Interview with Author Syr Ruus

Today it is my pleasure to welcome Syr Ruus to my blog to tell us about her brand-spanking new book, Krambambuli , A Memoir published by Inanna.  I met Syr at the launching of A Maritime Christmas back in 2008 and we’ve shared many cups of coffee over the years while talking about writing and the business of publishing.

Syr Ruus was born in Estonia and grew up in the United States, where she earned her MA degree in English, her MS in Education, and taught briefly at Illinois State University. She moved to Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia in 1969, where she taught Grade 3 in the local elementary school while raising her three children before turning her full attention to writing. Her short fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies. She has won two first prize awards from the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia and has published four books of fiction.  A memoir of her childhood years as a refugee and an immigrant has just been released by Inanna Publications. A novella “Walls of the Cave,” will be published by Quattro Books in 2019.

Here’s a bit about the book:

Krambambuli is a memoir of the author’s childhood experiences during and subsequent to World War II. She documents three stages of displacement due to war: escaping destruction in Estonia, living as a refugee in Germany and Austria, and beginning a new life as an immigrant first in the United States, and later in Canada. Krambambuli is not meant to be a historical account. Rather, it offers a child’s perspective of the situations and people making up her early existence: her handsome and charming father, Isa, who sweeps into her life at intervals but provides no financial support; her disciplinarian mother, Ema, an optimist and extremely competent survivor who uses her creativity to make even a small rudimentary space attractive and homey; the hated Onu Gusti; and the many others who pass through this transitory time dominated by war. The book is a moving account of child’s experience in a camp for displaced persons and of growing up as a displaced child and daughter of a single mother in America. Totsu, the child, is terrorized by the war and the disruption and fears losing her mother’s love to a male lover and the possibility of being displaced by a half-sibling. She endures multiple new school and language situations and the added angst that being a displaced person can add to the life of a teenager. With such different personalities, she and her mother live their lives in both conflict, and in the knowledge that they are all each other has.

 

  1. Could you tell us a bit about yourself, when you first started writing, and what you have published?

I am what might be considered a late bloomer, spending the first half of my life reading rather than writing.  Perhaps this was because English is not my native language and it took that long to become confident enough to even consider that I too could enter that hallowed fellowship of writers. There were the inevitable rejections of course, but also a couple of first prizes for unpublished manuscripts from the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia, a few short stories accepted and some positive comments from editors which provided sufficient incentive over the years to keep me going.  My first published book was “Lovesongs of Emmanuel Taggart” (Breakwater, 2009). Subsequently I self-published three regionally- based works of fiction: “Devil’s Hump” (1913), “The Story of Gar” (2014), and “In Pleasantry” (2016).

  1. Your upcoming book is a memoir. Why was it important to tell your story?

People have asked me why I make up stories rather than telling my own.  There are a few reasons for this. First, I still believe that fiction reveals the greater truth (except for genre fiction, which generally follows an established formula), for it gives expression to a writer’s unique vision. Thus I believe all fiction is, in a sense, autobiographical. Memoir writing, on the other hand, reveals selected factual material about the writer’s life, yet we all know that each individual perceives reality differently and there can be bitter arguments about what really occurred, or sometimes if it actually happened  at all.  Another reason I found it difficult to write meaningfully about my past was because World War II has been written about so extensively by so many others.  Millions lost their lives and suffered unbelievable atrocities. Within this context, my experience seemed trivial. Finally, however, I began to approach it in a different way:  not relating my life as a part of history but examining how historical eventsaffected me as an individual growing up—as a refugee and as an immigrant. Unbelievably, there are still wars, refugees, and immigrants.  This book is dedicated to every person who has been displaced by war.

  1. Krambambuli is an unusual title. What is the significance of the title and exactly what does it mean?

Krambambuli is an alcoholic beverage that was popular in Germany in the 18th century.  It was also a drinking song among university students.  My native country, Estonia, was occupied by various foreign powers for hundreds of years. In fact its independence lasted for only 20 years before it was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1941, to be liberated again fifty years later. Before World War I, it  was under Russian rule, but controlled by Germans who owned most of the land and businesses.  The song was translated from the German and sung by Estonians. Although I never tasted the brew, I enjoyed singing about it as a child.

  1. I love the cover of the book. Explain a bit about the images on the cover?

The cover was designed by Val Fullard.  The photograph depicted is of the author (me) at eight years old, wearing an Estonian national costume that my mother created from whatever she could find in the refugee camp in Augsburg, Germany, where we lived for four years.  It was taken to be sent to America hoping we could find sponsors in order to emigrate. The belt is representative of Estonian design.

  1. Your previous publications were fiction. What were some of the challenges you faced in writing this memoir and how long did it take to write?

The major difficulty with writing a memoir is that you involve the lives of others who undoubtedly have different opinions and views and memories.  I did change the names, which of course doesn’t hide the identity of close family members. I have very few relatives and I did send the first draft of the manuscript to my half-sister to make sure there was nothing there to offend her. Much of the book deals withmy relationship with my parents as affected by the war.  My father died some years ago.  My mother, however, lived to be 102. Although she always read everything I wrote, I did not want to share the memoir with her for it would inevitably provoke some distress and argument.  Thus, although I began writing it about fifteen years ago, I did not send it out for publication until 2016. By that time it was revised numerous times.

  1. What is new on the horizon for author Syr Ruus?

Back to fiction!  A novella “Walls of the Cave,” has been accepted by Quattro Books and will be published in the spring of 2019.  During the long wait between sending out a query to a publisher and when the final product is to be released, I completed another short novel “Sucking Stones,” and am revising (yet again) a novel I’ve worked on for many years entitled “The Grand View.”

  1. Is there anything else we should know about the book?

“Krambambuli” will be launched at the LaHave River Bookstore on Sunday, October 28, at 4 p.m.  This bookstore has been such a wonderful addition to our community.  It is not only a beautiful place to browse among new books, used books, and even a shelf of freebies—it also offers a welcoming place to share thoughts about literature and to meet other people who love to read.  I try to visit as often as possible to refresh my spirit.  Although closed during the weekdays in winter, it will be open every weekend.

Thank you so much, Laura, yet again, for this opportunity to talk about my writing.  There are very few things—perhaps none–that an author finds more gratifying.

Thank you, Syr. I’m looking forward to attending the launch on Sunday. Krambambuli , A Memoir is available at LaHave River Books and Coles in Bridgewater. Also check out Syr’s other books while you’re there. It can also be ordered from Chapters. Ca HERE and Amazon.ca..HERE  

The Writer’s Walk

One of my favourite things about being a writer is what I like to call walking the writer’s walk. When you’re walking the walk you’re out there in the world of authors and readings and book launches and writing festivals—all kinds of literary functions.

Calling ourselves a writer, even feeling it deep in our bones is one thing, but there’s more to being a writer than talking the writer’s talk. Anyone can talk about being a writer so long as we can find someone willing to listen, but I believe we also have to walk the writer’s walk.

For a long time I didn’t walk the walk. For a long time I was oblivious to the outside world of writing. I lived in my own little writing world. I wrote my stories, I reveled in the contributor’s copies of my work I received, and kept on writing. Little did I know there was a literary world out there just waiting for me somewhere with other writers just like me, writers who were willing to be my friend, to share their experiences and offer advice. Being a solo act can be mighty lonely.

syr

Author, Syr Ruus reads from her novel, “Lovesongs of Emmanuel Taggart.”

Having participated in literary events, writing festivals, having attended book signings and launches for other authors has so totally enriched my writing life. Just the other Friday evening I attended an event at the Linc in Lunenburg. My good friend Syr Ruus was reading as well as poet Carolle Langille. These two ladies are absolutely marvelous. Seriously, check out their work if you haven’t already. There was also an open mic that evening and other writers and poets got up and read their work. I can’t begin to imagine the courage it must have taken to read before two such renown authors. (Certainly more courage than I would have had at that stage in my writing.) I say good on them!

In the weeks ahead I have some book launches to attend that I’m so totally looking forward to. Not only do I get to support some of the writers I know, and have met, but you just never know who you’re going to bump into at one of these events. Could be someone who’ll end up being a friend or even someone who has an interesting story to tell. Hey, you might even rub elbows with an editor you’ve been longing to meet or an author you’re just dying to speak to.

A writer’s walk is about immersing yourself in the literary world, attending events, supporting one another, getting to know your fellow writer. We’re a community, a community of like-minded people. Mind you, it’s impossible to attend every literary event, but you’d be surprised at the number of writers, and would be writers, who aren’t willing to engage themselves in the writing community at all. I say they’re missing out on a lot. In order to be a writer it’s important to walk that walk, to count your every footstep and claim that path as yours. Seriously, if you want others to support and lift you up as a writer, you should be willing to do that exact thing yourself.

Poet/writer, Carolle Langille.

Poet/writer, Carolle Langille.. 


Do you make an effort to “immerse yourself” in the writing community, to walk that writer’s walk? If not, what are you waiting for?

PUBLISH BEFORE YOU PERISH or The Little Red Hen

Today, it is pleasure to welcome author Syr Ruus to my blog. As both a traditionally and self-published author, Syr has kindly agreed to share her thoughts on this with us.

37816_135253859838486_2745956_nSyr Ruus was born in Tallinn, Estonia during the Second World War. As a small child, she escaped with her mother to Germany and
subsequently immigrated to the United States. She has an MA in English and MS in Education and taught in the English Department of Illinois State University. She has lived in Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia since 1970, formerly working as an elementary school teacher while raising her three children and currently devoting herself full-time to writing. Her short fiction has appeared in anthologies and journals and in 2009 her novel “Lovesongs of Emmanuel Taggart” was published by Newfoundland’s Breakwater Press.

PUBLISH BEFORE YOU PERISH or The Little Red Hen

I have always loved books. I became a reader at three. More than thirty years later, I became a writer. Why did it take so long, you might ask? Perhaps because English is my second language, or maybe I felt that I didn’t have anything worthwhile to say. Once I started, however, I never stopped.

Publishing, of course, is another matter. People say it’s extremely hard to find a publisher these days with things being as they are. I know from personal experience that it has always been hard. It’s even difficult to find places to send a manuscript. Only small publishers accept unsolicited queries. If anyone does offer to take a closer look, it takes many months, even years, before a decision is reached. Often you hear nothing at all.

Not that this is altogether bad. It gives a writer a chance to reflect. After the first flush of enthusiasm, one can make some meaningful revisions. Sometimes, along with a rejection, there is feedback. I have read in a manual for writers that when you finish a novel, it should sit in a drawer for at least two years before you begin working on it again. A bit extreme, maybe. Yet often it sits that long in a slush pile on some junior editor’s desk. There does come a time, however, when a work is definitely ready. Finished. Done. Only a few final perks and tweaks could make it any better. Or perhaps not. Still no one has offered to publish it.

The wonderful news is that it has become more acceptable than ever to do it yourself. Even the Writers’ Union of Canada has recently voted to accept self-published writers.

321214_269317809765423_1682562519_nI was lucky. A smattering of my short stories appeared in Journals and anthologies. After my novel Lovesongs of Emmanuel Taggart received first prize in the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia annual competition, it was published by Breakwater Press in 2009. This gave me a much needed boost and sufficient confidence to actually begin referring to myself as an author.

But what of the two books I had written earlier? In 1999, Devil’s Hump was being seriously considered by a well-regarded publisher before being rejected. A few years ago, a new editor at the same company found the same novel (revised edition) “transporting, enchanting, strange, unsentimental, vivid,” but not fitting in with “what we’re trying to do with the fiction list at present.”

“I do think you should be able to find a publisher for this,” she added.

So, like The Little Red Hen, I did it myself. Devil’s Hump was published in 2013 by etc. Press, Halifax, N.S.10569081_810453168985215_2058664649597654044_n

The first novel I ever wrote also received an award from WFNS. In 1994, Edgar was the winner in the juvenile novel category. After some years, I decided to incorporate the original story which concerned a pet crow within an adult novel about the family which raised it. As such it was shortlisted for the Ken Klonsky Novella Award, yet despite positive comments from various publishers, no one was prepared to take it on. Just a few months ago, The Little Red Hen did it again. The Story of Gar was published in December, 2014.

Each of our voices is important to our collective humanity. Those that have spoken to me in the books I have read over the years have enriched me beyond measure. Our writing preserves a personal vision of a world which is constantly changing. The characters we have created with such loving care deserve a chance to sit on a bookshelf and perhaps come to life in someone else’s mind also. It’s every writer’s dream to be published, but you can’t wait around forever. Sometimes you have to do it yourself.

It’s exciting to prepare one’s work for print: to choose the paper, to select the font, to format the pages, to decide on a cover, to be in full control from beginning to end.
This includes promotion, of course, which these days is increasingly left up to the author, but which publishers certainly facilitate. Lovesongs of Emmanuel Taggart is available in bookstores all over the world (as I see when I Google myself). It was also reviewed in 10247462_880235172007014_1772275323027241970_nvarious newspapers and was submitted to contests which I cannot access as a self-published author. Since both of my independently published novels have a regional content (as does In Pleasantry, a collection of connected short stories, which I plan to publish next), shops in the area are willing to take a few copies on consignment. The books are printed in limited editions; the cost goes down as the number goes up. Being a diffident self-promoter, I am mainly depending on word-of-mouth for any future sales, and with luck, I may get back what I spent.

But as writers, we know that we don’t do it for the money—we do it for love.

Thanks so much, Syr, for sharing your thoughts and your wisdom. I hope that In Pleasantries will find the same success as your other novels. I am looking forward to reading your next literary offering.

To learn more about Syr, check out her WFNS page here. And her Facebook page. Her books are available locally at Coles in Bridgewater, The RiverHouse  and Lahave Bakery or by contacting the author directly: syr@eastlink.ca

Celebrating Sagors

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment. ~~~Buddha 

I don’t pretend to have life figured out. Like everyone else, I make my share of mistakes. Sometimes it feels more like I’m stumbling about instead of walking a straight and steady path. As soon as  I think I’m on the right path, I end up distracted, detouring to the point where I finally have to say “enough is enough—-sure things got interesting there for a time, but it’s back to serious business.” That’s when I get back on my original path. The truth is I don’t think life was meant to go in a straight line. The detours that happen along the way is what helps us learn and certainly makes for some interesting travels.

What I do think is that life is not just a series of random events, and random people showing up. I think it is finely orchestrated and calculated, that people and events happen into our lives for a purpose.

It also seems to me that life is not about acquiring material things, although who can deny that material things are nice but, to me, it seems that life is more about acquiring relations, interacting with one another, sharing our gifts and talents, lending a helping hand.. Wouldn’t life be wonderful if, instead of valuing material things, we valued the laughter we’ve given, the smiles we’ve brought on, the joy, the kind words we have offered to others, and love we’ve given and received, even more? For me, the most that life has ever had to offer me was not something that could be held or owned, but rather the things I have felt in my heart. I know that sounds overly sentimental, but that’s what happens to us when we age.

Saturday a large number of people turned out to thank Ron and Sue for the many years they operated Sagors’ bookstore in Bridgewater. I blogged about the closing of their store in January  in a post titled Bye, Bye Sagors‘ and was so sad to see it go.

But Saturday turned out to be anything but a sad day. For sure there were a few tears shed, but that’s to be expected. With change comes the thought of what all will be missed instead of the important thing—what has already been gained. Those of us who frequented Sagor’s over the years know how much richer our lives were because of this little bookstore on King Street.

I met some wonderful new people. A lady, Elaine (Lanie)Porter, who made these wonderful origami ornaments for decorations. I fell in love with the cranes and she so kindly gave me one. Another lady, Carol, and I had a wonderful conversation before the crowd arrived. She’s a letter writer she told me—-letter writing, another wonderful art. Everyone I spoke to at the gathering was warm and welcoming. We also spoke with author, Laurie Lacey. Laurie’s book Micmac Medicines is due to be released again in April.

We sang some songs in honour of Sue and Ron, email exchanges were read, sent by the first owners and others who could not be present. Even the Nova Scotia government sent along a certificate.

Author friend, Syr Ruus read a poem she wrote for the occasion. Here she is taking the mike. Not sure how she managed to write a poem for Ron and Sue and promote my book all at the same time, but I’m thinking of hiring her to do the publicity for my next book.  😉 What a gal!

There were refreshments, decorations, a band and even a little photo taking. Afterward there was time for chat. Since Ron and Sue sold books for the launching of both Lovesongs of Emmanuel Taggart and Bitter, Sweet, I thought this was my chance to get a photo with all of us. Should have squeezed us all in at the same time but, ah well, you get the picture. Here’s Syr, Sue and I. In the tree behind us, if you look closely, you can see Lanie’s handiwork.

I warned Ron that he’d likely make an appearance on my blog. Good thing he and Sue are good sports. For me, Saturday only went to prove that life is all about the laughter we give to others, the friendships we make, the smiles and kind words we offer one another. I am so happy to have been a part of this wonderful day for two very special people. I’m not going to spend time dwelling on the past because I’d much rather concentrate on the present moment.  🙂

The Gift of Syr Wisdom

Although I’m not altogether sure, I’m willing to bet that one of the greatest gifts a writer can give or receive is the gift of words.

No one likes receiving books as a gift any more than me. The thought of all those words and sentences makes me tingle all over. As I make my way through the chapters hopefully that one gift changes into many gifts as I languish over the sentences and paragraphs, that deliciously wonderful plot that keeps me reading onward.

Last week a gift arrived for me in my inbox from writer friend, Syr Ruus author of LoveSongs Of Emmanuel Taggart.

Her email consisted of some writerly advise and a bit of insight prompted by one of my earlier blog posts. If she was my mom I think she would have simply told me to smartened the heck up and just write. But she’s not my mom, and she would never say something of that nature. She’s a friend who has the weapon of words at her disposal, and so she wrote, rather eloquently I thought. With her permission I wanted to share with you all this one sentence that I absolutely loved:

“Creation, I believe, comes from that part of your being where rules do not exist.”

——Syr Ruus

When I read those words it was as if a tremendous weight had been removed, it reaffirmed what my heart had been telling me all along.

I always enjoy Syr’s emails for they usually offer some words of wisdom, loads of praise and encouragement, and always brimming with the delightful wit that I have come to expect in one of Syr’s emails.

So thank you, Syr, for your wonderfully wise words that meant more to this writer/friend than you could know, thank you for helping to pull me out of my writing woes without telling me to smarten the heck up even though I needed a little smartening up.

Syr Wisdom—I kind of like the sound of that!

Meanwhile @ the Lunenburg Library

I had a great time reading at Library in Lunenburg today. I was excited to see an announcement about my reading on the library door when I arrived.

Doesn’t take much to make me happy.

Okay, so Margaret Atwood didn’t show up. I know, I know, maybe I should have tweeted her earlier in week, reminder her that I came to the Pearl Theatre when she was in Lunenburg, and was one of the few people who actually had a copy of “The Tent” that evening since there was a mix-up with the publisher and the books hadn’t arrived. She’s a busy lady; I figured I’d have to jog her memory. I’m pretty sure she’d have been there if only she had known. After all, I’m one of her “T-Pals.” Don’t I deserve some perks?

Maybe as she reads this post, she’ll drop a comment. I can always hope, right?

In a relaxed atmosphere, I read from my book. After the reading, we chatted about the book and I answered questions. See Margaret, you missed your chance. I would have answered any question you asked.

But look who did showed up. It was Syr Ruus, author of Love Songs Of Immanuel Taggart. Have I mentioned I love that book?

Okay, so my husband bribed her with a free bookmark if she’d hold up a copy of my book for a photo. Amazing what people will do for a bookmark. Isn’t it?  It’s a good thing Syr is so good-natured.

So that was my afternoon. Lunenburg is one of Nova Scotia’s most historical and, might I add, beautiful seaside towns.

I’m already planning my next trip.

I’ll catch you next time, Margaret.

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