Author Interviews

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me a little about the book. What is it about, and how did you come up with the idea?

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is about two guys named Will Grayson who live in different Chicago suburbs who eventually meet each other. David writes from the perspective of one Will, and I write from the perspective of the other.
:  One of my best friends is named David Leventhal, and it has always been a constant source of amusement to see how the similarity and differences play out in our lives.  So I’ve been fascinated with the idea of characters with the same or similar names — especially now, when it’s so easy to find people who share the same name as you.  I remember traveling to cities and looking in the phone book to see if there were other D. Levithans.  Now all you need is Google.

Why did you decide to collaborate and write a book together? How does that work logistically?
:  I read an advanced reader’s copy of John’s first book, Looking for Alaska, and really loved it.  So I e-mailed him, we hit it off, and when the idea came for a book about two boys with the same name, I floated the idea to him.
: And I liked the idea. I was also really excited to work with David. As for the logistics: I wrote the first chapter while he wrote the second, and then we got together in New York and read our chapters out loud to each other and my wife. Then I went and wrote the third chapter while David wrote the fourth. During most of the initial draft, we never saw each other’s text. We were fortunate to have a lot of time — years, really — to work together in revision.

One of the Will Grayson characters is gay — how important do you think it is to have gay characters in young adult novels?
:  It’s essential.  And certainly not just for gay character and gay voices.  We need to be detailing all kinds of identities and experiences.  And it’s also important to give our characters complexity — happily, we’re a long, long way from the ‘gay = misery’ school of literature.  It’s about exploring the humanity of the characters, and being gay is a part (sometimes a big part) of that.

Will Grayson was recently a trending topic on Twitter. How does that make you feel?
:  John had to explain to me what that meant.
: Yeah, I was really excited about it, so I wrote David and he was like, ‘Is Trending Topic a store?’ A lot of people seem to believe that the Internet is killing the book, but I couldn’t disagree more, and so I was delighted to see ‘Will Grayson’ there on Twitter among the Biebers, the Gagas, and the #YoureSoUglys.

Do you see yourselves writing a book together again someday?
:   It took us five years to write this one, and we each have a lot of individual books we want to write.  So I’d guess we’ll start writing another one in five years
:  …and it will come out ten years from now.

What are some upcoming projects each of you are working on?
: I’m writing a desert island book.
:  My third book with Rachel Cohn (with whom I wrote Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) is coming out in October.  It’s called Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, and it’s about a life-changing flirtation that occurs through the passing of a mysterious red notebook.

The authors interviewing each other – found at the end of Will Grayson Will Grayson.

John Green: Okay, so admittedly I’ve heard the story before, but I never tire of it: How’d you come up with the idea for this book?

David Levithan: Funny you should ask. The idea for doing a book about two boys with the same name came from the fact that one of my best friends is named David Leventhal. Not the same name, but close enough. We both went to Brown, and were mistaken for each other a lot. Not only in the normal ways (mixed-up mail and phone calls) but also in some rather awkward, ultimately laughable ways. You see, David leventhal is an extraordinary dancer. I, David Levithan, am not. So people would come up to me and say, “I saw you onstage last night -you seem to be such an oafish, clumsy guy; but when you dance, you’re so graceful!” And I’d have to reply, “Um, that wasn’t me onstage last night.” It was like my alter ego was walking around campus; and eventually, right before I graduated, I called him up and we met up and became great friends. I wouldn’t say our book is about How to Love Your Alter Ego, but it’s about how another person can unlock-often inadvertently-the potential of your personality. Oh! And the punch line (which I often forget) is that one of David Leventhal’s roommates/best friends in college was named…Jon Green. Totally coincidental. But that’s a nice lead-in to my question: What has your experience been with other John Greens?

John Green: There are, of course, hundreds of us-from real estate brokers in Mississippi to Australian botanists. I’ve met several John Greens, and they’ve all been delightful; but I did have one unpleasant run-in a few years ago. There is a John Green in Canada who is a Very Big Deal in the Bigfoot research, also known as Sasquatchery. (He is the author of such books as Sasquatch: The Apes Among Us.) A few years ago, I wrote an article for a magazine in which I casually mentioned that Bigfoot is, you know, fictional. A week after the story was published, I received a very angry letter from John Green, noted Sasquatologist, accusing me of having besmirched the good name of John Greens everywhere.

Fortunately, my reputation survived enough for youth to want to write this book with me. So we wrote our first chapters with no idea of what the other person was writing and no idea whether the story would work. What were you thinking when I read my first chapter to you and you were introduced to Will and Tiny and Jane and the problem of picking one’s friends and/or their noses?

David Levithan: I don’t want to sound easy, but you pretty much had me at the opining line. I mean, the minute you read it, I knew your chapter was going to start the book. And then when Tiny appeared…well I certainly thought, “Oh, I can use this character.” What I love is that it’s a character everyone would have expected form me; but it’s actually you who invented him, and in such an amazing way in relation to your Will. I was also surprised when Neutral Milk Hotel popped up. Because, you know, I’m supposed to be the music obsessive in this relationship. Had I know that I would suddenly be spending five or so years with “Holland, 1945” stuck in my head, I might have reacted differently. (Look, there it is again.)

Most of all, though, I was struck by how you and I had created two very different Wills but at the same time decided to grapple with some very similar ideas. (Note: I don’t say “themes” here, because neither of us writes with “themes” in mind.) What was your reaction when you heard my first chapter.

John Green: I loved it. I was shocked how immediately and completely I was inside your Will’s head. Your half of the novel is very funny but also roaringly angry. One of the things I still love, even when rereading your chapters for the millionth time, is how completely you’re able to inhabit the mind of someone living with major depression. This is not a question; I just want you to say something about that.

David Levithan: I wanted my will to be very much in the middle of things, because I don”t feel there are enough books written about teens in the middle of things. I didn’t want him to be full of self-loathing about being gay-he’s find being gay but wants to keep it to himself, not out of fear, but out of a feeling that it’s nobody else’s business. He’s lost a dad, and he’s not completely over it; but he’s not hung up on it either. And, most important, he lives with depression, but he’s at the stage where he’s living with it, not discovering it. So many novels-many of them excellent-are written about teens who first grapple with their depression and get help. There are very few about what happens next, when  you have to live the rest of your life.

John Green: I wonder if you can talk about the lower casedness of  your will grayson.

David Levithan: Oh, you noticed that, did you? The reason my will writes in lowercase is simple-that’s how he sees himself. He is a lowercase person. He is used to communicating online, where people are encouraged to be lowercase people. His whole self-image is what he projects int hat space, and his one comfortable form of communication is when he’s anonymous and sending instant messages. It’s not even something he thinks about. It’s how his self-expression has formed. Is it stunted in some way? Absolutely. But at the same time, it’s a true expression; and by the end of the book, I’d be you don’t even notice it. It’s only jarring at first. But then you enter his world completely, get used to the rhythms of his life; and hopefully it makes sense.


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