There’s something magical about New York City that best-selling authors Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera decided it would be part of their first literary collaboration.
After countless emails and conversations over coffee, the two decided it was the perfect place to maneuver a love story between two guys who accidentally meet each other at a New York post office.
“It’s a more natural setting for this kind of misconnection where they kind of looked for each other all around the city. We were also able to pull in that Broadway feel. Unlike where I’m from that is very suburban, logistically there wouldn’t be a lot of opportunities for those kinds of near miss,” Albertalli told Daily Tribune.
The book, entitled What If It’s Us, follows the story of two young men, Arthur and Ben who first meet each other by chance at the post office. Arthur, a senior high student from Georgia, has decided to spend the summer working for his mom’s law firm in New York. By luck, he meets the heartbroken Ben, who is about to return a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things by mailing it.
Arthur believes in the universe’s power of love at first sight. Ben, on the other hand, thinks that the universe should just mind its own business. After going on a few dates, these lost souls come to realize that they may not be perfect for each other.
“Very early on into our friendship, we were emailing and Becky was telling me a story about a cute boy she’d seen in her early 20s. She wanted to find him online but failed to do so,” Silvera recalled.
He added, “Immediately I was excited about that possibility of energy that I just pitched it to Becky, like how cool if we could write about two teenagers finding each other. It’s kind of complicated but Becky was super on board.”
Their friendship started when their common literary agent Brooks Sherman – whom they both refer to as their literary godfather – introduced them to each other via email in the fall of 2013. Within a few days, both of their debut novels had hit the bestselling charts.
Albertalli is the author of the novel turned movie Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, The Upside of Unrequited Love and Leah on the Offbeat. While Silvera wrote the popular YA books and They Both Die at the End. These are books that bear simple messages but written with different styles.
“We were very collaborative. I think, tonally, we’re different; we tend to evoke different feelings but we were both writing for present tense point of view so it’s very compatible, to begin with. We have been talking about these characters for so long, we knew like where we wanted the story to go. It was never a scenario where we tried to say something different in our chapters. We very much viewed that this was our book together, not kind of two books in one,” she said.
Both authors tackle sexuality, a topic which unfortunately not many people are very open about. Adam says, “At the end of the day, we were writing about characters that are humans. We are all going through different oppressions and different moments of triumph. That could be said for any community. There’s so much joy in this book that it felt a lot easier to write.”
Getting in touch with their readers also helped them in weaving the book together. “It was never anything that gave us pause at all. We know the community that we were writing for, and they’re desperately into books like this,” she pondered.
Writing What If It’s Us enabled Albertalli and Silvera to present the queer community a form of literary representation. “Absolutely. Whether it’s about joy, pain or coming out or already been out, it’s about dealing with people who are oppressing you or just about people who casually accept you. Queer readers deserve every kind of story just like heterosexual readers have had for decades,” he indicated.
Becky added, “It’s really humbling and special to be able to hear from readers that the books have touched them or made their lives better in any way. That is something that I take very seriously. It means a lot to me. I carry that in my mind for future books as I try to make them kind of feel like a home to my readers.”
They don’t try to elicit what readers should feel when they read the book, as Adam says. “Readers come into the books with their own experiences, like we can’t engineer how they were going to feel. Whatever’s happening in your personal life may affect how you view the stories in this page.”
What If It’s Us was a four-year project. Exhausting as it may sound, it was therapeutic for both Silvera and Albertalli. “I’m constantly just expelling things that I’m going through, like fear, pain or confusion. Writing characters that come out on the other side like being okay then it brings me a lot of peace,” Adam said.
He wants young writers to take everything with a grain of salt. “What works for me may not work for you. Just have this understanding that writing is trial and error. Methods that don’t work out for you don’t mean you’re a failure,” he concluded.
For her part, Becky advises finding a solid foundation of people because writing is an exhausting profession. “Try to find a community of friends and other writers who you really trust, because it is an emotionally and mentally draining profession. I would say to my writer friends I wouldn’t still be writing if it weren’t for their friendship.”
What If It’s Us and all of their other books are available at NBS branches and online on www.nationalbookstore.com.