Interview: David Levithan on his new novel ahead of 2014 Edinburgh International Book Festival appearance
American author discusses the inspiration behind his works and why he loves co-writing
This article is from 2014.
Since his 2003 debut, Boy Meets Boy, David Levithan’s been acclaimed for introducing strong gay characters into the canon of modern young adult literature. Over his career, he’s co-written several novels with fellow YA authors, notably Will Grayson, Will Grayson with The Fault in Our Stars author John Green and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist with Rachel Cohn, now a cult film. And he still works in publishing too. He found time in his busy schedule to answer a few of our questions before his Edinburgh International Book Festival appearance this month.
Can you tell us a little about the true events that inspired Two Boys Kissing?
In September 2010, two teenagers, Matty Daley and Bobby Canciello, broke the Guinness World Record for longest continuous kiss – kissing for over 32 hours as a way to draw attention to LGBT equality. While kissing, Matty thought about my first novel, Boy Meets Boy, and afterwards contacted me and told me the story of the kiss. I was about to start a new novel and the kiss was the element it was missing. While I’m not really telling Matty and Bobby’s story, I am certainly having my characters do the same brave, crazy thing that they did.
Quite a few of your books are co-written with other authors. What do you enjoy about co-writing novels?
I love bouncing my words off of someone else’s, and the fact that writing a story with someone else guarantees you’ll get something you never, ever would have written on your own. Plus I think the spontaneity of the writing comes across in the story – one of the reasons reading Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is such a blast is because Rachel and I had a blast writing it.
What’s the best reaction you've ever had from a reader to one of your books? And the worst?
Most of the reactions are so fantastic – whether it’s to say they loved the book, or the deeper, more personal messages talking about how the book opened their eyes, or helped them feel more comfortable and less alone in the world. The worst reactions are the ones that don’t understand the story, or wilfully take things out of context. But, again, the good far outweighs the bad.
You write books at an enviably frequent rate - what makes you want to keep writing?
Well, they tend to be short books. But truly, the inspiration I get from readers and the curiosity about finding out where the story will go – those certainly keep me going. I love it, so it’s far from a hardship to keep doing it.
People often accuse YA lit of not being diverse enough - and when Boy Meets Boy came out, it was still quite unusual to encounter a gay character in a YA book. Do you think there are a greater variety of characters appearing in today's novels for teens?
The past decade has made a tremendous difference in YA, for sure. LGBT YA is no longer seen as scary or niche. It’s just part of who we are. And while more diversity is always needed, and more voices need to be heard, it’s hard to find a big blind spot where identities are being ignored.
Is it true that you worked on the Baby-sitters Club series?
Indeed I did! I started as an editor when I was 19, and the first big project I had was to be the assistant for the editor of the BSC. And I’m still editing [Baby-sitters Club author] Ann M Martin over two decades later, on her new Family Tree series. If you ever read the BSC Mysteries and can remember their arch-nemesis Cary Retlin – he was named after my best friend from high school.
Your Edinburgh International Book Festival event is with local author Cat Clarke - are you a fan of Cat's work?
Your current Queen of Teen, James Dawson, has been talking my ear off about how famously Cat and I are going to get along. Her books are so compelling – I hope I’ll be able to be as interesting!
Do you enjoy appearing at book festivals?
It’s always a whirlwind, being at a festival – the last festival green room I was in, two other YA authors and I were too nervous to approach Emma Thompson as she scooped some eggs onto her plate for breakfast. I’m excited that my fellow American author Jennifer E Smith will be there, too; I’m sure we’ll have a blast. I’ve been to Edinburgh before, but never during festival season. I have been promised excitement!
Transatlantic Kissing with Cat Clarke & David Levithan, Charlotte Square Gardens, 0845 373 5888, 9 Aug, 6.45pm, £4.50.