When the fourth Harry Potter book came out, Adam Silvera took it upon himself to write an eighth volume, even though books five, six, and seven had yet to be published. Harry Potter and the Demise of Hogwarts was, he admits, awful and never made its way online. ‘I even designed the cover in Microsoft Paint!’
Apart from Harry Potter, which he reread over and over, Silvera didn’t actively become a reader until he was nineteen. He was always writing, but moved away from fanfic after graduating high school. He didn’t go to college, instead moving to Florida for a few months to help his cousin with her three kids. On the nineteen-hour Amtrak ride from New York City to Florida, he started work on a fantasy novel, a Harry Potter knockoff that bridged his transition from fan fiction to his own work. Three years later, at twenty-one, he had the idea for More Happy than Not.
More Happy Than Not centres around Aaron Soto in the months after his father’s suicide, in a near-future New York City where the Leteo Institute has discovered how to wipe specific memories from people. Struggling with his grief, Aaron believes he’s found happiness with his girlfriend, Genevieve, until he befriends Thomas. As Aaron tries to understand his feelings, he must also come to terms with important truths he’s denied about himself. Silvera wrote a first draft in two months in 2012, signed with an agent almost a year later, and sold it in December 2013.
As he hadn’t gone to college, he didn’t want to feel like he was wasting away while his friends progressed, so he set a goal of being published by the time he was twenty-five. He’d started working as a bookseller, so had familiarised himself with the publishing industry’s timelines — ‘So I knew that meant I’d have to sign with an agent at twenty-two, twenty-three, and then sell it, realistically, around that same time … and that really got me into gear.’ His determination paid off: More Happy than Not published five days before he turned twenty-five.
Dorothy Parker once said, ‘I don’t like to write, but I love having written.’ Adam Silvera couldn’t be further from that. He loves the process, and lights up just thinking about it, though each book has been a different experience. His first novel was drafted in only two months. He then wrote a first draft of They Both Die at the End, which publishes in September 2017, while waiting for More Happy than Not’s edit letter, but is quick to point out that it significantly changed in the intervening time. But History is All You Left Me, his second published novel, took thirteen months to draft; there were often times he felt he wouldn’t reach the end, despite having completed previous novels. ‘Having suffered through the process before,’ he says, ‘and seeing that what ultimately emerges is a book, I know I’m going to get there.’
History is All You Left Me is an intensely personal novel, based on the end of a previous relationship. When the relationship turned long-distance, Silvera suggested they break up and remain friends, despite still being in love with each other, worried the strain of distance would eventually cause them to resent each other. They did remain friends, and still spoke daily. But two months later, his ex-boyfriend started dating someone new. Silvera was heartbroken, despite the distance and the breakup, he’d assumed they would eventually end up together again. It took him a year to phase out of that mindset. ‘I wanted to write this book to capture those emotions and so many of these things I hadn’t really untangled myself from just yet.’
The real spark came when his ex called him out of the blue one day: he had been surfing with his boyfriend in California, and they had both almost drowned.
Silvera couldn’t help wondering what would have happened if he had. How would he and his ex’s current boyfriend relate to each other? ‘I wanted to explore the dynamic of two people who are really antagonistic towards each other,’ he explains, ‘but have something so important in common — a shared history and love for someone who had just died.’
While More Happy than Not and They Both Die at the End can be considered contemporary novels with a speculative bent, and History is All You Left Me contemporary with dual timelines, Silvera’s novels are linked by common themes of mortality and memories. They Both Die at the End, set in a world where a company called Death-Cast informs people that they are about to begin their final day alive, involves both main characters haunted by memories of loved ones. He considers them a trilogy of standalone books, known for their diversity and their queer characters and romances. When he wrote More Happy Than Not, he was reflecting his own experiences growing up and the people he’d grown up with, instead of the stereotypes he often saw in books and movies.
When More Happy Than Not went out on submission in 2013, editors loved the Leteo memory elements, but a few were less enthusiastic about the gay elements, or asked if Aaron had to be Puerto Rican? (Silvera himself is Puerto Rican.) While Silvera believes the publishing industry’s attitudes have changed since then, he’s also aware the diverse elements that readers love about his novels are also hurdles that prevent him from reaching a larger audience. ‘If I were writing heterosexual stories, I have no doubt that my books would have a wider reach,’ he admits. ‘I’m working with a fraction of the readers because there are still so many people who refuse to pick up a book that has queer content in it.’
But for every person who won’t read queer content, teenagers email him about wanting to come out, or come out to him at literary festivals. He wasn’t prepared for that reaction, but now recognises the power in presenting YA queer narratives. YA fiction’s steady rise during the last decade, and its readership broadening to adults, also means his readers aren’t just teenagers. A sixty-eight-year-old adult recently emailed him to tell him that he’d picked up History is All You Left Me, assuming it was an adult book, but read it on his flight and loved it so much that not only did he want to reread it, but it had made him revise his opinion on YA fiction.
Mental health is also an important part of each of his books. Silvera has written openly about being suicidal and his obsessive compulsive disorder. But he hasn’t consciously tried to include issues in his books. He didn’t realise Matteo, one of the main characters in They Both Die at the End, suffered from anxiety until his editor pointed it out to him. Similarly, Griffin’s OCD in History is All You Left Me wasn’t planned for. After writing it, Silvera realised he’d given Griffin many of his own compulsions, such as needing to walk to the left of whoever he’s with. He’d eventually hopes there will be a shift to novels where a character’s mental health, for example, is simply part of them, and not a central plot issue.
He’s currently working on books #4 and #5, details of which are still under wraps. Since the publication of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, however, it’s safe to say one of them isn’t an eighth Harry Potter book.