New York Times bestselling author Allison Winn Scotch joins Zibby once again, this time to discuss TAKE TWO, BIRDIE MAXWELL, a witty and warm novel about Birdie Maxwell, America’s rom-com sweetheart, as she navigates being canceled and seeks redemption in her hometown. Allison reveals how an anonymous love letter she received in college inspired this story, touches on the themes of second chances and nostalgia, and then examines the evolution of her writing style over the last twenty years, highlighting her decision to embrace storytelling that brings joy and entertainment to readers. Finally, she offers valuable advice for aspiring authors!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Allison. Thank you so much for coming back on "Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books." This time, Take Two, Birdie Maxwell. Congratulations.

Allison Winn Scotch: I was thinking the last time we talked, I was huddled in a corner in my house during COVID. It was a totally different ballgame. It's good to see you again. Thank you for having me back.

Zibby: You're a regular at Zibby's Bookshop. It's awesome.

Allison: I am, actually. It's right by me. I was thinking while I was getting ready for this, if I wanted to retire, which I might want to do soon, I was like, I'd like to open a bookstore, but actually, there's already one in our neighborhood. I don't need to. Yes, we love that. Love it.

Zibby: It is super fun. Maybe just do it a little further away. [laughter] 

Allison: I'm not doing it. I was like, what do I want to do next with my life?

Zibby: You're welcome to work in the bookstore, hang out. I'm not even kidding.

Allison: This is a sidebar, but my daughter is starting to look for a job. She's seventeen. I was like, she should go apply for a job there. 

Zibby: She should. Excellent. The plot for this book is amazing. Love this whole idea. Take listeners through what this book is about, Take Two, Birdie Maxwell.

Allison: This is about America's rom-com sweetheart who is canceled for reasons that probably aren't justified but as tends to happen, doesn't really matter. She slinks back to her hometown where she finds an anonymous love letter that an ex has sent her. She decides to sort of recreate her own rom-com to win back America's adoration and sets out to find out who wrote it. That's it.

Zibby: Amazing. What was the spark of the idea? Where did this come from?

Allison: It's funny. This book went through many, many drafts. It just wasn't working. Then it finally did start working. I realized maybe a third of the way in -- I think authors have these unconscious, latent ideas. I actually got an anonymous love letter in college. I came home for the summer. My mom handed me the mail. You got mail back then because we're that old. We required the US Postal Service. There was this flowery cursive-written letter. I remember at the time feeling like it was really creepy. I think that must have stuck with me. When we were doing this over COVID, I rediscovered joyous TV shows and movies because that was all I wanted to watch. This was my approach for something that's just a joyful book. Hopefully, readers, at night, can unwind with it, which is what I do, I know what you do with your reading and your work. It's just there to be joyful. That was the impetus of it.

Zibby: It's great to produce entertainment, essentially.

Allison: It's funny. We can get deeper into this or not, but particularly early in my career, I felt like I had to write something really weighty. As I've gotten older, or maybe my priorities have shifted, I have watched, literally, a thirty-minute sitcom every night since 2015. It's my way to set aside whatever has happened in the day and just immerse myself in something fun. I think there is something really beautiful about writing something that brings some people happiness. It doesn't have to be the Pulitzer. I'm not in any way -- I think rom-coms and romance can be brilliantly written. I just mean this genre is often disparaged, like why you never see them at the Oscars or whatever. There is some real value in just bringing people joy. 

Zibby: I completely agree.

Allison: That's what I am here for.

Zibby: Not to mention that a lot of people, that is what they want to read, especially in darker times. People want to be entertained. They want to escape.

Allison: There is obviously a market for darker, bleaker books. More power to those authors. I personally have just found -- obviously, I'll read thrillers and historical fiction. I can't, me personally, have them be super heavy right now. I can't take it on. I think a lot of people feel the same way, so let's write things that make people happy.

Zibby: I'm okay with dark memoirs because I know it happened. That feels very inspiring to me.

Allison: Yes, I agree.

Zibby: Dark when you don't have to go there, I don't know.

Allison: Again, there are obviously markets for that. It's just at this point in my life, it is not what I -- my reading time is at night. I'm in bed. In fact, my husband made me watch this documentary the other night about some murder. I was so annoyed with him. I didn't want to watch it at night. I said, "I only watch sitcoms at night." He was like, "No, no." He's super into true crime. Then we finished it. I was like, "I'm not going to sleep tonight." This is not what I want to have in my arsenal as I'm trying to drift off to sleep, which I can't even do half the time. Again, there is an audience for these darker books. More power to those authors who want to write them. For me personally as a reader and a writer, I just -- but I do agree on memoir. I listen to them. I find them really compelling because then you're rooting for that person who got out of it, for sure.

Zibby: Have you always had trouble sleeping?

Allison: I would say since I had kids, which I think is pretty normal. Are you in the same...?

Zibby: When I'm really stressed, I wake up really early, but I can always fall asleep, probably because I'm just so overtired. 

Allison: You have so much going on. I remember talking to my doctor about this. It often happens with women when they have kids. Their hormones shift or their anxiety goes up or whatever. I am not a great sleeper, but I really love to sleep. In fact, I said to my husband last night, in my dream world, I'm nocturnal. I go to bed at two. If it were socially acceptable, I'd wake up at nine thirty or ten. That would be my schedule. It's not socially acceptable, so I'm asleep at midnight. It's fine.

Zibby: You've had a whole career of writing. You've managed to do this dream that so many people have where you've really kept this going. You've innovated. You've shifted with the times. How do you do this? What is the secret? I know you said you're feeling differently about what types of books. Then just the process, all of that, how do you keep that going?

Allison: It's interesting. Certainly, in this moment where I do think a lot of authors are very tired -- I'm not [indiscernible] sleep. I just think a lot of us are feeling a little fried. I have been very lucky to have almost a twenty-year career writing novels, which just feels bananas. There are a couple things. One is I think that you really need to have the ability to step away from it when you can, even if it's in brief moments. One of the reasons that Birdie was so hard for me to write is I had no turnaround time from filing my last book. I am somebody who really needs to just not do anything to refill my creative well. In the past, I've always granted myself that time. I'm lucky I'm in a two-income household. I know that is not viable for everyone. The only way that I feel like I'm capable of writing good books and sustaining this is by giving myself a break. 

Two, I think you just have to really develop a very thick skin. I have sort of changed up how -- going on Goodreads -- I know you just recently had a bad experience there. It gives me such anxiety. I have a physical reaction to it. I'm not an anxious person. For my last book, I was realizing that I was having the same reaction as when I would go on and check election Twitter. You can feel a physical reaction. For me, it has really been about having perspective over what this is bringing into my life, both the success of the book, but also -- I'm lucky. I have a wonderful relationship with my kids. We're going through the college process. There are other things going on in my life that I try to take a step back and be like, okay, at the end of the day, this is a career. It's a job. It feels very personal because it's public facing, but it is a career. I don't mean to minimize it like it's a "job" job. It's a very fortunate job to have, but I don't want to make my whole life about it. I think that has allowed me to have that longevity. Also, I will say, this is my tenth book. I have two more contracted. I am pretty burned out, so thus opening a bookstore, which I'm not going to do, but maybe I'll go work at Zibby Books. I think I would love that.

Zibby: You should totally do it. When you sold the other two, was it just on concept? How much do you know about what those are?

Allison: I did. I signed another two-book deal with Berkley. We haven't actually announced it yet.

Zibby: Congratulations.

Allison: I think we're going to be doing it soon. They were debating if I want to finish it before we announce it. It's two thirds of the way done. In fact, it's called The Insomniacs. It's a book about people who can't sleep.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, perfect. 

Allison: I was literally trying to come up with an idea, and in the middle of the night, I'm like, why am I not writing about this? Half the women my age cannot sleep. You speak to a lot of authors. I wonder if other people feel this way. Every time I file a book, I'm like, I'm done. I don't have another idea. Nothing is ever going to come to me. I take that time for myself. I go live that life that is so important to me. I hang out with my kids. I argue with my kids, or whatever you're doing. Something eventually sparks that need to write. I think you're in the same boat. I'm sure that a lot of other authors who you speak with are. We sold it on concept. It's about seventy percent written. Having taken six months off -- not off, but between actually writing books. I'm doing other things in between. I did feel ready to return and actually write properly in the way that I know how.

Zibby: It sounds to me like you know yourself really well. I need to do this at night to calm down. I need this. I've thought about this. You're very self-aware.

Allison: Thank you. Thank you very much for that compliment. That is a really nice compliment. I do think I know myself well. I definitely learned some things during COVID. Everybody has always been out of the house, usually. I had a difficult time. We've all done these surveys. I am an extroverted introvert. I'd always considered myself an extrovert, but I need my downtime. I need that sitcom at night. Don't make me watch your stupid documentary about murders. People love them. It's just not for me. Look, I'm fifty. At a certain point, you do have to do that self-reflective work where you start to -- I don't mean this in any morbid way at all -- look at the back half of your life. My son is in college. My daughter is applying. I want to live a happy life. Whether it's with signing book deals or not signing book deals or whatever it is, I just want to make sure that I'm content with it. I listen, as a lot of people do, to "SmartLess." I've heard them say several times, if you would say no to something tomorrow, don't say yes to it in three weeks. Then it's going to come up, and you're going to be like, oh, my god, why did I say yes? I feel like I'm trying to employ that, not literally, but just in general. What am I doing? Why am I saying yes to things I don't want to do? I know that you've written about that as well, feeling overwhelmed and putting up those boundaries. Sorry if you hear my dog snoring in the background.

Zibby: No, it's okay. My dog is --

Allison: -- I know, I love your black lab.

Zibby: She's on the couch. They're living the life, non-insomniacs. An insomniac with a dog who only sleeps. Look, we all try to fit everything in. I feel like I just am so tired, I don't want to do anything after a certain time of day. That's why I started having events at eight AM. We had the Zibby Awards at the store at eleven AM. When I first launched it, they were at eight in Brooklyn.

Allison: See, I still want to be asleep by then. Last night, my daughter had left something to the last minute. She -- their school -- a state basketball game. She came home at nine and came into our room where I was in bed trying to watch my sitcom. She was like, "I need your help with this." Obviously, I helped her. I was so irritated because that is my time. I'm like, this is my relaxation time. I do try to put up those boundaries, both with my family and with my work, but it's not always successful. You have more kids than I do. I only have one at home now, so it's easier.


Zibby: When you were writing this book, did you worry about any ex-boyfriends reading it or wondering if they were mentioned? Did you send it to them? Are you in touch with them?

Allison: I didn't worry about them reading it because it's not related to them at all. I am friendly with a lot of them in terms of, I'm not somebody who carries around grudges. I just think it's so toxic. It drains you more than it needs to. To answer your question, I'm not worried. I highly doubt any of them read my work anyway. At this point, ten books in, it's a miracle if my family reads them. You know what I mean. Given that none of them, I assume, did write me that anonymous love letter in college, I don't think that any of them could see themselves in it. You're always taking past feelings and putting them into your work, but I'm not somebody who is going to replicate an experience, really, on the page. Particularly, ten books in, I would hope that I've sort of got -- I don't have that many anecdotes of romantic calamities at this point. I do think back fondly to most of them. Not all of them. I will say, whether movie, TV, book, I do love a second-chance rom-com. I'm a very nostalgic person, which is maybe why I'm generous to some of my exes. You know, whatever, you weren't great, but that doesn't mean you're a terrible person. Although, sometimes it does. I can think of one or two who I think are terrible, but I don't really write about them.

Zibby: What about going back to your hometown? Are you from LA?

Allison: No, I'm not from LA. I'm actually from Seattle, where I have included a few -- it's not in this book. I've included that in a few settings in the books. It's funny. I used to live in New York. All my books were set there. Then more of them have been set here since moving to LA. My parents no longer live in Seattle, so I don't really have a reason to visit. I would go up and do some book events now, but post-COVID, people aren't doing as many. That's totally fine by me. My high school friends are still there. I actually have some college friends there. It's a great place. It was a great place to grow up.

Zibby: In terms of being canceled like Birdie, is there anything that you feel like maybe you should've gotten canceled for but you got away with?

Allison: Oh, my god. I try to be extremely meticulous online. I don't think I really share any controversial views. Although, we've seen recently -- I know you have experience with the anti-Semitism. Every time I think about posting something that might, in any way, be sort of misconstrued, I play out all the different iterations of what the responses are going to be and if my stress level is worth taking that on. A lot of times, the answer is just no. I feel very stridently about a lot of things, but I don't want to do deal with the incoming. I'm very outspoken on Instagram about politics, about reproductive health, about voting. I do feel like if somebody wants to cancel me for something that, for me, is so clearly black and white -- I don't even know how you could be canceled for that because I really think it's the right thing to do. I do see -- I'm sure you experience this as well. The thing that upsets me online is, the politics of it notwithstanding, authors being shitty to other authors or dragging somebody else's work publicly. You read a ton. I read a ton. I would never publicly disparage somebody, ever. That's when I'm like, that is a systemic problem with you. That's when I'm out. It takes a lot for me to unfollow someone or to sort of end something. That is when I'll do it. I really try not to post anything negative other than, look, I hate Trump. [laughs] I might post something about that. That's sort of my line. I feel like you must see that all the time. Keep it to yourself.

Zibby: I can't believe when I see authors or people tagging authors and saying things badly about their books. Look, the country is so divided right now. It's horrific. It somehow has been sanctioned to be mean. I do not agree with that.


Allison: That's exactly right. That's what it is. I'm not a mean person. I have very strong opinions about things, but I am not mean. Obviously, snark is one thing, but I feel snark has been -- people now no longer differentiate between what is snarky and what is mean. I realized this very early on on Twitter where in the early days, we would all just post snarky things about celebrities. Then it occurred to me -- this was, again, very early days where we were sort of naïve about it -- that some of them might be seeing it. It could be hurting their feelings because famous people have feelings too. I think that people also don't realize that authors might see some of the really mean things they say about them. I realized that on Twitter. I was like, okay, I'm out. I don't care if somebody's famous. There's no need for me to say something mean that is going to hurt their feelings. It bums me out sometimes to see people I know saying audaciously rude things to other people. It's not about a policy. It's about a person. I just don't understand it. I just don't. I know that people have said, publicly, rude things to you, and on Goodreads and whatever. Same with me. I just don't understand it. I just feel like it's a reflection of that person, and it really doesn't have anything to do with me.

Zibby: It's true. Let's believe that. Unless you and I are both terrible people. [laughs] I'm kidding.

Allison: You know what? The reason I believe that is because if somebody feels comfortable being that rude online and they know that people are going to read whatever they're saying, they do it for the serotonin boost or whatever it is that somebody's going to like their snark. That is very sad to me.

Zibby: I think people are desperate for a sense of control right now. I feel like people feel like the world is just spiraling, which it is. If you really let yourself go there, you just won't get out of bed in the morning. I think some people get pleasure from hurting other people, and that's just sick and terrible. I think other people have been swayed by thinking it's okay, and so they join in piling onto the rudeness and the hatred and death threats or whatever it is, which is not okay, obviously. It's unacceptable.

Allison: That's right. Exactly. To answer your question, I have never been canceled, thank goodness, but I am also extremely -- if they sat in my living room and heard my husband and me talking, maybe I would. I don't mean because I'm saying controversial things, but I'm sure other people would -- it's okay to have feelings in the privacy of your own home or with your friends or your group chats or whatever, but you do not need to put them on blast. I feel like that has gotten lost in the pervasiveness of social media. I think our generation gets that. Loud and proud Gen Xer. Ten out of ten times, I will love the posts that are sharing cute dogs and joyful things. I'm not going to like the negative ones. 

Zibby: Last question. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Allison: Oh, my gosh. Probably, the same advice that I had back when we first talked. 

Zibby: You have to change it this time. [laughs] 

Allison: I don't remember what I said.

Zibby: You can't do that. That's a hack I will not accept.

Allison: This does sort of circle back to a lot of the -- I think the reason that I've had longevity is, I think it is really important to not have an ego in this industry. If your ego is bigger than your desire to be a great writer, you are going to run into roadblocks all the time. A good example is Birdie Maxwell. I rewrote this book from scratch, starting at zero five times. I had to throw out five different drafts. If I had resisted, the final book wouldn't have worked. It was really, really hard to do that every time. By the way, again, as I said, this is my tenth book. Ostensibly, I should know how to get it right, but you just don't. You start over every time. I have a somewhat clearer sense of how to write a good book now. Whether it's getting constructive criticism from your editor, from your readers, not being defensive when your editor is like, cut this, it's exposition -- you're like, but I really like this sentence. Guess what? It doesn't matter. I just think if you resist when people are trying to help you, it's going to be a very short-lived career.

Zibby: I think that's great advice. I have, by the way, never gotten that from any author yet.

Allison: Oh, really?

Zibby: Really. That's really, really good advice.

Allison: That's so interesting to me. I just feel like it is the umbrella under which everything else falls.

Zibby: You're right.

Allison: If you isolate yourself because you believe that your draft or your idea or whatever is absolutely the right thing and other people are telling you it's not, you're not going to be correct. Not in every situation, I should say. There are things where I have argued with my editor. Generally speaking, I just think that's what...

Zibby: Being collaborative with your whole publishing team, then when you have something you feel strongly about, they’ll listen.

Allison: That's exactly right. If they know that this cover is going to be more marketable, okay. That's not my expertise. Go with God. If there's something that I really feel strongly about, then that is the time that I will wield that argument power, whatever it is.

Zibby: Perfect. Thank you so much for coming back on "Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books."

Allison: I'm hoping to see you in LA in a few weeks.

Zibby: Yes, yes, I'm so excited.

Allison: I know you're out here all the time. Thank you so much for having me. Good luck with your own release.

Zibby: Good luck with yours. See you on the other side.

Allison: See you on the other side, Zibby. It's good to see you. Bye.

Zibby: Bye.


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