Interview Throwback: Adam Silvera's More Happy Than Not
I used to run a site called Novel Enthusiasts, which housed reviews, lists, and interviews. To keep the legacy alive, I’m posting some of my favorite interviews. Here’s one I did with Adam Silvera. I still love his work. He’s one of the best YA writers out there. No more rambling. Here’s our talk:
Adam, thank you so much for agreeing to spend some time with us here at Novel Enthusiasts. More Happy Than Not is a beautiful novel, and it’s one that so many people are really loving right now.
Thank you so much for having me!
I’d like to point out a few phrases critics have used when reviewing your work. The New York Times Book Review says More Happy Than Not is “mandatory reading.” Publisher’s Weekly calls it “vividly written and intricately plotted.” Kirkus states that it’s “a brilliantly conceived page-turner.” The list continues. You’ve received some very high praise. With this being your debut, how humbling is it to get these kinds of accolades?
It's incredible and extremely surprising. It's also created very high expectations for my next books, particularly my second novel History Is All You Left Me, which I'm in the middle of writing right now. The goal is to ultimately make More Happy Than Not the worst book I write, which was already a trial without the critical praise because More Happy is very much the book of my heart, but seeing it received so well hints that eyes will be on my future works so I'm working even harder if that's at all possible. Tons of pressure, but good pressure.
And it all happened just a few days before you turned 25. I read that being a published novelist before you hit the big 2-5 was a dream of yours. Was there some kind of significance you attached to the age or was it just a random goal you set a longtime ago and wanted to see it happen?
No significance at all! Basically, I didn't go to college and wanted to make sure I was staying productive in that time after high school apart from my jobs in the book industry, and while I loved all those jobs, my goal was to always publish a book. Having a little target year kept me on a calendar and everything miraculously fell into place.
Where was your first reading to promote More Happy Than Not? What was the experience like?
My first reading was at my favorite children's bookstore, Books of Wonder in New York where I was working at the time. This was before the book was out, and I believe it was an Indie Saturday situation. It was awesome because I worked there for years where I assisted countless authors with their events and now I was up there reading myself. That store is very special to me and it's why I had my launch party there, too.
I’d like to talk about Aaron, your novel’s protagonist. He is a brave kid. He has so many challenges—dealing with love, sexuality, money, and death. He certainly struggles. Anybody in his situation would, but he remains courageous. He’s a young man who perseveres. Could you talk about what you wanted readers to take away from Aaron’s story?
Thank you so much for those kind words. Aaron and I share many things in common but he's certainly braver than I was at sixteen, and even more resilient than I am today. I hope after reading Aaron's story they have a deep sense of the choices we CAN make in life, and how we reinvent ourselves when things out of our control hit us.
What do you see as Aaron’s biggest obstacle in your book?
Great question! Aaron's biggest obstacle is his desire to meet everyone's expectations to keep them happy, or at least content, with him. This ultimately is a huge roadblock for Aaron finding happiness in himself.
Thomas and Genevieve, Aaron’s two friends and love interests, seem like two genuinely kind people. Both are patient and understanding in dealing with Aaron. His family isn’t quite as encouraging. How important was it for you to give Aaron friends who are so supporting?
Aaron is drawn to both Genevieve and Thomas because of how supporting and open-minded they are, he can sense that immediately after growing up in his circles. I see a lot of reviewers disliking books (YA in particular) where someone new comes into a person's life and flips the script for them--but that happens all the time in real life! The dude that inspired Thomas did exactly that for me and it was through meeting him that I became comfortable with my own sexuality and life. So I know what it's like to have awesome people walk in your life and change your worldview, which Aaron needed since he's grown up with people who don't care very much about their futures.
I think the sections when he’s choosing between the two are some of my favorite parts of the book. Aaron says, “If I were faced with Sun Warden’s decision—whether or not to save his girlfriend or best friend from a dragon—I’m sorry to change my mind, but Thomas would fall away without me moving a muscle. And I would make that choice without a doubt because the bottom line is that Genevieve is my girlfriend and I’m her boyfriend, and Thomas and I are just friends and that’s that.” There is some real internal struggling going on in this passage. How difficult was it for you to capture that kind of confused, adolescent voice?
I don't think I'm that far removed from my own teen years and considering a lot of the events fictionalized in the book are inspired by true life events that mainly happened to me in my early twenties, it was still very fresh in my head to recall all those feelings of heartbreak and betrayal and confusion. But I worry about capturing a voice like Aaron's again, which is why I don't think I could ever write a sequel. Those particular scenes were very challenging though, but in Aaron's war against himself he's settling for the version everyone expects of himself.
A big part of More Happy Than Not is Aaron’s social class. He’s a poor Hispanic dude living in the Bronx projects. If he were rich, how do you think his story might be different?
Interesting question! I love this a lot. If Aaron were rich it's maybe safe to assume he doesn't live in the Bronx anymore in this scenario, right?
I don't think he would be as scared of coming out. When I started coming out to friends it's because I was working as a bookseller in Manhattan, which, in case you don't know, is a way more liberal borough in New York than the Bronx neighborhood where Aaron is growing up. It's the first time I felt like it wasn't going to be a big deal to be gay, and I think once Aaron was comfortable with his own sexuality he wouldn't have had such a difficult time coming out, though as any reader of the book knows Aaron still has separate trials to worry about once he does come out. This story would've never been easy, I don't think.
I don’t want to give away the ending, but the last third (or so) of your novel discusses memory-erasing technology. Had you watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind before you started your book?
I had watched it a couple times! I had no idea about the movie the first time I pitched it to a friend, but the film and my book are very different on many levels.
Did you do any research about what all kinds of similar memory-erasing options were available?
I did some research, particularly into this one memory erasure procedure being developed in Sweden that for patients with PTSD. Otherwise I made it up because yay fiction! And because I suck at science so I don't reveal too much information about how they go about engineering such a procedure.
I’m sure you are taking some time to soak in all of you success, but have you thought about what’s next yet?
I'm keeping very busy working simultaneously and my second and third books and planning subsequent books. I love writing, except on the days when I hate it. And even then, there's enough love in the process.
In the meantime, what new books are you currently enjoying?
I'm currently loving BLOOD AND SALT by Kim Liggett, SHADOWSHAPER by Daniel José Older, and THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir.
Congratulations, Adam. More Happy Than Not is a great one. I think we’ll be hearing your name for years to come.
Thank you so much! And hopefully. :)