Chatting with Lily Anderson + GIVEAWAY! // The Second Annual "Bloggers Love Authors" Event with Books. Inc + NYMBC

Friday, March 23, 2018

Two weekends ago, I got to hang out with Lily Anderson, author of The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You, Not Now, Not Ever, and the upcoming Undead Girl Gang (out on May 8th!) at Books Inc. in Santa Clara! This second annual "Bloggers <3 Authors" event was graciously hosted and organized by NYMBC (Not Your Mother's Book Club) and Christy + Nancy over at Tales of the Ravenous Reader.

With this being my first blogger event AND author interview, I was a little anxious about a lot of things! So I just walked around the back of the bookstore and looked at books (of course) before the event officially started. (I anticipated this would happen, but I'm really glad it didn't stop me from attending. When I'm invited to anything, I tend to go through scenarios in my head and psych myself out ... which usually results in saying no and backing out. But this was different!)

Some things I have to mention before you read through our interview:  1️⃣ There are some bits that are a bit spoilery, so I changed the font color to this dirty rose pink that I normally use for my title links. Please proceed with caution! 2️⃣ I voice-recorded this interview on my phone, so the following is somewhat of a transcription. For ease of flow, I had to add / move / take some things out —it was originally eleven pages!!! 3️⃣ If you're here for the giveaway, you can scroll to the bottom for more details.

Without further ado, here is my conversation with Lily Anderson!


Amaris: The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You and Not Now, Not Ever are both retellings—did you plan to do that, or was it something you fell into?

Lily Anderson: At least with The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You, I definitely planned to do a retelling. When my agent, editor, and I were talking about what a follow-up would look like, they said, "well, we'd love to see something else in that world but it doesn't have to be with those characters." And I was like, "well, if it's not those characters, then it shouldn't also be Shakespeare." I didn't want it to be like, if you go to this one school, every year is a different Shakespeare play. It would seem like a weird curse or something. I still wanted to do a retelling so they'll be connected.

Will you be writing any other retellings in the future?

I think I'm mostly done with retellings. It's out of my system. I don't want to be that girl who just does that forever because I just didn't have a third idea. So for my third idea, I needed to do something completely different.

I actually haven't read Much Ado About Nothing or The Importance of Being Earnest, but I think you did a really great job retelling the stories. I was invested, and even though there were some quotes I didn't fully understand, I was still able to get the full story.

I don't assume anyone has read as many old school plays that I have, I was just a theatre geek in high school so it's still in my brain.

So do you think that's what grew your love for Shakespeare and classics?

Oh definitely. I grew up doing theatre and I did my first Shakespeare play when I was 12 or 13. So part of the way my brain works is just Shakespeare quotes the way you have movie quotes. It's nice to write books and put those in because sometimes people will know them whereas in real life, people would be like, what did you just say? What's a ladybird? (It's from Romeo and Juliet.)


You mentioned this earlier [during the author introductions before we split off into interview pairs], but did anything inspire Undead Girl Gang? Your first two books are retellings, but this is something original.

There's a lot—Undead Girl Gang is all the movies I loved when I was a teenager cause I was that surly punk rock kid. Veronica Mars, both the TV show and the movie, really inspired it, as well as The Craft, Heathers, Death Becomes Her, all these super dark comedies. I haven't read that many books that are dark comedies and I wondered if I could do that because I like writing funny books. But could I write funny books where terrible things happen?

It sounds like all your stories have a mystery element to it, like some secret that keeps you reading. Is that something you chose to incorporate?

I think it's something that mostly happens by accident because I always hit this point. I'm halfway through writing a book where I think it's going to end too easily and I don't want the reader to go, oh, obviously they're just going to fall in love. I don't want anyone to get so bored they put the book down. So there's normally a mystery because you know they're going to get a happily ever after. So you have to have another mystery because the relationship isn't going to be one.

Especially with Not Now, Not Ever, I don't think I anticipated there being a mystery. But then at the end of the book, they're going to have to go home cause it's summer camp. And I was like, if you know they're going to go home, there should be a mystery while they're there to keep you excited about what happens before they go home. Otherwise I think it would just be Elliot and Brandon making out in treehouses for a whole book.

What were the differences and similarities in your writing experiences between your three books?

Writing a retelling and writing an original story is very different. I will take the original story [while writing a retelling] and make my outline based on that. Shakespeare uses a five-act structure, so for The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You, that's what I wrote in. Everything in that book follows the same beats, even if it's not the same thing that's happening.

Not Now, Not Ever was kind of similar, because it's not a real retelling. She (Elliot) knows what's going on. When her cousin shows up [unannounced, at the summer camp where Elliot is starting over as Ever], then she has to say, okay, we have to really lean into the story now. So that's when she really starts following The Importance of Being Earnest.

For Undead Girl Gang, it was very different. I had to talk to my editor and ask where things should happen. I wrote the first draft of Undead Girl Gang in six weeks, which is the fastest I've ever written anything. Not Now, Not Ever took a year and a half, and Undead Girl Gang was just like, HERE IT IS! But I think because there's a lot of me in it — she's fat and I'm fat, she's brown and I'm brown, she's Wiccan and I'm Wiccan — it helped.

Did you approach your editor with the idea [for Undead Girl Gang]?

My editor approached me because they were looking for someone [to write a witch book]. And I was like, "well, I've been a Wiccan since I was eight and I would love to do this! Do you want it to be funny? Sad? What do you need?" It was supposed to be sort of dark and I was like, "if it's allowed to be funny, then I'm your gal." It was nice to be approached, to have someone go, "we've read your other books and we'd love for you to try writing something totally different for us."

It's exciting that you get to (again) draw from your experiences and write that into a book!

Yeah, I never thought I would be able ... and witches are sort of like a cool thing in YA now. We're having a moment, which is great. And I love being a part of that because it's definitely a dream come true. When I was a kid, I discovered Wicca, and Harry Potter came out, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch was on TV, all within the same two years. And if me at nine could see this, she'd lose her mind. I'd be like, "did you know there's people who talk to us about witches all the time now?!"

Or if she knew you were going to be WRITING a book!

Oh yeah. Step one. We get to write books now. That is very cool.


When did you know you wanted to write another book with Brandon as one of the bigger characters?

While I was writing The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You, it would come up. My agent was like, "ooh, he's a really interesting character. Would you ever want to follow him?" And I was like, "oh, he would HATE to be a main character." I could NOT spend that much time in his head, I feel like he's weird and shy. And then the idea to make him the love interest so I wouldn't have to use him narratively was perfect because he's sort of this weird, unknowable character. The more you look at him, the more he pulls back. That'll be interesting after Ben West, a love interest who's like, HELLO, I'M HERE! and never stops talking.

Did anything come up that you didn't plan for? Any surprises?

Elliot was a lot friendlier than I thought she was going to be. I thought she'd be withdrawn because she's hiding her identity and wouldn't want to be close to people but instantly she was like, HELLO I'm Ever and let's make up facts about ourselves. She really went for it and it made it a lot easier to write.

And for Undead Girl Gang, I didn't know I could write a dark book. And I do think it's very funny—I would consider it a comedy but it has horror elements. I'm very squeamish, so writing a horror story is really interesting ... a lot of people have read it and was like, "well, it's scary ... but I could read it." And I was like, "well, I'm scared of blood and guts and knives so it's more creepy than scary."

I LIKE THAT. I'm not a fan of horror ...

Yeah, I can't do horror movies. I'm a big scaredy cat. So it's one that other 'fraidy cats can read.

Did you intend on leaving Elliot's relationship with Isaiah open-ended?

There are a couple of things with every book ... Stephanie Perkins talked about it once online and I follow her voraciously. She'll keep a couple of buzzwords so as she's writing, it'll keep perspective. Like these are the things that are really important and for me, one of those things was I NEVER WANT TO SEE ELLIOT AND ISAIAH HUG.


Yes. It was like, okay. You're still young, so grudging respect for now. But I believe that by the end of college, they'll be cool. It's just step one. They really hated each other, so let's just get to a point where you can be civil so later you can be cool friends.

I like that, because it's not all happy in the end. That's reality.

In general, Not Now, Not Ever is really bittersweet at the ending. Not everyone gets what they want or need. Sometimes things don't get fixed.

I saw on the Internet that you'd cast Finn Wolfhard [from Stranger Things] as Brandon and Marsai Martin [from Black-ish] as Elliot. But I want to know—who would you cast as Leigh [Elliot's roommate at summer camp], and who would play Perla [a mean girl who ends up on Elliot's team]?

Ooh, that is very interesting. For Perla, I'd love to see the girl from Logan, the one who plays X-23. [I just Google'd it and her name is Dafne Keen!] When she grows up, I'd love to see her play Perla. For Leigh, I don't know because it's really hard to find a really light-skinned black girl in Hollywood. Leigh is very much my first "girl like me" where she looks white but she's not and everyone treats her white. So I don't know who I would find for that. I would want some unknown to shave her head and dye it yellow.

I think Leigh is my favorite character. She's so bold and HERSELF. Like the scene where she spilled soda on Brandon and was like, let's play dumb so people won't know how smart I actually am.

Yeah, I love that scene. I thought she was going to be like Luna Lovegood, kind of spacey and sweet, but she wasn't at all. She's a Slytherin, she knows what she wants. And I love that. She's playing this super long con game.

Yeah, and then when she puts it all out there in the end. I LOVED THAT.

Leigh should have her own book.


Okay, you win. I'll call my editor.

Alright, I'm gonna look out for that in two years.

Oh gosh, I gotta write fast!


What is the quirkiest thing you do when you're writing? Do you have any traditions?

Oh my gosh, I'm the worst. Generally if I'm writing, I'm writing at home, on my couch, in the same corner, with a blanket, in pajamas.

That's a tradition!

That is it. I'm really gross in a corner and I have my headphones on but the TV is also on. I have an office in my house that I don't use because if I sit down, it's like when you want to study — it's not going to happen. I always have a really long writing playlist, usually 9-10 hours long that's just music that feels like the book.

You mentioned that you work at an elementary school, and I know you're a librarian — how do you balance writing and working?

It's really separate. People think I can write at work because it's really quiet, but kids come in and out of my room all day. When I write, I don't want to be interrupted. So it has to stay at home because I never want my students to feel like they're in my way. During lunch, I'll answer interview questions or emails with my editor. And then writing is either early in the morning before work (not a lot) or after work between 3 to 5.


What are you currently working on, if you're allowed to share?

It's not sold yet, but right now I'm working on my first serious book. It's a story about two girls who are on the run from the law. And they are part of a subculture, sort of like a subset of punk rock that follows a set of rules living in an anti-feminist government. So it's sort of like a ... not even parallel universe. Maybe a year in the future if things went really bad. But it's really two best friends who are trying to figure out if they're each others' favorite person or if they're in love with each other.

So they're not sure yet.

Exactly. It's two different perspectives, at least right now. It's each of the girls narrating alternate chapters, so you watch them trying to figure out if they're in love with each other as you go.

And after that, I would really like to write another fantasy magical book but I don't know what it's going to be yet. I'm reading a lot of manga and I really want to do a book that has a talking animal in it somewhere. I really want a Luna from Sailor Moon, like a talking cat ... maybe something weird so everything else can be normal? I'm still in the very early planning stages, which is mostly me looking at Pinterest and being like, here are clothes young people wear!


What are you reading right now?

Oh my goodness! I have my Kindle and right now I'm reading The Truth Lies Here by Lindsey Klingele. It's sort of like The X-Files YA that's coming out soon. I got an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of it and it's SO GOOD so far. It's been haunting me. I'm at work and thinking, "I really want to know if those aliens are real."

Do you read at work?

Yeah, I read in front of the kids as much as possible. When they're reading, I read as much as I can cause it's important to show kids that we don't just make them read, we also do it for fun. But I try to read kid books there so I'm on top of what's coming into the library. With this one I was like, "I'm sorry, I'm going to read my book. I need to be reading my book right now."


Okay, I wanted to do a TOP THREE because I love lists.

Yeah, same!

Because the cover of Undead Girl Gang feature enamel pins (Lily: yes, aren't they beautiful? They're making them!), what are—THEY ARE?! Is it going to be part of the pre-order campaign?!

I think it's a pre-order incentive. I know they're giving away some at upcoming events, but we just found out this week they were going to make them. I have all the pins that were taken for the photo. They made them for real and put them on a jacket and took a picture and mailed them to me. But I'm really worried someone's gonna want them. I can't just go around wearing them and be like, look! You can't have 'em.

Sorry, so you have the top three list?

Yes, what would you put on your jacket? The top three that best represent you.

Oh my goodness. My leather jacket has a Deadpool pin, and I would probably have some kind of Shakespeare or something on there. That's pretty me. And either a lipstick, or ... oh, I don't know. What else do I like? My favorite pin is the one the says my name.

And you get to keep it—that's so cool!

I'm so scared to wear it, what if it falls off?

Then people are going to find you ... but they can look you up!

Yeah, I'm one of the million Lily Andersons.


I know you're a big musical theatre fan—what are your top three musicals?

My three favorite musicals are Into the Woods, um ... what do I have tattoos of? Bat Boy: The Musical.

Oh, I haven't heard of that one!

It was off-Broadway. It's super dark but very funny. It's a dark comedy but everybody dies at the end. And the other tattoo I have is of Once on this Island, which is on Broadway right now. But I just discovered She Loves Me, which I am OBSESSED with. I watched it last weekend and have NOT stopped talking about it since, like "DID YOU GUYS KNOW ABOUT THIS MUSICAL FROM 1962?"

They did that one too, I think last year?

Yeah, so that's the one they recorded and I found it on Amazon. It's perfect because it's Shop Around the Corner, which is You've Got Mail but set to music and it's so good.

(The conversation ends here because we have no more time left 😢)


This was an incredible first experience for me! Lily was so kind and friendly ... it really helped with my nerves. Even when I asked a ton of yes/no questions, she cared to explain why and expand on her answers. Thank you so much for your time, Lily!!! ♥️

Giveaway details: I want to gift one of you a *signed* copy of Not Now, Not Ever! All you have to do is visit my Instagram page and follow me (@amarisafloria), "like" the photo (see above) featuring Not Now, Not Ever, and leave a comment on that post telling me what you're currently reading :)

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