by Allyson Rice
GENRE: Contemporary fiction (family dramedy)
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.
Westley re-entered with five boxes of food that said Zunzi’s on the side. “Best sandwiches in Savannah! We’re going on a traveling picnic. There’s a young couple, just got married, staying here tonight too, so they’re going to join us. I hope you don’t mind.”
Duke and Ivy Parker had met at the Monster Truck Destruction Tour in Lubbock, Texas a mere two weeks ago. Christian Rock radio station KZOL was having their annual Monster Truck ticket giveaway to the first two callers who could answer these two questions correctly:
1) What former WrestleMania star has driven a Monster Truck in a movie and has also founded a church? (answer: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson); and,
2) According to Wikipedia, what Christian Grindcore band has said that their band name was inspired by Revelations 3:15-16? (answer: Vomitorial Corpulence)
Complete strangers, Duke and Ivy had been the first two correct callers, at number fourteen and number thirty-one, respectively. When they both showed up at the Monster Truck event wearing the same vintage edition Bigfoot Monster Truck t-shirt, they were convinced that it was The Lord that had guided them to each other in Section 104 Row 25 Seats 16 and 17. They knew it was literally “a match made in Heaven,” and so they eloped.
Right on cue, Ivy and Duke, an excruciatingly gung-ho couple in their early twenties dressed in color-coordinated NASCAR gear, entered, holding hands.
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I was born in West Virginia and moved around a lot growing up. We lived in several places in West Virginia, several places in Connecticut, then Oxford, Mississippi for a couple of years, then a few places in the D.C. area where we finally settled. Not a military family (that’s always the first question), just very young parents finishing school and getting careers set up. I lived in the Chicago area for four years while attending Northwestern University, then moved to Los Angeles for a few years, then to NYC for 8 years, then a job took me back to L.A. where I stayed for 25 years. Now I’ve just moved back to the East Coast again. (After so much time in L.A., I forgot what a normal thing rain is.)
While living in L.A. and NYC, I was an actress working on stage and on television, most notably As the World Turns for seven years while in NYC. But when I was in L.A. for the 2nd time, I left the entertainment industry and ran personal growth retreats around the country for 10 years. Then I was pulled back into entertainment but this time on the other side of things, as a development exec and a producer. That’s also when I started writing. In addition to writing, I’m a mixed-media artist and photographer.
Tell us about your book. How did it get started?
The Key to Circus-Mom Highway is a book about family, forgiveness, and the absurdity of the world we live in. It follows 3 siblings (who don’t really want to be traveling together) on a comically surreal road trip through the Deep South as they trace the life of the now-deceased woman who had abandoned them as infants. Though it deals with some serious themes, the overall tone of the book is humorous.
The inspiration struck in early 2016 after re-watching an older film, a 1980s dramedy called After Hours. I love its premise of a guy in NYC just trying to get home one night after unsuccessfully trying to meet up with this woman, but obstacles keep getting in his way, and the supporting characters are all very quirky/strange. And I thought, “I’d like to write something like that.” So that’s all I knew in the beginning–that it was going to be someone trying to get somewhere in a landscape populated by funny/quirky characters. The similarities with After Hours end there. Then the process of building the storyline happened by answering one question at a time–who, what, where, why, and when.
How do you create your characters?
I don’t plan much of the story (other than having a general idea of what it’s about) before I start writing, so the characters often come about as an answer to a question I’ve asked myself. While writing this novel, the first character to evolve was Jesse. I knew the story was going to be about someone trying to get somewhere, so I had to figure out who she was, where she was going, and why. Once I knew the answer to those questions, I wanted Jesse to have a fellow traveler, so that’s when her older and more conservative sister came into being. Their brother Jack wasn’t part of the plan until, at one point, I asked myself, “What would make this more interesting right now? What would completely take these sisters by surprise at this point in the story? Jack was the answer to those questions. The supporting characters were created around what the next chapter in their deceased mom’s story was (since they’re each telling the kids about what happened to their mom next). And I created the funny, incidental characters they run into along the way based on who they might meet in a given location, and then I increased the humor by making them all slightly over-the-top. That same character-creating process is happening with the novel I’m working on now.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
I write in bed, at the dining room table, on the back deck (weather permitting), at the library, or at a noisy diner (my favorite place). And though I’ve been known to write ideas on scraps of paper if I’m out somewhere and don’t have my computer, and I’ve texted myself ideas if I don’t have paper and a pen, I’d say the answer to the “what do you need” part of this question would be “an internet connection” because of how much research goes into anything I write.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
As human beings, every single one of us is creative. We’re literally made of creative energy. Everything about us is creative. But the extent to which an individual feels creative is largely determined by our upbringing, our conditioning. I was very lucky because my creative nature was nurtured by my parents (especially my mom) from a very young age, so I’ve never had any doubt about my creative nature. I feel like I just open myself up to creative ideas and they flow through me all the time and aren’t restricted to one medium. And the ideas don’t stop because I don’t judge them as good or bad, or judge myself as more or less creative because of them. I just sit with a particular idea that’s popped into my head and let it roll around in there until it feels like I know how to implement it. Not that I don’t edit as I go. But I don’t stop myself. I just move forward with an idea and it will change/grow/be altered within the process of doing. I just keep moving forward, making choices, taking action, and editing as I go based on the needs of the project and what feels “right.”
(That’s a very heady answer to a question that could’ve been answered as “Ideas just pop into my head from out of the blue. I’m inspired by everything.”)
What do you like to read?
I love any book that makes me laugh out loud all the way through, no matter what the genre. If a book can make me laugh and cry, bonus points! I also love to read cozy mysteries. Not big on graphic, gory stuff (I don’t like those images in my head). But I love a good mystery, especially if it’s so well-written that I can’t guess whodunit and also has humor in it.
What would your advice be for authors or aspiring authors in regard to writing?
Don’t let anyone make you feel like you don’t have enough experience, or don’t have an interesting enough story to tell, or aren’t capable of doing it. You do and you are. Ten people could tell the same basic story, but they will be completely different because we each have a completely unique perspective of the world, one that no other person will ever have. So figure out what makes you you, and write your story from that place. You do have a story in you, maybe hundreds of them, and you do have a unique voice in which to tell it.
If you get to a place in your work where you don’t know exactly how to write what you want to write, or you don’t know what the proper formatting is, or you don’t know much about a particular subject, or you know nothing about the ins and outs of book marketing (I could keep going), research it. If you have the money, there are people you can hire, or classes you can take, or books you can buy, etc. But if you don’t have the money, you know what’s free? Resources found on the internet. And to all the people who just thought to themselves, “Internet access costs money,” I would say, “Go get a public library card! It’s free and you can get on the internet for free there.” There are any number of articles and YouTube videos on just about any subject. Be creative in your search terms if you don’t find what you’re looking for on the first search.
There are times you will get frustrated and discouraged. We all do. But keep going. If you need to take breaks periodically to step away from your writing and do something completely unrelated, do it. You’ll come back to your writing with fresh eyes and renewed enthusiasm. Then keep going.
The reality is that we can do anything we set our minds to with determination and perseverance. That includes you.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Yes! Just for fun, check out my comedic rap music video message to my rapper son trying to convince him I’m still relevant, Fine, I’ll Write My Own Damn Song. It won a bunch of awards in the film festival circuit and was created all in good fun. (My son laughed when he watched it, and since then he and I wrote and recorded a song for my mom called Unsung Hero.) https://youtu.be/7Xe3nuVDkC4
Also, I’d like to mention to BOOK CLUB MEMBERS that if your Book Club chooses The Key to Circus-Mom Highway as one of your selections, I would be happy to make a complimentary Zoom appearance for an Author Q&A. I also created a “Suggested Topics” sheet I can send to you if you’re interested, and you can decide if you want to use them or not. I’ve already started meeting with Book Clubs, and it’s great fun to chat with groups who’ve just read it.
Also, anyone who goes to http://allysonrice.com and signs up for my periodic newsletter is entered into a chance to win a free copy of the book with every newsletter, as well as the possibility of having one of the funny supporting characters in my next novel named after you. Plus, random subscriber-only discounts for the other products I’ve created. Who doesn’t like discounted or free stuff?? Finally, thanks for stopping by today and taking the time to read this!
Allyson Rice is the author of the novel The Key to Circus Mom Highway. (“Fans of family drama, road trips, and non-stop laughs will love this cross-country adventure.”–BookLife/Publisher’s Weekly). She’s an award-winning mixed media artist, and a producer with Atomic Focus Entertainment.
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 once again on her own creative work. In addition to her writing and art, she’s also a photographer (her work was most recently seen in an exhibition at the Soho Photo Gallery in NYC).
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 and can now be seen on YouTube (https://youtu.be/7Xe3nuVDkC4).
Also available from Allyson Rice 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. She’s currently at work on her second novel and her fourth women’s coloring book. But she is most proud of being mom to musical artist @_zanetaylor.
www.AllysonRice.com (My Author Site)
www.Allyson-Wonderland.com (My E-commerce site)
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Amazon book Link
KOBO book link
Target book link
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GIVEAWAY INFORMATION and RAFFLECOPTER CODE
Allyson Rice will be awarding a $20 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
Thanks for hosting!
Thanks so much for being the final stop on my GoddessFish virtual book tour! I really appreciate it!
I enjoyed the interview.
It looks like a good read.
Thanks, Sherry! You can grab a copy at any bookseller. Or sign up for my (only occasional) newsletter for the chance to win a free copy in every newsletter. Plus I’ll be giving sneak peeks to subscribers of the novel I’m currently working on! 🙂