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IRDA Winning Author Christine Ristaino: “Changing the world motivates me.”

All the Silent Spaces was the winner in the Women’s Issues category of the 2020 IndieReader Discovery Awards, where undiscovered talent meets people with the power to make a difference.

Following find an interview with author Christine Ristaino.

What is the name of the book and when was it published?

My memoir is titled All the Silent Spaces and it was published in July of 2019.

What’s the book’s first line?  

“It has been ten years since the event that inspired this book occurred on a black pavement, a bloodied woman lying in a parking lot while her children stared and sobbed.”

What’s the book about? Give us the “pitch”.  

In September 2007, Christine Ristaino was attacked in a store parking lot while her three- and five-year-old children watched. In All the Silent Spaces, Ristaino shares what it felt like to be an ordinary person confronted with an extraordinary event―a woman trying to deal with acute trauma even as she went on with her everyday life, working at a university and parenting two children with her husband. She not only narrates how this event changed her but also tells how looking at the event through both the reactions of her community and her own sensibility allowed her to finally face two other violent episodes she had previously experienced. As new memories surfaced after the attack, it took everything in Ristaino’s power to not let catastrophe unravel the precarious threads holding everything together. Moving between the greater issues associated with violence and the personal voyage of overcoming grief, All the Silent Spaces is about letting go of what you think you know in order to rebuild.

What inspired you to write the book? A particular person? An event?  

My book is about overcoming experiences with sexual abuse, rape, and an attack I experienced in a parking lot in front of my three and five-year old children. It took me years to even acknowledge the first two events had happened, but after the third attack, I realized I had to face the earlier violence as well. The event in the parking lot was the catalyst for everything. The man was someone I had trusted initially. When he walked towards us I thanked him. My cart was stuck on the curb and I thought he was coming to help us. Instead, he punched me repeatedly in the face until I was forced to let go of my grip on the cart and fall backwards, my head hitting the hard pavement, my children wailing, my purse gone. Soon after, I realized I needed to react differently this time, actually face this event and talk about it, if not for myself, for my children. When I was writing All the Silent Spaces, I felt this incredible need to write it. I just went where the book took me. Ultimately, through writing, I was able to look at the two experiences with sexual violence that had happened to me as a child and young adult. Writing about these two events liberated me, helped me figure out who I was.

What’s the most distinctive thing about the main character? Who-real or fictional-would you say the character reminds you of?

Since my book is a memoir, I would have to say that the older me, at the end of my book, is my favorite character. The book is about trying to find one’s voice after sexual assault. The experience of finding it through writing was powerful and I enjoy seeing a much more settled, imperfect but self-aware woman, ready to change the world, at the end of my book. My younger self in the book reminds me of many women I have known who have experienced violence and are in the process of coming to terms with it in their own way.

What’s the main reason someone should really read this book?

The power of writing about my past, opening it up, all thorny, and finally looking at it, has been the most liberating experience of my life. The messiness of this process, combined with precious moments of clarity, is something anyone who has experienced sexual assault, trauma, illness or loss could benefit from reading about, because it is life, nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide.  Reading about our shared humanity in the face of struggle allows us to see ourselves and our challenges differently, perhaps with more compassion.

If they made your book into a movie, who would you like to see play the main character(s)? 

I would like Julianna Margulies to play me.

When did you first decide to become an author?

I have always loved writing and have wanted to be an author for most of my life. I realized I could write well when a teacher told me to send a story into a competition in High School. Something clicked for me then. I began to write stories and poems in my teens and twenties and haven’t looked back.

Is this the first book you’ve written?

I’ve written a dissertation and two academic publications in my thirties, OpEds and All the Silent Spaces in my 40s and early 50s.

What do you do for work when you’re not writing? 

I teach Italian at Emory University, advise three student groups, write OpEds, and nonfiction. I am currently co-teaching a summer seminar with a colleague from China called Noodles on the Silk Road where we compare Italy and China through the medium of noodles. I also love teaching courses on Italian memoir where my students write personal memoir pieces throughout the course.

How much time do you generally spend on your writing?

I’m a parent and a full-time professional so I have to carve out space to write, often 20 minutes at a time. Mostly I think of things to write about in the middle of the night or when I’m driving, during the few moments when life quiets down for a spell and I feel creative and relaxed. Usually I think of something and write it down as soon as I can pull over the car or find a pen.

What’s the best and the hardest part of being an indie?  

Because my book addresses difficult topics, I found that a number of traditional publishers loved the writing but were hesitant to take on a book of this type before the #MeToo movement made it okay to do so. Yet the first self-publishing house I signed with was just as cautious when they mandated I do exactly what survivors are asked to do all the time, disown my story. If I were to publish with them, I needed to use a pen name rather than my own. My experience with sexual assault, pretending it hadn’t happened, denying ownership of this experience again, was no longer an option. The publisher broke the contract. Fortunately, shortly after my first publishing house dropped my book, She Writes Press did accept my memoir and there were no restrictions. I was to publish my book as I had envisioned it, and take the chances I had been compelled to take. She Writes Press is a talented hybrid publisher that cares, and it has provided me with an empowered and supportive community of women as well.

Would you go traditional if a publisher came calling?  If so, why?  

Absolutely. I’m trying to change the way our society views and talks about sexual assault. Because I would like to create culture change, I want to reach as many readers as possible.

Is there something in particular that motivates you (fame? fortune?)

Changing the world motivates me. Storytelling, personal connection, and bearing witness to others’ experiences makes me feel invigorated and part of the world.

Which writer, living or dead, do you most admire?

Isabel Wilkerson, a dear friend of mine who wrote The Warmth of Other Suns, is the author I admire most. In her book she shows what it means to bear witness to others, hear their stories, and make important culture change in the process. Her book is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read.

Which book do you wish you could have written? 

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: It’s a stunning story that subtly and deftly engages with us on the topic of what it means to be human.

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