New York Times bestselling authors (and very funny buddies) Allison Raskin and Gaby Dunn are back at it again with Please Send Help, the sequel to I Hate Everyone But You! Ava and Gen’s new round of YA hijinks hits bookshelves today, so I got caught up over the phone with Raskin and Dunn to find out all about what went into bringing the latest pages to life. We also talked about whether or not it’s a good idea to combine business and friendship, if we can expect a third book from the duo and more, so I strongly invite you to internet-eavesdrop on our full conversation below! (AND grab a copy of the book, duh!) You should also make sure to catch them on tour, which includes a stop in NYC at Strand Bookstore Thursday (7.18) for Please Send Help, and a stop in DC at DC Improv on Sunday (7.21) for a live taping of the pair’s podcast, Just Between Us! HERE WE GO:
So how was the process different this go-round compared to what it was with I Hate Everyone But You?
Allison Raskin: I think we had a better understanding of what the plot was going to be going into it, and this one we sort of found more as we went along. We knew the big topics we wanted to hit, but it’s a messier time in your life when you’re on your first job.There’s not as much structure as there is to college, so that sort of played itself into the book as well, in the writing of the book.
Gaby Dunn: We also rented an office, because we’re fancy. We sat across from each other in a tiny little office space.
Does that dynamic feel good to you, then? Because for me, I really struggle to get work done around another person, especially if we’re working on the same thing. How does working together look for you? Do you divide up the work? Like, I’d assume you each have your characters that you write for?
GD: Not so much, actually. We have the Google Doc open in front of both of us, and we’re working on all of it at the same time. We’re not divided into characters, we’re both looking at it in real time as it’s happening.
Okay, that’s interesting!
GD: Yeah. So I think Allison has a good grasp on what I’m like, and I think we also have talked to each other so much about our past experiences and what we want to draw from, and what kind of stuff we cover, like Allison said. We wanted Gen to be in Florida, to be sort of out of her element; I’m from Florida, so I know what that’s like, and how it is to be queer in a place where there’s not a lot of other queer people. Allison’s from New York, so she’s familiar with New York, and she knows about dating guys who suck. So it’s not as divided as you might think, because we know each other really well, and we’re not splitting up who’s doing each person. I can see how people might think that, but we’re not doing that.
Yeah, that’s super interesting, because that’s totally what I had assumed. Now, you’ve already mentioned that you pull from real life a little bit in your writing, but where do you draw the line on that in terms of what you’re putting in from your own experience as opposed to things that are a little bit more invented?
AR: I think the first book pulled a lot more from our personal lives, and then the second book is a lot more fiction. You know, I went to film school, but I never interned for a female late-night anchor because that doesn’t exist. [Laughs]
GD: [Laughs] Yeah, we invented a fantasy world where there’s a female late-night host.
AR: But I think we’re pulling a lot from our emotional experience, feelings of “What the fuck are we doing?”, but the specifics of this plot are much more fictionalized.
Speaking of specifics, there’s a part where you reference one of the characters (Coralee) using lard as lip gloss, and I’m sorry I got hung up on this, but is that a real thing?! Do people do that?!
GD: No, I think we made that up, but I know people use it on their skin. I mean, yeah, there’s just like…I mean, that character, too…I think we wanted to show their might be some hopelessness about the South, and then with Lyle and Beau it comes back around to “Actually, you don’t need to be judgmental about the people in the South. There are good people that are going to surprise you.” I think that’s a thing I really wanted to get across in terms of my real life in Florida. And also there’s the queer experience of hooking up with straight girls. I think that’s something that…you know, you think it’s cool, but then it’s pretty devastating. [Laughs]
For sure. Well, speaking of Florida and growing up there, maybe you can speak to this more, Gaby, but I was talking to someone at a Pride party the other day about how he lives in LA and feels like the constant nice weather really fucks with his head when it comes to mental health and depression. Since I know you both have been outspoken about mental health, do either of you personally find any truth to that?
GD: Do you feel better that it’s nice outside, Allison?
AR: Yeah, it’s great!
GD: When I lived in New York I was way more depressed, because you go outside and everything’s a struggle, and it’s cold, and it sucks. But I’ve heard people say the opposite, where they say that they feel like they need to be somewhere difficult so their depression is justified, and that LA is mocking them. I needed to be someplace where there was sunshine. I left Florida and was like, “I’m never coming back here! Fuck this place!” And now, as a 31-year-old, if I go back and visit I’m like, “The beach is so nice! Why did I hate it?!” But I think I just hated being closeted. I don’t think that was Florida’s fault, the state itself.
I do love that you bring all of that into the plot with this book, too. What sort of response have you gotten that’s been particularly striking to you from your youth audience? I mean, when I was growing up, none of this stuff existed! I was like, googling fanfic for Once and Again, that TV show where Evan Rachel Wood and Mischa Barton were in love with each other.
GD: Allison, I know you got a lot of responses about Ava’s OCD, right?
AR: I guess so. It’s hard to remember what were responses to the book versus responses to the podcast versus responses to the YouTube channel, because we talk about a lot of the same topics. But I think in general, people always respond to the friendship at the core of it. You know, finding someone where you can be your true self with them and they don’t reject that, and you feel safe sharing that part of yourself. I think people have always responded strongly to that.
GD: The unconditional love, yeah.
Right, which you guys definitely seem to have, so I’ll ask if you have any advice for friends who want to work together? Or do you feel that you just gel so well that it’s not necessarily the norm? Because I think it does get tricky, combining business and friendship.
GD: Yeah, we wouldn’t recommend it.
AR: It’s terrible!
GD: I don’t love it!
AR: [Laughs] I mean, I love it when it’s done and the book is out, but the process itself is not great.
GD: I think we had one of our biggest arguments writing the first one, and obviously you can see that Ava and Gen are very different people, and the friendship exists almost in spite of how we are. I don’t like when it’s these duos that work together and they’re like, “Well, we never disagree! We never argue!” I mean, that doesn’t make any sense. Allison and I come from extremely different backgrounds, and different priorities and all this stuff, but we have similar senses of humor, which helps a lot. And we have a genuine affection for each other. But we often think about what it’d be like if we didn’t work together, like what our friendship would be. We wouldn’t have had half the fights we’ve had. So when working with a friend, you have to make sure the friendship works. I mean, our friendship works, but now that it’s on the business level…you just fight about stuff you’d never fight about if you were just buddies.
Absolutely. And speaking of fighting about stuff, I did want to bring up social media, home of the internet trolls. Obviously you’re both people of the internet, so at a certain point your presence on social platforms is inevitable. And Gaby, we talked about this a little bit in our last interview, but how do you both find a healthy balance between being online, because it’s a good tool to market yourselves, but at the same time, social media kind of sucks sometimes. Have you found an ideal balance?
AR: No. [Laughs] I think that’s something we’re always working towards, and I’m definitely a lot less active than I used to be on social media. But I also have less of a following on social media than I used to have, so it’s a tricky thing. I think the biggest thing you can do is not tie your value to your social media presence, like your value as a person, and just think of it more as something you have to do for work. Which, you know, is harder than you think, because you get addicted to the likes, and you’re freaking out about “What if not enough people like this post and then people don’t come to the tour and then it’s embarrassing and we lose money…” You know, it’s all tied in, but I think you have to just take a step back and be like, “This is not all of who I am, and this doesn’t reflect my value as a person.”
GD: Yeah. And I’ve started more and more being like, “I just want to see what my friends are doing.” I don’t know, I’ve just gone away from the discourse, and I don’t care to get involved in the thing of the day, which I think would get you more likes and more followers. It’s like, “What, so we all just jump on this thing for a day and then forget about it?” Obviously I retweet a lot of political stuff, which is important in information giving, but if it’s just…I don’t know, if we’re live-tweeting the Oscars or something, I’m just less interested in that. I mostly just want to see what my friends are doing. Which is I guess what it was in the beginning anyway!
Back to your roots! Alright, you just mentioned tour, and I do want to talk about your DC and NYC dates. Those shows will be a little different to one another, right? One is more book-focused and the other is more podcast-focused?
AR: The first four stops are primarily the book, and those are at bookstores where we’ll be doing readings and talking about the book. The last four stops are a live recording of our podcast, so that’s more of a live show where we’ll have a guest in each city, and it’ll be an hour-long, set up the way the podcast is with all the segments. Some of those shows will be released as episodes later on. So the tour is kind of divided into those two different halves.
And I know Sugar isn’t coming with you, but I wish she was!
AR: Ugh, me too. More than anything. [Laughs]
GD: Sugar has flown before. I’ve never taken my dog, Beans, on an airplane. He’s small but he’s fat, so if I was that person…I was talking to someone the other day and said, “I wish I was rich enough to be that person who brings their dog onboard.”
AR: It doesn’t cost me any money!
Do Sugar and Beans get along?
GD: Well, here’s the thing. Beans loves Sugar. Beans is so unaware. He’s like, “My best friend! Sugar! I love Sugar! Best friends! Best friends!” And Sugar is like, “Get the fuck away from me.” And Beans is like, “My best friend is so silly!”
GD: Yeah, he’s pretty stupid. It’s great.
AR: To be fair, Sugar treats me like that a lot, too.
[Laughs] Alright, lastly, do you think you’ll do a third book?
GD: I want to do one every four years until they’re dead.
GD: You know what I mean? Them aging every four years of their lives until they’re in a nursing home.
I fully support this.
AR: Yeah, I would think the next book would be one of them having a kid and one of them not, because that’s sort of the next stage in life where things get really complicated between friends, and something we probably want to explore.
GD: Even though neither of us has a kid!
AR: Yeah, but who knows? You could pop one out any day now! Immaculate conception!
GD: Yeah, I was gonna say…I haven’t seen a dick in so long, how would I even have a baby?
AR: That’s not true!
GD: Honestly, if I was pregnant, that would be a miracle for queer people everywhere. And I guess I’d have to be, like…a deity.
Yeah, I’m also 31 and some of my friends are starting to have kids, and it truly does shift the dynamic so much.
GD: Allison, I feel like more of your friends have kids.
AR: Mmm…not really. I mean, my sister has kids, so our relationship changed a lot, but I think I’ve mainly seen how much it changes your life up close through her.
GD: That’d be cool to explore, yeah. But yeah, we’d love to do more. Just make it a series like The Baby-Sitters Club.