Lit Hub Asks: 5 Authors, 7 Questions, No Wrong Answers
Featuring Ramona Ausubel, Theodore Wheeler, Jade Song and More
The Lit Hub Author Questionnaire is a monthly interview featuring seven questions for five authors with new books. For the end of the year, we are featuring one new book and four we missed the first time around. This month we talk to:
Ramona Ausubel (The Last Animal)
Christine Coulson (One Woman Show)
Elizabeth McKenzie (The Dog of the North)
Jade Song (Chlorine)
Theodore Wheeler (The War Begins in Paris)
Without summarizing it in any way, what would you say your book is about?
Elizabeth McKenzie: Dislocation, expatriation, awkward misunderstandings, geology, Australian literature, prickly pear invasions, self-delusion, step-parents vs. biological parents, imposters.
Christine Coulson: Constraint. Power. Possession. Porcelain. Picasso. Petty theft. Women. Wealth. Word count.
Theodore Wheeler: This is a novel about American fascist and anti-fascist journalists, and the dangerous allure of power, told in a way that hopefully complicates the way we think about history. On a character level, it’s about the struggle to either hold close or pull away from those we love who also happen to be deeply problematic.
Jade Song: Athletic discipline/delusion. Mermaid myths. Shaving parties. Pasta parties. Body horror. Blood. Transcendance. Freedom. Swimming pools. Queer beings. Codependent friendship. Homoerotic friendship. Faye Wong and Chungking Express. Girl biceps. Suburban malaise. Menstruation. Truth or Dare. Smoking. Less a coming of age and more a coming into being. The joy in monstrosity.
Ramona Ausubel: The possibility and peril of the human imagination, set in action.
Without explaining why and without naming other authors or books, can you discuss the various influences on your book?
Ramona Ausubel: CRISP-R, frozen prehistoric animals, Otzi the iceman, loving small animals and humans.
Jade Song: Mire Lee’s carriers. Greer Lankton’s dolls. Asako Tabata’s paintings. Julia Ducornau’s Raw and Titane. Cronenberg’s The Fly. Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo. Ginger Snaps, Jennifer’s Body, and Black Swan. My friends, for everything, always.
Elizabeth McKenzie: Primal humiliations, comic relief, general unease.
Christine Coulson: Strong, helmet-haired twentieth-century women in taffeta gowns quietly judging other women while holding a cocktail and a cigarette. The intricacy and rigor of 75-word museum wall labels. Cubism. Whit Stillman films. Broken figurines. Stockard Channing.
Theodore Wheeler: I worked as a political reporter during the 2016 presidential election, which was when the outlines of this story (and the motivation to write it) started to come into focus. The sounds of early broadcast news radio were a big influence on the sound of the narration.
Without using complete sentences, can you describe what was going on in your life as you wrote this book?
Theodore Wheeler: On the last commercial flight back from Paris in March 2020 before everything shut down completely. Covered social unrest that summer. Got sick; long Covid. Quit as a journalist after fourteen years. Ate lots of ice cream alone in my backyard. Opened an independent bookshop. Got a job as an English professor. Turned forty, not very gracefully.
Christine Coulson: The pure joy of unrelenting structure, exactly as follows for exactly one year: 8:30-10:00 AM tea, toast, and admin; 10:00 AM-3:00 PM writing (no phone/no email/no breaks); 3:00-4:30 PM lunch and Netflix; 4:30-5:30 PM sleep; 5:30 PM leave studio; 6:00 PM one 11.2-ounce can of Stella Artois poured into a chilled glass
Elizabeth McKenzie: Loneliness, despair, yearning, coffee, cheese, Spelling Bee.
Ramona Ausubel: Second child, torrential rainstorms then droughts and fires, cross-country move, new job, pandemic, dog, snow, sun, rain, wind. Walking and walking.
Jade Song: Coming into my own.
What are some words you despise that have been used to describe your writing by readers and/or reviewers?
Jade Song: I don’t think the author should despise readers and/or reviewers. I’m honored that anyone takes the time to read my work, whether they love it, hate it, or feel nothing at all.
Ramona Ausubel: Quirky, whimsical. That being said, I think it’s a limitation of our language more than of any reviewer.
Christine: Fun. Quirky. Charming. One of my favorite commenters simply asked, “What was she thinking?? That’s exactly the right question.
Elizabeth McKenzie: Zany. Moist.
Theodore Wheeler: Since I worked as a reporter for over a decade, having my fiction compared to the “steady” or “spare” style of a journalist always feels like too easy of a connection to make and not all that accurate of a description of my style.
If you could choose a career besides writing (irrespective of schooling requirements and/or talent) what would it be?
Christine Coulson: I would be Olivia Colman, with a sideline in paintings conservation, and a weekend job in a shop where I could constantly rearrange the stock.
Elizabeth McKenzie: Paramedic, detective, something active.
Theodore Wheeler: I’ve always been drawn to the idea of walking a mail route. I wander a lot anyway and often stop to talk to neighborhood dogs. Why not get paid for the effort? Centerfielder for the Kansas City Royals would be a close second.
Jade Song: Painter.
Ramona Ausubel: I would own a specialty food shop with all the fanciest, most perfect jams and spreads and honeys and salts and tinned fishes. This would require me to spend half the year traveling the world to find magical offerings.
What craft elements do you think are your strong suit, and what would you like to be better at?
Ramona Ausubel: Naming, with precision, small feelings and details. Jokes when things are at their darkest. I wish it didn’t take me seventeen drafts to figure out the plot!!!
Christine Coulson: I can land a joke, craft well-timed dialogue, write movingly from the point of view of objects, and deliver a strong, tight sentence. Everything else, I would like to be better at, particularly the use of expansive description. If I indulge in a lengthy, descriptive passage, it may be beautifully written, but rest assured, it will take you absolutely nowhere.
Jade Song: I could be better in every aspect of craft. But my love for art and my sheer determination to evolve in my art are my strong suits, even if these two qualities are not specifically craft. These qualities keep me going and making and living.
Theodore Wheeler: I’m pretty good at writing big set pieces, I think, and slowly increasing the volume of narration to help those big scenes land. Cadence and rhythm are pretty important to me, along with trying to land knock-out lines. Wouldn’t it be nice to write like Marilynne Robinson or Patrick Modiano? Each sentence in perfect balance, with the promise of some potential personal devastation in every coming paragraph.
Elizabeth McKenzie: I like to defamiliarize, as if in a dissociative state. Things more or less take off once I’m in a groove, but I’d like to get better at finding that groove.
How do you contend with the hubris of thinking anyone has or should have any interest in what you have to say about anything?
Christine Coulson: Is it hubristic to admit that I never before questioned that until you asked? I worked for 25 years at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they fed us hubris for breakfast. That said, my son’s only response to my first novel was, “Better than I thought it would be,” so there’s little chance I’ll get overconfident.
Ramona Ausubel: We are small, gorgeous, weird little animals. If we are to describe the experience of being human, all voices are welcome and required. Mine will always be one note in the vast whole.
Theodore Wheeler: As the youngest child of three, and the little brother of a state-champion wrestler, I always had to work hard to sneak in a sentence and then to be smart enough for anyone to care. What pushes me on is to write about things I believe are vital to our culture. Maybe readers won’t have any interest, but I think the subjects and people I write about are worth fighting for.
Jade Song: I don’t believe other people must have an interest in what I have to say. But I do believe I, myself, should have an interest in what I have to say. As long as I’m following my interests, and staying true to my perception and care and community, then all will be well.
Elizabeth McKenzie: Once I saw a boy I didn’t know reading my column in our high school paper, laughing. I think of him and hope for the best.