Book spotlight: Rough Animals by Rae DelBianco

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This is the most massive news I ever shared with you guys because they’ve come not just from some author we heard about and fancy, but from a girl I personally consider as a friend. I feel very excited about her achievements as I sense how she gets rattled with every day that takes us closer to her debut novel to be released. JUNE 5 is a perfect date to celebrate a new enthralling book. This is the date when Rough Animals will hit the shelves but before that let me throw one more message at you. Rae has prepared an exclusive preview for the first 1000 of you who pre-order the hardcover. The pre-order package contains a signed preview with a bookmark trio, stickers, laptop decal, and mini-print. A whole treasure chest that will help you to immerse into the mood of the novel is waiting for you here.

Rough Animals exclusive preview
on the feed @alisaellie

It’s an honor for me to receive the ARC of Rough Animals and be among the first luckiest readers to devour it. I must say it’s a hell of a reading! Read my full review on GOODREADS to catch my thoughts and feelings on the book.

In this blog post, I will share with you everything that the reading world knows about Rough Animals: the cover, the book trailer, praise for the book, synopsis, info about the author and even more. Rae kindly agreed to give me an interview and answer some questions those eat me alive after reading her book. It’s such an honor, and I’m overjoyed at this opportunity. So hold on as we hop on the roller-coaster named Rough Animals and the ride is going to be breathtaking!


“A brilliant, incandescent debut that will remind everyone of a young Cormac McCarthy.”

— Philipp Meyer, New York Times bestselling author of American Rust and Pulitzer Prize finalist The Son

Ever since their father’s untimely death five years before, Wyatt Smith and his inseparably close twin sister, Lucy, have scraped by alone on their family’s isolated ranch in Box Elder County, Utah. That is until one morning when, just after spotting one of their bulls lying dead in the field, Wyatt is hit in the arm by a hail of gunfire that takes four more cattle with it. The shooter: a fever-eyed, fearsome girl-child with a TEC-9 in her left hand and a worn shotgun in her right. They hold the girl captive, but she breaks loose overnight and heads south into the desert. With the dawning realization that the loss of cattle will mean the certain loss of the ranch, Wyatt feels he has no choice but to go after her and somehow find restitution for what’s been lost. 

Wyatt’s decision sets him on an epic twelve-day odyssey through a nightmarish underworld he only half understands; a world that pitches him not only against the primordial ways of men and the beautiful yet brutally unforgiving landscape, but also against himself. As he winds his way down from the mountains of Box Elder to the mesas of Monument Valley and back, Wyatt is forced to look for the first time at who he is and what he’s capable of, and how those hard truths set him irrevocably apart from the one person he’s ever really known and loved. Steeped in a mythic, wildly alive language of its own, and gripping from the first gunshot to the last, Rough Animals is a tour de force from a powerful new voice.


Rough Animals is the kind of novel that can teach you the mechanics of dissecting a bull with only an axe and a knife, or how to survive on a coyote’s blood if you’re waterless in the desert. It renders its portrait of brother-sister love and their pitiless world of the badlands of northern Utah with some of Denis Johnson’s flamboyant lyricism, when it comes to longings for transcendence, and with more than a little of Cormac McCarthy’s implacable vision of a world in which we survive by doing the thing most others could not bring themselves to do.”

— Jim Shepard, The Story Prize-winning author of The World to Come and Like You’d Understand, Anyway 


Rae DelBianco Author Photo

Rae DelBianco grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where she began competitively showing livestock at the age of eight and founded a beef cattle operation at fourteen. She attended Duke University as a Robertson Scholar, is a former model, and is an alumnus of Tin House’s Summer Workshop and Curtis Brown’s Novel-Writing Course in London, where she transformed the opening chapter into the manuscript of this novel. She is also one of the winners of Jeffrey Archer’s 100 word-story competition. She lives outside New York City.


Me: As you call yourself in IG “that redneck kid author,” I may assume you had a vivid and reckless life on the farm. You are no strangers with rural life and, judging by your IG stories, you really enjoy this. Did you incorporate something that happened to you in real life into your novel? Are there any autobiographical parts in it?

Rae: Raising livestock from the age of eight, every ounce of atmosphere in the novel is from my own experience.  It was an education in the visceral and the tactile—heat, sweat, the feel of spiderwebs on your face and the smell of rain and the way a horse’s muscles move within its cheek.

A major theme of the novel is the violence underlying everyday life, and that stems from my greatest emotional struggle growing up, witnessing the little lives that are accidentally broken.  Nature is often cruel, and an ongoing question of my life is reconciling a love for its wonder and power with the things that are inevitably shattered when one lives with nature, from a snake beneath a mower blade to a rabbits’ nest my steer once crushed.  That asks the central question of the novel—faced with the violence we’re forced to commit just by living, can we love anyway?

Me: How much time did you spend to write Rough Animals and what part was the hardest and took the longest?

Rae: I took the first chapter of Rough Animals with me to London without a plan for it, accepted into Curtis Brown’s Six Month Novel-Writing Course.  I set the goal to finish it by the end of the course and working 12-14 hour days, 7 days a week, six months later I had a manuscript. It was another year of editing with both my UK and US agents before it found its publishing home.

The part that was both the hardest and took the longest was the beginning.  In those first chapters, you are shaping your characters and your plot, and the whole world is open.  You take many, many wrong turns. But at a point in the novel, the characters become real and take the reins from you on what must happen, and your job becomes doing their story the greatest justice you can.  It feels like flying.

Me: I read in acknowledgments that your father was your first editor. What place did he take in becoming you as a writer?

Rae: From my earliest memories, my father would tell me stories for an hour each night—huge epics that often lasted for years, of things like war horses escaping a sinking Spanish galleon off the North Carolina coast, and an immigrant girl in 1900s New York who got a job shooting rats in the sewers to survive.  By the age of 4, he was teaching me to read from the Little House on the Prairie series.

It was his instilling storytelling as a central joy of life that led to my love of writing.  He’s written a novel as well, a tech thriller called Millennium Fever, and is at work on another now.  We constantly run ideas by each other before they end up on the page.

Me: Tell us the story of the Rough Animals cover.

Rae: Box Elder County, Utah, the place at the heart of the novel, is named for the box elder tree.  It’s a species of maple that, when struck, damaged, or exposed to disease, no one knows exactly what does it, will develop a blood red stain in the wood.  Box elder became a core theme in Rough Animals, the trees that all look the same outside, but when cut open, some reveal this violence.

My editor and I searched for a photograph of box elder wood, but there were none available with the high resolution required for a cover.  I contacted lumberyards across the country until I found a bowl turning blank out West with just the markings I was looking for. I had it mailed in, carved it from its turning wax, and took it to a neighbor who helped me slice it lengthwise to create the Rorschach inkblot image you see now.  I still have those box elder pieces on my writing desk, and they’re a wonderful memory.

Me: Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?

Rae: Become hungry for criticism.  Writing an 85,000 word novel is a behemoth task for one person, and often when we find ourselves stuck in a plot hole or with a sense that something isn’t working, it can take weeks to dig out, when someone with an outside perspective may be able to point out the stumbling block in an instant.

My favorite moment from my writing course in London was when a classmate came up to me after her story was workshopped and said, “you had the most problems with this story out of anyone in the class. Can we please discuss it further so I can better understand your perspective?”  It was a true act of love for her novel that, instead of resting on the many compliments, she actively sought insight on what she might do to make it better. I’ve tried to emulate that approach since. Of course “bad criticism” happens, when someone is clearly not the right reader for your work, but when a reader you trust has taken the time to read and thoughtfully comment, it is one of the most generous things they can do to point out any potential for improvement and to respect and study that advice is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your work.

Me: How soon can we expect the next writing masterpiece from you? Do you work on something in particular?

Rae: I do have another novel in the works, which I’m very excited about.  It’s about bull riders, heroin, and trailer park living. I’m far along but, as one of my literary mentors once told me, writing your next book will be an even greater challenge and adventure than the first.


You get the idea. So now go and get the book!

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