20 Questions is a Q&A interview series with musicians, authors, and everyone in between, celebrating experiences both shared and individual in the messy game of being human.
Allie Larkin is the internationally bestselling author of the novels Stay, Why Can’t I Be You, and Swimming for Sunlight. Her short fiction has been published in the Summerset Review and Slice Magazine. Her nonfiction essays have been included in the dog anthology I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship, alongside Chelsea Handler and Annabelle Gurwitch, and Author in Progress, a how-to guide for Writer’s Digest Books. Currently, Larkin is gearing up to release her fourth novel, The People We Keep, later this year.
I had the pleasure of catching up with Allie for 20 Questions, where we spoke about the origins of her writing dreams, creative anxiety, which books she has been loving lately, and why needless worrying is a vice we could all probably afford to give up in the near future (universe permitting, of course) — and so much more.
What is the earliest memory you have of wanting to be a writer?
I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until my early twenties. However, I’ve always been a daydreamer, and I do remember being about six or seven and trying to write down a story about a princess on an adventure. It was a plot I’d kept running in my head whenever I didn’t want to be where I was, so the story was complicated, and I knew a lot about the characters. I couldn’t figure out where to start, and I’d lose my train of thought in the time it took me to finish scribbling out a sentence. I had terrible handwriting, and my thoughts (still) don’t come out in any linear way. I was frustrated that the beautiful story in my head amounted to a messy pile of loose-leaf paper with eraser holes and arrows everywhere. Writing didn’t seem like something I could do until much, much later when I learned about writing first drafts and using the cut and paste function to put my thoughts in order after the fact.
Which of your books was the hardest to write?
My upcoming novel started as a short story in 2006. This wasn’t a difficult book to write. Creating this story has been one of the greatest joys in my life. But it was a lot of work over a long period of time. I have this little mantra I tell myself: “It takes the time it takes.” This book very much needed that time. I also needed that time to evolve, so I had greater perspective and understanding when it came time for the last drafts.
Favorite book of all-time?
Song of the Lark by Willa Cather.
What’s one vice you wish you could give up?
Worrying. I’ve started to realize that while sometimes I can’t help worrying, sometimes I use it as a diversion. Find things to worry about so I can excuse myself from something else. I think it’s a vice. And sometimes it has served me, but sometimes it doesn’t. I’m working on it.
One movie that will always make you cry?
When Samwise jumps in the river to save Frodo even though he can’t swim… I can’t handle that.
What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
Feeling entitled to the things I need to do to get my brain in the right place to be creative. Sometimes I know exactly what I need—and it’s to watch a season of a TV show, or go run ten miles, or play the guitar for three hours, or simply say no to everything and have unstructured time. I know if I do whatever it is that my instinct tells me I need, I’ll get to a good place for work. But I am very good at saying yes to that one phone meeting mid-day because it’s just one phone call, or getting caught up in household tasks—that long list of shoulds—and feeling like it would be lazy of me to do the things I need for that flow state.
The best book you’ve read in the last year?
I loved A Star is Bored by Byron Lane so much. I listened to the audiobook, and it’s narrated by Noah Galvin, who’s also wonderful. I expected to enjoy it going in, but I deeply loved every minute of it. Byron is extremely gifted at giving us his character’s full emotional world. It’s such a nuanced, sensitive book while also being a lot of fun.
One thing that’s making you smile right now?
My husband, Jeremy. He’s so quick-witted and delightfully silly. He’s a good person to be stuck at home with, and I really appreciate his spirit.
The last series you binge-watched?
Ted Lasso. Goodness, that was wonderful.
Pancakes or waffles?
The best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Years ago, I’d befriended a neighborhood cat, and he tried to nip my hand but then still wanted my attention. When I caved, he tried to bite me again. I mentioned this to my friend Cassandra Dunn, who is also a novelist, and she immediately said, in her best mom voice, “We don’t have friends who bite.”
I apply that wisdom to all areas of life now.
If you could have one writer, dead or alive, to compose your obituary, who would it be and why?
Lindy West. Her work is the definition of big-hearted, even when she’s being critical of something that deserves criticism. I always marvel at her emotional dexterity. I think she’d write an excellent obituary because she’d get all the sweet stuff in there, but she’d also be realistic, find the humor in my weird spots, and wouldn’t leave anyone too soggy or sappy by the end.
One song that you will never be sick of?
“Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman. It’s brilliant and timeless all the way through.
Favorite thing to do on a rainy day?
Write or play guitar.
What’s your current read?
Admission by Julie Buxbaum. So good!
You’re stuck on a long flight. Which world-famous musician would you want sitting next to you and why?
I have a ton of questions about creativity for Tim Armstrong.
Favorite quote of all-time?
That’s interesting — I don’t think I walk around with a favorite, but my mind immediately went to an episode of Northern Exposure. Chris in the Morning is quoting Goethe and says, “You are, when all is said and done, just what you are.” I love that.
One thing that’s been keeping you sane during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Favorite board game?
Settlers of Catan.
Your fourth novel, The People We Keep, is scheduled for release this August. What can you tell us about it so far?
It’s a coming of age novel about a sixteen-year-old folksinger named April Sawicki, who steals a car and hits the road. The People We Keep is a bit different from my first three books, and it will be published under my full name, Allison Larkin, which I’m really excited about because this book feels like it comes from the very core of me. It’s basically the story I’ve been telling myself—for most of my adult life—any time I didn’t want to be where I was. Now, thankfully, messy handwriting and non-linear thoughts aren’t a barrier to capturing what happens in my head. I’m so sad to be done writing about April, but also very happy to be able to share her. I’m also so thrilled to share this beautiful cover with you now. The art department at Gallery went above and beyond to create something that fits the hopeful heart of the book and I’m so moved by their talent, time, and attention to detail.