Emily Giffin, best-selling author of Something Borrowed, interviews Allison Winn Scotch about The Song Remains the Same
Emily Giffin: Like me, you had a different career before you started writing novels. What made you take the leap into writing full-time?
Allison Winn Scotch: To be honest, I’m not sure that I had an actionable plan… I always loved writing in school, and I guess I was always decent at it, but whenever anyone told me to pursue it as a profession, I just thought, “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. How does one even begin to make a living as a writer?!?” In my early twenties, I muddled through a variety of jobs, trying to figure out what would make me happy. I dabbled in PR, and while that didn’t make me happy (at all), it did lead to an Internet job doing some copyediting and article writing that eventually led me to other clients and then to a pretty healthy career as a magazine writer. Again, as I said, none of this was particularly well mapped-out. After about seven years writing for magazines, I wanted to flex a new muscle, so I tried fiction. And I wrote a terribly, terribly bad book. It never sold to a publisher (thank goodness!), but it lit a spark inside me, and from there, I kept going, tried again, and wrote the manuscript that eventually became my debut. But what about you? You’re a former lawyer--how did you make this leap?
EG: I discovered that supreme misery can be motivating. Although I loved law school (I think I could be happy being a student forever), I knew virtually from my first day as an attorney at a large New York City firm that I had chosen the wrong career. I made a five-year plan to pay back my loans and get out. In the meantime, I wrote a young adult novel (on the weekends and while I should have been billing GE!). Like your first book, mine was pretty lame, but also like yours, it gave me the courage to write the next one. Secretly, writing fiction was always my dream, ever since I was a little girl.
AWS: I think my love of writing and books also started when I was little. My mom was a teacher, and a love of reading was always encouraged in our house. My parents moved a few years ago and dumped all of my old journals on my doorstep (figuratively, of course!), and I could see how I was actually a writer my whole life, even if I didn’t realize it. (Granted, my journals filled with tales of fifth-grade woe weren’t exactly Pulitzer-ready.)
EG: Speaking of childhoods: Also like me, you are a mom to young children. How do you juggle your time?
AWS: I don’t think my life is probably much different from any other working mom’s. My mornings are spent getting the kids out the door, usually with a few missteps and forgotten items and lost gloves and left-behind homework. My little one is still in pre-K, so I run her to school while my husband takes my son. From there, I dash home, try to squeeze in a workout, and then head upstairs to my office. I write (or procrastinate) for most of the rest of the day, breaking to walk our entitled dog, Pedro, and then wrap up when the kids get home. Pretty mundane, really. Again, I think that like most moms, I try to be organized and on a pretty strict schedule, and if I stick to that, things run fairly smoothly. By that I mean you have to expect the unexpected. People believe that being an author is glamorous, but at least for me, it’s sweatpants and coffee. Is it glamorous for you? And trick question: What’s more exhausting, being a mom or being a writer?
EG: I don’t know what you’re talking about. It is 5:30 a.m., I have one hour before the kids get up for school, and I’m writing in full makeup and gold-glitter Jimmy Choos. . . . Ha. Being a mother and being a writer are both exhausting, and worse, much of the time, I feel mediocre at both. But I think writing is more terrifying, because it’s more public. You make a bad parenting decision, and it’s really only your husband who rubs it in your face. You write a bad book, and it’s really only your husband who will pretend not to notice.
AWS: Ha! Though I will disagree on the parenting decision, I’ve found that grandparents are happy to weigh in, too. (I kid, I kid.)
EG: This book kicks off with the aftermath of a plane crash. Why start there?
AWS: Because I am deathly afraid of plane crashes. I actually have plane-crash dreams when something is bothering me subconsciously. I wake up in the middle of the night and try to assess what I might be freaking out about. The dreams are almost always a sign that I’m stressed over something I’m not dealing with. It’s funny: I didn’t used to be scared of flying at all, and to be sure, I travel a lot. A lot of this is probably tied into motherhood and parenting and mortality, and the idea that life isn’t always in our control. So I guess writing a book in which my heroine survives a crash was my way of taking back some of that control, even if it’s only in my imagination! Where does your initial inspiration come from? How often are you asked if you draw from your real life?
EG: Although I’ve yet to write an autobiographical work, I can definitely see myself in all my protagonists, and of course, like all writers, I draw from my own life experiences. I was an unhappy lawyer like Rachel in Something Borrowed. I had twins like Darcy in Something Blue. Et cetera, et cetera. I probably had the most questions about Ellen in Love the One You’re With, as I had recently moved to Atlanta from London (and New York before that), just as Ellen had. Because Ellen had a difficult time adjusting to the South and was fairly critical of Atlanta, many people (including the local media) assumed that I, too, was a disgruntled transplant. That sort of thing is more likely to happen when you write in the first person.
AWS: Absolutely. I’ve had a very similar experience with Jillian, my protagonist in Time of My Life. I always tell people that while I understand her on an emotional level—and of course, I’ve entertained the question of “what if”--I’m not her and she’s not me. As an author, you try to tap into the well of universal experience and feeling, but you hope you don’t replicate your own life too much.
EG: Again like me, I know that you love all things pop culture. What is it about celebrities that makes us unable to look away?
AWS: Oh man, I don’t know. For me, because I am so exhausted a lot of the time, reading junky magazines or trashy websites is a way to turn off my brain. I will read some gossip site at night in bed on my iPad and have no recollection of it the next day, but evidently it did the trick, because it helped me fall asleep! I also adore quality TV. There’s an escapism to it, sure, but great TV--something like Friday Night Lights--can resonate with you as both a person and a writer. When I was younger, I adored Felicity, and when I started writing, I hoped to convey some of the same themes that the show had explored. And then, of course, there’s the judgment that we make of celebrities, which is maybe the most fun. :) Of course I’d never advocate that same level of judgment in real life, but hey, I’m not above reading US Weekly and turning up my nose at someone’s outfit or romantic entanglement. I’m curious: What do you think makes your own love of pop culture tick? What would you do if you ever met Jennifer Aniston?
EG: Oh my goodness- I loved Felicity, too! What a great show. I was obsessed with whether she should choose Noel or Ben--and my publicist actually gave me the whole series on DVD for my birthday one year. I make no apologies about loving pop culture, either, and Jennifer Aniston is my absolute favorite. I like to think I’d play it cool if I ever had the chance to meet her. I also like to think that I’d have my hair recently highlighted, my nails done, and a great outfit on. That girl is honed to perfection.
AWS: I own the series on DVD, too! And I should tell you that I’ve since interviewed many of the actors from the show, and they are as fantastic as you’d have hoped. Though since both Ben and Noel are equally dreamy in real life, I’ve come no closer to resolving the debate. (Okay, back then, I was fully Team Ben, but now I am older and wiser, and admit that either would do in a pinch.)
EG: Last question: What’s on your bucket list?
AWS: This sounds so masochistic, but I would really love to run a marathon. Every year, we go watch the New York City race, and I say, “I’m definitely going to run it next year.” And then time passes, and naturally, I don’t. Right now, my excuse is that it’s too hard to train with young kids, but maybe once they’re older… I don’t know. We’ll see what my excuse is in another decade. What’s on yours?
EG: To never, ever run a marathon. Finally we differ on something!
Photo Emily Giffin © Deborah Feingold
Photo Allison Winn Scotch © Debbie Winn