Today I’m so excited to talk with my Soho Press ‘bro’ Adam Silvera, about his about to release debut YA novel, MORE HAPPY THAN NOT, which has been racking up starred reviews and getting so much (well-deserved) buzz and press! Seriously, this book! And Adam—who I haven’t met in person yet— is pretty awesome, too. (Full disclosure: The thing about writing books for Soho Press is that everyone is pretty damn awesome. It’s just this crazy hive of amazing creativity!)
Anyway, here’s the synopsis from the Soho Press website:
Part Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, part Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Adam Silvera’s extraordinary debut novel offers a unique confrontation of race, class and sexuality during one charged near-future summer in the Bronx.
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.
I know, right? You totally need to read this book.
(okay, you totally need to read all my books, too, but today it's about ADAM!)
Here's what Adam Silvera had to say when we sat down laptop to laptop:
Joy: I know that at least part of the setting for MORE HAPPY is the Bronx you grew up in. What did you consider as you worked to get that setting authentically on the page? Were there places (and I know there’s a slight speculative fiction aspect to the novel) where you worked harder to fictionalize? Did you learn anything new about the familiar places as you re-created them as a setting for your characters?
Adam: Great question! One hundred percent of MORE HAPPY THAN NOT takes place in the Bronx. The original draft divided the book between the Bronx and Manhattan where Aaron (the narrator) worked (previously a bookstore, now a bodega on his block) but it created tons of complications with the distance between the primary settings. I was also living in Texas when I wrote the first draft and it was the first time I spent that much time away from the Bronx (and New York) and the differences between the states helped me realize how beautiful—and scary, admittedly—the Bronx is, and I wanted the book to double as a love letter to my home borough. That said, the book isn’t a mirror to the Bronx I grew up in. I took some liberties with parks, hospitals, post offices, etc. because I wanted this book to be Aaron’s story, not mine. There’s already enough in me in Aaron’s heart that I didn’t need to make this a full-on memoir.
Joy: You recently mentioned that you were excited that the pub date had been moved back a few weeks so that you would achieve your goal of publishing a book by the time you turned 25! How long have you been writing? What inspired you to set that goal? Did your work at Books of Wonder and Paper Lantern have an influence on those goals?
Adam: Getting the pub date moved on was such a funny miracle—totally unimportant but still really cool. I probably started writing when I was ten or eleven. Harry Potter fan-fiction, of course. I was writing a big assault against Hogwarts because I loved writing action. But I became really serious about writing when I was fifteen or sixteen, publishing fan-fiction online for a very awesome community of readers that were demanding of more chapters so they kept me fueled to keep going and going. The goal itself was born out of 18-Year-Old Adam being super ambitious for no reason, but I took it very seriously when I was 21 or 22 because I wanted to put my all into my dream, especially since I never went to college and assumed that meant I would have a harder time getting published. So I worked extra, extra hard.
Joy: Who/what have been your biggest influences as a writer/teller of stories?
Adam: I’m of the Harry Potter generation so J.K. Rowling, obviously. Lauren Oliver taught me tons about discipline, Corey Whaley taught me how to tell a complete story within 200-something pages, and Benjamin Alire Saenz taught me to tell an honest story, even if it doesn’t have the “commercial value” writers always fear publishers are exclusively seeking.
Joy: You and I share an editor at Soho Press, the very awesome Daniel Ehrenhaft. Can you dish a little about the editorial process as you experienced it, bringing this novel from its incipient stages to the awesome debut that it is about to be?
Adam: Dan and I clicked instantly. My first phone call with him led to another phone call with my agent Brooks where I was like, “This is our guy.” Dan understood the vision of the book where other editors hadn’t. Dan only wanted to enhance what I produced and never strip away the essence. Dan’s double life as an author too has been especially valuable because he (and Brooks, actually) taught me to be more conscious of Adam Voice vs. Aaron Voice. My author voice would sometimes invade my main character’s narrating and I think I’ve got the hang of it now. We’ll see. I also super love Dan because when we were entering copyedits I realized how to fix something that had been bothering me about Act 3 and he delayed production to give me another six weeks to get my sh*t together and I’m now fully happy with the final product, and not just more happy than not with it. :)
Joy: MORE HAPPY THAN NOT has received an enormous amount of (well deserved!) early pre-pub accolades. This can be both thrilling and overwhelming for a debut author. How do you keep even and focused amidst the hype? (Cause you seem to be handling it all very well!)
Adam: I think I was doing way better a couple months ago because I had two new manuscripts keeping me busy, but I just turned in one to my agent a couple weeks ago and the other is due in October. Keeping up with social media a month before debuting admittedly is very demanding, but there are worst problems to have than chatting with people who are excited about something you’ve created. I am definitely feeling pressures with my future books though because MORE HAPPY is such a personal book and I don’t think I can ever recreate that experience or fall in love with another book of mine the way I have with that book. But I guess that’s not any different than love, where sometimes you have to move on and end up surprising yourself with your capabilities to love again.
Joy: Once a novel is out in the world, it becomes the property of the readers and we authors have to let go. But as the story’s creator, what do you hope readers bring away from the novel? Why this novel at this moment in time? Why did this become your debut, the story you had to write?
Adam: The book’s genesis came from me wondering about nature versus nurture in regards to homosexuality, and the way people often mistaken sexuality as a choice. And I thought about what life would look like if you could choose your sexuality, specifically, if a teenager who’s gay could choose to be straight. Would he do it? And what needed to happen in his life to lead to such a decision. I paired this with some emotional beats pulled from my relationship with the first guy I fell in love with, and came out for. I originally wanted to write a dystopian trilogy—that’s what was hot!—but I read some books that told very contained, grounded stories in a single volume that impressed me and I knew that’s what I wanted to do, too. Tell a full and honest story in one book, even if my narrator was dealing with emotional trials that don’t always necessarily excite a publisher or Hollywood.
Joy: What’s coming next for Adam Silvera?
Adam: My second novel HISTORY IS ALL YOU LEFT ME is tentatively scheduled for fall of 2016. It’s about grief and OCD and love and lies, and it’s kicking my ass emotionally and psychologically and is pushing me as a writer, and I hope I level up with each book.
For more about MORE HAPPY THAN NOT, go to the Soho Press website. http://sohopress.com/books/more-happy-than-not/
And for more about Adam Silvera, go to: http://www.adamsilvera.com