Two weeks ago, Justine Larbalestier, Ally Carter, and David Levithan visited the store to talk about their newest novels. They interviewed each other, talk show-style.
Each author took a turn describing their novel — Justine’s crime thriller Razorhurst, Ally’s newest espionage adventure All Fall Down, and David’s companion to Will Grayson, Will Grayson (the novel he co-wrote with John Green), Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story.
The conversation started with David asking what kind of research Justine and Ally did for their books.
Even though Justine grew up in Sydney and lives there part of the year, Razorhurst takes place in 1930s Sydney. Justine was fortunate to be able to go around Sydney to research locations for her book. She showed the audience photos of 1930s criminals from a cache of police pictures, some of which she had used as references for characters in her novel. Many of the people in the photos had facial scars, because at the time guns were banned so razors were used instead. In Sydney, Justine trained at a gym filled with body builders and professional weightlifters. Her trainer once pointed out a guy in a hoodie who had beaten up a trainer for not having the human growth hormones he wanted. Looking for examples of “hard men” to base the gangster characters off of, she decided to follow him for a while. Luckily, Justine was still around to visit BookPeople.
In 2008, Ally was about to move to a new city and, of course, she needed to say goodbye to the librarian at her local library. The librarian shared that her son’s new job would “mean [her] grandchildren will have to grown up in embassies around the world.” That stuck in Ally’s mind for years as she thought about what a life like that would be like, and this became the inspiration for All Fall Down. She couldn’t ask if any of her social media followers were embassy kids who could give her insight because she didn’t want anyone to know what kind of book she was writing. Instead, Ally watched documentaries and pulled information from the U.S. Embassy website. Written in first person, the story follows the main character Grace in the search to uncover the truth about her mothers suspicious death. Ally said she always liked the story of the boy who cried wolf, which plays a huge role in this mystery.
Hold Me Closer is the musical that Tiny Cooper was writing in the novel Will Grayson, Will Grayson. David realized that Tiny Cooper was awesome and should be a main character in his own story. David used what had already been written about the musical and filled in the pieces. Because he already knew Tiny Cooper, there wasn’t much in the way of research that he needed to do, though after he finished the first draft he saw Hedwig and the Angry Itch, starring Neil Patrick Harris, four times. Like Hedwig, Hold Me Closer is a one-man show that simply happened to have many different characters in it. Unlike Hedwig, Hold Me Closer is written by a high school student so, luckily for David, “the bar wasn’t quite as high as that of a Broadway show,” but he still wrote an excellent and wonderfully entertaining musical!
Ally wanted to know if David would want to see a performance of Hold Me Closer. He did, but by a high school, not a professional group. Additionally, he said he didn’t include character appearances or write any music to go with the lyrics because he wanted people to each have their own interpretations.
Then the second topic of conversation was brought up – the writing planning process, or lack thereof.
Justine just types, without any planning. She talked about her stories with her husband Scott Westerfeld (Uglies, Leviathan), who often makes suggestions that Justine just as often ignores. (Though sometimes it turns out he had a good idea, so she’ll take part of what he said and go with it.)
For Ally, writing is like a road trip. She knows the beginning, the destination, and a few stops, but beyond that she lets the story surprise her. (Fun fact: David was the editor for All Fall Down.)
David knew the beginning, middle, and end, as well as five songs before he started writing. In Will Grayson, Will Grayson, the second act of Tiny’s musical is described as being about Tiny’s 18 ex-boyfriends. Had David known he would one day actually write the musical and include all 18 ex-boyfriends, David “wouldn’t have [expletive] done that.” If he could go back, he would have made Act 2 “The Parade of Three Ex-Boyfriends.” He took a two-year break between writing the first and second acts.
Then the floor was open for audience questions
Q: I started writing a book very similar to Every Day before it came out. Where’d you get the idea for that book?
David: Your friends gave me your journal. They snuck into your room and sent me your notes on it. [Laughter] Honestly, I was walking to work one day and started wondering what it would be like to have no set identity in a world where we are defined by the “packaging” in which we are.
Q: Can you give us any hints ass to what Grace’s mom’s profession was?
Ally: Nope. I can tell you that she isn’t a dentist. The sequel to All Fall Down will answer many of the questions from the first book, but it will also ask way more questions to be answered in the third book.
Q: What’s it like to get a book turned into movie?
David: For Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, [co-author] Rachel Cohn and I were able to choose the screenwriter and be really involved in the process. The movie filmed for thirty days just six blocks from my office, so I spent time on set. Rachel and I weren’t a part of the movie creatively, though.
Justine: It’s really rare that it happens at all. But it’s free money. You already wrote the book, and you get paid when you sign the movie rights away, even if the movie never gets made. If it does become a movie, there’s nothing you can do to change it.
Ally: Even if it’s terrible. It’s a two-hour commercial for your book. You know, hopefully it’ll bring new readers but ultimately you can’t control what the movie is like. Getting a movie deal and being involved with the process at all is really, really rare.
Q: What kinds of questions do you like to be asked?
Ally: Questions that show people have spent time thinking about the book, or questions about little things I’d written on which I’d hoped readers would find.
Justine: Questions about the writing process. I get questions from young writers who are in the middle of their own novels and it’s great to hear what they’re doing, on what they’re getting stuck, things like that.
At the end, all three authors performed Act 2, scene 2 of Hold Me Closer. David played Tiny, Ally played Brad (boyfriend #1), and Justine was the narrator. Yes, there was singing, and a bit of dancing. It was glorious. At the request of Justin, David, and Ally, no recordings (audio or video) were made. For those who were there, we hope you had a great time! For those who couldn’t make it, check out the BookPeople calendar for all our upcoming events.