Zibby Owens: My conversation with Allison Winn Scotch became honestly just a talk with a close girlfriend, as many of my podcasts do, but this one was particularly so. You might feel like you’re just eavesdropping on a call between friends, but we did talk a lot about the book too and the rest. Anyway, Allison is from Charlottesville, Virginia, and Seattle. She went to Penn, University of Pennsylvania, with a BA in honors history and concentration in marketing from the Wharton School of Business. She currently lives in LA and is an author. She has written eight novels, the most recent of which is Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing. Some of her books have been optioned for film, which we will talk about in our interview.

Welcome, Allison. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Allison Winn Scotch: Thanks for having me.

Zibby: Allison and I just went through twenty minutes of technical issues. She’s been very patient with me. Thank you.

Allison: You’ve been patient with me. Who knew it was this difficult to get online?

Zibby: Your new book, let’s talk about Cleo. Tell listeners what the book is about and what inspired you to write it.

Allison: Cleo McDougal is a young, ambitious senator. She is sort of the anointed one to run for president. Before she does or before she can, her best friend from high school writes a really scathing personal op-ed about her that goes viral. She has kept a list of all of her regrets for most of her life. She is forced to look back and figure out how to make amends, if she can make amends, and if she wants to make amends before she can step forward. That’s the synopsis. It stemmed from — I tried really hard, it’s not a political book. I want to make that clear, but it certainly is a book about being a woman in this particular moment in time, or at least that’s what I was aspiring to. I was working on a different one that sort of echoed the same themes. It just wasn’t working. I can’t even remember what the lightning bolt was that led me to Cleo, but it just became very clear that I had to set that book aside. I literally woke up one day. I remember I was actually watching Sam Elliot on, I want to say Jimmy Kimmel. His daughter was named Cleo. I was like, that’s such a powerful name. I went to bed that night. I woke up and I was like, this is who it should be. That’s how it started. I didn’t really think it was anything. I wrote like fifty pages. I sent it to my agent. I was like, “I don’t really think this is working, but at least it’s a diversion from my other book which really wasn’t working.” She’s like, “No, it’s working great,” so I just kept going. That was that. You never know. Days when you feel the least devoted to something, that’s when inspiration can really come.

Zibby: I didn’t realize until I read the book that her dad is the one who had inspired her to keep this list of regrets and that it was an ongoing list from when she was much younger prior to her parents passing away, which I feel like is not a spoiler because it was so early in the book. I hope that’s so okay. There were over two hundred regrets. Weren’t there like 230 or something? 233?

Allison: I wanted it to sort of be outlandish. The notion of somebody actually acquiring — look, we all have small regrets. Maybe some of us have bigger regrets. The notion of really tracking that spoke to the underlying, not psychosis, but who really does that? She’s very rigid. She’s a perfectionist, but she’s made of all of these both big and small mistakes along the way. I thought that made her more intriguing as opposed to — it’s funny. My birthday was the other day and we were out. We actually went out to dinner. My son was like, “What are your biggest regrets and accomplishments?” I could name three big regrets. I’m not somebody who looks back, but I was like, “I really wish that I had gone abroad in college instead of staying back for my stupid college boyfriend.” That’s my regret. The notion of having 233, I felt like that made it more interesting.

Zibby: Totally. I feel like, though, if I knew I was keeping a list, let’s say I started one today, probably each week there’s something I regret.

Allison: You’re like, should’ve gotten on Skype. Some of them are small. Should’ve had cash to tip whomever. Then some of them are bigger. Should’ve gone to Paris instead of staying at college for my stupid boyfriend. I just thought it made it interesting. I didn’t want it to be like, I have ten regrets. That’s where it came from. As I played around with it, I really vacillated. There were four hundred. Then I was like, that seems outlandish. This felt like a reasonable but still a little bit preposterous number. That’s where I ended up.

Zibby: I know that Cleo wanted to run for president. As I was reading, I was like, I can’t believe she became a senator. I feel like there’s more of a microscope maybe now. Even getting any sort of elected official position requires such a deep dive into your personal life.

Allison: For sure. Obviously, this moment in time, a lot of us are more dialed into politics. I felt I had deeper understanding of the scrutiny. I tried to start out small. She ran for a congresswoman. I don’t know that much about my congressman. I voted for him, but I don’t know that much about his personal life. I felt like then it could slowly escalate. By the time you’re on a national scale or stage, it’s bananas. That’s sort of what she experiences. Then of course, she’s also a single mom. There’s a whole conflict with her son, or not conflict, but how are you a public figure while raising kids? How does that affect your relationships with them and everything about that? I did speak to some people who have worked with senators, which was interesting. It’s fiction, obviously, but I try to at least honor that up-ramp of privacy invasion that these people have to experience, particularly women.

Zibby: I thought it was so interesting how you have her campaign manager and her former law school classmate whose name I’m blanking on, but I feel like it starts with a G — what’s her name?

Allison: Gaby.

Zibby: Right, Gaby, when Gaby tells her flat-out, it’s okay for men to make mistakes or to have regrets, but you can’t say that. It’s just not okay for a woman. Just accept it. Which is how they devise this whole, charade is the wrong word, but plan.

Allison: It’s a bit of a political stunt initially. I think that’s true. Again, I’m not trying to make, necessarily, a political statement. I am trying to say, hey, look at the women who ran for president this year. There was very little latitude given for any sort of mistake. I was still seeing it last night on Twitter about some of them. I was like, this is just such bullshit. All these men have made huge — which isn’t to say that there’s something wrong with men making mistakes. You can revise your position on something or whatever. That’s growth. Women are just not afforded that same thing. I wanted to view it as Gaby comes around to. It’s not a weakness. It’s growth. I’m in my forties. I would hope that that is what we can come to. If we were all doing the same stuff we did in our twenties, yikes.

Zibby: Happy to close the chapter on a lot of those things.

Allison: I wouldn’t mind being a little younger and whatever, but the growth and hopefully emotional and intellectual growth that you come to is something that you can be proud of. I don’t that women — not I don’t think. Women just aren’t afforded that same luxury.

Zibby: Have you ever wanted to be a politician in any way?

Allison: Oh, my god, no, but my son does. That is probably part of the reason that I had this deep dive or that I was so interested in it. No, it’s funny, I’ve never considered myself a particularly political person, but I do look out in the world right now, I would say prior to a few years ago — without making this political because, again, I hope the book just speaks for itself, but I felt like using politics was sort of a lens with which to view some of the positions that women are in right now. That is something I’ve experienced, I’m sure as you have. I was thinking about this recently. Dating back to college — I went to Penn. I was in a Wharton class and we were working on a marketing project. It was a group project. I remember one of the young men saying to me, “Wow, I didn’t realize you were smart.” I don’t even know what to do with that. It was a male-dominated class. There wasn’t a lot that they thought I was going to contribute. It’s moment of that reflection where I felt like I wanted to give voice to that through Cleo. I think a lot of women understand that.

Zibby: Totally. When happened between Penn and now in terms of writing? Did you always want to write? Did you go to college thinking that? Tell me when it started. No?

Allison: No. It’s so interesting. In high school, I got a lot of feedback from my English teachers, one in particular who was very encouraging. This was in the nineties. The internet really wasn’t around. How did one become a writer? It was just insane. It didn’t even occur to me. I went to Penn. My brother was an investment banker. That’s sort of what my parents aspired for me. Taking nothing away from them, but that was the path. It was just so obviously not for me. I did some PR out of college. I just slowly transitioned to, I was doing web copy. Eventually, I transitioned to magazines. Then I got bored with that after many years. You like to reinvent yourself every once in a while. I wrote a book. It was terrible and it didn’t sell, but it was good foundation for figuring out how to actually do what I wanted. I just kept trying. I should say, at Penn, I was given a newspaper column. They had op-eds that you got every other week. I submitted it in private. I didn’t want to tell anybody I’d done it at the risk of failure, a little bit of Cleo in there. I was like, god, if I don’t get it, it’s so embarrassing. I did. I felt really validated. I feel like maybe creative types, you just need that one piece of validation to say, keep going. I know you recently sold a children’s book. You need something to say, okay, this isn’t preposterous. Eventually, I wrote a different manuscript. That sold, and then so on and so forth. Here I am.

Zibby: Mind you, I’ve had two novels that have not sold as well. I’m still working on it. I’m still working.

Allison: Zibby, I have so many, like this book that I was writing before Cleo, half-books. Cleo‘s my eighth book that I have not been able to jumpstart. I just think, again, sort of in themes of the book, there can be success in that failure too. I think if my first manuscript had been published — it got me an agent, but it didn’t sell — I don’t think I would’ve had the longevity because it just wasn’t good. That’s okay. You can write something bad or you can do something bad, and it’s not the end of the world. That’s a learning experience.

Zibby: It was fairly humiliating.

Allison: Well, again…

Zibby: I know. I know. It’s okay. I wrote a novel. This is about you, not about me, but just to chime in. I wrote a novel after business school and told everyone after school that that’s what I was doing. Then everyone I knew was like, “How’s it going? How’s that book?” I’m like, “Great, great, great.” Then it didn’t sell. It literally was the biggest embarrassment because I was like, this is such — it’s probably one of my first giant failures. It was out of my control. I did it. I wrote it. I rewrote it like four times. Yet I couldn’t sell it. I was just mortified. Anyway, whatever. I’m over it now. That was a long time ago.

Allison: I feel like there’s growth to be had there.

Zibby: It just pretty much sucked, but yes. I guess there was some growth.

Allison: I felt like I had written this first book, the one that didn’t sell, I can’t even remember what it was about now, but I enjoyed it enough, I was passionate enough about it that when — the feedback I got was, “She’s a good writer, but this book is incoherent,” basically. There was enough validation there, sort of like with the Penn thing, where I was like, okay, the work still has to go into it. I’m always willing to do the work. If I do that, maybe I have another shot. That’s what I took from it. Sometimes being in a creative field is just continuing to go.

Zibby: Yes, you’re absolutely right. So when you write now, what’s your process like for the novels? Do you have outlines? Do you have a place you go? Do you write from home? How do you do it?

Allison: I write from home. Although, I haven’t been doing very much during this quarantine period.

Zibby: You and everybody else, so it’s okay.

Allison: Exactly. You know what? Be kind to yourself. That’s all I can say. I do write from home. My dream day is to wake up and immediately start writing because, like many writers, the actual writing is sort of my least favorite aspect of it. It’s hard for me to sit down and do it. I find that if I wake up, and I often screw around online or whatever, if I don’t do that and I just don’t give myself an excuse to procrastinate, it’s like working out. Then it’s done. I try to hit a thousand words a day. Sometimes it’s great and I keep going or I come back to it. Sometimes it’s literally 1001, and that’s it and I’m done. If I do it first thing, it’s such a relief to me. Again, it’s like working out. It’s not hanging over me all day. That is the routine five days a week. Then if you’re writing a thousand words a day, I usually can get a little more, it’s a three-month first draft. Then the real work begins with the second draft and all of that. I really like working with an editor, somebody who — I welcome that constructive criticism to really show me where I’m going wrong. Then I feel like I can always make it better. That’s the process.

Zibby: That’s how you do it. I saw that you just sold the film rights. Isn’t that right?

Allison: Film rights to a different book. This one, we’re optimistic. We’ll see. I sold the film rights for Time of My Life, which is my second book. It sold back when it came out. Then the same producer has never lost her passion for it, and she bought it again for Sony. I’m excited. We’ll see. Hollywood is a weird place.

Zibby: Having gotten to know the process more because my husband’s a producer, burgeoning, he’s started within the last couple years, it is so slow. It’s maddening. It’s a miracle that anything gets done, to be honest. I cannot believe any projects get done ever.

Allison: A hundred percent. That’s why I’m like, yay, I’m excited, but… When this first sold ten, twelve years ago, I was much more naïve. I’m a jaded old soul now. I’ve had a few other things sell. It’s just really tough to get it out of the starting gate. We’ll see. I’m hopeful. She loved it for many years. We’ll see.

Zibby: You never know. Maybe it’s meant to happen this way.

Allison: We’ve been in touch. I consider her a friend. Maybe this time. Rom-coms are coming back. I feel like people need some levity given that we might be in this situation for a while. I don’t know how you film these days.

Zibby: Me neither. I guess we’ll all watch and see.

Allison: Podcasts.

Zibby: There we go. I know you’re not actively working right now given all the constraints, and that’s totally fine, but do you have your next project all picked out? Have you started at all?

Allison: I’m working on a few film things, after we just said nothing’s going to get made. They’re more, like with the magazine stuff, I’m interested in flexing a new muscle. I wrote with a script with a friend of mine. We adapted my last book, Between Me and You. He’s a very accomplished screenwriter. I learned so much in working with him. We’re fiddling around with that and trying a variety of things. I feel like I’m actually, for the first time in my life, I’m sort of interested in writing a sequel to this book. I feel like there’s so many places it could go. I really loved her son who — you have teenagers, I think.

Zibby: I do.

Allison: I have two teens. I’d love to get back into him, but how much mental energy do people have now? God bless these people who are still cranking out projects. It’s tough, right?

Zibby: It is tough, yes. I felt so motivated at the beginning. I have to help. I have to help. I felt like the world was coming to an end and everything I did was critical and important. I’m feeling much less like that these days as the emails pile up and I’m like, ah!

Allison: I schedule like one thing a day. That is the max that I can do. My daughter did an allergy shot today. I’m like, I can’t do it. It’s two things. I can only do so much in a day. I’m not even kidding. You wake up and suddenly, it’s five o’clock. Maybe working on something creative would pass the time faster, but things are already — it’s the middle of June. I don’t know what’s happening. No, it’s almost the end of June. We’ll see. Hopefully, this resolves itself it as much as it can and then I’ll start working on something else. I like to take sort of a break. It’s like giving birth. You don’t turn around and get pregnant because you need to heal.

Zibby: Yes. So we’re all healing. I like that.

Allison: Exactly.

Zibby: Do you have any advice to aspiring authors?

Allison: Sure. The one thing that I often say is take your ego out of it. It sort of gets back to what you and I were talking about. Constructive criticism is the best thing that you can get for yourself. You think your draft is done because you’ve finished a word count. This is my eighth book. I probably go through seven revisions. An editor or a feedback reader is only there to help you. Taking things personally or immediately shooting down ideas, I just don’t think that’s the way to expand your craft. Just be open to becoming a better writer. Again, it’s still an onramp for people who have published a lot. That’s really the best advice I have. Embrace criticism. Also, I would say always go another draft or two even when you think it’s done.

Zibby: You’re right.

Allison: You’re like, I’m done. Then you know what? I’m not done because there are ways that it can be better. I do feel like we’ve all read those books that maybe could have used another draft or two. Then they would’ve been incredible instead of just good. I’m sure people have read my stuff and thought that way. You want to put out your best work. That’s what I would say.

Zibby: Excellent advice.

Allison: Probably true with a lot of things in life.

Zibby: Probably. That’s the big secret. This show actually is not about books. It’s actually about life, but I just hide it behind books and authors.

Allison: That right. It’s like, I’m just trying to show my husband how to do the dishwasher. I’m not trying to be critical. Why’s he getting so mad? That’s a quarantine thing.

Zibby: Too funny. I was going to say this too shall pass, but maybe it won’t. I don’t know. We’ll find out.

Allison: I’ll be talking to you like this in the next two years for my next book. Oh, god, don’t even say that.

Zibby: Can you imagine if I was still — anyway.

Allison: I know. I know.

Zibby: Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Thank you for the commiseration and all the rest.

Allison: Oh, my gosh, thank you for asking. see you either in New York or in California one day.

Zibby: That would be great.

Allison: But you know what? It’s summer. We’re lucky we can work from home. Our kids can go outside. We’re healthy.

Zibby: Yes, there’s so much to be grateful for, and I am. Sometimes it’s fun just to vent, essentially, is basically what I’ve turned this podcast into.

Allison: I was going to go sit in somebody’s driveway for a drink for all of our birthdays. They were like, “Can we bring our husbands?” We were like, do we not see them twenty-four hours a day? Can we not just sit by ourselves?

Zibby: I know. I had a girlfriend come over to sit outside and chit-chat or whatever. She was like, “I feel so bad interrupting. You guys don’t have kids this weekend.” I’m divorced and remarried. I was like, “It’s okay. We’ve been hanging out nonstop for fourteen weeks now or something.” It’s okay. I’m happy. A friend, an infusion of a new person is a nice thing too.

Allison: That’s right. We’ve been obviously cooking most dinners. Every night, my husband’s like, “Do you guys want to sit with us?” My kids are like, “Uh, no,” and you hear doors slam, like, we have had enough.

Zibby: That’s funny. Great chatting with you. Thanks for taking the time. Sorry again about our introduction via technology issues.

Allison: I’m going to go get my daughter from the beach.

Zibby: Awesome.

Allison: That’s my second thing I’m doing today.

Zibby: Then you’re done. You’re out.

Allison: Yeah. Bye, Zibby.

Zibby: Bye.