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Cynthia Bond dusts off 'Ruby' slippers in first novel
by Sarah Toce

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Openly bisexual author Cynthia Bond has crawled on her hands and knees through the trenches of turmoil—first as a child of abuse herself and then, heroically, as a fortress of comfort for the young suffering from addiction. Her story is far from a picnic in the park on a sunny Sunday afternoon, but she's making her offerings known in a new book called Ruby.

Sprinkled throughout the bindings are memories—both real and imaginary. Love, heartbreak, loss, and survival make up the meat of the story.

"Ultimately, this is a book about love. It's a love story of the heart," she said.

It's a story of the heart rooted in deep tragedy.

Bond's aunt was involved with a white man in the 1930s and was subsequently murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. The history of that day has seeped into her bones, and it's a tale her family has never fully recovered from. To this day, her aunt's killer has not been named. "It's really like a great thorn gets wedged into your heart. ... It lives in me. It just sort of seeps into the DNA. It's a part of who you are," she said.

It is so much a part of who she is that Bond has decided to share parts of her past with the world. Cloaked in authenticity, Ruby is unlike anything else out there right now.

"I didn't even know it was a book, I just thought I was doing a writing exercise," she said.

But it was much more than a writing exercise. It was a cathartic experience—and she didn't want to keep it all to herself.

"I started working on this book quite a while ago and it came about as a result of some of my own experiences of abuse that I had…things that I had been through," she said. "Also woven into that was basically my family history and my aunt being murdered in Texas."

To be clear, not all events are true in Ruby. Many of them are not.

"I'm a fiction writer. What I've done often within the novel is translate my own emotions into the work so that they are sort of all swirled together with all of the stories that I've heard and what was produced was this larger arc of this story. So, the emotions that are in the novel are many things that I've felt; the things that have happened are really just sort of wafting together. It's almost like it's been in this huge pot, like of gumbo or something. And all of these different ingredients have come out and the taste is flavored with truth, but it is a work of fiction," she said.

Bond is currently working with young people overcoming addiction at Paradigm Malibu Adolescent Treatment Center. "It's all about helping young people have a voice and telling their truths," she said.

Telling one's truth requires a steady voice, something Bond knows all too well.

"I spent many, many, many years recovering from my personal story. It really was such an in-depth process and some of it was writing down the [experiences]. In the novel, Ruby lived for 11 years wandering the red roads of East Texas. And although I never wandered the red roads of East Texas, it certainly felt that way at times," she said.

Then added, "It really is that I have talked about this ad nauseam in my therapy, in recovery groups, and I don't have - it's almost not good for me to talk about my own story. Only because I feel that the healing is done and really the message is that it is possible to heal. I don't want to focus on me. And I don't want to make it about me. It's really this larger arc of what so many people are experiencing and just sort of to be this person who just says it's possible to heal, it's possible to heal."

Before her work at Paradigm, Bond offered her services to the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center helping homeless youth.

"I worked for many years with homeless youth on the streets of Hollywood. And many of them were involved in prostitution - some had [become involved in prostitution] when they were children. The issue of human trafficking was very important to me [in Ruby]," she said. "I was working at the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center in Hollywood when I worked with homeless kids. A lot of them had been thrown out of their homes because they were gay and lesbian, they were different, and their parents had thrown them out," Bond remembered.

When asked if she had any insight regarding the homeless populations in cities like Chicago, New York and L.A, she offered a few thoughts.

"Well, I think that youth are voiceless. ... They certainly don't have any kind of coalition. They are really the most vulnerable in our society whether you're gay, lesbian, trans, bi, straight, or questioning," she said. "I think that young people are the most vulnerable members of society. I ran a youth arts and writing program in L.A., and one of the things we did within that program was to try to help the youth have a voice. We had all kinds of kids in there—we had kids who identified as gay and lesbian, and trans, and bi, but we also had straight kids, too. It was just a hub for kids who were on the street to come and get help and to refer them to other organizations. But I think the problem is more general than within our community—I just think it's easy to forget young people."

Have we as a community forgotten our young counterparts in the fight for freedom?

"I believe there's been a pretty concerted effort [to remedy the youth homelessness situation]. But as far as a political movement to help that, I just think that other things have probably been on the front burner," she said.

One topic in Bond's feature deals with incest.

"Ruby has a relationship with her very distant cousin, but back then, East Texas, it was just like, whatever," Bond said. "But they form a relationship and it's her heart connection and Maggie, in many ways when I started working on the book, was really the narrator of the book. If you imagine that you interviewed someone and then you wrote a book, Maggie was the one who knew all the stories, really. And some of it was written first person from her perspective and then it changed over time."

Like Bond, Ruby is bisexual.

"Ruby is involved with men and with women, but at that time in East Texas, there were no labels associated with love. It was just people would be with people, and it was just where your heart took you and there was never any sense of a label or politicizing anything," she said.

As for labels, Bond said, "I believe there will be a day when [they] are not necessary, but there are civil-rights issues and I think that having labels can be helpful. I think there will be a time when love is love and people are not having to identify in any way. I also believe that there is a political necessity to labeling, and that justice should be served and everyone should be viewed as equal and that we need to advance beyond them," Bond said.

Will she ever reveal herself entirely in literary format?

"I think that one day maybe I'll write a memoir, or maybe one day I'll do more investigation about my aunt's murder, but for now … it's truth and it's fiction," she said.

Catch Cynthia Bond Wednesday, May 14, 7:30pm at Women & Children First, 5233 N Clark St., Chicago and Tuesday, May 13, 7:00pm at Barnes & Noble, 65 East Market View Dr. Champaign, IL

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