Today’s interview is with the magnificent author Ruthie Marlenee, writer of Curse of the Ninth.
You can find a copy for yourself through the affiliate link here: Curse of the Ninth
Questions about Writing
Is writing your full time job? Do you also consider it a passion?
Ruthie Marlenee: I don’t spend 8 hours a day writing, but my stories are on my mind full time 7 days a week. And yes, I consider it a passion. I have to write like I have to breathe fresh air.
What is your schedule for writing like? Do you make time for writing or do you squeeze writing in when a moment becomes free?
RM: Every morning, I get up, grab a cup of coffee and open up my computer. I’ll spend however time, long or short, it takes to accomplish something either satisfying or sometimes frustrating or until I need to take a bathroom break or until I’m called to do something else like exercise or eat.
Amanja: I do that too! Well at least I sit at my computer to work for about an hour before I have to get ready for work. But first thing in the morning is when things seem clearer.
How much planning goes in to writing before you actually write a sentence? Or do you just let the words flow and do heavy editing later?
RM: Most nights before I go to sleep, unfortunately the ideas start bubbling to the surface. By then I’m too tired or lazy to write the stuff down. An idea will percolate all night and I trust that in the morning, if it’s important, it will still be there. Sometimes I wake up with a well-formed idea or sentence or a word pops into my head and it’s like magic. Sometimes I do just let the words flow and edit later.
How do you handle criticism or negative feedback on your writing?
RM: I know my stuff isn’t for everyone and so I also appreciate the opportunity to learn more from feedback. But anything critical, I’ll take into consideration and try not to take it personally. So far, readers/critics have been kind.
A: That’s great! I know everyone’s going to find some haters but I’m glad people have seen the beauty in your words so far.
Do you have any tips and tricks for aspiring writers?
RM: Sit at your desk and pick up the pen or open your computer, if this is what you aspire to do. It’s a one day at a time thing, one word at a time and then before you know it, you’ve written a poem or a short story or even a novel.
Questions about Reading
Do you think it’s necessary for a good author to also be a prolific reader?
RM: Absolutely, I used to always have to have something to read. Reading took me away. The more I read, the more I knew I wanted to write like Barbara Kingsolver or John Grisham or T.C. Boyle or Michael Chabon or Sandra Cisneros or Caroline Leavitt or Janet Fitch. I knew I wanted to try and write like them.
How do you find time to read?
RM: Nowadays, maybe because of CoVid19, I’ve become more focused on my own writing. I read books now mostly as research. Ironically, I don’t read as much for pleasure as I used to. I’ve joined a book club, though, so that I can commit to reading more. It’s important. So far, I’ve fallen behind.
A: I’ve yet to find a book club that actually reads! I hope that helps you find your way back to reading for pleasure.
Does reading give you inspiration for writing? If so what books have inspired you?
RM: So many books have inspired me. Sophie’s Choice, Anna Karenina, Shadow of the Wind, Kafka on the Shore, Cruel Beautiful World, White Oleander, Confederacy of Dunces, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
A: Kafka on the Shore has been sitting on my list forever. Maybe it’s finally time to get to it!
Who’s an author that you think is criminally under-read?
RM: Langston Hughes. “An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.” Langston Hughes.
What’s a book from your childhood that holds a special place in your heart?
RM: Charlotte’s Web made an impression and definitely Charley in the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, all of which I imagine led me to write with a sort of magic realism or paranormal twist.
A: Oh I can see that! There’s such a whimsy about James and the Giant Peach that I could see as an early influence.
Questions about Your Book
Curse of the Ninth makes use of the theme of music as a tie through the generations. What is your experience with classical music, specifically the piano?
RM: The character Phoebe was based on my grandmother, a musician and a founding member of both the Hollywood Bowl and the Dorothy Chandler Music Pavilion. She was a music teacher and bought me my first piano. I took piano lessons and barely mastered Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ or ‘Fur Elise’, but did manage to memorize the ‘Baby Elephant Walk’ (now a classic). I’m not musically gifted like Phoebe, but what I did inherit was an appreciation of classical music.
A: She sounds like a truly impressive lady!
Many of the relationships in your book are downright toxic. I’m hoping the answer is no but did you build these examples based on personal experience?
RM: I did. It’s the reason I fictionalized the book and gave it a happier ending. Giving a sort of paranormal twist to the toxicity makes it seem even more incredulous and will keep the reader guessing.
A: It’s an amazing ability that writers have, the ability to rewrite their own stories as a healing mechanism.
I had never hear the term phowa before this book. How did you discover the idea and how did it inform your writing of the book?
RM: I was looking for a way to tell this crazy story without just being a fly on the wall. Having grown up with these crazy stories from my father, the real Charley, it truly was as if he knew telepathically or as if he’d been reincarnated, and then after my research I was amazed at how accurate he’d been. Scary! He’d tell me how he remembered being born, crawling out of his mother’s stomach and practically cutting the cord.
I don’t know that much about reincarnation and knew it was overdone in other novels. I was also doing research on a popular religion of the times ‘Theosophy’ since Phoebe in real life had been accused of belonging to a cult.
I believe I came across something about “transference of consciousness at time of death” and I knew I was onto something I could use! Again, in real life Doc dies and Charley is born, so why wouldn’t Doc transfer his consciousness? It made sense to me (I almost believe he did) and it became a perfect writing tool for me.
A: Fascinating! This grandmother of yours just gets more and more interesting!
How much research did you have to do for the historical events of the book? For example, divorce law during the early 1900s.
RM: It took more than ten years. I started researching before Ancestry.com became so popular. I researched everything from Phowa, Theosophy, politics of the time, and prohibition. I spent days in the libraries researching Glendale records, the Los Angeles Archives. I traveled to Iowa and spent time in the library in Panora. I visited the cemetery where ancestors are buried and asked them all for guidance. I obtained death records (Leland’s cause of death ‘Accidental gunshot to the head’). Newspaper articles regarding the love triangle, the will contests and fraud.
There were numerous newspaper articles and records referring to the Las Vegas divorce and of course I was curious about something that seemed so progressive. So, as for the divorce law, it was possible even in 1917 to travel to Nevada, obtain residency and then get a divorce 6 months later. This link is for Reno, but it applied to the whole state of Nevada, including Las Vegas http://renodivorcehistory.org/themes/law-of-the-land/residency-requirements/
A: Thanks for even providing references! You really put in the leg work and it shows in the book.
Could you give us a hint as to what the sequel will contain? I’m curious as to what journey the granddaughter will go on.
RM: Sure. Agents, if you’re listening here goes… “And Still Your Voice” opens with 26-year old pregnant Annie (Marnier) Gunn (Charley’s daughter) sitting in the front of her childhood home (Woodside) in the car with her husband. She hasn’t been back since she ran away 10 years ago. Annie asks Tom how he knew to drive here. He tells her she insisted. What? “No, I didn’t.”
She doesn’t remember, but when she hears the piano music wafting from inside the house, she knows dead Grandma (Phoebe, a classical pianist) is back using Annie’s voice again to communicate her desires. Before dying, Grandma practiced PHOWA, the eastern religious practice of transferring your consciousness to a perfect being at time of death.)
It’s been years since Grandma has bothered Annie. And now that they’re going to have a baby, Annie has a lot of explaining to do to her husband about why she’s been acting so strange. Is it her pregnancy hormones, he asks? And Annie wonders if Baby will also be cursed. She’ll need to explain to Tom about Grandma and the practice of PHOWA.
Annie will then share her story with Tom beginning at age 16 when she runs away after stabbing her father (nothing too serious) and Grandma urges her to return home, “He didn’t mean anything, Darling,” Grandma says. Annie does her best to shut Grandma up and wants to find a way to get rid of her, but when she hitches a ride with Charles Manson and other runaways, it’s Grandma who steps up to protect her and to help her escape. And Grandma will be there throughout her dangerous journey across country, across the world.
She’ll be there during the criminal activities as well as the many love affairs. In the meanwhile, Annie keeps calling home, but the number has been disconnected. She misses her family. In the end, Annie learns more about Phowa but will she figure out how to get rid of Grandma, once and for all?
A: That is certainly going to be a wild adventure! I knew you had some tricks up your sleeve for the sequel!
Questions about You/ Just for Fun
What is something mundane that doesn’t seem to bother most people but drives you absolutely insane?
RM: Sitting around doing nothing. Playing silly reindeer games.
What’s the best trip you’ve ever taken?
RM: Most recently, Iceland. Eerily beautiful country, it’s like you’ve landed on Mars. I am impressed with its leadership in climate change, renewable energy and gender equality.
A: Oh dear, that sounds like a fantasy from where I’m sitting in America right now!
What’s your favorite present you’ve ever received?
RM: My children, of course, are my greatest ‘gifts’, but I think my first favorite present had to be my magenta-colored Huffy stingray bike.
A: I still remember the Christmas me and my brother got our first bikes! Such a great memory!
If a stranger wanted to win you over, how would they start the conversation?
RM: Hi, so what do you do for a living? Read any good books lately? “Yeah, mine!”
What’s something you would scream at your younger self until you were sure they heard you?
RM: I’d like to go back to my little girl and not scream anymore but whisper, “You’re going to be okay, sweetie.” I’d wrap my arms around my little girl and say, “You’re going to survive, you’re going to thrive and find love and happiness because you deserve that. You’re perfect just the way you are. I love you. I’ve got your back!”
A: That’s just lovely.
Where Can People Find You?
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
RM: Yes. I recently signed a contract with Touchpoint Press for my next novel ‘Agave Blues’ forthcoming 2021 about a young stressed out Los Angeles attorney and mother of a rebellious daughter who must return to her roots in Mexico where she’ll inherit an agave farm. “Mix together a little family drama with some tequila and you come up with a hell of a cocktail!”
A: That’s so exciting! Congrats!
RM: I am just so grateful Amanja has taken an interest and given me the opportunity to share a little about myself and my novel ‘Curse of the Ninth’. Writing the novel was truly a labor of love and taught me to be more empathetic toward others, and gentler on myself. You never know what a person might be going through or their motivation for doing the things they do until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes (you might learn to forgive, but you don’t need to forget). When writing something painful, you always have the opportunity to change the ending. It’s called fiction.
A: Beautiful words to end on, readers go find Curse of the Ninth!