Authors David Arnold (Mosquitoland, Kids of Appetite) and Adam Silvera (History is All You Left Me) aren’t just friends in real life anymore: In his next novel, Arnold has written a character who’s a whole lot like him, and one who’s a whole lot like Silvera, bringing their friendship into the fictional story.
The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik, which follows a 16-year-old Bowie fan named Noah Oakman who gets hypnotized and sees the world around him change in utterly strange ways. It’s Arnold’s first brush with surrealism, and, as the publisher’s summary explains, is “a story about all the ways we hurt our friends without knowing it, and all the ways they stick around to save us.”
To introduce us to Noah and his world before the book’s May 22, 2018, release, Arnold and Silvera had an exclusive conversation for EW where they talk about writing, GIFs, their friendship, and the Harry Potter book they both think is the worst of the series. (Ed. note: They’re SO wrong.)
Check out their chat below, as well as EW’s exclusive first look at the novel’s trippy cover.
David Arnold and Adam Silvera
DA: Dear EW readers. My Gchat interview with Adam was scheduled to begin 29 minutes ago. I’m guessing he’s not yet finished his daily, four-hour shower. So.
DA: Anybody see any good movies lately?
DA: How about music? I’m currently listening to Zoe Keating rock the cello like nobody’s business.
DA: Ok, let’s talk politics.
AS: Hi! Sorry. I was absorbed in a Goblet of Fire chapter, thankyouverymuch.
DA: Easily the worst book and movie of the series. (Though I do still love, because HP.)
AS: 100% agree. I’m also not a fan of Quidditch so starting a book with the World Cup was not the way to win me over. Unlike your new book which won me over from the first page. (This is what we in the industry call a “segue.”)
DA: You industry types with your big fancy words. Though I do suppose we should get this little interview going seeing as how you have to hit the road for your new book, They Both Die at the End, out this week! (Spoiler: It’s incredible. My favorite Silvera to date.)
AS: Thanks, yo! And yes, okay, let’s go. It’s safe to say you’re a character-driven writer. Mim of Mosquitoland has a voice I still can’t get out of my head. I desperately want to join the gang in Kids of Appetite. How did Noah first come to you?
DA: From the very beginning, this book has been about change. The initial idea was this: A kid is hypnotized, and when he wakes up, everyone in his life is completely different. Before hypnosis, he feels isolated, like he’s the only one changing while everyone around him is the same. At the expense of his friends, he obsesses over these four strangers: a famous author, a local musician, an old man with a goiter, and a woman in a YouTube video who takes a picture of herself every day for 40 years. He calls them his Strange Fascinations. After hypnosis, these people are the only ones in his life that haven’t changed. So Noah investigates why they’ve remained constant, in hopes he can figure out what’s going on, and maybe get back to before his world turned upside down.
AS: I really love that. It brings an epic scope to this novel. Speaking of epic, this book is your longest yet and it’s also the first time you’re writing outside straight-up contemporary. Did you have any reservations about writing speculative fiction? Both in regards to writing outside your established wheelhouse and if you had the muscle to pull it off? (You super pulled it off.)
DA: Haha, thanks. You know — I’ve never been one of those writers (like you, eye roll) who have a thousand ideas up their sleeve. So when I have an idea, I have to go for it. Given the hypnosis/changes setup of this particular story, I knew there would be a speculative angle. But this book already felt like a bit of a character departure, so it made sense that the style would be different too.
AS: That’s interesting that Noah is a character departure for you since he reads so much like you.
DA: Oh, he’s the most me character I’ve written. I guess by departure, I’m speaking mostly about the experiences of my books’ protagonists until now. In the past, I’ve written characters whose struggles were primarily external: split families, dead parents, new homes, creepy dudes in ponchos, bizarre casts of found families. In Noah, I’ve attempted to encapsulate a few of my own struggles as a teen, and while things were okay externally during those years, internally things were on fire. Which I think is true of so many kids during those years.
AS: That’s deep. I know this is your interview, but enough about you for a minute. I’d like to turn everyone’s attention to the most important part about this novel: me. You’re one of my favorite people in all the land and I’m clearly your Favorite Person Ever because you’ve written our friendship into the novel. I couldn’t wait to see Noah and his friend Alan interact on the page. If they’re just as present in each other’s lives for the good times as they are the rough spots. I guess my question is, why are you so obsessed with me?
DA: Basically, I tried to think of the tallest, most ridiculously attractive person I knew, and then write them into the book. Figured it can’t hurt, you know. Give the people what they want. (Spoiler: It’s you.)
AS: You succeeded. I’m The People and I got what I want.
DA: Seriously though, the scenes with Noah and Alan were dangerously easy to write. I’m considering writing you into all my books from now on.
AS: I sign off on this idea. Okay, fill in the blank: Noah is a love letter to Adam Silvera and __________.
DA: David Bowie. Noah is obsessed with him, and so am I. Everything from the pathological authenticity of the man, to the frail earnestness with which he sang, to a few specific lyrics (turn and face the strange, ch-ch-changes) informed this book. I began writing Noah in 2014, so the story itself took a turn after Bowie’s death in 2016: It shifted from a celebration of what is, to the celebration of what was. And there is nothing subtle about that change.
AS: You schooled me on the greatness that was and is Bowie last September while we did some events together for Kids of Appetite. I love the iconic Bowie detail on your gorgeous cover.
DA: Oh man. Right? Yeah, I adore this cover. I’d asked for something surreal and super colorful (themes in the book, as well), and Theresa Evangelista at Penguin really nailed it. I’m obsessed.
AS: You always have a book on you and you’ll no doubt get featured on Hot Dudes Reading in the near future. Can you speak about some of the more literary influences for Noah?
DA: Hot Dudes Reading is goals, no doubt. And I love Haruki Murakami. Specifically, the way he puts two people in a room and lets them talk for pages. I also love his use of colors, dreams, surrealist and artistic language. For me, it’s a visceral, deeply emotive experience, reading Murakami, and in a way it’s less like encountering a book, more like a painting. So I guess The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik is my attempt to write a painting.
AS: That’s really beautiful, D. It’s almost like you’re a wordsmith or something.
AS: You also speak another language beautifully: GIFs. If you could describe Noah in a single GIF, which one would it be?
DA: Oh my. I do love GIFs. But I’m afraid I love them, like, in a very dad way. Like I’m going to love them long after the world is done using them.
AS: GIFs are here forever, yo. Like YouTube and Harry Potter and me. Fear not.
DA: Okay, I don’t know how to send GIFs through Gchat, so I’ll text them. Like I said. #dad