The David Levithan Interview

Tonight: catch Steve, a bunch of cool Chicagoans and me at 20x2 at Martyr's. Also, check out my input on Children's pop-culture that adults can love at the AV Club.

Today's interviewee is most recently the co-author of Will Grayson, Will Grayson, a novel about two teenage boys with the same name whose lives intersect in unexpected ways, co-written with my friend John Green. He's the author of myriad other beloved Young Adult novels, including Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist which you may recall was recently adapted into a movie starring Michael Cera. He's also a Young Adult editor at Scholastic, where he worked on the Baby-sitters Club series, which used to be like crack for me when I was a youngster.

What's the most difficult part of collaborating with another author?
I guess it's the not-knowing-where-the-story-is-going part. But that's also one of the most fun parts of it.

I've read that some of your books have taken many many years to complete from inception to publication: how do you maintain your patience and faith in the project when it takes that long?
The story comes when the story comes; it's hard to rush it. And if I hit a wall on one thing, I just shift to something else.

As an editor, how often does it happen where you're working with an author who just comes to a dead-end, who can't meet the edits you require? What do you do at that point?
Honestly, I don't think that's ever happened. We always get where we need to go.

Do you ever go back to your files utilize any of your old writing (particularly from your young adulthood) in your writing?
Not too often, but every now and then. A few fragments from my high school writing ended up in The Realm of Possibility, and Are We There Yet? started as a short story ten years before it became a novel. And I did publish a couple of stories from high school in my collection How They Met and Other Stories - which, I have to say, my sixteen-year-old self would have been astonished by. Back then, I wasn't really writing to be published - I was just writing for my friends.

I've always been told that anthologies are much harder to put together and publish than they seem: has this been true in your experience, and if so in what ways?
Well, it depends on how easy or hard they seem. They definitely take work - from finding the writing to making sure it all fits together. But it's also really rewarding, and I love taking a subject and seeing how disparate authors riff on it.

Which book that you've written was the most difficult to write (and/or edit), and why?
Love is the Higher Law was the hardest to write, no question. The subject matter (9/11) was just so personal to me and, I knew, so personal to so many other people. It's based on my own experiences, which made it a little less daunting. But I will still very, very conscious of not wanting to mess it up.

How do you think your experience as a writer makes you different from other editors?
I think, like authors, every editor has his or her own quirks. I'm sure my writing informs my quirks, but I don't necessarily think it gives me more empathy or makes me a better editor - I know plenty of amazing editors who have no desire to write novels. I'm sure it gives me more credibility with authors - I do understand what they're going through, from their side of things. But lots of editors can relate that way.

It seems like every now and then an article comes out saying "YA books! They're not just for kids!" Do you think this is truly an increasing trend or it's just something book-reporters bust out now an then?
It's completely an increasing phenomenon, although I hesitate to call it a "trend" - it's always been there, and is just there more now.

What are the tools of the trade for writing for you: computer vs/ handwriting, Word document vs any other program, necessary beverage, etc?

It's just me and my laptop in my apartment. I can scribble notes down, but to write, I have to type. And music is always, always playing.

Was there any part of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist that came out completely different from how you envisioned it when you wrote it, yet you still enjoyed?
Assuming you're talking about the movie adaptation - I loved all of it. Truly. And luckily I don't really see scenes in my mind as I write them, so I was totally open to whatever they decided. I think all the actors were pitch-perfect. Kat (who played Norah) was probably the closest to who I had in mind while writing.

How do you (or do you) address critics of your books who claim that the content in your books isn't appropriate for YA audiences (like cursing, for instance?)
I think our job as authors is to choose the exact right words at the exact right time to convey the story, the character, the themes. And sometimes a person saying "Screw you!" or "To hell with you!" just isn't the same as "Fuck you!" There are different emotions, different meanings involved. And we have to choose the truest one.

You wrote Will Grayson, Will Grayson with John Green who is a machine when it comes to talking to his audience: would you say that promoting YA books is more challenging than publicizing other types of fiction, since young audiences expect more immediate and frequent access to their authors?
I don't think it's exclusive to YA to be in demand from your audience. John does it one way. David Sedaris does it another.

Which book do you hear the most about from your readers?
Probably Boy Meets Boy.

What are you reading right now (for fun?)
I just read Daisy Whitney's The Mockingbirds, which is coming out in November. It's riveting.

Who is your favorite member of the Baby-Sitters Club?
I genuinely love them all. But like all writers/artists, Claudia speaks to me the most.

Other than Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, what's your favorite film adaption of a YA book?
If you haven't seen Gus Van Sant's adaptation of Paranoid Park, your life isn't as full as it should be.

Which covers of your books are your sentimental favorites?
I've been very, very lucky with my covers. The designer on most of them, Melissa Nelson, is a genius. Boy Meets Boy is probably still my favorite, but partially because it paved the way for the others.

How does it feel to be the 264th person interviewed for