"It's not a story about abuse, it's a story about survival and emerging victorious," Cynthia Bond says of her debut novel, Ruby, the latest Oprah's Book Club pick, which is about to debut at No. 7 on the New York Times best-seller list. The novel takes place in rural Liberty, East Texas, the home to which Ruby returns after moving to New York City at the age of 18. Now in her early 40s, Ruby is met with both the love of her childhood friend Ephram and the scorn of townspeople who think she is mad.
Ruby's experiences of abuse, violence and prostitution are inspired by Bond's East Texas childhood and her family's stories, including those of an aunt murdered by the Ku Klux Klan, but they're also heavily influenced by her life in Los Angeles. After working in New York City as an actress, Bond moved to L.A., where she started taking writing classes. "I was on a different path, but I always wrote," says Bond, who counts John Rechy (City of Night) among her teachers.
It was in those classes that Ruby was born: "Every time I sat down to write, I was writing about Ruby and Ephram. I realized eventually that this was more than just writing exercises, this was a book."
A work 10 years in the making, Ruby started out as a 900-page novel, which has since been split into three. "I'm able to more fully explore different characters," Bond says, promising that the next installment will reveal more about Cynthia, Ruby's mother, who left Liberty at the age of 17 for New York, where she passed for white.
Bond also thinks that the trilogy will make things a little easier for readers: "Human trafficking is not a light subject," she admits.
But it's an important one for Bond, a longtime social worker who's a survivor of human trafficking herself. Bond ran an arts program at the Los Angeles LGBT Center for more than seven years, where she worked with "young people who were sleeping on the streets and getting paid for sex. Many of them were running away from abuse and homophobia, but they didn't know that they were running into the arms of monsters," she says.
These stories make their way into the book in unexpected ways — a pair of New York City cops known as Batman and Robin who go beat up gay kids are based on real-life Los Angeles cops. "Batman and Robin" is what the kids at the Center called them.
"These are true stories," Bond emphasizes. "It's important to see what thousands of people are going through, especially in L.A., which is a mecca for sex trafficking of young people."
Bond, who continues to teach therapeutic writing, now at the Paradigm teen depression rehab center in Malibu, says listening to the stories of survivors is all she asks of readers: "You don't have to carry a sign — you just have to know. "
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Bond will return to the Los Angeles LGBT Center for a special reading of Ruby this Sunday, March 1, at 7 p.m. Los Angeles LGBT Center's Renberg Theatre, The Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Hlywd.; free (suggested donation $10). (323) 860-7300, lalgbtcenter.com.
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