- N. N. Light
Author Interview | Meet Award-Winning @CircusMomHwy and her debut novel #womensfiction #drama #books
We at Book Heaven are always excited to meet authors, especially debut authors. We first met Allyson Rice back in late 2022 and were so impressed by her organizational skills and friendliness. Her book is such fun to read and filled with intriguing characters. Did they spring from her imagination or were they based on real life? We asked her to sit down for an interview and she agreed. So grab your favorite beverage and join us. Allyson, take it away…
Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you?
Carl Hiaasen for his hilarious, irreverent characters, and Anne Lamott for her humor mixed with gentle wisdom. Also, my acting professor at Northwestern University assigned Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet as part of our required reading. It’s about the inner creative life of an artist and about life in general. I’m inspired every time I re-read that little gem (specifically, the M.D. Herter Norton translation, from 1962).
If you could cast your characters in the Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play your characters?
Ha! I cast the movie version early on because I found that it helped with the “voice” of each character if I could picture the perfect actor for the role as I wrote the dialogue. So… either Reese Witherspoon as Jesse, Leslie Mann as Jennifer, and Clayne Crawford as Jack (it would’ve been Robert Downey Jr if he had been the right age). OR …Maggie Gyllenhall as Jesse, Judy Greer as Jennifer, and Jake Gyllenhall as Jack. Either cast would be fantastic.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
Yes, names are important to me. I’ll research popular names in the year and geographic location my characters were born. Then I factor in whether the family would choose more or less popular names, and then I factor in the sound of the name and the meaning. I’ll narrow it down to a handful of possibilities, then choose the name that feels most appropriate. Occasionally, though, I’ll just come up with a name that I feel is perfect, even if it’s not time and location-specific.
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
Raising a son (now 28) who is a fantastic human being–immensely talented, brilliant (no, he really is objectively brilliant), with a very kind heart. Not all of that is due to me, of course. His other family members had a hand in it as well. Plus, children come into this life with their own personalities and gifts from the get-go. I’m very proud to have had a hand in nurturing those qualities, though.
Also, I feel like I’m able to apply my creative gifts to many different areas of my life, in many genres, and I have tenacious follow-through with whatever project I set my mind to accomplish. Sometimes it means I have 20 different projects in progress at any given time, which can be challenging, but I finish ALL of them and have had many successes that I’m immensely proud of. And I’m grateful for all of it.
Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Although I have some plot points that I begin with, I would DEFINITELY fall into the pantser category! I find it incredibly fun to let the book unfold as I go. And when I get into a jam where something doesn’t work, I figure out what has to happen/change to make it work, which often leads to surprising connections to other parts of the story or other characters, adding more layers to the story and backstory.
Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
When I was an actress, I did not read reviews. I can’t tell you how many performances I saw be ruined after someone read a review, not just a bad review that made them shrink inside, but good reviews that made them start playing into those complimented aspects of their performance. I would save and read the reviews after the job was finished. But when it comes to writing my novel, I did read the reviews. Primarily because I started lining up editorial reviews before the book was released. I needed to choose excerpts for the book jacket, for the One Sheet for the book, for my pages on Ingram, Amazon, NetGalley, and all the other bookseller sites where I have Author pages. Unlike acting where the job is ongoing, the book was finished when the reviews came in, so reading them didn’t affect the writing process. I’m very grateful to have gotten so much great advance praise for the book so far! (Knock on wood.) My only response to any reviewer is to thank them for the time they took to read and review it. My advice on how to deal with any bad review is not to dwell on it or to let it affect how proud you are of your work, and to keep moving forward. Though if you recognize that the review had a good point about some element, take the knowledge forward into your next project. That’s how we all keep improving.
What is your best marketing tip?
Hire someone who knows what they’re doing! Especially if you’re a debut author. Marketing is such a complicated area, algorithms on social media are constantly changing, and someone with marketing experience will have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t. I had no marketing budget for this novel, but I decided to just bite the bullet, hire an experienced marketing duo, and put it on my credit card to pay off later. I’ve learned SO much from them. One tip I’ll share is that reviews sell more books than ads do. So find publications that are very reputable, that have a paid option that will guarantee you a review, and do this a few months before your book release date. They won’t guarantee you a good review, just that you will be reviewed. You’re rolling the dice. But even one good word/phrase/sentence from someplace like Kirkus Reviews, BookLife/Publisher’s Weekly, Foreword Clarion, or Midwest Book Review is something you can put on your book jacket, in your Ingram account’s book information for bookstores and libraries to see, on your book’s One Sheet, on your NetGalley account, in outreach emails, etc. Plan on spending about $1000 to get at least 3 reviews.
What is your least favorite part of the publishing / writing process?
Do you have a favorite spot to write? What is it?
I often find it difficult to write at home because there are too many distractions, too many chores that need to be done, etc. Sometimes I’ll go to a local library to work where it’s quiet (and I’m surrounded by completed/published books which is good incentive!) But I also love a good old diner! Bobby’s Coffee Shop in Woodland Hills, CA is a favorite diner where I’ve gotten a lot of writing done. And Crystal Restaurant (it’s a diner…) in Rehoboth Beach, DE is a new writing haunt.
Is this your first book? How many books have you written prior (if any?)
This is my first novel, but I’ve also created 3 women’s coloring books (The Color of Joy, Dancing with Life, and Wonderland) that contain inspirational writing that accompanies some of the drawings. Those coloring books were inspired by the women’s retreats I used to run in Sedona, AZ, touching on themes that came up in the lives of the women who attended those. That was a number of years before adult coloring became all the rage.
Have you ever been in trouble with the law?
I did get tear-gassed by the police in Lafayette Square outside the White House when I was in high school. I went with my family to protest the march that the KKK had organized. So it wasn’t me specifically that was “in trouble with the law.” We all got tear-gassed when the demonstration got rowdy and people started throwing bricks.
I also got pulled over by a policeman in Calabasas, CA a couple of years ago for having Christmas lights all over my car. It was the 10th year I had done it without any issues, but this young guy, fresh out of the Academy, was determined to do things by the book and said I couldn’t have red, blue, or amber lights on the car because people could mistake me for an emergency vehicle. I said, “I guarantee you no one has ever mistaken me for one.” (I mean, seriously, I looked more like a Christmas tree on wheels!). He gave me a ticket, but didn’t charge me anything, just a “fix this” type of ticket. Now I just use pink, green, purple, orange, teal, etc. lights on my car.
Not really the salacious stories you were probably hoping to hear, but that’s all I have for you!
Have you ever gotten into a fight?
A fistfight? No. I would surely lose a fistfight! But an argument type of fight? Plenty. Oh, wait, I’m just remembering (as I type this) that I used to take karate when I was living in NYC in the ‘90s and was on As the World Turns. The brother and sister-in-law of a co-star got me into that. So I did compete a few times in karate competitions. At my first competition I lost the karate “fight” in the first round (I was a very new white belt), but at the next one I won my division (beating the girl who had beaten me the first time). Take that, Other Beginner!
What is your biggest fear?
Without question, losing the people I love. I’ve already lost my dad (2012) and my little brother (2019) and a beloved teacher I had worked with for over 20 years (2021). I do believe our Spirits continue on in the realm of the Unseen. But… not having them here in the physical world anymore (where I can hug them) is always like a gut punch that’s hard to recover from.
What do you want your tombstone to say?
“Running some errands. Be right back.”
What secret talents do you have?
I can do a pretty good horse whinny. Also, I can name any Brady Bunch episode within the first 15 seconds (I know, I’m not proud of that).
Where is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been before?
Egypt to see the Great Pyramids, and the Sphinx, among other sites. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. When I was young, before I caught the acting bug at age 12, my fascination with ancient Egypt is what made me think about archaeology as a career path.
What’s on your bucket list (things to do before you die)?
I have been fortunate enough to have already done many things on my bucket list. But one thing that still hasn’t been checked off the list is to visit a Big Game preserve in Africa to be able to see those magnificent animals while they’re still here. I have my eye on Tanzania for a safari with my good camera in tow!
What were you like as a child? Your favorite toy?
I was very shy. We moved around a lot when I was a young kid. My parents were very young and trying to get their lives/careers set up (I can’t imagine having a kid at age 20!) So, for a while, it was a new place and new school every year. That was hard. I don’t remember if I had a favorite toy. But I loved horses, so I do remember having plastic horses that I liked way more than playing with dolls.
Thank you, Allyson, for the insightful and fun interview. It was such a pleasure. Readers, scroll down to read more about her debut novel.
Title The Key to Circus-Mom Highway
Author Allyson Rice
Genre Contemporary Fiction / Women’s Fiction
Publisher The Total Human Press
In an attempt to secure an unexpected inheritance—and hopefully find a few answers—two estranged sisters and their newly discovered brother embark on a comically surreal trip through the Deep South to retrace the life of the mother who abandoned them as infants.
On a Tuesday afternoon, sisters Jesse Chasen and Jennifer McMahon receive a phone call notifying them that their birth mother has died, leaving behind a significant inheritance. But in order to obtain it, they must follow a detailed road trip she designed for them to get to know her—and that includes finding a brother they never knew existed.
For the next week, this ill-assorted trio treks across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia to meet their mother’s old friends, from circus performers to a juke joint owner, each of whom delivers a shocking vignette into the life of a young mother traumatized by loss and abuse. Along the way, these three siblings—Jesse, whose fiery exterior disguises a wounded, drifting musician stuck in a rut; Jennifer, whose carefully curated family life is threatened by her husband’s infidelity; and Jack, whose enigmatic Jackie, Oh! persona in the New Orleans drag queen scene helps him escape the nightmares of Afghanistan that haunt him at night—must confront their own demons (and at least one alligator). But in chasing the truth about their real mother, they may all just find their second chance.
This uproarious debut novel is a reminder that sometimes, the family you’d never have chosen may turn out to be exactly what you need.
Recent winner of a Literary Titan Gold Book Award.
In the nondescript lawyer’s office reception area, there was nothing except four chairs lined up along the wall, one plastic philodendron in the corner, and a small reception desk that looked like something you’d buy at an office supply store and have to assemble yourself using directions written in Swedish.
The only colorful addition to the setting was the seventy-five-year-old receptionist named Dottie who showcased a hairstyle leftover from the 1950s, wore garishly applied Baby-Doll at Any Age Makeup with Intense Sparkle Crystals, and had a slight southern accent. She was busy talking on the phone with her Ladies Bowling League teammate Ronnie Lynn.
“No, he didn’t,” she drawled. “He got his thumb bit off by the ‘gator in his tryout.... I know, that’s what I told him too!” She saw Jennifer and Jesse enter the office with their suitcases. “I gotta go, honey... You too.” She hung up and smiled at the girls. “Can I help you?”
“Yes,” said Jennifer. “We’re here to see Mr. Tudball. Jennifer McMahon and Jesse Chasen.”
“Oh, yes.” She pushed a button and spoke into the phone, “The girls are here, Mr. Tudball.” Then to Jesse and Jennifer, she added, “You can go on in.”
They entered the office which was about as lavishly decorated as the reception area except for a few more artificial plants. They set their bags down on the floor just inside the door and Jesse set Sean down. He immediately took off to explore the new landscape, then lifted his leg and peed on the potted, plastic Golden Dieffenbachia.
Mr. Tudball was a short, squat, man in his mid-sixties, with a frizzy fringe of red hair around his balding dome. He spoke with a pronounced lateral lisp which came out as a slushy sound from the sides of his teeth. The slightly “off” color coordination of his suit, tie, and shirt made it seem like he might also be colorblind. The poor bastard was living life behind the eight ball.
He stood up to shake hands with them as they introduced themselves. “Please, have a seat. We need to wait just another minute before we get started,” he said.
The women didn’t dare look at one another, as it was taking every ounce of self-control they could muster not to start laughing -- not specifically at Mr. Tudball, but at this increasingly bizarre situation.
As soon as he spoke, he reminded Jesse of the actor Wallace Shawn, from her favorite movie, The Princess Bride. Unbeknownst to them, Mr. Tudball was actually Mr. Shawn’s second cousin once removed on his mother’s side. He had owned a used car lot in Kissimmee, Florida for almost thirty years until his chronic insomnia found him watching a late-night rerun of The Love Boat one balmy night in July, and he saw a commercial for an online law school called U-Sue U. He picked up the phone, registered on the spot with a small deposit on his credit card, and the rest is history.
Buy Links (including Goodreads and BookBub)
My author website: www.allysonrice.com
Amazon book Link
Barnes & Noble book link
KOBO book link
Target book link
Goodreads book link:
BookBub book link: https://www.bookbub.com/books/the-key-to-circus-mom-highway-by-allyson-rice
Allyson Rice is a writer, mixed media artist, and a producer with Atomic Focus Entertainment, currently splitting her time between Los Angeles, CA, and Rehoboth Beach, DE. She’s a graduate of Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Science in Communication. After spending many years as an actress on stage and on television, she left acting and spent the next decade running yoga/meditation retreats, women’s retreats, and creativity retreats around the country. After that, she pivoted to focus on her own creative work. In addition to her writing and art, she’s also a photographer.
Some random bits of Allyson trivia: 1) She’s been skydiving, paragliding, bungee jumping, ziplining through a rainforest, and scuba diving with stingrays; 2) she has an extensive PEZ dispenser collection; 3) she played Connor Walsh on As the World Turns for seven years; 4) she’s been in the Oval Office at the White House after hours; 5) she’s related to the Hatfields of the infamous Hatfield/McCoy feud; and 6) her comedic rap music video “Fine, I’ll Write My Own Damn Song” won numerous awards in the film festival circuit. https://youtu.be/7Xe3nuVDkC4
Also available from Allyson is her line of women’s coloring books (The Color of Joy, Dancing with Life, and Wonderland), and The Creative Prosperity PlayDeck, an inspirational card deck about unlocking and utilizing your creative energy in the world. They’re available on www.Allyson-Wonderland.com. She’s currently at work on her second novel and her fourth women’s coloring book.
Also, anyone who signs up for Allyson’s periodic author newsletter on www.AllysonRice.com will be entered in a drawing to have a character in her next novel named after them, and a free book will be given away in each newsletter to a subscriber!
Social Media Links
IG @allysonriceauthor , @allysonriceart , @officialallysonrice