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Allyson Rice | A Comically Surreal Trip Through the Deep South

The Key to Circus-Mom Highway
Allyson Rice




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Powell's Books


Indie BookShop

January 2023
On Sale: January 3, 2023
ISBN: 0982185545
EAN: 9780982185544
Kindle: B0BCDL1QLB
Paperback / e-Book
Add to Wish List

Also by Allyson Rice:
The Key to Circus-Mom Highway, January 2023

1--What is the title of your latest release?


2--What’s the “elevator pitch” for your new book?

In an attempt to secure an unexpected inheritance—and hopefully find a few answers—two estranged sisters and their newly discovered brother embark on a comically surreal trip through the Deep South to retrace the life of the mother who abandoned them as infants. Like a Jonathan Tropper family moving into a Carl Hiaasen neighborhood.

3--How did you decide where your book was going to take place?

I knew I wanted the protagonists to be traveling through a landscape where they felt like they had landed on another planet, total fish-out-of-water. For 2 Chicago sisters who had never been there, the Deep South was the perfect location.

4--Would you hang out with your protagonist in real life?


5--What are three words that describe your protagonist?

Funny, Sarcastic, Wounded

6--What’s something you learned while writing this book?

That I love writing books! Also… how to dispose of a dead body using alligators… the structure of a military convoy… how to write in a Cajun dialect… plants used by southern traitures (healers)… honestly, too many things to list them all.

7--Do you edit as you draft or wait until you are totally done?

I edit as I draft. 100%. A lot of times during my research I’ll come across something that’s a perfect tie-in with one of the characters, so I’ll go back and edit to better set up that later connection.

8--What’s your favorite foodie indulgence?

ANYTHING with lots of butter and sugar! It’s been alleged that one time when I had no sweet treats in the house and it was too late to go out to the store, I actually just mixed some butter and sugar together and ate it. But I’m pleading the 5th on that.

9--Describe your writing space/office!

My “writing space” moves around a lot! Sometimes I’m on my laptop at my office desk, sometimes at the dining room table, sometimes in a chair out on the balcony, and sometimes sitting on my bed. But my favorite writing spot is a diner near me in Woodland Hills, CA, Bobby’s Coffee Shop (it’s been around since 1949). I’m a sucker for a good authentic old diner, and they let me sit for hours at a time, long after I’ve finished eating, keeping my coffee cup filled, because they know I’ll tip well! (I even gave them a nod in my book Acknowledgments.)

10--Who is an author you admire?

Anne Lamott. My mom gave me the book Operating Instructions when I was pregnant with my son and I’ve been a fan ever since. I’m actually re-reading Bird By Bird right now. She’s such a funny, wise person.

11--Is there a book that changed your life?

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. It was assigned reading by my acting teacher when I was at Northwestern University. I’ve re-read that little book so many times since then that I’ve worn it out – held together with tape now. It’s a profound collection of letters about the creative process, the inner world of an artist, and the nature of life in general. I ordered a copy for my son a couple of years ago (he’s a musical artist @_zanetaylor on IG), but it was a different translation, and it wasn’t nearly as poetic and beautifully worded. The skill of the translator absolutely matters! It’s not just about translating the words, it’s about being able to translate them in a way that conveys the poetry that the original language contains. So if you get a copy, make sure it’s the M.D. Herter Norton translation, from 1962! (In my humble opinion…)

12--Tell us about when you got “the call.” (when you found out your book was going to be published)/Or, for indie authors, when you decided to self-publish.

After two years of not being able to entice a lit agent into reading my manuscript (and through a lit agent is the only way to get your manuscript in front of publishers), one day at the beginning of 2021 I just went I’m done with this. I need to get this out there so I can focus my attention on my next novel (which I’m now working on). So I decided to publish it through The Total Human Press. That’s my own publishing arm that I created years ago to publish my women’s coloring books (with inspirational writing) that were born out of the women’s retreats I used to run in Sedona. This was quite a few years before adult coloring became all the rage and I hadn’t been able to find any publishers who saw the viability of adult coloring books.

I hired a pro to do the final proofreading of the novel. She’s also a publisher/editor/marketer in the publishing industry. I really enjoyed working with her during the proofreading process, so I hired her and her business partner to help with marketing (since I knew nothing about it), and have been working with them on outreach. So far, the novel has been getting great advance reviews, so even though I hadn’t originally wanted to go this indie author route, I couldn’t be happier with the decision, and I’m thrilled with the decision to work with Jessica and SarahBelle. They’ve been amazing, and now I know so much about book marketing!

13--What’s your favorite genre to read?

I love a good mystery. I also love any fiction or memoir that makes me laugh out loud throughout the entire book.

14--What’s your favorite movie?

Harold and Maude (and favorite movie musical is Singin’ in the Rain).

15--What is your favorite season?

By just a hair, Fall wins. Spring is a close second. Though in terms of SoCal “seasons”–Earthquake, Drought, Fire, and Mudslide–there is no clear winner!

16--How do you like to celebrate your birthday?

Pretty quietly, maybe a dinner with my son and other family or a couple of friends. My favorite thing about my birthday (November 26) is that every four years it falls on Thanksgiving, which feels appropriate as I’m giving thanks for my life. Also, I don't go on Facebook much anymore, but on my birthday, I LOVE to read the hundreds of birthday wishes that come in from so many friends from around the world.

17--What’s a recent tv show/movie/book/podcast you highly recommend?

I loved the book The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. It’s set in a retirement community which is brilliantly funny, and one of the women is an ex-MI5 operative who gets the other retirees to join in on the unauthorized investigations. I highly recommend it. Young or old, you’ll love it.

18--What’s your favorite type of cuisine?

Ethiopian food. I first had it when I was 11 years old. My mom had lived in Ethiopia for a while when she was 12 and her dad had been hired to work on the Royal Highway Commission there. When I was 11, we had just moved from Mississippi where my dad had gotten his first law professor position after Yale Law School, to the Washington D.C. area where he taught for the rest of his career (at American University’s Washington College of Law). My mom called the Ethiopian Embassy and asked someone where she could get the ingredients to make Doro Wat. She found the spices to make the spicy red sauce for the chicken dish but couldn’t find teff which is the grain used to make the flat, spongy bread with bubbles in it that’s used to pick up the food with your hands. The person at the Embassy gave her a “cheat” and told her she could use Aunt Jemima’s Complete Pancake Mix and use club soda instead of water to get the bubble effect. I loved it and have been eating Ethiopian food ever since. It’s the first restaurant I find whenever I move to a new city. I’m not a cooking fan so I don’t make it myself, preferring instead to go to my favorite restaurant in L.A.’s “Little Ethiopia” neighborhood called Messob. My son and I meet for lunch there periodically. He’s been eating it since he was about 6 years old and it’s also one of his favorites.

19--What do you do when you have free time?

I work on my mixed-media art, or I make jewelry, or I sit by the pool or the nearest beach for an hour, or I grab my camera and go on a “wandering/photography day.” Starting in October, though, I tend to focus on making hand-decorated Christmas balls – a tradition started by my grandmother, carried on by my father, and now me.

20--What can readers expect from you next?

I’m at work on my next women’s fiction novel and my fouth women’s coloring book. Also, anyone who signs up for my newsletter on my website can expect the possibility of winning a free book (a new winner is announced in each newsletter!) and to be entered in a drawing to have a funny supporting character in my next novel named after them!

They can also expect, in the next photo they see of me, that I’ll have MUCH thinner hair due to the current stress of packing up my entire life for a cross-country move next week. I’m leaving L.A. to live in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware full-time so I can spend time with my mom. I really love Rehoboth, but after living in L.A., NYC, or Chicago for the last 40 years, living in a small beach town surrounded by farmland, where the nearest Costco is 1.5 hours away (if the freeway traffic isn’t bad), there’s going to be a wee bit of culture shock. I’m definitely going to feel like a fish-out-of-water for a while. Just one more thing I’ll have in common with my protagonists in The Key to Circus-Mom Highway.


The Key to Circus-Mom Highway

In an attempt to secure an unexpected inheritance–and hopefully find a few answers–two estranged sisters and their newly discovered brother embark on a surreal trip through the Deep South to retrace the life of the mother who abandoned them.

On a Tuesday afternoon, sisters Jesse Chasen and Jennifer McMahon receive a phone call notifying them that the birth mother they had no knowledge of has died, leaving behind a significant inheritance. But in order to obtain it, they must follow a detailed road trip she designed for them to get to know her–and that includes finding a brother they never knew existed.

For the next week, this ill-assorted trio treks across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia to meet their mother's old friends, from circus-performers to a juke joint owner, each of whom delivers a shocking vignette into the life of a young mother traumatized by loss and abuse. Along the way, these three siblings–Jesse, whose fiery exterior disguises a drifting musician stuck in a rut; Jennifer, whose carefully curated family life is threatened by her husband's infidelity; and Jack, whose enigmatic Jackie, Oh! persona in the New Orleans drag queen scene helps him escape the nightmares of Afghanistan that haunt him–must confront their own demons (and at least one alligator). But in chasing the truth about their real mother, they may all just find their second chance.

This uproarious debut novel is a reminder that sometimes, the family you'd never have chosen may turn out to be exactly what you need.


Women's Fiction Contemporary [The Total Human Press, On Sale: January 3, 2023, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780982185544 / ]

Buy THE KEY TO CIRCUS-MOM HIGHWAYAmazon.com | Kindle | BN.com | Powell's Books | Books-A-Million | Indie BookShops | Ripped Bodice | Love's Sweet Arrow | Walmart.com | Book Depository | Target.com | Amazon CA | Amazon UK | Amazon DE | Amazon FR

About Allyson Rice

Allyson Rice is a writer, mixed media artist, and producer currently splitting her time between Los Angeles and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. She’s a graduate of Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Science in Communication. After spending many years as an actress on stage and on television, she left the business to found the company The Total Human and spent the next decade running yoga/meditation retreats, women’s retreats, and creativity retreats around the country. After that, she pivoted to focus on her own creative work. In addition to her writing and art, she’s also a photographer.

She’s currently at work on her second novel, Normal is Overrated, and her fourth women’s coloring book.





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