Gavino’s A Career in Books (Plume, Aug.) follows three friends as they climb the lower rungs of the New York City publishing industry.
You were an editorial assistant. What would your past self think of this book?
I would have been in shock that a book this specific to my experience existed. I’ve always loved books about women in the workplace, especially the 1958 novel The Best of Everything. I love books about the Asian American experience. And then in graphic novel form? I set out to write the book I wanted to read.
Was there an inspiration for Veronica Vo, the writer the girls get to know?
I always wanted an author like her to exist. There are lots of amazing Asian American writers I admire, but I wanted a figure who existed in that space of The Best of Everything. I imagined the frustrations a writer would have in that time period. She wants to write about women working in offices and bored housewives, but what the publishing world wants from her is stories from her homeland, Vietnam, which she feels distanced from. I thought she could give perspective to the younger girls on how much has changed and how much hasn’t.
How did you develop this trio of characters and their cultural backgrounds?
I saw the girls as three versions of myself throughout my publishing career. When I first started, I was gung-ho about taking a straightforward path toward becoming an editor, working long hours, being okay with low pay. Another part of me, at my core, wanted to be a writer and illustrator. And then another part of me was disillusioned with corporate life and wanted to get out as soon as possible, while trying to maintain the love of literature that I went into the industry with. I also wanted to show the dynamics I’ve observed over the years in Asian American friendships. Two of the characters are Filipina, one is Japanese, and there are different dynamics between Southeast Asian and East Asian relationships. 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 City setting?
What I really fell in love with was drawing intricate interiors of people’s apartments. I found I could insert my own inside jokes, references that maybe only I’m going to catch, but maybe someone else who loves obscure Wong Kar-wai films will catch too. Also, I’m always wondering in books and movies about publishing, how do they afford to live there? While I do like those fantasy-type shows about N.Y.C. that hand-wave all those questions away, something I wanted to inspect is: how do the girls make a living on editorial assistant salaries, which are notoriously low? One gets help from a boyfriend, another has two day jobs, and I list exact numbers on how much things cost. As a very nosy person, that kind of thing always fascinates me about the lives of New Yorkers.