Ruby Bell was a constant reminder of what could befall a woman whose shoe heels were too high. The people of Liberty Township wove her into cautionary tales of the wages of sin and travel. They called her buck-crazy. Howling, half-naked mad. The fact that she had come back from New York City made this some-what understandable to the town.
She wore gray like rain clouds and wandered the red roads in bared feet. Calluses thick as boot leather. Hair caked with mud. Blackened nails as if she had scratched the slate of night. Her acres of legs carrying her, arms swaying like a loose screen. Her eyes the ink of sky, just before the storm.
That is how Ruby walked when she lived in the splintered house that Papa Bell had built before he passed. When she dug into the East Texas soil under moonlight and wailed like a distant train.
In those years, after her return, people let Ruby be. They walked a curved path to avoid her door. And so it was more than strange when someone walked the length of Liberty and brought a covered cake to the Bells’ front porch.
-Reprinted from the book Ruby by Cynthia Bond. Copyright © 2014 by Cynthia Bond. Published by Hogarth, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company.
Late Night Library: Summarize your book in 10 words or fewer.
Cynthia Bond: Alluring lunatic and forgotten man saved by fallen angel cake.
LNL: If this book were the lovechild of two others, who are its parents?
CB: Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day spies Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones over steaming black coffee and filterless cigarette smoke. Hearts crush like ground pepper. They go back to Mama’s place and sweat, tears, and sex turn the sheets salty wet, like a used beach towel. Mama takes the news she’s pregnant in stride and gives birth to Life Doesn’t Frighten Me At All, illustrated by Jean-Michel Basquiat, written by Maya Angelou…Baby’s first words are, “I say boo, make them shoo.”
LNL: What ingredients go into the recipe of your writing style?
CB: 1 ½ cups of bone marrow, 5 cups of deprivation, 1 gallon of sludge-thick coffee, 2 gallons of procrastination, 5 tablespoons of East Texas red clay, 1 ½ cups of blessing oil, 3 sprigs of night blooming jasmine, 20 drops of sweat, 3 swigs of self-hate, 4 squares of bitter chocolate, melted and cooled, warm fresh honey, 1 cup whole milk, 7 egg yolks, 2 cups of butter from my grandmother’s churn, stir in Terror, Loneliness, and Hope to taste.
Preheat oven to “inferno.”
Leave the room so the ingredients can mix themselves as they see fit. Come back in to see if they got it right. Fix and tweak, add, and pour off excess. Bake until the straw from a broom comes out clean. Serve warm with whipping cream.
LNL: Name one book you wish you could read again for the first time.
CB: Although it’s been discovered and rediscovered, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston remains the book that moved into my diaphragm and took over every breath. I’ve read it over and over and discover another salted, sweet, soul-filling treat each time. Words like “Monstropolous” fill up the sky…my favorite passage: “He drifted off into sleep and Janie looked down on him and felt a self-crushing love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding place.”
LNL: Answer a question you wish people would ask you about writing.
CB: How can you be a writer when you hate to write?
A friend once asked me, “How can I make writing fun?” I decided, because I loved her, to be kind. I almost told her of all of the gifts of writing, because there are many. But in the end I had to tell her the truth—for me, writing is not, nor has it ever been, “fun.”
I don’t like poking at monsters. Those who have been hiding on the outskirts of my body—who lurk on the periphery of my vision. I don’t like ferretting them out—baiting them with the candy of having a platform to spout their philosophies of hate. I don’t like allowing them to whisper the dip of rape into my ear, the murder of children. That is not fun.
But I write for the same reason Tolkien sends Frodo into hell and back to throw a ring into Mount Doom. Aside from a few incredibly magical fairy visits and a bit of food and rest, I imagine he hated his journey. He was overcome by evil, lost his finger, perhaps his mind, but the satisfaction of release, when the ring is gone…when life is righted. For that bittersweet milli-second, it is all worth it. That is why I write.
Get Ruby at IndieBound.
Cynthia Bond has taught writing to homeless and at-risk youth throughout Los Angeles for more than fifteen years. She attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, then moved to New York and attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. A PEN/Rosenthal Fellow, Bond founded the Blackbird Writing Collective in 2011. At present, Bond works as a writing consultant and teaches therapeutic writing at Paradigm Malibu Adolescent Treatment Center. A native of East Texas, she lives in Los Angeles with her daughter.