At the end of October, we got the amazing opportunity to interview Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera before their event about their co-written novel, What If It’s Us. It was such a brilliant day and I loved being surrounded by others who love their stories. I feel so lucky that we got the chance to do this as they have both written stories that I completely adore so it was lovely to be able to chat to them about their joint one! Keep reading for the interview (by two best friends, for two best friends – wholesome!)
Sarah: So, the first thing I wanted to ask is what was different about writing a book with two people? You’ve both only worked on your own before – what’s different when you’ve had to incorporate someone else?
Adam: First of all you’re only writing half the book!
Becky: (Laughing) Half of a long book, this is definitely our longest so props to us for writing a long half a book!
Adam: It is long but it was still very collaborative. I mean it’s weird to think that we’ve only technically written half the book because we were so involved in each other’s chapters. One key difference is that you’re getting immediate validation when you are writing. I would send a chapter to Becky, Becky would send a chapter to me and we’re immediately telling each other what works about those chapters, whether it’s a funny line or whether it’s something super emotional and we’re like “This is just brilliant!” You don’t get that when you’re drafting by yourself, you’re just like “This is all garbage, this is all garbage!” (honestly all of us were laughing because this is too relatable) and not anyone can tell you otherwise
Sarah: I wondered if you just had your own plot points that you wanted to hit then brought them together or if you did just decide to do the story together
Becky: Yeah I think it was really, really collaborative. As we were discussing the arcs for each character and then their character arc together with their relationship, there were certainly some things that we needed to figure out that only applied to Ben or Arthur but I feel like even like the Arthur only stuff and the Ben only stuff, we really figured that stuff out together.
Adam: Yeah, like there were a lot of struggles sometimes too, I remember a lot with some Ben and Dylan stuff and some Samantha business and it was like “How do we make this work?” and I was like “I can’t write this chapter!” which was so many phone calls to sort stuff out but we got there.
(Sarah said she wants to steal saying “some Samantha business” and we all agreed it’s great)
Sophie: Did you edit anything out of What If it’s Us? Any disagreements?
Adam: I mean we edit out a lot but not because we…there were tweaks that were made based on conversations and our editors had us edit out a lot and we improved things for pacing because this long book was even longer at one point.
Becky: Yeah and we don’t have shy editors at all so there were things we tweaked as part of the process and I think that’s pretty normal.
Adam: Yeah, literally at one point it took longer for Arthur and Ben to reach each other because we had this whole other component added in that probably added another 2-4 chapters before they were actually together so we had to figure out and consolidate but it didn’t feel any more difficult than editing a solo book.
Becky: It definitely wasn’t a matter of we were going head to head over certain details or plot points or anything like that, we were very much on the same page to a degree where it’s disappointing to people sometimes! We like to deliver funny stories and petty drama and stuff in an event and we cannot find an example of that to tell on panels because we are just like “No we just talk through different arcs and stuff and we’re pretty copasetic!”
(I said I personally think this is really nice to hear because it’s sad when people have huge disagreements.)
Adam: I think this is important for anyone who’s especially interested in co-writing is that you have to be working with someone who you feel comfortable enough to talk through the story with in a way that you’re not gonna be stepping on each others toes. This is a book that you are working on together so it’s important to have that respect in the relationship
Sarah: This is more for Becky – you have a background as a psychologist. Has that affected the way you write your characters and shape them?
Becky: It’s an interesting dynamic, the relationship between my past career and my current career. For the most part I would say there’s never a part of me that draws upon that experience in any kind of deliberate or conscious way. A lot of that is because I deliberately put that in a box and don’t go near it because of confidentiality and the ethical guidelines of that profession and I have not practised psychology in years and years. I have been away from the profession longer than I was practising but I think somebody said to me, maybe it was Adam, maybe it was somebody else, brought up the idea that what might have been most helpful about my time as a psychologist was the self analysis that you end up doing as part of that training. I do think that that aspect of it brought me to a place where I was able to draw upon my own experiences in a more fulfilling way for my characters.
Sophie: Was it a decision you actively made to have both Ben and Arthurs family and friends be supportive of their sexuality because it’s something that in LGBTQ+ novels isn’t usually the case, I think.
Adam: Yeah , I mean it was, we knew that the boys were always going to be out before the start of the book and we knew that their parents were cool. All stories that are centring queer kids and their experiences are all valid whether it’s dealing with the trials of having parents who aren’t as welcoming about it or parents who are totally chill about it, which is obviously the hope for all teenagers. I think there are some things that could be said too, especially culturally, like there’s a lot of stigma in the Puerto Rican community that fathers especially are so hyper masculine that they will always be uncomfortable with their children being gay and I wrote that book already, that was More Happy Than Not and I could have written that book again because theres not just one kind of shape to that story. It just the idea was always that the parents were awesome and that seemed some really lovely energy to put out there for readers
Sarah: With your side characters, because they were really supportive as well, did you come up with them separately or together?
Becky: I think, I feel like we maybe dreamed up these side characters, like I probably dreamed up Arthur’s side characters and you probably dreamed up Bens, but they were such a part of the conversation from early on, I mean I think I’ll let Adam talk about the origins of Dylan who is the King of the book! (all approve that Dylan is great)
Adam: Yeah, so Dylan is based off our best friend, David Arnold who is a brilliant author who wrote Mosquitoland and The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik and that’s such an important relationship in my life especially to have a straight, male best friend who I feel so comfortable with and who I feel so loved by so that was so fun writing that character we both had such a joy, and yeah but I mean the side characters, I mean I love where Ethan and Jessie especially Arthur’s best friends where we landed with them because I don’t think that was always in the plan for what was happening with them and their arc just got more and more exciting and we love Samantha…
Becky: Oh Samantha, yeah I just want her to be my best friend
Sarah: It’s one of the one books that felt really fleshed out with side characters and they have their own stories and I really liked that
Adam: I feel like I learned a lot about that from reading Simon (Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda) just in seeing how and being able to appreciate the different dynamics Simon has with each of his friends and it made me pay attention a lot more to who are you beyond what you serve for this book and really picturing their lives with a little more depth.
We had the best time interviewing them and meeting them and it was truly a lovely event! Thank you to Waterstones Deansgate for this opportunity (especially Kimi, our wonderful friend!) for setting this up for us and other bloggers. Thanks to Becky and Adam who were wonderfully patient and lovely with us all! It really was such a great day.