Anne Marie Ruff talks with Book Glow about the writing of her novel, Beneath the Same Heaven. With candor, beauty, and unusual insight, the novel reveals how decent people can justify horrific acts. The book is available from Amazon and Open Books Direct.
Describe Beneath the Same Heaven in one sentence.
This cross-cultural love story follows two characters as their marriage is torn apart by the geopolitics of their respective countries.
What led you to write it?
On 9/11, I was in a nightclub in Bangkok, dancing with a man from another culture and another religion. When the lights came up and the TV screens in the club showed the smoking towers, we both knew revenge would follow. After he and I married, we realized that we had grown up with different ideas of justice and how to achieve it. So this story explores what happens to love when two seemingly irreconcilable systems of justice collide in a worst case scenario. Beneath the Same Heaven is my attempt to answer the questions: what drives good and loving people to act in reprehensible ways? And can those people remain good and loving?
How long did it take to write?
Seven years. I mapped out the plot in about six months, wrote the first draft in about 18 months, and then spent another five years revising, pitching, handling rejection, and revising some more before happily publishing with Open Books.
Do you prefer writing in one genre over another?
As a journalist, I spent years writing non-fiction. Articles and broadcast stories are quick work by comparison to fiction, causing a lot less heartache than novel writing. But I started to feel that non-fiction stories didn’t make the impact I wanted. They didn’t stick with people. So I started with fiction, very realistic fiction. I wanted to enrich the non-fiction stories I saw around me with the emotional charge of fictional characters. I take a lot of care to ensure my fictional stories are plausible, but I love the freedom to be able to follow the emotional arc of a story the way I want to.
What book most influenced your life?
I couldn’t possibly name just one. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle made an indelible impression on me when I was a child. The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie is the best novel I have ever read, as it seems to cover every possible human relationship. The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde helped me understand the role of art in the world and the role of my writing in my own life.
Where do you write?
I wrote most of this book sitting at the back of the 96 Metro Los Angeles bus on the way to my office. I set a goal of 250 words every morning on my 20 minute bus ride. (I discovered I couldn’t write on the evening commute, as my brain was tired.) And on Saturday mornings, I sat on my verandah until I had written 1000 words, usually about an hour or two.
Is there any one thing that especially frustrates you about the writing process?
I spent years frustrated that I didn’t have time to write because I had a full time job and two children and a full social life. Before I figured out the right schedule, I was pretty sure my husband was to blame for my lack of time. But I realized all the other tasks in my life were getting done, so the time for writing was just a matter of prioritizing. I had been trying to write at the end of the day, when I was exhausted, and often I would lose the few precious minutes I had around midnight because my old computer would crash. So I asked my husband to find me a tiny computer that I could carry with me to take advantage of any down time I had. I didn’t need something fast or fancy, just a good wordprocessor that I could take with me on the bus. I also bargained with my family, that I would take about an hour to myself on Saturday morning to write a thousand words. If they allowed me that time undisturbed, I would give them my focus for the rest of the weekend. The logistics of writing may seem trivial, but I think figuring out the time and place to fit writing into your life is one of the most important issues in a writer’s life. Ideas come to all of us. Taking the time to write them down is hard.
Any advice for novice writers?
Spend more time writing than talking about writing. Discipline is as important, if not more important, than your talent. And writing is only half the work. Don’t underestimate the work required to pitch, revise, publish, and market the book.
I have a first draft of a children’s/young adult book called, with the working title Worldmaker. The story follows several kids from around the world who meet through an online video game, who realize they each have an ability to understand a certain aspect of nature. And they will need to combine those special abilities to respond to climate change.