Will Grayson, Will Grayson Questions
NOTE: This page is for people who have read Will Grayson, Will Grayson. As such, it contains numerous huge spoilers. If you have not read Will Grayson, Will Grayson, kindly avert your eyes. Questions about the book can be asked here.
Questions about Writing and Inspiration
Q. Which chapters did you write and which did David write?
A. I wrote the odd-numbered chapters and David wrote the even-numbered chapters.
Q. So Tiny Cooper is your creation?
A. That is correct. We like to say that I birthed Tiny Cooper, but he was raised by two dads.
Q. What was the experience of collaborating like?
A. It was great. One of the things I find difficult about writing is that it can be extremely isolating: Ultimately, it’s just you in your head trying to make a story for people who will not see that story (even in the best case scenario) for years, and who may very well never see the story. Collaboration in writing is fun for me because I know that someone will see what I’m working on with each chapter that I finish, and there’s also something very invigorating about working with a writer you admire, and I admire David very much.
Q. When you were working with David Levithan, would you ever argue over the plot?
A. I wouldn’t say we ever argued, but we definitely discussed lots of different possibilities. David has collaborated with lots of other authors, and he’s been an editor for decades, so he knows how to deal with writers, and he did a very good job dealing with me. Mostly, though, we agreed about the overall shape of the novel. His chapters are very much his, and my chapters are very much mine, but we worked really closely together for many years to make the novel work as a thematically unified thing, instead of just being two interconnected stories.
Q. Did you plan the ending or anything?
A. No, we didn’t plan out much in advance. When we decided to try this story with two-guys-with-the-same-name, we picked a name (David picked Will, I picked Grayson), David picked a time of year (late February, early March), and I picked a location where the two guys would meet (Frenchy’s). Other than that, nothing was planned. We did, however, spend more than a year revising the book.
Q. What was it like for you to write about gay characters and gay issues?
A. I didn’t think much about it, to be honest.
Q. Did you and David argue over ideas and characters? Did it frustrate you when he would take the story in a direction you didn’t intend?
A. We both surprised each other pretty regularly, I think, but never unpleasantly so. I’m a very process-oriented writer, and I’m used to deleting like 75-90 percent of my first drafts, so writing Will Grayson was obviously very different, because I couldn’t change things without affecting things in David’s half of the story.
So the revision process was very different, because we had to go through chapter by chapter and talk about how the use of language or plot events or whatever did or did not further our ideas and the reading experience, etc., but it was a really interesting and fun way of revising.
Q. Did you guys agree beforehand for the novel to contain LGBT characters?
A. No, we didn’t agree to it beforehand or even discuss it. We didn’t discuss anything except for names, dates, and a location for them to meet.
But we only wrote one chapter each before meeting to read those chapters aloud to each other, so I knew after I’d written one chapter who David’s will grayson was. (And he knew who Tiny Cooper was, and so on.) We read each chapter out loud to each other as we went, but never exchanged the actual text until after we’d finished a draft of the entire story.
Q. Is the porn shop real?
A. It is.
It is in fact around the corner from where my office was in Chicago when David and I started working on the book. We’d agreed the book would be about two guys with the same name. David chose the date and the first name. I chose the location and the last name.
Q. Did you and David Levithan collaborate on the chapters where the two Wills spoke to each other?
A. We collaborated more on those chapters, but even then, the odd chapters are mine and the even ones David’s. We talked a lot about the actual mechanics of those chapters, and where characters needed to be when and that kind of thing.
But it was a lot of fun to write David’s will, and a lot of fun to see him write mine.
Q. What originally provoked the two of you to write a book together?
A. David and I became friends after he read Looking for Alaska several months before it was published. He wrote me an email; I responded (I was a fan of his books); it went from there.
Months later, he proposed this idea for a book about two boys with the same name. I was honored that a writer of David’s stature would think of me for a collaboration (I was still unpublished at the time) and immediately said yes.
Honestly, I would’ve said yes if he’d told me he wanted to write a collaborative book about the history of monastic cheese-making in Belgium. Fortunately, I found his idea really interesting, as I’ve always been interested in the relationship between the identities we’re given (names, religious background, ethnicity) and the identities we choose (nicknames, music tastes, fashion, and so on).
Q. Why did you/David decide to write will grayson in all lower case?
A. That’s David’s character, so you’d have to ask him. (In the past, when he has been asked, he’s noted that there are several ways you can read it: You can read it as a reflection of will feeling like a lower case person, or you can read it as being about will not differentiating between online communication (which is often all lowercase) and irl communication, or you can read it in other ways.
I think David agrees with me that books belong to their readers, although I don’t want to speak for him.
Q. Which one of you wrote the lyrics for the musical?
A. Both of us, although David wrote most of the good stuff.
Q. Was co-authoring a book easier or harder than writing one on your own?
A. Well, it was easier because I knew exactly who I was writing for: I was writing for David. That feeling of specificity was really liberating. I just wanted to impress David and make him laugh, etc. etc.
All in all, I definitely think it was easier (I mean, David did half the work, except he really did more than half the work, because most of the major plot points fell in his chapters) than writing a book on my own.
Of course, collaborating is challenging, too, particularly during the years of revision when we were trying to mold the book into a single coherent thing.
Q. How much of yours and David’s development of the two Wills was done together as opposed to separate? How much did you know about the other’s character when you were developing yours?
A. Well, when we were doing the initial character development, neither of us knew anything, because I knew absolutely 0 about David’s Will Grayson (except for his name) while writing my first chapter, and David knew absolutely 0 about mine.
But once we read our first chapters to each other, we knew there were enough connections between WG and wg for there to be a book. The challenge was having their problems and pleasures sync up in a way that made for a single, cohesive narrative, but if there hadn’t been some points of connection thanks to pure serendipity, we could never have made it into a book.
Q. What was the specific writing process like?
A. Not sure if I’ve answered this before, but:
I wrote chapter one while David was writing chapter two. Then we met at my apartment in New York City and read our chapters out loud to each other. (Sarah was also listening.)
After the first chapters, we were convinced we could turn the thing into a book. I wrote chapter three while David wrote chapter four, and then we met to read those aloud to each other. This process continued over more than a year. We discussed plot occasionally—especially the stuff that happened with the two Wills together—and we discussed the overall shape of the novel (we wanted it to be shaped like an X), but mostly we just read to each other and then kept going.
I don’t think I actually saw David’s text until the first draft was finished. It really was a story made to be read aloud (the audiobook, incidentally, is fantastic), and although there were years of revision working to make the story cohesive, we had a hell of a lot of fun making it.
Why Did I…
Q. Why did you pick “Grayson” as the last name?
A. Grace in.
Q. Why did the Will Graysons meet in a porn shop?
A. I guess I kind of wanted to force David’s hand here, because I really wanted to write a story that celebrated all different kinds of love, that talked about love between friends and between kids and parents, and that wasn’t just another love story in which the only kind of love was romantic.
And it seemed to me that part of our weird obsession with romantic love is a weird attraction/repulsion to our sexuality, which is inevitably going to be at play any time you write about young homosexual men and women, because there is still so much prejudice against them. (I knew I wanted to write about a friendship between a straight male and a gay male.)
So I thought it would be interesting and resonant to have these two guys have this aggressively unsexual and unromantic encounter in a place (a porn store) we associate so closely with sexuality.
Questions about My Beliefs/Opinions
Q. Do you believe in the morals represented in the book, such as, “You can trust that caring as a rule ends poorly”?
A. Well, it’s worth remembering that Will Grayson says that at the very beginning of the book, and that it is precisely this worldview that gets him into all kinds of trouble and leads to his many miseries, and that only abandoning this rule eventually allows him to have a fulfilling relationship with Tiny.
Q. Do you think that Tiny Dancer would be a great musical if it was staged?
I mean, I am not expert in the field of musical theater, but I think as original high school musicals go, it would kick major ass.
Q. Are you an Elton John fan?
A. I don’t ever think about Elton John one way or the other, really, to be honest with you.
I just thought Tiny Cooper would like Elton John.
Q. Do you believe that when we love someone (not necessarily romantically), we should tell them that explicitly? Why is it hard for us to confess love when it’s not romantic?
A. It’s very interesting to me how frequently romantic partners in the US tend to say, “I love you,” and how infrequently friends and certain family members say it. Like, I do not find it at all hard to tell my wife I love her, but I find it very hard to tell my brother I love him.
Of course, I do love my brother, and I don’t think he ever feels unloved by me or anything.
But for Tiny and Will, there is a need to say it, because I don’t think either of them has really accepted that they love each other until they say it. It’s a hard thing to accept, that your best friend is the most important person in your life, but for many of us, it’s a reality, and one to be celebrated.
Questions about Allusions/References
Q. Why Holland, 1945? Does the song have significance?
A. It’s my favorite Neutral Milk Hotel song. I know you guys are used to long discursive answers about all the symbolic resonances that were in my mind when I wrote this or that, but…yeah. It’s just my favorite.
Q. Why did you use Neutral Milk Hotel?
A. I just really like Neutral Milk Hotel, and I wanted the book to start out with these kids being very excited for something that ends up not happening even after extraordinary obstacles (not owning a car, not having a fake ID) are overcome.
I’m very glad if I’ve introduced anyone to their music. They’re pretty wonderful.
Q. The name Jello Biafra in Will Grayson’s fake ID is a reference to The Dead Kennedys. Are you a Dead Kennedys or punk music fan? Or did you just do research?
A. This will only disappoint you, but no, I’m not really a fan of the DKs. (Bear in mind that my three favorite bands are The Mountain Goats, The Mountain Goats, and my brother.)
But Will Grayson is not very much like me, and I wanted him to be the kind of guy who goes to a lot of shows and listens to music very broadly, and the Jello Biafra reference seemed like a way to establish that this is a young man who can enjoy both Neutral Milk Hotel and the Dead Kennedys.
Q. Was the title “Tiny Dancer” a reference to the song?
Funny story: For like the first 10 drafts, the musical was called “Hold Me Close Now: The Tiny Cooper Story,” and then finally David gently pointed out to me that the lyric was “Hold me CLOSER,” and…yeah. So I changed the title of the musical.
Q. Can you explain how Schroedinger’s famous cat experiment related to Will/Jane and Will/Tiny?
A. Well, the reason Schrodinger’s Cat is so famous is not because it was a terribly important thought experiment (although it is a fairly important one), but because it is A. relatively easy to understand, and B. is metaphorically resonant for a lot of people.
Like, for a lot of people, the whole pleasure of being in a state of unknowing is that as long as you don’t know, all possible outcomes (kinda) feel as if they are happening.
When you press for an outcome (i.e., open the box) you get one outcome, but depending on how much you want the cat to be alive, that risk can feel like it is not worth taking.
Q. Why do you use the word “andbutso” multiple times?
A. It’s a reference to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest meant to indicate that my Will Grayson is fond of that book. Also I just like it as a conjunction.
Q. The characters in the play dress as White Sox players because they play for “the other team.” Are you a Cubs fan?
A. I am a Cubs fan, yeah, but that particular line was just meant to reflect that the school is on the northside of town (in the near north suburbs in fact).
The north side is associated with the Cubs; the south side with the Sox.
Questions about Settings
Q. Why Frenchy’s?
A. Honestly just because it was the porn store across the street from where I worked. I wanted it to be at a porn store because the novel is so much about the weird relationship between love and sex, especially how sexualized love has become the primary way that we love each other. So I wanted to have this aggressively unsexual relationship develop in this aggressively sexual place, I guess.
Questions about Will Grayson
Q. Will Grayson seemed to have asexual qualities. Why wasn’t he?
A. He’s physically attracted to Jane from the very beginning of the book—or at least he drawn to describing her physicality more observantly than any of the other characters.
I certainly wouldn’t think it’s “too much” to have an asexual protagonist in one of my novels. I just wanted sexual love to be one of the kinds of love—but only one—that was celebrated in the book.
Thematically, I suppose this was important to me because I think both David and I wanted to normalize gay sexual encounters by equalizing them with straight sexual encounters.
But mostly I just saw Will’s reluctance to seek romantic entanglements as reflective not as asexuality but by his wrongheaded belief that pain is something avoidable/to be avoided.
Questions about Tiny
Q. What was Tiny Cooper’s real first name? Who gave him the name Tiny?
A. I named him Tiny, and I have no idea what his first name is. Much to the frustration of many readers, I really feel unqualified to speak to anything that is intentionally left ambiguous in the text of the novel. I believe that books belong to their readers, and that extra-textual opinions of authors should not be privileged over other voices.
Q. Tiny seemed to be almost a caricature of a stereotypical gay person. Did you do this on purpose?
A. I wanted Tiny to be entirely agnostic toward the stereotypes. I liked the idea that he really, deep down didn’t care if it happened to be “gay” to like musical theater. He just likes musical theater.
After all, he also doesn’t care that it’s “straight” to play football, and he’s the best player on his school’s football team. He just likes football.
That noted, it was also important for us to have characters like Gary, Nick, and will grayson in the novel to present multiple portraits of gay teens.
Q. Am I wrong to think that the book is less about either Will Grayson and more about Tiny Cooper?
A. Not really. I’ve always been interested in what happens when you give the narrative voice to the sidekick. In a way, WGWG is a novel in which two sidekicks are given narrative voices. (You don’t have to read it that way, of course, but I think you could certainly make the case that Tiny Cooper is the protagonist of the novel.)