Emma Lord wrote most of her teen rom-com The Getaway List (Wednesday Books, Jan. 23) while sitting on a bench in Central Park. “I like to get really cute when I’m doing it,” she says, “because I like to pretend I’m the main character, and that’ll motivate me to go sit on the bench and write.” Becoming a novelist who sits on Manhattan park benches seems like it could be IRL wish fulfillment for Lord’s exuberant main characters, and Riley from The Getaway List, Lord’s fifth book in four years, is no exception. The novel tells the story of Riley’s move to New York City the summer after graduation; she plans to reconnect with childhood friend Tom, experience a bucket list of adventures together, and rediscover who she actually is.

I first met Emma Lord in New York while we were working at the same millennial media company years ago and were trying to become YA authors in our spare time. In this Zoom chat, we catch up on our NYC dreams, Taylor Swift songs, and fictional apps. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What struck me about Riley from the very first page is that she didn’t get into any colleges, and she doesn’t seem all that upset about it—not because she’s apathetic, but because it didn’t work out in that moment. That’s such a rare attitude.

Thank you for bringing that up. I actually did go into that [scenario] with a very deliberate intention, just because I feel like a lot of pressure is put on high schoolers to have a whole life plan. We’re both in our 30s now, so we know that all the plans you make at 18 are going to get blown to heck anyway, so why make yourself miserable?

The things that I was doing at 18 that impacted my future were the things I was doing by choice. I was going to college, but I was writing by choice. I was writing fan fiction by choice. I was coming up with weird plot ideas by choice. I think about all the things I was doing because I was supposed to do them. Even when I finished college and I got the jobs I was supposed to get, I would sit during lunch breaks and write. You have to follow your heart.

I love that an initial complication between Riley and Tom isn’t something super dramatic, but it’s so real: Tom is a bad texter.

Something that Covid magnified is that some people, when they get in a bad spot, just go into a shell and disappear. I call it “gremlin brain,” when you’re like, My brain is a bad flavor right now, and I just don’t want to be texting anybody. But then, if you’re not careful, you’ll get into a hole where you’re like, Oh, I haven’t texted them in a while, and now it feels weird to come out of the ether.

As a society, we’re all a lot better at forgiving ourselves and each other for that [behavior] now. But these things are much more pronounced [when you’re a teenager], because you don’t necessarily have the tools to deal with problems that come up, like feeling lonely and feeling like a fish out of water. So that was a problem in the beginning that I wanted to use to be the tip of the iceberg for some larger problems.

How did you come up with the actual items on Riley and Tom’s getaway list?

A lot of them were things that I had really positive feelings about having done in high school. One of them was karaoke, and I remember the first time I ever did a karaoke room, it was with some high school friends, and we thought we were so cool: We’re grown-ups. This whole room is ours. We can do whatever we want. Whatever we wanted was to sing show tunes at the top of our lungs.

It was also just cool to pick things in New York that were priorities for me when I first got here—figuring out where to do writer meetups, exploring Central Park—so that was a vehicle to retrace baby Emma’s steps and relive some of that magic.

Was there a New York experience you had for the first time IRL in honor of this book?

Kind of, accidentally. I went to Little Island with my sister and her best friend, and when I was there I was like, “Oh, this is going in the book.” I just started canvassing the area and taking pictures, which is funny, because I’m pretty sure that that’s what the characters do when they get there, too.

Little Island, for anyone who’s reading this interview and doesn’t know, is literally a little man-made island that’s off Manhattan’s west side, and it’s got all these beautiful sculptures and flowers and a stage. It’s all very public arts, beauty, and joy, and there’s a bridge that you take to get to it.

Your novels can almost be themed around different social media apps or internet platforms, going all the way back to Tweet Cute. With The Getaway List, what might be that representative app or platform?

There’s a subplot in the book with an anonymous delivery service where you can send people little gifts and things, and [the characters] are bike messengers on it, so they can track each other’s whereabouts. I know that’s something that you can do on Snapchat and Find My Friends, so maybe those are the apps that would be the closest to it.

Honestly, your books are an app incubator. Speaking of which: Would you ever do a reissue or anniversary edition of Tweet Cute called Xeet Cute or Hanging by Threads?

Oh my God, those are such great titles, but it would have to be a sequel almost. In Tweet Cute, those characters had their happily-ever-after, and I wouldn’t want to touch that. But I do think it would be funny to have teenagers who took over the accounts afterward, and something went catastrophically wrong, and they ended up in some kind of war, using one of the new apps. But Tweet Cute will definitely stay the way it is! My friend was joking that it can go in the historical fiction section now.

Don’t worry, it’s timeless—I don’t know a single person who actually calls it X on a regular basis.

Me neither.

Quick, and don’t think too much: What are three Taylor Swift songs from three different eras that embody The Getaway List?

“Welcome to New York.” “Cardigan,” to some degree: the coming and going of a relationship and a friendship being established. Also, there’s the whole line about the “heartbeat on the High Line,” and that does come into the book at some point. I don’t know why “Ours” is coming to mind. It’s just like when these two characters have a language that nobody else understands. A lot of people have made assumptions about what Riley and Tom are and what they aren’t, and that’s the core of it. They’re just like, This is ours.

Stephan Lee is the author of the novels K-Pop Confidential and K-Pop Revolution.