Local author and UNO alumnus Maurice Carlos Ruffin is preparing for his debut novel “We Cast a Shadow” to hit the stands on Jan. 29. Ruffin has been keeping busy as a book critic for the Virginia Quarterly Review, a contributing editor for 64 Parishes, and a presenter at workshops around the city. As a recipient of an Iowa Review Award in fiction and a winner of the a William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition in the Novel-in-Progress category, Ruffin has gained a large fan base–one that is waiting for his biggest piece of work yet.
“We Cast a Shadow” is set in a futuristic time that doesn’t seem too far from the current days. It follows a biracial boy, Nigel, whose father worries about the growing birthmark Nigel has that makes his skin darker and darker. Surrounded by police brutality and poverty, everyone, including Nigel’s father, is looking for the newest surgical procedures to hide their black attributes. The catch is that only the wealthiest people can even think about getting put on the list for Dr. Nzinga’s clinic. Ruffin pulls pieces from modern times, where black lives are still treated as lesser, and gives insight on what it is like to grow up in a black body.
Ruffin opened up about his inspiration and some of the challenges he has faced in the process of writing, “We Cast a Shadow.” You can pre-order his novel now through Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and you can find it locally at Garden District Books. (J-Jack, M-Maurice)
J: When did you start the writing process for “We Cast a Shadow”?
M: I began writing the book in the summer of 2012, but earlier versions of the character appeared in vignettes I wrote well before that.
J: What was your inspiration drawn from?
M: The themes, tone and structure were drawn from books I love, like “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov, “Sula” by Toni Morrison and “Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole. But the subject matter comes from America’s perpetual struggle with racism, including the killings of Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice and many others.
J: What advice do you have for writers starting there first major pieces of work?
M: Work on your writing as much as possible first. Trying to publish work is important, but not as important as good craft. Also, it’s a good idea to show your work to people who aren’t biased in your favor so that you will receive honest opinions. Incorporate the opinions that make sense and ignore the ones that don’t. Rejection is a part of writing.
J: What has been the hardest part of the writing process for this novel?
M: There’s a lot of guesswork that goes into a novel. Will I like it when I’m done? Can I actually finish it? Will someone like it enough to publish it? Will people buy it? Fortunately, the answers to those questions were yes. But it’s very rewarding because the process required constant thinking on my feet, innovation and blind faith.
J: What has been the most exciting part of the process?
M: The breakthroughs that happen when you’re several drafts in and realize what the story is really about. Also, working with industry professionals like my agent, editor and cover designer have been a dream. They all helped make the final version of the book better than I could have on my own.
J: How have you been handling all of the press and recognition from big platforms, such as the New York Times?
M: I generally keep low expectations so that I don’t feel bad when things don’t come together. This also stops me from becoming arrogant. But it gives me tremendous joy to think that people I’ve never met are responding so enthusiastically to this story I dreamed up!