Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Allie Larkin Interview - Swimming for Sunlight

Photo Credit: Jeremy Larkin

Allie Larkin is the internationally bestselling author of the novels, Stay and Why Can’t I Be You (Dutton/Plume), and the upcoming novel, Swimming for Sunlight (Touchstone, 2019). Her short fiction has been published in the Summerset Review and Slice Magazine, and nonfiction in the anthologies, I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship and Author in Progress. 

Allie lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, Jeremy, and their fearful, faithful German Shepherd, Stella.


Where were you born and where do you call home?
I grew up in the New York City suburb of Somers, New York and live in the San Francisco Bay Area now, but I moved to Rochester, New York in my early twenties and spent the first part of my adult life there. Rochester is the place I feel homesick for. I consider it my hometown, even though I was a transplant.

What made you take the plunge and start writing?
I was always a reader, but I’d struggled in school and never thought of myself as a writer. I went to school for theatre and loved the character study work, but overall, it didn’t feel like my calling. I dropped out of school, spent some time working as a bartender. When I eventually went back to school for Communications, I took a few writing classes and felt like my mind finally made sense to me. I wrote the short story that turned into my first novel, STAY, in a class during my senior year. There was still a long journey from that short story to being published — I quit writing several times. Eventually, I found an amazing writing group and wrote STAY at a rate of eight pages a week, due at our Monday night meetings.

What were your inspirations for the character development?
After the first or second draft, I felt that to write well-rounded women who are in their seventies, I needed a better understanding of what Nan and Bitsie’s lives had been like when they were younger. I never took Women’s Studies in college, so I started studying on my own, reading books like The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, Gail Collins’s brilliant book, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, and Feminism and Pop Culture by Andi Zeisler. I also listened to audiobook memoirs written by Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, Carole King, and My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Diana Nyad’s memoir about swimming from Cuba to Florida at age sixty-four was especially influential, as a reminder that there’s a great benefit to the wisdom and depth of strength we acquire over the years, and that’s something we need to celebrate with ferocity.

That research helped me form a solid scaffolding for the characters, but I think their hearts grew from my homesickness. I had a hard time leaving my friends in Rochester – especially my writing group, and book club -- when we moved cross-country. It was comforting to spend so much time imagining Katie and Nan’s world. I wrote these characters because I needed them, and I hope readers will find some joy in spending time with them too. I have to admit that I miss the women from SWIMMING FOR SUNLIGHT as if they’re real people — what I wouldn’t give to have coffee with Bitsie!

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Any time someone tells me one of my books is their comfort read, I feel like my heart grows three sizes. I have those books — the ones with characters who feel like friends — that I turn to when I need some nurturing. That I have the opportunity to create that for someone else is astounding to me. I’m so honored.

What was your unforgettable moment while writing Luca and Nan?
I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I loved writing the scene with the Eydie Gormé song.

In your new book; SWIMMING FOR SUNLIGHT, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it
SWIMMING FOR SUNLIGHT is about a woman named Katie who gives up everything in her divorce to gain custody of her fearful, faithful rescue dog, Barkimedes. Katie, (who’s also fearful), moves in with her grandmother, Nan, and soon discovers that Nan used to be a mermaid performer in a roadside attraction show. Katie and Nan start searching for the long lost mermaids and plan a reunion performance.

Are there authors that you’re excited to engage/work with?
Caroline Angell (author of ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD) is an absolute dream to work with. We have been accountability partners for several years now, and I am so lucky.

I go on weekly hikes with Cassandra Dunn (author of THE ART OF ADAPTING) to discuss our writing and creativity and life in general. We climbed a mountain together recently. 14 miles and the equivalent of 354 flights of stairs!

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet Ann Mah (author of THE LOST VINTAGE) in person, after many years of being online friends and critique partners. She was in San Francisco for a book event, and it was so great to see her in action. The depth of her knowledge base is astounding.

I’m tempted to go on and on. Getting to know other authors is a great gift. I will never lose the awe of having the opportunity to read books as they’re still developing, getting to see where an author takes them. And I deeply love meeting people who also spend their time creating fiction. It’s lovely to have that understanding built into a friendship, because it’s a strange thing we do, spending all this time imagining.

What part of Katie did you enjoy writing the most?
I’ve struggled with anxiety since childhood. I realized that to write about Katie’s issues with anxiety and trauma, I had to get very honest about how it’s felt for me. The details of Katie’s life are nothing like my own, but the way her panic feels in her body, and the fear, shame, and frustration around having anxiety are true to my experiences.

I was able to write this book because I’ve found effective ways to manage my anxiety and so I could examine these feelings from a place of safety, but it was still hard to write. I found myself having to work extra hard to make sure I didn’t get overloaded with anxiety. I know that might not sound enjoyable, but it felt victorious. I was honest with myself in ways I hadn’t even tried to be before. And writing this book makes me feel like what I went through was for something — I created work I think is beautiful as a result of the struggles I’ve had. I’m proud of that. And I hope it helps other people who have issues with trauma and anxiety feel less alone.

What book would you recommend for others to read?
I just finished CITY OF FLICKERING LIGHT by Juliette Fay and loved every moment of it. It’s a fascinating look at old Hollywood, it feels like a grand adventure, and the characters are completely endearing.

  • 1. I can hang four spoons on my face at the same time.
  • 2. Even though I was always a reader, I didn’t start writing until my twenties.
  • 3. I’ve been a vegan for four years, but I stopped eating mammals when I was in third grade.
  • 4. There’s no way I’m accomplishing anything that could be considered housework without a good audiobook or podcast.
  • 5. I studied classical voice for ten years, but won’t sing in public.
  • 6. Other than singing in public, I’m thankfully not plagued by stage-fright. I don’t try to picture the audience in their underwear. I imagine everyone is my dear friend.
  • 7. I spent time teaching myself to sew so I could write Katie’s costume-making scenes in SWIMMING FOR SUNLIGHT.
  • 8. When I was a child, my imaginary friend moved away. I was devastated and for some reason didn’t seem to think I could simply imagine him back.
  • 9. I have a hard time leaving the house without sunglasses, regardless of the weather, because I like to watch people and it’s better if they can’t tell.
  • 10. I think visually. When I’m imagining my characters and settlings it feels like I’m watching a movie about them in my head (the image is a little cloudy sometimes, and I have to rewind a lot). For me, writing feels like a process of transcribing the right details and feelings from those imaginings.
If you could have written one book in history, what book would that be?
I am completely obsessed with Song of the Lark by Willa Cather.

What is the one, single food that you would never give up?
I know it’s weird, but I love tofu. Like earnestly, honestly love tofu. Even plain. It makes me happy. (That’s super relatable, right?)

What is the most important object you own?
A computer. I’m not specifically tied to my computer, but having a computer is vitally important to me. My brain doesn’t work in a linear way. I didn’t think I could be a writer when I was a kid, writing longhand, rubbing holes through my loose leaf with a pencil eraser, because I could never connect the dots of a story in one pass. Writing makes my brain feel better, and my computer makes my writing better.

What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
I think now. While I know social media adds so much pressure to teenage life, the access to information and opportunities for engagement are abundant. I think I would have benefitted greatly from knowing the world was bigger than the place where I came from.

What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?
It usually involves my dear friend, Stella, because she’s nudging me with her cute doggy nose.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
When we moved to California we drove cross-country with Stells. It changed my perspective in ways I’d never expected and is one of my best memories. I wish for everyone to have the opportunity to safely and enthusiastically explore like that.

Where can readers find you?
I do editorial and mentoring work, and readers can connect with me about that HERE.

When recently divorced Katie Ellis and her rescue dog Bark move back in with Katie’s grandmother in Florida, she becomes swept up in a reunion of her grandmother’s troupe of underwater performers—finding hope and renewal in unexpected places, in this sweet novel perfect for fans of Kristan Higgins and Claire Cook.

Aspiring costume designer Katie gave up everything in her divorce to gain custody of her fearful, faithful rescue dog, Barkimedes. While she figures out what to do next, she heads back to Florida to live with her grandmother, Nan.

But Katie quickly learns there’s a lot she doesn’t know about Nan—like the fact that in her youth Nan was a mermaid performer in a roadside attraction show, swimming and dancing underwater with a close-knit cast of talented women. Although most of the mermaids have since lost touch, Katie helps Nan search for her old friends on Facebook, sparking hopes for a reunion show. Katie is up for making some fabulous costumes, but first, she has to contend with her crippling fear of water.

As Katie’s college love Luca, a documentary filmmaker, enters the fray, Katie struggles to balance her hopes with her anxiety, and begins to realize just how much Bark’s fears are connected to her own, in this thoughtful, charming novel about hope after loss and friendships that span generations.


"With a light touch and a big heart, Allie Larkin has crafted a moving, humorous, and utterly absorbing novel about a woman who discovers that sometimes you need to take a step back to learn how to move forward. I fell in love with her witty, strong-willed, resilient characters — including Barkimedes, the rescue pup whose spirit sparks both joy and growth in everyone he meets." —Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train

"Allie Larkin knows her characters so well—and loves them so much. Reading Swimming for Sunlight is like visiting a real place, spending time with a real and really good friend." —Rainbow Rowell, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Eleanor & Park

“Swimming for Sunlight hits all of the women’s fiction sweet spots: strong relationships that grow throughout the book, light romance, and a main character who is easy to root for. An excellent suggestion for readers looking for an engaging summer read. —Booklist, starred review

"Larkin enthralls with a revealing view of one woman’s life as she moves on after a painful divorce. . . . Emotional and heartwarming, Larkin’s touching story is complete with romance, nostalgia, and genuine friendship." —Publishers Weekly

"Sweet, tender, and real, Allie Larkin's work is funny, endearing, and simply lovely time and time again." —Taylor Jenkins Reid, author of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Daisy Jones & The Six

"Populated by vivid characters that include aging "mermaids" and a companion dog so endearing that I, a cat person, was tempted to go find my own Barkimedes, Swimming for Sunlight is a rare thing: an intelligent, compassionate, entertaining tale that satisfies both the heart and the head. I loved this book and everyone in it!” —Therese Anne Fowler, author of A Well Behaved Woman and Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

"I instantly fell in love with this narrator—who’s brave, funny, feisty, tender, and, most of all, relatable. She handles a seismic change in her life with rapier-sharp humor and grace, proving that life’s curveballs can be processed with love and laughter—and the often-underestimated power of the companionship and loyalty of animals. Katie's next chapter in life takes us on a wild, waterpark ride, addressing losses in her past, the surfacing of a college flame, and a grandmother you'll wish was your own. Add to this Larkin’s descriptive writing—which sparkles on the page—and you have a gem of a novel."  —Lolly Winston, New York Times bestselling author of Good Grief and Happiness Sold Separately

"I loved every page of this beautiful, heartfelt book. Full of compassion, warmth, and charm, Larkin makes a complex story about anxiety and loss and female friendships at all ages feel both effortless and hopeful. I dare you not to hug this book when you finish.” —Julie Buxbaum, New York Times bestselling author of Tell Me Three Things and What to Say Next

"Poignant and funny, touching and eccentric, Swimming for Sunlight is brimming with heart. A gem of a novel that will charm not only dog lovers, but anyone, anywhere who's ever felt a twinge of anxiety. In other words, all of us." —Tish Cohen, author of Inside Out Girl and Town House

"This novel of hope, loss and friendships—both human and furry—make for the perfect spring read." —Dogster Magazine
You can purchase Swimming for Sunlight at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you ALLIE LARKIN for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Swimming for Sunlight by Allie Larkin. 


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