I first met Alison about four years ago at a writers retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico, sponsored by the Women's Fiction Writers Association (WFWA). Alison had the biggest smile. Always. And enthusiasm for learning all there was to know about writing a book.
Alison’s debut novel, You and Me and Us, will be released by William Morrow on April 7th. The writing is beautiful; the story is heartbreaking, and do not even think about reading this book without a box of tissues close by.
Following are a few questions I posed to Alison so that we could all get to know her better. Look at that smile!
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a writer when I grew up; I
just didn’t imagine it was something that could actually happen! When I went to college, I started as an English major but switched to Advertising when I realized that was a career where I could use my creative writing skills and have a salary! Turns out, I loved advertising, too!
Which authors do you most admire?
There are so many writers I admire! A few of my favorites are Jennifer Weiner, Jodi Picoult, Kristin Hannah, Camille Pagán, Marisa de los Santos, Katherine Center, and Taylor Jenkins Reid.
What’s your favorite book?
Oh, that’s a tough question! I don’t know if I can pick just one favorite. If I had to pick one, it would probably be Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah. It’s so good. And it’s a book my grandma gave to me because she loved it and thought I would too. She was right!
What is the first book that made you cry?
I was a weird kid—I loved things that made me cry. And honestly, I still do! I remember I loved a series of really sad books by Lurlene McDaniel. One title that I remember, and think I still have somewhere was called Too Young to Die. I just loved that book!
What is one of the most surprising things you’ve learned about the publishing industry?
It seems like I learn something new every step of the way. I think what surprised me the most was just how long it all took! I finished writing my debut novel, You and Me and Us back in 2016. I got the book deal in 2018, and it will finally be published in 2020. Four years from start to the shelves—I had no idea!
What does your family think of your writing?
My family has always been so supportive of my writing. They have been my biggest fans and supporters since day one. And they’re really good sports when pieces of our lives end up in my writing!
You are very involved with social media and writers groups. Tell us something about the online group you created, ‘Every Damn Day Writers’?
Being a part of the writing community is my favorite thing about being a writer. I may have over-committed when it comes to the Facebook groups, but Every Damn Day Writers is one of my favorites! It started as a group of members from WFWA (Women’s Fiction Writers Association) who were all participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a program that challenges people around the world to write 50,000 words in the month of November.
We started a Facebook group for support during that month, checking in every day on our progress or lack thereof! When the month ended, we didn’t want to stop, so we formed a small private group. That group is still going strong, but we decided to make a public version for women writers so more people could experience the support and accountability. It’s grown to over 300 women writers!
And how about the 2020Debuts that you chair? Why is it important for a debut author to join such a group?
I’ve been fortunate to have a group of writers who were at the same stage of the journey I was every step of the way. When I was querying, I was in a querying support group. When I was on submission, I started a submission support group. And when I got my book deal, I was told about the Debut Groups that have been passed down from year to year. Since I had such a long lead time before publication, I joined the 2019 group to learn the ropes before starting our 2020 one. Writing is such a personal and sometimes stressful process that it really helps to have the support of people who are going through the same thing!
Your debut will be published April 7th. I love the title YOU and ME and US. How did you come up with this story?
Thank you! While You and Me and Us is my debut novel, it’s not the first book I wrote! There was another book that came before it that also featured my main characters, Tommy and Alexis. At the end of that book, I knew a secret that Alexis didn’t even know–she was pregnant. That’s what sparked the idea for You and Me and Us!
I thought it would be interesting to show Alexis with a teenage daughter, the same age she been during flashback scenes in the first book. But other than that, I didn’t know what it would be about. When I had the idea that Tommy would be sick, the story pretty much unfolded before me.
Why is this story important to you?
I have so much love for this story and these characters. I’ve been writing about Tommy and Alexis for more than twenty years. They’re like real people to me. And I can’t wait for readers to get to know them.
Are any of your characters based on you or someone you know?
None of my characters are exact replicas of people in my life, but there are definitely pieces of myself, my family, and my friends in the story. I tell people that I am not Alexis, but if they don’t like her, they probably won’t like me, either!
How long did it take you to write You and Me and Us?
I finished writing the first draft of You and Me and Us in two months—which was a miracle since it took me 15 years to finish writing my first book. I credit that speed to NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. I’m deadline-driven and competitive, so I thrived on the challenge and the competition. And once I got in the habit of writing every day, I couldn’t stop!
Do you have any writing quirks? Do you have to write in the same room or at the same time of day?
I’m sure I have a lot of writing quirks! I used to be precious about where and when I wrote, but I no longer have that luxury. I do my best writing at coffee shops—I’m a regular at a few different Starbucks. The balance of noise there just works for me—if it’s too loud, I can’t concentrate, but if it’s too quiet, I look for distractions.
When I’m writing at home or at work, I have a playlist that I listen to. I only listen to it when I’m writing, and it has to play in order. If it’s in shuffle mode, it throws me off. What can I say, I’m a creature of habit!
How will you celebrate on your publication day?
My publication day plans have changed quite a bit thanks to this global pandemic. Originally, I was going to get my hair done and have lunch with my mom and other family members who were coming to town. And I was going to throw a big bash at Volumes BookCafe, one of my favorite local bookstores in Chicago. I was going to be in conversation with a novelist friend of mine, Erin Bartels, and we were going to have cake and champagne! That party will hopefully happen someday soon, but in the meantime, I’m planning a pretty awesome online launch party!
And lastly, Miss Molly always wants to know: Dog or cat? And if you don’t have a pet, which would you choose if you could?
I don’t have any pets (or plants!) but if I did, I would choose a cat.
Hmm…Maybe I won’t tell Miss Molly you prefer cats.
Thank you Alison for sharing your lovely smile with us today!
Follow Alison on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/alisonhammer
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Follow Alison on Goodreads at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18840675.Alison_Hammer