Allison Winn Scotch's debut novel, The Department of Lost and Found, put her on the map as a smart and talented addition to the women's fiction genre. She then followed up her stellar success with hits like Time of My Life and The One That I Want. Her high-concept novels take compelling plots ("What if you could go back in time and fix your mistakes? What if you woke up one day and all of your dreams had come true?") and mixes them with well-drawn-out characters and realistic settings. In our interview, Allison talks about her latest novel, The Theory of Opposites. She discusses her decision to self-publish, the need for risk taking and the importance of finding your own voice.
Where did the idea or spark of inspiration come from for 'The Theory of Opposites'?
I think it started by, well, just getting a little older and taking a look around and seeing some random, very difficult things happen to friends or people I know. Illness, accidents... things that none of us can prepare for and seem to happen at random. Parenthood certainly also played a role in my inspiration: As a mother, I like to think I can control everything that happens to my family, to me, in terms of keeping us safe and sound and happy and protected. But sometimes, life just happens... and whether that is fate or bad luck... that's what I hoped to explore.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing 'The Theory of Opposites?'
I took about a six-month break between writing the first few chapters and returning to the manuscript. I had almost lost my passion for writing due to outside pressures of the industry, and I sincerely thought that I was done with novel-writing completely. It was a hard time for me professionally: I really had to consider who I would be if I weren't writing fiction, and I also had to decide how much my career contributed (or not) to my personal happiness. So this was certainly the most challenging aspect of the book: Do I write it at all? Did I want to put myself out there again? Slowly, over those six months, I gained some perspective and sort of re-strengthened my backbone, and eventually, I remembered this little book that I had started and left dwindling on my computer. I sat down and reread it, and it made me laugh and relit my passion. From there, honestly, the rest was pretty easy. I fell completely in love with these characters and just wanted to spend time with them every day. So I wrote almost daily and had a finished first draft (which then went through lengthy revisions!) within a few months.
What is the message you want readers to take away from your book?
That finding your own voice matters. That choice matters. That there is always an option to be your own best advocate. It's probably not coincidence that this is the message of the book when I had to reteach myself that too.
You have been very public about your decision to go the independent publishing route. What has been the best and worst part of your journey?
Gosh, to be honest, and I'm not trying to be all Pollyanna-ish about this, but from start to finish, the experience has been almost entirely amazing. I was truly terrified of taking this route, but I also knew that, much like my answer above, if I didn't, if I didn't try to fix a system that had broken for me (traditional publishing), and I just sat around and complained about said broken system, that I'd be selling myself short. But to answer your question: I guess the best part of the journey has been the control that I now have over the book. Everything about this book was mine. The cover, the pricing, who I hired to work with me -- the editors, the designers, all of that. It doesn't mean that it has been perfect -- I found some typos in the finished book and freaked out! (and corrected them) -- but that ownership and the pride of ownership -- is HUGE. In the past, I've filed a manuscript, and then it's sort of ushered downstream by a team of people, some of whom are fantastic at their jobs, some of whom are not. But I just had to sit back and watch it go. No longer. I suppose the downside of indie publishing is that it is still very difficult to break into store space. In the past, I've had a presence at places like Target and Costco (and of course Barnes and Noble), and while we've had some initial conversations with these outlets, they are still unlikely to carry an indie book. So that stinks. Because of the low price point of Theory ($2.99), most of the book sales are e-books, which is totally fine, but it would be great to get the paperback out there in stores as well, not just via online outlets.
Describe your writing schedule. Do you outline? Any habits?
I don't outline. I've tried that in the past, and it just does NOT work for me because I find myself backed into a corner with where I thought my characters should go... when in fact, they should go somewhere else entirely. I usually start with an idea -- for Theory, it was: how much control do we have over our own lives -- and then I develop my protagonist: who is she, how has she found herself in her current circumstances. And then, I just write. It sounds almost crazy, but this method works for me. When I'm writing a manuscript, I write every day except for weekends, though sometimes, I write then too. I like to take a long walk in the morning or go for a run, which always helps settle my brain and also fuel my creativity, and then by about 10 a.m., I sit down and just write, write, write for a few hours. If I've reached my designated word count for the day (somewhere between 1000 - 2000), I give myself permission to quit. Sometimes I do, sometimes, I don't. But writing every day gets you in the habit of it, much like exercising every day. And then it doesn't feel like a chore. And when I'm not working a manuscript, I surf a lot of gossip blogs. :)
What books are on your nightstand? What are you currently reading?
I have so many books that I'm dying to get to! I just bought Golden State by Michelle Richmond, The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick, and Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse. Oh, and The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh -- just finished that, and it's fantastic.
Which authors inspire you?
I have a long list of authors whose work has helped me over the years -- everyone from Stephen King to Judy Blume to Jonathan Tropper to Nick Hornby to Laura Dave. But right now, authors who inspire me are those who are trying to challenge themselves a bit in their writing and their work: I love reading an author who surprises me. It doesn't matter if they've written one book or 20. If I'm surprised by what happens and what I'm reading on the pages, it's a home run.
What have you learned from this experience?
That taking a risk is worth it. In fact, this is really another big theme of the book too. There are so many times in our lives when it is just easier to accept the status-quo, to give into inertia, but for me, that wasn't enough, and it wasn't making me happy. If you want to make yourself happier, you have to work for it. There's nothing wrong with that.
What is your advice for aspiring writers?
Keep writing; don't think that your first draft is good enough... in fact, don't think your fourth draft is good enough. Be open to constructive criticism: It works for a reason. Take your ego out of the equation: The best writers know that there is always room for improvement.
What are you working on now?
I'm actually working on some film stuff, which is fun because it's a totally different experience and muscle. And I do celeb interviews for a few magazines, so I have a few of those in the pot. Oh my gosh, I moved to L.A. last year. How L.A. is this answer? :)