On April 20th, at our 3rd Annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will celebrate seven One Story authors who have published their debut books over the past year. As a lead up to the event, we thought it would be a fun idea to introduce our Debs through a series of interviews on their debut book experiences.
This week, in our first installment, we have the pleasure of speaking with Ramona Ausubel, author of No One is Here Except All of Us, a dazzling first novel about a small Jewish village re-imagining their world.
1) Where were you when you found out your first book was going to be published? How did you celebrate?
I was on my way to New York for the One Story Ball two years ago (this is actually my second time around as a debutante!). My agent had sent the manuscript out a couple of days before and I had been biting my nails. I was in the Albuquerque airport when he told me we had interest, in the Baltimore airport when he told me we had an offer and in front of Citarella on 75th and Broadway when he told me the deal was done. I have extremely fond feelings towards those unlikely locations now. I was with my sister and my husband when that last call came and we found the nearest bar and had a glass of champagne. A couple of days later, I got to hear John Hodgman announce me and my book deal at the Debutante Ball. What could be better than that?
2) In July, 2008, your story “Safe Passage” was published in One Story. What has happened to you between appearing in One Story and the debut of No One is Here Except All of Us?
Having that story in One Story changed everything for me. I got a bunch of emails from agents and editors, which made the whole prospect of finding a home for my story collection and novel much less impossible-seeming, although the novel wasn’t nearly finished yet, so it took a while before I could make use of those contacts. Eventually I went out to New York and met with some of the people, including an editor at Riverhead who ended up sending the collection to an agent she loved. Happily, he loved the book and waited patiently while I finished the novel. Fast-forward to the Citarella window. Since then, I’ve been working on new stuff, which I hope, will eventually turn into another novel and another collection. In non-publishing news, I had my first baby in November.
3) What was the revision process like for you? What advice would you give to writers about producing a book-length manuscript?
I think my advice (and I have to remind myself of this all the time) is to have fun. Having a book published has been terrific and I’m so, so grateful for it, but the real imprint on my life was made by the years I spent writing the thing, not by the flash of having it enter the world. I guess the idea is to take pleasure in the work itself rather than worrying all the time about finishing it. No One is Here Except All of Us took eight years and seventeen drafts to complete. Only five of those weeks were spent writing a first draft (a terrible, crazed first draft). One percent of the time I was starting the book, one percent of the time I was finishing it and the rest of the time I was in the middle. Basically, I’m reminding myself to enjoy the middle, because that’s where you live most of the time you’re writing a book.
4) No One is Here Except All of Us puts a magical spin on real-life events. What kind of research went into this novel, and how does your own family history play into your work?
Stories from my family provided the original seeds for the book. I grew up with legends about my great-grandmother and her children surviving on tree bark in the wilds of Romania during WWI while her husband was a prisoner of war in Italy, where he was having the time of his life (he was reported to say later, in his thick yiddish accent, “the vether vas varm, the vimen vas varm…”). These were the stories I had in my head, but they seemed impossible. How could they be true? I began writing the novel to answer that question–my job was to create a world in which such stories could be real. For many drafts, my imagination was my only source. Much later in the process, I did a lot of research so that I could situate my invented world within history, within the Jewish religion and within the tradition of folktales. Though I was writing fiction, I felt like I had found some kind of truth.
5) What are you most looking forward to about the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on April 20th?
I’m most looking forward to seeing lots of friends. It’s also likely to be by far the latest I will have stayed out without my son since he was born, which will probably be weird and magnificent, in equal parts.