The su­per­star YA au­thors have teamed up to cre­ate a gay love story that will give you all the feels.

Gay Times Magazine - - CULTURE - Im­age courtesy of Seth Abel Words Lewis Cor­ner

It’s not of­ten that two huge au­thors team up to write a new novel to­gether. It’s even more rare when that novel is a mod­ern-day love story be­tween two openly gay teens in New York City. That’s pre­cisely the premise of Becky Albertalli and Adam Sil­vera’s fan­tas­tic new book What If It’s Us. You’ll recog­nise the for­mer au­thor’s name from Si­mon Vs. The Homo Sapien Agenda (which was later adapted into the movie Love, Si­mon), and the lat­ter for his bril­liant novel They Both Die at the End, among oth­ers.

Af­ter form­ing a friend­ship over so­cial me­dia back in 2014, the best-sell­ing writ­ers de­cided to work to­gether on a novel that would com­bine the best as­pects of their re­spec­tive work. Becky wrote all the chap­ters from Arthur’s per­spec­tive, while Adam drives Ben’s story through­out the novel. It has all the twists, turns and heartache of a great ro­mance.

We caught up with the au­thors to talk about the im­por­tance of What If It’s Us, their undy­ing love for Harry Pot­ter, and the im­por­tance of queer lit­er­a­ture in 2018.

Ben and Arthur are al­most al­ter-egos of you each – for a start one’s from Ge­or­gia, the other New York – so what are the other sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween you and your re­spec­tive char­ac­ters that read­ers might not know about?

Becky: Arthur is the one from Ge­or­gia, and he’s Jewish like I am, he’s short like I am, and he has ADHD which is based on my own ex­pe­ri­ences as well. One of the things that is re­ally on Arthur’s mind all the time is that he’s not only a big fan of Broad­way, which is very much based on my love for Broad­way for my whole life, but part of it is that Broad­way and his love of mu­si­cals and big the­atri­cal love sto­ries is af­fect­ing his world view. He has this ro­man­ti­cised, larger-than-life view of love.

Adam: Like Ben, I’m a tall white-pass­ing Puerto Ri­can who grew up very poor and found my­self in sum­mer school three years in a row, so writ­ing about sum­mer school was some­thing that I al­ways wanted to do. It re­ally worked well with this novel in di­rect con­trast with Arthur who is more of a bril­liant kid and has higher col­lege aspi­ra­tions than Ben. I was never re­ally shoot­ing for the stars when I was think­ing about col­lege. I also have be­lieved in dif­fer­ent signs from the uni­verse, and have since been burned by them. Some­times I will see a name I re­ally like and then grav­i­tate to­wards that per­son and then they will turn out to be re­ally toxic or some­thing. So I have fol­lowed signs and then been be­trayed by the uni­verse. So a lot of Ben’s at­ti­tude to­wards the uni­verse def­i­nitely re­flects one I con­tinue to carry into adult life.

Becky: I think in gen­eral Ben is more cyn­i­cal than Arthur. Arthur is a lit­tle bit more in­ex­pe­ri­enced all round – cer­tainly ro­man­ti­cally, but also there are just some things he doesn’t un­der­stand about the world yet. Some of that is his own priv­i­lege. He will pe­ri­od­i­cally put his foot in his mouth. Arthur is the kind of kid – and I hate to ad­mit that I was this kid too, and I’ve since learned oth­er­wise – but he has this ex­pec­ta­tion that col­lege is the thing you do af­ter high school. I didn’t un­der­stand that col­lege is just not for ev­ery kid. Arthur is a lit­tle bit like that. You can kind of tell it from the way he talks to Ben.

I was go­ing to bring up Arthur’s white priv­i­lege. There’s a mo­ment when Ben gets an­noyed with Arthur af­ter he makes an ill-placed re­mark about Ben’s Puerto Ri­can her­itage. Why was it nec­es­sary to ex­plore that within this in­ter­ra­cial re­la­tion­ship?

AS: I think I have come to grips fol­low­ing our re­cent 2016 Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tion where I hadn’t been aware of the priv­i­lege I had car­ried by be­ing white-pass­ing. I’ve al­ways writ­ten about Puerto Ri­can char­ac­ters, but I didn’t re­alise how in­vis­i­bly Puerto Ri­can I’ve been to the out­side world. I just thought ev­ery­one knew. I have been in­ter­nal­is­ing why that has been so frus­trat­ing for me over the years – con­stantly hav­ing to tell peo­ple that I am Puerto Ri­can and be­ing told that I don’t look it – when I’ve grown up with a very Puerto Ri­can fam­ily. I just wanted to also put it out there how no-one has any eth­nic­ity that is bound to look one way. That’s a gi­gan­tic mis­con­cep­tion that our coun­try has. In terms of ex­plor­ing that with Arthur, these are two kids who have had very dif­fer­ent up­bring­ings. Arthur lives in a house and Ben lives in a tiny three-bed­room apart­ment and his par­ents are strušling to make ends meet. So this cul­tural clash – es­pe­cially in this day and age – it just felt im­por­tant to use this book as a plat­form to an­nounce some of this.

How im­por­tant was it for you both to have two gay char­ac­ters that are still in school, open about their sex­u­al­ity, and there’s ab­so­lutely no drama about it all from their fam­ily and friends? AS: It was very im­por­tant. Ob­vi­ously there are all shades of sto­ries that we want to be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. That’s not to say that a story about teenager be­ing out with no consequences from their fam­ily is of more im­por­tance than a story of a clos­eted teenager. But there is a lack of teenagers who are just hap­pily queer, and it’s im­por­tant to con­trib­ute to that nar­ra­tive as well. I tell peo­ple all the time

that it felt like writ­ing about a teenage ex­pe­ri­ence that I per­son­ally never lived in. Ben is me. I grew up very poor, and Ben at least had his own bed­room – I didn’t. The ma­jor mod­i­fi­ca­tion was Ben be­ing out and happy and his par­ents be­ing ac­cept­ing. It felt sort of dreamy to be able to write that. It’s in­cred­i­ble that it pro­vides hope to teenagers who are clos­eted right now, but it also makes other teens who are out now feel seen. Ul­ti­mately it shows to all queer teenagers that the way we love isn’t al­ways con­nected to hate and tragedy.

So­cial me­dia is used in this novel as a tool for find­ing love. What are your thoughts when it comes to so­cial me­dia’s role in mod­ern-day re­la­tion­ships?

AS: Becky and I lit­er­ally know each other be­cause of so­cial me­dia. I have six lines tat­tooed on my arm that rep­re­sent six of my best friends, and Becky is one. These are all peo­ple I met through so­cial me­dia. It’s in­cred­i­ble the re­la­tion­ships that can be fos­tered on­line be­cause we’re all scat­tered across the coun­try. To be able de­velop re­ally in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ships when you see some­one maybe only four times a year, it’s just an in­cred­i­ble power. We’re now in an age when a lot of dat­ing is done on­line, and that was some­thing I had re­sisted for the long­est too, be­cause I was like, ‘Oh no, I want an epic meet cute.’ Some­thing you write a book about. But now I’ve met re­ally in­cred­i­ble peo­ple on­line who are still in my life to­day, so I love any­time we get to em­brace the power of so­cial me­dia which of course also has its many im­per­fec­tions.

Becky: As adult writ­ers who do YA we get asked if we de­lib­er­ately in­clude men­tions of In­sta­gram or in­ject the use of so­cial me­dia into the story in or­der to make it ap­peal to the teens. But the process is so much more or­ganic than some peo­ple would ex­pect. There was never a mo­ment where we were like, ‘OK, let’s make sure we in­clude a tech­no­log­i­cal com­po­nent.’ It’s noth­ing like that. It’s as nat­u­ral as any plot el­e­ment. If you were a per­son try­ing to find a per­son, what would that look like? So so­cial me­dia was al­ways go­ing to be a big part of this story be­cause of who Arthur and Ben are and the world they are embed­ded in.

What If It’s Us was picked up to be adapted into a film be­fore it even hit shop shelves, which is pretty amaz­ing.

AS: Yeah, so we’re work­ing with Brian Yorkey who is the co-cre­ator of Net­flix’s 13 Rea­sons Why, as well as be­ing the play­wright of If/Then and Next To Nor­mal. So he has this in­cred­i­ble com­bi­na­tion of work­ing with YA but also the Broad­way back­ground, and that is lit­er­ally a per­fect storm for What If It’s Us. BA: We had the op­por­tu­nity to speak with this team on the phone and we were head of heels. In terms of What If It’s Us, it felt clearly like a mes­sage from the uni­verse. We were speak­ing to this team who seem to un­der­stand this book ex­actly the same way we un­der­stand it.

Be­ing a Harry Pot­ter fan, I love all the ref­er­ences to the fran­chise in this book – have ei­ther of you met JK Rowl­ing yet?

Adam and Becky: No!

AS: Do you have an in? Can you hook us up?

Oh I wish.

AS: So I came close one time. It was in 2012 when her first adult novel Ca­sual Va­cancy was com­ing out, and she had this mas­sive event in New York. I was out of town at the time but I was set to come back in time for this event. I was up early at like 5:30am, which is not a time that I wake up. The tick­ets were only go­ing to be avail­able for so long and I was on call and I was sev­enth in line and then I for­got that in the apart­ment I was in that calls tend to drop in that area, and it dropped lit­er­ally right as I was giv­ing my credit card in­for­ma­tion. When I called back I couldn’t even get through. It was just too busy. I was dev­as­tated. It was bru­tal.

As writ­ers who both have queer char­ac­ters as the cen­tre of your sto­ries, have you ever faced much re­sis­tance to­wards that when pitch­ing your nov­els?

AS: Yeah, of course. I’ve had an editor – in the case of my first novel – she was strongly hint­ing or even out­right said that she’d be more in­ter­ested in the book if I had fo­cussed on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the boy and the girl, ver­sus the two boys. It was ba­si­cally, ‘Make the book straight.’ That’s re­ally heart­break­ing. Pub­lish­ing has not al­ways been su­per in­clu­sive and it’s sort of course-cor­rect­ing a lit­tle bit now. Pretty slowly, but we are mak­ing some progress. Pub­lish­ers for a long time didn’t know what to do with sto­ries that weren’t about white, het­ero­sex­ual, able-bod­ied, cis­gen­der peo­ple. Now they’re sort of recog­nis­ing that read­ers from many marginalised com­mu­ni­ties want more, and are will­ing to buy these books if you give them proper mar­ket­ing. We have def­i­nitely seen re­sis­tance, but also we’re in­cred­i­bly grate­ful for our pub­lish­ers across the world who have been pri­ori­tis­ing our work for these un­der­served com­mu­ni­ties.

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