SheKnows Chick Lit interviews New York Times best-selling author Allison Winn Scotch.
Allison Winn asks, ‘what if you woke up and found yourself seven years in the past, living with an ex-boyfriend and minus your present-day husband and child?’ ‘Could you find the road back home to your real life or would you do things differently?’
That’s the premise of author Allison Winn Scotch’s New York Times best-selling book Time of Your Life. Just released in paperback and optioned for a movie, the book examines what it would be like to have a do-over, the ultimate “What if?” book.
Allison, also the author of The Department of Lost and Found and a frequent magazine writer, dished on her writing, motherhood and the casting of the movie version of Time of My Life.
SheKnows: What is the most asked question you get from your readers-fans?
Allison Winn Scotch: Well, I’m often asked – with both of my books, even though the protagonists are so different – if the books/stories are reflections of my own life. In fact, I’ve been asked more than a few times if my debut novel, The Department of Lost and Found, was a memoir, which, most certainly, it wasn’t. I think readers often assume that if you write about something realistically, that you’re literally “writing what you know.” With my second book, Time of My Life, I think a lot of people probably made assumptions about me and my marriage and my own “what-ifs” and compared me to Jillian. I’m lucky that I have a husband who just sort of laughs about it and is glad that his wife is earning a paycheck! LOL. I always just take it as a compliment that people think I write well enough to convince them that this is my story. But it’s not mine. I understood Jillian, and I connected with her emotionally, but we’re pretty different people with pretty different lives.
SheKnows: What question do you wish you’d get asked but never have? Why?
Allison Winn Scotch: Wow…tough question! Because I run a blog where people ask me questions, I think I’ve been asked everything under the sun. Maybe the one that should be asked more often is how difficult is it to be a successful writer. I hear from a lot of people who think they have a book in them but who never actually sit down and do the hard work. Carving a path as a novelist is tough – I’m not going to lie – and even though, yeah, it’s a super-cool job to have, it’s not an easy one.
SheKnows: I read that you wrote Time of My Life in two months…how did you do that? Is it always that fast?
Allison Winn Scotch: Yes, I wrote Time of My Life in about two months, and I wrote The Department of Lost and Found in about three. Keep in mind that these were the first drafts. I, of course, then went back and had to revise them. I was able to write them quickly because, as I alluded to above, I really just got these characters. Their voices entered my heads, and honestly, I couldn’t get them out until I had purged every last ounce of them on the page. Which I know sounds pretentious and writerly, but it’s true! I would wake up in the middle of the night with, say, Jillian’s voice in my brain, and would spend the wee hours mulling over the next chapter. So I would just spit out the words as quickly as they would come to me…and voila, a completed manuscript. The One That I Want, unfortunately, hasn’t come quite as easily to me because I’m tackling what I think is a more complex structure and a character who I’ve had to work harder to understand. For me, voice is everything – once I can hear how my characters sound, I’m off to the races. But with Tilly, my protagonist in The One That I Want, well, she’s been a little slippery, so even though the manuscript is completed, I’m still going back and tinkering, ensuring that I’m presenting her in the most honest, realistic way possible. From start to finish, this one has taken me about six months, and I’m still revising. I hope to be done (really, really, really, really hope) by early fall.
SheKnows: Describe your process, how your characters come to you and how you name them?
Allison Winn Scotch: Funny, I wish I knew! If I did, I’d probably have a much better handle on what to do with Tilly. But both Natalie, my protagonist in The Department of Lost and Found, and Jillian, came to me out of nowhere. Like, one day I’m running in the park (where I often do my best thinking), and bam, there’s Jillian, there’s the concept of the book, here’s how I’m going to write it. I’ve found over the years that unless I’m really struck with this lightening bolt, I can’t write a good book for the life of me. I need to have that OMG feeling, and from there, the pieces fall into place. That said, I do spend a lot of time thinking about what concepts I want to explore, what themes I want to highlight, and I suppose in this brainstorming, unconscious ideas filter into my head, which then likely come together to form that OMG moment when everything clicks together. So, for example, I’d spent a lot of time thinking about a time-travel idea before I came up with Jillian. I wasn’t sure how to go about it, how to write the book I wanted to until that day in the park when she just sort of flashed in my brain. As far as names, I just think about who these people are, where they come from, what might suit their personality, sort of like what parents do when they name their children! Like, for the guys in Time of My Life, I needed something classic but not ridiculously nerdy for Jillian’s estranged husband, and Henry just worked for me, and I needed something sort of sexy but still country-clubish for her former boyfriend, and Jackson had that snap to it. Here’s a secret: I do sometimes go back and rename characters if I don’t think the name fits after I’ve gotten to know them.
SheKnows: Which, if any, of your characters is the most autobiographical?
Allison Winn Scotch: Ooh, good question. I suppose that there are parts of me scattered through all of these characters, not one in particular. For example, I identified with Natalie’s drive and determination, as well as her attempts to understand how her past mistakes lead to her current situation (in The Department of Lost and Found, she contacts her ex-boyfriends in an attempt to learn about herself), and I identified with Jillian’s need to find a balance in her life, of sometimes feeling like she was the last person on her list. I’m lucky in that my job affords me the opportunity to hang out with my kids, grab some “me time,” and then close my door, when I need to, and crank out something that I’m proud of, that contributes to my confidence and self-esteem. But it’s easy for me to understand how (and why) women end up wishing they’d made different choices: how maybe they’re bored with full-time motherhood, or how maybe they resent their career taking away from their family time, or how maybe after a decade, they wonder why their marriage no longer has the spark that the thought of an ex-boyfriend brings. And of course, in some ways, though I love my life and my husband and my kids, I identified with her “what ifs.” Not because I don’t have a wonderful life – I do. But because I think it’s natural and human to consider the unexplored path, and sure, there are some days when the crap has hit the fan that I do the same!
SheKnows: Your top three must-read favorite authors right now?
Allison Winn Scotch: Oh, impossible question! I have too many writer friends to answer this. How about instead, I name a few books that I’m looking forward to reading this month? I am dying to get my hands on Jonathan Tropper’s August release, This Is Where I Leave You, because I am probably his biggest fan. And Julie Buxbaum has a great second novel coming out in August as well called, After You, which I liked so much that I blurbed.
SheKnows: If you were locked in a tall tower waiting on your Prince Charming and you could only have one book to read while you waited, what would it be?
Allison Winn Scotch: This is such a tough question, but I guess I’ll say Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came To the End. Not everyone loved this book as much as I did, but I truly thought it was just brilliant. A book that never in a million years I could have written. And it’s one of those books that I could (and probably should) go back and reread because once I finished it, I realized that there were clues and hints dropped along the way that I probably missed.
SheKnows: Describe your work area?
Allison Winn Scotch: I work out of a home office in my place in NYC. I’m lucky to have an entire room to myself (a luxury in Manhattan), so my desk is up against a wall with three big windows overlooking some trees and the street. I have a super-cool giant painting of an Underwood typewriter that I fell in love with at an art gallery years ago when I was first sort of successful, and even now, I still love looking at it. There’s a day bed against one wall, which my dog primarily uses to sleep on, and a Precor Elliptical machine near the corner, so I can hop on, catch up on some TV, and decompress when I’m sick of staring at the computer screen. Oh, and also, some of my husband’s shoes, socks and other crap scattered around, and some Legos and random toys from my kids. Sadly, though this is MY office, it also seems to be a place where they all come and dump their junk.
SheKnows: How has motherhood changed your work habits and your life as a writer?
Allison Winn Scotch: Well, I now have to work between the hours of 9 am to 6 pm, period. No late nights banging away at the keyboard, so I suppose this has made me a lot more efficient. I have a certain amount of time to get stuff done, the end. And of course, I really don’t think I ever could have written Time of My Life without understanding that underlying throb of love that you have for your kids: it shapes everything about you.
SheKnows: The most surprising thing about motherhood? How do you juggle being a NYT best-selling author and mother?
Allison Winn Scotch: Oh gosh, the most surprising thing is probably how much I learn from my kids, not just how much they learn from me. You know, we have a lot of “teachable moments” in our household, and I think my husband and I get as much out of them as the kids do. My daughter, in particular, is absolutely fearless. I love watching her tackle her little life, and it’s a good reminder as to how I like to live mine. How do I juggle everything? Well, for one, I think this job is probably a lot less sexy than people imagine it to be! I mean, I’m writing this in my sweats, with holes in my Converse, with circles under my eyes…you get the point. But, for two, I also have help with my kids. I have a great nanny who comes in and allows me to close my office door and get done what I need to get done, so that in my non-working time, I can focus on them entirely. I always say that I treat this job like any other mom who goes off to an office, and I wouldn’t bring my kids with me if I were a lawyer, so I’m not going to bring them with me while I work through a plot problem or on some tricky dialogue. So I’m lucky to have that help, and it ensures that I can keep everything balanced.
SheKnows: How big of a role does music play in your creative process?
Allison Winn Scotch: Such a huge role. I’m listening to music at all hours of the day when I’m not writing. I’ve always been a music buff, since the time I was a kid, and I really use specific songs or bands or even lyrics to help me emotionally tune into my characters and what they’re feeling and what they have to go through. It’s almost like I create a soundtrack in my mind of the book. Once I find the songs that bring out the right emotion, I tend to listen to them incessantly until the book is done.
SheKnows: How do you feel about the label “chick lit”?
Allison Winn Scotch: Oh, I don’t really care about labels! As long as people buy the book, who cares?
SheKnows: What is the secret life of Allison Winn Scotch? What would your fans/readers find most surprising about you?
Allison Winn Scotch: Great question! I wish I had something super-sexy to share…hmm…no…still nothing… Honestly, I think maybe people would be surprised at what a casual person I am. Like, someone sends me an email, and I write back, and then she’ll respond, “i cannot believe that you even read my email, much less replied!” And I’m thinking, “Well, of course, it’s not like I’m Madonna!” I’m seriously a very laid-back, easygoing person who, as I said above, spends her days in sweat pants. On the flip side of that, maybe people would be surprised at how hard-working I am. I mean, I really worked my tail off to get to where I am, so I have no problem owning and enjoying the trajectory of my career. Not in a snooty way, but just in a self-confident manner that I think everyone deserves to have. Hmmm, what else? Well, I love pop culture, and even though I’m a voracious reader, I love TV, so my DVR is always totally chock full.
SheKnows: Congrats on the paperback release of Time of My Life and the upcoming movie being made from the book. If you could cast the movie yourself, who would you pick for Jillian, Jack and Henry?
Allison Winn Scotch: I get asked this a lot, and it’s such a tough question because the producers and I have come up with a list of about 7-8 actresses whom we all agree would be great in the role. And honestly, if any of them panned out, I’d just about pee on myself. So I’m hesitant to play favorites, but I’ll confess to being an avid Felicity fan, and such, if Keri Russell were to play Jillian, I’d probably die from excitement. For Henry, again, so many good options, but my top choice might be Michael Vartan. And for Jackson, since we’re keeping it in the JJ Abrams family, how about Scott Speedman? (But again, that list is long – Chris Pine, Bradley Cooper…this is why I’m not a casting agent – there are a lot of good choices out there, and truly, I’d be happy with any of them.)
SheKnows: I read where you tried your hand at acting — what happened?
Allison Winn Scotch: Yup, I was always a life-long theater buff-actress, and after graduating college and landing a “real job,” I just didn’t want to give up on that dream. So I quit, started auditioning and actually did okay. I got some NYC shows, got my SAG card, eventually moving to Dallas (for now-ex) and then LA. But…well…I don’t know, it’s one of those what-if questions. I moved back to NYC to do some writing-related things, and from there, one thing led to another. That’s probably my biggest what-if: what if I hadn’t left LA? Where would I be? I’d never have met my husband, had my kids, etc. It would have been a totally alternate universe.
SheKnows: Favorite books that were made into movies and it worked?
Allison Winn Scotch: Hmmm, tough one. Little Children was both a great book and a great movie.
SheKnows: Okay, time for our Lightning Round!
Vampires or werewolfs? Ooh, neither? I really just don’t get either of them.
Hardback or paperback or Kindle? Hardback
Facebook or Twitter? Can I say both? Don’t make me choose! I love Facebook because it’s just my family and friend, and I love Twitter for the opposite reasons: all of these random people whom I’d never have otherwise met.
iPod or CDs? iPod, though I actually use a Sony mp3 player because I use Napster
Mac or PC? Mac
Big mac or big hair? Big hair
Jennifer or Angelina? Team Aniston
Brad Pitt or Bradley Cooper? Will Tippen all the way (Bradley Cooper for non-Alias fans)
Project Runway or The Runaway Bunny? Project Runway
Cloth or disposable? Disposable
Kris Allen or Adam Lambert? Tie? Okay, Kris Allen. I picked him out in the semi-finals to go all the way. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t love Lambert too.
Taylor Swift of Taylor Kitsch? Taylor Kitsch!!!!!!!!-love-swoon-die
Another baby or another book? LOL. Another book — the end!
Read the first chapter of Time of My Life here!