YA authors and frequent collaborators Rachel Cohn and David Levithan teamed up in 2010 for Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, about two teens who fall in love one Christmas season during a scavenger hunt across New York City. The book kicked off a series starring the duo, which continued with The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily (2016), and the newly released Mind the Gap, Dash & Lily. Today marks the debut of the Netflix original series based on the first book, starring Austin Abrams and Midori Francis. We asked Cohn and Levithan to interview each other about expanding the story of Dash and Lily and seeing it adapted to the screen.
Rachel Cohn: Every set of collaborators has a different process that works for them. For us, it’s been to start with a basic premise (in Dash & Lily’s case, a treasure hunt around New York City) and then you write one character’s perspective, and I write the other. We alternate chapters and don’t really plan much about the story or talk about it much as we’re writing. I often say this is both the best and worst part of our collaboration—I have no idea how you will respond to what I send you! Sometimes that means I’m disappointed that you didn’t pick up a bone I threw you in a chapter, but usually it results in me being totally inspired by where you took your next chapter because it’s never where I expected. Are there any bones you’ve thrown me that you were disappointed I didn’t bite? Or moments where you received a chapter in return and were surprised and saw your response in a way you hadn’t anticipated?
David Levithan: Hmmm. I don't think I’ve ever been disappointed by a swerve, because the swerves always take the story to a good spot. Like in Nick & Norah, I definitely thought a lot of the plot would revolve around Norah having to bust into a mailbox to get back the rejection she’d sent in to her college of choice—but soon it became very clear that mailbox was entirely beside the point. And with this new book... without giving away too much, let’s just say that you definitely created more cameos than I would have on my own. How about you—any swerves of mine throw you for a huge loop?
Cohn: There was a scene about midway through Nick & Norah where she takes off in a huff in a taxi. And I of course expected Nick to go running after her in your chapter... and he didn’t. He had a heart-to-heart with his ex, Tris, instead. That frustrated me so much because I wanted Norah to be pursued. It was absolutely the right choice but at the time, I felt such visceral hurt for Norah. I needed to have more faith. Because when Nick eventually finds Norah at Veselka later that night... that was so much better and more satisfying.
Dash has always struck me as the most like you of all the characters we’ve written together. What about him do you think is like you? Is there anything you’ve learned from him? Are there any characters of ours you think are like me?
Levithan: I mean, there are parts of me that Dash certainly shares (his relationship to words, for sure), but at heart I’ll confess that I don't see myself that much in him—or I guess you could say he’s the WASP city kid version of who my teenage self probably wanted to be. (For the record, I’d say I'm most like Bruce the Second.) As far as who you are—well, I think you have Naomi’s brashness and Lily’s sweetness, which would de facto make you Norah, who also has both. Am I correct?
Cohn: I’ll take it! I love Dash for waving his unabashed bookishness flag high, which of course reminds me of you. And his erudite introspection. (His snarliness is his own.) When I first started writing Lily, I personally was in the Dash camp of Christmas disdain. But she really brought me around to appreciating the holidays more and making me want to truly celebrate them, not just passively participate. And I think I share her exterior sunny disposition that has a lot of anxiety quietly simmering underneath, but trying to project optimism and hope.
Levithan: What are your favorite moments from the Netflix series?
Cohn: Lily’s dance to the klezmer music was definitely my favorite moment of the show. Dash making the mochis with the Japanese grannies. And seeing so many of my favorite places to eat! Two Boots! Ferrara! Four & Twenty Blackbirds!
Levithan: I love it when Lily reaches catharsis with the snowmen. And when she dances. And Dash pleading for Lily’s boot. And any time Mark opens his mouth.
Cohn: One of my favorite questions we get asked by readers is: would Nick & Norah like Dash & Lily if they were to meet? What are your thoughts on that?
Levithan: I would love to have a Sam & Ilsa's Last Hurrah-style dinner party with all eight of our main characters, to see what happened. Honestly, I think Sam and Lily would get along the best. (In truth, Lily would be everyone’s favorite.) What do you think?
Cohn: I think Nick & Norah would have grudging appreciation for Dash’s musical taste and low-key disdain for Lily’s optimism that soon would get under their skin and win her over to them. And a dinner party for all our characters where Sam plays the piano and Lily makes the cookies would be a dream and the perfect way to sort it all out.
Cohn: Our new book, Mind the Gap, Dash & Lily, takes place in London, which I know is a favorite haunt of yours. Imagine a brighter future where the pandemic is behind us and we’re traveling the world again... where do you want to go? Where in London are you eager to return to?
Levithan: All the big bookstores—I believe we mentioned them all in the book. Foyles. Waterstones Piccadilly. Daunt. And then I’d go for pizza at Homeslice and see something at the National. (Which I know is a walk—but I’d make that walk!) How about you?
Cohn: We finished writing Mind the Gap in early 2020 and I had booked a quick trip to London to feel it again myself before we finished revising. I had brunch at Claridge’s booked—I was most excited about that, as the hotel plays an important role in the book. The week I was supposed to go, the world closed down. So here’s hoping 2021 will bring me there. I just want to walk and walk and be somewhere other than my own house! And if that place turns out to be Claridge’s... what a wonderful world, indeed.
Mind the Gap, Dash & Lily by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. Knopf, $9.99 paper Nov. ISBN 978-0-593-30153-1
Dash & Lily's Book of Dares (Netflix Series Tie-In Edition) by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. Knopf, $9.99 paper Oct. ISBN 978-0-593-30960-5