Interview with David Levithan

Posted by Goodreads on March 11, 2015
When YA favorites David Levithan and John Green decided to collaborate on Will Grayson, Will Grayson, their hit 2010 novel of two very different high schoolers with the same name, they had no idea that another character—the irrepressible Tiny Cooper—would end up stealing every scene. Now David has given Tiny the attention he deserves in a new solo novel-as-musical, Hold Me Closer, the Tiny Cooper Story. Yes, both Will Graysons will make an appearance (though for privacy's sake, Tiny has given one of them a pseudonym: Phil Wrayson) and, according to David, we'll get to see a side of Tiny that has not yet been revealed. "Absolutely," he says. "For example, in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, we didn't see the moment Tiny was born. But we do in Hold Me Closer."

Read on as the bestselling author (or coauthor) of books like Boy Meets Boy, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, and Every Day answers your questions on great books starring gay girls, what he wishes he'd read as a teen, and what it would be like to be Beyoncé.

Meredith: I've always wondered what it was like to collaborate on two different novels/series with two very different authors. First you collaborated with Rachel Cohn and then John Green. What were the similarities and differences in the method of writing a collaborative novel, and how did you handle things like edits and conflicting ideas? The key to all of my collaboration is that we always have our own chapters, and the novel is formed by our chapters mingling, conversing, and colliding. With Rachel we always go back and forth…which generates a whole lot of energy. With John we wrote our chapters at the same time, only mixing them when our Wills finally met. And with Andrea Cremer we alternated…but had to talk things over once or twice instead of making it all up as we went along, because with fantasy elements, you need to actually set down some rules.

Mercifully there have been very few conflicts or do-overs with any of my collaborators—we're usually on the same wavelength. And we're in charge of our own chapters during the editorial process, so we can make suggestions for each other's chapters, but at the end of the day, whoever wrote it had final word.

Matt: If you could choose one of your novels or short stories to send back through time to read yourself as a teenager, which would it be and why? That's a really great question. And the answer would probably be Boy Meets Boy, because in many ways I was writing the book that I wanted to find, to show my young gay self how much fun being gay could be. (Although not without its dating drama.)

Anna: If you could be the main character in your book Every Day and wake up as one of the following people, what are the things that you would do as that person? 1. Beyoncé 2. President Obama I think writing Every Day taught me in no uncertain terms that I would HATE waking up in anyone else's body—the dislocation would be unbearable. If I were to wake up in Beyoncé's body, Jay-Z would be like, "What the hell is up with B today?" because I would be falling over every step in my heels. As Obama, I'd try to lay as low as possible so I didn't accidentally start a war.

Ray: If A from Every Day went to the body of Tiny Cooper, what would A feel? What might A find out about Tiny Cooper? Ha! I think A would certainly need to adjust to Tiny's fabulousness, but I think A would feel how much Tiny's friends love him and the role he plays in their life. In fact, A would probably notice this better than Tiny does—when you have boyfriends continually breaking up with you, it's easy to forget the people who stick by your side. But A would see them there.

Janeen: I'm currently studying Will Grayson, Will Grayson in my university young adult literature class! I love the book! I'm wondering what kind of reactions from fans you've received regarding the character of Tiny and if they were the reactions you intended/wanted/expected! This one has been eating at me for a while, as all of my friends and classmates see Tiny in VERY different ways. I've never heard a bad word spoken against Tiny. I think people really love him. He can be exasperating at times, for sure, but I think his self-centeredness comes from a good place. From the minute John read his first Tiny Cooper scene to me, I knew that Tiny would steal the book away from both of the Will Graysons, but I don't think either John or I minded.

Ashley: Many of the characters in your books are gay males. Have you ever, or are you going to, write a novel about a gay girl? I actually thought that "Miss Lucy Had a Steamboat" (which is in the book How They Met and Other Stories) was going to be a novel, but it ended up being a long story instead. And there are definitely some other ideas floating around my mind. In the meantime, there are luckily authors like Julie Ann Peters and Nina La Cour writing fantastic novels about gay girls. (Not to mention classics like Nancy Garden's Annie on My Mind and < a href="">Sara Ryan's Empress of the World, which I was lucky to get to introduce for its tenth-anniversary edition.)

Tedi: Writing to me seems to be an all-encompassing task that takes over most of my brain when I'm in the throes of it. How do you balance being an editor and writing as profusely as you do? I've noticed that your books tend to come out on an every-other-year sort of cycle, but then you usually publish two or three that year. As far as I can tell, you're a superhuman, but is there anything that helps you balance these jobs that are both cognitively demanding? Strangely this is an easy one to answer. By and large I spend my week on other people's words and then spend the weekends (and some vacations) on my own. If I've spent a Monday editing < ahref="">Eliot Schrefer's or Maggie Stiefvater's new novel, when I get home, the last thing I want to do is get into my own writer mind. So I wait for the natural break.

Kathy: My question is about my favorite book by you so far, Every Day, and your characters. For a lot of your characters, gender and sexuality are an issue, and you often have gay or bi protagonists. So I was wondering if writing about a completely genderless character felt like the next step of that, like taking it even further away from the old-fashioned standards so many people are used to, or how and where else he got the idea for it. It is such a good book and a unique take on a YA love story. First of all, thank you. The idea for Every Day was very simple—just wondering, really, about what life would be like if I wasn't defined by my body. I didn't even realize all the implications until I was in A's head, seeing A's life. Then for Another Day (the companion novel coming in August, telling the same story from Rhiannon's perspective) I got to view it again through a different lens, which taught me even more.

James: I think that when you read novels with LGBT characters in them, they are usually represented as the "cool," "nerdy," "shy," or "goody" one. Do you think it's possible to write a story where the LGBT character is the villain of the story without being insensitive or hurtful toward people? What if I want to write about a mean, evil, arrogant gay or lesbian? Are we ready for a "bad" representation within the LGBT community? I'm not sure that's unique to LGBT characters. Most of the time (especially in YA) the protagonists are usually good, if quirky, people, no matter what their gender or sexuality. But I think that there's plenty of room for gay characters to be jerks or worse, just like in real life. I only think it's a "bad" representation if there's no underlying humanity—then it's bad characterization, too. I have plenty of prickly gay characters—my Will Grayson comes to mind. He's so angry, and a lot of people find him off-putting at first. It's only as you understand him more as a human being that you get past his vitriol and get through to his better qualities. Which is, again, so true to life.

Meredith: I have read a few books by you thus far, including Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, Every Day, and The Lover's Dictionary. I have noticed from those books that you seem to really convey a special understanding of love and its complicated meaning. What I took away from those novels is that you take the reader on these journeys that show love can mean many different things. Even if that means standing by your partner through the most incredible trying situation or coming to an understanding that maybe you love someone enough to let them go because it isn't the right love for that particular relationship. What past experiences in your own personal life have helped you shape those different novels that center around those different love themes? None of my books are strictly autobiographical, and all of them are loosely autobiographical or at least based on things I've observed. I don't really know where the insights come from—most of the time I don't even know how to articulate them or that I know them, until I'm writing and the words fall onto the page. I think the Taylor Swift method is totally valid—to have someone very clearly in mind while penning your art. But I'm not quite as specific.

Elyse: Can you explain more about how best to read Hold Me Closer, the Tiny Cooper Story? Do I need a piano at hand? As long as you have some songs in your heart, you'll be fine.

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message 1: by Kyra (new)


The Readolinguist What's the date of release?

message 3: by Kyra (new)

Kyra It says it's supposed to be released March 17th, which is next Tuesday!

message 4: by Barrelrider (new)

Barrelrider This is sooo sad.

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