Lily Anderson first came to my attention with her debut book, The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You, a hilariously witty young adult novel about smart kids at a smart school that used as its substrate Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.
So when the chance came along to read a preview copy of her second book, Not Now Not Ever, I grabbed it. What Shakespearean play would she riff off of this time?
Not Shakespeare, but one of my favorite plays of all time, The Importance Of Being Earnest–combined with summer camp for smart kids.
I loved Not Now Not Ever even more.
This romantic young adult novel features high school age kids the summer before senior year of high school. Elliott has sneakily signed up for a summer camp for smart nerds, given at a college that has a famous science fiction section.
Her mother expects her to stay with family tradition and go into the military; her step-mother, who loves Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, and lawyer father are horrified at the idea and want her to stay close.
So she runs away . . . to summer camp for smart kids, and changes her name to Ever Lawrence. But she discovers to her horror that her incredibly annoying cousin Isaiah, who is not even sixteen, also got in. The two of them pretend to be twins, so that Isaiah won’t get booted out, their decision more of a truce, or mutual blackmail, than friendship.
The camp is run by college-age counselors, and it’s mostly based on mountains of trivia in a lot of subjects, but surprisingly enough, not math. There’s a reason for that, and a mystery, and a beautifully developed romance, and some very sharply realized emotional growing up, which often times smart kids don’t have to do, because they intimidate (or fog) everyone around them.
It’s funny, full of great characters; Anderson understands smart kids and their warts as well as their great qualities. The mystery gets solved, and Elliott has to make some hard decisions.
The terrific voice, the great pace, the heartfelt moments as well as the fun made me reach out when the opportunity came alone to interview the author for her book blog tour previous to the publication of the book in three days.
- What were your formative books as a kid reader?
My dad read me classics as bed time stories, so growing up I adored Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson and Roald Dahl. When I started reading things that weren’t by dead white guys, I fell in love with Sharon Creech, Gail Carson Levine, Gary Soto, Karen Cushman, Virginia Hamilton, and, duh, JK Rowling. I think that BLOOMABILITY by Sharon Creech might be the book that influenced my writing the most.
- What made you decide to riff off Shakespeare’s plays?
I love Shakespeare and I love his work, but retellings tend to stick to the most famous works—Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and maybe a Macbeth. My favorite Shakespeare play is Much Ado About Nothing and I couldn’t find a retelling of it, so I wrote one. Starting to write NOT NOW, NOT EVER was the same process.
I knew I wanted to use a play that I knew very well, but not one that had been done too many times, so I chose Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest.
- Talk about your engagement with Shakespeare. How early did you discover his plays, and how have they shaped your writing?
Shakespeare has always been a part of my life. My dad had an illustrated Complete Works that I remember flipping through when I was really little, examining the pictures.
I bought a copy of Romeo And Juliet out of a Scholastic book order when I was in the fifth grade (I still own that copy). The following year, my youth theater put on a production of Comedy Of Errors where I was taught how to really dissect and appreciate Shakespearean text.
The reason why people find Shakespeare inaccessible is because it’s 400 year old pop culture. In order to relate to the common people, Shakespeare was referencing things they all knew as a shortcut to their emotions.
So, when I’m writing a book I might refer to the Doctor and Rose on the beach or Finn grabbing Rey’s hand the same way Shakespeare referred to characters from Greek mythology or Virgil or Homer.
Those were my questions. She was asked some more general questions that I will include here:
- Who’s your favorite character in NOT NOW, NOT EVER?
Definitely Elliot. She’s so different than me—she’s sporty where I’m slothy and brave where I’m scared and into Sci-Fi where I’m into romance novels and musicals. I loved being in her head for the year I was writing the book.
- What is your writing process? Are you a pantser? (That would be especially interesting given the literary conversation with the plays). Outliner?
I’m an outliner and my outlines get more serious with every book. With NOT NOW, I outlined a three act structure which was basically “Elliot runs away. Elliot is at camp. Camp is really hard.” If I were outlining the same story now, it would have a chapter by chapter breakdown with character beats.
- Please give the elevator pitch for Not Now, Not Ever.
Using The Importance Of Being Earnest as a guide, Elliot Gabaroche runs away from home to compete for a college scholarship.
- Without spoilers, what was your favorite scene to write?
Any scene that happens in the Mo-Lo library. As a librarian, I took particular joy in creating a giant fantastical library of my dreams (and putting some swoon inside).
- What do you most hope that readers take away from your novels (either or both)?
I want all my readers to take away a sense of happiness. NOT NOW, NOT EVER and its predecessor, THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN ME IS YOU, are fluff. Hopefully well crafted, artisanal and organic fluff but fluff nonetheless.
NOT NOW is very much a story about choosing a path, but also realizing that the paths don’t close behind you. I want my readers to have hope for Elliot’s path and their own.
- What is next?
My next book, UNDEAD GIRL GANG, comes out from Penguin Razorbill on May 8, 2018! It’s Veronica Mars meets The Craft in the fat Wiccan Latina book I’ve always wanted to write.
- Do you have a dream cast for if there was ever a movie version of NOT NOW, NOT EVER?
In four or five years, I think that Marsai Martin (Diane from Blackish) and Finn Wolfhard (Mike from Stranger Things) would be a perfect Elliot and Brandon. Wendell Cheeseman, the professor in charge of Camp Onward, was written with Paul Scheer (from my all-time favorite podcast, How Did This Get Made, and TV shows like Fresh Off The Boat and The League) in mind.