A screenshot from a Zoom meeting between an author on the left with black hair in front of a staircase and a woman with grey hair on the right in front of a row of violins, both laughing.

 

Christine Ma-Kellams (author of The Band) chats with Gail Schwartz (author of Falling Through the Night) about publishing, genre, and Kpop.


Christine Ma-Kellams: Your latest book, Falling Through the Night, is your fourth—congratulations!—so as a newbie author, I have to ask: does it get easier with each book?

Gail Schwartz: My publishing history with regards to books has been very strange…the first three books were all commissions that happened with small indie publishers during the pandemic. The way Falling happened was much more typical, so in a way, it feels like my first book even though it’s my fourth. I submitted it for close to six years, to both agents and independent publishers, and was close to giving up when it was accepted. The process after acceptance was also very different than with my other three publishers (I’m co-editing a fifth book, a collection, launching in 2025) in that this company, Demeter Press, is much larger and busier, so there was much less collaboration. The three other houses are very small operations, which meant a lot of teamwork and time spent concepting and hashing things out. All lovely organizations, just very different. For me, it hasn’t gotten easier, but it also hasn’t gotten harder. Promotion is always the hardest part for me. I’m not good at being popular!

What about you? The Band is your first novel-congrats! Tell us a bit about the experience.

 

CM: So the road to The Band was a bit serendipitous–I wrote the whole thing in about 3 months during the pandemic while I was sending my first novel on submission and waiting for agents to get back to me. Then once I finished it, I started submitting it along with my first novel simultaneously. My agent reached out to me when their colleague passed on my query to them, and we got to know one another via email while they were reading the full manuscript. So it was a relatively easy decision to choose them over another offer of representation I had also received around the same time. When we went on submission with The Band, we got an offer from my editor incredibly fast–I think it was a matter of days.

During my querying process though, one question that someone had asked me was whether I thought The Band could be a crossover novel with Young Adult or New Adult appeal. I had never thought of that before because I’d always seen myself as squarely an adult fiction person. For you, though, Falling Through the Night is your first book for adults–your other three books include a chapter book (Clementine in Quarantine), a picture book (The Loudest Bark), and a middle grade novel (My Sister’s Girlfriend)—so you show an enormous capacity for breadth as an author. How do you decide the audience/genre when you’re working on a book?

GS: I had honestly never thought about writing kidlit before the pandemic, although working with kids, doing theater with them and hanging out with them has been a huge part of my life. The children’s book ideas happened because of the contexts and needs of the publishers. Facile a lire, the company in Quebec that published Clementine, creates books designed to help children struggling with learning to read. Rebel Mountain Press, the publisher of The Loudest Bark and My Sister’s Girlfriend, specializes in LGBTQ and marginalized voices, and they wanted a picture book about a trans or nonbinary child. Larry Kramer had died right before we did the proposal, and I kept thinking about the bumper sticker we all had during the AIDS crisis, Silence=Death; I wanted to explore the idea of sound as metaphorical freedom, so we crafted the book around that metaphor (well, that and the dog. There had to be a dog!). The middle grade novel was my writing partner Lucie’s idea: present a young character who is thrust into the world of LGBTQ love and see the coming out process from her perspective. The writing I do regularly, though, is for adults. I loved writing the kids’ books and would do it again if I’m asked, but my ideas don’t naturally take the shape for that audience.

Speaking of writing for specific audiences, teen musical stardom is such a fascinating but specific world, along with the specifics of K-pop. How were you inspired to write this particular story?

 

CM: Deep into the pandemic in 2020, I was driving when NPR’s Larry Mantle came on the air to talk about BTS. Having been a die-hard N’Synch fan in my teens, I had spent the previous years resisting the urge to fangirl. But then a listener called in and talked about how their appearance with James Corden on Carpool Karaoke was her gateway into Army-dom. I went home and Googled them, then watched the now famous late-night bit involving a mini-van full of Korean idols singing their hearts out with America’s favorite British comedian. I knew then what their 40 million fans have known all along: this was no ordinary boy band; this was something else.

BTS might’ve been my gateway drug, but Kpop’s many storied fandoms ultimately became the inspiration for this book. A repairing of an old episode of Radiolab on “Kpoparazzi” about a very public, very organized protest of a girl group’s innocent flirtation with a boy band that ended with 40,000 fans turning off their lightsticks during a stadium performance made me realize: this is both the most scary-powerful and inspiring fan club that I’ve ever seen.

Now, I might’ve been inspired by BTS and A.R.M.Y., but I wanted to ask you about what inspired you, especially since the protagonist in Falling Through the Night, Audrey Meyerwitz, is a bit of an unicorn in the world of fiction in all the intersectional identities she occupies: as a queer woman, mother, spouse, daughter, immigrant, and person who deals with mental illness. What was your inspiration for her character in particular?

GS: Well, she is very loosely based on me. The book started out as a collection of personal essays that centered around my coming into queer motherhood. Betsy Warland, a well-known Canadian lesbian feminist writer, asked me point blank if I had ever considered making it into a novel. It terrified me but also liberated me, because I was far more interested in a fictional character than my own life. I took some of my experiences that were interesting, like immigration, anxiety, Judaism, and queer motherhood, but made Audrey a lot younger so she could grow up with a disabled identity, something that I did not experience. She is also adopted, something I became interested in with a former partner who had a lot of trauma from her adoption history. Most of my favorite parts of the book are fictional: Audrey’s mom and siblings, her best friend, the pieces of her life she discovers later on.

 

CM: I love that! My favorite sub-genre of books is autofiction, so I’m always excited when I hear authors talk about what they drew from their own life (and what they didn’t).

GS: Yes, that’s really fascinating for me too. Your narrator is Chinese and the main character, Duri, is Korean. Asian identity and cultural collisions are a big part of The Band, and I’m wondering how your experience as a first-gen American informed that exploration.

I used to think that being a first-generation American meant I belonged nowhere, not with the Americans from America nor with the Asians from Asia, but these days I think of it more as a superpower. My husband always calls me “a woman without a country,” but there’s something liberating about that because then I’m most comfortable in the borders between worlds. I’m always on the fringes, observing stuff from the sidelines. And that level of perspective is worth all the historical anguish of being an outsider, ha!


Gail Marlene Schwartz is the author of four books (all from indie presses: three children’s books and the novel, Falling Through the Night, forthcoming from Demeter Press), a former editor at Cobalt Weekly, and a writing instructor at the Community College of Vermont.