STEELE INTERVIEWS: Allison Winn Scotch

With Henry, I knew ambition. I knew the straight and narrow, and seven years later, it felt choking, claustrophobic almost. so whit time around, I pushed aside those lingering doubts about Jack, which, in days past, would spiral into needling nit-picking, which would escalate into full-blown arguments, which would culminate in one of use sighing in sarcastic relief at the fact that we weren’t in the relationship permanently. And then we’d apologize, and wash, rinse, repeat at least once a week.

Would you like a chance to make a different decision, to change something in the past, to pick a new career, or a new person to date? Do you wish you could take back harmful words or wish that you could go back and say something meaningful to someone that you never had a chance to say? Time of My Life addresses these types of questions when Jillian Westfield finds herself seven years in the past with her ex-boyfriend instead of her investment banker husband and 18-month-old child. This whimsical, unexpected, smart novel by Allison Winn Scotch will keep you constantly guessing what Jillian will do next. Before the time travel, Jillian lives the idyllic life of a perfect Martha Stewart disciple stay-at-home wife and mother. She schedules, outlines, and masterfully executes every aspect of her life which instead of making her life easier only adds more stress. She finds herself often pondering what life may have been like if she had stayed together with aspiring writer Jackson. Bingo. She’s jettisoned back in time as if she never left. How will it turn out this time around? Time of My Life proves to be a treasure trove for anyone who has ever wished for another chance. Winn Scotch creates an unforgettable cast of characters and moments that allow the reader to delve into Jillian’s life as she discovers herself and what she needs most to make herself truly happy. And it is not a man. Time of My Life is witty, well-crafted and charming.

Recently I interviewed author Allison Winn Scotch via email. Time of My Life is currently available in paperback.

Amy Steele [AS]: Smarty pants: UPenn with a BA in History and concentration in Marketing from Wharton. Did you work in business after you graduated and if not, why didn’t you go into business?

Allison Winn Scotch [AWS]: I actually did get a job in public relations after gradating, but I hated every second of it and ended up quitting nine months later. As far as business, I interviewed at the investment banks and consulting firms my senior year – per my parents’ wishes, as my older brother worked for Goldman Sachs at the time – but it was pretty clear that my heart wasn’t in it. In fact, I think one of the Goldman guys reported back to my brother that, “I’d be a great candidate but they could tell I wasn’t interested.” Hee. Very accurate. Fortunately, many years later, everyone involved – from my parents, to me, to probably those Goldman folks – are all very happy with my chosen path. Sometimes you have to try on a few hats to find the one that fits.

AS: Why did you become a writer?

AWS: I was always a writer, in that I enjoyed it so very much and kept diaries and such. In college, I had a bi-monthly Op-Ed column called “Allison Wonderland,” (get it?), and a lot of people told me I should consider getting into writing upon graduation but it just seemed ridiculous. I mean, how on earth does one earn income from writing?? At least, that was my initial reaction. But, as I said above, I tested a few different careers – PR, acting (got my SAG card, did commercials, etc), internet mogul – and the writing thing sort of fell into my lap, in that I was very good at it, and while I was doing the internet start-up thing, co-partners began to ask me to do their copy writing/press releases/web copy for them. From there, I was hired on retainer for a major PR firm in NYC to ghostwrite for celebs, which led to me landing a ghost-writing gig for The Knot for one of their wedding books. And from there, I landed my first national magazine piece in Bride’s. It all sort of snowballed – good timing, good luck, and I guess good writing too.

AS: For eight years you wrote for many women’s magazines as a celebrity and feature writer [and you still freelance]. What have you learned as a feature writer that you can translate to writing novels?

AWS: Well, for one, I am great with deadlines. You train yourself when you’re rotating various freelance jobs to know how long something will take you and how exactly you’re going to schedule your time to make that happen, and the same rule applies for me with fiction: if I’m in writing mode, even if I really, really don’t want to work that day, I do. Period. I also think that magazine work helped me understand the importance of research – particularly with my first book, in which I had to get the details of cancer just right – as well as the importance of really crafting a sparkling phrase. My favorite magazines to write for were those that let my own voice shine through, and I try to still honor that voice when I’m working on my fiction. In fact, I think it’s the most critical element in writing a good book.

AS: Where do you get this fantastic idea for Time of My Life?

AWS: I’d been contemplating doing a time-travel story, but I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it…I didn’t know how to sort it out in my mind. But then one afternoon while the idea was brewing, my best friend called while she was on vacation where her ex-boyfriend lived, and she said, “I’m so weirded out … I can’t stop thinking about what my life might have been like.”
Then we had one of those intimate life conversations that you can only have with your closest friends, about her what-ifs and my what-ifs, and I assured her that this was all very normal, even though people didn’t really talk about how much they wonder about what could have been. We hung up, and I headed out for a run, when I often do my best creative thinking, and BAM … the idea, characters and plotlines just presented themselves very clearly. I came home, wrote what are now the first 14 pages. I think, as so many of us get older and look back on our younger years with nostalgia, it’s very easy to consider what the other possibilities could have been – and I wanted to explore that.

AS: How did you come up with the character of Jillian and the other characters?

AWS: Jillian and Jackson and Henry just came to me immediately during that run. It’s sort of hard to explain but when I’m struck with a book idea, I can very clearly hear the protagonist’s voice…so I sort of knew Jillian before I even started writing her. The rest of the characters fill themselves in as I write: I don’t write with a master plan or an outline, but you know, you just surround the protagonist with people whom you’d have in your own life: friends, family, co-workers. Though, of course, because the key to a good book is conflict which propels the plot forward, these characters need to be embroiled in their own problems and/or create problems for your heroine.

AS: In Time of My Life, Jillian Westfield seemed thrilled to have a second chance in the past. After the initial shock of it, she really just jumped right in. What motivated her?

AWS: The possibility of having her “what if” fantasies be as good as she dreamed them to be. I think we all, every once in a while, envision this perfect other life, and when Jillian is granted that opportunity to possibly find that perfection, well, she opens up her arms and welcomes it.

AS: Why do you think so many women feel that they have to completely give up their careers to raise children as Jillian did?

AWS: Oh, this is such a tough question. I don’t know that women FEEL that they have to give up their careers rather that a lot of women feel as if they don’t have a better option. I have friends who work full-time who really miss their kids during the week, and I have friends who are full-time moms who wish they had some sort of intellectual stimulation. I’m not sure that either party wins. But for the moms who do leave their jobs, they want to enjoy those early years with their kids because, quite obviously, they’ll never get those years back…and their careers likely aren’t the types of jobs that will allow part-time or maybe they’re not the types of careers that provide enough satisfaction for those women to miss out on the time with their kids. Look, I don’t judge. I think that it’s a really tough situation for nearly all women who face this crossroads, and I just feel incredibly fortunate to have a job in which I get to enjoy both: the satisfaction and confidence boost of a thriving career and downtime to hang with my kids. I wish that for every woman if that’s what she wants.

AS: How do you think Jillian’s relationship with her estranged mother enhanced the story?

AWS: When you’re writing a book, you always need to go back and consider the “why” behind your character’s actions. I needed and wanted Jillian to offer readers a tangible, acceptable WHY as to why she’d leave her toddler behind to discover a new life. I also wanted to show in Jillian’s story arc how – without giving too much away – she comes to accept responsibility for herself and her actions, rather than her default of blaming her family history. I said earlier in this interview that I believe that a lot of us are shaped by our parents but I also believe in taking responsibility and owning your actions as an adult. There’s only so much blame to go around, and eventually, you can blame and blame and blame but it doesn’t matter! You’re still in the same place in your life. So I wanted to demonstrate that maybe Jillian had grown in her journey by taking an inward evaluation rather than constantly looking outward.

AS: When you thought of Time of My Life was Jillian always going to have a child? Could the story have worked if she didn’t have a child?

AWS: Yes, always. Part of Jillian’s conundrum – and that of a lot of women I know – is that motherhood is a tangled lot. Wonderful in so, so many ways you’d never imagine, but also boring, draining, occasionally frustrating, and all of these things lead Jillian to yearn for the earlier years when life was simpler or easier…or at least that’s how she remembered it.

AS: Jillian’s ex-boyfriend Jackson and her current husband Henry are opposites. How did you come up with these characters and what was your intention in making them so different/ very black and white? How would it affect Jillian?

AWS: Well, I actually tried NOT to make them as black and white as you read them to be, but that’s okay! Well, maybe not black and white, but I tried to make them each sympathetic in their own way because I’m of the belief that often times, there isn’t a bad guy (or girl) in a break-up, just that two people weren’t meant to spend their lives together. But Jackson represented – to me – more of the guy whom maybe I’d date in my 20s, the ones who I certainly fell in love with but for whatever reason, just weren’t the puzzle pieces to complete me. And Henry represented that more stable, responsible love that hopefully you marry but doesn’t come without its own foibles.

AS: The thought of a do-over is a pretty cool thing. The entire time, the reader has no idea whether Jillian will stay in the past forever or somehow end up back in the present day. How did you like her journey and what was your favorite aspect of it?

AWS: I’d say that the last 1/3 of the book is my favorite. Without giving too much away, I really just enjoyed when Jillian started making her transformation to her smarter, better self. It was fun to write, and even now, I think it’s fun to read. The Christmas and New Year’s scenes (again, without spoiling anything) are probably my favorite.

AS: Who are some of the authors that you have admired over the years?

AWS: Oh, so many. Elin Hilderbrand, Jonathan Tropper, Tom Perrotta, Laura Dave, Lolly Winston, Julie Buxbaum, Ann Packer, Jodi Picoult…I mean, I could go on and on.

AS: What was the last book you read?

AWS: I just finished Kissing Games of the World by Sandi Kahn Shelton, which I really enjoyed and have Elin Hilderbrand’s The Castaways on my nightstand right now.

AS: How do you keep your writing fresh? What motivates you?

AWS: I just really enjoy the creative outlet – as I said, I contemplated a career in acting, and I think writing is fairly similar. You dive into the minds of other people and get to envision an alternate world, and that’s a lot of fun for me. I also love getting feedback from readers – to know that I put something out in the world that resonates and connects us all to each other, it’s the most gratifying part of this job.

AS: What is the greatest challenge about being a novelist?

AWS: I have pretty high standards for myself, so I probably put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself as a result. I want to improve on my ideas and my writing with every book, so the challenge to do that can be tough. But I’m trying! I just want to give readers a few hours that transports them away from their lives, and if I can do that, I’m pretty happy at the end of the day.


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