Alison Hammer joins Zibby to talk about her new book, Little Pieces of Me, as well as the other six projects she has going on at the moment. The two talk about how Alison’s experiences participating in the National Novel Writing Month challenge have resulted in multiple finished novels, as well as how they both have novels stored away, waiting to be revived one day.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Alison. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Alison Hammer: Thank you so much for having me. I am an avid listener, so it is an honor to be on the podcast.

Zibby: Aw, you were just saying it was a goal of yours. That’s so cute. I love that.

Alison: It really is. I’m just so excited to be talking to you.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, as you know because I posted about it as soon as I finished it, I really, really enjoyed your book. Not only that, but I have since retold the plot now to three different people including my kids. I was like, listen to this.

Alison: I love it. Literally, your post made my day. Not only was the picture beautiful, but I’m just speechless. I was very, very excited by it. Thank you for reading and for sharing it.

Zibby: Of course. Tell listeners, please, what your book, Little Pieces of Me, is about. What inspired you to write it?

Alison: Little Pieces of Me, it is the story of a woman who finds out through a mail-in DNA test that her dad that she grew up with and adored is not her biological father. It’s a story of identity and family secrets and who we are and everything that makes up us. It’s dual timeline. It takes place in present day as my main character, Paige, gets this discovery and as she’s trying to figure out what it means for her, her identity, her relationship with her late father and with her mother, which is a tough relationship, and then back in 1974 when her mom, her dad, and her DNA dad are all in college at the University of Kansas. That is Little Pieces of Me.

Zibby: Amazing. I enjoyed the present-day scenes too, but I felt like I was in it when you were writing about the scenes from college. My heart kind of went out to the mom who, up until then, I was sort of annoyed at. You made her so sympathetic because you understand. Once you understand basically anyone’s backstory, it’s hard not to have more empathy towards them when there seem to be reasons for their behavior.

Alison: Totally. It’s interesting because the way I first wrote the story was pretty different. In the beginning, I told the story in three parts. Part one was present day when Paige made the DNA discovery. Part two went back to 1974 when everything happened. Then part three was her dealing with the aftermath of it. When my agent read it, she was like, “Part two is so driving because you know these two characters are going to have sex. You just don’t know the details of where, when, or how or anything.” Then you find out, and there’s still a hundred pages left. She had the idea for me to interweave the chapters. Once I got over the panic of how much work it would be, I literally took it apart and put it back together again. Present-day Elizabeth is a tough character to like. When you see her as Betsy when she was a young girl in college, like you said, it helps you understand her more and hopefully makes her a little bit more likable to readers.

Zibby: Wait, so tell me, what was it like taking it apart and packaging it up again? How did you do that? Was it all in a Word doc? Did you put it on the floor and start cutting? How did you do that?

Alison: I went all arts and crafts. My agent likes me to do a roadmap, which is amazing because it helps me just see the story from a high level. There’s a point in my process where I go chapter by chapter and bullet point the things that happen in it. I already had this, it was a fifty-page outline. What I did is I made the present-day scenes in red and the past scenes in blue. I literally cut it out. I arts and crafted it. I cleaned off my kitchen table. I have a picture of it. I need to do one of those, how it started, how it’s going. I just spread it out. I used a Post-it Note for any scenes or chapters that I’d have to add. It was pretty amazing how it ended up coming together. It feels like it was meant to be that way. It did freak me out at first, but she was right. I’m so happy with how it turned out.

Zibby: There was a moment in the beginning where she discovered her dad fairly quickly. I thought that’s maybe what the book was going to be about. I was halfway done or something like that and I was like, okay, that’s not what the book’s about. Let’s see what’s coming next.

Alison: I love that you said that because when I started writing it — I’ll tell you where I got the idea for it. When I started writing it, I thought that’s what it was about too. This happened with my debut, You and Me and Us. I didn’t realize what it was about until a reader told me, until one of my beta-readers pointed it out. My mom was not thrilled that I wrote two books about difficult mother-daughter relationships because we have a great relationship and she doesn’t want people to think otherwise. I thought it was about this woman who makes this discovery, but it’s really about that mother-daughter relationship again. The story sometimes reveals itself to the author, which is still something that’s amazing to me. I did it twice in a row.

Zibby: Tell us about your last book a little bit more because I didn’t read that one. I’m sorry.

Alison: You and Me and Us, my debut, came out three weeks into the pandemic, so super fun time to launch a career. That is the story of a woman who works in advertising. She’s a bit of a workaholic. It’s the story of her relationship with her teenage daughter. It’s a difficult relationship. The way that it evolves over a summer is they lose the one member of their family that holds them together. That one is a bit of a tear-jerker, but there’s also parts that make people laugh. It ends with a little bit of hope.

Zibby: When you sold your debut, was it a two-book deal? How did you get a second one out so quickly?

Alison: It was a two-book deal, yeah. The first book that I ever wrote took me fifteen years to finish writing. That’s currently in a drawer. I’m hopeful maybe one day. You and Me and Us was my first time doing NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. It’s an international program that challenges writers to write fifty thousand words in the month of November. I went from taking fifteen years to finish a book to finishing You and Me and Us, the first draft, in two months. That was 2016. I wrote Little Piece of Me which originally was called Blank Paige, Paige like the character’s name. I signed with my agent in 2018, worked with her on edits, sold the book to William Morrow, HarperCollins. Then it came out in 2020. It was a four-year process. It’s crazy. It happens really slow and then fast somehow, all during a pandemic too.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe it. Wait, what was it about the first one that took you that long versus the second one? That’s a radically different —

Alison: — It’s radically different. I learned a lot of lessons. My biggest lesson was to finish first because I edited as I went. I had seventy-five pages that were just perfect. I workshopped them. They were perfect. Then I sent them to an agent. It was 120,000 words long when it was finished, which is at least 20,000 words too long for a book in this genre. An agent pointed out that it started in the wrong place, which is a mistake that most writers make starting out when they’re first writing a novel. Those seventy-five pages that were just perfect all eventually had to go, so I wasted about ten years.

Zibby: Aw.

Alison: I know, it’s very sad. Now, again, just really strongly, I finish first. I don’t edit until I’m finished. I just get it all out. There was a point about ten years in when I made that realization. It sounds so obvious. I was like, I’m never going to finish it if I don’t finish it. I’m stopping editing. I’m just going to finish it. That’s how I got there with the first one. Then NaNoWriMo was something that I’d always heard about. Again, it took me fifteen years to write the first one, so I’m like, there’s no way. I’m ridiculously competitive against myself in really silly ways. I have a sleep app that gives me percentage quality of sleep every day. I wake up in the morning like, how did I do? There’s something about that competition of having a goal with the word count every day and the comradery and the community of so many writers all trying to make that goal that just helped me. Also, it helped that the first book I wrote had the same characters as my debut, and so I knew them really well. I think the more you know the characters, the easier it is to tell their story.

Zibby: Alison, I would argue that you didn’t waste a single minute of those years. You needed those years to do what you do now. It wasn’t a waste. The fact that you spent that time, it’s not that you perfected seventy-five pages. You taught yourself how to write a novel.

Alison: That is a very good point. I like that way of thinking about it.

Zibby: It’s true. Nobody can write a novel the first time. You have to try.

Alison: A hundred percent.

Zibby: You can’t just sit down at the piano and churn something out. You have to learn how to play the piano. Then you have to practice. Then you get better. I understand that there are people out there who are virtuosos who can hear music and sit down and play. There are, likewise, people who can write novels on the first try. For the vast majority of people, it’s just not the case.

Alison: A lot of people have a practice novel in the drawer. I do hope that one day I can revive it and make it come to life again. It’s the beginning of the story of Tommy and Alexis, the characters in my debut. I am hopeful. I’ve got these characters. I think there’s some characters that just don’t leave you alone. They started as a short story in college, so they’ve been around for a very long time. I have thoughts of a book that finds the mother and daughter fifteen years in the future. I’ve got a lot of stories that I’m excited to tell. That’s just one of them.

Zibby: You gave me this great idea. I have novels in my cabinets behind me too. Everybody does. I don’t even know where they are. They look like they’re just in a white box. Maybe I’ll lose it. What if I die? No one’s ever going to know what it is. Maybe I should make a cute coverlet for all the discarded books. Then you could feel some sort of accomplishment because it is an accomplishment even if you never sell it. It’s still a book.

Alison: Totally, a hundred percent. I just finished writing a new project with a friend of mine, Stephen Kellogg. He is an author and a singer-songwriter. We did this NaNo project together. The other night, I told him — his book that he has out is a book of essays. This was his first novel. I told him, “Reaching those final two words, the end, is a really big deal.” He was writing the epilogue, so he was going to get to the end. I was like, “When you do it, take a moment and appreciate the bigness that we just wrote a book.” Last night, he FaceTimed me so that we could write it together. It was so cute. Finishing a book, though, I do know that that’s a moment. It’s hard to remember that when you’re being published and looking for all of the lists and big things that you want and you dream to be like, I’ve already accomplished a dream just by having the book out in the world. Thank you for the reminder because that is true. Just writing a book in the first place is pretty great.

Zibby: So you collaborated on a third book with Stephen Kellogg?

Alison: It’s like book six. I’ve got a lot going on.

Zibby: Book six, oh, my gosh. Tell me the whole thing. Give me the lay of the land here.

Alison: Again, I’m addicted to NaNoWriMo. I started it in 2016. I did You and Me and Us in 2016. 2017, I wrote Little Pieces of Me. 2018, I wrote a book called The Antourage. I’m hopeful that that could be book three. That was inspired by something that happened to a friend of mine. It’s interesting. My debut was all my imagination. My next few books, including Little Pieces of Me, were inspired by things that kind of happened in my world. I tend to be in the family and friendship and love and loss zone. That’s kind of my sweet spot. The Antourage is about a group of friends who lost one of their friends who had a young baby. It’s them coming together to help raise the baby. There’s love and laughter and friendship and all that kind of stuff. 2019, I wrote another book that I don’t even know how to describe. I’m in that zone. This 2020, I wrote this book with Stephen Kellogg. It is about a singer-songwriter past his prime in his fifties. It’s 2025, so post-pandemic. He goes out on the road with a young up-and-coming singer-songwriter. It’s the two of them and their discovery, one at the end of their career, one at the beginning, and what they teach each other. It’s love and friendship. There will be an album to go along with it. I’m really excited about that. Then during the pandemic, because we had nothing but time, my critique partner and I starting cowriting books together. We are writing rom-coms. We are working on our second one now. It’s a lot, I know.

Zibby: It’s great.

Alison: It’s ridiculous. That’s part of why I didn’t meet my goal to lose twenty-five more pounds before book launch. I know we talked on your other podcast. My days are jam-packed.

Zibby: I bet. I’ve given up trying to lose weight altogether, basically. The fact that you were steadily losing was amazing. I loved our interview for that as well. Wow, that’s great. It’s really awesome to talk to somebody who just feels so much joy about writing. Clearly, you love it. You love doing it with other people. You love doing it alone. It’s your thing. It’s great. You’re finally getting the accolades, the validation after your apprenticeship to yourself.

Alison: Thank you. I never ever, ever thought that I would write a book with somebody else. I didn’t understand how people did it.

Zibby: How do you do that?

Alison: The process is different with both of them. With Stephen, we have been doing weekly Zoom calls since July. We plotted it out. We came up with characters. We had a really, really long outline. I do most of the writing of the first draft and then put it into a shared doc. He edits it and adds lines and makes notes. It really has been collaborative that way. My project with Brady Godfrey, my critique partner, we’re called Ali Brady. We took a little bit of both of our names. We have been writing dual point of view books where we each have a character. We plot everything together. We come up with the outline together. Right now, we’re on a chapter-a-week schedule where we each draft a chapter and then critique the other’s chapter. We’re almost finished with our first draft of book two, which is pretty cool.

Zibby: That’s awesome. What do you like to read when you’re not writing? What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Alison: What is there time for? I have a day job. I work in advertising as a creative director. In this pandemic world, I don’t even know what I do. I do a lot of writing and a lot of reading. When the world gets back to normal, I cannot wait for live music. Music is something that I just love. I love travel. I’m obsessed with my two nephews who are just adorable. I do read a lot. I don’t have a lot of time to sit and read, and so audiobooks are my best friend. There are a few books that I’ve read recently that I have a physical copy of but I also bought on audio just because I couldn’t wait to read. I listen when I’m doing laundry or cleaning or cooking or walking. I just listen. It’s the way that I can get books in. I read a lot of stories that are in a similar camp to mine. I love stories about family and friendship. I’m a sucker for feelings. I love books that make me cry. That’s probably why I wrote books that make people cry. I also love mysteries. I like historical fiction. I really read pretty widely. I just finished the most incredible book. I binged it all weekend, The Songbook of Benny Lament by Amy Harmeon. It’s incredible. She’s a new author to me. She’s been around a long time. I take books from recommendations that I see on Instagram, that I hear on your podcast and other podcasts and word of mouth. I read a lot. Then I’ve been trying to read — I started a book club with a friend where we alternate between fiction and nonfiction, but we read a book by a black author every month. I’ve always tried to read diverse voices. After this year, I’ve made it a priority. That’s been a great way to read more.

Zibby: Wow, so you like to be busy, which I can relate to. I love that.

Alison: I don’t know if it’s a choice, but it’s definitely who I am.

Zibby: Love it. What have you not accomplished that is on your list? I’m sure that there is stuff.

Alison: So many things. Really, again, I try to focus on the individual readers. I try to focus on what I can control. That’s really, really hard for me because I am very type A and I like to know that I can do things. With publishing, you really can’t. I can write the best book that I can and put it out in the world and hope that it connects with people and that people share it and it finds its way to readers. I had a dream of being in airport bookstores. You and Me and Us was supposed to be in the airport bookstores. Then the world shut down, so that was pretty sad. I do try to remind myself that I’m living my dream. With the fact that I’m here and I’m talking to you and there are people that are reading my book and that reach out to me, it’s pretty amazing. I have a lot of goals, but I try not to get too focused on them. I’d like to have a long career. Like I said, I have a lot of stories in me. I just want to keep telling them and keep connecting with people.

Zibby: Going back for two seconds to Little Pieces of Me, I saw in the afterward there was something about that this had happened to a friend of yours. Is that what inspired it? Tell me a little bit about that.

Alison: Like I said, it was back in 2017. A friend of mine in Chicago had a bunch of bars. One was closing, so a bunch of us went out just for one last night. I walked in and I saw my friend up at the bar. I said, “Hi.” She said, “You will never guess what I just found out on” I made a few guesses of some historical and current political figures that I knew she wouldn’t want to be related to. She kept saying no. I was like, “Okay, just tell me.” She told me that she had gotten a parent-child match from a man who is not her father. I was like, “I never would’ve guessed that.” The more she told me, that she had done a little googling and found out that this man went to college the same time and place her parents did, I was fascinated. I was like, “This would make an incredible story.” I want to be clear, it is not her story. I took what happened to her and fictionalized it. A few days later, she reached out to me and she said, “I’d be happy to talk to you if you really want to write a story about something like that.”

I talked to her and got her experience. There’s a few scenes that are very close to what happened to her when she made that discovery. The conversation that Paige has with the customer service rep is almost verbatim her conversation. I had to change a few things because people were like, that’s not believable. The customer service rep she talked to said, “Your mom’s got some explaining to do.” Readers were like, there’s no way somebody would say that. Truth is stranger than fiction, so I had to edit a little bit. Everything that happened in the past and even who the character is, that’s all fictional. It was hearing that story that sparked the idea. When she told me that she didn’t think that her DNA dad had any other kids, that was really the moment — I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but that was an important moment that divided what happened to her to the story in my head.

Zibby: Wow. Well done on all fronts. So exciting. What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Alison: Oh, goodness, so many. I already said, finish first is one of my big ones. Also, find your community. If the community doesn’t exist that you want, make it. I have been so fortunate. I get emotional just even thinking about all of the writers that have helped me and that are in my group. I had a group of writers from when I was querying. We had a querying support group. Once I signed with my agent, there was no group. That place when you have an agent and you’re on submission, it’s so difficult and stressful because it’s not something you’re supposed to talk about. You can’t complain down to people who would be just so desperate to have an agent. I started a group for a group of writers that were all on submission at the same time. I ran the 2020 debut group. They started doing these debut groups I think in 2017. Our group is a unique group that had this challenge of being unknown authors launching a career in the middle of a global pandemic. I don’t know how we would’ve survived it without supporting each other and cheering each other on. Find your community whether it’s a stage you’re at or — the Women’s Fiction Writers Association I credit for just changing my writing life. Find your people because they can help you get through the ups and downs, and there are a lot of them.

Zibby: I’m thinking of starting a group for authors who have been on this podcast.

Alison: Oh, amazing.

Zibby: Do you think people would be into that?

Alison: A hundred percent. I would join, absolutely.

Zibby: I started groups, Moms Don’t Have Time to Grieve and Moms Don’t Have Time to Travel through this site called Mighty Networks. I am loving those. Then I was thinking, maybe I should just invite all the authors who have been on the show. Then they can talk to each other. I can post news about — not that I have —

Alison: — I think that would be amazing. Quite honestly, groups are the reason that I’m still on Facebook. With social media, I use Twitter to talk to other writers. I use Instagram to connect with readers. Facebook, I’m there for the groups. I run a lot of groups. I run a group called The Every Damn Day Writers. That comes from NaNoWriMo because we loved that daily accountability of checking in. Now we have over five hundred women writers and eight moderators who take turns every day posting something, a prompt or just something to build community and accountability. A thing that I say a lot is that writing is not a solo sport. Part of the reason that I can be so proud of my book is that I didn’t get there alone. There’s actually a funny — two different times I’ve had readers in reviews point out a line in the book that they said is their favorite, and I love it too, but I didn’t write it. My critique partner wrote it. I think that there are so many people who have their hands and their minds and their hearts in this book that it makes it easier for me to be proud and talk about how I think it turned out. Again, community groups, I think that it’s everything, especially in this pandemic world. It’s how we connect.

Zibby: Maybe we’ll talk after.

Alison: Yes, I would love to.

Zibby: If you’re open to a Mighty Network versus a Facebook group. I feel like I’m over — I don’t know. I’m in Facebook groups. You know what? I’ll talk about this later. Alison, thank you so much for coming on. Thanks for totally entertaining me for two and a half hours straight. I was barely even feeding my kids breakfast before they went to school. Thank you so much for all of it. I really, really appreciate it and have loved chatting with you.

Alison: Thank you so much. Like I said, this is a dream talking to you and being on the podcast. Thank you for everything you do to support writers and bring writers and readers together. I’m a big fan. It has just been a thrill to talk to you. Thank you.

Zibby: Yay! Thanks. Have a great day.

Alison: Thank you so much. You too.

Zibby: Bye.

Alison: Bye.


Little Pieces of Me by Alison Hammer

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