Chicago author Alison Hammer released her debut novel "You and Me and Us," a mother-daughter story that takes place in Destin.
Camille’s at Crystal Beach, 790 on the Gulf, the Destin Commons – Chicago author Alison Hammer name drops a few of her favorite Destin spots in her debut novel "You and Me and Us."
Eighty-percent of the plot to the "mother-daughter love story" takes place in Destin, where Hammer’s father has lived for 20 years. One site though is the most meaningful in her snapshot of memories.
"The drive from the Fort Walton Beach airport is a good 20 to 30 minutes," Hammer said. "When we cross the Mid Bay Bridge – now I know it’s on the side of the Legacy Marina – and see that mural of all the whales and the sea life, that has always been my, ‘Take a deep breath. You’re here now.’ I always think about it as my welcome to Destin, and my characters think that, too.
I love Destin and hopefully I can get readers to fall in love with it, too."
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Because of the coronavirus, Hammer has no book tour dates scheduled. She is available to meet with book clubs virtually.
Hammer never set out to be a professional writer, but she has always been a storyteller.
"I would always make my sister, we would put on plays for my parents in the living room, ya know retellings of ‘James and the Giant Peach,’ and things like that," Hammer said.
Writing was a hobby until she wrote a short story for a fiction writing workshop in 2001 at the University of Florida. It sits in a drawer somewhere today.
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"I had a feeling that those characters weren’t finished with me," Hammer said. "I thought they had a bigger story. I turned that short story into a novel."
It took 15 years of stopping and starting until Hammer decided not to stop and set a completion date. After finishing it, she started another book in the fall of 2016 – what would become her debut novel, "You and Me and Us."
"It’s about a workaholic mom and her distant teenage daughter and the way their relationship evolves and changes as they go through a really tough summer – losing the one person in their family who held them together," Hammer said. "It’s a tearjerker, but there are also moments that will make people laugh and smile as well."
Luckily, it’s not based on her real life experience.
"I like to cry, as long as it’s not about my life," Hammer said. "I cry at books and movies and songs and commercials. I love things that make me feel something. I’m not surprised I ended up writing a tearjerker, because I love those visceral emotions."
She thinks the emotional story could help readers, especially today.
"An emotional release, crying about characters, might help people release the pent up anxiety of how life is right now that they might not let themselves tap into," Hammer said.
While the main characters, Tommy and Alexis, first live in Atlanta, Georgia – where Hammer lived once – the novel is a love letter to Destin.
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"When Tommy gets sick, he tells Alexis the one thing he wants is to spend his final days at their beach house in Destin," Hammer said. "Tommy, the character, grew up in Destin and Alexis spent summers down there visiting her grandmother. It’s funny talking about them. They’re like real people to me. I’ve been writing their stories for over 20 years."
Hammer enjoyed mentioning her favorite Destin destinations – especially Camille’s.
"I remember the first time I went there, I was so confused at the fact that they had both sushi and pizza, two of my favorite things, and they were both good," Hammer said. "And just the experience of going to that wonderful restaurant because it is on the second floor of a motel, I was able to capture that experience and a memory of the first time my characters went there. 790 is another one of my favorite spots. I have two of my characters having lunch there."
The places weaved into the plot even further character development.
"CeCe, the teenage girl – she rides her bike over to the Commons and she’s at that intersection deciding whether she should turn left to go to Sephora or right to go to Whole Foods," Hammer said. "She ends up choosing right and she makes the right decision and goes to Whole Foods."
Hammer originally wrote the book about Tommy getting sick – so she thought.
"One of my early readers was like, ‘It’s really about Alexis and CeCe,’" Hammer said. "I was like, ‘Wow, I guess I can see that you’re right.’"
Hammer thinks friendships and family relationships are rich.
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"With mothers and daughters, there’s so much love and so much history and it’s such a safe relationship," Hammer said. "I think daughters aren’t always the kindest to their mothers, because we know they’ll love us anyway. I think there is an interesting dynamic in that relationship because I know with my mom and I, we’re a lot alike. Sometimes that can be amazing and sometimes it can drive us both crazy."
The mother-daughter is reflected in the book cover. Choosing a cover photo online to fit the look and feel of Destin was a challenge, she said.
"A lot of the covers we looked at had the mother and daughter close together, but the whole story was about that distance between them, so it didn’t feel natural," Hammer said. "So when I found this photo of an older woman and a teenager sitting apart, it felt really right. I talked to my dad and we were trying to brainstorm, and he did say the quarry has some rocks like that, so I’m imagining it’s the quarries where they’re sitting."
To be clear, she has a good relationship with her own mother.
"(My mom) was worried about that," Hammer said. "My second book that’s coming out next spring is also about a mother and daughter. She’s like, ‘Again?’ I was like, ‘I’m sorry.’ But we have a great relationship. She and my dad have both been my biggest fans and supporters from day one."