Interview: Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Current Mood: thirsty
Current Song: Good Mornin' from Singin' in the Rain
Last year, Rachel Cohn and David Levithan's collaborative novel, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, found a home with readers of all ages. The book was quite successful, both in sales and in praise. It won the first-ever Cybils award in the category of Young Adult Fiction and is being made into a major motion picture starring Michael Cera and Kat Dennings.
This year, the second LeviCohn collaboration hit the shelves: Naomi & Ely's No Kiss List. Though the two novels have similar tones and are both set in New York, they depict very different types of relationships. While Nick & Norah split narrative duties equally in their Playlist, the No Kiss List has a longer list of narrators. While Nick & Norah knew each other for one night, Naomi & Ely have been best friends since childhood. However, I think each delightful pair would enjoy the other's stories - and I'm certain fans of one book will enjoy the other.
I interviewed the authors in 2006, then had the pleasure of catching up with them again in 2007.
Did you start writing Naomi & Ely's No Kiss List before or after the sale or publication of Nick & Norah? Did you feel (or ignore) any pressure (or worries) to write something similar to N&N?
DAVID: We started before, and of course there was pressure (although not as much as there would have been after it came out). We had such an amazing time writing N&N that we knew it was impossible for lightning to strike in the same way twice. So we decided to approach the lightning in a different way.
RACHEL: The experience of writing N&N had been so much fun that I don't think there was any doubt we'd give it another go. We were well on our way with N&E long before N&N was released.
Do you plan to write more novels set in your New York?
RACHEL: NYC is such a muse for both of us, I couldn't imagine us writing a book together that didn't take place there. NYC so much informs how I know David. I guess it will be up to David to finally jump us off the island over to Hoboken or something.
N&E is told from many perspectives. Did you each select certain characters to write for, or did you once again alternate chapters, writing in chronological order?
DAVID: It's so funny -- I just assumed people would know that we alternated chapters, but I guess we never come out and say that anywhere in the book. So, yes, the book is still divided by chapter, not by voice, and neither Rachel nor I knew which person was going to be narrating from one chapter to the next. Whoever's turn it was got to decide.
RACHEL: And even though I feel like I sort of own Naomi, I have to say, my favorite Naomi chapter in the book is the one David wrote. And we did write one chapter -- the "Starbucks" chapter -- together, alternating between me writing Naomi and David writing Ely.
Any interesting stories behind the characters' names or storylines?
DAVID: The term 'No Kiss List' came from one of my friends. I happened to tell Rachel a story in which it was involved and then, voila, I get the first chapter of N&E, and there it is.
RACHEL: Note: I asked David's permission for using the "No Kiss List" before beginning that first chapter. Since I wrote the first chapter, which involved a lot of names, I ended up pulling them from very random places. "Naomi" is just a name I liked and had played with a lot. "Ely" was named after Patricia McCormick's great cat whom I adore (Eli the cat, in turn, is named after a friend of Patty's son). "Bruce" is my cousin's middle name -- and it had just been his birthday, so his name was on my mind. "Robin" is named after a former student of mine (whose debut book, "Audrey, Wait!" is amazing, and comes out next March) -- I was trying to think of a name that could be for a male or female, and she happened to have just e-mailed me as I was writing the first chapter, so her name popped up in there, too.
Did either of you have a friend like Naomi or Ely when you were a teenager?
DAVID: I didn't know any Elys as a teenager, but I definitely had a friend like Naomi.
RACHEL: I had a friend very much like Ely, and the weird thing is, I don't think I've ever told David much about this friend, yet David wrote Ely so similar to how I remembered this friend, it kinda freaked me out for a while.
There's a reason why the cover depicts a stick of gum, but I'm not going to spoil it for hopeful readers. What's your favorite type of gum?
DAVID: After growing up on Trident and having a very formative Wrigley's period, I am now completely in Orbit's thrall. I will admit that at first I was sucked in my the packaging, which seemed designed for non-smokers who are jealous of cigarette packs. I would say my affections were possibly transitory at first, but then they itnroduced Sweetmint and Mint Mojito, and my gum allegiances were sealed. I'm not that bad, though. Certainly not a pack a day. More like two or three sticks. That's reaosnable, right?
RACHEL: Like Ely, I am Dentyne's *&^$#. I'm also partial to Bazooka, when I can find it.
What's next for each of you?
DAVID: Rachel has an incredible book coming out in March called YOU KNOW WHERE TO FIND ME about grief, loss, suicide, and sisterhood. With due respect to her other books (which I love), it's her best book yet, and really deserves the word "powerful" that we throw around so often without giving it its full meaning.
RACHEL: As I often say, David is the hardest working man in YA lit. He regularly does the job of at least five people. So I'm resting for him. I'm not working on anything besides my yoga practice and organizing my music library. David does have a new story collection HOW THEY MET, AND OTHER STORIES coming out in January.
Thanks again to David and Rachel for chatting with me. Happy holidays!