“I Ultimately Stayed True to Aaron’s Story”: An Interview with Adam Silvera

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Today, I am very thrilled to be sharing a Q&A with one of the coolest debut authors of the year, whose first book is a sensitive—if often brutally honest—tale of growing up and finding one’s place in a community not as rational and accepting. More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera rings true no matter what your race and gender identity is. And months before its publication, people are already talking. Silvera’s debut in fact received four (4!) starred-reviews, with School Library Journal claiming it “an engrossing, intense narrative.”

We talked about pajamas, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, embarrassing teenage episodes and taking a break from writing when you must. Here’s Adam:

Shelumiel: Give us 3 random facts about Adam Silvera.
Adam: 1) Two of my currently eight tattoos were decided on at the tattoo shop.
2) Pajamas are probably my favorite thing, especially my Grinch pajamas.
3) I hate odd numbers.
4) I love even numbers.

S: I cannot overstate this: you have such a strong debut! What was the hardest scene to write in More Happy Than Not?
A: Thanks so much! I can’t talk about the hardest scene because it would spoil stuff for those that haven’t read the book, but there were TONS of scenes where I just felt like a monster for being the pen behind the scenes, but know that I ultimately stayed true to Aaron’s story.

S: On the flip side, what was the easiest?
A: The easiest scenes were all the fun scenes between Aaron and his girlfriend Genevieve, and Aaron and his crush Thomas. Tons got trimmed from those scenes because I stayed in them for too long.

S: Your book is not only sexually but also racially diverse. When Aaron Soto popped into your mind, has he always been Puerto Rican or did you decide first that you are going to have a Puerto Rican character?
A: Aaron was always Puerto Rican, even when his last name was Peters. I chose Peters because I was crushing on Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, but that name wasn’t true to his heritage and Aaron being Puerto Rican is more important than me crushing on Andrew Garfield.

S: In an MTV piece, you discussed how growing up in Bronx has informed you in writing Aaron’s story. And, having devoured MHTN, it’s evident how crucial that element played out. But what was your inspiration in terms of books?
A: I was inspired to write More Happy Than Not when I was wondering about if I would’ve changed my sexual orientation as a teenager from homosexual to heterosexual to lead a simpler life. I wouldn’t have to worry about coming out or getting beat up and so many other things. So to explore this nurture versus nature avenue, I looped in the Leteo memory alteration procedure to play with science versus nature.

S: What about the books you wish you had when you’re sixteen?
A: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, duh. I would’ve been openly gay at 16, or at least less resistant to the idea of coming out, and definitely chasing fewer girls. Simon is such a smart and hilarious and TRUE narrator and I’m positive he’s going to inspire comfort with one’s sexuality for this next generation.

S: The Scorpius Hawthorne books and the phrase “you-know-what” are nods to the Harry Potter series, did I get that right? So let’s play Sorting Hat. Which houses will Aaron, Thomas, Genevieve and Collin go to?
A: Ha! The “you-know-what” did NOT come from HP but I can see how you made that connection, and I shouldn’t rule it out as a deeply subconscious decision. It was more of Aaron being too uncomfortable to discuss suicide and suicide attempts head-on. Scorpius Hawthorne is 100% a nod to HP, though.
Aaron is probably Gryffindor because he does show a lot of courage, even in his inactions, because he’s dealing with trials that are arguably greater than his peers. Thomas is Hufflepuff—cool, passive, and hard-working. Genevieve is tough. I want to say Gryffindor, too. To love someone who may not be able to love you back takes a lot of heart, but she’s also an amazing, well-rounded and genuine person (who makes mistakes, too) that might land her in Hufflepuff. She’s got an edge to her but nothing that would propel her to Slytherin, and her choices aren’t always the wisest so let’s scratch out Ravenclaw. (Though I do love when she puts herself before Aaron—THAT was smart.) Collin isn’t brave, isn’t hardworking by choice, and he’s not a genius. He’s not cunning, but he is very morally questionable. SLYTHERIN it is!
(S: I almost started this question with: “The Scorpius Hawthorne books and the phrase “you-know-what” are nods to the Harry Potter series, obviously.” Oh gods. Do I feel better I rewrote it!)

S: In the book, Aaron thought Jean Grey was stronger than Wolverine and he lost to his brother in an Avengers vs Street Fighters match because he chose Captain America instead of Black Widow. Serious question: which of the ladies will win in a duel?
A: Black Widow, I love you, but Jean Grey would dominate this match from high up in the air. Kind of hard to beat someone who can toss you around without physically touching you.

S: If you were to have a Leteo procedure, what particularly embarrassing teenage episode would you want to forget?
A: Haha! Good question. I’d probably forget the embarrassment that comes with telling a joke that doesn’t land to large crowds. I get really red and embarrassed.
(S: I SO can relate!)

S: Now let’s talk about your writing process. You sold your second book (and that’s really awesome, dude; you rock!) even before your debut got published. Tell us about that and how different, or similar, the experience was writing the two novels.
A: This experience has been very different. I wrote More Happy for myself, and I’m writing History under contract. That’s scary and there are now expectations. Tons of pressure I’m not handling very well so ask me again after I turn in that book.

S: We all know writing (and getting published) is not all fun and games. What one-liner advice would you give us aspiring writers?
A: Take a break when you must, but don’t stretch it out for too long or going back to the page will feel impossible.

S: And lastly, what do you hope readers take away from More Happy Than Not?
A: Tons of things, but mainly that sexuality is very complicated, and choices aren’t always the foundation of it.

Thank you, Adam! It was SO MUCH FUN talking to you and I couldn’t agree more with Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda! Your book comes out today (no pun intended) and I’m definitely sure it’ll resonate with a lot of readers, whether coming from Aaron’s, Genevieve’s, Thomas’s or even Collin’s perspective. You really are killing it, Dude!

And while you’re at it, Adam wrote an unabashed piece for Gay YA on never selling your heart out. Check it out!

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The Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto—miracle cure-alls don’t tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. Aaron could never forget how he’s grown up poor, how his friends aren’t there for him, or how his father committed suicide in their one-bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it’s not enough.

Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn’t mind Aaron’s obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn’t mind talking about Aaron’s past. But Aaron’s newfound happiness isn’t welcome on his block. Since he can’t stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is.

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Adam Silvera was born and raised in the Bronx and is tall for no reason. He was a bookseller before shifting to children’s publishing where he worked at a literary development company, a creative writing website for teens, and as a book reviewer of children’s and young adult novels. He lives in New York City.

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