It’s June and that means it’s time for another year of Pride Month spotlights! I’m so excited to spotlight We All Fall Down by Rose Szabo and share the interview with the author!
Welcome Rose! Thank you for allowing me to interview you! Can you start off by introducing yourself?
Hey, I’m Rose Szabo. I’m a nonbinary queer author from Richmond, Virginia. I work at VCU, where I’m active in my labor union. And I love horror and fantasy, so that’s what I primarily write.
How would you describe We All Fall Down in one sentence?
A group of queer young adults learn that they can restore magic to their city, but the price is human sacrifice.
Can you introduce us to the main character(s) of We All Fall Down?
There are four of them. Jesse’s a nonbinary white kid from a small town. Jack is a white butch lesbian from the city who works for a crime lord. David is a biracial grad student who’s studying magic and trying to figure out his sexuality. And the fourth character, who gets a name fairly late in the book, is a sea monster who is also, secretly, a princess.
What representation will readers find in We All Fall Down?
I think that’s an interesting question, and I’m going to take it completely off the rails, so I apologize! I am increasingly questioning the idea of what it means to “represent” someone. The word representation can mean two things–there’s “representational” art, which is where you try to portray a subject realistically, and there’s political representation, where you elect someone to speak for a particular constituency. I am not an elected representative or a portrait artist, even in a metaphorical sense. So I hesitate to describe portraying one character as, for example, “biracial queer representation”. I don’t think that there is a singular experience to be represented.
However: it’s important to me to paint a picture of the kinds of communities I’ve been a part of, which are queer, multiracial communities that have internal struggles related to racism. I’ve often seen people who themselves have struggled with their queer identity fail to confront their whiteness, and therefore they take out their pain on a queer person of color, for example. And so the representation that readers will find, if I’ve done my job right, is a representation of how queer communities function–how they succeed and how they fail.
Do you know from the beginning how your books will end or do you let your characters decide their journey?
I often write my books in layers. The first layer is kind of dreamlike, and is the major blocking out of events, and in that draft I have no idea what will happen until I get to the end. In subsequent revisions I try to refine and clarify, and ask myself “why did this happen? What did it mean? Do I need to change the angle on this scene?”
But sometimes the later layers surprise me. I wrote We All Fall Down over a period of about ten years, and as I wrote it, my lens on the world changed. In early drafts of this story, the character of the sea monster was a man. As I became more aware of gender and sexuality, including my own gender, I realized that she was a woman. It wasn’t that the events of the story changed so much as that I came to interpret her differently. Once I realized she was a woman, the whole story opened up and so many more things became possible.
Do you have a favorite scene, moment, or quote from the book?
I really like these chapters I wrote that I call “interludes”, where the genre and tone of the story shifts and we get to see something from a different perspective. One of them is a transcript of the meeting minutes of the local council of witches, and the voice of the council secretary comes through. She editorializes a lot about how the meeting is run, and about everyone’s failure to stick to the rules of order. And there’s another interlude that’s based on the poem “The Fairies” by William Allingham. I really appreciated the freedom my editor gave me to experiment with different forms and styles.
What is something readers will find in We All Fall Down that they may not realize based on the synopsis?
I think that the blurb focuses primarily on the fantasy elements, but to me the most important aspect of this story is that it’s about police brutality. When I was thirteen years old, two of my friends were arrested for a crime they didn’t commit, and one of them was held for several hours and interrogated without his parents or a lawyer. It changed the way I perceived the world, and I don’t remember at that time seeing that experience reflected in books I was reading or on TV, where police were often portrayed as heroes. I feel grateful that in 2022 there are a ton of books and media that confront police violence, and I also feel responsible for continuing that work.
What’s something you hope readers will take away from We All Fall Down?
I hope that they take away a sense of responsibility to confront their own prejudices, not just internally, but through action. There is a character in We All Fall Down who is just starting to think about her own relative privilege, but she isn’t translating these new ideas into better actions or making amends. Everyone around her suffers as a result. That’s something I think is important to recognize: that to really confront your prejudice involves making different choices.
What are three books you would recommend if someone enjoyed We All Fall Down?
No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull–it’s also experimental, told from multiple points of view, deals with the intersection of monsters and queerness and race, and discusses alternative ways of living.
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. Mieville is the absolute king of creating monster civilizations and documenting city life.
Dreadnought by April Daniels, which is about a teenage trans girl gaining superpowers but still having to deal with the trauma of being trans and young and a woman.
What’s next for you? Anything you can share?
I’m working on the sequel to We All Fall Down, which will hopefully be out in the next year or two? The strange thing about the publishing world is that I was used to having a long time to think through a book, and now the turnaround feels much tighter. I don’t have ten years to draft anymore. I’m trying to balance the feeling of urgency to publish with my desire to get the book right.
ABOUT THE BOOK
TITLE: We All Fall Down
AUTHOR: Rose Szabo
RELEASE DATE: June 7, 2022
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indigo | IndieBound
The first book in a dark fantasy YA duology by the author of What Big Teeth, about the power and danger of stories and the untold costs of keeping magic alive, perfect for fans of Aiden Thomas and Marie Rutkoski.
In River City, where magic used to thrive and is now fading, the witches who once ruled the city along with their powerful King have become all but obsolete. The city’s crumbling government is now controlled primarily by the new university and teaching hospital, which has grown to take over half of the city.
Moving between the decaying Old City and the ruthless New, four young queer people struggle with the daily hazards of life―work, school, dodging ruthless cops and unscrupulous scientists―not realizing that they have been selected to play in an age-old drama that revives the flow of magic through their world. When a mysterious death rocks their fragile peace, the four are brought into each other’s orbits as they uncover a deeper magical conspiracy.
Devastating, gorgeous, and utterly unique, We All Fall Down examines the complex network of pain created by power differentials, even between people who love each other―and how it is possible to be queer and turn out just fine.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rose Szabo is a nonbinary writer from Richmond, VA, where they live with an assortment of people and animals and teach writing at VCU. They have an MA in English from the University of Maine and an MFA in creative writing from VCU. Their work has been published in See the Elephant and Quaint magazines. What Big Teeth is their first novel.