Friday, July 10, 2009

Interview: Ruth Sims, author of The Phoenix

Ruth Sims is the author of the highly acclaimed, gay themed novel, The Phoenix, as well as several short stories. She is an accomplished writer and has a new gay-themed novel, Counterpoint, searching for a mainstream publisher.

Q: When did you start writing?
RS: I don’t even remember when it started. I remember making up stories for myself and my little brother to act out, and I must have been about six or so. By the time I was in third grade I was writing things down. I wish some of them had been kept.

Q: Was there someone in your family, a teacher, or perhaps a favorite book, that inspired you to begin writing?
RS: The biggest influence of my life was my first grade teacher, Miss Swisher. I could already read and she arranged for me to work in the school library while the other kids were learning the early basics. I proudly pasted the little pockets in the fronts. To this day the smell of white paste takes me back. She lent me books from her own library because the school books were too easy.
She was a wonderful teacher. We were a large, poor family; we didn’t have a car. For years after I had left her class she came to get me in the spring and we’d go to the woods and look for wildflowers, something I never could have done without her. We had no books in the house. Miss Swisher took me to the public library and got me my first card, opening whole worlds. As a painfully shy, bullied child books were my escape. More than likely I was writing in my head as I read.

Q: What was the first story you ever wrote about?
RS: A horse. I knew nothing about horses, but I had read every book about them the library had. I recall the first words: “It was spring.” Brilliant, eh? But I was about eight, maybe nine at the time.

Q: Do most of your stories have gay or lesbian main characters? If so, why do you write about GLBT character, considering that it limits your audience?
RS: About half of them do. The Phoenix started out as a straight Civil War story. It ended up as a gay Victorian. Go figure. It was a long, peculiar journey. Counterpoint, not published yet but hopefully soon, is the only one I’ve deliberately written with gay characters. It’s also the only one where the story came to me more or less as it ended up. The details changed but the story stayed the same. I don’t consider that it limits my audience at all. It may limit the publication prospects, but my readers are all across the board. I’ve heard from many of them, and several have become close friends. God bless the internet!

Q: Who are the authors who most influence you, both in your early career and now?
RS: I’m a creature of the 19th century, actually. I can’t say that my favorite authors are late Victorians or Edwardians, because I have many I love who are alive and writing now. But the most influential, I’d say, were Thomas Hardy, Jack London, Edgar Allen Poe, Shakespeare’s tragedies, Flaubert’s Madam Bovary. 20th century: Stephen Vincent Benét, Patricia Nell Warren, Mary Renault, Iris Murdoch. I do not pretend to have either the talent or the intellectual gigantism of any of them!

Q: Do you need to be in a specific place or atmosphere before the words flow?
RS: Not really. The thoughts come constantly, especially if I’m supposed to be doing something else. At least, they come until I sit down at the keyboard. Then they flutter away like moths.

Q: Do you drive yourself, with something like a daily word count?
RS: No. I’m pretty much butt-lazy. I wish I were disciplined enough to write so many words or so many pages. But I’m not. I write in spurts. I’d get more done if I’d be more disciplined about it.

Q: What’s the strangest source of inspiration you’ve found for a story?
RS: An old, dilapidated, creaky chair that belonged to a lawyer I worked for. The other partners demanded he get rid of it when they very expensively redecorated the offices. He refused. The chair stayed. It inspired the short story “The Gypsy’s Curse.” (link to the free story is below)

Q: Your novel, The Phoenix, has been out for a while. Can you tell us about it?
RS: It’s been out longer than you know. It’s had more lives than a tomcat. The straight Civil War story that morphed into a gay Victorian story was published by Sasha Alyson under the title Without Sanction. (I was using a different name then, too.) Sasha sold the company, the new owners ditched many of the books he’d published, mine among them. Eventually I decided I didn’t like a lot of it, revised a lot of it, changed the title, and self-published it in 2004. Then Lethe Press wanted to reissue it and I jumped at the chance. It also gave me the chance to fix a few Americanisms and minor details. From the Civil War days to the present incarnation, took…wait for it, wait for it…about twenty years.

Q: Have you completed other novels?
RS: I’m a very slow writer. I have several others in various stages of completion. A Bit of Earth; Quinn; Cullain; Whom God Destroys; Rain Dancer.

Q: I understand you’re working on another historical novel. Can you tell us a bit about that story and when it will be released?
RS: Most of what I write is historical. Of several unfinished stories only one is contemporary. Counterpoint is my other Victorian gay love story, the only one that was gay-themed from day one, and the most unabashedly romantic of them all. It would be in print by a mainstream press as we speak if I hadn’t taken some very bad advice. It’s now under consideration at another mainstream press. (I hate to be so vague but I really can’t say which one). It’s about a young man with a dream, who will do anything to achieve it, and on the way to achieving it he experiences great love, great loss, and then is lucky enough to love a second time before he reaches the first step of his goal. It’s also about music, something that’s a big part of my life.

Q: Out of all the stories you’ve written, which is your favorite and why?
RS: I love them all! But if I had to choose, it would be Counterpoint. I feel more of a soul-deep connection to Dylan, Laurence, and Geoffrey than I do for any other characters I’ve ever done. Maybe it’s the music connection. Maybe it’s because I think it’s the best work I’ve ever done. I don’t know what it is, exactly.

Q: Which of your characters would you most like to have an intimate dinner with?
RS: Dylan, Laurence, and Geoffrey. It would have to be all three of them, even though they’re not together in the book. They’re too interconnected to separate. With Laurence I could talk writing. With Dylan and Geoffrey I could talk music.

Q: Name a book or movie written by someone else that you wish you had written, and why that one?
RS: Oh, dear! That is a tough one. Not because there aren’t any but because there are so MANY! I guess if I have to choose one, it would be Stephen Vincent Benét’s John Brown’s Body. It’s an amazing work. A book-length poetic history of the American Civil War that reads like a novel. It’s the only book I know of that tells the story of the War from every imaginable viewpoint, with a different voice and style for each character, from John Brown, to slave, to soldiers and officers on both sides, to the civilians caught up in it… it’s the most awesome book I’ve ever read. It’s the book I’d take with me (along with The Phoenix and Counterpoint, of course!) to a remote island.

Q: If you could offer one tidbit of advice for new writers, what would it be?
RS: My one tidbit has morphed into several. Write. Then rewrite and revise. Then revise and rewrite. And never think your words are written in stone. Never submit a manuscript without having other critical eyes read it first, as many as you can get. The key word is “critical.” Your Auntie Em who thinks everything you do is wonderful is NOT the critical eye needed. Every manuscript can be improved, even if only a little.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
RS: I’m a movie junkie. I have a lot of VHS and DVD movies and we get Turner Classic Movies, where I have discovered how amazingly good some of the silent movies were! No CGIs then, no digital touch-ups. No vocals. They had to act!

Q: Had you not become an accomplished writer, what other occupation would you have most liked to tackle?
RS: I’m not an accomplished writer and as old as I am, it’s unlikely I ever will be. The only other thing I’ve wanted to work at was music, but I lacked both the required discipline and the talent. I guess if I’m an accomplished anything, it’s Grandma.

Q: What was the craziest thing you’ve ever done in your life?
RS: I’ve done stupid and I’ve done ill-advised, but I’m too shy and repressed to ever do crazy.

Q: What, more than anything else, fills you with rage?
RS: Religious fanatics regardless whether they call themselves Christians, Muslim, or anything else.

Q: Can you tell us something about the place you call home?
RS: It’s not big and it’s not fancy or new, but it has a huge dry basement and we live in tornado alley. Nuff said? We have a small woods and a dozen deer that show up every fall and winter. Last night—in the middle of the summer, yet—I looked out and saw three large bucks, one of which looked like The Great Prince of the Forest, moseying across our front yard. We also have a fox and a toad. I love toads. Not frogs. Toads.

Q: Where can readers find you, websites, blogs?
RS: – read reviews, excerpts, watch the video trailer, sign up for the newsletter, etc.
my book review blog:

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?
RS: I’m very proud of my few short stories—and the ones below are all FREE (I love free. Don’t you?)
1) TOM: or, An Improbable Tail AllRomanceEbooks:

2) "Mariel" -- Blithe House Quarterly

3) "Mr. Newby's Revenge" Fall 2008 archives--MystericalE at

4) “The Gypsy’s Curse” free ebook on Lulu

5) There’s a contest the month of July at Coffee Time Romance Win an autographed copy of The Phoenix or bookmarks with the gorgeous new cover.

Alan, thank you so much for the interview. I have really enjoyed it!

1 comment:

Victor J. Banis said...

Aha - I am one of the lucky few who has read Counterpoint (though in ms., so no doubt it's had some changes) and I can tell you it is even better than The Phoenix, which is wonderful indeed. Good on you both.