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Monday, July 29, 2013

Interview with Allison Lynn, Author of The Exiles and Giveaway!

I'd like to welcome Allison Lynn to the blog today to celebrate her newest release, The Exiles from Little A, a literary imprint of New Harvest. Be sure to stick around until the end to get the chance to win a copy!

Welcome to Books à la Mode, Allison! Let's get this interview started.

Will you please share a brief bio with us?

Allison Lynn is the author of the novels The Exiles and Now You See It (Simon & Schuster), which won the William Faulkner Medal from the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society and the Chapter One Award from the Bronx Center for the Arts. In addition to fiction, Allison has written articles, reviews, and essays for The New York Times Book Review, The Chicago Sun-Times, People, Redbook, In Style, and elsewhere. She's lectured and read from her work in venues across the country, and loves nothing more than visiting book clubs. Especially book clubs that serve wine. Though beer is fine, too. And what the heck, cake.

Allison holds an M.F.A. from New York University and a B.A. from Dartmouth College. After nearly two decades in New York City, she recently relocated to Indianapolis, where she lives with her husband, the writer Michael Dahlie, and their son, Evan. She teaches in the graduate Creative Writing program at Butler University.

So glad to have you here with us today! Readers, here's a little bit about The Exiles:

A couple escaping the opulent lifestyle of Manhattan's Upper East Side move to Newport, Rhode Island, only to be confronted by the trappings of the life they tried to leave behind.

Nate, a midlevel Wall Streeter, and his longtime girlfriend Emily are effectively evicted from New York City when they find they can no longer afford their apartment. An out presents itself in the form of a job offer for Nate in Newport—complete with a bucolic, small, and comparatively affordable new house. Eager to start fresh, they flee city life with their worldly goods packed tightly in their Jeep Cherokee. Yet within minutes of arriving in Rhode Island, their car and belongings are stolen, and they're left with nothing but the keys to an empty house and their bawling 10-month-old son.

Over the three-day weekend that follows, as Emily and Nate watch their meager pile of cash dwindle and tensions increase, the secrets they kept from each other in the city emerge, threatening to destroy their hope for a shared future.

A story about losing it all, the complexities of family histories, tainted gene pools, art theft, architecture, and the mad grab for the American Dream, The Exiles bravely explores the weight of our pasts—and whether or not it's truly possible to start over.
Your main characters Nate and Emily and their son Trevor are priced out of Manhattan during the economic upswing of 2004. You were also living in Manhattan at this time. Did you see a change in the middle class?

One of the things I'm interested in is how even during times of upswing and prosperity, the income gap can be insurmountable. That gap divides New York City (and plenty of other urban areas) not merely into the haves and have-nots, but into the haves and the almost-haves—divides the super-rich from the middle and upper-middle class. Many of these almost-haves, like Nate and Emily, never thought they'd end up on the wrong side of that financial line. I see it now in my city friends who've reached their late-30s and early 40s—they're successful in their fields, but no matter how well they do, they'll never be able to catch up to the college pals who are buying multi-million-dollar lofts and sprawling beach houses. It's too late to break out of the middle. The feeling is that NYC is a great place to be young and scraping by, but for a lot of people there's an expiration date on that. So now what? Many of the people I never thought would leave NYC are looking for jobs elsewhere. It's tough to live in the shadow of great wealth. And in NYC, it can be an emotional albatross.

Your characters move from the Upper East Side to Newport, Rhode Island for a better way of life. Why did you choose Newport as their destination?

It seems counterintuitive, I know, for a couple trying to escape Manhattan's heady lifestyle to move to Newport. I knew Nate and Emily needed to move somewhere within easy driving distance of NYC—the book started in my head with the image of them standing on the street beside their packed Jeep. And because Nate is moving for his job, as an investment banker, it had to be a place where wealth is still prevalent (despite the fact that they’re moving to escape that). I looked at a number of places—including Portland, Maine, and Providence, RI. I was at a party talking with a friend from Baltimore, who was pushing that city, when an acquaintance overheard and interrupted. "Have you thought about Newport?" he said. He'd grown up in Newport and still has family there, and he introduced me to the idea of Newport as a double-sided city. Sure, there's a moneyed summer crowd. But on the flip-side, the year-rounders are very middle class, working people, artists, bohemians, police officers, teachers. It's a real-life subculture under the city's more aggressive (if waning right now) glitz.

In Newport, readers learn that Nate and Emily have been keeping quite a few secrets from each other. Do you think we ever really know the ones we love?

I think we do, or we can. But that assumes both partners are willing to be known and truly want to be known—and that they already know themselves in an honest way. Nate and Emily are so busy trying to shield each other from hurt that they unwittingly erect barriers.

That's a complex relationship to delve into in fiction. Readers, click "Read more" to learn about the commitment-without-marriage relationship Allison decided to explore with Nate and Emily, an interesting issue tackled in the book, and how much she puts herself into her characters. You also don't want to miss the great giveaway at the end!

Nate and Emily are committed with a child, but unmarried. Why did you choose to explore this relationship?

Their decision to be together is one they're making constantly, given that they aren't legally tied to each other. With no marriage—though as Nate points out at the start of the book, they do have a child and a house title in both of their names—the commitment is totally of their making. Hypothetically it would be easier for one of them to leave. And yet, it adds dimension to their decisions to stay. Throughout the book, even as strength of their bond comes in to question, I like to think that their love for each other is never in doubt.

I don't think I've ever considered it that way, but it's a really interesting aspect of their relationship, which adds depth to their characters. The Exiles tackles questions about hereditary disease and when and how you share this news with your partner. How does Nate handle this issue in the novel? Do you think he would have had so much trouble discussing his disease if he had had a healthy relationship with his father?

Nate is largely in denial about his own genetic family history. He's had an inkling for some time that Huntington's Disease runs in his family, but he’s tried to push it out of his mind. When a clip in the New York Times hints that his famous father may be showing symptoms, he's finally forced to face the truth. He still doesn't come clean to Emily, though. It's out of love that he keeps this secret from her, an attempt to protect her from pain by holding off until he has all the information. Ultimately, it’s only by sharing the burden that he can stand up from under it.

His relationship with his father definitely has something to do with this withholding—he's never had a role model when it comes to sharing pain. As a result, he ends up replaying his father's mistakes, or at least the large mistake, that of keeping information from those he loves.

Do you relate to Nate or Emily? Or did you base your characters on people you know?

Neither Nate nor Emily is directly based on myself or people I know, but as I was writing the book, my life began to eerily parallel theirs. When I conceived the story, I was childless and just beginning to date my now-husband. I'd been living in Manhattan for more than a decade and had no intent to leave. Because seriously, even as I say New York can be a tough place for a non-superflush adult, it will always feel like home to me. By the time I sold the book a few years later, though, like Nate and Emily I had a young son and had recently left New York and bought my first house. Some of their story became my own. Life imitating art, not the other way around. Cue the sci-fi music! I imagine readers asking of certain scenes, "Did that really happen?" And I'd have to answer, "Yes, but only two years after I wrote it." I'm living in an Escher print.

Fascinating how that works out—you really are what you write! One last question: Do you think it’s possible to make a fresh start? Why or why not?

I think it's getting harder, even more so now than in 2004. In the book, Nate is hindered by his inability to deal with his overbearing past; he can't start fresh until he's sorted through that. Emily is held back by her idealized dreams for the future. These unrealized dreams are her shackles. For she and Nate to launch into a new life together, it's a matter of shedding these impediments. What they don't have to deal with—the 2013 issues—are Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn, etc. With your life cached online, it's tougher to escape. Of course, it's also tougher to keep secrets, but people do it every single day.

Perfectly stated. Where can you be found on the web?

It was a pleasure getting to know the book today, Allison! Thank you so much for joining us, and best of luck with your future endeavors.


Books à la Mode is giving away a print copy of The Exiles—yay!! To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter form below.

For an OPTIONAL opportunity for four extra entries, leave a comment in response to this question:
If you could escape your current life and get a fresh start, what would you do?
Please make your comments meaningful. Those solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be awarded the additional entries. Allison and I really want to hear you guys' thoughts! :)
Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the publisher—thank you, New Harvest!
Giveaway ends 14 August 2013 at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US or Canada residents only—sorry, rest of the world! Check out my sidebar for a list of currently running giveaways that are open internationally.
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤ Plus you get extra entries ;)
Good luck!