Ramona Ausubel is the author of the novels “Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty” and “No One Is Here Except All of Us,” winner of the PEN Center USA Fiction Award and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award and finalist for the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award.
She is also the author of the story collection “A Guide to Being Born.” Her collection of short stories, “Awayland,” was a 2019 Colorado Book Awards finalist for Science Fiction/Fantasy.
The following is an interview with “Awayland” author Ramona Ausubel.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit
What inspired you to write this book?
So many different things! First of all, I love writing (and reading) short stories because of the way they allow me to press a question or idea into being, to give it a form. One of the strands that weaves through this collection is about home and the absence of home. For my adult life I’ve moved and traveled a lot. I didn’t know where home was on the planet, only that it was with my family. Most of the characters in the book are also at some distance from the places where they began or where they think they belong. There’s a character who moves back to her native Beirut after a long absence but instead of feeling settled, she begins to literally disappear.
In all my writing I’m interested in giving voice (and sometimes physical manifestation—as in the disappearing story) to the tremendously complex, huge inner lives we’re all leading.
Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?
This is the most difficult question because it changes so often. Some writers I come back to again and again: Louise Erdrich, Christine Schutt, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Manuel Gonzales, Marie-Helene Bertino, Claire Vaye Watkins, Karen Russell, Laura van den Berg. I just finished the graphic memoir “Good Talk” by Mira Jacob, which is incredible.
Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?
This story is about a Cyclops looking for love online. It started as a joke (and it’s still funny) but then I started to think about how it feels to not fit in, to be obviously of another place or time and to search for human connection. After getting to know the Cyclops better I decided that he is definitely not the worst guy on the internet.
What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?
The pleasure of saying the unsaid, of naming of the tremendously difficult things, the outlandishly beautiful things, about being a human being. I got to write a lovelorn Cyclops and a bunch of mummified animals. I love writing longform fiction too, but there is a unique joy in the short story because it can take a different kind of risk.
What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?
There are stories in the book that took more than ten years to figure out. I don’t know that they were more difficult necessarily, just slower to crack. There are stories that ask for a bigger leap from the reader and because it’s important to me that each piece feels emotionally true, those often took many drafts to get exactly right. I love revision, though, so this is not a problem for me. I’m happiest when I can see that a story is going to work but isn’t quite yet and I get to keep puzzling it out, making it a little truer, a little more itself, day by day.
What was one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?
The ancient Egyptians mummified everything they could get their hands on. People, of course, but also crocodiles, voles, cats, dogs, snakes baboons and eggs. They also made empty mummies. Say you wanted the prestige of a mummified cat but didn’t have the cash—here’s a cat-shaped nothing mummy for your shelf!
What project are you working on next?
I’m working on a novel about a woman’s attempt to reintroduce the wooly mammoth via gene editing. It’s about the miracle and danger of the human imagination as well as about family, witchery and our moral obligation to the planet.