Feature image via Just Between Us.
Very famous millennials Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin have co-written the queer YA novel of your dreams. I Hate Everyone But You, which will be released September 19, 2017, is an epistolary novel of emails and texts between two best friends who separate for the first time for the first semester of college. As Dunn and Raskin explain in their announcement, “one of them is struggling with OCD and boys, and one of them is coming out and probably a little too arrogant.” Ava, pursuing screenwriting, and Gen, pursing journalism, navigate school, new freedoms, long distance, queer girl/straight girl friendship, and moving towards new understandings.
Below, Gaby and Allison interview each other about their co-writing process, candy days, the importance of representing characters with mental illnesses and queer and trans characters, what happens when it doesn’t get better in college, where art mirrors life and more.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Gaby: What was your favorite part about writing this book?
Allison: Being done.
Gaby: Being done?! I meant the process, with me by your side!
Allison: Having finished, having written the book.
Gaby: Come on!
Allison: I think my favorite is probably, we were writing it over the course of my birthday in June, and for my birthday I got a bunch of candy from a couple different people because my candy game is strong I guess?! And then we got to eat the candy while we wrote the book, and that was definitely a highlight for me.
Gaby: Yeah, I think one of the best days was the candy day…
Allison: We had multiple candy days! That was so much candy! We had days and days of candy!
Gaby: Do you think the days we were eating candy were when the book is the most manic?
Allison: (laughs) Probably! Is your answer the same, you’d pick the candy?
Gaby: No! My answer was going to be, like, seeing what came out of your mind, working together to think about what is important to us. I also want to say that big fight we had, and then texting you after the fight to be like “we should put this fight in the book,” was very “oh, I see, this is how books get written.” You put what’s going on in your life on the page and then it’s worth it. I was so so sad about fighting but then through it we got to this place where we realized what the conflict of the book should be.
Allison: Yeah that’s very cool. I think it’s unusual for two people to write a book, so that was definitely an interesting thing to manage.
Gaby: But I like that we’re both able to put it all on the page. Like we were so work-focused and so mad but then we were like, oh, this should go in the book.
Allison: Ha, there’s a book because it goes above all else, including our feelings and our relationship with each other.
Gaby: How important was it for you to include OCD and debunk myths about OCD in the book?
Allison: I feel SO weird that you’re interviewing me.
Gaby: I’m baiting you, I know what I think is important to talk about–
Allison: Do you have a journalism background?
Gaby: I do, actually, that’s also in the book, my character [Gen] goes to journalism school.
Allison: Actually, I want to go back and change one of my answers. One of my favorite things about the book is that some [parts] are written in a journalism form, they’re written as articles, and that was very fun for me. I’ve never written like that, and you teaching me how to write like that was very fun and cool, and I saw an element of the book that surprised us and I think will surprise our readers.
Gaby: I loved writing the fake articles, and I loved writing the fake screenplay.
Allison: The freedom to explore formatting was really interesting and fun, and I think not something we saw in our initial idea, but made so much sense once we were doing it.
Gaby: One of the characters is a reporter and one is a screenwriter, so some of the chapters are a script and some are fake articles.
“Everyone is always like ‘college is where it gets better!’ and if it’s not that for you, you’re left disappointed. If you’re having a bad time in college, it’s okay.”
Allison: To circle back around to your question re: discussing OCD in the book, I felt like my college experience was tied up in my mental illness. I don’t know what a normal college experience is, but it was definitely some of the sickest I’ve ever been in my entire life, so for me, I wanted to show even though this sort of thing is glamorized, like “the most fun you’ll ever have in your life is college,” that’s not true and it’s okay that it’s not true.
Gaby: Because everyone is always like “college is where it gets better!” and if it’s not that for you, you’re left disappointed. If you’re having a bad time in college, it’s okay.
Allison: I also had never really gotten to explore things like knowing that you’re being unhealthy but not able to fix it, or being aware that what you’re doing is wrong but also not being able to stop it, and also just the annoying push and pull between psychologists and psychiatrists. I definitely had really good ones, I definitely had really bad ones — you know, I felt very helpless, I felt very helped — and just showing the range of that in the book.
When’d you know that you were queer?
Gaby: You know what, I had no idea, and then I started writing this book and it was like whoa, Gaby! (laughs) [ed note: sarcasm].
It’s interesting that the characters are teenagers, because I went into college not out of the closet but knowing that I wanted to try to date women in college, but I was still quiet about it and weird. Then the first day of college I met a girl who was like, “I’m a lesbian,” and I was like oh my god, are we allowed to just say that? When are the cameras going to come out, this is crazy, she’s going to be arrested, like I didn’t know what you were “allowed” to do or not do?
And then once the handcuffs were off, I was off to the races. I did this, and I think a lot of my friends did this, and it’s explored in the character of Gen, who’s kind of based on me: you’d go off the rails, like oh I have access to everything? So I will do everything. All the drugs? All the alcohol? No parents? No supervision? I have my own home? I can stay out until four in the morning and no one cares? Awesome. You neglect class, you’re just given too much freedom, and all the things that I repressed in high school, time to do it all! You’re in this rush that you don’t need to be in. A couple of my friends dropped out our freshman year, because they just couldn’t handle it. [In the book,] that’s reflected in Gen’s friendship with this character Molly, and it’s very true to the types of people I was running with at the time. And most of those people were queer kids who had been so repressed in high school that they wanted to go full force as soon as they had some freedom.
Allison: Good answer!
Gaby: Thank you so much! What was your favorite book as a teen?
Allison: I remember loving Middlesex. I’ve been obsessed with gender and stuff for forever, since way before I knew you.
Gaby: I know, that’s so fascinating to me! You had written so many scripts about gender…
Allison: I’ve always been fascinated with that stuff, and how you present yourself and how people view you, how exposed you are. It’s interesting because I’ve never questioned my gender, but I think I connect to maybe this feeling of who are you, who do you want to be, how are you representing yourself… I feel like I’m always misrepresenting myself, in a way. […]
Gaby: Seeing as this is for Autostraddle, there is a trans character in the book and two Autostraddle favorites, Kip Reinsmith and Mey Rude, were consultants on the book, just to get that Autostraddle synergy happening, which was awesome because you write this book for so long and it’s like is this any good, and to have other people read it and be like, “Hey, I really enjoyed this!” They both said, “Yeah, this is great!” And I was like, is it great? I don’t even remember what I said.
Allison: We needed to make sure everything was portrayed correctly, and there were a couple of phrases we didn’t realize the context of. There’s no point in writing about stuff if the people you’re writing about are like, fuck you. We wanted to make sure everyone was accurately represented. The thing about the book that’s tricky is that there’s a difference between what Gaby and I know is right and then what the characters think is right.
“Neither of these characters are perfect, they’re not meant to be perfect, a lot of what they say is very flawed, but what unites them is their desire to get better, to grow up, to mature and to be the best versions of themselves.”
Gaby: Yeah, because we’ve had ten years’ more experience than these characters have, so they’re allowed to be pieces of shit sometimes.
Allison: Right, there’s always this fear that [readers will think], “Oh, is that what Gaby and Allison think?” And no, it’s what these characters think. A lot of times, having people voice stuff that’s wrong kind of teaches you what’s wrong more than someone preach to you what is right, and I hope our readers get that that’s what we were doing. Neither of these characters are perfect, they’re not meant to be perfect, a lot of what they say is very flawed, but what unites them is their desire to get better, to grow up, to mature and to be the best versions of themselves.
Gaby: Did you feel like it was important to show two women being friends?
Gaby: COME ON.
Allison: I’m just kidding! I was just saying this yesterday, I have no idea if the scenes are actually great, or the plot is great, but the one thing I feel confident in is that the book actually portrays how two friends talk to each other in a way I haven’t seen. Even just because of the way the book is formatted, being an epistolary novel, we were really able to just dive in and do that. I feel like that’s exciting, this is actually the way we talk, this is the way people talk, this is the way people text — you’re in it, verses a third-person book where you’re maybe a little removed from the actual communication between two characters.
Gaby: The best thing about us, I think, is our dialogue writing, which, the book is mostly dialogue, and then also, I think we’re — just me and you — very funny in our text messages to each other, that are private. We both try to be funny in texts even when it’s not for “sharing.”
Allison: Well, you gotta keep the day going, you know?
Gaby: (laughs) You gotta make life worth living.
Allison: It’s so boring over here in my house alone that I’ve gotta at least text funny things.
Gaby: It was fun to actually put that into something that’s going to get read by other people.
Allison: Who’s your favorite character in the book?
Gaby: I always joke that my favorite character is just the DP (director of photography) on Ava’s short film, just a character who doesn’t talk.
Allison: That’s fine, that’s an okay answer!
Gaby: No no, I actually really love Kent, her editor?
Allison: Oh yeah, that’s maybe my favorite character too!
Gaby: Just because I love the idea of this beta male character who apparently just crushes it with women, like that he’s seen as this nerd and then it turns out that all of the Quidditch ladies love him is so funny to me. I also really ended up liking Alex, the trans character. I like that he’s a little conservative, I find that very interesting, and I like Alex’s commitment to journalism. The drive to write, despite everything, is something very relatable about Alex. That’s how I felt in college, and I really admire that in a character that I created, is that possible?
Allison: You’re able to brag in a way I’ve never seen or witnessed before.
Gaby: (laughs) You have to brag, otherwise people won’t know that it’s good!
Allison: Oh, okay.
“I think there is something interesting and very true to us specifically about the queer girl/straight girl friendship. That’s the most real part of it.”
Gaby: [Regarding how close the main characters parallel who we actually are,] the book is definitely fiction… the characters aren’t us, the characters are made up, and a lot of what they don’t understand is stuff that we do understand, and they move toward understanding in the course of the book. But I think there is something interesting and very true to us specifically about the queer girl/straight girl friendship. That’s the most real part of it, other than details, you know?
Allison: It really shows the work you have to put into a friendship. People always talk about how marriage takes work, relationships take work, but I think friendships take just as much work, and it’s sometimes very easy to let them go. I’m not really friends with anyone I was friends with at that time in my life anymore, at least not in a big way, and it’s an interesting way of rewriting history, like if I had tried harder what could I have done to maintain those relationships, so it’s sort of a tale about that.
Gaby: Yeah, absolutely. It’s not us, but a lot of it is, you know, you write what you know.
Allison: That’s good, I bet people would like that quote.
Gaby: Yeah, I should put that on towels and sell it on Etsy.
Allison: Yeah, you wrote that right? You made it up?
Gaby: Yeah yeah, that was me. Right now, on the spot.
Allison: I also think that the difference is that a lot of people when they’re writing novels, they’re borrowing from their own life, but because they’re novelists people don’t necessarily know what their real life is like, and don’t know when they’re doing that. Where as, for us, because we have the channel and we’ve talked about our own lives, some people will say, “Oh, that’s true.” (laughs) I don’t think that what we did is any different than what any writer does, but there is this sense that our personal lives are more public than other traditional authors’ so that makes the line more blurred, even though I think it’s the same level of fact and fiction as any other fictional book.
Gaby: Yeah, exactly.
I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin will be released September 19, 2017.