LITERARY collaboration between authors is surprisingly frequent.
Stephen King and Peter Straub once wrote together, as well as Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.
They say that writing is a solitary task, but some writers prove that two heads are better than one.
Take it from bestselling authors Becky Albertalli (“Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda”) and Adam Silvera (“They Both Die at the End”), who have combined their talents in a warm, earnest, and heartfelt collaboration about Ben and Arthur.
A New York love story with a difference, “What If It’s Us” tells of two very different boys who can’t seem to decide if the universe is playing with them.
Tackling fate, life likened to a Broadway musical, and Cebu mangoes, the Play! pool sat down with Becky and Adam
before their recent book signing by National Book Book at SM City Cebu.
The lively conversation centered on the realities surrounding their kind of literary friendship, book transitioning to film, and much like our guys, Arthur and Ben, how they embrace their uniqueness. (NRG)
How do you feel about traveling to different countries and meeting your fans, especially here in the Philippines?
Adam: Cebu is gorgeous. We had a relaxation day yesterday which is like so rare on a book tour.
Becky: We’ve never had a day off on a book tour.
Adam: For a full day like not an interview or an email, it was just so peaceful. And we’d just like to express our gratitude because we have been traveling for about a month now and we have a few breaks in between and it was just much needed. Cebu has been very lovely and gorgeous and the beach was great. I got a massage. And a leg wax!
Becky: I got a massage. I did not get a leg wax because I am not that brave.
How’s your adventure with local food, so far?
Adam: Mangoes! I’ve eaten like seven mangoes in Cebu alone and I love it.
Becky: Great! I would say I don’t like mangoes but I’ve tried one here and I’d say I only like mangoes that are from here. Because from back home I don’t and here it’s kind of different— they just don’t taste the same.
Tell us about the process of two authors collaborating on writing a book.
Becky: For both of us it was just a total joy and it was the most fun writing experience of my life. I think this book, in particular, was kind of a journey because we have been talking about it since way back in 2014. We were bouncing ideas and this was before we met in person because we’ve only known each other online for like six weeks or two months or so. So by the time we sat down to write this book these characters feel like they’re very, very real to us so we had the outline and the entire story, we thought everything through. And there were a lot of changes throughout the process, which I think is the case with all of our books
editorially. But for the most part, by the time we dove right into it, we had that structure already, which helped a lot once we sat down to write it.
Adam: And the process of it was like we would write a chapter and she would email everything to me because she lives in Georgia and I live in New York. We were never really physically in the same place writing this book. So when Becky’s on a chapter and I am reading a Becky chapter from Arthur’s perspective, I would text her while reading it like… Oh, my God! It’s my favorite part and I love this line. And then Becky would do the same when reading my Ben chapters and we would just like go back and forth up until the end. And we were in collaboration with our editors; we have separate editors for our solo books so they also collaborated for this book, which is really cool. Becky: So if you’d have the hardcover the spine has its uniqueness because you will see there two different imprints from two of our editors. And has that ever been done? So we are actually excited about that because we feel that it’s kind of groundbreaking.
When exactly did you two actually meet?
Adam: So we met in April 2014 when Becky came to New York, and we were meeting with our publisher, I think …
Becky: I can’t seem to remember. My purpose for being in New York was probably for that meeting with my publisher and I can remember it was quite a day. I was nine weeks pregnant with my second son and I wasn’t telling anybody yet because it was then so early. But as it turned out it happened to be the day like any day that whole pregnancy that I got so sick. Like I was just so incapacitated, but I really wanted to see Adam. So I remember our first conversation on the phone was like, it’s good to hear your voice, okay, and I’m pregnant and I can’t seem to stop throwing up but I still want to meet, I am not contagious (laughter).
Was that when the book was already halfway done?
Adam: No, we haven’t already started writing it yet. When we started talking online this was two months after our debut novel, so we were very busy editing those books, and then we had second books to write, then we had our third books, too. So we were both contracted but it wasn’t until the spring of 2017 that we started the book for the first time. We had to be in the same schedule like editorially and production wise, like Becky finished “Leah on the Offbeat” and I finished, “They Both Die at the End,” and we were finally both free to write this book.
Becky: It’s so funny ‘cause in one of our interviews somebody asked us if our agent had has asked us to collaborate together on this. We were like, it’s the opposite! Our agents were like, get your contracted books done.
Adam: Yes, like you guys are so busy.
Becky: Yes, like stop it (laughter).
You could have collaborated with other authors. What was it that you saw in each other that made you decide that you had to do it with each other?
Adam: Back in December 2013 when we first sold our debut novels—we have the same literary agent—and we were so excited with each other’s deal announcements that we traded manuscripts. We were like the first readers outside of our respective publishing teams to read each other’s books even before they were edited. Becky has read the draft of my “More Happy Than Not” and that was very different like that book went through several significant changes. And we just love each other’s books so much, and we love each other and one day Becky told me of her story in her 20s before she was married that she has seen this guy and she tried to find him online even though they never had that conversation. That prompted me of the idea of a YA book in that vein, except that they find each other and what happens when they do. Becky got immediately on board, and we were so new to this career like if you think about it now, that was really bold of me to ask someone who I’ve never met in person to write a book with me. It was obviously such a clique.
Becky: It was bold of us too because to think about it, now we have a forever like a book with our names written on it. We were lucky to put our trust in each other very early, and we were right.
What did you find out about each other while doing this book?
Becky: It’s hard to track that because our whole friendship, like the entire getting-to-know-you-kind of friendship, this project has kind of existed as part of that. So everything we know about each other for the most is while doing this.
Adam: I feel like that’s just the progression of the friendship because in general, day by day you will learn about each other. Like in writing the book if we feel like we’re struggling with our respective chapters we would call each other for what could have been a five-minute call and we took it to like an hour- or two-hour call. Sometimes our stories just drain into our personal stuff and by writing this book, even by the nature of it is so different from how we write our respective novels. I can’t pinpoint anything right now and I just feel like it’s all group into each other. This book is part of the friendship.
Is there a part of Arthur and Ben that is a semblance of you as the writer?
Adam: Tons! There have been reviews like Adam and Becky just clearly wrote themselves into this book. I mean yes, I am a white passing as a Puerto Rican, I grew up very poor, I was a bad student in summer school. Yes, I was always focused on wanting to write my fantasy stories versus studying.
Becky: Arthur’s energy is exactly different than mine. I am not as extroverted as Arthur. I am a short, blue-eyed, Jewish person from Georgia with ADHD and as a teen, I had particularly big romantic expectations who loves Broadway. So I did idealize particular scenarios.
Did you ever get a negative feedback having this kind of theme?
Adam: Yes, I mean any creative person always get a negative feedback whether you are Picasso, or whether you’re Beyonce, you get a negative feedback, it’s the nature of being an artist. The tone of the book was very true to the Arthur and Ben story and some people may want the book to feel like Becky’s individual works or something, or they want it to be like my individual work and at the end of the day, this is a collaboration between two different authors. So it’s always going to be its own beast. So everyone is going to bring their own experiences into the book and we can’t control that. Our duty as writers is to stay true to the character’s narrative.
Becky: That’s true for every book and not just with the collaboration and I don’t know, I’ve only written with the Young Adult space so I can’t speak for other audiences. But I do know that what we love about the YA audiences is they are passionate, and they are very invested in the story, in the characters and sometimes it looks like people have rigid ideas of what they want to happen. Because it’s like if this character in this story is so important to you and you have that certain ending or a story arc in your head, and the author takes it in a different direction, there’s just a lot of people who feel a lot of ownership which is in a way is a compliment. It’s hard to absorb and it’s hard sometimes because we’ve got a pretty broad readership, the volume of feedback is a lot of noise that it can be hard for us to create. The struggle is on how to take a step back and remind ourselves of that fact like sometimes we receive a very rude DM only because they’re emotionally invested.
Do you respond to these messages?
Adam: Absolutely not because, a: it is impossible mass amount of messages, b: sometimes people just kind of say the negative things and it’s not a space that we want to engage in. Because also you have to be very careful, one of the things about being an
author is that you are considered to be “stronger presence” between you and the reader. So responding to a negative feedback can be completely warped as you arguing with the reader, so we should know better to just don’t engage. And it’s frustrating because
authors are people and that sometimes some people get lost and it seems that some people are forgetting that.
Becky: There are so many different scenarios like on Instagram, in the past if you’re’ like, I’m going to the Philippines and somebody comments, please come on a quick trip to New Zealand, and you sort of would like to honor that with a heart. Now I’ve learned that some people would take that as a promise. So you have to think of every single implication and some people who
really push boundaries in certain ways and you have to in a way to manage that.
Will we be seeing Arthur and Ben on the silver screen?
Becky: Yes, as far as how would that go about or look like that would be beyond as our control is pretty limited. But the book has already been optioned for film by Brian Yorkey who did “13 Reasons Why.” He is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright so we are really excited about that because he is just so the guy to bring out the musicalness and the Broadwayness of it. We are excited and we are early on the process, I never thought that it will be a part of my life like, “13 Reasons Why” season three is impacting so what would that be like. So they are kind of wrapped up at the moment but when it settles a bit, we will be hopefully able to move forward.
If you had your way, who would you cast as Arthur and Ben?
Adam: We kind of cannot answer the casting business stuff because who we may like today, who knows the timeline for the production for this film would be if it would move forward. Someone we would want today if this happens in five years that person has officially aged out. Ultimately we just want people who can truly inhabit the energies of these characters. It would be kind of exciting to sort of like seeing a fresh-faced newbie who will totally nail it like Arthur and Ben.
Becky: We get so many messages like, can you please consider me for Arthur? It’s so sincere and it’s so sweet, and I am like, I am just a mom in the suburbs. I barely have the control over what my children will have for dinner.
Becky, how was the experience of “Love, Simon” transitioning into a film? How did you feel watching your work on the big screen?
Becky: It was very surreal. I didn’t have anything to compare it to. I think there are aspects of it that knowing what I know now, I kind of think of the kind of how we approach “What If It’s Us” differently. But for the most part, I was happy with the experience and I was incredibly happy with the film. I love the movie.
Any possible collaboration in the future?
Adam: We are actually open about it, we have talked about it. It’s just that we are both heavily contracted once again. So it’s one of those things when it’s like there would be a new book next year and in the next two years. Becky is heavily contracted, I am working on a series right now. “What If It’s Us” is something that we talked about doing, and it got done.