Allison Winn Scotch is the bestselling author of six women’s fiction novels including: Time of My Life (2008), The Department of Lost and Found (2009), The One That I Want (2010, The Song Remains the Same (2012), The Theory of Opposites (2013) which was optioned for the screen by Jennifer Garner’s Vandalia Films (Hurry, Jen!!!) and the newest the fabulous IN TWENTY YEARS (2016).
Allison’s books have been appeared on must-read lists in numerous publications including Redbook, Glamour, OK, Shape, and People magazines. When she isn’t being listed in magazines, she’s writing celebrity profiles for them. Can we say: fun second job? Any Hemsworth brother profiles coming up? Asking for a friend.
Her career began in traditional publishing, took a very successful detail into self-publishing (which Allison has been very open about – see here and here.), and is now in the midst of a two book deal with Lake Union Publishing which is a full-service Amazon imprint.
We could not be more pleased to welcome Allison to WomenWritersWomen[‘s]Books.
Let’s start from the beginning, Allison, your beginning.
Where did you grow up? How do you think that shaped who’ve you become?
I spent the first ten years of my life in idyllic Charlottesville, VA, and then moved with my family to Seattle. I love C-ville so very much and still feel tied to it, but I think Seattle is probably what shaped me.
Well, actually, I think it’s my parents who really shaped me, but I spent my adolescence in Seattle, which was such an open, forward-thinking place to grow up that it probably illuminated a lot of things in my young mind that may have otherwise gone unobserved. I also have two really great parents who pushed me to be my best while still allowing for a lot of creativity and independence. I give them a lot of credit and hope to raise my own kids the same way.
You’ve moved many times since then? Wildly different places. What do you carry with you from each of your major stops?
Hmmm, I’ve moved a few times – to Philadelphia in college, to NYC, to Dallas (for a soon-to-be-defunct relationship, to LA, back to NYC, then back to LA again. So I guess I have moved a lot! I don’t know that each city taught me anything particularly specific but all of this moving really made me flexible with change.
Actually, I think I thrive on change (I’m a Gemini after all), and if anything, I’ve had to learn to be okay with life is just steady and balanced. Regardless of what city I’m in. No drama is a good thing.
Favorite form of exercise? (Whatever it is, we want to do it too!)
I can’t pick a favorite! Geez, I guess I really am showing my Gemini colors here because I alternate workouts every day. J I used to run a lot but I broke my leg very badly last year and haven’t been able to get as back into it as I’d like. So sometimes I run, sometimes I spin, sometimes I do yoga, sometimes I do weights. I try to do a rotation so I don’t get bored. If you put a gun to my head, I’d probably say spinning or yoga, for now, but running really is a great love of mine and where I often do a lot of mental work for my writing.
You are a known Friday Night Lights television series fan. (So is this interviewer! “Protect this house!”) What other shows are you a fangirl for?
I am so in love with VEEP, have been since episode 1. I basically want to marry Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I dig THE WALKING DEAD when it’s on. Right now, I’m diving back into UNREAL, which I was absolutely obsessed with last summer. Oh, and I love all things Keri Russell, so am a big fan of THE AMERICANS, as well. And I just started season one of NURSE JACKIE: I’m behind the times on that, but am really loving it.
You have written a lot about the strain of having both ambitious career dreams/demands and a family you love. Your piece in Psychology Today radiates with vulnerability. Four years later, what have you learned or discovered about this resonant struggle? What have you found to help?
Hmmm, well, I made a few changes in my life that probably helped influence my personal contentment. For one, we moved to Southern California. Not everyone can do this, of course, but leaving a higher stress environment for one that is more my speed really did shift my brain a bit.
But more than that, my kids have gotten older, which makes the minutia of parenting a bit easier (for me), and I’ve gotten older and given myself a break for what I can and can’t do. I never really got wrapped up in being a “perfect” parent, in the sense of having to do all things for all people – I always felt that I loved my kids as much as humanly possible and if they knew that, fresh-baked goodies for the bake sale were unimportant (for example), but until recently, I hadn’t adapted that attitude when it came to my career.
But I’ve realized that I’m entirely unconcerned with proving myself professionally, in terms of accolades and bestseller lists and all of that, and just want to write to enjoy myself and make readers happy. I don’t mean that to sound, say, lackadaisical, only that I think turning forty gave me the wisdom to say: stop scrambling toward a carrot when you aren’t even hungry for that carrot to begin with.
That can be a tricky thing for women (and men!) to figure out: peeling back the more obvious layers to assess their honest goals and what’s important..not just focusing on what they necessarily thought was important. And again, my kids are older: they need me in different ways now, and I’ve found that these years of parenting are better suited for my personality.
Not that I wasn’t fully present and accounted for when they were little, but helping them navigate through their older elementary and middle school years are really enjoyable for me, though they’re certainly complex and tenuous years as well.
After a very successful one-book foray into self-publishing, IN TWENTY YEARS and the upcoming Between Me and You are with Lake Union Publishing. What led you to make this decision?
Well, part of it is what I alluded to in the last question: I figured out, via THE THEORY OF OPPOSITES, my self-pubbed title, that I really felt very little obligation to prove myself to anyone other than me. If I was satisfied with a book and had a great time writing it, then that was good enough. When I finished IN TWENTY YEARS, my agent and I had a heart to heart about my future and my goals, and I was very, very wary about returning to the traditional model.
I wanted to self-pub again, but she thought the work was strong enough that she wanted to take it out to editors, so I agreed to a small submission list. We got offers from both traditionals and Amazon/Lake Union – and I want to say here that I am VERY, VERY grateful to the editors we ended up passing on – but ultimately, I felt like Amazon was maybe a good middle ground between self-pubbing and the traditional model.
I had amazing marketing queued up for THE THEORY OF OPPOSITES because I knew we had the film deal to announce and I knew that the self-pubbing angle would get us some press. I wasn’t sure that I had that slam dunk with IN TWENTY YEARS, so I did have some concerns about the marketing…what I think people need to know and understand about self-publishing is that getting sales and eyeballs is not necessarily easy, even when you have a built in readership.
Amazon is very forward-thinking and entrepreneurial in many ways, so it felt like I’d still have some of the freedoms I enjoyed by self-pubbing but would also have their built-in marketing arm, which is obviously unparalleled.
How has publishing with Lake Union differed from your experiences with your first Big Five publisher?
Well, this is a complicated question because I’ve been with three different Big Five publishers! Some of whom were truly pretty great (for example, Shaye Areheart, my imprint at Random House was amazing, but it was shuttered and disbanded); some of whom were less so.
I guess what I’ve enjoyed the most so far about Lake Union is that they take risks and play around with marketing and sales models to see what works. They have this freedom because they do control so much via the backend of their site, but they’re willing to look at data, and then fiddle with price point or email targeting or ads or whatever.
Things are very fluid over there, and I suppose that Big Five publishers don’t necessarily have that flexibility. Amazon also works very hard, from what I’ve seen, to make their authors happy. I was given numerous cover options, for example, and asked to weigh in on each.
It’s not that traditional publishers don’t want to make authors happy, but they simply don’t have as many tools in their toolbox to do so. (In my opinion.) And, to be honest, some of them – and this is hearsay coming from author friends and a bit what I felt like at times – do view authors as replaceable. Which, I guess, theoretically we are, but no one wants to feel that way, ever.
IN TWENTY YEARS is your sixth published novel. What have been the most impactful lessons on your storytelling and writing since Time In My Life?
Oh gosh. This is a really hard question to answer. I think, sort of what I alluded to above, that I don’t have to write with a medal in mind. A gold medal, I mean. I think that there are all sorts of notions in our industry about “big books,” or “important books,” and when you write book club fiction, sometimes you might feel…hmmm…less…worthy?
I don’t know if that’s the right word, but something along those lines. I’ve never felt “less than” anything in my life, but yes, at times, I did want to be taken more seriously, I suppose. But letting go of that notion really gave me a lot of freedom: the truth is that I write what I like to read, and I think there is plenty of value in writing entertaining, thought-provoking literature that resonates with your audience that sure, may never win, like a Pulitzer but affects your readers all the same.
That’s my goal and understanding that goal freed me from a lot of constraints that I think I had clanging around my brain.
You put your characters through world-wracking changes that involve deep, emotional growth to survive. This requires deep introspection on their part. Yet your style keeps the pages turning. How do you balance active scenes with head-and-shoulder scenes?
Well, thank you! That is a really clear way of articulating what I was trying to say above. Much better than I said it, so really, thanks! J You know, I think if I hadn’t been a writer, I would have been an actress, so I really get lost in my character’s emotional lives. At the same time, my early drafts are probably too introspective.
One thing that I always have to do is go back and add in more action, more conflict. So the finished book is sort of akin to a recipe that you might have served in a restaurant but has been tested to death in the kitchen. Basically, I start with a pretty deep understanding of my characters and then I make life happen around them. It can take a while to get these lives right, but I think if I nail them emotionally, the rest of it falls into place.
IN TWENTY YEARS has five narrators (six including Bea). They are all very different people with very different struggles. Do you find writing multiple points-of-view challenging or freeing? How so?
Gosh, I loved it! It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like this – all of my other books are told in the first person (with the exception of a few chapters of The Song Remains the Same), and it just really invigorated me. It gave me the opportunity to really explore more than just my main protagonist, and I really found it fascinating (and exciting) to spend time in each character’s head and deal with how they perceived others around them, as well as how the others perceived them.
The new novel I’m working on is told via two different characters, but I really do miss having so many narrators. It’s tough to juggle but if you learn to toss all the balls just right, it can be pretty magical.
Which of your characters (ever written) do you most relate to and how?
Hmmm, I think there is a tiny bit of me in all of them, probably. At least in terms of finding common ground in some way because it’s really so, so, so difficult to write a character whom you don’t understand. I did that with my third book, and it was, by far, the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write, and I’ll never do it again.
I’m really super-independent (sometimes to a fault), so I always relate to my protagonists who thrive on their own, but I’m also (I hope) filled with a lot of laughter and casualness (is that a word? I don’t even know), so I do always relate to those characters who are just trying to be good-enough and enjoy life. I relate to the parenting trials and the parenting joys, and the marital trials and the marital joys.
I relate to ambition and I relate to fatigue. I guess…just all of it. It’s funny: I have a few close friends who have read early copies of In Twenty Years, and each of them has told me a different character whom they thought I represented! Gosh, I really am a Gemini, aren’t I??? ;
Do you have someone in mind that you hope to satisfy when you are writing?
Good question, and I think the answer is me. I am my reader, and I’m also a tough critic. I know when I’ve put something down on the page that isn’t good enough, and I’ll keep working until I’m satisfied with it. If my agent loves it, then that’s a great sign too. We’ve been together since my debut (almost eleven years ago), so I trust her, and she’s always straight up honest with me.
Two Part Question: For readers — Where should readers hang out to interact with authors? For writers — What have you found most effective for reaching readers?
I’m on Facebook and Twitter pretty regularly, and I really enjoy chatting with readers and getting to know them. I’m also on Goodreads, though I primarily just post about books I enjoy. Oh, one new app that I really like is called The List (it may have been renamed Li.st), but I post there fairly often, and the lists/posts on the site are really engaging. Lots of interesting folks to be found, and it has a very strong community vibe.
For reaching readers, I think Facebook is still king. Actually, I know that a lot of authors use Instagram to interact with readers, but my Instagram is the one place I kind of keep for myself. I post pictures of my kids and family and dogs, so I keep it private out of respect for them. (Well, not my dogs. They really wouldn’t care!) J
What advice would you like to give to aspiring writers?
I always say that the best thing an aspiring writer can do is remove his or her ego from the equation. You MUST be open to criticism; you MUST be open to revising more times than you think you can stomach. Being defensive or closed off will not further your craft, and if you refuse to listen to advice and constructive feedback, you will never get better.
What up-and-coming or new authors do you recommend for fans of your work?
There’s a new author, Caroline Angell, who has her first book out in July called All the Time in the World. I had the pleasure of reading an early copy of the novel a few months ago, and it was fantastic. You’d never, ever imagine it was her debut.
Running or Yoga?
Sophie’s choice. But I guess if I had to choose one for the rest of my life: running.
Dressing Up or Dressing Down?
Down. Way down.
Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive?
Probably neither, but since I’ve lived in both cities, I can say Fifth Avenue for sure.
Heels or Flip-Flops?
Flip-flops for life.
Movie Theater or Movie at Home
Movie at home, only because I’m lazy. I do love going to the theater, but then there’s the babysitter and the parking and all of that. Yup, just…super-lazy.
Thank you, Allison, so much for hanging out with us. Welcome to the WWWB family! We will be supporting and rooting for you forever more. ☺
IN TWENTY YEARS –
Twenty years ago, six Penn students shared a house, naively certain that their friendships would endure—until the death of their ringleader and dear friend Bea splintered the group for good. Now, mostly estranged from one another, the remaining five reluctantly gather at that same house on the eve of what would have been Bea’s fortieth birthday.
But along with the return of the friends come old grudges, unrequited feelings, and buried secrets. Catherine, the CEO of a domestic empire, and Owen, a stay-at-home dad, were picture-perfect college sweethearts—but now teeter on the brink of disaster. Lindy, a well-known musician, is pushing middle age in an industry that’s all about youth and slowly self-destructing as she grapples with her own identity. Behind his smile, handsome plastic surgeon Colin harbors the heartbreaking truth about his own history with Bea. And Annie carefully curates her life on Instagram and Facebook, keeping up appearances so she doesn’t have to face the truth about her own empty reality.
Reunited in the place where so many dreams began, and bolstered by the hope of healing, each of them is forced to confront the past.
Library Journal, Starred Review: “Scotch (The Theory of Opposites) hits a grand slam with this novel. Roommates from The University of Pennsylvania are reunited at the request of one friend, Bea, who died almost 15 years earlier. They gather on the eve of what would have been Bea’s 40th birthday, meeting at the house where they once lived and loved. Catherine and Owen, now married, come together with Lindy, Colin, and Annie, to confront one another since most haven’t spoken since Catherine and Owen’s wedding.
They also must deal with who they were back then in relation to who they’ve become and what they’ve done in their relationships. This is a fabulous tale of friendships and an endearing, enthralling look into the dreams we have in our youth and the disappointments held onto in adulthood. VERDICT With wonderfully fleshed-out, relatable characters, this is an absolute must-read that lovers of women’s contemporary fiction will devour in one sitting.” —Anne M. Miskewitch, Chicago P.L.
Glamour.com: 19 Best Reads of Summer
PopSugar.com: Best Summer Reads for Your Beachbag
Parade: “Allison Winn Scotch is the ultimate beach read. If you plan to sink your toes into the sand and need a fab book to kick back with…this is the one.”
RT Book Reviews: “Told from five vastly different perspectives of characters who are deeply developed and relatable in their flawed ways, this novel captures the nostalgia many feel for the friendships and simple nature of youth…Heartfelt…Well written and memorable.”
IN TWENTY YEARS is available –
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Interviewed by –
MM Finck is a writer, essayist, and book reviewer. She oversees WWWB’s Interviews and Agents’ Corner segments. Her women’s fiction is represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and the contest chair for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association 2016 Rising Star writing contest for unpublished authors.
Her work has appeared in national and regional publications, including skirt! magazine. When she isn’t editing her novel, #LOVEIN140, you can find her belting out Broadway tunes (off key and with the wrong words), cheering herself hoarse over a soccer match (USWNT! – 2015 WORLD CUP CHAMPIONS!!!!), learning to play piano (truly pitifully), building or fixing household things, and trying to squeeze more than twenty-four hours out of every day. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Li.st (@MMFinck), and Litsy (@MMF). http://www.mmfinck.com