What's the name of your book?

"Moon Pies and Movie Stars"

Tell me about it.

"It's about the owner of a six-lane bowling alley in Devine, Texas, and she spots her runaway daughter on a Butter Maid commercial. So she sets off for Hollywood with her wild and crazy sister and the mother-in-law of the daughter. The daughter left behind two kids, so they go out there to find her and make her own up to her responsibilities. It's a journey -- like a road trip. They get in a Winnebago and head out West. It's 1976. They stop in Arizona and end up having to stay at a swingers' motel. Then they get to Hollywood, and it's '76, so it's Hollywood at its worst, run-down and grubby. They're staying at one of those by-the-hour motels, and they don't have a clue. They think that they're staying in this fabulous place. And they meet all different kinds of people, learn lots of new things, and get on The Price Is Right, which is really exciting for them. The sister that goes along with them, her dream has always been to meet Bob Barker. She thinks Bob Barker is really sexy.

The woman who owns the motel is from Texas, so they think they've hit this great place to stay, but she's married to a black man, and it's all new to them. The mother-in-law is pretty snarky, so she's kind of annoying. I had a lot of fun writing it."

What made you write it?

"I had gone to one of [San Diego Writers, Ink executive director] Judy Reeves's writing marathons, and she had put out these pictures as props. And one of them was a picture of a woman with a menu behind her, and she's talking on the phone. My grandmother lived in Bracketvillle, Texas, which is down on the border, and she owned a honky-tonk. I started writing, sort of from my grandmother's voice, of this woman on the phone talking to her sister. And it just kind of came from that character. It came from my grandmother's inspiration, but the characters weren't anything like [her]; she never owned a bowling alley or anything. But she was just really independent like that. Loralva, the sister, she's a little bit more like my grandmother, more of that wild air. So I took the women characters and [drew up] this montage of all the women I had known growing up, all the women that I knew in Texas when I went down to visit. I write more from character than from plot."

Do you have a favorite passage?

"Probably The Price Is Right scene is the most fun. I actually wrote 12 drafts of the novel, and that's the one scene in the whole book that I never really changed after I wrote it the first time. It's a big scene. To prepare for writing it, I watched the show for three weeks to get a feel for who was on it, how it worked. And the first week I was watching it, I was rolling my eyes and thinking, I can't believe I have to do this. The second week I was getting into it with them, and then the third week when they were winning I found myself crying because I realized this is their dream. I was really excited for them."

Why should someone read this?

"Because it's funny. And it does have some poignant moments. I like to write stuff that has a little heart in it, and I also think that humor does come from a deeper place inside. There's usually some kind of hurt. There are a lot of serious aspects -- the daughter they're going to look for left behind two kids, and she's been abandoned herself. She wasn't actually the main character's real daughter, so there's a lot of stuff that comes out. Why would somebody do this to their kids when it's been done to them, that kind of thing."

Tell me about your writing habits.

"I try to always start in the morning so I can get it done, and so I don't feel like I'm waiting all day to get to it and then never get around to it. Depending on where I am in the story, or how things have been going, I'll do two to four hours. I try not to write much more than that because you get a little...it's exhausting. I write daily. It's like practicing the piano: if you don't do it every day, the muscle gets weak.

I work on my laptop and I write longhand too. I like this combination, depending on what I'm doing. It's easier to carry a pad and a paper than a computer."

Is writing your primary job?

"I teach too. I teach novel-writing courses at UCSD. I just finished a Novel 1, a beginner writing class, then in the winter quarter of January I'm starting a Novel 2, more advanced writing."

What are your relationships like?

"I live with another writer. You have to be really independent people, because writers tend to just go off into their hole and disappear -- and then come back out, and everything's great. Also, when the writer's not writing, they can get kind of grumpy and out of sorts."

Do you talk to your friends about your writing?

"Yes, they ask a lot. The conversation with [non-writers] goes a little differently than with writer friends, because with writer friends you don't have to explain as much. [With writers,] I might talk more specifics, like, 'I'm having trouble with a character, what do you think I should do?' whereas with the non-writer friend I would just say it was going well or not well."

Name: Amy Wallen

AGE: 44

Occupation: Author/Writing Instructor

Neighborhood: South park

Where Interviewed: The urban grind coffeehouse

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