I find it downright baffling to write about myself, which is why I’m considering it somewhat cruel and usual to have to write this brief bio and to update it now and then. The factual approach (born ’72, Brown ’94, first book ’03) seems a bit dry, while the emotional landscape (happy childhood, happy adolescence – give or take a few poems – and happy adulthood so far) sounds horribly well-adjusted. The only addiction I’ve ever had was a brief spiral into the arms of diet Dr Pepper, unless you count My So-Called Life episodes as a drug. I am evangelical in my musical beliefs.
Luckily, I am much happier talking about my books than I am talking about myself. My first novel, Boy Meets Boy, started as a story I wrote for my friends for Valentine’s Day (something I’ve done for the past twenty-two years and counting) and turned itself into a teen novel.
With Boy Meets Boy, I basically set out to write the book that I dreamed of getting as an editor – a book about gay teens that doesn’t conform to the old norms about gay teens in literature (i.e. it has to be about a gay uncle, or a teen who gets beaten up for being gay, or about outcasts who come out and find they’re still outcasts, albeit outcasts with their outcastedness in common.) I’m often asked if the book is a work of fantasy or a work of reality, and the answer is right down the middle – it’s about where we’re going, and where we should be. Of Boy Meets Boy, the reviewer at Booklist wrote: “In its blithe acceptance and celebration of human differences, this is arguably the most important gay novel since Annie on My Mind and seems to represent a revolution in the publishing of gay-themed books for adolescents” – which pretty much blew me away when I read it. Viva la revolution!
My second book, The Realm of Possibility, is about twenty teens who all go to the same high school, and how their lives interconnect. Each part is written in its own style, and I’m hoping they all add up to a novel that conveys all the randomness and intersection that goes on in our lives – two things I’m incredibly fascinated by. The book is written in both poetry and linebroken prose – something I never dreamed I would write. But I was inspired by writers such as Virginia Euwer Wolff, Billy Merrell, Eireann Corrigan, and Marie Howe to try it. It is often said that reading is the greatest inspiration to writing, and this is definitely the case for me.
My third novel, Are We There Yet?, is about two brothers who are tricked into taking a trip to Italy together. The natural questions to ask when faced with this summary are: (a) Do you have a brother? (Yes.); (b) Is he the brother in the book? (He’s neither brother in the book.); (c) Have you been to Italy? (Yes.); (d) Which city was your favorite? (Venice.); (e) Is this based on your trip there? (The sights are, but the story isn’t; the whole time I was there, I took notes in my notebook, not knowing exactly what they’d be for.)
Marly’s Ghost, my fourth novel, is a Valentine’s Day retelling of A Christmas Carol, illustrated by my friend Brian Selznick. To write it, I went through A Christmas Carol and remixed it – took phrases and themes and created a new version, centering around a boy named Ben whose girlfriend, Marly, has just died. When he looks like he’s giving up on life, Marly reappears in ghost form – and sends some other ghosts to get him to embrace life again. It was a hard book to write – it’s about both love and grief, two very difficult things to capture truthfully. But I genuinely don’t see any reason to write a book if it doesn’t feel like a challenge.
My next book came unexpectedly. My friend Rachel Cohn proposed that we write a back-and-forth novel, with her writing from a girl’s perspective and me writing from a boy’s. The result is Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, a kick-ass love story that we wrote over a summer without really planning it out. It just happened, and it was one of the best writing experiences I ever had. It has even been bought for the movies – stay tuned on that front.
A different kind of collaboration is The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Other Identities, an anthology I co-edited with my best friend Billy Merrell. It contains true stories from LGBTQ writers under the age of 23, and the Lambda Award for Best LBGTQ Children’s/Teen Book.
Other anthologies I’ve edited or co-edited include: 21 Proms, a collection of prom stories by YA authors, co-edited with Daniel Ehrenhaft; Friends, an anthology of middle-grade friendship stories, co-edited with Ann M. Martin; and three PUSH anthologies of the bst young writers and artists in America: You Are Here, This Is Now (2002), Where We Are, What We See (2005), We Are Quiet, We Are Loud (2008). Another PUSH anthology is This is PUSH, featuring new work from all of the authors who’ve written for PUSH. A list of all the anthologies I’ve been in can be found here.
My sixth novel, Wide Awake, starts with the election of the first gay Jewish president, and is about two boyfriends who must go to Kansas when the election results are threatened. In many ways, it’s a “sequel in spirit” to Boy Meets Boy, since it’s about many of the same things – love, friendship tolerance, and taking a stand for what you believe in. It was written right after the 2004 election, and published right before the 2006 election, which made me hope that a gay Jewish president was a closer reality than I might have thought. (No, I have no intention to run. But if you read the book now, it’s sometimes how eerie how it echoes the 2008 race.)
My second collaboration with Rachel Cohn, Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List, was inspired by a phrase my best friend Nick and I came up with after he moved to New York City. It’s about a straight girl and a gay boy who’ve been best friends forever . . . but have to deal with a lot of things that have gone unsaid after the boy (Ely) kisses the girl’s (Naomi’s) boyfriend. This time, Rachel and I decided to rotate the point of view between a number of characters, not just the titular two. The result was harder to write, but just as fun to create.
How They Met, and Other Stories, was published in 2008, which happened to be the twentieth anniversary of my Valentine Story tradition. It contains a few stories I wrote in high school and college, and more that I wrote more recently, some for anthologies, and some just for myself and my friends.
The first series I ever worked on (as a writer) is Likely Story, which I wrote with two of my friends, Chris Van Etten and David Ozanich, under the pen name David Van Etten. Chris and David both have experience working on soap operas, and had the idea for a TV show about the daughter of a soap opera diva who ends up running a soap opera of her own. I know nothing about writing a TV show, so I said, “Hey, that would be fun to write as a series of books, too!” And, voila!, Likely Story was born. It was a blast to write, and the main character, Mallory, is one of my favorites yet.
In 2009, Knopf published Love is the Higher Law. It’s the story of three teenagers in New York on 9/11, and how their lives intertwine in the days and weeks and months that follow. I know this sounds grim, but it’s really the story of things coming together even as it feels like the world is falling apart â€“ because that’s how it felt to be in New York at that time, both tragic because of the events that happened and magical in the way that everyone became their better selves in the face of it. It’s a love story between friends, a love story for a city, and a love story for love itself, and the way it can get us through things, however daunting or shocking they may be. Or at least that’s what I aimed for. I hope you’ll read it and let me know if I got there.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson started, in many ways, back in college, when I kept being mistaken for another student named David Leventhal. He was a beautiful dancer; I was not. So people would continually come up to me and say things like, “I saw you on stage last night – who would have thought you could be so graceful?” And I’d have to say, “Um…that wasn’t me.” Our paths finally crossed at the end of school, and we became best friends when we both moved to New York City – him to dance, me to edit and write. Fast forward ten years or so – I had the idea to write a book about two boys with the same name, and called my friend John Green about it. He said yes on the spot, and it took us five years from first conversation to publication day. The result? A novel about identity, love, and what it’s like to make a musical out of your own life. You know, the universal themes.
October 2010 brought my third collaboration with Rachel Cohn, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares. Once again, Rachel and I are sending our characters all across New York City on a search for love, adventure, music, and … the holiday spirit? Well, maybe and maybe not. But Dash & Lily definitely takes in a lot of the crazy that hits New York City in the week between Christmas and New Year’s, as it follows two teens (you can guess their names) who meet at first through a red notebook left on the shelves of The Strand (my favorite bookstore in the world). Mayhem ensues.
My first novel about adults is The Lover’s Dictionary, which FSG published for Valentine’s Day in 2011. I say “about” adults and not “for” adults because all of my books are read by teens and adults, and making a distinction about who a book is for is rather silly, and usually quite arbitrary. The Lover’s Dictionary is the story of a two-year relationship, told in dictionary entries that one lover is writing for the other. It started off when the deadline for my annual Valentine’s Day story was nearing and I had no idea what to write. Luckily, I happened to have a book on “words you need to know” (a graduation gift from high school) on my desk, and I decided to try to tell a relationship story using one word from each page spread in this book. And the novel grew from that.
Another kind of collaboration was the one I did with photographer Jonathan Farmer for Every You, Every Me (also published in 2011). The idea was simple: Jonathan would give me random photographs, one at a time, and I would write a novel that incorporated them. At no point would he know what I was writing, so the photographs would indeed be random. And that’s what we did. The result is a psychological thriller of sorts, about a really messed up kid named Evan who is getting over the disappearance (or is it more than that?) of his best friend … and at the same time is being stalked by someone leaving photographs that imply there’s more to the story than Evan is allowing himself to say.
2012 brings the release of Every Day, the story of a teen named A, who since birth has woken up in the body and the life of a new person every morning. At the start of the story, A is sixteen, and wakes up in the body of Justin, who’s never really treated his girlfriend, Rhiannon, that well. When A falls for Rhiannon, it suddenly changes the stakes of A’s story – and A’s life. When I started writing Every Day, there were two questions I wanted to answer – first, what would it be like to be a person who grew up without gender, race, sexual orientation, parents, friends, and all of the other things we usually classify ourselves by, and, second, what would it be like to be in love with someone who changed every day – would it be possible? I wrote the book to figure out what my answers were.
Next, in 2013, will be Invisibility, a collaboration with Andrea Cremer, about an invisible boy and the girl who moves into his apartment building who is the first person to ever actually see him. Then will come Two Boys Kissing, a solo novel I am currently hard at work on.
When not writing during spare hours on weekends, I am a publisher and editorial director at Scholastic, and the founding editor of the PUSH imprint, which is devoted to finding new voices and new authors in teen literature. (Check it out at www.thisispush.com for a full list.) Among the authors I’ve edited and/or published under the Scholastic Press imprint are Suzanne Collins, Maggie Stiefvater, Ann M. Martin, Garth Nix, Patrick Carman, Natalie Standiford, Alice Hoffman, Gordon Korman, M. T. Anderson, Blake Nelson, Cecil Castellucci, and many, many other awesome writers.
David Levithan: The Happy Editor-Writer
by Rachel Deahl — Publishers Weekly, 2/18/2008