Welcome to Writer’s Block Party, author spotlight edition! We are so excited to have Lily Anderson with us, talking about her upcoming release, Undead Girl Gang, out in the world on May 8. Thanks for joining us, Lily!
We’re so happy to have you featured on the blog today, Lily! To start off, could you give us a quick pitch of UNDEAD GIRL GANG?
Hi! I’m delighted to be here. UNDEAD GIRL GANG is about Mila Flores, a teen Wiccan, who decides to bring her best friend back from the dead so they can solve her murder, but accidentally brings back two other murdered girls as well. Hijinks—and revenge—ensue.
One of our favorite things about your upcoming novel is its positive portrayal of a practicing teen Wiccan. Could you talk more about where the inspiration from Mila, your main character, comes from, and why you decided to tell her story?
Wicca is the only religion I’ve ever practiced, outside of being raised in a family that gathers for Christmas and sometimes Easter. I discovered Wicca through Silver Ravenwolf’s books when I was in elementary school. And while I’m certainly a lazy witch, I’ve always considered myself pagan. As a reader, however, I’ve found few books that feature Wiccan characters, particularly as main characters. I knew that if I were ever to write a book about magic, that I would want to incorporate Wicca to point out what it is fantasy (giant spells that bring people back from the dead) and what is Wicca (lighting candles anointed in oil).
Your book features a squad of female characters who go from unlikely allies to friends. How did you flesh out each member of the girl gang–undead and living–and develop their group dynamic?
The girl gang is really two different sets of best friends—Riley and Mila, June and Dayton—that have been forced together to work as a group. I wanted to examine how these two seemingly very different sets of girls—popular and not, Wiccan and Christian, dead and alive—have a similar friendship dynamic. June and Riley, although they’ve been at odds with each other their whole lives, are very alike. They’re leaders and quick to judge and late to forgive. Mila and Dayton really represent more of the softness and silliness—although I think Mila would be surprised to hear me refer to her as soft! For each girl, there’s a root of faith that they mirror in each other: Riley’s sureness in magic, June in astrology, Dayton in God, and Mila in her friendship with Riley. Together, they learn to have faith in their friendship as a foursome.
Are you more of a plotter or a pantser, and how did that impact how you drafted UNDEAD GIRL GANG?
I’m definitely a plotter and probably never more so than in drafting this book. I had a chapter by chapter outline that helped me draft the first pass in just six weeks! Plotting any kind of mystery requires an outline for me, so that I can plug in different red herrings, clues, and even different killers to see which is the best choice for the flow of the story!
Your book falls into the category of YA literature with speculative elements that isn’t high fantasy. How did you balance handling both the contemporary and fantasy elements in your world-building? Any tips for writers who want to tackle magic in the real world?
Coming from writing contemporary YA, I was surprised at how easy it was to add in fantasy elements. All books require world building. Maybe it’s because, as a Wiccan, I’m already looking for magic in everyday life, but building Mila’s world was a lot like building the slightly unrealistic Oregon of my first two novels. Going into UGG, I knew I wanted a town that felt a little remote, a school where everyone knew each other’s names, and magic based in nature. So, I ended up with the fictional town of Cross Creek, California—which is a lot like the town I grew up in except that it’s farther away from the San Francisco Bay Area so it still has some woods and abandoned houses that the tech bros haven’t jacked up the prices of.
My advice for magical world building is to choose what magic is. For this book, magic is an inherent gift tied to being alive. It’s your life spark talking to other life sparks. (Which is why there’s so much damn fire in the book.) Because of Mila’s Wiccan background, I wanted her magic to feel organic. She can’t Sabrina-The-Teenage-Witch-style point and shoot and have something happen. All of her spells involve plants and bugs and dirt and keeping the elements in balance because her faith itself is that nature will provide. Controlling her magic is a learned skill. She’s been studying spellwork for years. All of her spells are like cooking a recipe. You can’t just poof! a perfect meal. and when she decides to tackle the resurrection spell, it’s basically a 12 course meal. It takes a lot of time and help to prepare.
Because her magic is literally the only thing keeping the three dead girls animated, she has a sort of spidey-sense when they’re nearby, but that’s truly just recognizing the vibration of her own magic in these other people. And it makes her queasy every time because I have a very sensitive stomach and if someone kept ringing my insides every time they got within a few feet of me, I’d probably puke.
While your book deals with some fairly heavy topics, it’s also quite funny in a way that invokes HEATHERS or THE CRAFT — two of my absolute favorite movies of all time. Was it tough to strike the right balance when creating dark humor, and how did you approach it?
I also grew up loving The Craft and Heathers and Jawbreaker, but my all-time favorite movie is probably Death Becomes Her, which is SO DARK and SO FUNNY and I definitely watched it a million times in elementary school. I’d never read a book that had body horror and tropey teen girl comedy, so I ended up writing it.
I consider myself a comedy writer first—which is weird because I think other people probably think of me as a romance writer. But for me, jokes are the gasoline my books run on. UNDEAD GIRL GANG is very much my grief book. I dug out a lot of old feelings about how it felt to lose someone special when I was Mila’s age, what it was like when my whole group of friends was mourning, how the grownups in our lives reacted to that with so much distance that we felt invisible. Humor kept us going. So, humor keeps this book going as well. From the second the girls come back to life, the whole book is a march to the gallows (the resurrection spell only lasts for seven days!) and they’re all aware of that, so there’s definitely a feeling of trying to keep things light when they can. The balance I can’t really take credit for. My editor—Marissa Grossman—had such a good eye for every moment when the sincerity could really take the forefront. (She also cut about half of the swearing from the book, which, having recently looked it over, is shocking because WOWZERS is there a lot of swearing in this book! Thanks for trying to save me from myself, Marissa!)
Mila and Riley’s friendship is one of the foundational elements of UNDEAD GIRL GANG — without giving anything away, their arc is bittersweet, emotional, and left me with a new appreciation for all my female friendships. What are some of your favorite female friendships in YA lit, and do you have any friendships of your own that you drew on when you were creating this one?
I’m a gal with best friends, always have been. As Jane Austen said, “I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” When I like my friends, I adore them. I get a lot of credit for writing female friendships well, but most of that is because I have had the two best female friends in the world since I was sixteen—Erin and Liz, both of whom probably see themselves a lot in my books. They share our larger friend group—The Harbor Family, who you’ll see named in the acknowledgments of all my books—which are the friends forged in the fire of grief that I mentioned in the last question.
UGG itself is dedicated to my best friends in the YA community, Anna-Marie McLemore, Tehlor Kay Mejia, and Candice Montgomery. I cannot believe how truly lucky I have been to get to know these powerhouse ladies. I’ll let them start the list of my favorite female friendships in YA lit.
WILD BEAUTY by Anna-Marie McLemore – Cousins who are best friends!
WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE by Tehlor Kay Mejia – Enemies who become best friends! (And more!)
HOME AND AWAY by Candice Montgomery – Making best friends after you realize your life is based on a lie!
NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE by Cori McCarthy – Famous best friends!
DUMPLIN’ by JULIE MURPHY – Fat best friends!
ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins – International best friends!
Thank you so much for joining us, Lily! This interview made us all even more excited to see UNDEAD GIRL GANG on shelves! Pre-order it here:
LILY ANDERSON is a school librarian and Melvil Dewey fangirl with an ever-growing collection of musical theater tattoos and Harry Potter ephemera. She lives in Northern California, far from her mortal enemy: the snow.
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