Catherine Adel West, a Chicago-based writer, is the author of Saving Ruby King. Her debut novel explores family, faith, and friendship through beautiful, poetic writing and characters who are complicated and flawed, brave and righteous. Catherine was kind enough to answer a few questions about Chicago, writing, and who she’d like to play the main characters in Saving Ruby King in a mini-series.
Your love for the city of Chicago, and especially the South Side, comes through so clearly in the book. Did you intend that from the beginning?
There is a specific narrative about the South Side of Chicago, one of violence and tragedy. I needed Saving Ruby King to show so much more of a city I love, in particular, a portion of the city often neglected and greatly misunderstood. The book and these characters present a broadened view of race, culture and population as was my intention when I began writing the very first pages.
How did you decide to include the church as a character in the book?
A former co-worker named Luke read an earlier version of Saving Ruby King and said it’d be interesting to give the church a perspective and I ran with that suggestion. Giving the church a point of view allowed me to write in a timeless, classical way, which is something I LOVE to do! I owe Luke a steak dinner if I see him again.
While Saving Ruby King is ultimately hopeful, it also deals with serious subjects, like domestic abuse and racism. How did you balance it all?
My intention was to tell a story where there are deep secrets and people with so much at stake. I wanted to reflect a myriad of different issues and problems people deal with but with those problems come sometimes an inability to let people know what you’re going through for fear of judgement or shame. I needed to show people by exposing your secrets, telling the truth, you can break a cycle be it one of generational trauma, domestic violence, whatever it is that holds you back from becoming your better self.
What do you find most rewarding about being an author?
I love seeing the book out in the wild. My success is the result of a lot of people who believed in me, helped me, talked me off many ledges. The physical manifestation of the book is a testament of hard work and perseverance but also a fearless tribe of those who will never, ever let you give up.
What two or three things do you wish you’d known when you started to write a book?
I’d wish I knew what pacing was and how to quickly kill my darlings. However, this was the first book I ever wrote so I’m happy I learned what I did and how I did, that way I can pay it forward to other writers. I honestly regret nothing. If I finished this book earlier or later who knows what the ultimate outcome would be.
If Hollywood made Saving Ruby King into a movie, who would you like to see play the lead roles?
I have so many thoughts on this and it can always change but I’d love to see something like this:
Ruby King – Yara Shahidi
Layla Potter – Raven Goodwin
Lebanon King – Michael Ealy
Jackson Potter – Chi McBride or Christopher Jackson
Honestly, for me I believe this will happen. I do think however, Saving Ruby King would be better as a limited television series as there is quite a bit in the book that’d be hard to fit into two hours, but that’s just my humble opinion. ?
What books are currently on your nightstand or TBR?
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Fledging by Octavia Butler
The Chiffon Trenches by André Leon Talley
Do you have a writing routine—any songs you listen to, or time of day or place in which you prefer to write?
I don’t have a writing routine per se. I write when I can, but in terms of music, I listen to melancholic and mellow music when I craft and write my books. When I edit, it’s a lot of hip-hop and pop music.