Kate Gale

On Writing a Pandemic Novel, Running a Small Press, What It Means to Be a Literary Citizen, and Her Debut Novel ‘Under a Neon Sun’

Cover of Kate Gale: On Writing a Pandemic Novel, Running a Small Press, What It Means to Be a Literary Citizen, and Her Debut Novel ‘Under a Neon Sun’

Kate called me when I was driving to set. I was a production assistant for a photoshoot. The product was shoes. A bunch of the models hadn’t shown up, so I had to double up on socks to fit inside the sample size 8 sneakers. I was telling the director to cut around Hollywood Boulevard so we wouldn’t get stuck in the tourist traffic when my phone rang with an unknown number. I thought maybe it was one of the models gone rogue. I answered, and the call that followed changed my life.

Kate was calling to tell me that my book, The Perpetual Motion Machine, was the winner of the 2018 Nonfiction Award at Red Hen Press. I missed giving the director an instruction and we ended up on Hollywood Boulevard anyway, but I didn’t care. We passed the Chinese Theater while Kate and I set up a time to meet the following week at her office. When we hung up, I said out loud, “I’m going to be an author.”

The book deal wasn’t the only good thing that came from meeting Kate Gale, Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Red Hen Press. Kate has given me more valuable advice and has been more honest with me than any other writer I’ve met in the literary world. It was Kate, in fact, that even made me aware of the literary world. Kate invited me to Galas and over to her house for her annual holiday party and even to join in on the most lovely writing group I’ve ever been a part of. What I mean is, Kate Gale is generous. 

When I caught news of her debut novel, Under A Neon Sun (Three Rooms Press, 2024), I was so excited I actually let out a yelp of elation. The book follows Mia, a college student living out of her car on the streets of Los Angeles, and a looming global pandemic that would change the world forever. I see so much of Kate in the character of Mia—she’s witty, strong, extremely motivated. She gets by cleaning houses and running errands for the wealthy with her eye on the prize of a college degree, but the pandemic throws a wrench in her plans. Mia’s got all the force and determination to stay afloat, but you’ll just have to read the book to see how it all turns out.


Brittany Ackerman: Kate!!! I’m so happy for you. Reading this book truly felt like being inside of your brain and seeing the world through your eyes. I know Mia is a fictional character, but as you understand, I’m no stranger to autofiction (I pretty much implement myself into everything I write, and I can’t and won’t stop!). I wonder if you could talk about your hot take on autofiction, and if you could let us in on how you crafted Mia with such brilliance and truth.

Kate Gale: I would say that everything I have written, including my novel, touches on some part of life that I can touch, but Mia herself is some version of my younger self. Like me, she grew up in a cult; she has no parents. At her age, though, she is feistier than I was. But, like me at that age, she works at wealthy people’s houses and struggles to make ends meet. My sense of autofiction is that good fiction comes from lived experience (at least for me). 

BA: After the pandemic, I think we all knew there would be so much literature that took place during quarantine. I feel like there’s a negative connotation to a “pandemic book” in that maybe we want to forget how horrible it all was (is), but I didn’t feel that way reading Mia’s story and how she navigates this plight.

Did you have any qualms about writing a book set during this global collapse, or did you feel like it made the perfect scene and setting for your story? And did the story come first, or the pandemic?KG: ​​I had always wanted to write an LA novel complete with oranges, drugs, sex, a division between rich and poor, and, of course, an apocalypse. When the pandemic happened, I immediately jumped into writing the Los Angeles novel. Mia just started talking to me and I started writing. 

BA: As I said in my intro, you changed my life (thank you!). As Managing Editor of a well-known and widely loved independent press, you do this daily for writers. What is the best part, or one of the best aspects, of your leading role at Red Hen Press? 

KG: I love meeting Red Hen authors for the first time. In New York, I met Nahid Rachlin, whose book Mirage is coming out soon with Red Hen, as well as had dinner with Helen Benedict, author of The Good Deed. I loved meeting both of them. After reading and working on their books, it was such a pleasure to meet them in person. I loved meeting you, too. Once I have read the book, I want to meet the creator.

BA: I used to tutor part-time when I was living in Los Angeles. I drove from Glendale to the Pacific Palisades to help this one high school student with writing essays. One time when I arrived, she had a headache, but her mom still opened up her wallet and handed me $200. $100 for the session and another $100 for my troubles. 

The way you portray the upper class of LA felt so true in the nature of how a lot of the time, the attitude comes from being so out of touch with reality. Mia is so salt of the earth, and yet, I still wonder if you think someone who comes from hardship and trauma might also ever be out of touch in the way that it can be hard to accept help and not have it feel like charity? 

KG: A person who comes from trauma is out of touch with normal. One is used to being afraid, and so one is always afraid. Life can feel like moving underwater sometimes. 

BA: I always see you on Instagram traveling up and down the coast of California. Do you prefer a road trip to a faraway destination? What are some of your favorite getaways in the Golden State? And what is your favorite thing to do while traveling?

KG: I just went to Death Valley, and it was amazing seeing the Salt Flat under water, but what I really love in California is the ocean. I love Morro Bay and Big Sur. I love Catalina Island. When I came to California, it was for the Pacific Ocean. I like the Sequoias as well, and we have this special place we love to go to with a waterfall.  

While traveling, I like to listen to music. I also like road trips, but I really like to get out of the country every year on a writing retreat. My husband and I have been to Greece and Ireland, and last summer we went to Iceland. We like to get away and write in the summer if we can.

BA: In addition to being a fantastic writer and a Boss Bitch, you’re also an educator. As someone who also writes and teaches and has to find a balance between the work I’m passionate about and the work I do for a living, is there any piece of advice that’s helped you along the way? What are some positives about teaching that carry over to your writing life and vice versa?

KG: I really like teaching. I love my students. I remember how hard it was in the beginning; you had all these ideas, but you didn’t know how to turn them into great writing. So when my students come to me and their work is still coming together, I remember how my own early work was sketchy. My students are so good—intellect and imagination meeting in the garden. Editing students’ work improves my editing skills. 

BA: One of my favorite things about publishing with Red Hen was how close I felt to the work. Back then, I lived twenty minutes away from the office and wasn’t shy about showing up unannounced to check-in and hangout. But regardless, it was so nice to feel like I was always welcome and appreciated. I got so much help from the team and from you and so much advice about publishing and planning a book tour and garnering press coverage– all things I knew nothing about as a debut author.

Do you have a word of encouragement or any guidance for someone who publishes with an indie press? Or even someone who is looking to get their work out there, to carve out a spot for themselves and their work in the literary game?

KG:  (1) Be a good literary citizen. Be part of helping other writers. Help with a literary magazine, press, or series. That way, when you meet the editor of your choice, you can talk with them about the work you both do. But also, do it because you want to be part of making stories happen in the world.

(2) When you are choosing the editor or agent you want to send your work to, choose an editor or agent whose authors you love. If you have the opportunity, tell that editor or agent, I feel that I belong with your press/agency because I love the authors you work with.

(3) When you do find an editor or agent who loves your writing and wants to work with you, stick with them. That’s what you need: a person who has passion for your work. If they say it needs to be edited (within reason), jump in. Edit it.

(4) Dream big and do not give up. Keep believing in your writing.

(5) Whoever your literary champions are, stay in touch with them and value them. They are gold. It isn’t easy to get anyone to read a whole manuscript. Whoever you 

have in your life who is willing to read your manuscript, value them.

(6) Then, do everything you can to promote the book.  This is your book.  Make it shine in the dark. 



Dr. Kate Gale is Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Red Hen Press and Editor of the Los Angeles Review. She teaches in the Low Residency MFA program at the University of Nebraska in Poetry, Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction. She is the author of seven books of poetry, including The Loneliest Girl, The Goldilocks Zone, Echo Light. Kate has also written six librettos including Rio de Sangre, a libretto for an opera with composer Don Davis, which had its world premiere October 2010 at the Florentine Opera in Milwaukee, WI. She lives in Los Angeles.

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