Q&A: Author Ramona Reeves

Mobile native and winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize Ramona Reeves talks about her debut collection of short stories, “It Falls Gently All Around and Other Stories.”

Ramona Reeves, Author Event

**Correction: Our print issue stated the incorrect date for Reeves’ book signing. The correct date is tonight, October 6, from 6-8 p.m. at Page & Palette!

Thursday, October 6, 2022

6:00 PM  8:00 PM

Page & Palette

32 South Section Street Fairhope, AL, 36532 

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Mobile Author, Ramona Reeves sitting on the steps of a Mobile building
Author Ramona Reeves

Congratulations on winning the University of Pittsburgh Press 2022 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. Part of that prize was the publication of your short stories. Tell us about it.

I’m still in disbelief that it’s happening. I worked on “It Falls Gently All Around and Other Stories” for many years, and I almost didn’t submit it to the contest. But, I thought, “It can’t hurt.” And, lo and behold, a few months later they called and said I had won. It’s really an amazing prize that Drue Heinz started for emerging writers. She is part of the Heinz Ketchup family so needless to say we only do Heinz in my household now.

The book is composed of 11 linked short stories that follow the lives of the main characters, Donnie and Babbie, for 10 years. Why did you choose the format of linked short stories as opposed to a novel with chapters?

This book started as part of a fiction-writing class I was taking in graduate school at New Mexico State in Las Cruces. I didn’t finish the entire draft by the time I left but then, a few years later, I got interested again and decided to pick it up. Short stories need to stand alone, but there’s a novel-like feel to collections in the way that you get to see the characters again. 

Who or what was your inspiration for writing the story of Donnie and Babbie and the community of characters that surround them?

All these characters are just composites of people that I’ve either heard or run into or read about. I live in Texas, but I’m in Mobile quite a bit because most of my family’s still there, and I always wanted to write a book set in Mobile. But I also wanted distance from the people that I actually knew to create original characters that those who are reading the stories for the first time, who live in the area, maybe won’t recognize. And maybe they will see the area in some new way. 

The characters in “It Falls Gently All Around” seem to be searching for success, forgiveness, approval and redemption. Why did you choose those as the central themes for your book and what does redemption mean to you?

At the heart of the short stories, they are all trying to connect and are searching for connection. But I really feel it’s that human thing that everyone wants – to be accepted for who they are and loved for who they are almost unconditionally. I think that the book is about looking for that acceptance.

It seems like some of the characters in the book just can’t ever catch a break. Do you believe in happy endings?

I do believe in happy endings. I left it to the reader’s imagination in that way. But for me, there’s hope, and hope is a happy ending.

One of the stories that I found the most poignant was “The Right Side of the Dash” – the story about Faye.

That was a really tough story to write, but I love her as a character. I felt as if she’s the mother of so many people in the book. At the time that I was writing it, I had two friends who were either losing or had lost their mothers to Alzheimer’s so I was trying to find a way to write about what that would feel like. I think that’s actually my favorite story in the book.

The stories are all set in and around Mobile. And, in the book, you say, “The beauty of Mobile was not found in its midtown or downtown high-ceilinged homes with their historic nameplates, prim azaleas, and impressive oaks. The beauty swelled from the dirty bay, the muck of oyster beds and oil rigs, and the fume-scarred Bankhead Tunnel…The cracked and broken parts of the city, if taken as a whole, amounted to shapes, color and light that made Babbie want to live. That was her beautiful city.” Can you tell us more about that and how Mobile is essentially its own character in the book?

Mobile is a gorgeous city and people do always think about the houses and the trees that overlap Government Street or Dauphin Street. And it is gorgeous that way. But to me, part of the beauty is the juxtaposition of the things that people may not find as beautiful. That’s what makes the city interesting as a whole. It’s that balance. I really wanted to infuse the book with a lot of the sense of Mobile without actually naming specific places, which goes back to wanting to see it in a new way. Growing up, I loved Mobile so much, and I still do. 

“It Falls Gently All Around” takes on the issues of race and prejudice and calls it out with characters that show us what’s not acceptable or appropriate behavior. Why did you decide to tackle these things?

I’ve come to believe that if I’m going to put characters in the South and write about the South, to leave out that aspect seems as if I’m turning my back on it or being disingenuous. It just feels like it’s there and that it’s something that has to be looked at or addressed…especially if it’s uncomfortable. I think Mobile has come a long way in the last few years. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of changes visiting museums and other things when I’m there. And I think it’s an important thing to have a dialogue about. So, if [this book] creates dialogue, then I’m really happy about that.

In the book, there are clear lines drawn between the classes too, and many of your characters are struggling with being “have nots” in a world of “haves.” For instance, you say, “Babbie coaxed herself to smile. This husband was better than she deserved. If she could hold her breath inside Rowan’s world a little bit longer, she told herself, everything would be okay…Everything would be the way it should be.” Tell us more about that.

Class was the first thing I really wanted to explore when I was writing these stories. Years ago, Don Noble interviewed Mary Ward Brown, and he asked about class. She said that class is everywhere in the South, and she wrote a lot about that. It got me thinking as I was writing these stories, and it was something I wanted to explore specifically in Mobile because I think that whether or not there still is, there definitely used to be a feeling of people belonging to certain classes in the city. And also the way I grew up – we were lower middle class. My mother married again, and then we kind of moved up. So I saw both sides of that coin as a child and an adolescent. 

There’s also a good bit of humor in your stories as well.

Thank goodness, because talking about race and class and all those things, you’ve got to have it. There’s actually a lot of dark humor in most of my work. I think when you’re delving into these kinds of issues, humor helps.

Do you ever think about moving back to Mobile?

I do sometimes. I’ve been in Texas for quite a while now, and I am actually planning on spending the summer at my mother’s in Mobile next year. So we’ll see. You never know what can happen. That’s what the pandemic taught me – you never know.

Excerpt from “It Falls Gently All Around and Other Stories”

Book cover of "It Falls Gently All Around and Other Stories" by Ramona Reeves

The woods called to him – which was better than the bottle – and he jumped over a gully on the other side of the car and stepped around two brown anthills the size of army helmets. With one step. He flattened a discarded paper cup and continued moving up a hill into a thick stand of pines, cedars, and firs that bridged the land and sky. He felt fragile when he turned and looked downhill at the car. He could no longer hear the protest of his niece – his daughter – but felt his own protest hollowing out his chest and kidnapping his breath. He picked up a freshly minted pine cone and hurled it farther into the woods. He repeated this until he heard the faint voice of his mother calling. Her voice was a blow to his pride, and he knelt and slid his back against the scabby bark of a pine tree. His eyes overflowed and he swore at his brother before swearing at himself and rocking against the indifferent bark. When he grew silent again, he listened. His mother had stopped calling. He wiped his face and raised it toward the sun. “Heads up,” Michael used to say when they practiced fielding ground balls in Little League. Before bending and scooping a pinecone from the ground, he tried to stand as the trees stood. He soaked up the sun and allowed the sky, the chatter of birds, and the smell of pine needles to seep into him as far as they would go. He wound one arm in a circle and pitched the cone toward home. 

Do you want to get a signed copy of “It Falls Gently All Around and Other Stories?”
Visit Page & Palette for Ramona Reeves’ book signing on October 6 from 6 – 8 p.m

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