Sarah Thankam Mathews Has Written One of the Buzziest, Most Human Novels of the Year

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.

Was there a person or information source that helped demystify the publishing world for you?

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.

Did you know from the start that you wanted to focus on the “immediate postgrad” era of Sneha’s life?

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.

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