The One That I Want

Ever wondered how a writer creates her characters? What motivates her to get words on the page? New York Times best-selling author Allison Winn Scotch gives us a peek at her process and how music fits into her writing life, and we offer you a chance to win her latest book The One That I Want. It’s a must-read!

You’re the one that I want
You are the one I want
Ooo ooo ooo, honey

We all recognize those lyrics from Grease, one of my favorite movies, when Sandy & Danny realize they go together, like rama lama lama ka dinga di dinga dong. Oh, sorry, couldn’t help myself there. In The One That I Want, Allison gives those words a bit more heft, making “the one” not a person, but a life.

Here Allison tells The Music Mamas how music makes her writing better.

Allison: Music plays such an enormous role in my writing that I literally don’t think I could write my books without it. But that said, I don’t listen to it while I’m actually writing. Rather, it’s on at every other moment during my day – when I’m running errands, when I’m sitting around doing nothing, when I’m straightening up. I’ve always been really, really obsessed with melodies and lyrics, and I find that in some way, they help transport me into the minds of my characters. So I listen to the songs, and I almost lose track of when I am in my own reality and sink into theirs. But because I’m so connected to music, I CAN’T have it on while I’m writing. I get too tuned into it and lose track of my characters’ own voices.

TMM: Allison’s so cool, The Killers let her use one of their song lyric as the book’s epigraph! How did that come about?
Allison: Well, The Killers, as you’ll see on my playlist, were the biggest musical influence in this book. I listened to them more or less on repeat – there is something really gritty and honest and real about their music, and some of their songs really echo the themes of my main characters: small-town life, aspiring for more, being scared to actually achieve it. So when it came time to choose my epigraph, I really, really, really hoped that they’d give me permission to use their lyric, all the while never anticipating that they would. Read My Mind was probably a slightly bigger influence than Human, which is what I ultimately chose, but I couldn’t find one specific lyric in RMM that encapsulated the entire book: It’s the entire song that’s so resonant. So I opted for this lyric from Human which I just thought was SO perfect, and I sent an email to the person responsible for rights to the band’s lyrics. Long story short: They gave me permission, I almost fainted, and now you can see it for yourself in the opening of the book! :)

TMM: How did you choose which songs were playing at certain points in the book?
Allison: Part of it was timing and era. There’s a snippet of, for example, Hootie and the Blowfish’s Hold My Hand, and part of that comes from the year the scene was written and part of it comes from my own personal experience and what the song represents to me. I remember listening to that song my senior year in college and thinking that life was perfect, and in the scene, the song makes Tilly feel that way, too. So definitely, the songs I chose are partially based on emotional memory.

TMM: How does running help you tune in to your characters?
Allison: I do my best brainstorming while running – I can really tune out the figurative noise of the rest of my day and almost go into a trance with the music playing in my ears. I very intentionally use that time to let my brain work through my plot and characters, and opt for songs that will help get me there. While writing The One, for example, as I said above, I listened to Read My Mind on repeat sometimes. Just over and over again until it was background noise but also not background noise at all.


Allison’s playlist features an oldie, a new take on an old favorite, some music I’d never heard but am thrilled to have found, and, of course, The Killers. Here’s what she listened to while writing The One That I Want. (If you want to win the book, leave a comment by midnight EST Friday telling us your favorite song from her playlist. We’ll use a random number generator to choose the winner.)

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

Read My Mind by The Killers. As I said, I had this song on repeat – literally, I’d listen to it 10 times in a row – while writing the book. I have three different versions on my iPod – the album cut, the Friday Night Lights cut and the Pet Shop Boys remix (really), and again, as I said, I’d go out for a run (where I do my best creative thinking) and listen to all three over and over again. In fact, I listened to A LOT of The Killers while writing: There is something about the grit and the emotion of their songs that really homed in on my characters – especially this song, which is about a small-town life and the desperation that can come from both feeling trapped and worrying about being left behind/outgrown. I think there’s no better song that fully represents how I feel about this book and my characters in it, though Dustland Fairytale and Human, which I use as the epigraph for the book, are also really evocative and moving for me.

Heart of the Matter by India.Arie. I love the Don Henley version (and was wavering on whether to mention HOTM or Boys of Summer because it, too, reminds me of the overall feel of this book), but Arie’s take on this song is really emotive for me, and in some ways, for Tilly too. As trite as it sounds, she really WAS trying to get down to the heart of the matter, even if the people she thought loved her didn’t anymore, and isn’t that something that we’ve all had to muddle through? How to find that forgiveness? Again, I love the softness of this version – it’s tender but still has a lot of edge.

Little Silver Ring by The Samples. This song is a really nostalgic one for me, as it reminds me so much of college, but it really helped transport me back to a time when life was sort of utopic, before the bubble was burst and we, well, became full-blown adults. That’s really what Tilly is dealing with too, and it was easy to envision her in her own bubble, in which she felt safe, untouchable, and then pop – as the lyrics say, “Growing old … why aren’t you here for me to hold?” I also love Everytime by The Samples, which taps into a similar emotional well for me.

Throwing It All Away by Genesis. Again, I have a few versions of this on my iPod, and I really love their live version. There is something so pining and honest in these lyrics – of the spurned lover who can’t decide if he or she is angry or sad over the failure of the relationship, and then the power that comes with saying goodbye toward the end of that song. I feel like Tilly, as she goes through her story, really starts to gain power that she didn’t even realize she’s capable of, and I feel that in this song too. That even though something tragic has happened, that it’s given the singer something back too.

Where I Stood by Missy Higgins. This song was like serendipity for me. I’d written some scenes with Tilly, my protagonist, and her husband, Tyler, who felt like he was outgrowing their life, and he says a line akin to, “I don’t know who I am without you and without this town.” And literally, within the same span of writing that scene, I really tuned into this song … I’d heard it before, sort of in the background of life or what not, but hadn’t paid full attention, and lo and behold, there’s a very similar line in the lyrics about how she doesn’t know who she is without her lover, and is thus moving on. I was so moved to hear this that the song became a real anthem for the character of Tyler, and eventually, for Tilly. There’s a bravery in saying that just because you’ve known and loved something your whole life, doesn’t mean that it’s still the right thing for you, and that’s what both the book and this song are about. Haunting. I love it, and in fact, love a lot of her other songs to. I highly recommend listening to Steer as well.

Let’s Get Out of This Country by Camera Obscura. Oh my gosh, does this sound make me think about Tilly and Tyler in high school, even if Tilly wouldn’t have been thinking about it herself. It’s about a listless woman who wants her boyfriend to dash her away and make her feel beautiful, and even though the lyrics imply that they’re in the city, I think it’s so easy to envision Tilly and Tyler sitting in his truck in high school, the windows open, their hands feeling the wind outside, and dreaming about how big their lives can be.

This Woman’s Work by Kate Bush: Confession – I think this song probably came on my radar from Felicity a decade ago, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t love it. :) I also considered using a line from this song for the epigraph … I really love the final verses when she says, “I know there’s a little life in you yet …” It’s also a song about regret and wishing for second chances, and well, Tilly spends plenty of time wondering about both.

Stuff and Nonsense by Neil Finn. (I found only Missy Higgins’ version.) I really love this song, and how it builds into a really haunting wail toward the end. I think it very much spoke to a lot of what was happening for the characters in the book – that they could love each other in the here and now but promising forever might be too much. I think we all have moments like that and hope that we move beyond them, but sometimes, we can’t (or don’t).

Let The River Run by Carly Simon. This song, for me, is one of the most triumphant, freeing songs, well, ever. And just like in Working Girl when she finally gets her mojo on, I also feel like it’s really representative of Tilly when she finally comes into her own. She points herself in a direction and moves toward it rather than sitting back and having it move toward her. “Let all the dreamers wake the nation.” That’s what this book is about.

Thanks, Allison, for giving The Music Mamas a glimpse “behind the music.” You’re welcome here anytime!

And dear readers, if you don’t win the book, go out and buy it! It will bring back memories of first loves, proms and nights at the county fair, and show you that there’s not just one path to happiness.

11 Responses to The One That I Want
  1. Carmen Tanner Slaughter
    July 19, 2010 | 7:56 pm

    AH! So torn…I love India Arie’s cover of “Heart of the Matter” but I have to go with “Let’s Get Out of This Country” since I’ve been listening to Camera Obscura all summer long!

  2. This Belle Rocks
    July 19, 2010 | 8:38 pm

    Allison’s playlist is incredible! LOVE The Killers, and every time I hear “Throwing it all Away” I cry (so I skipped that one). I remember “This Woman’s Work” from that movie She’s Having A Baby. Am I the only one?

    I’m not eligible to win the book, but my favorite from her playlist is “Read My Mind”, hands down!
    This Belle Rocks´s last [type] ..Everyone- meet…Bibi!

  3. Ri
    July 20, 2010 | 11:04 am

    Awesome interview, Tiffani! And thank you, Allison, for sharing your music with us. I love all things Finn, so you got extra points from me for “Stuff and Nonsense”! ;)
    Ri´s last [type] ..Sunday Scoop- Meet The Music Mamas

  4. Mari
    July 21, 2010 | 6:16 am

    Ooh, great interview, great book — dammit! like my “read this now” list isn’t long enough! ;) — and great introspective playlist. Loving “Little Silver Ring” but really will listen to this one over & over. Not running music for me but good deep-thought stuff.

  5. tawnya
    July 21, 2010 | 3:04 pm

    As a writer and a HUGE Finn fan (see: title of my blog!), major points for stuff and nonsense! One of my all time favorites.

  6. Lara Ruth
    July 22, 2010 | 1:08 pm

    All good (and btw some I need to check out), but I am totally on Team Killers. Have to give the nod to Read My Mind. So amazing live!
    Lara Ruth´s last [type] ..more than just steak at blt prime

  7. Nicole
    July 22, 2010 | 8:38 pm

    All great songs! “Read My Mind” by The Killers gets stuck in my head after hearing it every time. I’m reading The One That I Want right now from the library & would <3 to own my own copy! Thank you for sharing this interview & hosting the contest! *fingers crossed*!

  8. Tiffani
    July 24, 2010 | 4:21 pm

    Carmen is #1
    Mari #2
    Tawnya #3
    Lara #4
    Nicole #5

    I’m heading to the random number picker to pick the winner. Back soon!

  9. Tiffani
    July 24, 2010 | 4:28 pm

    And Tawnya is the winner!

    Tawnya, email your snail mail address to info{at} with the subject line The One That I Want. I’ll get the book out to you as soon as possible.

    Thanks for reading! And rock on, mamas!

  10. Pop Culture | Tiffani Hill-Patterson
    August 22, 2015 | 11:36 pm

    [...] The One That I Want [...]

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