Thursday, May 18, 2023

Allison L. Bitz

Allison L. Bitz hails from Lincoln, NE, where she lives with her spouse and two kids. Her superpower is empathy, and she’s been known to have resting tell-me-your-life-story face. Bitz holds a PhD in Counseling Psychology and has worked as a licensed psychologist since 2012. When she’s not working on a novel or counseling, Bitz is more than likely writing a song, getting riled up about something political, or trying to track down a pastry to enjoy with her coffee. She has a soft spot for rescue animals, which are vying for species majority in her home (two perfect dogs, two ornery cats). The Unstoppable Bridget Bloom is her debut novel.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The journey to Bridget’s title was, as is the case with many contemporary books—well, a journey. This book’s original working title was Fish Out of Water¸ which is clearly much vaguer than where I landed and pretty reflective of me being new to the world of publishing. The next title, and the one it was acquired under, was In the Key of B, which I still think is clever, but my marketing and sales team at HarperCollins wanted a title that was less music focused (though this book is very music-y!), more inclusive. The Unstoppable Bridget Bloom is far and away my favorite title this book has had, and that is partially because it absolutely does a lot of work on behalf of the story. Right away, between the title and the cover, we get a peek into Bridget’s personality and goal, and I love that.

What's in a name?

I have always really loved the name Bridget, and as this character started to form in my mind she felt like a Bridget to me. I tend to like alliteration, so Bloom as her last name came easily—I love the way Bridget Bloom rolls off the tongue. Bridget’s best friend Liza is named for Liza Minnelli (by me and that’s how she’s named by her Broadway star mother in story canon!). The academy Bridget attends, Richard James, is named for both of my grandfathers (who both happened to be named Richard) and for my spouse (James). One of the love interests, Duke, was jokingly named by my critique partner, and then I kept the name. When it comes to naming characters, sometimes I think long and hard and go for a deeper meaning or names that have sentimental value for me. And other times, I go with something that sounds good, no meaning attached. (And this process is very reflective of me as a person—half very serious, half whimsical).

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

My teenage self would be not at all surprised that I did write a book—I was always a writer—but I think she’d be surprised by the content of this book. Bridget is a fat teen who lives comfortably and unapologetically in her body. I was also a fat teen, but always with the worry I was taking up too much space, both physically and emotionally. I wrote Bridget into the body my high school self wore for precisely this reason—a love letter to my past self and a battle cry to contemporary teens. This isn’t a story about weight loss or shrinking in any way, this is a fat teen living her life, failing and falling in love, beautiful, graceful, talented just the way she is. I think my teen self would have been equally shocked and gratified to read a character like this, and to see how far her future self had come in loving all versions of herself, no matter what size her body happened to be at that moment.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I love beginnings, and writing Bridget was no exception. It was a joy to introduce readers to her larger-than-life personality and voice, to make people laugh right away with how out of touch she can be. (The reader can see right off the bat that she’s often an unreliable narrator!) Hilariously, I almost always start my stories in the wrong place, so Chapter 1 in this book was my seventh version! Endings are harder for me, both in writing and in life; however, they are extremely satisfying when done right. I always knew how Bridget needed to grow by the end of the book, but nailing the exact scene and pacing of that was a challenge that also took a few tries. As it is, I do think Bridget ends on a note of growth, hope, and happiness.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

My characters always have at least a little bit of me in them—after all, they come from me! When she read Bridget, my grandma thought Bridget was me, so this is my big chance to go on record saying: no! No, she absolutely is not! What Bridget and I share is a love of music that runs so deep we would pursue it as a career (I was heavily involved in music as a teen and a music minor for a time in college), naturally curly hair, and feeling out of place in our rural hometowns. Where we diverge is basically everything else. I gave Max my love of Queen and Freddie Mercury. I gave Duke the easy charm that I’d always wished I had. To Liza, I gave my affinity for wearing black. The roommate dilemma between Bridget and Ruby was heavily inspired by what transpired between myself and my college roommate.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

This book is very, very musical. In fact, I think there’s at least some reference to music in every chapter. Broadway standards, pop classics, and classical music are all represented here and influenced the way I saw and wrote the book. I even wrote sheet music for this book—there are two original songs, written by me, in the back of this book! (Also, I have a Spotify playlist of every song that’s in The Unstoppable Bridget Bloom. Come find it on my Spotify account if you’d like to listen along.) The TV show Glee and also the movie/musical Legally Blonde both impacted how I wrote the book, as did my original inspiration, The Little Mermaid (in which a girl loses her voice in exchange for a new home and chance at love). The political landscape is always a part of my head and writing, and you’ll see those influences sneaking out at times, here and in everything I put to page.
Visit Allison L. Bitz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue