Friday, May 11, 2012

Author Interview: Allison Winn Scotch

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Yesterday I reviewed Allison Winn Scotch's newest novel, The Song Remains the Same; which I loved!! Today, I'm thrilled that she took the time to answer our questions. This is her 2nd time doing a Q&A for us and we couldn't be happier.

GJR: Except for a few chapters, the novel is written from the point of view of Nell, how important was it for the readers to connect immediately with her?

Allison Winn Scotch (AWS): Given how little information Nell has about herself, and thus, how little information the readers really have about it, it’s critical that they connect with her on an emotional level right way. I have a few favorite sections of the book, but that initial opening chapter is definitely one of them: for me (and I know that I’m biased! Ha!), the blank slate of her situation is really moving and intriguing, so hopefully, if I did my job well, readers will agree.

GJR: Nell wants to be a new person before she even knew who she was before the accident, why was she so adamant about that?

AWS: Well, when she wakes up, she has all of these ideas about who she really should be. I think in the way that a lot of us would or could wake up in a new life or with no memory of our history and hope that we are completely fabulous. I mean, it’s doubtful that you’d wake up and think, “I hope I’m in a kind of crappy marriage or that I don’t like my job,” etc. And once she understands how middling her current life was, she can’t help but re-envision it for herself. That becomes what she holds onto as she sorts her way through the memory loss.

GJR: As soon as Nell learns that her dad left them, this becomes the focus of her quest. Why did you have Nell latch on to her dad as the key to her past?

AWS: Good question. When you’re writing complicated characters, you have to give them reasons for their complications. Often times, this comes from their past, just as often times outside of fiction, this comes from the past. I had to come up with a tangible reason for why Nell would become the person she became – someone who was living a life that really wasn’t hers – and why she’d stay stuck for so long. I think parental abandonment can do this: it would leave a scar even when you wished that it hadn’t. And you probably really couldn’t erase that scar unless you did some really hard work on yourself.

GJR: How much research did you do about dissociative amnesia? What kind of research did you do?

AWS: My father is a neurosurgeon, so I grew up knowing a lot more about the brain than most kids: it’s what we talked about around the dinner table. (Really!) So with that as a starting point, I spoke with my dad, I read case studies and research online, that sort of thing. It sounds totally implausible, but it actually does happen!

GJR: As a reader I was suspicious and less trusting of the people in Nell’s life than she was. Do you think it’s in our nature to trust, like Nell, or to be distrustful until someone earns it?

AWS: Ooh, fantastic question. I can only speak to myself, but I’m a pretty trusting person, albeit with caveats. What I mean by that is that I think I can also read people pretty well, and if they pass the sniff test, I generally give them the benefit of the doubt. But you have to understand that Nell didn’t even know what her own sniff test was. We all have ours, but she didn’t. She only knew that these people were important to her in the past – her sister, her husband – why shouldn’t she trust them? I think if you consider it from that angle, it’s easy to see why she did. She knew she once trusted them, so why not now?

GJR: How did you decide on the songs that are featured as “The Best of Nell Slattery”? Did the songs drive the chapters or did you fit the songs in afterwards? Did you have to get special rights to use the lyrics?

AWS: Another great question. I fit the songs in afterward, but I did know which parts of the chapter they would come into play for. And at certain points in the editing process, I adjusted the chapters accordingly. Originally, I wanted each chapter to start off with a stanza from a song, but this proved insanely expensive. It turns out that if lyrics are embedded within a chapter (but not used as the opening) you can use a certain amount of words/lines from a song without having to buy the rights, so that’s what I did. And ironically, it ended up being much better for the book – it just blended everything together in a much more seamless way. As far as how I chose the songs? I was all over the place for a long time until I finally honed in on that they all needed to be from a very specific time in her childhood. From there, I spent weeks pouring over billboard charts and listening to music that I thought would evoke each specific moment.

GJR: Music is huge in The Song Remains the Same: what are the top 5 songs that would be the soundtrack for your life?

AWS: Oh my gosh! Impossible question: I am one of those people who have about five songs from each year, much less my life. But a few that come to mind are “Babe,” by Styx (high school), “Better Man,” by Pearl Jam (college), “Little Silver Ring” by The Samples (also college), “Wide Open Spaces” by The Dixie Chicks (post-college) and “Read My Mind” by The Killers (also post-college).

GJR: You’ve said that The Song Remains the Same is the best novel you’ve written. That’s a pretty bold statement. What makes you say that?

AWS: Ha! I just…I just think I was pushed to write a better, sharper, more literary novel this time around. Partially because I wanted to challenge myself and partially because my editor insisted on it. I took more chances, I dove deeper into the nitty-gritty of my characters and their dark places. I don’t know. It’s hard to quantify, but I do think that writers all have their favorites. Whether or not readers agree is probably a different discussion! But we all know (I think) when we’ve done our best work…and conversely, when we haven’t.

GJR: Are you working on another novel? Any little morsel of you can give us about the plot?

AWS: I’m actually not right now. I’ve taken some time this past year to learn how to write screenplays (it’s a very different skill than novels), and I have a few of those in the works. I just wanted to stretch myself and try something different. I have no doubt that I’ll get back to book soon though! I adore movies but there is nothing quite like reading (and writing) a great book.

Thanks to Allison for taking the time out of her busy day to answer our questions!

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