PW speaks with Kate Gavin

by Gavino A career in books (Plume, August) follows three friends as they rise through the lower ranks of the New York publishing industry.

You were an editorial assistant. What would you think of this book?

I would have been in shock that a book so specific to my experience had existed. I’ve always loved books about working women, especially the 1958 novel best of all. I love books about the Asian American experience. And then in the form of a graphic novel? I started writing the book I wanted to read.

Was there any inspiration for Veronica Vo, the writer the girls got to know?

I always wanted an author like her to exist. There are a lot of amazing Asian American writers that I look up to, but I wanted a figure that existed in that space of best of all. I imagined the frustrations a writer would have at that time. She wants to write about women working in offices and bored housewives, but what the publishing world expects of her are stories from her native Vietnam, which she feels distant. I thought she might give younger girls a perspective on what has changed and what hasn’t changed.

How did you develop this trio of characters and their cultural origins?

I’ve seen the girls as three versions of myself throughout my editing career. When I started, I was excited about taking a simple path to becoming a publisher, working long hours, and being okay with low pay. Another part of me, deep down, wanted to be a writer and an illustrator. And then another part of me was disillusioned with corporate life and wanted to get out of it as soon as possible, while trying to retain the love of literature with which I entered the industry. I also wanted to show the dynamics that I have observed over the years in Asian American friendships. Two of the characters are Filipino, one is Japanese, and there are different dynamics between relationships in Southeast Asia and East Asia. It was fun to explore the differences between these three girls who are also all madly in love with each other.

How did you capture the New York setting?

What I really fell in love with was drawing complex apartment interiors. I found I could insert my own jokes, references that maybe the only one who gets it, but maybe someone else who likes obscure Wong Kar-wai movies will understand too. Also, I always wonder in books and movies about publishing, how do they live there? While I love those NYC fantasy-type shows that brush off all those questions, something I wanted to inspect is: how do the girls make a living off the notoriously low editorial assistant salaries? One gets help from a boyfriend, another has two days of work and I give exact figures on how much things cost. As a very curious person, this kind of stuff always fascinates me in the lives of New Yorkers.

A version of this article originally appeared in the 06/20/2022 issue of Weekly editors under the title: The best of editing

Lucas E. Kelly