Ravi Howard on Growing Up
OCBS: Tell us a little about yourself and your background. How do you think your upbringing affected you as an author?
Ravi Howard: I grew up in Montgomery, and my parents are originally from the Mobile Bay area. When I was young, many of the familiar names of local civil rights history were still alive and active. I think that informed my storytelling because I had layers of history to learn. The history I learned from personal reading and teaching was complemented by the history I heard. That idea of listening is central to writing fiction. We’re presenting stories that feel like they are being heard as much as read.
Ravi Howard on His Career
OCBS: Have you always wanted to be a writer? If not, what else did you consider as a career and why?
Ravi Howard: I have. It took a while to realize the interest was specifically in fiction. I’ve worked as a print journalist and in sports television production, so I’ve moved around and tried many forms of writing. I’ve enjoyed them, but fiction has become central to my writing career.
OCBS: Your first novel—Like Trees, Walking—was a substantial success. What are your goals for your career now?
Ravi Howard: I just want to build a career that includes novels, short stories, and other forms. With the time it takes to complete a novel, it’s important to remain active in multiple forms. Also, while I enjoy the work of historical narratives, I want to explore other contemporary stories as well.
OCBS: Who is your support system, i.e. the first to read your work, review it and critique it? How do you choose these advisors?
Ravi Howard: I have colleagues from teaching and former classmates that sometimes read excerpts. I attended graduate workshops with a dozen or so writers, and those critiques were helpful. Now the groups are smaller. It depends on the work or the section. The short stories and novels I’ve published have all gone through rounds of notes with editors.
OCBS: Which other writers inspire you? Why?
Ravi Howard: A favorite has always been the work of Ernest Gaines. I’ve also enjoyed the work of contemporary writers like Attica Locke, Mat Johnson, and Dolen Perkins-Valdez. They have varying styles that include elements of mystery, humor and historical fiction. They create vivid storytelling and the language is beautifully crafted.
Ravi Howard On Writing
OCBS: What’s your favorite genre to read? To write? Why?
Ravi Howard: I like to read a variety of styles and genres, so it’s difficult to pick a favorite. Sometimes contrast is the best approach. Since I’ve been writing historical fiction, it’s a nice departure to read mysteries or contemporary short stories.
OCBS: Are there other writers with whom you’d like to collaborate? Who? Why?
Ravi Howard: I don’t see myself collaborating in fiction because it’s so solitary, but I see the writer-editor relationship as collaborative. Also, when books are optioned for film, there are opportunities to see how the novel changes form in a different medium. I think these are ways that writers and those in media work together to edit or transform a story.
OCBS: What advice can you offer aspiring authors?
Ravi Howard: Reading is central to the process. Also, revision is where the fiction takes shape. Don’t compare rough drafts to the finished work of published authors. Understand that the layers of revision bring the work into focus.
OCBS: How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
Ravi Howard: I’m more willing to let go of lines, characters and ideas that don’t work. I understand that what I take out helps to enhance the work that’s left. It was harder to let go earlier in my writing career, but I’ve come to understand that trial and error is necessary.
OCBS: What is the hardest thing about writing?
Ravi Howard: It’s difficult to measure the time it takes to write a book. It can be uneven. Some pages flow quickly and others take more time. Sometimes the slowest parts of the process lead to the best work, but it’s difficult to gauge simply by looking at the page count.
OCBS: If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?
Ravi Howard: I can’t say that I look at the work of others that way. I think I look at the work as a reader without feeling like the work could have come from me. I might enjoy the idea of finding work and images that I would never have conceived.
Ravi Howard—The Final Word
OCBS: What is your favorite saying and why?
Ravi Howard: Fiction is an art of make-believe (Albert Murray). He speaks to the importance of imagination in writing. Even work based in historical fact must me imagined in a compelling way.
OCBS: What advice would you give to your younger self?
Ravi Howard: I would have taken more creative classes in college. Film and drama. I don’t think I would have pursued those paths, but stepping away from the familiar would have been challenging and rewarding.
OCBS: What do you want your readers to know about you?
Ravi Howard: Like most writers, I came to the profession as a reader, so I share the enjoyment of books as one who spends time discovering new stories just as they do.