One of the books tucked into my beach book basket is Allison Winn Scotch’s latest, The One That I Want. I first discovered Allison as a freelance writer and found that I liked both her voice in her articles and on her blog. Then, her first novel came out, followed by another, and I scooped both of those up and found I liked Allison’s voice in fiction just as much as I liked it in her freelance and blog work. I also love her storytelling. Here’s a Q&A with Allison about The One That I Want, her writing schedule, self-awareness, and community activism.
But, first, a quick review of The One That I Want from Booklist:
Scotch (The Department of Lost & Found, 2007; Time of My Life, 2008) specializes in heroines at a crossroads, questioning their life choices and preparing to embark on journeys of self-discovery. Here she hews closely to this formula. Tilly Farmer is aggressively insistent in claiming that she loves her life, including marriage to her high-school sweetheart and a job as a high-school guidance counselor. She’s actually in a rut but doesn’t know it, until a fortune-teller provides her with the gift of “clarity” regarding the future. The more honest Tilly is about her emotions—especially the anger, resentment, and grief tamped down since the death of her mother—the more her perfect world unravels and the closer she comes to real happiness. Scotch creates eminently relatable characters, with a particularly excellent understanding of the way sisters interact, and has the ability to craft scenes of real emotional weight, so much so that none of her flash-forwards or hocus-pocus is necessary. –Patty Wetli
As a writer, you have to spend a lot of time with your characters. Though they aren’t real characters, an affection for them inevitably develops. What do you love about Tilly Farmer?
What a great question. And it’s funny because originally, I wouldn’t say that I loved her. I may have admired the energy she put into taking care of other people’s needs, but I wished so badly for her that she made braver choices. As I spent more time with her – and as she grew more fearless – THAT is when I really fell in love with her. By the end of the book, and maybe this sounds strange to say, but I was so proud of her for staring down fear and refusing to cower. She’s triumphant by the end, not because her life is perfect, but because she’s living it on her terms. For me, personally, I think that’s all we can ask of ourselves.
The One That I Want examines life choices. What inspired you to examine this theme?
Well, as a woman in my thirties, I think it’s simply a really compelling exploration. I see my friends – my age, older and younger – and we’ve all been given almost a surplus of options in our lives – career, stay at home, kids, no kids, married, divorced, etc, etc, etc, and I think that it’s really easy to slide into a life that you’re unhappy with. But also, maybe a life in which you’re not even cognizant of that unhappiness. More of an acceptance that this is what life is. But I don’t think it has to be that way – I think, and it’s not easy, you can try to seize the reins and make smaller choices that accumulate into larger ones, and result into a more fulfilling life.
The joy of reading is finding that moment in a book that grabs you by the throat. Even as writers, we have those moments with our work- often because we don’t always know where we’re going or what we’re thinking until it appears on the page. Was there a moment in the book—without being a spoiler- that grabbed you by the throat?
I have a few, and nearly all of them would come with spoiler warnings. 🙂 Tilly’s ride starts off pretty placidly, and then goes full-throttle at about the halfway point. So I don’t want to betray that. But, in terms of heartwarming and making me a little misty, one non-spoiler scene that I really love is the scene in which they actually perform Grease. (Given the title of the book, I don’t think this is too much of a giveaway!) It’s nostalgic without being saccharine, and I loved the feeling of joy that all the characters experience in their own way.
Your talent as a fiction writer has led to a busy publication schedule. The One that I Want is out this month and you are currently working on The Memory of Us which will come out next June. How do you handle that production schedule on a daily basis and annually?
When I’m in writing mode, which for me, is January through June-ish, I have a designated word count for the day. Usually about 1k-2k, depending on what part of the manuscript I’m in. Some are easier than others! I then spend the next three months working closely with my editor on revisions, and then I find that it’s important for me to reboot a bit, so I give myself a few months (if I’m lucky) to decompress and think of another idea. The idea, for me, is critical. If I’m not totally in love with it or fully committed to it, I can’t write the book. So it’s important that I have some down time for things to gestate. (Also, because I’m tired!) 🙂
Some issues we discuss on a regular basis on this blog are self-awareness and community engagement. Given that, what do you most appreciate about yourself?
I feel fortunate to have been born with a very healthy sense of confidence. 🙂 And my parents nurtured it in such a way that I’m competitive with myself without being competitive with others, and that I have enough self-awareness to be okay with criticism, to digest it and consider it, and then try to improve upon it. I see a similar attribute in my daughter, and I so admire it in her. I think this sense of self, without too much of an ego (though I realize this alone might sound narcissistic!) has helped a lot in my writing career, but also just in life in general. I don’t take things too seriously and usually have an optimistic sense of what I’m capable of. So there’s not a lot that I won’t attempt to pull off or that scares me away.
I’ve noticed that you care greatly about animal rescue. How did your interest in animal rescue develop and why do you feel compelled to offer support to that cause?
Yes, my family – including my children – and I are all big advocates of animal rescue causes. I grew up with dogs, and so of course, always loved them, but when my husband and I adopted our dog, Pedro, eight years ago, my eyes really began to open to the dire straits of homeless animals. Now, with two kids, they’ve really taken a very, very keen interest in it – my five year old knows how to log onto Petfinder and does so daily – and again, just with more knowledge, the more involved I want to be. Having kids, and hearing their little opinions on the situation, has made me a more empathetic individual, and certainly, seeing all of these animals in need of a home splinters my heart. I’m too busy right now to volunteer at a shelter, but that’s my next step. But we have several animal charities on the top of our annual donation list, and I try to give as much and as generously as I can.
What do you wish all women knew?
I wish that women were kinder to themselves, that only good things will come from that. As I said above, I was fortunate to be born feeling pretty good about things, but I’ve seen some friends really struggle with self-esteem and various other issues. I think it can be very hard to say, I’m okay with being imperfect, but there is such freedom in that! Life is short – why bother beating yourself up? If you’re not going to be kind to yourself, no one is. If there’s something about my life –or myself – that I’m upset with, I try to take tangible, actionable steps to improve it rather than sitting around moping. From there, things can only get better.