Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Virtual Book Tour + #Giveaway: The Key to Circus-Mom Highway by Allyson Rice @CircusMomHwy @GoddessFish

The Key to Circus-Mom Highway

by Allyson Rice

GENRE: Contemporary fiction (family dramedy)


In an attempt to secure an unexpected inheritance—and hopefully find a few answers—two estranged sisters and their newly discovered brother embark on a comically surreal trip through the Deep South to retrace the life of the mother who abandoned them as infants.

On a Tuesday afternoon, sisters Jesse Chasen and Jennifer McMahon receive a phone call notifying them that their birth mother has died, leaving behind a significant inheritance. But in order to obtain it, they must follow a detailed road trip she designed for them to get to know her—and that includes finding a brother they never knew existed.

For the next week, this ill-assorted trio treks across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia to meet their mother’s old friends, from circus performers to a juke joint owner, each of whom delivers a shocking vignette into the life of a young mother traumatized by loss and abuse. Along the way, these three siblings—Jesse, whose fiery exterior disguises a wounded, drifting musician stuck in a rut; Jennifer, whose carefully curated family life is threatened by her husband’s infidelity; and Jack, whose enigmatic Jackie, Oh! persona in the New Orleans drag queen scene helps him escape the nightmares of Afghanistan that haunt him at night—must confront their own demons (and at least one alligator). But in chasing the truth about their real mother, they may all just find their second chance.

This uproarious debut novel is a reminder that sometimes, the family you’d never have chosen may turn out to be exactly what you need.


The inside of Audrey and Maudry’s was kitsch heaven. In addition to clothes and shoes, there was an ungodly amount of porcelain knick-knacks. There were also old dolls (some of them with all their limbs still attached); ancient VCR tapes of Porky’s, The Dukes of Hazzard, Joe Dirt, and God’s Not Dead 2; a velvet painting of Jesus wearing a Georgia Bulldogs football jersey; a box containing an inner thigh device call “Super Kegel”; an assortment of boxed games for girls like “American Dream Date” and “The Sassy Experience Game”; a push lawn mower; and an old Sean Cassidy and Parker Stevenson Hardy Boys poster from the 70’s.

Audrey and Maudry, identical twins in their late sixties, sat in chairs near the cash register. Audrey, wearing clothing and jewelry covered in brightly colored Chihuahuas, was knitting. Maudry was decked out in her year-round Christmas attire and was decorating a satin Christmas ball with beads and ribbons and pins from the little table next to her.

Hello! Welcome! Come on in!” they said in sing-song unison.

Audrey’s Chinese Crested Chihuahua, a raggedy little thing with some kind of skin disease and milky eyes, growled at Sean.

Oh, don’t mind Carlos,” said Audrey. “He’s totally blind. He doesn’t even know what he’s barking at.”

The comment obviously referenced some inside joke, because the twins looked at each other and cracked up in the same bizarre, shrill laugh. Though whether their inside joke was about Carlos, blindness, or skin disease wasn’t immediately clear. It was like the three J’s had landed on some sort of retro planet ruled by two alternate versions of Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Interview with ALLYSON RICE

    How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?

    I was actually writing a different novel when I was inspired to write The Key to Circus-Mom Highway. When the idea of writing a story about someone trying to get somewhere wouldn’t leave me alone, I set the other novel aside to write this one, and it turned into a family road trip­–three siblings who don’t really want to be traveling together. Now that it’s been released, as soon as all the post-release promotional work winds down I’m looking forward to getting back to that other novel (seven years later!) I’m about 4-5 chapters into it already.

    What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

    I’m always looking for books that will make me laugh out loud as I read them, so that’s what I wanted to write. I wanted to write a novel that was funny and so entertaining that the reader wouldn’t want to put it down. As I developed the storyline, some more serious themes started appearing organically for the main characters, so I had to figure out how to layer those storylines into the novel while still keeping the reader laughing throughout the book. So it became the desire to have a reader laughing throughout but with thought-provoking themes that would linger after the book is finished. It’s a tricky balance! But it’s also the way life works. Life is a layered experience where you can have opposite things happening simultaneously. You can be in pain and still find something that makes you laugh. You can be filled with grief over loss and still see the beauty that’s all around you.

    I do think I’ve been successful. There are a great many wonderful editorial reviews that have come in (BookLife/Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Midwest Book Review, Foreword Clarion, and others) that have made me feel that way. But here’s an excerpt from Reedsy Discovery that I love: “The Key to Circus-Mom Highway was so enjoyable I would have read it from cover to cover in one sitting if I could have managed. The three siblings are delightfully fun, yet each is hiding secret sorrows or traumas that come to light over the course of the story. Their no-holds-barred banter had me laughing out loud as the pages flew past. But even after the story is over, I’m still thinking about these sisters and brother and their families and hoping everything in their lives worked out as if they were real people.” I couldn’t have asked for better confirmation!

    Something else I had wanted to do was to incorporate the theme of how we often make snap judgments about people based on visuals or based on past events or preconceptions. I have the characters doing this to each other, but I also wanted to have the reader do this too, hopefully changing her mind as the story unfolded. So I gave Jesse some characteristics that I knew some readers might be turned off by, her job at the top of the novel, arms covered in tattoos, and she swears a lot. Because Jesse is the sibling that leads the action with the three siblings, it was crucial to move her from judged to understood through the action. I wanted the reader to have compassion for her. Here’s an excerpt from BookLife/Publisher’s Weekly that made me feel like I had been successful: Refreshing in her underdog melancholy and snarky repartee, she’ll have readers cheering as she gains wisdom along the back roads of the American South. Her irreverent humor lightens her anger at her birth mother, even as she faces new family challenges.”

    What was the hardest part of writing this book?

    Honestly, the writing itself wasn’t hard. What became hard was finishing it. I had been working on it for about a year and had the first draft pretty much done. I knew I still needed to expand it and to develop the character of Jack more, but I then got a job at a new streaming network that took so much time and energy that all of my focus was on that for a few years. I tried to find moments here and there to keep going, but I really do need more “brain space” than I had during that job to be able to write effectively. It was after that network folded and then the pandemic hit that I had time to finish the book. Silver linings, right?

    What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

    I loved the process of world-building. When I was an actress, world-building wasn’t something I got to do. Actors are the last piece of the puzzle to be added – brought in once the world and the story have already been created. I also found out that in terms of writing, I specifically loved writing novels. I had tried my hand writing spec scripts for TV and film, but I love how when writing novels you’re not confined by strict formatting and timing. You’re really free to write whatever you feel like writing.

    I also love the process of researching. Even though it’s a fictional piece, there’s SO much research that goes into it. Because The Key to Circus-Mom Highway takes place across five states and pulls in a very wide variety of topics, I was researching everything from driving times/routes, to how to perform acrobatics on horseback, to healing herbs used by southern traitures, to Cajun words/phrases, to songs about Jackie Onassis, to the lifespan of an alligator, to…

    Were there alternate endings you considered?

    I felt like the storyline evolved organically as I wrote it. I didn’t have this ending in my head when I started writing because at that point I had no idea how it would end. The way the characters responded to something dictated parts of the plotline, and when the next piece of the puzzle was added, it also dictated where the story went next. Truth be told, I didn’t know what the ending would be until I got to that chapter! Lol. That was the first draft. Once I knew how it ended, I still had to go back and flesh-out parts of the book in more detail, building in more layers. But once I knew how it ended, because I had arrived at it so organically, changing the ending wasn’t an option. I liked how it got there, and it was a satisfying ending for me.

    Can you share some stories about people you met while researching this book?

    I met some great people when I went on the road trip that I had written in my novel. I wanted to make sure the road trip stop I had chosen actually worked in real life. I went on part of the trip with my adult son and part of the trip with my mom.

    I hadn’t booked a room for the first night my son and I got to Louisiana. I was hoping to find something in Thibodeaux. After flying into New Orleans and renting a car, it was pouring rain, we were very hungry, and we couldn’t find anything available in Thibodeaux. We ended up at a B&B in Houma. Audry, the woman who owned it, turned out to be a tour guide in the area and pointed us to places we should explore over the following week. What a stroke of luck ending up at her place. Her maiden name also turned out to be Babineau which is the brother’s last name in the book (though he spells it with an “x”)! She showed me the family crest and told me stories. It was a fantastic start to our trip.

    One of the nights we spent in Louisiana was on a houseboat in the Atchafalaya swamp. The following morning we went on a swamp tour led by a grizzled old 9-fingered man who lost the other finger while feeding an alligator off the side of the boat (glad we weren’t on that one!!)

    One of my favorite stops was at an authentic juke joint in Alabama. I’m a huge Blues fan (I was a Blues DJ for a number of years), and I had always wanted to visit it. The description of the juke joint in the book was inspired by that place, though the guy who runs the one in the book isn’t meant to be the real owner. I feel so lucky to have visited it when we did because the real owner of the juke joint we visited died a few years ago at the age of 99. The end of an era.

    What genre of books do you enjoy reading?

    I love any book that makes me consistently laugh out loud as I read, no matter the genre. I do enjoy contemporary fiction, sometimes memoir, but when I look at all the books I’ve read over the past few years, I’m surprised by how many murder mysteries there’ve been. I don’t like grisly murder mysteries though (same with violence in TV and movies). More of the cozy mystery kind. I love it when I can’t figure out who the guilty party is because the writer’s done such a good job writing a story that makes total sense but still keeps me from guessing whodunit! I recently read Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club which was both very well crafted and there was plenty of humor.

    I think it means I may have to try my hand at writing one of those at some point. A cozy mystery with lots of humor and funny characters. Like I need one more creative project on my To Do list…

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Allyson Rice is the author of the novel The Key to Circus Mom Highway. ("Fans of family drama, road trips, and non-stop laughs will love this cross-country adventure."–BookLife/Publisher's Weekly). She's an award-winning mixed media artist, and a producer with Atomic Focus Entertainment.

After spending many years as an actress on stage and on television, she left acting and spent the next decade running yoga/meditation retreats, women’s retreats, and creativity retreats around the country. After that, she pivoted to focus once again on her own creative work. In addition to her writing and art, she’s also a photographer (her work was most recently seen in an exhibition at the Soho Photo Gallery in NYC).

Some random bits of Allyson trivia: 1) She’s been skydiving, paragliding, bungee jumping, ziplining through a rainforest, and scuba diving with stingrays; 2) she has an extensive PEZ dispenser collection; 3) she played Connor Walsh on As the World Turns for seven years; 4) she’s been in the Oval Office at the White House after hours; 5) she’s related to the Hatfields of the infamous Hatfield/McCoy feud; and 6) her comedic rap music video “Fine, I’ll Write My Own Damn Song” won numerous awards in the film festival circuit and can now be seen on YouTube (

Also available from Allyson Rice is her line of women’s coloring books (The Color of Joy, Dancing with Life, and Wonderland), and The Creative Prosperity PlayDeck, an inspirational card deck about unlocking and utilizing your creative energy in the world. She’s currently at work on her second novel and her fourth women’s coloring book. But she is most proud of being mom to musical artist @_zanetaylor.

My Websites: (My Author Site) (My E-commerce site)

Social Media Links:




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$20 Amazon/BN GC

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Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for hosting a stop on my GoddessFish Book Tour! Much appreciated! (I also enjoyed your interview questions because they weren't the same questions that I've gotten in many of the other interviews I've done.)

Allyson Rice said...

(forgot to change that other post from "Anonymous" to my name but I think it was probably obvious! Lol) ;)

Sherry said...

Looks like a great read.

Kim said...

What was your favorite part about writing this story?

Debbie P said...

This sounds like a very good read.