The stories of the women who populate The Salt God’s Daughter were inspired by a confluence of real life and Celtic myth, which I learned from a folksong my mother liked to play on the guitar, “The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry.” While the myth is the map, its many roads reflect the experiences of my grandmothers, of my mother, of my friends, and of seventeen young girls I never knew but whose histories found me and begged to be written down and given a voice.
One night two years ago, I was working late in my office doing some research on bullying, specifically the bullying of girls and women. As a mother of two girls, one in middle school, bullying is always on my radar—when I heard about two girls who took their own lives, I knew I had to find out more. So began many hours of research—at the end of that night my life would never be the same. At first, I found the stories of four girls. Then six girls, and finally seventeen girls. Seventeen girls have committed suicide because they were bullied at school, many of them for their sexuality. Some were cyberbullied.
My heart broke a little bit that night. The fact that children were suffering to this degree shook me to my core—I remembered girls being bullied when I was a teacher in the 90s, when I was a teenager in the 80s, and of course it went on generations before that. If I had found these girls in just a few hours, I wondered how many more were out there, whose names had gone unnoticed by the national media. How many more were still suffering? As dawn broke and a light rain fell, I wrote the names of these girls on a piece of paper.
There are moments as a writer when you are inspired, when you know what story you will tell next. Then, you must think about how you’ll tell it. Who will read it? Will it be embraced? If it’s not, will you soldier on with it? Will it be found by the people for whom you are writing it?
As I read the names on that piece of stationary, I felt a strong sense of purpose. I knew I had to try to make a difference in the way that I could. I remember thinking, “My answer is yes.” I deeply wanted was to do these girls justice.
Advocacy is in my blood. My journey has taken me from the elementary school classrooms of Los Angeles during race riots, to the jungles of Guatemala for public television, to remote villages in Ethiopia to bring supplies to orphaned children. I have been a literacy volunteer, a Special Olympics advocate, and a counselor for women in residential treatment centers. However, I don’t think I ever felt my calling as strongly as it was when I was writing this book.
My aim was to illuminate the female experience through generations—not only those times that are shrouded in shadows, but also those that are lovely and beautiful, and made indelible with light. At its heart this is a story about the power of true love, sometimes found between mothers and daughters, in the secrets of sisters, and in the arms of the first person with whom you ever shared your heart. When all is said and done, this novel belongs to resolute sisters Ruthie and Dolly. Their journey of survival is at the center of this story.
The letters I have received from women since the book’s publication have humbled me, but also made me grateful that this little book—so full of big voices, so full of life—is offering strength and understanding to those who would find it. And to all those who feel like outsiders, who may be suffering still, you are not alone. Your stories will be told.
I do believe that writing, reading, and discussing this very universal aspect of the human condition is one way to begin to heal it, to emerge from the shadows and to illuminate the primal divinity within—that which ultimately connects us all.
Ilie Ruby is the author of The Salt God’s Daughter (September 2012) and the critically-acclaimed novel, The Language of Trees. Learn more at www.ilieruby.com.