely apart, weaving a layered, atmospheric magical realism novel with evocative language and hand-to-your-heart themes of love and persevering hope. Since finishing Bone Gap, I’ve found my thoughts wandering back to it again and again.
There’s a reason it was a Printz Award Winner and National Book finalist.
Beautiful Roza appears in Bone Gap, Illinois under mysterious circumstances. But her goodness has the small town quickly falling in love with her–no one more so than Sean, Finn’s stoic brother. The day Roza disappears, Sean’s world crumbles; he’s sure she left by choice. But Finn knows Roza was taken–he saw someone do it. No one can find evidence of Finn’s claims, though. And as everyone knows, Finn’s always been a bit… odd.
You learn a lot about yourself living the Foreign Service lifestyle. There’s nothing like moving every 1-3 years, finding yourself constantly dropped in new situations and new countries, to speed the process of learning who you are (good and bad).
I, for example, have learned this: though I love me an adventure, I’m a rooted person at heart. Living in China and Suriname were irreplaceable experiences… but when all is said and done, I could be happy settling in my hometown, among the family and friends of my childhood. I’ve been to beaches in Hawaii, Mexico, Thailand, Ireland, Curaçao, Aruba, and Costa Rica. Every one of those places has stunningly beautiful coastlines, and I feel so blessed to have been able to visit.
But my favorite beach is still the slice of the Gulf of Mexico I call home.
Luckily, I have a husband who takes/sends me home whenever he can. And my recent Texas adventures didn’t disappoint. Of my 11 days back, I made it oceanside on 8 of them. That tallied up to:
6 surf sessions with my dad and/or brothers.
1 offshore boat trip to snorkel around an oil rig reef
1 line-caught fish (though it was just a feisty hardhead we were happy to send back to the sea)
1 jellyfish sting across the mouth (weirdest.sensation.ever.)
1 stalking of a sea turtle through the waves
1 very satisfying bout of “ocean-gazing”
Perhaps only my fellow ocean-lovers will get this, but for me, the sea truly is a balm for my soul. That’s where I’m my happiest, most whole self.
After a multi-year hiatus–peppered with rare, stolen moments of work–and half a year of concentrated effort, I’ve finished the rough draft of my speculative novel, NIGHT GARDEN.
Emphasis on the word “rough.”
A quick glance at my Track Changes application shows 119 comments sprinkled throughout the manuscript, indicating spots where I need to weave in world-building elements, affirm timelines, research further, fill in creative pits, and shore up plot points and character motivations. In addition, I have notes scrawled on napkins, sermon notes, and Post-Its–whatever I could grab before the thought fled.
Then there are the two notebooks (including one of those ultra-sexy yellow-pads) full of the most poorly organized notes imaginable.
I’ve got just a wee bit of work to do before this baby’s ready for prime time.
Still, it’s a major accomplishment, just completing the beast. I typed 112,632 words. I wrote 35 chapters. I hit the point where I could legitimately pen that final flourish: “The End.”
I should be skipping. Dancing. Celebrating with a glass of wine.