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Balancing Motherhood, Marriage and Friendship: An Interview With Allison Winn Scotch

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Time of Your Life (Random House, October 2008) is Allison Winn Scotch's second novel. It tells the story of Jillian -- a thirty-something, married, suburban mother in Westchester County, New York -- who suddenly sees her life playing out a different way than it did seven years ago, jumps to fix it, and takes the reader along for the ride. This engaging story raises provocative questions about love, marriage, family, friendship, and motherhood. It will grab anyone who has ever had second thoughts about the road not followed. The film rights to the story have already been purchased by the Weinstein Company so watch for it to come to your local theatres!

Allison graciously agreed to answer my questions about the role of friendship in Jillian's story:

Question:
You did a lovely job portraying Jillian as a woman juggling multiple roles: wife, worker, mother, and friend. What roles did her friends, Megan and Ainsley, play in Jillian's life (lives)?

Answer:
They were really her foundation, her barometers, in both her present and her past. Whatever her crisis, her friends were stable for her -- and she tried to do the same for them. I've found this to be true in my own life too: through every various incarnation of myself and my relationships and my careers, my friends have held steady, and in fact, I thank many of my dearest friends in my acknowledgments, saying, "Thank you for reminding me that where we come from is just as important as where we're going." And this pretty much sums up Jill's friendships -- they carry her through wherever she might be headed. That, really, to me, is what the best of friendships can do.

Question:
Did you derive inspiration for those characters from your own friendships? If so, explain.

Answer:
Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I have a few very, very close friends whom I value like family. Second to my husband (and maybe my parents), they get the phone call with any good news that I want to share. So I understood how necessary and invaluable these women were for Jillian. I also understood that there are certain things -- secrets, for lack of a better word -- that you can share only with these women. In fact, the inspiration for the book came from a conversation I had with my dearest friend; she was having one of those "what if" moments, and we were discussing the paths she could have taken, and I was reassuring her that these questions were entirely normal... we just don't share them publicly too often. Really, only with our most trusted confidantes. So, in that sense, yes, I derived inspiration from my friendships. But neither Megan nor Ainsley are based on my friends or literally inspired by them. But it would certainly be fair to say that my love and appreciation for them is perhaps reflected in Jillian's love and appreciation for her friends and how they help her wade through the muck of her situation.

Question:
Your handling of infertility was particularly sensitive. How did it become a dominant theme in the book?

Answer:
Well, the book wrestles with a variety of issues that deal with motherhood, and I wanted to explore what it might be like to want that motherhood so badly -- something that Jillian is mildly blasé about -- and not be able to achieve it. How would that mold you? How would you cope with it? Increasingly, as my friends and I get older, I hear of friends who struggle with fertility, and my heart breaks for them because, it's the great unknown really: who knows if you're going to get pregnant, and it can really feel like a crapshoot. But what if this was all you wanted in the world for yourself? How do you overcome that? How do you grieve? How do you move forward? Megan's experience and views really stood in contrast to Jillian's, and I thought it was a nice counter-balance and a good way to explore how much motherhood can (or can't) define you.

Question:
How did Jillian friendships change with marriage and motherhood? What has been your own experience?

Answer:
Jillian became more isolated, both literally and emotionally, when she married. She left so much of what she was familiar with: her job, her city, her apartment, and headed to the suburbs, and I think this was really disorienting for her, as I know it can be for many women. And then there's the whole motherhood factor: the fact that after we have kids, we might feel less connected with our single or childless friends, or they might feel less connected to us. Not that this always happens. Certainly, there are plenty of times when it doesn't happen. But, and many moms will quickly admit to this, when you have kids it becomes so, so easy to lose yourself in them, and what happens when you meet up with your single friends and all you want to do is talk about potty training or preschool applications? It's not fair to them, and I guess it's not fair to you either. But the key, for me, has been finding common ground. In my own experience, sure, I've drifted in some friendships (or they've drifted from me) once I got married and had kids - simply because we didn't share the same common ground anymore- but the ones that were most dear, of course we made them work. We go out for dinner, and they listen to me talk about my kids, and I listen to their dating horror stories... and then we move on to gossip, careers, old friends, whatever. I think it's important that everyone make a little effort to find that middle ground -- it's not hard to do in solid relationships.

Question:
On page 63, you mention how friends can get lost in the shuffle of life. Can you explain how or why this happens based on your own experiences?

Answer:
Sure, I alluded to it a bit above. Sometimes, when friendships are so constant in your life, you almost forget that they're there... it's like you take them for granted. "Oh, I can call her tomorrow because I have to deal with XYZ today." That sort of thing. I know that I'm totally guilty of this. Right now, for example, my best friend and I have been playing phone tag for over three weeks: she moved, I went on vacation, she got wrapped up in her son's new school, I got wrapped up in work, etc. But I've also been lucky. I've surrounded myself with women who don't need daily check-ins -- we're always happy to hear from each other whenever the other has the time. I understand that my friends value me, and I also understand that they have a whole set of responsibilities that have nothing to do with me. And that's totally okay. What matters most to me is that when I really need them -- with good news or with bad news -- they answer the phone and listen.

Question:
Writing a novel can be pretty lonely. How do you handle your own friendships as a novelist?

Answer:
A couple of different ways: One, I have a lot of "virtual" friends! Which sounds crazy, but my writer friends whom I know from various online groups keep me company during the day when I need to connect with someone or need a break. I just head to the forums of these sites and chime in. Two, I make a point to have a girls' night at least once a month. This keeps me in touch with my college friends who have known me for almost two decades. You can't replace that kind of camaraderie, and even when I'm soooo tired and don't feel like going, I'm always so glad that I did afterward: I feel rejuvenated. And three, as I've said above, I have a short list of my closest friends who I call when I have the time... usually this is while I'm walking the dog! But after catching up for 30 minutes or so, I feel like all is well in my world... and in theirs. And that's enough to fuel me over the next few days (or weeks) when we might not have a chance to reconnect.

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine and is working on a book about female friendships which will be published by Overlook Press. Friendship by the Book is an occasional series of posts on www.fracturedfriendships.com about books that offer friendship lessons.

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