“The Throwback List” interview with Lily Anderson
Have you ever really left who you were behind?
Author Lily Anderson invites readers to think about the answer to this question and how it applies to protagonists Jo, Autumn and Bianca in her first young adult book, The list of flashbacks.
In addition to having the chance to review the book, I was happy to ask Lily some personal questions. Check out our discussion below on books, musical theater, friendship, and the importance of looking back with grace.
Hi Lily! Thanks for chatting with us.
Nice to be there, thank you!
We know you love books – you’ve written several novels and previously worked as a school librarian. Tell us a bit about your career to date; about the books and beyond, and some of the things you’ve learned along the way.
Before being a full-time author, I worked as an elementary and middle school librarian. I’ve always been interested in writing books for fun – I wrote books and stories just to share with my friends – but working with kids I realized how absolutely crucial stories are. for our personal development. Books are the sharpening stone on which we grind our view of the world. My first novel was very inspired by the students I was working with at the time, who were very bright kids with what we would consider “nerdy” fandoms. Things like Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and the comics were all integral to their worldview. I wanted to give them an account of this through another classical form: Shakespeare. So my first book, The only thing worse than me is you, is a story by Shakespeare A lot of noise for nothing scaffolded by geek culture. I did the same with Oscar Wilde’s The importance of being serious in my tracking book, Not now never, and my book Gang of undead girls speaks of grief through the lens of horror. My new version, The list of flashbacks, is a book for adults told through the guise of a book for young adults.
The list of flashbacks will be released this week. What do you think of sending this book to the world?
I am very excited for The list of flashbacks be in the world! It has a lot of firsts for me: first book about adults, first book with more than one point of view, and it’s my longest book to date.
How would you describe this story?
The list of flashbacks is a friendship book for small towns. It’s the story of three girls – Jo, Autumn and Bianca – who, for various reasons, all find themselves living in their hometown of Sandy Point, Oregon, nearly a decade after leaving college. Being back home makes each of the three girls reflect on who they were before they left town and who they can be now that they’re back. Jo finds a to-do list that she and Autumn wrote in high school that she never completed. Jo decides to tackle the list as a project for her social media, and Autumn and Bianca are among the hijinks.
Tell us a bit about how you ended up working with Disney on this project and what the brainstorming process is all about. The list of flashbacks looked like. Where did the idea for this story come from?
A few years ago, Disney approached me with the idea of writing a to-do list for what would become Hyperion Avenue, the new adult wing of the Disney-Hyperion publishing house. I have always been very interested in the idea of coming home, probably because my childhood home sold out the month after I left for college, so I never really had a place where to return. I also really wanted to watch how people go about making friends as adults. In YA, and in real teenage life, most friendships are born from going to high school together. It is much more difficult after leaving school to form new friendships.
What do you think are the main lessons to be learned or which themes resonate the most with you, from The list of flashbacks and why?
My favorite takeaway from The list of flashbacks is right on the cover: have you ever really left who you were behind? At the start of the book, Jo returns to her parents’ house for the first time in years and finds an old journal that has the returning list in the title. As she rereads the things her seventeen-year-old self considered cool and important at twenty-six, she realizes that her teenage self would think she got boring growing up. She, along with Bianca and Autumn, spent the book wrestling with who they thought they were going to be when they got older versus who they really are.
Were your protagonists – Jo, Autumn and Bianca – inspired by specific people or did you draw from many people or other inspirations to create each of these characters?
I mean, as a writer all of my characters are me. Of course, there are other influences in people I know or read, but in reality these three girls are truly a reflection of me. Jo is my questions about my place in the world as a mixed race woman. Bianca is my gifted self who is never satisfied. Fall is my inner theater child that never made it to Broadway.
Who is your favorite character in this story and why?
I love all of my characters, obviously, but I really enjoyed writing about fall. She’s a high school drama teacher who returned home after failing to become a famous actress in Los Angeles. The theater has been such a big part of my life from first grade until my early twenties. My first two books were based on plays, but never really touched real people in the theater. It was great being able to make references to musicals and quote Shakespeare with impunity when I was working on a fall chapter. Having said that, I gave her favorite musicals different from mine to help her become her own character. She’s more of a musical entertainment person and I’m more of a Sondheim person.
What relationships were important for you to explore in this story and why?
The book really builds on the friendships of the three main characters. More than anything, it is a friendship book very much in tune with the Sex and the city idea that you are best friends are your soul mates. Jo and Autumn were best friends in high school, but they lost touch with each other. Autumn and Bianca became friends in college, but grew closer once they both returned to Sandy Point. Jo and Bianca are really getting to know each other for the first time. As adults who have lived in the world and have been hurt and even hurt themselves before, every girl must learn to trust the other two and come together as a group of friends.
Without giving too much away, what is your favorite scene or chapter in The list of flashbacks and why?
My favorite scene is around the middle of the book. In order to tick off a bunch of items from the list back at once, the three girls decide to have a slumber party. Having taken a few girls’ vacations as an adult myself, I wanted to capture the blurry line between drinking wine in an Airbnb and being ten-year-old girls talking in sleeping bags with the lights off. It was so much fun to write. I definitely had to edit it because it ended up being like twenty pages of sheer nonsense.
How does your process of writing this book differ, if at all, from previous books and projects you have undertaken?
Each book, for me, is written in a totally different way. Some books I write early in the morning. Some books that I can only write outside of the house in a cafe or in the library. It was the first book I wrote without a day job, so I wrote it almost exclusively on my couch during working hours. I’ve also rewritten it more times than any other book. I completely abandoned the first draft and started over to really blackmail it. It was hard work, but I really ended up loving the end product.
You note in your bio that you have strong opinions about musical theater. Are you going to share a few with us and make recommendations on the shows you think are must-see?
Wow, thanks this is really the best question! My favorite musical of all time is In the woods. I first saw him on PBS when I was three and he basically wrote the software that became my brain. I have two musical theater tattoos both are song lyrics. The first is “make a happy noise, my soul”, which comes from Bat boy the musical, which is a very dark comedy that never made it to Broadway (a crime) and the other is “why we tell the story”, which comes from the finale of Once On This Island. The two perfect shows from top to bottom. Bat Boy’s Laurence O’Keefe also wrote The revenge of a blonde and heather–heather is an absolutely brutal and incredible work of art. Other must-haves are Sunday at the park with George, The sleepy chaperone, The Sorcerer, and A year with frog and toad.
What’s next for Lily Anderson?
My next book comes out exactly six months later The list of flashbacks! April 5, 2022 my next novel for young adults, Honor of the scouts, will be released. This is a scouting organization called the Ladybird Scouts that works as a front that teaches young girls how to hunt monsters. It is Buffy the vampire slayer meets Strange things meets Beverly Hills Troop!
What do you ultimately hope readers will take away from The Throwback List?
I hope adults reading The list of flashbacks learn to look back at who they were with grace. The kid you were would be amazed at the things you take for granted, from the relationship you have with your parents to the smartphone in your pocket. I hope teens reading The list of flashbacks realize that he doesn’t have to have it all figured out by now or in his twenties, and that one day high school doesn’t have to be the best and most important time of your life. Someday you will look back longingly and laugh at what you thought you knew.
The list of flashbacks released on October 5th and is out now.
Jess Salafia Ward is an Australian, lawyer and die-hard Disney fan. She grew up in a town not too far from P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney; and she still enjoys dancing in Snow White pajamas and serenading her family members with Sleeping Beauty’s “Once Upon A Dream” (although unlike Princess Aurora, she doesn’t have a knack for to sing). Jess is an Elvis lover like Lilo, and when her nose isn’t stuck in a book, she enjoys sharing all things Disney, books, movies, and history with other fans.