Interview with Michelle Ruiz Keil, Author of All Of Us With Wings

Hi there! I’m Michelle Ruiz Keil, an author and playwright with an eye for the enchanted and a way with animals. My first book is ALL OF US WITH WINGS, a magic-infused coming of age story set in post-punk San Francisco, coming June 18th, 2019 from Soho Teen.

Michelle Ruiz Keil

Hi, Michelle! First of all, I want to say that I am in love with your book! What was the toughest thing you had to go through
when writing All Of Us With Wings?

Hi Dane! I’m so glad you loved it! Thanks for the pretty Instagram posts with the ARC. Xochi looks great with roses!

So, to answer your first question, I think the toughest thing I had to go through with All of Us With Wings is that it’s a product of my very first attempt at writing a novel. Most authors have a few practice manuscripts in the drawer but I was too in love with the characters to give up on them even though I had NO IDEA how to write a book when I first started. That’s part of why it took me so long (basically, forever!). I’m pretty sure I did three or four books worth of revision as I taught myself how to write a story with multiple points of view and several intersecting storylines. In the end, it was a great education.

What do you think is the biggest thing you’ve learned in the process of writing this book?

I learned that I’m a writer. I started the book that would become All of Us With Wings on a dare. I’d been an actor, director and playwright but never even considered writing a novel. My daughters attended a democratic school where the students chose their own curriculum. A group of teen students wanted to try NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and roped me in somehow, too. That NaNoWriMo project eventually became All of Us With Wings.

What inspired you to write this book?

Like Xochi, the heroine of All of Us With Wings, I ran away to San Francisco at seventeen and fell in love with the city. I’d dropped out of high school, my plans for graduation, college, and career sidelined as the effects of childhood trauma rose to the surface in my teens. Outside the expected trajectory for a person my age, I had to find my own rites of passage, create my own education. Discover my own path to healing. I wanted to write a story about a life like that, a feminst fairy tale about loss, sexuality, identity, found family and complicated love.

I also wanted to write a love letter to the city that saved me and to experiment with creating the feel of a specific time and place weaving in lesser-known cultural elements that defined it, including my favorite 80’s film, the Wim Wenders masterpeice Wings of Desire. Also, each chapter title is the title of a song. And yes, there is a playlist!

What is your writing process? Where do you get your ideas?

I write in fits and starts. Sometimes not at all, other times for 9 hours at a stretch. As for my ideas–my stories’ bones are made of fairytales. I don’t always start with a tale in mind, but I need to find the mythic armature of a story in order to finish it. Usually, there is more than one tale I’m working with. Often, it’s the intesections and contrasts in that source material lead me to a story’s heart.

Can you describe All Of Us With Wings in 3 words?

Magical, sensual, numinous

What sort of research do you do for your books?

I do a LOT of research, but usually after the fact. So first, I write until I get stuck. Then I stop and try to figure out what I’ve written. What does it make me think of ? What cornners of my mind have I excavated? What fairytales am I referencing? What myths? Often my first stop is my own bookshelves (and book piles and book stacks…). When that’s exhausted, I do a sort of divanatory googling where I pop key words into a search engine and encourage myself to go down any pretty rabbit hole I find.

For my current WIP, I’m looking at 90s feminism, the history of the ouija board, ancient Artemis cults, the fairy tale Little Brother and Little Sister, and the life cycle and habits of deer.

Who are some of your favorite writers, YA or otherwise?

Some of my favorite YA writers are Emily X.R. Pan, Nova Ren Suma, Anna-Marie McLemore, Elizabeth Acevedo, and NoNieqa Ramos. Nina Moreno’s Don’t Date Rosa Sanchez and Tehlor Kay Mejia’s We Set The Dark on Fire are the two fellow 2019 debuts I’m currently obsessed with. I’m a huge fan of Akweke Emezi’s adult literary debut Freshwater and super excited to read her forthcoming YA novel. As a lover of fairytales, I’ll read anything by Carmen Maria Machado, Helen Oyeyemi or Kelly Link. I’ve been reading more nonfiction and loved Patti Smith’s Just Kids and M Train, Alexander Chee’s How To Write an Autobiographical Novel. I’m also a huge fan of short stories and am particularly excited about Kimberly King Parsons’ debut collection Black Light.

What’s next on your writing agenda?

I have a sweet Bay Area pocha punk love story forthcoming in the anthology Color Outside The Lines edited by Sangu Mandanna and I’m currently working on my second novel.

Read more about All Of Us With Wings :

Interview : YA SH3LF

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