Author talk with Allison Larkin

We had the pleasure of sitting down [virtually] with Allison Larkin, and discussing her most recent book, The People We Keep.
CALS: For anyone not familiar with your work, how would you describe your books? 
Allison: There’s some difference in tone in the books I wrote as Allie Larkin and my writing as Allison Larkin, but what’s consistent is that they’re novels about love, friendship, and the search for home.
CALS: What are you working on now?
Allison: I’m working on my next novel, Home of the American Circus, about about a woman who inherits her estranged parents’ derelict house and discovers her fifteen-year-old niece has been secretly living there.
CALS: What is the favorite thing you’ve ever written?
Allison: The People We Keep is my favorite so far. April Sawicki showed up in my thoughts while I was writing my first novel, Stay. I spent almost fifteen years writing her and searching for the right people to represent and publish the book. She’s been a constant in my life and also a path to finding the most amazing creative partners. Still, when my mind wanders, I often catch myself imagining April night-swimming in the dark, cold waters of Lake Cayuga. Even though she’s a somewhat fraught character, her mind is still my happy place. And Ithaca is too.
CALS: In The People We Keep, April is a young girl who leaves home at an early age, how were you able to relate to her struggles?
Allison: I grew up in circumstances that were quite different from April’s origins, but I always felt like an oddball growing up, so her outsider status is familiar to me. When I was nineteen, I was diagnosed with ADHD, which sent me into a tailspin. I’d spent my whole life desperately trying to fit in a box that wasn’t built for me and suddenly realized I didn’t know myself on the most basic levels. I dropped out of college, went to bartending school, and worked at a biker bar for a while. Sometimes I played guitar at open mics. I lived in four or five different places in three states in the span of about two years. While I always had more of a safety net than April, I had a few tumultuous housing and relationship situations that sent me into the kinds of survival calculations you see her processing in the book. Even when I was able to bail myself out of a tough spot, I could clearly imagine what would happen if I couldn’t, and it was all imprinting on me. I was also living such a different life from my friends who were still in school. I felt like a person without a place.
CALS: What are you reading right now?
Allison: I recently finished Small Joys by Elvin James Mensah. I’ll never stop thinking about his characters. It’s out on April 11th and is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read (which isn’t an overstatement).CALS: Some authors will put their pets into books, has Roxy or another pet ever made a guest appearance?
My first novel, Stay, was inspired by our dog, Argo (although, unlike the dog in Stay, Argo was not an accidental internet purchase). He was even the cover model for the original hardcover! Our dear dog, Stella, had anxiety issues that forced me to take a good hard look at my own, which was a huge part of my inspiration for Swimming for Sunlight. There aren’t any dogs in The People We Keep or Home of the American Circus, but our buddy Roxy may make it into some future work. She’s the weirdest, most delightful little dog I’ve ever met.
CALS: Who do you get inspiration from?
Allison: Chris Pureka is my favorite musician. Not only are Chris’s songs beautiful, but their lyrics have intense wisdom and a way of synthesizing moments and feelings that lights up my brain. I was a few drafts into The People We Keep when I first heard Chris’s music. Their album DRYLAND, especially, shared so much imagery with what I’d been writing, and when I played it I could see the whole book in my head like a movie. When we lived in New York, I spent a lot of time driving from Rochester to Ithaca, listening to Chris, thinking about April. Later, when I was getting pressure to make April’s story more commercial, I listened to Chris’s song Compass Rose obsessively. There are lyrics from that song at the beginning of The People We Keep, because those words — Someday, someday I’ll offer up a song I was made to play…— helped me realize that the book I was writing was a book I was made to write, and I understood that to be something sacred. Chris’s music is shining example of the power of authenticity, and their song gave me permission to honor and protect my work.
CALS: What was your favorite book as a child?
Allison: As a young child, I loved Pippi Longstocking dearly. In high school, I read Song of the Lark by Willa Cather for the first time and fell in love with it completely. THE PEOPLE WE KEEP is, in some ways, an homage to that book. And, now that I think of it, maybe April has some essence of Pippi Longstocking too.

CALS: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Allison: I think The People We Keep is my greatest achievement, not just because it’s a book I’m intensely proud of, but because in the long journey from start to finish, I learned vital lessons about art and creativity, trusting my gut and believing in my work.

Note from Kelli, the content writer for CALS: I “discovered” Allison a few years ago when a local friend of mine on twitter began talking about being mentioned in the acknowledgements of Allison’s book. I started following her then and she’s an absolute delight. Her tweets are fun and insightful. Before reaching out to Allison, I read The People We Keep, I finished it one night when I had trouble sleeping and cried no less than five times. It’s a beautiful coming of age story that will break your heart several times. You can follow Allison on twitter or tiktok.