Rachel Cohn and David Levithan Discuss The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily Transcript
David: Alright, so one of the best things about New York City is when you know someone who works somewhere and he can get you a discount. So Dash is looking for a Christmas tree and luckily his best friend Boomer is working at a Christmas tree bodega. So here, I will be playing Dash and Rachel’s bravely decided to play Boomer.
“I need a tree for Lily. A really special tree.”
“You’re getting Lily a tree?”
“Yup. As a present.”
“I love that! Where are you getting it?”
“I was thinking here?”
“Oh yeah! Good idea!”
He started to look around, and as he did, he muttered something that sounded suspiciously like Oscar Oscar Oscar.
“Is Oscar one of your co-workers?” I asked.
“Do trees count as co-workers? I mean, they are with me all day . . . and we have the most interesting conversations . . .”
“Oscar is one of the trees?”
“He’s the perfect tree.”
“Do all the trees have names?”
“Only the ones that share them with me. I mean, you can’t just ask. That would be invasive.”
He shoved aside at least a dozen trees to get to Oscar. And when he pulled Oscar out, he – it – looked like any other tree to me.
“This is it?” I asked.
“Wait for it, wait for it . . .”
Boomer lugged the tree away from its cohorts, toward the curb. The tree was easily a few feet taller than he was, but he carried it like it was no heavier than a magic wand. With a strange delicacy, he set it into a tree stand, and as soon as it was settled in, something happened – Oscar opened his arms and beckoned me under the streetlamp light.
Boomer was right. This was the tree.
What is your writing process?
David: Our writing process is that we alternate chapters. So we come up with a premise, come up with names for the characters, sometimes named after cats, and one of us will start just writing chapter one, we won’t talk about it, we’ll email it to the other, the other one will respond and we’ll go back and forth without really talking about it. And then whichever of us started it does not end it, the other person does.
Rachel: Yeah and one of the reasons I think it works well is that we have an implicit trust with eachother. We trust that when we send that chapter off to that next person that even though it’s not what I would’ve chosen in the next chapter that he does, I understand it’s the right choice. We feel the same about our characters. Which is the hard thing in collaboration, I think that’s when it goes awry that’s why, the collaborators don’t share that trust. And they secondguess things. So even if he goes off, or I go off in a direction he didn’t anticipate or necessarily want it to go in, we trust that ‘cool, that’s what’s going to happen’.
David: Yeah, we just roll with it.
Rachel: So I’m going to read a part, and one of the things that happens in this book is that Lily keeps removing herself from difficult situations and going off wandering, and this is one of those scenes where that happens.
You’re missing again, said the text from my brother.
I didn’t answer.
I’m staying at Benny’s tonight. We’re planning our new apartment and I’m not going out searching for you.
I still didn’t answer.
I see the dot dot dot. I know you see this message.
“Stalker Brother,” a new movie-by-text, streaming now on iMessage.
This is getting annoying, Lily Bear. You’re crossing that fine line from adorable to obnoxious.
Said by every adult to every teenager, ever.
My brother was ready to move into his own apartment. He was one of them now.
I rolled my eyes and turned off my phone.
I wasn’t missing.
I was lost.
Were there any big surprises in the plot for you?
Rachel: I did not know that he had such a Santa-fetish. So that was a big surprise for me.
David: You haven’t seen those photos on the internet?
Rachel: Excuse me while I google…
David: No, I think it was interesting again to see the characters evolving. And so we’d written one book with them in one stage of life, and then seeing them in another, even the secondary characters, they had to be a little more mature and a little different, just further along in their life. And so you get glimpses of that, and obviously with Dash and Lily. I thought one of the most fun parts of writing it was when one of us would just take one of the secondary characters, and even if it was just a line or two, ‘Oh is that what’s happening with that! Oh okay!’ So that was really cool, to be surprised by that as well.
David: I knew the last part of the plan would be the most challenging, but I was wrong in diagnosing what the challenges would actually be. I had thought santa would be the problem, but it ended up being the elf.
How do you know you have reached the end of the story?
Rachel: When we’re about 2/3 of the way through we usually have a discussion. We don’t normally talk about the book much as we go through, but usually around the 2/3 mark we say ‘how many chapters do you think are left?’ And it’s usually more for him, because I’m lazy and I want to be done.
David: Right, and also we tend to write books – we make it easier for ourselves because there’s usually a period of time. In the first Dash and Lily it’s like ‘well it’s Christmas to New Year’ so when New Year was coming up it was like ‘oh I guess the book is ending’. Nick and Norah’s Playlist, it all takes place in a night, it’s like ‘oh the sun is rising, I guess the book is almost over’. So there are those stones along the way, those markers we can use. I think just instinctively we get each other’s rhythms so well that we usually know exactly when in the story we are.
David: You have to imagine that I’m in a Santa outfit.
Rachel: I always do when we’re writing.
David: Okay, so it’s everybody’s fantasy. Alright and I am Dash…
Rachel: I’ll be playing the role of Lily
“You’re dressed as Santa”
“There’s no getting one past you, is there?”
“Let’s just say this is not a situation that would ever have happened if I’d never met you.”
Lily took out her phone and grinned. “I’m sorry, but I have to do this.”
She took a picture. But I was really the one who wanted to have a picture – not of me in a Santa suit, but of her seeing me in a Santa suit. She looked like someone who believed I was real.
“Happy Anniversary,” I told her, repeating the two words I’d written in her card.
“Now come here, you. We only have a short time before another kid gets around the guard.”
“I’m not sitting on your lap.”