Recently I read and reviewed Allison Winn Scotch’s newest book “In Twenty Years” and I loved it. The book centers around a group of 6 friends who became more like family during their four years at Penn State. They made promises to remain a family and stayed connected and in each other’s lives as best as they could despite marriages, children, distance, and the final blow to what tied them together, the death of their beloved ringleader Bea. On July Fourth, what would have been Bea’s 40th birthday, her estate requests that the remaining five friends come back to the house they once shared and celebrate in her honor. The weekend brings back a flood of memories, emotions, lingering feuds and crushes, and leads the five of them to reconnect in a way they hadn’t imagined could be possible.
Me: What started your writing career? Did someone or something spark your interest?
AWS: I was always a good writer in school and professors encouraged me to pursue writing, but to be honest, I kind of stumbled upward into it as a profession. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, and I tried on a series of hats – PR, internet start-up, acting, ghost-writing, and they all sort of led to here. I was a magazine writer for many years and grew listless, so tried my hand at fiction. My first book was a disaster and didn’t sell but gave me enough of the bug (and I got enough positive feedback) to keep going. One thing led to another – kind of the theme of my career – and here I am!
Me: Given how specific the setting is in this book, is it at all autobiographical? Did your college friendships inform your adult life in any way, or are any of these characters based on real people?
AWS: I’m asked this a lot, and my answer never changes because I swear it’s true: and that is that zero – none – of the characters are based on anyone I knew at Penn. I promise. There are cultural references and moments (like dancing to Prince at our local watering hole!) that are culled from my experience, but that’s it. To be honest, I find it much, much harder to write fiction based off of real life: my brain can’t separate the two, and thus the fiction aspect suffers, so pulling from my own college experience in that sense wasn’t even an option. In fact, about halfway through, I considered abandoning Penn as the setting altogether because it was getting too jumbled for me. But I sent it to another author who had also attended college with me, and she said to stick with it, so I did.
Me: I know this question is like asking a mother if she has a favorite child, but do you have a favorite character from your book?
AWS: Hmmm, not really. The character I most identify with is Bea, just her spirit and her enthusiasm for life, and my favorite to write was probably Lindy, just because I love, love, love writing screwed up women who have good hearts at the bottom of it all, but I have a lot of love for all of the characters. Annie and her fragility, Colin and his secrets. It’s hard to write characters you don’t enjoy because you end up spending so much time with them.
Me: One of the main themes in your book is that there’s a dichotomy in life as you start to hit your thirties between your adolescent life before becoming a “grown up” and your life as an adult. Because of that, I think so many people feel caught in a limbo of trying to be a bonafide grown up, and still wanting to be a care free kid. I feel like all your characters are thrown back into that limbo upon arriving at the house they once shared. Have you ever had that experience? What made you explore it in your novel?
AWS: That’s a great question. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt caught in my adolescence, though I agree that culturally, it’s definitely a phenomenon. I think perhaps in my twenties, as I said above, when I was a little lost as to what I wanted to do professional and also went through a series of pretty wrong-for-me relationships, maybe that’s the closest I’ve come. But I also think that’s what your twenties are supposed to be about! That said, even now, in my early 40s, I still have moments when I can’t believe how old I am and how many responsibilities I have, and I think that’s really what these characters are also going through: like, how can we feel like we were twenty-one only yesterday? And I really do relate to that. I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find many people who don’t feel like time has gone too quickly, and even though they have real proof of their grown-up lives (kids, jobs, mortgages, all of that), twenty-one feels like it was just a corner or two away. I think that’s really what I wanted to explore here, and I suppose I wanted to delve into those themes because I think about them often. Getting older is a privilege and sometimes a joy, but it also comes with a lot of shock…that so much time has gone by and that your youth is really very fully in the rear-view mirror.
Me: What is your writing process like? Do you begin with characters, or do you start with the story and fill in the characters to serve the story?
AWS: I begin with a theme I want to explore: in this case, it was turning 40 and also writing about college from the perspective of turning 40. From there, I fill in the theme with a couple of main characters – here, I started with Annie and Lindy, then Bea and Colin – and build outwards until I have a living, breathing organism of a book. By the way, that usually takes about seven drafts!
Me: The love triangles in this story add a lot of drama and intrigue to the story. Do you believe men and women can just be friends, or is there always an aspect of something more?
I do believe that they can be friends, for sure! I think there are some rules to that: one is that neither of you is attracted to the other; two is that you’ve already dated and gotten that out of your system, three is that one of you – or both of you! – is totally unavailable, so the relationship is off the table; and four is that there are exceptions and sometimes men and women just aren’t attracted to each other and then friendship is no different than any other friendship. I certainly have good male friends; some are spouses of my best friends, some are old friends from college or high school. I’m married and so are many of them, so that aspect of “something more” never even comes into play. And, in fact, I’ve had close male friends my whole life. Sure, it’s usually easier when you’re in a relationship (i.e., dating my college or high school boyfriend), so there isn’t any equivocating or mixed signals, but…my long-winded answer is…of course men and women can be friends, and I love my guy friends dearly.
Me: If you were to have your book turned into a movie, who would your dream cast be?
AWS: Gosh, is it weird that I really don’t know? I wrote the part of Annie for Jennifer Garner, who bought the rights to my last book, and so she’d probably be my dream Annie, but she’d be great as Catherine too. I think James Marsden would be a great Colin, and maybe Luke Wilson as Owen? Lindy needs a bit of fire in her, so an actress who plays tempestuous well. For Bea, she is never older than her late-twenties, so Emma Stone would be marvelous.
Me: What authors inspire you the most, and is there a genre that you’d love to explore but just haven’t had the chance to yet?
AWS: I always really admire authors who do things that I am just not capable of, detailed non-fiction or even historical fiction. I don’t really have the attention span for the research – I love just diving in and writing – so I have such admiration for those authors who spend months and months (or years and years!) of acquiring facts and info before they even start writing. As far as authors who inspire me, I hate to take the easy way out, but that list is just too, too, too long for me to even contemplate. I have so many friends who have been supportive and so many others whose work has moved me: ours really is a nice community, and I’m just glad to be part of it.
Me: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block, if so, what do you do to get inspired?
AWS: I only really suffer from it in the sense that the “writing” is the hardest part for me, in terms of creating a book. I love spending time in my head with my characters and getting lost in their worlds, but I do tend to procrastinate the writing itself. A few ways I get around this: 1) I try to write first thing in the morning before I give myself a million excuses to get out of it; 2) I try to pick smart stopping points, meaning, I leave myself enough room – say, in the middle of a scene – where it’s really easy to pick up the next day. And 3) if I really am struggling with what to write or say, a walk or a run almost always rejiggers my imagination. Running (or walking) is my creative crutch.
Me: What is the best advice you’ve gotten or can give about being a writer?
AWS: My best advice is that you have to take your ego out of the equation. What I mean by that is that constructive criticism is your best tool to become a better writer, and if you refuse to listen to criticism, you’ll never grow. I’m working on my seventh book right now, and I have literally rewritten it from the ground up three times now. Literally. Thrown out 75% each time. That’s just how the craft works, and if you refuse to accept it, you’re not going to get better.
Me: If you could only read 3 books for the rest of your life, which would you pick?
Nope! I refuse to answer!!! Seriously, so many great books have shaped me and my writing, this is an impossible question!! 🙂
Hope you all enjoyed this interview as much as I did!