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

Follow Alison on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/ThisHammer/

Follow Alison on Goodreads at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18840675.Alison_Hammer

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The path to publication starts with an idea, then words on the page, then more words on the page. Then deleting most of those words. And then adding more words. You get the idea: the path to publication involves a lot of words.


Once you are looking at nearly 300 pages of words, you beg your previously corralled critique partners to read your words. Then you listen (or not) to what they suggest. You make corrections/additions/deletions (or not) and hustle your nearly perfect manuscript (you think) to your previously obtained beta readers. Beta readers are generally friends/acquaintances/perfect strangers who love to read. You ask/beg them to read your nearly perfect manuscript. At some point they tell you they love it/hate it or are completely ambivalent about it.


Next, you write the most compelling query letter/synopsis and hook yourself an agent/publisher. And you think: my work is done here.


And then you take a nice long rest. What you should do while you wait and wait (and maybe wait some more for the next steps in your path to publication) is write your next manuscript. Also, you should be making a name for yourself in social media—in a good way, mind you. People are more likely to buy your book if they’ve heard of you and like you.


At some point you will be assigned a content editor. Other than your acquisitions editor (who liked what she saw when she accepted your manuscript), your critique partners/beta readers/friends/family/complete strangers that you wrangled in off the street, your content editor is the first official person to read your words. Listen closely to what she has to say. She might tell you that your manuscript is beautiful and there is not one damn thing she can do to improve your words. Trust me. This never happens.


What really happens is this: your content editor emails you two documents. One is your beautiful manuscript, now decorated with

comments/suggestions/changes/deletions/requests for entirely new chapters—look at it as a puzzle that she has torn apart and you must now put back together. The second is a document – anywhere between six and maybe thirty-four pages (give or take a page or two) where your editor introduces herself and tells you how thrilled she is to be working with you. Sure, she is probably required to say this, but it is still nice to hear.


Within this document you will discover your manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses. Generally speaking you will have more weaknesses than strengths. Sometimes more than you might have imagined.


Next, your editor will detail crucial areas that need improvement – most likely there will be many. She might even create a shorthand code of recurring issues, so she doesn’t have to type the same words over and over – and over – again. You will refer to these codes frequently. Soon, you will have them memorized.


Next, she will explain to you the storytelling elements of your manuscript.

Which, of course, you already know since you wrote the manuscript, but it is a beautiful experience when someone else details the plot and rising action and crisis and resolution—and provides recommendations for each element. You really wish she had been available during the original writing process – if she had, she would have been your developmental editor rather than your content editor.


Along with the storytelling elements, your content editor will detail your main characters. Now, these are your people. You created them, but suddenly you must look at them in an entirely new light. This can be scary. Sometimes you have a main character who needs a blood transfusion (she needs to grow). Sometimes you have a main character who really isn’t a main character at all, and you must wipe her out of your manuscript. It’s true. And, most probably, necessary. Just do it.


Right about now might be a good time to mention that one of the most important elements in an author/editor relationship is trust and respect. You both need to trust and respect each other to publish the very best book. Look at it this way: most likely your content editor has edited more manuscripts than you’ve written. Also, she has the benefit of objectivity, while you might still be patting yourself on the back for having written a story with a beginning, middle and end.


After your editor details the setting, subplots, genre and pacing, theme, voice and ending, she details, chapter by chapter, what works and what doesn’t. And then she does a beautiful thing: she provides suggestions. Again, why wasn’t she around from the very beginning?


If you’re very, very lucky, this is what it’s like to work with a content editor.

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Julie Maloney is a poet, writer, and founder/director of WOMEN READING ALOUD, a non-profit organization dedicated to the support of women writers. Since 2003, Julie has guided women writers throughout the USA and across the Atlantic through writing workshops, retreats, and special literary events.

I first met Julie at the Gaithersburg Book Festival in June of this year where she discussed her debut novel, A Matter of Chance. I was so taken by her poise and demeanor, I knew I had to know her better. Hence, this interview.

A little about Julie:

BC: When did you decide to become a writer?

JM: After my career as a dancer/choreographer and artistic director of my own modern dance company in NYC, I had a big decision to make. I had been dancing for thirty years. My dance company was ongoing for thirteen years. But my personal life was changing. I had married and had three young children. And I was tired…but the decision was not an easy one. How does one transition from one passion to find another? Slowly. Carefully. Painfully. I had always loved reading and writing in school. As a child, my greatest joy was in going to the library, so I reconnected to my love for reading. I wrote poetry. I walked a lot. I thought a lot. I kept reading and writing poetry…until the decision was made for me. A writer is someone who writes. To my great amazement, my passion for writing goes far deeper than my passion for dance. I like to think I am dancing on the page.

BC: I love that – dancing on the page. Does writing energize or exhaust you?

JM: Writing gives me great energy! This is why I rarely write at night. I can’t sleep if I do. I’m too jazzed. Too pumped. I have to calm down. I write at a standing desk, so when my legs get tired, I know I need to stop and take a walk or sit down.

BC: What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

JM: A few months ago, I looked at my bookcase to grab something to take with me before I went away for a quick weekend. I stumbled upon The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls. It was published in 2013. I don’t know how long I had had it, but once I started it, I was entranced. It is an absolute stunner! However, perhaps the most under-appreciated novel is Stoner by John Williams. I’ve read it five times. Phenomenal.

BC: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

JM: I research all the time I’m writing. I know some writers spend a year or more on research, gather all their notes, then write. That’s not me. I write. I research. I write some more. I research. For A Matter of Chance, I flew to Germany to visit the Kaethe Kollwitz Museum to see her art up-close. It was an emotional experience for me because I had read about her art, collected her books, researched online, yet still I knew I had to go to Germany. Also, I was looking for an ending and I found it in the beauty of Bavaria. Kollwitz was definitely my muse for my debut novel. I just returned from visiting the second of two museums dedicated to her work in Germany. This time, I traveled to Berlin. I swell with emotion when I see her work.

BC: Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?

JM: I think I’d call writing a “sacred” practice. I can go into that place where I am completely alone. I honor the work. I know it’s not all good but I’m hoping to get to that place if I keep on going. My “spiritual” practice is looking out the window in my kitchen.

I like this writing life. I like going to the library, visiting museums, eating at a counter. Writing keeps me close to knowing who I am.

BC: How many hours a day do you write?

JM: I have no idea. My life is divided into so many pieces. For example, I led two international writing retreats this summer in Greece and in the Czech Republic. While I’m teaching, I’m writing to the prompts, but I’m not usually working on my ongoing project, which now is writing novel #2. And I’ve also been known to write at the NYC Public Library for hours until I’m shaking from hunger . . . and then there are times when I should be preparing dinner, but I stop in the middle of cutting a carrot to write down something that’s popped into my head. A fragment. The opening of a poem. A new beginning for a novel . . . my head spins and I go with it. I don’t care what day of the week it is; I write.


BC: Tell us a little something about writing A Matter of Chance.

· How did you come to write this particular book?

· What did you edit out of this book?

· What was your hardest scene to write?

JM: A Matter of Chance is my debut novel, published by She Writes Press. It’s the best literary decision I’ve made to go with this hybrid publishing house. It’s been a completely positive experience.

I discovered the protagonist ten years ago in a writing workshop. She never let go. Soon, she brought in a crew of characters. I wrote. I put it down. I wrote more. I researched. I despaired. I had an agent. Then I didn’t have an agent. I revised and revised and revised. I wrote it again and again until I got it right. It just won the Eric Hoffer Book Award for General Fiction for 2019. I’ve had the most wonderful time speaking with book clubs and book lovers all over . . . libraries, bookstores, women’s’ groups, colleges, conferences . . . I am over-the-moon grateful for this ten-year journey.

One thing an editor told me was to edit out a character who was “too big and distracting” from the main story line. I loved this character, but I followed this advice and it was good advice. However, I wrote a book for her! Novel #2 revolves around the character, Tuba Schwimmer – a secondary character in my debut novel – and her daughter, Gitta. I’m so excited to give her the big “voice” she deserves.

A Matter of Chance is the story of a child who is kidnapped at the age of eight. The publishing industry wanted a “detective” story. I wanted a story of the one left behind – the mother – and how she transforms herself as she searches for her daughter over five years. She becomes an internationally recognized artist by painting her way through grief. I stayed true to the story I wanted to write.

I’m happy to say that readers have responded so well to this . . . following a woman on her journey from hope through despair to resolution.

BC: How long on average does it take you to write a book?

JM: A Matter of Chance was a ten-year journey. I’m writing the next book much faster. Thank goodness! I’ve learned so much by writing my first novel. I’m planning on having a good draft to show by the beginning of 2020.

BC: What can you share about your new book?

JM: Tentatively titled The Light Table, this is a story of stolen art, the restoration of the stain-glass windows at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the coming together of a mother and daughter. Tuba Schwimmer arrives in NYC to check on her daughter, Gitta, who is a glass restorer, working at St. Patrick’s, and in trouble.

BC: Your new book sounds fascinating, and you know, as one of your biggest fans, how anxious I am to read it. Tell us something about WOMEN READING ALOUD

JM: I founded WOMEN READING ALOUD almost twenty years ago with twelve women writers sitting around my dining room table. Now, we are an international organization dedicated to the support of women writers. Writers have participated in workshops and retreats from throughout the USA, Canada, Portugal, Germany, Greece, London, Prague and Australia. It’s been amazing how everyone connects when they have a mutual passion – writing. So many programs have sprouted from WOMEN READING ALOUD (WRA). How fortunate am I to meet such talented women from all over the world! I still host writing workshops in my home in New Jersey. I am always balancing WRA with my personal writing life. I love it all.

BC: What do you enjoy most about connecting with readers?

JM: Writers need readers. I am so grateful to every reader who attends a book talk of mine or invites me to visit their book club. I love hearing their questions. I love knowing that they’re interested in the characters’ decisions. So many of the book discussions send me thinking on the way home. I’m always working on how to be better at what I do as a writer, a teacher, a speaker. You name it. I like learning.

BC: Miss Molly has an important question for you.

MM: Cat or Dog?

JM: I have a different kind of life, Miss Molly. I stare at the deer, the squirrels, an occasional fox, or a pair of geese, from my kitchen window. Although I live only thirty-five miles outside of New York City, I have a bucolic setting in my backyard. I walk in my neighborhood past a lake, down trails, and settle back on my deck to stare out at a big open sky. Even in the winter (I love snow), I’ll sit on the steps outside, all wrapped up, just to stare and think.

MM: Thank you, Miss Julie, but I still think you need a dog.

BC: Give me a hint of your personal life.

JM: I have three children, and eight grandchildren who live all over the country. I love loving them. I just celebrated my 47th anniversary. I love MYGUY.

I am aware that life is fragile.


To contact Julie:

http://www.juliemaloney.net/

http://www.womenreadingaloud.org/

BC: Thank you so much, Julie, for a lovely interview. Congratulations on the success of A Matter of Chance, and on winning the Eric Hoffer Book Award for General Fiction for 2019. We all are looking forward to your new book.

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