Creative Ladies: Ruby McNally

A picture of Ruby's bookshelf because she says she's "not ready" for her grandma to find out about her career. Understandable.

A picture of Ruby’s bookshelf because she’s “not ready” for her grandma to find out about her career. Understandable.

I’ve had the pleasure of featuring tons of Creative Ladies in this series…YA authors, poets, photographers, musicians, illustrators, and more. But one profession I haven’t yet featured? Erotic romance author. Until now, that is! I’m really happy to share this interview with Ruby McNally, the author of Crash (which you can buy right here on Amazon). Ruby talked to me about writing on the subway, complicated female characters, and the dangers of looking at adoptable dogs online (been there). You can find Ruby on her Tumblr and on Twitter @Ruby_McNally.

What’s your main creative gig (this can be your day job, your freelance work, or both)? Describe what you do on a normal working day.

Writing is my main gig–erotic romance, to be specific, which still feels a little odd to write out in full. I mean, I write extremely graphic sex scenes, for money. I still haven’t told my mother.

It didn’t start out that way. I was always a huge reader as a kid–like, I’m talking five, six books on the go at the same time–but until a couple of years ago I hadn’t read a single romance novel. I was a huge snot about it. I’d always wanted to be a writer, but I wanted to write Serious Literature or whatever, never mind that I was absolutely happiest typing away at hundreds of thousands of words of fanfiction that always included extended kissing scenes. Anyway, I more or less gave up on that dream in high school when I realized how tough it is to make a go of being an author (with some unsubtle help from my guidance counselor–good job getting me to go to college, Mrs. Caputo.) I got a sensible degree and a sensible job, and I stopped plotting out narrative arcs. I wrote a lot of fanfiction. Still, I always sort of assumed that if I ever did publish a book, it wouldn’t have nipples on its cover, you know?

But then E.L. James happened. Suddenly erotica was everywhere, and it was making money. My friend sent me a romance novel in the mail with a note saying, I bet we could do better. I don’t even remember what book it was. It was about a Navy SEAL, which doesn’t exactly narrow it down, but it was short, and it was bad. The sex was boring, the plot was dumb, the characters were vapid. And it was a book. A real, published book. And I thought, Hey, maybe I can do this.

I’ve since read much, much better romance novels. Like, hugely, intimidatingly good, that knocked me right off my high horse. But I’m always thankful I read that crappy one first. It gave me an artificially inflated sense of self-confidence that got me through the first draft of CRASH, got me to a publishing house, and got me writing the LIGHTS AND SIRENS series. And here I am, getting paid to write extremely graphic sex scenes in my spare time. Hi, Mom.

What are your creative, just-for-fun (not money or career advancement) hobbies?

I like to keep a running tally of professions it would be hard to write a romance novel about. Aging dive-bar cover-band guitarist. Woman butcher. Prostitute without a heart of gold. And then I decide how I would write them. The answer in this particular situation, obviously, is a polyamorous threesome.

What inspires you? Feel free to be as literal or as figurative as you want.

Movies, tv shows, people on the subway. My lapsed Catholic guilt. The scene in West Wing where President Bartlet shouts in Latin in the church. The other scene in West Wing where President Bartlet takes down Jenna Jacobs. The episode of Buffy where Buffy’s mother dies. The entirety of The Wire. I watch a lot of TV, clearly.

my trusty West Wing box set

In three words, describe your creative aesthetic/viewpoint.

“Okay, now kiss.”

How would you describe your creative “process”? Does it involve a lot of staring into space, doodling, or candy eating?

Hm. I mean, I spend a lot of time on Tumblr looking at moody pictures of barns? I procrastinate, I walk around my apartment. I browse adoptable dogs online. I write best on the subway, actually. Any moving vehicle does it, but I’m on the subway the most. What I really need is a car and someone to drive me around in circles while I sit in the passenger’s seat and write. Something about the movement tricks my brain into focusing.
always have plants
What creative accomplishment are you most proud of?

The whole LIGHTS AND SIRENS series, really. It’s a trio of books about emergency service workers in the Berkshires. The first book, CRASH, is out from Samhain Publishing on March 4. It’s about two EMTs, a widower and a girl who’s the head of her Shameless-style brood of siblings. There’s a Greek diner I wish existed in real life, plus a crumbling triple decker and a Craftsman with cabbage rose wallpaper. There’s a dog named Atlas and a lot of family ties. There’s sex too, obviously, although not in the back of an ambulance. I thought that might be a little crass. Most importantly, there’s a happy ending.

The second book in the series, SINGE, is going through its third round of edits at Samhain right now. It’s about two firefighters, and it takes place over the course of one summer as a string of arsons are sweeping through Great Barrington. The Greek diner from CRASH has a cameo, which is how you know I love it. And finally, I just started working on the last book, BANG. It’s about–wait for it–two cops.

I wrote the series because I was trying to write the kind of romance novel I’d want to read. Like, a romance novel about real people, where no one’s a millionaire or a celebrity or devastatingly beautiful. CRASH’s heroine didn’t go to college, SINGE’s can be real bossy and insecure. BANG’s is a divorced mother with a four-year-old and stretch marks. Also, it was really important to me that if I was going to do a series about emergency service workers, both the hero and heroine would be in the profession. So often romance novels have just the dude with the sexy job title–he’s a SEAL or a cop or a rock star or what have you. Masculine, action-packed professions. I wanted to write a novel where both the hero and the heroine had the same job. And not only that, I wanted to show the more pedestrian, realistic sides of those jobs. Not that the work emergency service personnel does is ever pedestrian, but the Berkshires aren’t exactly the South Bronx in the 70s, you know? There are a string of arsons in SINGE, but it’s such an aberration it alarms the whole community. There’s a shooting in BANG, but it’s the first one in ten years. That kind of thing.

What’s a big creative challenge/failure/embarrassment you’ve learned from?

I actually think a nice thing about coming from a fandom/fanfiction background is that, really quickly, you get used to the idea that the minute you put yourself out there in the universe, it’s inevitable that not everybody’s going to like what you do. Not everybody’s gonna see canon the same way you do. Not everybody’s gonna like how you describe things. It’s really liberating to figure that out as early as possible.

A thing I’ve already bumped up against a little bit is that the heroine of CRASH, Taryn, is not everybody’s cup of tea. She’s brash, she’s brutally honest, she’s had a tough go and she’s not always so nice about it, and she changes her mind a lot. Basically, she’s a human person. Like I said, I wanted to write the kind of books that I wanted to read, and I really like the idea of a difficult, complicated, pain-in-the-ass lady in love–but I guess it’s kind of inevitable that some readers were just going to find her, well, a pain in the ass.
Now, leaving aside the discussion of why we in romance (and also, like, in life) are so hard on our lady characters–which I think is a hugely important discussion, and one I absolutely want to have pretty much all the time–it’s kind of like, what can you do? All I could do was keep writing fanfic the way I wrote fanfic. And all I can do is keep writing books I’d want to read.

Who’s your Creative Lady role model (this can be a person you know, a celebrity, a fictional character, etc.)?

Oh man, Rainbow Rowell, 110%. I’d like to grow up to be her. My editor, Christa Desir, who is a freakin’ champion in all kinds of ways. Our Lady Beyonce.

What time of day are you most creative? Are you a morning person or a night owl?

I am a lunchtime person, actually. I write on my lunch break. It’s gotten to the point where I’m considering one of those little keyboard vacuums to take care of crumbs.

Lucky pigs from Ruby's grandma

Lucky pigs from Ruby’s grandma

Being an awesome Creative Lady can be overwhelming. What do you do to relax?

Imagine what I’d do with my millions if my books ever went the way of E.L. James. Mostly, though, I watch the Food Network. I can’t cook, but I find it mind-numbingly soothing to watch others do it. Not coincidentally, the characters in SINGE find it soothing, too.

What books would you recommend to other Creative Ladies?

On Writing, by Stephen King (true story: I deleted 4,000 adverbs from the first draft of CRASH. FOUR. THOUSAND. ADVERBS.). All Sabrina Ward Harrison’s books. Richard Siken’s Crush and Marty McConnell’s wine for a shotgun.

What advice would you give to other Creative Ladies who want to do what you do?

Procrastinating by looking at adoptable dogs online is a slippery slope. Next you’re looking at your no-pets lease provision for loopholes and googling Life Hacks for secretly owning a pet.

But most importantly: don’t give up on your childhood dream just because you had a crappy career advisor in high school. There are always, always roundabout ways to achieve your passion.

What’s your Creative Lady motto?

No matter what the question, the answer is always more coffee.

Wednesday Link Party!


Happy Wednesday, guys! I hope you’re all having an awesome week. I had a great weekend because our friends Mindy and Sam GOT ENGAGED! It was all very exciting, and then we got hot dogs (Christine, Mindy, and I are pictured outside of Dirty Frank’s). Also I found out that H. had known for WEEKS that Sam was planning to propose and had somehow managed to keep it a secret from me. Now I’m concerned about what OTHER secrets he’s keeping. Other than that, I’ve been baking a lot, doing a lot of yoga, and still binge-watching Community (seriously, we can’t stop). On with the links!

I want to read every single one of these YA novels coming out this spring.

This essay from Kate Christensen is very good and very upsetting.

If you feel like undertaking an epic (and varied!) reading list, here are all 339 books referenced in Gilmore Girls.

Jessica Grose talks about getting stuck in “women’s” journalism.

I made this double chocolate banana bread this weekend and I highly recommend it!

This weird tax situation was my life last week. Freelance taxes are the poops and pits.

Future Islands have been everywhere lately, right? Alex and Chase went to see them earlier this week and I’m jealous. This song is probably going to be in my head forever.

People have always been shitty to Yoko Ono. Related: last year at ComFest I saw some dude with an “I Still Hate Yoko” tshirt and I was just like, “LOL, bro, you’re lucky to walk the same EARTH as Yoko.” Actually I just glared at him from across a park, but whatever.

Why you should get rid of toxic and shitty friends.

This Gawker article about the American Girl Cafe might be the funniest thing I’ve ever read in my life: “One of the very few things American Girl does wrong is that they don’t get multiple staffers to sing the Happy Birthday song the way chain restaurants do. The Happy Birthday song sang by one quiet gay man sounds more like a Happy Birthday dirge.”

Lady Jam: ‘All the Good That Won’t Come Out’ by Rilo Kiley

Recently, Annie posted about listening to Jenny Lewis, and I instantly felt my Rilo Kiley senses activating and all of a sudden I was listening to all of their albums on Grooveshark.

You know how certain albums just take you back to specific times in your life? Like, Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity makes me think of my senior year of high school, the Arcade Fire’s Funeral makes me think of my first year of college, and Ashlee Simpson’s Autobiography makes me think of the summer after high school (don’t judge me). Well, Rilo Kiley makes me think of my junior year of college, when I was extraordinarily anxious. If you’re thinking, “But Kerry, you’re pretty anxious now,” then you’re just lucky you didn’t know me in college. I am positively serene now compared to how anxious I was then. Anyway, I used to go to the library to write, and I would hunker down in a cube with my notebook and a Rilo Kiley album on my ancient iPod and feel sort of better and sort of worse for awhile while I wrote weird stories.

The Good That Won’t Come Out was (and is!) one of my favorites because it’s just so worried. It’s about being scared about the world ending, and scared about being sick, and scared about being in love, and scared about everything being hopeless and too late. Basically, it’s a song about anxiety, which was why I related to it so much. It’s still pretty perfect, and the whole album is great, too.

Oh, and Jenny Lewis is still a babe. Duh.

Lady Tip: You Never Know What’s Going on In Someone Else’s Relationship

Have I ever told you guys about my friend Dan? He is, truly, a fount of wisdom. He is a champion singer, a world-class hugger, and really good at creating joke Pinterest boards to cheer me up when I was stressed out about wedding planning (H’s and my wedding date was NOT INTENTIONALLY 4/20 and it was the subject of much hilarity for everyone).

But also, he gives some killer advice. A few years ago, he offhandedly said something that really stuck with me: You never know what’s going on in someone else’s relationship.

And what did he mean by that? Well, we probably all have a friend who’s dating someone we just don’t get. Maybe your BFF’s boyfriend is super boring, and you don’t know why she isn’t with someone funnier. Or maybe the most motivated person you know is married to someone who has seemingly no ambition. These are both made up examples, for the record. I’m not trying to out anyone’s relationship through my blog like a weirdo. Anyway, you might look at those relationships and think, “Why are they even together?”

But the thing is, you never know what’s going on in someone else’s relationship. Not everyone wants the same things as you! Maybe to you the most important thing in a romantic partner is a sense of humor. But to your friend, that might not matter at all. Maybe the most important thing to her is stability. Or, even though you might not ever want to marry someone who isn’t a hard worker, your friend might be way more concerned with marrying someone who’s good-natured. Or good-looking. Or rich. Basically, you’ll never understand what other people see in each other, and that’s okay. It’s easy to look at a couple and think, “Why in God’s name are they together?” I mean, I’ve totally thought that before. But love is strange, as the music of the past tells us.

Of course, this goes both ways. Sometimes the people you think have the best relationships actually have the worst ones. Something I’ve discovered is that the people who are the most demonstrative on social media are usually the one with the most problems. For example, I once knew a guy who was always writing over-the-top sweet things on his girlfriend’s Facebook wall. They were a totally cute couple, and I figured they had a perfect relationship. I even felt bad that my boyfriend didn’t write sappy things on my Facebook wall. But then one day I heard him arguing on the phone with his girlfriend, and I found out that he only wrote those things because they got in constant fights and she wanted public validation to make their relationship seem healthy. Which is, obviously, messed up. Facebook should be a place to post pictures of your pets and confuse your relatives with sarcastic statuses, not a place to stabilize your relationship.

Basically, you never know what’s going on between two other people. It might not make sense to you, but it makes perfect sense to them. And if you need any more great advice about relationships…get your own Dan. I’m not letting you have mine.

Creative Ladies: Kally Malcom


As much as I love featuring writers on Creative Ladies, I also really love to feature visual artists who work in a medium that’s totally unfamilar to me. I’m really stoked to feature photographer Kally Malcom today! You can check out her work on her website, She took the time to talk to me about her process, her inspirations, and the restorative power of naps.

What’s your main creative gig (this can be your day job, your freelance work, or both)? Describe what you do on a normal working day.

I teach photography at a small liberal arts college in Ashland, WI. I’m also an artist, and I’m typically busy in the studio when I’m not in the classroom. My normal working day is some combination of teaching and mentoring students, making images, researching, sourcing things for images, and looking for exhibition/publication opportunities.

What are your creative, just-for-fun (not money or career advancement) hobbies?

I’m one of those lucky people who has fun with my day job, but I have hobbies as well. I knit—though only rectangles (scarves). Typically, I hang out with my dog, read, look at other people’s photography, and spend time with friends. This area of Wisconsin has a surprising number of artists, writers and other creatives, so I get plenty of opportunities to attend events that highlight the work of others.

What inspires you? Feel free to be as literal or as figurative as you want.

Interests and inspirations are abundant, and therefore a bit illusive. I’m inspired by memory and experience, by music and literature, and by the fascinating lives of other people.
I recently realized I’m deeply affected by place. I’ve moved around quite a bit as an adult. Looking back at the images I’ve made over the years I notice distinctive shifts in style and content depending on where I lived, and my general sense of satisfaction while living there.

In three words, describe your creative aesthetic/viewpoint.

Flash and substance.

How would you describe your creative “process”? Does it involve a lot of staring into space, doodling, or candy eating?

Staring into space: yes. My process is multifaceted, not pretty to look at or describe, and shifts from project to project. Some artists work intuitively, and just see what they want to make, make it, and analyze it later. I am not typically one of those artists. My work is usually pre-visualized, intensely researched, and thoroughly planned. In the end, it is a coin toss if the image or series will shape up the way I envisioned, but they start with a concept and a plan.
When I’m working in the field I tend to shoot heaps and heaps of images…just in case. In these types of projects, I often cannot reshoot, so a focus on quality and quantity happens in equal measure. This work feels more visceral and unpredictable than studio work. When I’m working on one of my still life images in the studio, the process is typically slower and more considered. The objects I use are often suspended or otherwise manipulated, so that always requires some theatrics (and fishing line). Generally, these images are much more fussy and certainly more technical. I like both methods of creating and feel like I need both in my practice.

What creative accomplishment are you most proud of?

Earlier this year I was selected to present my images at a regional conference for my professional organization. All through school I attended these conferences and gleaned information and inspiration from the image-makers who presented their work. Being chosen to be a person at the podium was a tremendous honor and an opportunity to share my work and process with students, educators and other artists.

One of the photographs from Kally's Pictograph series, titled "Little Jimmies," made in 2013.

One of the photographs from Kally’s Pictograph series, titled “Little Jimmies,” made in 2013.

What’s a big creative challenge/failure/embarrassment you’ve learned from?

I’m a visual artist . . . I have small failures all the time. Make, fail, edit, and reshoot. Repeat if necessary.
Frankly, I’ve been turned down for exhibitions and other opportunities, which always hurts the ego. Every creative person who puts his or her work out into the world will experience failure from time to time. I do my best to learn from these disappointments and move on. The critique of “no thank you” from a gallery or juror can be an opportunity to edit, clarify, or stand by what I make.

Who’s your Creative Lady role model (this can be a person you know, a celebrity, a fictional character, etc.)?

My mother.

What time of day are you most creative? Are you a morning person or a night owl?

In terms of executing my ideas, I suppose I’m a late-morning to 10:00 p.m. creative person.
This answer has shifted over the years. In my twenties I was firmly in the “night owl” camp, and relied on the mixture of exhaustion and inappropriate levels of caffeine for creative fuel. The time between lying down and falling asleep each night is still a prime time for generating ideas and reflecting on works in progress, but I no longer work into the wee hours. I keep pen and paper close by to jot down my thoughts and wait for a more lucid time to clarify my ideas.

Being an awesome Creative Lady can be overwhelming. What do you do to relax?

Meeting pals for coffee and conversation is always relaxing. Also, napping isn’t just for toddlers—I enjoy a good mid-afternoon snooze on Saturdays. Generally, my relaxation activities are not especially noteworthy or interesting. I dink around on the Internet, catch up on social media things, or binge-watch Netflix.

What books would you recommend to other Creative Ladies?

Here is my list. It feels a little surface and random, but these are the books that I’ve found important.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. All we need to know about life, human capacity and human failure can be found in that book. It is perfect. I’m not sure it will guide our creativity, but it’s my favorite novel.
Want to be inspired by a gutsy writer who had way more to lose by telling his truth than we do by telling ours? Read the text of Frederick Douglass’s speech “The Meaning of the Fourth of July to the Negro”. You can read it here:
Kurt Vonnegut and Sylvia Plath really knock my socks off.

What advice would you give to other Creative Ladies who want to do what you do?

Make things. Spend the time you need to perfect your ideas and your craft. Be a self-editor, and find a circle of people you trust to critique your work. Offer your critique of their work. Get the education you need to do what you want to do. Pay attention to history, current events and the condition of others. Outward awareness and the ability to connect (at least intellectually) to the experiences of others will help you understand yourself and how you can contribute creatively or otherwise.

What’s your Creative Lady motto?

I don’t really have a motto. I could find one, but that seems like cheating.