Thursday, July 03, 2008

GCC Presents Amy Wallen and Moonpies and Movie Stars

Yes! I know! I have questions to answer from you guys! (And keep sending 'em!) But I'm still also doing my GCC tours, so today, I'm thrilled to present Amy Wallen (a new member of the GCC!) and her book, Moonpies and Movie Stars, which is newly out in paperback. Not only should you pick up this book because the Los Angeles Times calls it, "spirited and honest," but you should also pick it up because there is a major plot involving The Price is Right! (If you've read The Department, you know why I love this!) Here's some more scoop on the book, along with Amy's answers to a few of my questions. (I particularly appreciate her answers to the first and on why she doesn't "write what she knows.) Check it out. And have a safe and happy holiday!

Ruby Kincaid has her hands full these days. In addition to running the bowling alley after the death of her husband, Rascal, she has the daunting task of caring for her two boisterous grandchildren, since her daughter Violet disappeared without a trace four years earlier. It’s 1976 and Ruby and her nearest and dearest in Devine, Texas are watching their favorite soap opera at the bowling alley when they see Violet in a Buttermaid commercial. Expecting it will only take a little motherly guilt to rein in her wayward daughter, Ruby loads up the Winnebago and heads for Hollywood to try and bring Violet back to the Lone Star State.

Along for the ride are Imogene, Violet’s over-bearing and pretentious mother-in-law (who’s ready to assume the title of “celebrity-in-law”), and Loralva, Ruby’s wild sister who is itching to visit Tinsel Town because it’s where all the game shows are taped – and nothing’s going to stop her from making it to her favorite, The Price Is Right. Rounding out the group are Ruby’s grandchildren Bunny and Bubbie who are confused, sad, and excited at the prospect of finding their mother. They give Ruby the courage she needs to track Violet down and try to make things right.

1) What’s the backstory behind your book? Also, it seems that a lot of readers confuse fiction with real life, assuming that a novel must be an autobiography of the author as well. How many elements of your real life are reflected in your book?

My main character is a woman named Ruby who is in her 50s, lives in a small town in Texas called Devine, and she owns a six-lane bowling alley. None of which I can say I have ever done. Although I’m working my way to my 50s, but I was only 34 when I started the book (I’m 44 now). I believe that there are at least 3 kinds of writing: autobiography (fact), just straight made up stories (fiction) and a combination of the two. I believe I am the 2nd kind. I make stuff up. Ruby did stem from my grandmother who lives in a small town in Texas, and is an entrepreneur owning many different kinds of businesses, but never a bowling alley. I had to research that—spending many hours learning to bowl (badly) and eating fried cheese, drinking Coors Light and wearing goofy shoes. I used to go to writing workshops and take early drafts of my novel. The others in the workshop would read my work and then look at me and say, “You’re not the person that wrote this.” Well, I am. I don’t believe in the expression, “write what you know.” I think the best creativity comes when you write what you don’t know. When you explore, dig around, delve into the stuff that intrigues you. Something about my grandmother’s go-getter personality interested me, I guess. But another major character, Loralva, Ruby’s sister is also based on my grandmother. My grandmother is such a big personality that she had to be two characters in my book. But the story, the plot line, none of that really happened to my grandmother. She used to always ask me, “How come you live out in California and you ain’t never been on one of them game shows.” So I put a Price is Right scene in the book, just for her. But she never was on one, but she dreamed of it. Maybe writing is my way of giving her that.

2) A lot of my blog readers are aspiring or new authors. How did you land your first book deal?My agent gets credit for that. She knew immediately where to send my book. I signed with her, Meg Ruley at the Jane Rotrosen Agency in NYC, one April and by Memorial Day I was deciding between two different publishing houses. This was a good example of why it’s so important to look for an agent who really loves and knows your work. If they represent other work similar to yours, then they have a good idea of where to send it.

3) I have a serious procrastination problem when it comes to tackling my fiction. What’s your routine? How do you dive it? Do you have any rituals or necessary to-dos before or while you write?

Procrastination. I think what I’m doing right now could be considered procrastination. On the other hand, it’s important to keep the publicity side going too. It’s a tough call balancing all the things we have to do in life. You can’t just put your kids out on the front porch like I can my cats when they are bothering me. But sometimes, cleaning the refrigerator out can sound like a whole lot more fun than writing. I try to approach writing like a regular 9-5 job and sit down at my desk and turn off my email and go at it as long as I can. Inevitably something interrupts me, a cat wanting out, a Fedex guy bringing me the stuff I ordered from catalogs last week when I was procrastinating, or a nagging feeling that I should really organize the shoes in my closet Some days, the 9-5 thing works though.

4) Clearly, your book will be optioned for a multi-million dollar film deal! Who would you cast as the leads, if you were given creative control?

You know, I should subscribe to People magazine because I don’t know diddly about celebrities past 1982. But a few people have told me they think Kathy Bates could be a great Ruby Kincaid. And I think I would die a happy person if Jessica Lange would play Loralva. I interviewed Valerie Bertinelli at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival at the end of April and she told me on the golf cart riding over to our stage that she was reading MoonPies and Movie Stars wanted to play Ruby in the movie. I think she would be the best Ruby I can think of. She’s even somewhat how I pictured Ruby—medium length dark hair, loveliest disposition and smile. I think her personality is not too far away from what I see Ruby being, so I think it could be an easy role for her. But I haven’t heard anything else from her. If anyone knows her and can stick a reminder in her ear, I’d pass on a free case of MoonPies.

5) What's your favorite part of writing? Starting something new? Revising what you've already got drafted? Developing characters? The plot? Something else all together?

When I’m creating something new, I feel like that’s the best part. Until it hits a road block. Then it’s hard and I think I should get a job at Home Depot in the tile department (I just retiled my bathroom, so I’m expert now). When I’m editing or rewriting, I feel like that’s the best part. So, I think that I love the whole process. None of it is ever boring. (If it is then I need to rewrite that section!) Overall, I believe in just moving forward and making sure I’m enjoying whatever I’m doing because life is too short, and my cats are sure to interrupt at some point.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Summer Reading Rec

Just popping in to recommend a great book: All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown. I don't know Janelle (though I plan to send her an email and tell her how much I loved it!), don't know her publicists, don't know anyone connected with the book, so this isn't gratuitous pimpage. In fact, I just thought the book was so spellbindingly good that I wanted to support it and her. She manages to construct fully flawed yet entirely likable characters, spin a fast-moving plot, and whip it into a solid 400 pages that I read in two days.

Check it out and see if it's up your alley. If you like smart commercial fiction, I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Mommyhood and Guilt

Question of the day: I wonder if you ever have any guilt that you should put your career on the back burner to spend more time with you kids? Sometimes I feel like I have my whole life to build my career, but my kids will only be young for a short time and I should "put them first" and just work as much as I need to for us to pay the bills. But this feeling quickly dissipates after about three consecutive hours alone with them! Also, I sort of feel like I've been waiting my whole life to write, or at least seriously attempt to write, a novel and I don't want to put it off forever. Just wondering if you ever have this struggle...

What a great question for the blog. Thanks for sending it in.

You know, I posted this because I think it is the struggle that marks so many of our lives, but I have to offer a full disclaimer before we launch into this discussion. I seem to have been born without a guilty gene. What I mean is that guilt trips rarely work on me (just ask my husband who caves at the first sign of a guilt trip and is both perplexed/amazed at my immunity to one) and I truly believe that guilt is often wasted energy. If I feel badly about something, I amend my behavior, and move on. Period. Done. I wash it of my mind. And yes, I DO sometimes feel guilty over being rude to my parents or whatever (yes, it happens!), but I'm just one of those people who is rarely affected by the emotion because it's often so easily fixable by actionable behavior.

BUT, that said, I certainly know what you're talking about, and I do feel that tug of emotion - but for me, I'm not sure if it's guilt, more really, of a longing - when my nanny takes the kids out the door, and I wonder if I shouldn't be spending more time with them. I think it is truly rare that you'll meet a 2008 mom who doesn't have this sort of fact, it is one of the underlying themes of Time of My Life: how do you sustain yourself, how do you not give too much of your self, how do you find that balance between motherhood and the rest of your life?

For me, I find that balance in a couple of ways: I truly try to give my kids my complete attention when I'm not working - I give them breakfast every morning, dinner every night, take my son to school/camp nearly every day (occasionally my husband wants to do it...and I'm certainly not going to stop him!), and I put one of them, sometimes both if my husband isn't yet home, to bed each night. These are our rituals, and these are the ways that they know that I am there for them. When I have more time to give, I do. But when I don't, I don't spend a lot of time worrying about it because that's even more of a drain on my energy, and God knows that I don't have much in reserves.

Being a writer is nearly as much a part of me as being a mother. NOT as much, and there is NO DOUBT that I'd sacrifice everything - including, quite obviously, my career for my kids - but it is one of the most important pieces of who I am. I love being able to show my kids my byline or my books in our bookshelf or walking into a bookstore and hearing my son say, "Mommy, remember when you signed books here?" It's empowering to me, and thus, I know that I pass that empowerment on to them. What we get to do - put words on a page and (hopefully) get paid for them - is a pretty cool thing: it's creative and independent and intelligent all at once, and I really believe that my kids see that. For me, that's far better than spending 24/7 with them, which, like you, only makes me crazy. I love them more than anything on the planet - you know what kind of love I'm talking about - but that doesn't mean that I have to lose myself to motherhood.

So...I answer your question in a very long-winded way: I know that in doing this, I'm not only doing what's best for me, but I'm doing what's best for my kids. Yes, sometimes I feel those pangs of wishing I could whisk them out the door, but I also know that big picture, we'll all come out okay, more than okay, we'll all come out pretty great.

Working mommies out there - want to chime in on how you deal with guilt and motherhood?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Summer at Ask Allison - Ask Questions!

So, because I'm a little tired of all of my navel-gazing and because I can only think of so many subjects on which to write, I'm turning over the blog to you, dear readers.

Starting this week, we're returning to the Q/A format of the blog for the summer months. I'd love to hear what YOU GUYS want to talk about, what YOU GUYS want thoughts on, rather than just blabbing on and on about whatever is on my mind.

Send any questions you might have on any aspect of the biz to me, and I'll answer them and get them up on the blog. If no one asks, I'll just chill out and won't post. :) But I know, given the amount of questions I got the first year of this blog, that there are a lot of inquisitive minds out there who are just looking for answers, so send your thoughts - or even just discussion topics if you don't have a specific question - my way, and we'll get this party started.

I will, of course, occasionally pepper the blog with updates on Time of My Life, and good stuff like that...

So - send away:! I'll try to get them on the blog in a timely manner.