If you’re a fan of young adult fiction, it is very likely that the novel, Every Day, has been on your radar/is one of your favorite novels. With the film version coming out, we talk with author David Levithan about his oddly premised, but completely endearing novel, working with the filmmakers, telling queer stories and more!
TYF: I found that with the growing market for young adult (YA) fiction, many writers rely on cliches. In this, you’ve proven to be the exception by telling stories with diverse voices and perspectives. What inspires you to tell these stories?
David Levithan: Being a queer writer, I approach stories wanting to tell queerer stories. Also, seeing what wasn’t on the shelf when I started writing and wanting it to be there inspired me to do that. There’s so much freedom right now for writing YA that the publishing world is very open to telling inclusive and different kinds of stories and I wanted to take that opportunity to fill the bookshelf with stories I wanted to see there.
Have you drawn from your personal experiences in your writing?
Certainly. Not so much in me waking up every day in different bodies.
Now that would be an adventure!
I once had a reading where someone asked if this book [Every Day] was an autobiography, and I was like, “In a word: No.” Thematically, everything I write will lead to my life or the lives of people close to me. I’m very attuned to this drought of queer, white stories that weren’t in the library when I was a teenager so I’m certainly tapping into that and thinking about what I would have like to have read back that. That is a major motivating factor for my fiction.
Every Day is the most recent of your novels to get the film treatment. Were you able to work closely with the filmmakers?
I was very, very lucky because they were very inclusive of me from the get-go. Jesse [Andrews], the screenwriter, was a friend of mine and we would talk all the time. Michael [Sucsy], the director, was really sweet about looping me in with everything they were developing. I have been very charmed three times out of three as far as adaptations are concerned, and this was absolutely no exception. I knew from the get-go that everyone involved understood the story and were dedicated to telling the right story. They were nice enough to not let me take that just on faith, and they continued to demonstrate that through the entire process.
Is there a part of the novel that you wish would have made it to the screen?
Not really. I know it sounds like something an author would just say to be nice, but it’s genuinely true. If you asked me, when the movie was first optioned, to list the 10 days of A’s life I wanted to most see in the movie, all 10 would have already been in the movie. There was a point in the revision process where the scenes with Kelsea, this girl who was suicidal, were cut. There was a panic and very much upsetting because, to me, that is one of the most important incidents in the book. Obviously, they recognized that and put it back in and now its very central to the movie too. That was a near miss, but everything else that was cut I totally understand why. The scenes that were cut were the ones that really didn’t have much to do with the plot and were more like set pieces.
I’m glad they kept that scene. I felt like that was a turning point and major character development for A just to realize their humanity. There’s a plot point in the novel where A meets other people or entities like them. Was that cut out?
That was cut out. In the novel, there is a character, Reverend Poole who is manipulating Nathan. There was a version of the script where he played a much bigger role, but tonally it changed everything because it became more of a thriller/mystery instead of an exploration of relationships and identity. Very wisely, they decided that rather than having it in there tangentially, they would just cut it out altogether. I think that was the right call. Selfishly, I was glad that they did because the sequel to the novel, which comes out in October, is very much about that character and it would have been very hard if the movie contradicted what I had written in the sequel. I left it there in the background, but it’s not there in the foreground.
So the way the film is now, would the story still work if there is a film sequel to Every Day?
Amazingly, everything fits, which is great because I finished writing the sequel before I saw this movie. I prayed that everything would line up and for the most part, everything does, which is a miracle.
In the sequel, do we get to find out more about A’s origins or even what they are?
There is more speculation about it. I won’t promise that there is anything definitive. Certainly, A does realize that A is not the only one, and by finding others or at least one other, A can compare notes and find out exactly who A is.
Now for a tough question. Of the three films based on your novels, which is your favorite?
(laughs) That’s just awful. It’s like asking who my favorite child is.
I know, but even then, you still have to have a favorite. Like, for my mom, she won’t tell my sister but I am definitely the favorite.
When I get asked what my favorite novel is, because I’m the oldest child, I always say, “Well you always love the oldest one the best.” Honestly, the movies are so different from one another that it is very hard for me to pick a favorite. Nick and Norah[‘s Infinite Playlist] was such an amazing experience and I do love it with all of my heart, but I do think that Every Day is so much more ambitious in so far that there are 16 actors playing the main character. It was also thematically about all of these big things and instead of dodging them, it actually digs in and engages in them, so I’m very proud of that.
Which of your books would you like to see onscreen next, either in film or television form?
To be fair, I’ve written some very uncinematic books so I won’t be unfair and chose the one with 20 lead characters written in poetry. I wrote a book with Andrea Cremer called “Invisibility”, which is very similar thematically to “Every Day”. Instead of changing bodies every day, it’s about a boy who is invisible who falls in love with a girl who’s the only person in the world who can see him. I think that would actually make a really wonderful movie.
I’m still waiting for a film version of “Boy Meets Boy”.
That would be fun too. I really hope that Love, Simon is a huge success for many reasons, but one of them is that it would hopefully open the floodgates for all of this queer YA media to happen. Here’s hoping.
A few of your novels have these paranormal elements to them. What draws you to the occult or supernatural?
It’s purely a plot perspective. It’s fun to take these high concept ideas and then spell them out in reality. One of the most amusing conversations I had after “Every Day” came out was with a fellow author of mine, who is very involved in the science fiction and fantasy community, patted me on the back and said, “Hey! Congratulations! You finally wrote your speculative fiction!” Then I said, “Oh? Did I?” That was the beauty of it because I approached “Every Day” as if I were writing a piece of realism. It just happened to be about A, who woke up every day in a different body. It wasn’t about the conceit or the origin story or about superpowers given to you because you change every day. It really was about the relationship. The amazing thing is that having that high concept, paranormal conceit opened the book up to more readers that otherwise wouldn’t read a straightforward, contemporary novel about identity and gender fluidity and things like that.
After watching the film, I got a very Vonnegut/Kafka-esque feel, but with a very timely and necessary social commentary. It dealt with trans topics, the idea that sexuality is fluid, and just overall that love has no gender, sex or skin color. With children losing more and more protections from a very unqualified Secretary of Education [Betsy DeVos], how important do you think this message is?
It is so important and so vital. What I love from the movie is that it just goes in there and engages with it. What’s amazing about it is that it engages with it on an individual level and a societal one. It tells the audience member, “Hey! You get to define who you are. Your body doesn’t get to define who you are and your body doesn’t get to define who you are. What other people think doesn’t get to define who you are. You get to define who you are and you get to be seen for what you want to be seen.” Meanwhile, this is how we have to love each other and treat each other. We have to respect that. Also that it’s possible for society to be one where everyone is allowed to be who they want to be, and that we don’t let things like the body you were born into define who you are.
Are there any other YA authors that you’re a fan of or that have been an inspiration to you?
There are so many. I am doing an event with Billy Merrell, who has this amazing book called “Vanilla” that is about asexuality and relationships and queerness, and it’s wonderful. I love Becky Albertalli, who wrote the book that Love, Simon is based on. I love Adam Silvera’s work. There’s a book by author Will Walton coming out this summer called “I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain” which is a prose/poetry mash-up about a kid dealing with grief, alcoholism and loss and being queer, but somehow manages to be inspiring instead of being depressing. There are all of these new voices and I could go on and on, but what is really awesome to me as a writer is that the door was open for me during the early 2000’s. Now, there are so many more doors open to writers now and YA is the key that opened them.