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10 questions for Domenica Ruta

Each summer, Oxford University Press USA and Bryant Park in New York City partner for their summer reading series Word for Word Book Club. The Bryant Park Reading Room offers free copies of book club selections while supply lasts, compliments of Oxford University Press, and guest speakers lead the group in discussion. On Tuesday 18 June 2013, author Domenica Ruta leads a discussion on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.

What was your inspiration for this book?

The book I chose for the book club? Simple – I wanted fun but stimulating summer reading. A ghost story novella by James met the criteria perfectly.

Domenica Ruta. Photo by Meredith Zinner.

For my book? A lifetime of beauty and pain only makes sense to me after it has been distilled into sentences. I had to write this book in order to move on and write other things, like my novel.

Where do you do your best writing?

Honestly…in bed. I know it’s bad for every single muscle and joint in my body. I am going to make some osteopath a very rich man.

Which author do you wish had been your 7th grade English teacher?

My seventh grade English teacher was execrable. Almost anyone with basic literacy could have improved upon her so-called lessons. I like to imagine Joseph Campbell coming in to do guest lectures on mythology. Seventh graders are perfectly located in intellectual time to be transformed by something like that – one foot still in childhood, where magical stories still have power, and one foot in the complicated world of adulthood, where metaphors can be analyzed for greater meaning.

What is your secret talent?

I am pretty good at guessing what mix of breeds make up a mutt dog.

What is your favorite book?

I cannot, will not, answer that question. I love too many too much.

Who reads your first draft?

NO ONE! My first drafts are hideous, putrid, bloody, mangled beasts. It is immoral to expose anyone to something so ugly. My seventh or eight drafts go to my best friend and best reader, novelist/screenwriter Brian McGreevy.

Do you prefer writing on a computer or longhand?

I do both. Different energy fuels each process, and so there are times when longhand makes the most sense, and times when I need to type.

What book are you currently reading? (Old school or e-Reader?)

I am just finishing a brilliant little monograph by Marie-Louise Von Franz, a disciple of Jung, called The Cat, about this wonderful Romanian folk tale. Also reading Daniel Berrigan’s Ezekiel – a brilliant and disquieting alchemy of poetry, politics, biblical exegesis, rant, and rally. I’m also reading a forthcoming memoir by Nicole Kear called Now I See You. And of course re-reading Turn of the Screw.

What word or punctuation mark are you most guilty of overusing?

I refuse to limit myself in any way when I write. (Remember what I said about horrible first drafts?) I use any color on the palette I want. If it turns out ugly, I just delete it. Guilt is a waste of time.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

A figure skater. A veterinarian. A radical eco-activist. Ideally, all three.

Did you have an “a-ha!” moment that made you want to be a writer?

Read chapter four of my memoir for the answer to that.

Do you read your books after they’ve been published?

I just recently published my first book and I’m in no hurry to reread it.

Domenica Ruta was born and raised in Danvers, Massachusetts. She is a graduate of Oberlin College and holds an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. She was a finalist for the Keene Prize for Literature and has been awarded residencies at Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Blue Mountain Center, Jentel, and Hedgebrook. Her memoir With or Without You was published by Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, in February.

Read previous interviews with Word for Word Book Club guest speakers.

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