David Levithan's latest novel, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, is the second book club selection for the Trevor Project's TrevorSpace. Co-authored with John Green, the book tells the story of two boys with the same name whose lives continually intertwine.
Levithan is the author of numerous critically acclaimed books, including Boy Meets Boy and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. Below, Lee Wind, who will be interviewing each of the authors taking part in TrevorSpace's book club, talks with Levithan about having the first book with a gay teen character hit the New York Times bestseller list and why he seeks out flawed characters to focus on in his writing.
Read more about TrevorSpace's book club before the interview.
The TrevorSpace book club kicks off here with this exclusive author interview.
Every day from today until May 31, there will be a new conversation thread started over at TrevorSpace, where we’ll talk in depth about Will Grayson, Will Grayson.
The finale will be a live web chat May 31 hosted by Advocate.com, where I’ll moderate a Q&A between you and David. It’s going to be amazing!
And now, let’s get to the kick-off interview ...
Lee Wind: Hi David. Thanks so much for being part of this! Here’s the first question: Will Grayson, Will Grayson was the first teen book with a gay main character to hit the New York Times bestseller list. What was that experience like?
David Levithan: Well, it was about time, wasn’t it? I was thrilled that we could bust that particular barrier, and I know John was thrilled as well. But equally thrilling is that nobody really cared. Ten years ago, someone might have used that as Exhibit #1 of the world falling apart. Now people just see it as a story.
You’ve spoken in other interviews about how you and John Green each wrote one of the Will Graysons in alternating chapters – John the straight Will Grayson, and you the gay “other will grayson.” Can you share a bit about how you and John orchestrated the two plotlines and characters converging?
I came up with the general idea, based on the fact that one of my best friends is named David Leventhal, and I have thus been interested in the things you can learn about yourself by having a twin (or near twin) name-wise. John and I figured out the name together (I chose “Will”; he chose “Grayson”) and where and when the two Wills would meet. Then we wrote our first chapters independent of each other – because our Wills were in separate places, it made sense to write them separately. When we were finished, we came together and read the chapters out loud. This became our ritual – writing separate chapters, then reading them out loud to each other. Obviously, when we got to the part where both Wills were in the same place at the same time, we had to coordinate more … but that was it.
Wow, that's fascinating. Okay, a perfect character is boring, but a flawed queer character opens you up to criticism that you’ve created a character that reflects poorly on gay people or feeds into stereotypes. How do you deal with that as an author?
There’s no such thing as a perfect person, so it makes no sense to write a perfect person. I don’t know any author who’d try. And we write characters, not representations of groups. I can honestly say I’ve never thought for a second about whether a character reflects poorly on any group. All that matters to me is that the character is true to my belief in who he or she is.
Case in point, here’s a question from the Trevor Project YAC readers: “I was drawn more to the romance of Will Grayson and Jane than anything Tiny Cooper or the other will grayson had going on, and I very much enjoyed reading as their relationship developed. Why choose to display a very functioning hetero-relationship and very dysfunctional gay relationships in a novel mainly geared towards LGBTQ youth?
I’d say that this says more about you as a reader than it does about the characters – we all gravitate towards different things, and that’s one of the coolest things about reading. And the novel was never meant to be mainly geared towards LGBTQ youth – it’s geared towards everyone. Personally, I think Will and Jane’s relationship is just as messed up as anyone else’s – but, again, that’s in the eye of the beholder. I don’t think any of the relationships in the book is perfect … which is the point. They never are perfect, straight or queer. But that doesn’t make them any less meaningful. If anything, it makes them more so.