An Interview With Jennifer AlLee, Author of The Mother Road
|graphic by armee003|
Probably the most over-asked question in author interviews is the one readers want to know the most: What inspired this story? I guess I'd specifically like to know if you started with a germ of an idea and it grew from there, or did you brainstorm and plot it out with a fully formed concept before you started writing?
The story started with this idea: what would a marriage expert do if her own marriage fell apart? From there, I thought about all the other things that could go wrong in her life, like dealing with an estranged sister and a mother who had early-onset Alzheimer's. Lindsay's wild-child persona developed on its own. It was a nice surprise!
|photo by Astrid_Habraken|
In order to create more chaos for poor Natalie, I decided she and Lindsay needed to be forced to spend a lot of time together. A road trip was the natural choice, and what better road trip than on Route 66? Unfortunately, I was not able to travel the entire road. But I lived right on Route 66 in Duarte, California for about 15 years, so I'm pretty familiar with all the Southern California bits of the Mother Road.
As someone who’s never been on Route 66, I just have to ask, how many of those quirky sites (or sights) are the real thing?
Believe it or not, every single one of the Route 66 sights I wrote about is real. The road is so iconic, it was very important that I get the facts right. You really can go to Oatman and see burros roaming the streets. And those concrete wigwams really do exist. The only location in the book that's made up is Beaumont, Illinois, where Natalie's parents live. For that town, I needed the flexibility of creating a town out of thin air.
No, I haven't slept in a wigwam, but I hear they're pretty cozy ;) I'm not normally a plotter, but for this book, I had to sit down and figure out not only where the route was, but what sights the sisters would see along the way and how long it would take them to get to each one. This required lots of research: books, DVDs, YouTube videos... I immersed myself in Route 66. I even played the Cars soundtrack from time to time to put me in the right mood.
Sibling relationships can be so up and down. Did you draw from experience to portray the relationship between these two sisters so realistically?
I have two sisters, but we didn't grow up together. We met as adults and had none of the issues that Natalie and Lindsay have. But, when I was 14, my brother, Josh, came along (I did live with him). There's a scene in the book when Natalie remembers being 14 and being called into the obstetrician's office so she can hear the heartbeat of her soon-to-be-born sibling. That scene (and the Star Wars joke) is actually what happened when I was in that same situation.
The emotions surrounding the baby issue really struck me. It's an issue that can stir up a lot of emotion for many readers. The other serious issue you deal with in this book is that of a parent with Alzheimer's. How did you research those two issues?
I think any woman who's had a baby can relate to the pain of not being able to have one, as well as the fear and confusion of an unplanned pregnancy. So for all the baby issues, I drew on my own experiences and feelings. Dealing with Alzheimer's took quite a bit more research. Again, the internet was a great tool. And personal experience came in handy here, too. My great grandmother (who I lived with as a child) exhibited signs of Alzheimer's before she died. She didn't know who any of us were and she was disoriented and detached. It's a hard thing to have to live through.
The humor just found its way in. I'm one of those people who deals with difficult situations through
sarcasm and making jokes. So it just comes out in my writing.
Was it difficult to find a balance between the serious and the humorous?
No, it wasn't difficult. It's how I naturally deal with life, and I shared it with my characters.
How did you settle on the viewpoint? I must tell you, I don't usually read books with this particular point of view, but I realize now it's not the viewpoint that pulls me in, but the author's voice. You totally pulled me in and the viewpoint was done so well and so naturally.
Thank you, Suzie! I'm really glad you connected with it. To be honest, I didn't put a lot of thought into which viewpoint to use. The first line that came to my mind (and is still the first line of the book) was "I cannot get a divorce." That set the tone of the story and it flowed from there.
Is there spiritual message you want to leave with your readers?
That a woman's identity lies not in whose wife she is or how successful her career is. Her identity lies in whose daughter she is: God's daughter.
Where is your writing taking you next? Do you have any plans for revisiting the characters from this book in the future?
Next up for me is A Wild Goose Chase Christmas, a contemporary romance that's the second book in Abingdon's new Quilts of Love series. Izzy Fontaine is a former ballet dancer whose grandmother has just died and left her an heirloom quilt. Things get complicated when museum director Max Logan claims that Gran promised him the quilt. And when Izzy's mother and brother catch wind that the quilt may hold the key to a great treasure, they want a piece of it, too. Things get a little crazy as Izzy tries to keep the peace, deal with the charismatic Max, and figure out what Gran was trying to tell her. As for the characters from The Mother Road, I have no plans for a sequel at the moment... but who knows. There's always time for one more journey.
Jen, I love the title A Wild Goose Chase Christmas. I can't wait to read it. In the meantime, I hope everyone takes the opportunity to read The Mother Road. You won't be disappointed.
Question to readers: Have you ever driven the Mother Road? If so, do you have a memory to share?
We're giving away a copy of The Mother Road to one lucky reader, so be sure to leave a comment on the Release Party post, the Interview Post, or the Review Post to be in the running. Don't forget to leave out the [@] and [.com] to protect yourself from spammers.
Suzie Johnson’s debut novel, No Substitute, a contemporary inspirational novel, will be released by White Rose Press later this year. She is a member of ACFW, RWA, and is the cancer registrar at her local hospital. The mother of a wonderful young man, who makes her proud every day, Suzie lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and naughty little cat. Although the beaches there are rocky instead of sandy, lined with Madrona trees instead of Palm trees, and the surf is much too cold for wading, it is still the perfect spot for writing inspirational fiction. You can visit her blog, Suzie's Writing Place at http://suzieswritingplace.blogspot.com/.