JOANNE RAMOS INTERVIEW: ‘THE IDEAS IN MY BOOK HAD BEEN STEWING IN MY HEAD FOR DECADES’
The Fantasy Issue of Popshot includes flash fiction by the author of bestselling novel ‘The Farm’. Illustration by Ewelina Rynkiewicz
Joanne Ramos, whose debut novel The Farm, about a surrogacy service for the super wealthy has been gracing bestseller lists, agreed to be Popshot’s guest author for The Fantasy Issue. She contributed a beautiful flash fiction story in which she imagines the earth’s response to human profligacy and environmental destruction (buy it in WHSmiths, in book shops and online!).
Here she speaks to editor Matilda Battersby about the writing process, her 20 year hiatus from writing and producing a bestselling debut in her forties.
Firstly, thank you for the story you contributed to Popshot. Can you give us some insight into the starting point and your inspiration?
I wrote this piece while on holiday on Fire Island, a barrier island not too far from New York City, where I live. Because there are no curtains on the windows in my room, the sun wakes me early, usually well before six. I like to take our dog for a walk on the beach. It’s a beautiful time to be up—the day pink-gold and new and fragile-seeming, the sand unblemished, the only sound the surf. At this hour, I’m usually alone on the beach, and it can feel like I’m the only person in the world. And then, as my dog and I stroll at the ocean’s edge, we encounter the first empty beer can, then a bunch of deflated helium balloons still bound together with sparkly ribbon, then water-logged plastic bags and water bottles — the junk washed up by the waves overnight; the markers of a high-consumption/high-disposal society.
I started thinking about the earth, and how too often we take her loveliness and bounty for granted. I wondered what she would do if she got fed up with us. The image that flashed in my head was not fire and brimstone, earthquake and flood — but fruit. Grotesquely enlarged fruit. Because in my mind, the earth would have a sense of humour. From there, I started to write this short piece.
Congratulations on the success of your first novel, The Farm. A lot of Popshot readers are often writers themselves — can you please briefly describe your journey to becoming a published author?
I’ve loved stories and writing since I was a kid. Some of my earliest memories are of copying down, word-for-word, the stories in the board books my parents bought me and stapling these sheets of plagiarised text together into “books”! Life took me in a different direction, and by the time I finally decided to give fiction-writing a real go, I was in my forties. I hadn’t written fiction since college—a twenty-year hiatus.
The ideas behind the book had been stewing in my head for decades, though—ones rooted in my experiences, and the people I’ve gotten to know, as a Filipina immigrant in Wisconsin, a financial-aid student at Princeton, a woman in the male-dominated world of high finance, and a mother of three in the era of helicopter parenting. Finding a compelling story that could hold these ideas was the hard part. It was a process of trial and error and writing in the dark. Saved in my laptop are the many aborted short stories, “first chapters” and flash-fiction pieces that I produced in that year and a half of stumbling and experimenting before I landed on the idea for The Farm.
The idea of a surrogacy facility came to me after reading a very short article in the newspaper about commercial surrogacy in India. From there, the what ifs began bubbling: what if I made the surrogacy facility a luxury one? What if the surrogate mothers were needy and the clients were uber-rich?
From this point, it took me another three and a half years to write and edit the book. I tentatively sent the manuscript to a handful of agents in mid-December of 2017 in hopes of finding someone to represent me. Within a couple of days, I had my first offer; others followed quickly. And things only accelerated from there! The past year and a half has been a whirlwind and, quite literally, a childhood dream come true.
What is your writing routine – do you write every day? For how long? Are you a planner or do you find your way through the narrative over lots of drafts?
I have three children, and they were still very young when I committed myself to writing a book six years ago. This means my writing time was confined to the hours they were at school. I made myself sit down to work—or, at least, stare at the computer screen and think—for two to three hours every weekday morning before attending to my “hausfrau” duties. Some weeks, due to a sickness (mine or one of my kids) or a family holiday or volunteering at school, I couldn’t write as much as I’d like. Even then, I tried very hard to snatch some time, even just half an hour, to write. I somehow felt back then that if I didn’t keep my foot in that door, it would close and I would revert back to wishing I’d written a book rather than doing the hard work of writing one!
As far as my writing process: I’m not an outliner nor a planner. I seem to begin with an image or phrase that resonates with me, or an idea, and the writing unfolds. I love the process of discovery; I’m not sure I ever could outline in detail, because I like not knowing — in writing and in many other aspects of life. I’m not a creature of habit, and I like to be surprised.
I think this is also one reason I wrote the book from four different perspectives. I liked finding out how different characters would see the same experiences—and writing four very different characters, with different backstories and voices, kept me interested and “discovering” as well.
I tend to re-write as I go along, so when I finished the book it was in decent shape. I still went back and edited the book in full three times. In part, this is because I got to know my characters and the plot by writing them—and so the first chapters didn’t always reflect what I’d learned by the end of the book.
Read Joanne Ramos’s story ‘The Earth’ in The Fantasy Issue of Popshot.
To ensure that you never miss a future issue of the print magazine, subscribe from just £20 for 4 issues.