Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: In “A Girl Talks to Flowers,” we’re intrigued by the images and themes showing that, as humans, we are interconnected with the earth. How would you describe your relationship with nature?
Ruth Joffre: Up until recently, I would’ve said my relationship to nature was: “skeptical.” I managed to live in the Pacific Northwest for almost four full years without going on a single hike until I met my girlfriend, who finally convinced me to go on A Hike. Now, you could say I’m a hiker, climber, and burgeoning nature-lover, only just accepting how connected we are with the Earth and trying to honor that connection as best I can.
RR: The bilingualism that’s woven throughout the story is lovely, compelling, and multidimensional. As the daughter of a Bolivian-born mother, did you draw from your own experiences with Spanish to develop the voices in this piece?
RJ: Yes and no. My father’s English-speaking expectations and side of the family really dominated my childhood, so my experience of Spanish growing up was it creeping in, being spoken only in certain circumstances, when certain people were around. That mixture of language was something I drew on for this piece, but I actively stripped away the fear from my own experience in order to create a more vibrant and accepting story.
RR: As someone who has interviewed over a dozen writers about their craft-based projects, can you give us some insight on how you approach structure in your own work?
RJ: One thing I want to emphasize upfront is that there is no singular way to approach structure. From project to project and story to story, the structures I build are evolving, and I evaluate the structural needs of each piece on an individual basis. A story may need to be told primarily in flashback with a singular snap forward to the present or it may need to be a longer story broken into dozens of little vignettes. Each narrative dictates its own needs. As I write this, I’m realizing that your question may have a second meaning (that is, how do I build structure in my writing life?), and to that I would say the answer is very nearly the same. I assess each piece on its own merit and determine what it needs from my life. Some stories I can write one hour at a time over a series of weekday evenings. Others I need to set aside holiday weekends to focus on. This varies from project to project, and learning how to recognize these individual needs has vastly improved my ability to write the stories that matter most to me.
RR: We love the compressed, poetic language of the story. As a poet and a fiction writer, how do you find those genres might meld together or influence each other in your work?
RJ: Increasingly, I’m interested in work that blurs genre, whether that be the line between prose and poetry or between science fiction and fantasy. Labels like these can help readers find you and your work, but they can also needlessly limit you and run contrary to the fluidness of your own concept of your work—or of yourself. Right now, I’m focusing so much on fiction that it’s hard to see myself as a poet, and yet I know that is still in me. I am feeling a need to involve poetry as much in my writing as my reading life, so perhaps there are more poems in the near future. And who knows—maybe one day I’ll even start writing essays and fail terribly at it. I like to keep options open for myself and my characters.
RR: Your “A Girl…” flash pieces and your short story collection Night Beast are centered around the experiences of women. Can you talk about how these larger projects came together?
RJ: I see my “A Girl” series as a means of exploring many of the same themes as Night Beast through a centralizing concept. Queerness, gender, sexuality, the body, and family all play a major part in these projects, as does the exploration of complex and sometimes damaging relationships. As a writer, I’m primarily interested in telling stories that center the historically marginalized and defy the status quo. Anything else would feel like a betrayal of my own experience.
Ruth Joffre’s work in Issue 8.1: