A Conversation with Will Allison
Author of LONG DRIVE HOME: A Novel
(Free Press; May 17, 2011)
1. Your first novel, What You Have Left, has three viewpoint characters and moves back and forth in time. Long Drive Home has one viewpoint character and proceeds, for the most part, chronologically. Did you make a decision at the outset to structure this novel differently?
I did. I wanted to write a book with a strong sense of tension and narrative momentum—more of page-turner—but one that’s still character-based, where plot is a function of character and not vice versa.
2. When you were executive editor of Story magazine, thousand of submissions must have crossed your desk. How did your editorial work influence your writing?
Reading through the submissions—we averaged about 50 a day—I was constantly reminded of the importance of 1) giving the reader a reason to care, and 2) keeping the story moving. I write with an acute awareness that readers have a lot of other things they could be doing besides reading my book.
3. Where did the idea for the novel come from?
I live in New Jersey, in a quiet neighborhood much like the one described in the book—lots of kids, joggers, people walking their dogs. One morning a few years ago, I went out to get the newspaper. A car came flying down the street, going probably twice the speed limit. I remember picking up the paper and thinking I’d like to chuck it at the guy’s windshield, give him a scare. Then I thought, “You’re an idiot, Will. You could kill someone.” Then I thought, “But what if no one saw?” That was the seed of the story.
4. Is the book autobiographical?
No. The circumstances of Glen’s life are similar to my own—I work at home; my wife works in the city; we have a young daughter; we moved here from the Midwest; etc.—but the characters and plot are wholly invented.
5. Has your daughter read the book?
No. She’s only nine. Some of the language isn’t appropriate. Also, I’d hate for her to conflate me with Glen. She knows what the book is about, though. On the way to and from school, when I was writing it, she’d ask what part of the story I was working on. She gave me a lot of input. She still thinks Sara’s name should have been spelled “Sarah.”
6. Is the traffic in New Jersey really as bad as Glen says?
It seemed pretty bad to me, coming from the Midwest. I did some research when I started the book. New Jersey is the nation’s most congested state and has the highest pedestrian fatality rate. A 2006 study found that northern New Jersey has four of the ten most dangerous American cities to drive in—all within fifteen miles of where the story takes place. And a 2008 study ranked New Jersey drivers dead last in their knowledge of basic safety and traffic laws.
7. Was the accident investigation based on a real case?
No, but I did get a lot of help from Detective Arnold Anderson, who recently retired from the Essex County Prosecutors Fatal Accident Unit. Andy read an early draft of the book and very patiently answered my questions. I remember being nervous when I first got in touch with him and said I was writing a book about a guy who tries to cover up his involvement in an accident. I thought Andy might think that’s what I was doing. He told me later that, yes, he did check up on me after that first phone call, to make sure I was really a writer.
8. Was there any kind of moral you were aiming to impart in Long Drive Home?
I was very interested in the moral implications of Glen’s actions, particularly how he justified—and was later affected by—doing things he himself believed to be morally wrong. But no, I intended no moral lesson for the reader, only moral questions.
9. How much compassion do you expect the reader to show Glen?
Obviously, Glen makes some terrible mistakes. But I do hope readers will put themselves in his shoes. That’s why I chose to tell the story from his viewpoint. If the story had been told from Rizzo’s or Tawana’s viewpoint, Glen might have come off as a clear-cut villain. That to me would have been less interesting.
10. What’s next for you?
Another novel, one that may or may not revisit the characters in Long Drive Home.