May 23, 2016

Nerd Duel • The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You ( + Q&A)

I'm really happy to be a part of the blog tour for The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You, the debut novel from Lily Anderson. The first time I heard of this novel was from a friend of mine at ALA Midwinter, where she mentioned Stephanie Perkins as a comp and Shakespeare as its inspiration - and I knew I had to get my hands on it. I'm so thrilled to be sharing my review with you, as well as a quick Q&A session with the author!

The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You book cover
Inspired by Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You is about Trixie Watson, a self-proclaimed nerd who loves Doctor Who and comics among many nerdy things. For her senior year, she's determined to best her long-time rival, Ben West, on their school's academic ranking list. But when her best friend gets together with Ben's best friend, the two find themselves thrown together time and again - and a tentative truce forms. As the year goes on and their friendship blossoms, they find themselves at a tipping point when Trixie's best friend is expelled from their school. Sides are taken, and the real question is - will Trixie and Ben be on the same one?

If you're getting the impression that this novel is filled with high school shenanigans, you wouldn't be wrong. The story moves at a steady pace, and there are plenty of things packed into it from start to finish. Anderson captures Trixie's high school experience extremely well. She not only does this by filling the days with academics, lunch breaks, after school outings, and school events; she also chronicles the emotional experience of being a teen in high school - the high intensity emotions of heartache and hope, of longing and stress, of happiness and sorrow. It was really quite engaging, and I was definitely invested in discovering the outcome of senior year for Trixie and her pals (who I truly adored, and thought were really fun characters to read about)!

Going into The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You, I was certainly expecting it to be cute - and it delivered on that front. I was treated to an entertaining tale about a unique main character (I've honestly never read anyone quite like her in YA, or at least, no one that I remember) who is going through the ups and downs of high school, particularly when it comes to friendships and romance. If you're in the market for a fun, fast-paced, fluffy contemporary YA read, then you should definitely give this novel a shot. (Oh, if and you were curious, there are definitely Much Ado About Nothing-inspired elements in this story - and not just the names of the characters!)

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin | Publication Date: May 17, 2016
Source: ARC downloaded from NetGalley (Thank you!)

Trixie Watson has two very important goals for senior year: to finally save enough to buy the set of Doctor Who figurines at the local comic books store, and to place third in her class and knock Ben West--and his horrendous new mustache that he spent all summer growing--down to number four.

Trixie will do anything to get her name ranked over Ben's, including give up sleep and comic books--well, maybe not comic books--but definitely sleep. After all, the war of Watson v. West is as vicious as the Doctor v. Daleks and Browncoats v. Alliance combined, and it goes all the way back to the infamous monkey bars incident in the first grade. Over a decade later, it's time to declare a champion once and for all.

The war is Trixie's for the winning, until her best friend starts dating Ben's best friend and the two are unceremoniously dumped together and told to play nice. Finding common ground is odious and tooth-pullingly-painful, but Trixie and Ben's cautious truce slowly transforms into a fandom-based tentative friendship. When Trixie's best friend gets expelled for cheating and Trixie cries foul play, however, they have to choose who to believe and which side they're on--and they might not pick the same side.

Alexa: I'm extremely excited to be welcoming Lily Anderson on the blog today to talk about The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You. Hi Lily! Congratulations on your debut novel! Can you tell us what to expect from your novel in one sentence?

Lily Anderson: Thank you so much for having me! The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You is a YA retelling of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing set in a high school for the gifted, so it's pretty much nerds fighting for academic rank and falling in love.

Alexa: Where did you get the inspiration for The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You? Were there particular songs or photos or stories that inspired things in the book?

Lily Anderson: I’ve always loved a good retelling! Fairy tales, classic literature, plays—I love seeing how authors turn a story on its head. When I started TOTWTMIY, I was just looking for something fun to write for my own edification. It’d been a couple of years since I’d written YA and I wanted to give it another shot. Much Ado About Nothing is, without a doubt, my favorite play. I started wondering how the Beatrice and Benedick enemies-to-lovers relationship would look with teens. As far as musical inspiration, I made a super long TOTWTMIY writing playlist of songs that might not lyrically fit the book, but fit the overall tone of what I was going after. If you listen to Mumford and Sons, Garfunkel and Oats, and the Scott Pilgrim soundtrack back-to-back you’ll get the vibe I wanted for the book!

Lily Anderson author photo
photo credit: Sarah Lambert
Alexa: Another thing I find so fascinating about your novel is the title. Was this always the title for it? Or was it something you came up with later on?

Lily Anderson: Actually, the book was sold under its original title The Merry War, which was what I’d called the Word .doc is was written in. It’s a quote from Much Ado, “There is a kind of merry war betwixt Signor Benedick and her…” It wasn’t a catchy title, by any means, but it summarized what I thought the focus of the story was. The quote is now the epigraph of the book. THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN ME IS YOU was the last of a list of replacement titles I came up with at my editor’s request for something, um, just plain better than the original. I offered both THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN ME IS YOU and THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN YOU IS ME, both kind of capturing the essence of how Trixie and Ben feel about each other at different points of the book.

Alexa: I love that you originally called it The Merry War! But this new title is pretty great too, though it is a mouthful. Okay, now let's talk about writing. How long have you been writing? Did you always know you wanted to write and publish a novel? Any writing quirks or advice to share?

Lily Anderson:  I won a county-wide poetry contest when I was in the first grade, so I’d say that I’ve been writing since I literally learned how to write sentences. But it was always something that I did to entertain myself or my friends. I wrote a lot of fan fiction and co-wrote original stories with people who were much stronger writers than me. I just liked building characters and creating their worlds. If you’ve read TOTWTMIY, you know that I’m a dialogue junkie. I love figuring out the little quirks of how people talk, their shared slang, their thought processes.

But I really didn’t think about trying to get published until college. I spent a couple of years working on the same YA novel and once I’d finished it and cleaned it up and shared it with people who all seemed to enjoy it, I thought, “You know, I could have more people read this.” So, I looked into getting a literary agent. And got rejected. Tons. So I wrote more and shared more with my friends and got feedback from people and thickened my skin and tried again and got rejected again. In fact, it was during the rejections for my second book that I started writing TOTWTMIY.

I say it a lot now, but it’s hard to see when you first start out what a business publishing is. You finish a book and you love it and you want to share it with the world, so you think, “I should publish this!” But it’s a career. Writing is so solitary—it’s you and the page. And then you go pro and you’re suddenly on a team. It’s you and your literary agent and then the two of you and your editor and your marketing team and the art department and sales and, and, and… You have to be able to adjust quickly. You have to take all of the notes from all of the people and be grateful rather than resentful. You have to trust that you’re in good hands. And that starts with giving yourself the best team.

Don’t submit to agents you don’t want to work with. Don’t take contracts from editors who don’t get your book. It’s okay to say no and hold out for what makes you happy and comfortable.

It’s okay to hold out for your best work, too. If I’d published my first novel, I would be mortified to be held accountable for the sloppy prose and the endless page length.

Alexa: This is such great advice, and I'm definitely taking it to heart! Okay, are you working on anything new? If so, can you tell us anything about it?

Lily Anderson: I can’t say too, too much about what I’m working on now, but I can say that I have a YA mystery set in a small town and another book about nerdy geniuses.

Alexa: Ooh, I am very intrigued! Can't wait to learn more about it. Okay, here's one last question, because I couldn't resist asking a Doctor Who-related one. Who is your favorite Doctor and favorite companion from Doctor Who?

Lily Anderson: Oh, I'm the Doctor and Donna all the way. (Alexa's Note: LOVE!) But I'm already excited to see how Twelve and Bill fare in this new season! (Alexa's Note: I am too!)

Thank you so much Lily for being on the blog today! I loved hearing more about your creative process, and I definitely enjoyed your writing advice - and I'm sure my readers will too.


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