Ilie Ruby's haunting new novel, The Language of Trees is just on sale today but is already garnering rave reviews in the blogosphere, including these two already this week at She is Too Fond of Books and I'm Booking It. In her gripping debut novel, Ruby explores the relationships that define us, the events that shape us, and the places we will go to in order to save ourselves and those we love most.
Echo O'Connell knows that the summer holds its secrets. They are whispered in the rustling trees, in the lush scent of the lilacs, in the flurry of the mayflies batting against the screen door, and in the restless spirits that seem to clamor in the scant breezes on hot evenings. It is in summer that she returns home to Canandaigua, to confront these spirits, both living and not, and to share a secret with her first love, Grant Shongo—a secret that will forever change the lives of many people in the town and put to rest the mysterious disappearance of a little boy more than a decade earlier.
Grant, a descendant of the Seneca Indians who call this place "The Chosen Spot," has also come back to face his past. After a broken marriage, he has moved into his childhood home, a lake house that has withstood happiness and tragedy. He knows the spirits of the past must be dealt with—that of the little boy who disappeared all those years ago; the boy's sister, who never overcame the loss; and the love Grant still has for Echo. But before the healing must come the forgiveness. . . .
In this guest post, Ruby shares with us the inspiration she drew from the novel's beautiful setting and how it evolved as she wrote it.
I have always been interested in the way folklore converges with childhood memory, specifically, the process by which we make meaning from the stories we were told as children and how we understand those stories as adults. Having spent my childhood summers on Canandaigua Lake, my memories of the place are some of the strongest and most vivid I have. I remember that span of time—say from age 7 to 12—as a period when everything seemed overwrought with beauty, mystery, and secrets. The world of the lake was bigger, darker, and more restless than I could believe. The trees were huge, looming, tangled, and made you want to weep when you looked at them. The locals seemed preoccupied with worry, rarely looking a summer tourist in the eye, and to a child that meant they had secrets that they didn’t want you to uncover. The cabin, at least ours, was old and worn with threadbare couches and sagging front porches. It looked as though one strong wind could turn it into kindling. There was an unmistakable fragility about the place, and yet it pulled you in with its palpable strength. Still, it was the best time in my family’s life, before divorce, strife, and distance would pull us apart. Sitting around the radio on summer nights, our faces bathed in the glow of the fire, we would snuggle into our quilts and listen to story time on the radio. These times at the lake are possibly my only memory of the members of my family being together in one place at the same time.
The fact is that I started writing stories there. Our cabin had its own ghost story, and that just made it all the more interesting to me, for I knew I wanted to become a writer early on. I asked for my first typewriter at the age of 6, set up an office in my closet, and wrote away my long afternoons, the smell of the lakewater in my hair, the bristle of sunburn on my face, and a tug of hunger in my stomach. One old woman who lived on the lake had a bevy of stories to share, and because I always asked, she confessed to me that one of our cabins had been built on an Indian Burial ground, and there was a ghost in one of the bedrooms. She had 13 cats and was the keeper of local lore. She inspired the character of Clarisse Mellon in the book.
Since you might like a ghost story, here is a secret: When I began writing The Language of Trees, I began with the setting. But from the very first page, the character of Luke—a blithe little spirit—began to take over the story. The book was originally written from his point of view, and while it was a very breathless and unique writing experience, I soon realized that I was much less interested in creating a magical realm inhabited by spirits than I was in depicting a real place that was inherently spiritual. I didn’t have to do a lot of work to uncover it, but I wrestled with Luke for a good long while. Once I shifted the narrative voice, and found a proper place for Luke, the rest of the characters re-emerged and the story began to crystallize, each character taking their rightful place as the events unfolded.
Browse inside The Language of Trees and look for Ilie Ruby on tour (including an appearance this Thursday at the Borders Columbus Circle in NY that I'm planning to attend). See what other bloggers have to say on the blog tour and be sure to go to Ruby's website as well, where you can see more photos of the Canandaigua Lake region (photos here are courtesy of her site).