John Green and David Levithan: Co-Writing a Book

Young adult authors John Green (Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines) and David Levithan (Boy Meets Boy, Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist) spoke at the LA Times Festival of Books about their experience co-authoring their latest book Will Grayson Will Grayson. This story is about two young men with the same name who meet one cold night in the most unlikely corner of Chicago. From that moment on, their worlds collide and their lives intertwine, to be changed forever.

How long did you two work on this book?

About five years. But we did work on other projects as well during that time.

How did you go about co-writing a book?

We both wrote at the same time (parallel). We each wrote one character. John’s Will Grayson is the one in chapter one, and David’s is the one in chapter two. We both wrote our first chapter separate from the other, this way we had no idea what the other person was writing. We would call each other and read our pages out loud.

We worked in an “X” formation. We both started our Will Grayson story individually, with the goal that they would meet in the middle, and then from that point their lives would be changed.

Did you re-write each others work?

Not really. We had long discussions about what was happening, but we never changed the other author’s writing. The chapters are very much each authors work. The book did go through lots of revisions once we both had an idea of where the story was going.

Where did the idea of this book come from?

In college, David Levithan, kept getting the mail and phone calls of another student named of David Leventhal. Finally they met one another after a year or so, and actually became good friends. This inspired the concept for this book.

What are the themes you were trying to put into this book?

We are interested in reclaiming the word love – not the mythology in our society of true love, or love at first sight, but love of friends, love of family. You can get very misguided trying to follow the mythology of love, and we really wanted to speak about the love that is always around us, and to point out how that can be just as important and meaningful.

Where did some of the form choices of this book come from?

Green: Tiny Cooper is the narrator of my side of the story, not Will Grayson. I have always found it interesting to read books where the main character is not the narrator. A great book that does this is All the King’s Men.

Levithan: My Will Grayson writes entirely in lowercase letters. This is a reflection of his own self image, that he sees himself as a lower case person.

Where did the name Will Grayson come from?

We each got to pick one of the names. Levithan picked the name Will because the word will has a lot of different meanings – last will and testament, free will, to will something into being, or asking a question “will you go…” “will you…” Etc. Green picked the name Grayson, because if you break it in two you get: Grace in. Then if you put the two together:  Willing Grace In.

How has the internet changed the way you write or develop a teen voice?

Green: With my online community I am able to see language change very quickly. When you read through hundreds of responses to content you can see how teens speak through the internet and how it evolves. I’m not sure if that really translates into my work, but I find it fascinating and very interesting. If you can get the emotional truth of the slang then it will feel authentic.

Levithan: I am not a fan of the LOL world. But in Will Grayson his character doesn’t really see a difference between talking physically with a person or talking to someone via the internet. These lines have really become blurred with today’s teens.

Other fun annectdotes:

From John Green:

  • “I wasn’t really accepted in high school.” – Green
  • John Green said that he was a D student all through middle school and early high school. But his father said to him ” Son, you don’t have to be great at everything, but you have to be the best at what you choose to do.” This really effected him later in his education/life.
  • “Authorial intent is irrelevant. If it isn’t in the text it doesn’t matter.” – Green
  • Green usually deletes ninety percent of his first draft.
  • “I have no fancy pants literary answer for why Tiny Cooper has his name.” – Green

From David Levithan:

  • “It is important to write well rounded  any-characters.” (In response to a question about writing gay characters).
  • Levithan wrote his first book Boy Meets Boy because he felt that most books did not properly communicate life of gay teens. All the books he’d seen really paint a picture of misery, of being an outsider, and none of them reflect a world in which one could be happy and gay. The books always seemed to have a character’s dog die (or something equally tragic) when the character came out. He felt this was very narrow a point of view.
  • “Tiny Cooper was birthed by John, and raised by two dads.” – Levithan

John Green

John Green is the New York Times-bestselling author of Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns. He has recieved numerous awards, including both the Printz Metal and a Printz Honor. John is the co-creator (with his brother, Hank) of the popular video blog Brotherhood 2.0. Learn more about John Green at: www.sparksflyup.com and http://nerdfighters.com

David Levithan

David Levithan is an award winning and New York Times-bestselling author of many books for teens, including Boy Meets Boy, Wide Awake, Love is the Higher Law, and (with Rachel Cohn) Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. He also works as an editor. Learn more about David Leviathan at: www.davidlevithan.com


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