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Author & Editor Teams: Writing a Contemporary Novel with Lily Anderson

Ever been curious about editor/author relationships? Lily Anderson, author of The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You, tag-teamed with her editor, Sylvan Creekmore, to answer some burning questions about crafting realistic stories, things to keep in mind when using pop culture references in your writing, and more. And be sure to check back tomorrow for Lily's questions for Sylvan!

the only thing worse than me is you coverSylvan Creekmore (SC): What is the most rewarding part of writing contemporary YA? 

Lily Anderson (LA): 100% the readers. It's a miraculous sort of thing, having your book reach people all over the world. Recently, I got a letter (okay, an email) from a reader in India who said that she loved The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You because she also went to a school for geniuses and it made her feel less alone. How rad is that? All because I sat down and wanted to make mustache jokes for 300 pages. 

SC: What is the most challenging part of writing contemporary YA? 

LA: Trying not to sound like an old fogey! I love pop culture references—first of all because it helps to root the book and the characters in a certain time and place and secondly because it is how I actually talk—but I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what references would make sense for my characters' relative ages. So, in The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You, the main characters are super into Buffy the Vampire Slayer but because they had the on-going comics series and the whole show is on Netflix. 

I think once every manuscript, I think of a really great Space Jam joke and then remember that my target audience wasn't alive when Space Jam came out. (But like, for real, how bonkers is Space Jam? That happened to us as a society!) 

SC: What advice do you have for writers interested in writing contemporary YA? 

LA: Read YA. Read so much YA. Read recent YA and old YA. I have a lot of people tell me that they want to write YA because of some absence in the field, but those are often people who come in referencing Twilight like nothing else has been written in the last 12 years. There's way more to this industry than what gets turned into movies. So, read as much as you can, then start writing. Write your trash books, your derivative stories, your homages to what came before you. Get the garbage out of your system and then start thinking about getting into the business. Writing is a business and you (mostly) train yourself to do it.

SC: Can you describe the writing process?

LA: I start with a kernel of an idea ("Much Ado About Nothing in a high school for geniuses!" "A girl decides to run away using The Importance Of Being Earnest as a guidebook!") and then outline a beginning, middle, and end. I fill in the important bits—plot twists and character reveals and lines of dialogue I don't want to forget. Sometimes, I'll go so far as to write out chapter by chapter outlines if the book is complicated enough to need it. When I'm writing a first draft, I write every single night after dinner and pretty much all day on weekends. When it's done (anywhere from six weeks to nine months later, again, depending on the book), I give it to friends and my agent to read. Based on their notes, I'll implement the necessary changes. My agent reads it again and, if it's in good enough shape, we send it over to you to buy it! (Which is super, hey thanks for buying my books!) Then more notes, more editing, and very long quiet stretches where being a professional writer feels a little bit like a dream. 

SC: What genre of book/music/movies would your readers be surprised to find out you love?

LA: I'm shockingly bro-like, which is probably a surprise considering I write romantic comedies full of feminist rants. One of my all-time favorite movies is the 2006 classic Beerfest. I don't love all stupid frat boy humor, but I do love FX's The League and Old School and Tropic Thunder... 

SC: Weirdest thing you ever put on a sandwich?

LA: My favorite sandwich is something I would never serve to other people but personally eat A LOT, which is an avocado spread made with white vinegar and cumin, sliced tomatoes, anchovies, and a fried egg. It's sloppy and tangy and salty and I can feel people gagging so I'll stop.

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