There were a few different books that crossed my desk that I’m sure influenced All This Could Be Different in so many ways. One of those books was Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid; there are some similarities in, I think, the main characters’ temperaments and relationships to their homelands. I also think about Halle Butler’s The New Me, which I finished right as I finished a complete draft of my book. I read Luster by Raven Leilani after I sold the book, and I thought, Wow, there are all these ways in which it feels like my book is in conversation with this brilliant novel, and that feels cool and special. I’m explicitly interested in this idea of the art we make as a long conversation across time and space.
Yeah, I did. What I wasn’t totally sure about was the exact structure of the ending, but I knew there was a closing scene I wanted to work towards when I was first writing the opening of the novel. I knew that the majority of the novel would take place during one year, 2013, in Milwaukee, and I pictured some kind of jump into the future where it ended up being one of the characters’ weddings five years later. One thing that felt important to me was to write a novel that was literary and character-driven, but also fun and had some modicum of political force. The novel is often just formally not suited to some of the same things that, say, a manifesto can accomplish, and I really dislike didactic novels, so I was trying to think about what to do given that, and I was rewatching the Richard Linklater Before films, which I think are some of the greatest romantic movies ever made. There’s a very particular kind of ending to these films that I like, where there’s this moment of ambiguity, like in the second film in the trilogy, where you don’t know the choice Ethan Hawke’s character is going to make about the love of his life, and then boom, it cuts to black. What I actually love about it is it’s not true ambiguity; if you think as a reader about everything that’s come before, you can make an educated guess about what this character is actually going to do. The ending in All This Could Be Different can also serve, in my opinion, as a litmus test for how hopeful or pessimistic an individual reader might be.
I must admit, I’ve already seen more than one copy of ATCBD on a queer dating profile. What’s it like to have written a queer book that so many people are talking about? It’s so amazing. And I think what I feel hyped about, personally, is that it feels like there are a fair few queer books at the moment. I’m very excited and honored to potentially be one of them, and it’s not something I take for granted. I was reading Davey Davis’s X and SJ Sindhu’s Blue-Skinned Gods, for example, and I was like, Damn, this is so great. It’s cool to not have any of us navigating single-story politics—we exist in multiplicity, and the culture is catching up. Well, I don’t believe that anyone does anything worthwhile alone, ever. So I would definitely say that I have a long list of debts to people from all over. I did an MFA at Iowa, where there was a lot of focus on making the art and making it better, and not a lot of focus on the industry and how to get published, probably to keep people from losing their minds. Through my time there, I met people who ended up publishing their books before me, and I learned from all they had to share. Overall, I think there’s a ton that’s deeply opaque, arbitrary, and frankly painful about the industry, and a lot of people are doing really great work online to democratize and share information about it, but I think there are also these real questions about, What does it mean to make art? Ultimately, I made a lot of my own mistakes in the eight-year-long road to write my first novel, and I just feel invested in speaking truthfully about what this journey has been like while maintaining a degree of privacy as, you know, a fairly private person.
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