Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Writers in their own words-GCC

So, a week or so ago I'm sitting on my sofa, drinking coffee and watching The Today Show. When they started talking about "Fall Must Read Books" I set the paper down and took notice. But then, when they held up a book by one of my very own GCC buddies, I nearly spewed my coffee. (Not, may I add, that we don't all deserve it, but this is a little bit like Charlie getting the golden ticket.) So, without further ado, let me introduce you to Allison Winn Scotch, author of the acclaimed new novel Time of My Life.

The Tampa Tribune called it, “Funny and frank. A serious comedy that shines light into the darkness.” Now, I don't know about you, but I'd like a little light shining into the darkness. It explores those "what if" moments, that wondering we sometimes do about different paths and choices we could have taken. . . .

Jillian Westfield has the perfect husband, the perfect baby, and the perfect home in the suburbs, but sometimes she finds herself wondering about the life she left behind. A few short years earlier, she was living with her undeniably attractive but unreliable boyfriend Jackson, working a demanding job at an ad agency, partying too much, and living in a less than perfect New York apartment. But those days were full of possibility and free of diaper changes, trips to the grocery store, and endless days fulfilling only the needs of her daughter and husband. Now, discontented in her faltering marriage, Jillian can’t help but think about what her life would have been like if she hadn’t married Henry, quit her job to be a stay-at-home mom, or spurned her mother’s attempts to reconcile after two decades of silence. What if she’d stayed with Jackson in their run-down apartment and tried a little harder to make their relationship work? What if she’d answered her mother’s letter? What would her life be like now? One morning, Jillian gets a chance to find out. She wakes up in her old apartment, right in the middle of her life as it was seven years ago, before she’d left Jackson and her job, and ignored her mother’s letter. With 20/20 hindsight, Jillian has the chance to discover “what if” once and for all – and to decide which life she really wants.

Here's Allison in her own words:

1.) How did you come up with the idea for this book? Are you more driven by plot or by character?
I knew I wanted to write a book that dealt with time-travel in some way…the last episodes of Felicity were among my favorite hours of television EVER, and I was drawn to doing something like that. But I didn’t know how to sort it out in my mind. In fact, I mentioned something to my agent about “time-travel” for my next book, and I think she thought I was nuts! But then one afternoon while this was on my mind, my best friend called while she was on vacation in a city of her ex-boyfriend, and she said, “I’m so weirded out…I can’t stop thinking about what my life might have been like.” Then we had one of those intimate life conversations that you can only have with your closest friends about her what-ifs and my what-ifs, and how this was all very normal, even though people didn’t really talk about it. We hung up, and I headed out for a run, and bam, the idea, characters and plotlines just presented themselves very clearly. I came home, wrote what are now the first 14 pages, and sent them off to my agent, who flipped for them. I think, as so many of us get older and look back on our younger years with nostalgia, it’s very easy (and normal) to consider what the other possibilities could have been – and I wanted to explore that.

2.) Who's your favorite character in this book and why?
I don’t think I have a favorite character, but I did have favorite scenes. Well, I loved the scenes in the book in which Jillian, my protagonist, ran into her future husband, Henry, only she was now running into him in the past…and she was also now attached to someone else. They were great fun to write because, well, imagine what would be going through your head if you KNEW what was going to happen with this person but had to pretend that he was a stranger? Those scenes gave me the opportunity to have a little fun, infuse some humor, but also have Jillian reassess how she remembered her husband: she sees him through clear eyes before she got used to seeing his face wake up next to her every morning.

3.) What's your writing process/writing environment like?
I write very quickly – purging it all in about two hours a day. Most of the heavy mental lifting comes at hours when I’m NOT writing: when I’m walking my dog, working out, trying to sleep, and then, I sit down in the morning at about 10ish and force myself to get it all out on the page. But because I’ve worked through the scenes so much in my brain, the words and scenes usually come out of me pretty easily. When I’m stuck, I try to throw some conflict my characters’ way, and that usually gets me unstuck.

4.) What's your favorite part of writing?
Can I say finishing a book? Because, yum, yeah, that is! But I guess a more specific answer is when I craft what I just innately know in my bones is a wonderful sentence or scene: to a non-writer, this might sound really weird and arty (like an actor talking about his craft), but as a writer, every once in a while, you pull something out of you that you really can’t believe you wrote…and it’s a heavenly moment, that second when you’re better than you thought you could be. I have a favorite scene in Time of My Life that I occasionally reread and have no recollection of writing…but am pretty proud of myself for that specific scene.

5.) What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?
Hmmm, good question. I guess it was to be patient. A lot of writers want recognition NOW – they want to sign with an agent NOW, the want to get a publishing deal NOW, they want a bigger advance NOW – but becoming a skilled and successful writer takes practice and time. Sort of like becoming a professional sports player: maybe you were born with some skill, but you have to hone them to be ready for the big leagues. Don’t send our your ms to agents unless you are 1000% sure that it’s ready, and then, be more sure that it’s ready. Be okay with not hitting the bestseller list (figuratively speaking) with your first book – that’s what second and third books are for. Etc. For me, at least, this is about having a CAREER, not instant gratification, and while sometimes that’s hard to remember, it’s a very critical part of succeeding in our industry.

Time of My Life is a perfect book as the days drift into November. And you don't have to just take my word for it--The Today Show agrees, too.


Katie Alender said...

This book is definitely on my to-buy list! Maybe a good excuse to take a field trip to the bookstore... hmm...

(my word verification is "notre," which seems very sweet for some reason)

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

The store I went to yesterday was already sold out . . . so I'm heading out to a different store today.