Becky Albertalli, author of Simon vs. The Homosapiens Agenda (recently adapted into the film Love, Simon) and Adam Silvera, author of They Both Die at the End, have been two of the most talked about YA authors for years. Their groundbreaking books have touched the hearts of thousands of readers and have helped prove to the world of the need to represent the underrepresented in YA fiction. Now, after years of friendship, the minds of these two wonderful writers have come together to bring us their new collaborative novel, What If It’s Us.
We were lucky enough to sit down and talk to the pair when they visited London during their What If It’s Us book tour.
For those who haven’t heard of What If It’s Us, how would you entice them to pick up a copy?
Adam: I would say What If It’s Us is a wildly fun, romantic comedy between two boys. It captures a lot of exciting energy from New York and it’s very theatrical, swoony and surprising.
Adam, you’re from New York and Becky, you’re from Atlanta. How did that work with bringing the New York elements in?
Becky: I have a lot of family in New York. Pretty much my whole extended family and my parents are from there, so I’ve been travelling to New York my whole life. Going into it I felt like I can write a book that’s set in New York but I just didn’t think I could write a book set in New York from the voice of a New Yorker. So my character, Arthur, is actually from Georgia but he’s staying in New York for the summer. So he’s, I think, very much a New York outsider in New York, which is something that was very organic for me.
What was the process of co-writing like for you and do you think it will change the way you write again when it comes to writing individually?
Adam: Our process was that Becky would write a chapter and send it to me and I would text her whilst I was reading it and visa versa and that was really exciting. You don’t get that experience while you’re writing a book by yourself obviously. Becky and I don’t necessarily share our books with critique partners or anything, only our literary agent and our editor but since then, I have become a little more forthcoming with letting Becky read pages for my book that I wrote after What If It’s Us. I let some other friends read it as well, so I understand the advantages now of sharing works with friends beforehand. So it helps me to feel a little less paranoid that my friends are going to disown me because of my rough draft.
I would be a bit scared at the start of people judging me on my first draft.
Adam: Yeah, for sure.
Becky: It’s very scary.
Musical theatre references make regular appearances in your books but if you could star in a show yourself, which one would you choose and why?
Becky: I would be doing high school Becky a disservice if I didn’t say Eponine from Les Miserables and you can tell, too. I will sit there and sing the full soundtrack of Les Miserables and I will sing it will different volumes. I’ll lower my voice and mimic all the character’s voices but I think you can tell my soul is in Eponine because when Eponine comes on I’m like, ‘step aside everyone’. I’ll be in my car and I can feel the spotlight and I’m like ‘here we go’.
Adam: I love anything that’s like super emotional like Dear Evan Hansen but I also love the really fun ones too. I have such a fond experience of seeing Aladdin on Broadway and A Whole New World was our graduation song in sixth grade. It was so off key but I loved it.
How did you tackle any differences of opinions you came across when writing in terms of the characters and the plot?
Becky: You know, I think it’s interesting, particularly with our backlist titles and sort of the reputations we have for those. With the books we write and their tones, people definitely expect that there’s a lot of creative conflict throughout the process and I think we disappoint everybody when we’re like we’ve been so on the same page. It’s not that we immediately had one particular vision for the book and we were completely on the same page about that. It’s just that the vision itself moved around a lot but through the process of talking it through and collaborating, I don’t think there was ever a time when Adam thought one thing should happen and I thought another thing should happen.
Adam: It’s kind of a bit of a boring answer but it’s true. We were just so united on all fronts.
What If It’s Us has recently had the movie rights optioned, how do you think Arthur and Ben would react to this news?
Becky: That’s a great question!
Adam: Arthur’s probably already planning what they’re going to where and trying to pre-order tickets that aren’t available for pre-sale yet. They’re probably making sure all their friends are available in the same place for the opening weekend, so they can go freak out and see it together.
Becky: No, it’s not even that. It’s that Arthur’s already made the assumption that he’s going to be able to fill up a hundred seats at the premiere. He has told all of his friends, he’s like ‘Okay, you know, for the red carpet you should be wearing this’, you know? And he’s about to in a couple of months have to go back and be like ‘okay, so it’s just me and Ben invited to the red carpet, we’re not even allowed to bring our moms.’
Adam: Yeah he’s like ‘we’ll have our own special screening in both New York and Georgia.’ But yeah, they’re geeking out for sure.
Which characters from your previous novels do you think Ben and Arthur would get on with the best and the worst?
Becky: It’s hard to imagine Arthur and Leah (Leah on the Offbeat) in a room together. I feel like they’d get along but it would be just some very different worldviews.
Adam: I’m not sure that Ben would appreciate Griffin (History is All You Left Me) after he realises Griffin is a liar. I think anyone would get along with Mateo from They Both Die at The End.
Becky: Oh God. He’s like the ultimate cinnamon roll.
Adam: Yeah. I think Mateo could break bread with Voldemort, you know? I actually think that Aaron Soto from More Happy Than Not and Ben would probably get along best. Like they just have so many compatible interests. They like video games and comics and fantasy stories and they both grew up with economically challenged backgrounds. They would have a lot to bond over.
Becky: I feel like Voldemort could learn a lot from Mateo.
Arthur and Ben’s meet cute in What If It’s Us is pretty iconic. Do you have a favourite meet cute from a movie, TV show or book?
Adam: I honestly don’t have a favourite meet cute. I feel like a lot of the relationships I love appear to be things that are more slow burn. Maybe they were friends or something first, so that wouldn’t qualify as a meet cute or co-workers or something. So it wasn’t like this spark moment. So yeah, I don’t think I have a favourite. I think literally the Arthur and Ben meet cute is my favourite meet cute.
Becky: Similar to what Adam said, what I think is like peak romance is the American Office, which is really the opposite of a meet cute. Jim and Pam have already known each other for years when the series begins and they’re already super close friends, this chemistry already really exists. Which isn’t to say I’m not inspired by meet cutes but when I think about my very favourite TV shows, it’s things like that.
Are you working on anything new and can you give us any hints?
Adam: I’m working on a fantasy book that’s about brothers and phoenixes and it’s very queer. That should be out January 2020.
Becky: I’m working on two projects that are both YA realistic contemporary. Unfortunately, I’m not allowed to talk about that but one hopefully will be out early 2020.
Do you have a strict routine for writing or do you have any strange writing habits?
Adam: No, no strict routine. I used to. I used to have daily word counts and unfortunately, especially during tour season, things are way too hectic to try to play into that but I just write when I can, even if that means the books take a little bit longer. I always have a notebook that I outline and take notes and stuff like that but that’s like my only quirk.
Becky: Right now, like Adam, my schedules really out of whack with all the touring we’ve been doing but generally my writing schedule completely differs to my kids’ schedules. So I write when they’re in school, I write when I have childcare and you know, especially if I’m on a deadline, I write also after they’ve gone to bed. Any spare second, you know, when my husbands hanging out with them I’m writing. So yeah, I don’t have a peaceful sort of regular retreat place or any compelling routines. It’s just sort of frantically scribbling around the margins of my mom life.
What was your first attempt of writing a book like and did you ever imagine you’d be able to positively impact the lives of so many people like you both have?
Adam: My first attempt of writing a book that wasn’t fan fiction was when I was eighteen, a few months away from nineteen, and I was trying to write the fantasy book I’m writing now. It was just like a Harry Potter novel. It wasn’t fan fiction technically but it was still pretty much fan fiction. I couldn’t get past chapter two really. I was also thinking way too ahead of myself, trying to plan every chapter in this four book series that I was trying to plan. I think I took a more ground approach to writing a few years later when I wrote More Happy Than Not. I never expected some of the conversations that we’ve been having with teenagers and adults in terms of coming out and representation. I always just sort of thought that my books were going to be consumed as quick entertainment and put down and not really thought about again. So it’s been really genuinely surprising.
Becky: I think throughout my teens and twenties, I had written a lot of fan fiction and written various chapters of things that I put down. I don’t know if I ever really imagined that I would finish one of them. I certainly wasn’t thinking about publication. It just didn’t seem like a thing that happened to real people. So the first time I ever really tried to write a book was Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda and I was thirty. I certainly didn’t expect everything that’s happened with that book or any of my other books. I’m pretty anxious and I distinctly remember reading every single thing, every online forum or whatever, of people talking about the path to publication and kind of my take away from that was that it’s really hard, it pretty much doesn’t happen to real people. It was like confirmation of everything I kind of suspected. I guess the difference was I decided to give it a shot anyway. So everything that’s happened since then, I still don’t even know if I’m quite used to the fact of ‘oh, this publication thing actually happened’ and now it’s my actual job. It’s very surreal.
You’re both known for your wonderful but different style when it comes to writing endings, was this something you kept in mind and were you aware of it whilst you were writing?
Adam: We always just wanted to honour Arthur and Ben’s story. There was never this swing of ‘How can we make this feel more like Becky? How can we make this feel more like Adam?’ This is a collaborative novel, so it’s always been how do Adam and Becky write this novel together? A lot of it came down to revising the ending with the help of our editors. Our respective editors tag-teamed on this book as well and they collaborated. So it was a real huge group effort to get this story to the way it ended up. It really was just the goal was to honour what feels true to what Arthur and Ben are feeling.
What one book could you read over and over again and not get bored?
Adam: I mean I’ve read Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda multiple times. I’ve read Harry Potter obviously multiple times. I’ve read The Hunger Games multiple times. I’ve read Noggin by John Corey Whaley multiple times. I think Harry Potter is probably my most reread book.
Becky: I’ve read Adam’s books multiple times. Harry Potter is probably also my most reread and Jaclyn Moriarty’s contemporary books. Every once in a while I get bit by a Jaclyn Moriarty book again and I’m like ‘I think I’m ready to reread that’. I’m like an embarrassing fangirl for her too. The Hate U Give I’ve read a couple of times. There’re a lot of books too that I feel like I would happily reread multiple times. It’s just sometimes there’s a component of needing to read things also for the job, whether it’s that you’re writing a blurb for the cover for somebody, or you’re trying to read it for a panel you’re on with them. So sometimes I’m like, I would love to sit here and reread this book, maybe it’s even one I just read but I have to wait just because I need to read something else by a deadline.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors who want to make it a career?
Becky: We both came from a fan fiction background, so I always say fan fiction is the absolute best training you can give your self for writing voice, character voices and honing in on that particular skill, which I think you can then transfer over to your original characters later. I found it to be probably the most important thing I’ve ever done for kind of my training for becoming an author.
Adam: I also just think that if you’re paying attention to a lot of different techniques and routines that other writers may have and published authors may have, to not necessarily absorb that to mean this is the only way you can write a book. There are infinite ways to write a book and you have to figure out what works best for you and what worked well for you for one book, may not work well for the next.
Becky: True, it is a rude awakening.
Adam: All of my books have been written in significantly different ways to one another. Just remember in writing there’s trial and error and it may take a while to figure out how best you write a book but figure out what feels most true to you.