Thursday, October 7, 2021

Alison Cochrun Interview - The Charm Offensive

Photo Content from Alison Cochrun 

Alison Cochrun is a high school English teacher living outside Portland, Oregon. When she's not reading and writing queer love stories, you can find her torturing teenagers with Shakespeare, crafting perfect travel itineraries, hate-watching reality dating shows, and searching for the best happy hour nachos.


When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
When I was six, I wrote a riveting piece of Barney the Dinosaur fanfic about Barney and Baby Bop going to get ice cream, and seeing my work published in a booklet in my first-grade class was pretty pivotal. I think that was the moment I knew I wanted to be an author someday. Over time, writing became a crucial way for me to self-soothe my mental health, and I feel so lucky to get to make money doing something that makes me so happy.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
The most rewarding thing so far has been connecting with readers who’ve seen their own experiences reflected back to them in The Charm Offensive. The book deals with both mental health and the nuances of exploring queerness, and it means the world to me when readers reach out to tell me what that representation has meant to them.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
There is a quote by Jessica Brody in Save the Cat: Writes a Novel that I always go back to: “There is no such thing as writer’s block or plotter’s block. There is only perfectionist’s block.” I think about this quote a lot when I’m struggling with the blank page, and I try to remind myself drafts don’t have to be perfect. They just have to exist!

In your newest book; THE CHARM OFFENSIVE, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it.
The Charm Offensive is about a reality dating show called Ever After, and the socially-anxious tech genius who agrees to be the star but ends up falling in love with his male producer instead of one of the twenty women who came on the show.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I hope readers will feel a sense of escapism as they read! The Charm Offensive is a swoony romantic comedy about a ridiculous situation: a tech millionaire starring on a reality television show who travels around the world and falls in love with his producer and gets his happily ever after. I hope this book temporarily distracts people from the harsh reality of the world right now, while also reflecting some aspect of their life back to them, be it in regard to their mental health or their sexual identity. At the end of the day, this is a book about everyone deserving love, in whatever form they want it.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?
One of the things that surprised me in writing these characters was how easily their voices came to me. Usually, it takes a long time to figure out a character’s unique personality and how to convey that through internal monologue, but Dev and Charlie felt like they emerged fully formed onto the page.

You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers. What would it be?
In an Instagram review of The Charm Offensive, someone wrote this summary of the book: “Be gay, do therapy.” As a gay person in therapy who wrote a book about gay people going to therapy, I love this quote in the literal sense, but to me, it also means, “do the work necessary to help you be your most authentic self.” And I think that’s pretty good advice.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I would love to introduce Charlie and Dev to Luc and Oliver from Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall. I read that book shortly after I signed my book deal, and I immediately felt like our characters would get along. Charlie and Oliver could be fussy about brunch, and Luc and Dev could eat lots of bacon and make a mess.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
During the revision process, the worst distraction was my other job, teaching. Being a high school English teacher is a demanding job, and when you’re responsible for 150 students, it’s hard not to want to focus on planning lessons and grading papers, especially during the pandemic, when the boundaries between work-life and home-life got blurred. (Also: Netflix, obviously.)

Best date you've ever had?
I’ve done a lot of pandemic dating the past year and a half, which means a lot of Zoom dates and park dates and general awkwardness. So one of the best dates I’ve had in a long time was my first date in a bar this past June. I got to sit on a patio with a cute woman and sip cocktails, and it was nice to remember that dating can actually be fun! The pandemic made it so difficult to connect with people.

If you could go back in time to one point in your life, where would you go?
I would go back to high school, grab my fourteen-year-old self by the shoulders, and tell her: “Stop being so insecure! No one is even looking at you! They’re all too busy thinking about themselves! Just be who you want to be.”

Where did you go on your first airplane ride?
Technically, I went to Hawaii with my parents when I was two, but I have no memory of that. The first flight I can remember was to Disneyland when I was seven. I think that’s when I really started believing in magic.

What is one unique thing are you afraid of?
I am not a very unique person, so my very clichĂ© fear is heights. I can’t get anywhere near a ledge without feeling massive anxiety, and I’m even terrified of the artificial heights on California Soaring at Disneyland.

First Heartbreak?
I think my first heartbreak was realizing Amy Jo Johnson, aka the Pink Ranger, was someone I could never meet in real life. That was devastating.

What is your most memorable travel experience?
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to go to Cape Town, South Africa to visit a friend who was doing his PhD there, and I absolutely fell in love! I chose it as an important destination in The Charm Offensive to pay homage to that incredible trip, and the characters go to some of my favorite places, including Table Mountain, Banana Jam Café, and the wine tram in Franschhoek.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
I would absolutely choose to love with a guarantee of heart break! Not all relationships have a happily ever after, but that doesn’t diminish the happiness of the moment.

  • 1. The escapism. Like I mentioned, The Charm Offensive takes place in the ridiculous world of reality television, with all the behind-the-scenes drama unfolding on the page. It’s a great book to help you forget about the drama in your own life for a bit.
  • 2. It’s got all the best romance tropes. Forced proximity! Forbidden romance! There’s only one bed! A dash of fake dating! If you like your romance tropey, look no further.
  • 3. It’s a reality dating show, but queer! While the show Ever After within the world of The Charm Offensive is heteronormative, almost all of the named characters in the book are queer. If you’re craving a more inclusive reality dating show (and a more inclusive romance), this book is for you!
  • 4. Travel the world from the comfort of your own home (or wherever you do your reading!). The Charm Offensive takes place in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Germany, South Africa, and Bali. After a year and a half of Covid, it’s an opportunity to pretend like you can get on an airplane with ease and fly to another country.
  • 5. Two Cinnamon Rolls. The Charm Offensive is a love story between two sweet cinnamon roll heroes are trying to do the right thing.
  • 6. So much mutual pining!
  • 7. … And even more angst!
  • 8. Discussions of mental health. Even though The Charm Offensive is a fluffy escape at times, it’s also a book that deals with the reality of living with OCD, anxiety, and depression. Characters have honest, authentic conversations about their experiences with mental health.
  • 9. Hilarious side characters. While the book focuses on the love story between a reality television star and his producer, there’s also a cast of a lovable side characters.
  • 10. The guaranteed HEA! One of my favorite things about the romance genre is the guaranteed happy ending. For someone with anxiety like me, I find it so comforting to know the hardships the characters experience will ultimately end with them finding the love they deserve.
Meet the Characters
Dev Deshpande: Pisces sun, Cancer moon, Scorpio rising; Enneagram 7
Dev is the best producer in Ever After history, and he always manages to orchestrate the perfect love story for the cameras. Best known for wearing the world’s ugliest cargo shorts and sustaining himself on Mint Oreos during filming, he’s willing to sacrifice anything to make the season work. He’s a hopeless romantic who believes in happily ever afters—for everyone but himself. After his six-year-relationship crashes and burns, Dev decides to swear off men for a while. But then the show casts Charlie Winshaw as their new Prince, and he upends Dev’s entire understanding of what it means to have a happy ending and who deserves to be at the center of those stories. “He’s mesmerized by this world of horse-drawn carriages and ball gowns and big romantic gestures. The foreign travel destinations and the swoon-worthy kisses against brick walls while fireworks go off in the distance. This world where happily ever afters are guaranteed.”

Charlie Winshaw: Cancer sun, Capricorn moon, Virgo rising; Enneagram 5
Charlie is a tech millionaire with eight-pack abs, and on the surface, he seems like the perfect candidate for the Prince Charming on the show Ever After. But behind the blond hair and strong jaw, Charlie is the last person anyone would expect to star on a reality dating show. He’s a socially awkward, clinically anxious nerd just desperate enough to rehabilitate his public image on national television. He certainly doesn’t believe anyone actually goes on Ever After for love, and he definitely doesn’t believe in love for himself. “Prince Charmings are supposed to intrinsically know how to ride horses. They’re definitely not supposed to be afraid of horses. Instead of looking strapping and manly, he kept slouching and delaying production and grimacing with every uncomfortable jostle of the saddle until the sun was gone and everyone was generally pissed with the shots. The bald woman running set called him ‘fucking uncoachable.’ Which sounds about right, honestly.”

Jules Lu: Scorpio sun, Gemini moon, Virgo rising; Enneagram 4
The young, cynical assistant producer doesn’t believe in romance, and she definitely doesn’t believe in the fairy-tale narratives they sell on Ever After, even if her best friend Dev insists the show is about true love. Armed with her top-knot, her Doc Martens, and her cross-body fanny pack, Jules is every apathetic elder gen-z just doing her best to get by. She’s allergic to feelings, fiercely intuitive, and a loyal friend. “Jules Lu is every twenty-four-year-old LA transplant with mountains of student debt, settling for something less than her delusions of Greta Gerwig grandeur.”

Parisa Khadim: Leo sun, Sagittarius moon, Aries rising
Charlie’s publicist, Parisa has a big personality and an even bigger heart. A cutthroat PR shark and a secret marshmallow human, all Parisa truly cares about is helping Charlie find happiness, even if that means pursuing an idea of love that doesn’t fit into Ever After’s heteronormative ideas about what relationships are supposed to be. “For Dev’s part, he’s not sure if Parisa Khadim is the coolest person he’s ever met or the most terrifying. She wears her hair in an intense business ponytail, and her suit looks like it cost as much as it rent. Her size is proportionate to the among of attention she demands; she’s tall, with broad shoulders and wide hips.”

Daphne Reynolds: Libra sun, Virgo moon, Taurus rising; Enneagram 9
The former beauty queen is the obvious front-runner on this season of Ever After. She’s slender, with Disney Princess eyes, blond barrel curls, and a shy smile. As soon as she steps out of the horse-drawn carriage, the producers begin crafting her perfect love story with Charlie Winshaw. But Daphne has her own secret, and her own reasons for coming on the show. She’s been watching Ever After most of her life, and she knows what happily ever afters are supposed to look like. But what if she wants something else? “Quite frankly, she looks like someone fed a 3-D printer the algorithm for creating an Ever After winner. Dev knows from her file she has a college degree and her father’s a reverend, which means she perfectly straddles the line of catering to the show’s large conservative fan base without alienating its even larger feminist fan base, who claims to watch ironically.”

Dev Deshpande has always believed in fairy tales. So it’s no wonder then that he’s spent his career crafting them on the long-running reality dating show Ever After. As the most successful producer in the franchise’s history, Dev always scripts the perfect love story for his contestants, even as his own love life crashes and burns. But then the show casts disgraced tech wunderkind Charlie Winshaw as its star.

Charlie is far from the romantic Prince Charming Ever After expects. He doesn’t believe in true love, and only agreed to the show as a last-ditch effort to rehabilitate his image. In front of the cameras, he’s a stiff, anxious mess with no idea how to date twenty women on national television. Behind the scenes, he’s cold, awkward, and emotionally closed-off.

As Dev fights to get Charlie to connect with the contestants on a whirlwind, worldwide tour, they begin to open up to each other, and Charlie realizes he has better chemistry with Dev than with any of his female co-stars. But even reality TV has a script, and in order to find to happily ever after, they’ll have to reconsider whose love story gets told.

In this witty and heartwarming romantic comedy—reminiscent of Red, White & Royal Blue and One to Watch—an awkward tech wunderkind on a reality dating show goes off-script when sparks fly with his producer.

You can purchase The Charm Offensive at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you ALISON COCHRUN for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun.