Interview with YA Author Sensation David Levithan
Happy Pub Day to David Levithan! His ingenious new novel Every Day comes out today, so you can run and get your copy pronto. David is the immensely imaginative and talented author of many bestselling novels including most recently Every You, Every Me; The Lover’s Dictionary; Will Grayson, Will Grayson (with John Green); Love is the Higher Law; and Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares (with Rachel Cohn). When he isn’t writing his amazing books, David works as an Executive Editor at Scholastic. Without further ado, my interview with the great man …
Nicki Richesin: Your latest novel Every Day has sort of a crazy premise: the narrator/protagonist known as simply “A.” wakes up in a different body every morning yet he miraculously discovers true love with a girl named Rhiannon. I read the book in an existential flash. There are many great lines in the novel, but one of my favorite passages is, “I wanted love to conquer all. But love can’t conquer anything. It can’t do anything on its own. It relies on us to do the conquering on its behalf.” Whoa. How did you come up with the idea for this novel?
David Levithan: Unfortunately, it’s an idea I played with for a while, so I’ve actually forgotten the “a-ha!” moment when the idea first came to me. But when I sat down to write the novel, it was clear to me that there were two questions I had to answer: What was it like to live life entirely as a self, with no set gender, race, sexuality, family, friends, and so forth? In other words, who would we be, if we were entirely, purely ourselves? And the second question: What would it be like to love someone like that? Could you, in fact, love someone even if his/her gender, race, sexuality, family, friends, and so forth shifted every day? I can genuinely say I had no idea what the answers were going to be. I wrote the book to find out.
NR: In one of the more heartbreaking passages, A. recognizes, despite his best intentions and hopes, that he and Rhiannon will never be able to have the kind relationship his present body is enjoying. It’s a moment of awakening for him and also a moment in which he decides to change his path. Did you know all along when you mapped out the novel that your protagonist would make this shift in his life?
DL: Nothing about the book was planned out. I didn’t even know what body A was going to wake up in until A woke up in it. The shifts in the book – and there are many – are all organic. I didn’t write to get to a certain point; instead, I got the point by following the story.
NR: One of the many things I loved about Every Day is that you remarkably imagined how the various bodies (for ex., addicted, obese, blind, enslaved, suicidally depressed) A. inhabits would feel. His empathy for these individuals and how he chooses to live their lives in a given day is sort of instructive about how to be kind and generous with others, to walk in their shoes, so to speak. Was this your intention when you first began writing the book?
DL: I think the very strange challenge I laid down for myself was to have A exist within these people but also maintain a self. So much of writing can feel at times like acting – you are supposed to disappear into the character, impersonate purely. But that’s not what A does. A can’t disappear within each character. A needs to be present, and at the same time, the reader needs to understand – insofar as A understands – what the people A is inhabiting are going through.
NR: In Crush, you wrote an essay about finding your identity as a writer, among other things. You also comically wrote that you’ve never taken another writing class that helped your career. What helped you to finally believe you could be a writer?
DL: I never, ever would have become a confident writer without my friends. I wrote my first stories for them, and to some extent, I still write for them. They encouraged me while I was still figuring it out, and then when it all clicked into place – when I could recognize that some (but not all!) of what I was writing was actually pretty good – I took it from there.
NR: The Lover’s Dictionary is your exquisite riff on various phrases and expressions about love- all-encompassing, jealous, angry, vengeful, and very funny. How did you first come up with the idea for this book?
DL: Every year I write a story for my friends for Valentine’s Day – I’ve been doing it since I was a junior in high school, so it’s a pretty long tradition. It’s the one ironclad deadline I have every year. And a couple of years ago, it was, oh, February 1st, and I still hadn’t started on the Valentine story. None of my ideas were sticking. As it happened, I had a book on my desk that I had salvaged from my parents’ basement – a New York Times book of “words you need to know.” I opened it up, and thought it would be fun to try to tell the story of a relationship through dictionary entries. For each page turn in this book of words, I would choose one word and define it through the lens of this relationship. Basically, I was collaborating with another book, using its somewhat random generation of words as a catalyst to find the story. And damned if it didn’t work.
NR: You’re an editor at Scholastic. Do you find that your editing life interferes with your writing life or do the two occupations peacefully co-exist?
DL: They co-exist not just peacefully, but collaboratively. Playing with other people’s words definitely frees up some of my own, and I like to think that my knowledge of the writing life helps with my editorial work.
NR: I really loved both the novel (with Rachel Cohn) and the film Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Were you involved in the film-making or did you keep a low profile? Were you satisfied with the adaptation?
DL: Rachel and I love the movie, and loved pretty much every aspect of the movie-making process … which is an extraordinarily rare thing for authors to be able to say. Because they filmed in New York, we got to be on the set a lot and be a part of the family. I cannot state enough how awesome that was.
NR: What would you like to write about that you have yet to explore in your novels?
DL: That’s a really, really interesting question. I grew up reading mysteries and crime novels – Elmore Leonard is still one of my favorite writers – which isn’t a side of me that’s ever come out in my writing. Maybe a little in Every You, Every Me, but that was more of a study of a character falling apart than it was a traditional mystery. One of these days, I’d like to step into that literary territory and see what would happen.
NR: You seem to greatly enjoy collaborating with other authors (like Rachel Cohn and John Green). How do you share your vision to create a book together?
DL: For me, it’s all about alternating chapters. That way, each other gets control over a part, but not control over the whole. It balances out well that way.
NR: If you could be reincarnated as any character from children’s literature, who would it be and why?
DL: Going with the first answer that popped to mind – I’d love to be Willy Wonka. Because who wouldn’t want to have a chocolate factory where your imagination could run amok?
NR: What projects are you working on now?
DL: I’m working on a solo book now, hopefully for next fall. It’s about, among other things, two boys kissing for a very long time.
Thank you so much for your time, David, and best of luck with Every Day!
Add this book to your collection: Every Day
For more information, visit: http://www.davidlevithan.com/
Nicki Richesin is the editor of four anthologies The May Queen, Because I Love Her, What I Would Tell Her, and Crush. She is a regular contributor to Huffington Post, Daily Candy, 7×7, Red Tricycle, and San Francisco Book Review. Nicki has been reading to her daughter every day since she was born. For more information, visit: www.nickirichesin.com.