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Infrequently Asked Questions

Q: What’s your middle name?

A: Benjamin.

Q: What album makes you think the most of college?

A: 10000 Maniacs’ Our Time in Eden

Q: Boxers or briefs?

A: Don’t be cheeky.

Q: What’s your favorite song?

A: Death Cab for Cutie’s “Transatlanticism”, Dar Williams’ “February”, and Crowded House’s “Four Seasons in One Day” would probably duke it out for the title, although at any given moment there are probably a dozen more.

Q: When I run a Google search on you, why does Star Wars come up?

A: Because I’ve edited over a hundred Star Wars books for Scholastic, including the Jedi Apprentice, Jedi Quest, and Last of the Jedi series. Jude Watson, the author of those books, is the author I’ve worked with the most. Before you send me questions about Y-Wing fighter, I must warn you: even though I’ve done all this editing, I’m still an amateur fan. Believe me, I’ve met the big-time fans… and I don’t come close.

Q: Do you know what happened to the chewing gum you lost at Sydney Writers’ Festival? And what flavour was it?

A: I have no doubt it was Wintermint Orbit, because I recall bringing at least a dozen variety packs of Orbit with me when I traveled down under

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. It is, I must say, the only thing I regularly put in my mouth that is not available in Australia. As for what happened to it – I would say that Garth Nix stole it, but I seem to recall that he was barred from entering the room. Thus suspicion would fall to Melina Marchetta.

Q: What is your favorite all female band?

A: This becomes a philosophical question because the natural response is, “Do I really have to try to compare The Supremes to Sleater-Kinney, just because they are all female? It seems a bit ridiculous and reductive, doesn’t it?” But since this question is so infrequently asked, I feel I should answer. And in my heart, I know it’s The Go-Gos. Although if Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, Patty Griffin, and Dar Williams had put out an album after they’d toured together, they would have been assured the title.

Q: What is your favourite flavor of cupcake?

A: I suppose this isn’t an infrequently asked question, because it is something I ask myself every time I go into a cupcake shop, which is far too often (or not often enough!) here in NYC. I think I’m going to go with a raspberry dream – vanilla cake, raspberry filling, vanilla frosting.

 Q: What is the etymology of the name ‘Levithan?’

A: This question came from my friend Chris Krovatin (check out his books) and I wonder if he knows the answer already. But since many of you will not know the answer, and since the question is so infrequently ask, I shall let you know that every Levithan in America, if not the world, is related. How do I know this? Because we are, in fact, related by a typo. When my great-great-grandparents came to New York from Russia, their last name was Levitan. But the immigration official heard an ‘h’ in there (or was just being creative) and wrote the name out as Levithan. So we’ve been Levithans ever since. As for etymology – the Levites are the #2 leaders in the Hebrew temple hierarchy. The #1 slot goes to the Cohns, which my co-author Rachel never lets me forget.

Q: How many times can you spin around on the spot without falling over?

A: Now I am paranoid that some YouTube video exists of me doing just this. Even when not spinning around, the polite word for me is “balance challenged” – so I imagine it would be somewhere around 26 rotations. If I were to be asked to partake in this endeavor, I would no doubt try to find a way to secretly sub in my best friend David Leventhal, a dancer, who could probably do it for 26 hours to my 26 rotations.

Q: What question are you most infrequently asked?

A: What was it like to walk on the moon, Mr. Armstrong?

Q: If a car is travelling faster than the speed of light, do the headlights still work?

A: No. Which means the deer will not be subject to cliché if they stop before being hit.

Q: Did you perform your own stunts for the cafe scene in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist?

A: While some people have noticed that Rachel and I are indeed in the back of Veselka during Nick & Norah’s reunion there in the Nick & Norah movie, few people have noticed that we also leave the scene in the middle, and that if you look closely during Nick & Norah’s dialogue, you can see what can only be called our waistlines exiting the shot. This required Rachel and I to walk through an increasingly narrow space between the actors’ table and the camera. I think I can speak for both my co-author and myself when I say that the only thing going through our minds at that moment was, “Do not knock anything over do not do not do not knock anything over.”

Q: What question do you wish people would stop asking?

A: “When are you going to write a book for adults?” Before The Lover’s Dictionary, this was annoying, because it always presupposed that writing “for” adults was a worthier endeavor than writing YA fiction (which is, incidentally, as much “for” adults as it is for teens.) After The Lover’s Dictionary, it was even more annoying, because I had written about adults.

Q: Blue or black ink? Or pencil?

A: I feel like such a scribing whore! I use all three! Really, whatever’s handy. Which is important, because I swear my bag eats writing implements. I can start the day by throwing four or five pens or pencils into the bag, and by lunch, there might be one lone survivor.

Q: When everything switched from tape to CD, what was the first thing you had to replace so you could still listen to it all the time?

A: I think it was Radiohead’s The Bends, but only because the tape was getting warped. A bonus answer to your infrequently asked question: The first CD I bought was Carly Simon’s Playing Possum, a full three years before I had a CD player. It wasn’t available on tape, and I really wanted to own every single Carly Simon album. (Note: It is not anywhere near her best album. So if you don’t own any Carly Simon, start with her Best Of.)

Q: Have you ever pondered adding a second “a” now and then, and signing some books “David Leviathan”?

A: No. I was scarred by a ninth-grade history teacher who insisted that was my last name, even though I told him it wasn’t. And since I was pudgy then, I didn’t appreciate being likened to a sea creature. The only quirk for book signing that I have is that I always try to sign Will Grayson, Will Grayson lowercase. Oh, and in payback for a certain author writing a popular (and excellent) book called Leviathan, one day I want to write a novel titled Westerfield.

Q: If you had to do a road trip with one of your characters, who would it be and why? And which character would you avoid at all costs? Oh, and if you could make a scene from one of your books using only Jell-O, which scene and what kind of Jell-O?

A: This question comes from novelist Margie Gelbwasser, and perhaps gives you as much insight into her mind as my answer will give you insight into mine. I’m think I’d enjoy going on a road trip with Elijah from Are We There Yet?, because he’d be open for stopping at random things along the way and marveling at their randomness. He’d also enjoy talking to strangers, and since I don’t particularly enjoy talking to strangers, it would be a good balance. And, although I really love him dearly, I think I’d last maybe an hour in a car with Tiny Cooper. I’m a quiet, meditative road tripper who likes control of the soundtrack. I don’t think I’d have any of that with Tiny. But as a consolation prize, I think I’d love to see the final scene of Will Grayson, Will Grayson in Jell-O. Lime.

Q: If it was possible to go back in time and live in any era, which would you pick and why?

A: I don’t think I’d like to live in any time but the present. But I’d love to visit New York in the 1920s, because of the style of it all.

Q: Did you have a pet growing up?

A: I had two goldfish who lived to about 506 in goldfish years. At one point, one of my co-workers suggested that my parents had actually replaced the goldfish every time one of them had died, tricking me into believing they were long-living. I would have respected that, but when I confronted my mother on the issue, she laughed and said, “Oh, no – those goldfish would. Not. Die.” And the frustration in her voice told me that, indeed, it was the same two the whole time.

Q: What flavor of ice cream are you least enthusiastic about?

A: My childhood answer would have been pistachio. Then someone invented green tea ice cream. And I tried it. And I still haven’t recovered from the trauma.

Q: It’s 1999, and you are being forced to spend five years on an island and can only bring one CD, who/what would you bring?

A: Note that Justin Olson sent in three separate questions, and I of course went for the musical one. The temptation is to pick a double album, just to have more of a selection. But in 1999, I probably would have gone with Beth Orton’s Trailer Park or Dar Williams’s Mortal City.

Q: Dark or milk chocolate? Or vanilla?

A: Vanilla.

Q: If you’re out to eat with one other person and you both sit on the same side of the booth– that’s weird, right? RIGHT!?

A: There has to be a story behind this question, doesn’t there? I’d say, yes, it’s weird, unless there is a pressing reason to be facing the same direction (i.e. a concert). That said, if the option is to sit across from each other at a four-top or to sit perpendicular, I would usually choose perpendicular, since it’s easier to talk.

Q: Do you have a lucky something or other that you always keep with you or use when writing?

A: Not really. But I will say that someone gave me a Davey (of Davey and Goliath) bobblehead that sits on my desk, and my eye certainly looks to it for sympathy at points. Also, I’m finishing up a novel right now, and even though I’ve bought a new laptop, I feel I have to finish it on the old one. It feels wrong to switch midstream.


Check out my answers to Frequently Asked Questions!