I am reviewing the new novel Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea by Morgan Callan Rogers for the Mobile Press-Register. Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea is a heartfelt debut. Rogers gives us a coming-of-age tale set in 1960s Maine. Florine Gilham is an unforgettable character, and I laughed with her and cried with her. So will you. Florine reminded me so much of Fannie Flagg’s Daisy Fay Harper, the main character in her novel, Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man (also known as Coming Attractions). I sought out Rogers for an interview via email and she kindly accepted.
Morgan, thanks so much for letting me ask you these questions!
Jaime Boler: When did you begin writing Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea?
Morgan Callan Rogers: I began the book seven years ago, in 2004. It was originally a short story that turned into a novella. Actually, it’s ‘backstory’. The original short story involved an adult Florine who was having a conflict with someone in her life. Someone asked me what the source of the conflict was, and I began to write an explanation. Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea is the ‘explanation’.
JB: What was your inspiration for this novel and for Florine?
MCR: Ooh – this is such a fun question and I love answering it. So – it’s important to pay attention to all sorts of flotsam and jetsam – the weirdnesses that happen in our every day lives. Sometimes, they turn into novels, or pieces of art, or music, and so on. Okay – so the inspiration for this novel came from a letter to the editor in a community newspaper. The writer of the letter wrote as she would speak – in a perfect Maine dialect. The subject of the letter: lawn ornaments that had been stolen from her neighbors. The writer was incensed about the theft and wrote about how special the ornaments had been, and what they meant to her neighbors. I was in the middle of my Masters in Fine Arts degree in creative writing at the time, so I decided to write a story from the point of view of the ‘neighbor’, who turned out to be Florine. I named her right off, and she opened her mouth, and her story tumbled out.
JB: You have been compared to both Fannie Flagg and Elizabeth Strout. How does it feel to hear your name alongside these talented writers?
MCR: Humbling. Elizabeth Strout’s book, Olive Kittredge, is an amazing piece of literature. And Fannie Flagg is brilliant and funny. So, yes, humbling.
JB: Why was the novel published first in Germany in 2010? Could you not find a US publisher at the time?
MCR: My agent was shopping the novel around the U.S. While she was doing that, a foreign ‘scout’ came into the agency and saw the manuscript, thought it might be a good fit for a small, but awesome German publishing company that just happened to specialize in coastal communities and on the sea. And they loved it, and I had the amazing privilege of working with them for a year before it was sold to Viking. And Viking – I mean Viking. Look at the list of authors that have been published there! Again, humbling. By the way, I have an awesome agent – just had to say that.
JB: Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea is set in Maine, where you grew up. How difficult was it to capture the state’s beauty and its people on the page?
MCR: It was a labor of love, and a love letter to the people I grew up with and the gorgeous, tough and tender place where I was raised. It was not difficult at all. I loved writing it all down.
JB: As I was reading your book, such nostalgia struck me, both for the idyllic seaside setting and for a seemingly more innocent time. How would Florine’s story be different if it were set in Maine today?
MCR: Good question. Well, everyone would have a cell phone, so her mother could be tracked. The way missing folks are located is a completely different process now. Florine would have a laptop and access to the bigger world, and probably she would whine until she got an iPhone. Coffee would be made with a French press, or Ray’s store might have a Starbucks attend. Florine could download any tunes she wanted, and might be able to ‘friend’ her cousin, Robin, who appears briefly, but is important, none-the-less. Technology rules the earth, now. It was a more ‘innocent’ time, although the fear of being bombed and the threats set off by the Cold War were ever-present. When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, then Robert Kennedy, then Martin Luther King, things changed forever.
JB: Do you have a favorite character in Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea? If so, which one?
MCR: Well, I don’t have a favorite character, but I think the one that surprised me the most, that kept showing different aspects of his personality despite the fact that he was supposedly tied to The Point and to his lobster boat, was Florine’s father. He broke my heart. Also, I loved it whenever Dottie walked into a scene. I always breathed a sigh of relief when she showed up.
JB: On your website, I read that you’ve been a librarian, a journalist, an actress, an editor, and a teacher. Wow! What got you into writing?
MCR: I have a gigantic imagination. All of the characters and stories in my head had to go somewhere. Down on paper seemed to be the safest and clearest way to claim some sort of sanity. All of the things you’ve listed above played an important part in writing these books. Librarian = access to all kinds of books; Journalist = research, organization, wide-spread interest in all sorts of things; Editor = Clarity and the ability to cut my precious jewels without crying too much; and Teacher = Confidence and knowledge of character.
JB: What is your writing process like? Can you describe a typical day of writing for you?
MCR: I write in the mornings – from about 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., after I take the dog for a walk, clean the house, brew some tea, and so on. I can write for about four hours. Sometimes I’ll work at night for a little while, but morning seems best for me. I take Sundays off.
JB: Will you go on a book tour? If so, which cities will you visit? (Please come to the South!).
MCR: So far, I’m ‘touring’ in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. If the novel does really well, maybe I can expand that territory. I would LOVE to come to the South!
JB: What do you like to do when you are not writing?
MCR: When I can, I sing jazz and blues with a friend of mine who plays guitar. I ride horseback (not well, but I love horses). I read, I walk the dog, I see friends, I like to cook. I like to do many things – time seems to go so fast.
JB: Do you have any favorite authors? What would you say is the one book you would never part with?
MCR: I have a lot of favorite authors and I can never remember them when I am asked this question. John Irving, Ray Bradbury, Harper Lee, T.C. Boyle, Amy Hempel, Ann Tyler, Margaret Atwood, George Saunders, James Joyce, Dylan Thomas. So many… Some of the books I will never part with: A Prayer for Owen Meany, Cat’s Eye, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Dandelion Wine, Morgan’s Passing, Dubliners, To Kill a Mockingbird, and a little-known but amazing book called The Little Locksmith by Katharine Butler Hathaway.
JB: I read on your blog that you are working on a sequel to Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea. Can you give fans any little sneak peeks?
MCR: Um, no. I never give sneak peaks. All will be revealed at some point down the road. :)
Ah, well, a fan can dream…Thanks, Morgan, for a great interview!