Monday, January 9, 2023

šŸŽ¤Interview with Allyson Rice Author The Key to Circus-Mom Highway #AuthorInterview


Allyson Rice is a writer, an award-winning mixed media artist, and a producer with Atomic Focus Entertainment, currently splitting her time between Los Angeles, CA, and Rehoboth Beach, DE. She’s a graduate of Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Science in Communication. After spending many years as an actress on stage and on television, she left acting and spent the next decade running yoga/meditation retreats, women’s retreats, and creativity retreats around the country. After that, she pivoted to focus once again on her own creative work. In addition to her writing and art, she’s also a photographer (her work was most recently chosen for an exhibition at the Soho Photo Gallery in NYC).

Some random bits of Allyson trivia: 1) She’s been skydiving, paragliding, bungee jumping, ziplining through a rainforest, and scuba diving with stingrays; 2) she has an extensive PEZ dispenser collection; 3) she played Connor Walsh on As the World Turns for seven years; 4) she’s been in the Oval Office at the White House after hours; 5) she’s related to the Hatfields of the infamous Hatfield/McCoy feud; and 6) her comedic rap music video “Fine, I’ll Write My Own Damn Song” won numerous awards in the film festival circuit and can now be seen on YouTube

Also available from Allyson Rice is her line of women’s coloring books (The Color of Joy, Dancing with Life, and Wonderland), and The Creative Prosperity PlayDeck, an inspirational card deck about unlocking and utilizing your creative energy in the world. She’s currently at work on her second novel and her fourth women’s coloring book. But she is most proud of being mom to musical artist @_zanetaylor.





My e-commerce site:

Can you tell us what your book, The Key to Circus-Mom Highway, is about? 

The Key to Circus-Mom Highway is a funny and touching story about family, forgiveness, connection/disconnection, finding common ground with people who are very different from you through shared experience, and second chances. I elevated the humor in the world around the three protagonists as a way to show that there are always absurdities we can laugh about, even during

challenging times. Some serious themes are woven into the story, but it’s intended to be a fast, entertaining read that mends on a positive, hopeful note.

The shortest description would be:
In an attempt to secure an unexpected inheritance—and hopefully find a few answers—two estranged sisters and their newly discovered brother embark on a comically surreal trip through the Deep South to retrace the life of the mother who abandoned them as infants.

Slightly longer:
What do a circus, a murder, an 89-year-old narcoleptic juke joint owner, and a New Orleans drag queen named Jackie, Oh! have to do with the now-deceased woman who abandoned Jesse Chasen and her sister Jennifer McMahon as infants? Only everything. The burning question is… will they unravel Circus-Mom’s secrets on their one-week road trip through the Deep South as they attempt to collect their inheritance? Or will their inadvertent kidnapping by a trucker with a penchant for TV theme songs
from the ’70s derail them completely? And I mean, c’mon, no one wants to be listening to the theme song from Gilligan’s Island during all of that. A coming-of-age story sometimes doesn’t happen until later in life. Then it’s about second chances, and about finding the people you choose to call family. Yeah. And alligators…

Longest Synopsis:
On a Tuesday afternoon, sisters Jesse Chasen and Jennifer McMahon receive a phone call notifying them that their birth mother has died, leaving behind a significant inheritance. But in order to obtain it, they must follow a detailed road trip she designed for them to get to know her—and that includes finding a brother they never knew existed.

For the next week, this ill-assorted trio treks across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia to meet their mother’s old friends, from circus performers to a juke joint owner, each of whom delivers a shocking vignette into the life of a young mother traumatized by loss and abuse. Along the way, these three siblings—Jesse, whose fiery exterior disguises a wounded, drifting musician stuck in a rut; Jennifer, whose carefully curated family life is threatened by her husband’s infidelity; and Jack, whose enigmatic Jackie, Oh! persona in the New Orleans drag queen scene helps him escape the nightmares of Afghanistan that haunt him at night—must confront their own demons (and at least one alligator). But in chasing the truth about their real mother, they may all just find their second chance.

This uproarious debut novel is a reminder that sometimes, the family you’d never have chosen may turn out to be exactly what you need.

Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

Jesse Chasen is a free spirit, the black sheep of her family. She’s smart, funny, sarcastic, and wounded. She’s a musician at heart, but has been in a tailspin since the death of her parents five years earlier, and is currently working in a dead-end job as a bartender in a strip club. She landed there after having difficulty keeping her last job at the makeup counter at Nordstrom. She feels alone in the world and has cultivated this “tough girl” protective shell around herself.

Her older sister (by 2 years), Jennifer McMahon, has always been the good girl, the rule-follower in life. She lives a seemingly ideal life in an upper-middle-class suburb of Chicago with her doctor husband. Her two perfect children are going to college nearby at Northwestern University (my alma mater! Go Cats!) She’s constantly bailed out Jesse anytime she’s been in a bind, but things have become strained between them over the past five years. She doesn’t want to go to Florida to meet with the lawyer after they receive the call from him about their birth mom, but Jesse (newly unemployed and
needing a place to stay again) guilt-trips her into going.

Jack Babineaux lives in New Orleans. Jesse and Jennifer have no idea he exists until they go to their first stop on the journey in Thibodeaux, Louisiana. He knew he was adopted and has absolutely no intention of going on the journey with them because he wants nothing to do with the woman who didn’t want him when he was born. He finds Jesse and Jennifer to be unpleasant and irritating when he meets them. That’s all I’m going to say about him here. You can hear his story as the sisters hear it when you read the book! ;-)

These three main characters are meant to be very grounded, realistic characters, dealing with absurdly heightened situations and characters around them as they travel. Jesse, the middle child, is the one who drives the story. As the book progresses, and they find out more about their deceased birth mom, Jesse is the one who has the most in common with her, and Jesse is the character who experiences the most personal growth.

The supporting characters, from the redneck trucker who gives them a ride, to the dyslexic waitress, to the newly married couple on their Nascar/Monster Truck/Wrestle Mania/Ghost Tours honeymoon, all have fun/quirky backstories. They’re part of the tapestry of the absurd world we live in, and that the protagonists have to navigate through.

Your book is set in a number of locations–Illinois, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia. Can you tell us why you chose these locations in particular?

When I was coming up with the storyline, I knew I was going to have a character trying to get somewhere and having to navigate through a comic landscape. Once I figured out who was doing the traveling and why, I needed to choose the starting location and then a journey through a place that was so unfamiliar that it felt like another world. I chose a northern city for the origination point, and chose the Deep South for the journey. For someone who has never been to the Deep South, it’s a perfect “strange and unfamiliar” landscape to travel through. Jack, of course, is from there, so he’s completely at ease with the location (just not at ease with his Yankee sisters).

The specific stops they make were partly determined by the driving times and partly determined by adventures I knew I wanted them to have.

How long did it take you to write your book?

It’s very difficult to pinpoint the exact amount of time. I began writing it in 2016 but had two long breaks between then and when I completed it in early 2022 while I was working at two different jobs that required all of my focus. If I add up all of the periods where I was actively writing and editing, I would guess it took me about two+ years. But from start to finish, including those breaks, six years.
In some ways, it made it harder to get to the finish line with the book. But in other ways, it created a situation where I’d come back to the writing after a long break and I’d have completely fresh eyes as I re-read it again from start to finish. It was easy to pinpoint the places that needed to be revised or expanded, and I’d always have many new ideas when I’d re-read it again after being away from it.

What has been the most pivotal point of your writing life?

There are two things that immediately come to mind. I had been collaborating with other writers on a couple of scripts. I love the collaborative process! But my dad (a law professor and author before his passing) strongly encouraged me to try writing solo.

That’s when I began writing a novel–not this one, but the one I started before I paused it to write The Key to Circus-Mom Highway, and that I’m now back at work on. That’s when I discovered that I LOVED writing fiction novels.

The second pivotal point was when I hit a wall trying to get a lit agent to read my manuscript. And you can’t get your book to publishers without a lit agent submitting your work. So there was one day when I was looking through the list of all of the lit agents I had sent query letters to, and thought to myself, “Enough. I’m done. The book needs to be out there in the world already so I can focus on other projects.” That’s the day I decided to go the indie author route. It’s a lot more work, and you don’t have a publishing machine behind you in terms of marketing and exposure, but you’re in control
of everything.

What kind of advice would you give up-and-coming authors?

Don’t let anyone make you feel like you don’t have enough experience, or you don’t have an interesting enough story to tell, or you aren’t capable of doing it. You do and you are. A hundred people could tell the same basic story, but they will be completely different because we each have a unique perspective of the world, one that no other person will ever have. So figure out what makes you you, and write your story from that place. You do have a story in you, maybe hundreds of them, and you do have a unique
voice in which to tell it.

If you get to a place in your work where you don’t know exactly how to write what you want to write, or you don’t know what the proper formatting is, or you don’t know much about a particular subject, or you know nothing about the ins and outs of book marketing (I could keep going), research it. If you have the money, there are people you can hire, or classes you can take, or books you can buy, etc. And if you don’t have the money, you know what’s free? Resources found on the internet. And to all the people who just thought to themselves, “Internet access costs money,” I would say, “Go get a public library card! It’s free and you can get on the internet for free there.” There are any number of articles and YouTube videos on just about any subject. Be creative in your search terms if you don’t find what you're looking for on the first search.

There are times you will get frustrated and discouraged. We all do. But keep going. If you need to take breaks periodically to step away from your writing and do something completely unrelated, go ahead and do it. If you have writer’s block, go to a busy public place and watch people. You’ll come back to your writing with fresh eyes and renewed enthusiasm. Then keep going once again.

Take any criticism with a grain of salt. If multiple people are giving the same feedback, there might be something constructive in there for you to incorporate when you revise.

But don’t be too swayed by one person’s opinion. Opinions are just opinions. Hold steady in your vision and keep moving forward.

The reality is that we can do anything we set our minds to with determination and perseverance. That includes you. And in the meantime, keep reading other people’s books. There’s nothing like a great book to inspire you! And they all started just like yours–as a blank page.




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