Friday, April 6, 2012

An Interview With Jennifer AlLee, Author of The Mother Road

graphic by armee003   
I hope you're all ready for a trip down the Mother Road. Believe it or not, until I read this book, I didn't know Route 66 was known as the Mother Road. Nor did I know all of the interesting sights one would see when traveling along the route. Today I'm happy to share my interview with Jennifer, and I'll try to avoid any silly puns like "buckle up" or "let's hit the road." (Shh, don't tell anyone, but I think I already ruined that little plan.)

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
Where did the Route 66 idea come from, and did you really travel it?

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.

courtesy of bretz

Total fluff question: Have you ever stayed in a wigwam? (Okay, that question might seem bizarre until one reads the book, but I just have to know). If you haven't, how did you research it?

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.

By metalcat37
Did you set out to write a serious book infused with humor, or did the humor just naturally find its way into the book?

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


  1. Good morning ladies (west coast ladies will be here in a couple hours...)

    Thanks to Kindle, I have a copy of The Mother Road, although I look forward to a paperback so I can share it with friends.

    Great interview Suzie and Jen. I think this would have been a fun 'trip' , er, book, to plot and I think it must be said that Route 66 seems to be one of the characters.

    A reminder for our readers to comment on Thursday's, Friday's, or Saturday's posts to be in the drawing for Jen's book! We'll probably do this for a few more days into next week.

    A friend and I did a road trip many years ago. round trip through AZ, NV and CA, which is quite a scenic area... and completely different than my east coast trips. A lot less GREEN!

    Thanks Suzie!

  2. oh yay, the book is on Kindle? that is good to know. i love hearing about your writing process. the story sounds like a great read. how do you have two sisters you did not grow up with?

    i actually have four sisters i did not grow up with - but that was because i was adopted and did not find my birth parents until i was 30 (that's when i found out i had sisters).

    thanks for the peek into your life and how it infuses itself into your writing. good food for thought for me as i work on my craft.

    nm8r67 at hotmail dot com

  3. p.s.
    haven't traveled the Mother Road, but I've watched Cars a bunch and Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives... *heh*

  4. Wow, great interview. I can't wait to read this. Now that my historical romance is about done, I plan to gorge on women's fiction and literary fiction for a while, and this is definitely on the list. I love humor in a book, and as I mentioned yesterday, I'm in love with the sister's pink hair.

    I love when a book starts with a question. That's pretty much how my first two books started for me. My third was a little different. All I had in my head was a title to begin with and it kind of grew from there.

  5. Good morning Deb, DebH, and Dina.

    I sent a message earlier, but it disappeared.

    In honor of Jen, I tried to load a Cars theme song You Tube video, but every one of them had restrictions and could only be viewed by clicking the link.

    I've never driven Route 66, but now I want to! Have a blessed Good Friday, everyone.

  6. Thanks Suzie. A great weekend to you as well.
    Good Friday used to be a holiday, remember?

    Deb H - yes, the Diners show on Food Network has probably hit much of Rt 66. I watched a show last year that described the growth of roadside restaurants with the introduction of the automobile and cross-state travel. Very interesting!

  7. What a fun interview. I really enjoyed this one. And after spending several ACFW conferences hanging out with Jen, I can attest to Jen's character as being quirky. She'll laugh and crack a joke at most anything and smiles more than anyone I know.

    Which is why I'm looking forward to reading this book which I downloaded it to the Kindle app on my iPhone yesterday. :)

    I've never travelled Route 66, and although it reminds me of our TransCanada #1 Hwy that starts at the Atlantic Ocean and ends at the Pacific, it's quite ... boring... compared to what you're describing. Breathtakingly scenic, but boring nonetheless.

  8. Great interview! I loved it and I enjoyed learning more about Jen and her inspiration.

    I've traveled the interstate highway that replaced Route 66 a number of times. Just like the Bobby Troupe/Depeche Mode song, I've seen "Amarillo, Gallup New Mexicooo, Flagstaff Arizona, don't forget Winona, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernadinooo..."

    Unfortunately, I haven't stopped to see the quirky sights on the real Route 66, no wigwams, burros, roadkill cafe. But I'd like to!

    Alas, my book review tomorrow is full of road-trip puns.

    I loved this book! Thanks, Jen and Suzie!

  9. So great to see you all! Since I'm on the West Coast, I always seem to come late to the party :)

    DebH, my sisters and I share the same father. My mom and dad split up when I was six months old, so I didn't know him growing up. I contacted him as an adult, and that's when I met my sisters. I'm really blessed to have all of them in my life!

  10. DebM, Anita, Dina, Susie, Suzie... we all need to take a road trip together! How much fun would that be?

    It warms my heart that you gals are looking forward to reading the book (or have already read it). This is one of the best groups anywhere :+)

  11. Anita, Jen's humor definitely comes through in this book. I'd give an example,but I don't want to give out any spoilers. I do hope Jen can meet us in Anaheim because I really think we'd all have so much fun!

  12. Susie, I'm thinking maybe we should add "road trip!" To our wish list of Inky retreats.

    And I'm sure your road trip puns will be wonderful. Mine would not have been. Lol!

    Was Route 66 the route they took on Wild Hogs?

  13. Hi Jen! Did you see I tried to load a Cars video? I'm glad to see we both like the idea of a road trip together.
    I was thinking - The Mother Road would make an adorable movie. I can just picture it. I think you should pursue that idea...

  14. Ooooh, The Mother Road as movie. nice.

    one of my dreams is to drive west across the country and then return a different route. I promise myself I will try to do this someday. Oh I sure hope Gas prices do not kill that dream!

    oh well.

    I did eat at Bun Boy in Barstow once!
    And drove through Kingman Arizona. I think routes 40 and routes 10 are also pretty major east west roads in the southwest.

    My other road trip is route 1 from Maine to Key West. That will be a lot of stop and go traffic but it would be fun too. imagine all those greasy spoons!

    I think the nearest thing we have to a road trip will be this summer's secret Inky get together where the music goes like this. It's A Small World, After All...

  15. Deb, I have a dream to take the train from Maine to as close to Key West as possible, and then spend at least a week on a boat down there eating Key lime pie and soaking up the rays.

    I don't usually read a book an think it would make a great movie, but this one - I can just picture it. Perfectly.

  16. Road trip! I love road trips. My next scheduled one is in June when I head north to my writing retreat at the abbey.

    I'll take a few days before or after to visit Fort Battleford, Fort Pitt, and all the sites from the closest thing to a civil war Canada ever experienced. I was there last year but it was the week before the long May weekend and the tourist sites weren't open yet. This time the retreat is in June. Yay!

    You're all welcome to join me if you want. :D

  17. Anita, I didn't mean to ignore you. I had a super monster headache and had to take a nap.

    Anyway! I would love to go on the retreat at the abbey someday. Maybe next year? I know I couldn't this year. But I'd like to sometime.


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