Sarah Grunder Ruiz

Courtesy of Joanna Sue Photography

Romance novelist Sarah Grunder Ruiz is one of the many published authors to have graduated from NC State’s MFA creative writing program. Ruiz also teaches in the English department as a first-year writing instructor for the MFA program. Even before starting the creative writing club at her former university, she knew she wanted to be a published author. 

Ruiz’s best friend introduced her to the romance genre through book recommendations. She said though she stumbled into the genre, she fell in love with it.

“She was like ‘Oh, I read this book,’” Ruiz said. “‘I think it would be good. It reminds me of what you’re working on,’ and they were all romance novels, so then I started learning a lot about romance.”

Growing up in Palm Beach, Florida, Ruiz was inspired to write about a romance setting in south Florida. Her first published novel, “Love, Lists & Fancy Ships,” was released in 2021 as a part of a series. Although categorized as a romance novel, the book includes a lot of familial grief.

Her second novel, “Luck and Last Resorts,” was released in 2022 and deals with friendship and healing from trauma. Belle Boggs, director of NC State’s MFA creative writing program, said one of the interesting concepts in Ruiz’s series is that the love interests of the second book were secondary characters in the first.

Boggs, also an author and professor at NC State, met Ruiz at a reading in a bookstore in Chapel Hill where she encouraged Ruiz to apply for the University’s program. They later reunited after Ruiz was hired to teach first-year writing. 

“We immediately loved the spark and energy and humor of her writing,” Boggs said. “She is really just a talented, smart, zippy writer of fiction and nonfiction.”

Boggs said one of Ruiz’s talents is maintaining perspective about her work as she writes.

“She’s not afraid to put one idea aside and say, ‘OK, this isn’t working, I’m going to do something else,’” Boggs said. “I think for a lot of us creative writers it can be very hard to put aside a project that we’re passionate about, or [that’s] even connected to our own egos, to say that something isn’t quite working.”

Outside of writing and teaching, Ruiz is a karaoke enthusiast and loves to sing — she says it’s a great way to relieve anxiety and stress. Ruiz also emphasized her love for hockey and her recent desire to write a book about the sport. 

“I really want to write a hockey book,” Ruiz said. “My [Instagram] followers, according to their DMs to me, also really want me to write a hockey book because I talked about hockey all the time.”

Ruiz advised aspiring writers to be patient through the early parts of the writing process.  

“You have to embrace the suck,” Ruiz said. “You have to be okay with writing really bad stuff. … You have to love the writing process, and you can’t wait for anyone’s permission to say, ‘I'm a writer now.’”

Ruiz said the timeline of when you become a writer is somewhat ambiguous, not directly connected to when, or if, work is published.

“My thing is like ‘OK, when did I become a writer?’” Ruiz said. “Was it when I got a book deal? Because the book was already done. I wrote it before that, so I had to have been a writer before that, right? So I think a lot of people are afraid to claim the term writer and decide, ‘Yes I’m a writer.’”

Her next book, “Last Call at the Local,” is set to release in 2024. It will not be a part of the aforementioned series; however, it will focus on the brother of the protagonist from the second book, a character Ruiz refers to as the hero of that book. The book focuses on the challenging lifestyles the characters face while developing feelings for each other.  

Stay up to date with Ruiz’s work through her website.

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