Literary Mama Magazine interviews Alle

Alle C. Hall
7 min readJan 28, 2024

Leaning into trauma to write, reaching people with a message of hope, recs for revising — or simply finding the time to write.

Alle C. Hall is the award-winning author of the novel, As Far As You Can Go Before You Have To Come Back. In the early 1990s, Hall lived and traveled extensively in Japan where she taught English and was a journalist. Hall, the mom of two teens, lives in Seattle with her family, and is writing another novel.

Tess Clarkson: Your debut novel, As Far As You Can Go Before You Have To Come Back, has a #MeToo influence. The main character, Carlie, suffers sexual abuse from her father and his friends during her childhood. She is angry at her mother for allowing the abuse to occur, so at 17, she runs away to Asia. There, she struggles with alcohol, drugs, food, and sex before she begins a path toward healing. Why did you feel it was important to write about these topics?

Alle C. Hall: I’m an incest survivor. I feel like every survivor has something inside them that needs to be expressed through whatever they consider their medium. For me, this happened to come out as a book. I wanted it to do two things. First, I wanted it to be accurate psychologically so that you see the effects on the survivor and the different paths you have to go through with the different addictions. Second, I wanted to end on a note of surviving. I wasn’t necessarily interested in a happy ending.

TC: You write in a compelling way, enabling readers to feel Carlie’s experience. During the writing process, could you separate Carlie’s emotional journey from your experience?

ACH: I spent five years doing personal work in healing, so when I got to the point where I was writing the novel, I was not retraumatized. I’d really addressed a lot. Much of Carlie’s personality comes from me, but her story is very different. Her trauma background is very different. But the basic emotional awareness of being sexually abused, coming to some conclusion around I will die or I will heal and going through a healing process, it definitely comes from my experience. I just had to fit it into the plot I wanted because I didn’t want to write a memoir. I didn’t want to change everybody’s hair color and call it fiction. All the people in As Far As You Can Go Before You Have To Come Back seemed like they were out there somewhere waiting for me to write them down as characters.

TC: When you wrote your novel, did you have any hope to bring greater awareness to sexual abuse?

ACH: I write whatever I want to say, and I don’t think about the reader when I’m writing because I’m totally absorbed in the story. Also, when I was doing the primary chunk of the writing for As Far As You Can Go Before You Have To Come Back, in the mid to late 1990s, there was no #MeToo movement. There wasn’t an idea of holding anybody accountable. I needed to heal. At that point, I didn’t need to heal for my children. I didn’t need to heal for a partner. I didn’t need to heal to be better at a job because I didn’t have any job I liked. I did whatever work I could so I could pay for therapy.

While reading blurbs for my novel, like The Kavanagh Sisters’ blurb, I couldn’t stop crying. They run an organization in Ireland called “Count Me In! Survivors of Sexual Abuse Standing Together for Change” and said, “Hall may never know how many people she will help with this novel.” It never occurred to me that people would be helped. I don’t write to heal anybody. I’m not a self-help writer. I don’t have it in me to give like that. That’s what it takes when you write good self-help; you have to be a caretaker. I’m not a natural caretaker. That’s changed being a parent. But as a human, I tend to be a self-absorbed artist. So [it’s been such a surprise] that something I put out there as pure artistic expression, hoping only to have it published by someone other than me, [has made] people contact me and say my book meant something [significant] to them. That’s something for someone who never thought of affecting other people that way.

TC: How has motherhood impacted your writing?

ACH: Second to my entire childhood, motherhood was the most traumatic thing I ever experienced. It was so hard. I was triggered. I was in complete post-traumatic stress disorder for about six years between having had a miscarriage and being retriggered by the next child coming. Given the emotional tsunami of early parenthood, it took me until my youngest kid was ten before I could write again. I couldn’t write for almost a whole decade. I just didn’t have the headspace for it. After becoming a mom, I became a much better person in general. I became much more of a caregiver, more patient, and more willing to think of something besides myself and getting my book published. I had a much bigger worldview coming out the end of about ten years of parenting. Parenthood didn’t change my first novel in the text and plot, but it brought maturity to my revisions, and I changed my novel from the present tense to the past tense. When you write in the present tense, there’s an immediacy. When you write in the past tense, you can have the narrator in some sort of conversation with the character as she moves along, and you have this sense of it happened, so I’m going to be able to talk you through it.

TC: What advice do you have for others leaning into their own trauma for their creative endeavors?

ACH: For me, it worked without having the pressure to publish. I did all kinds of journaling and read books like, The Courage to Heal. [During that time,] I didn’t even know that I wanted to write a novel or write about my abuse. It seemed uncomfortable to have that information out there in any way, especially since I didn’t feel like I had any answers yet. I think it’s a good idea to come to a place where you’re safe and solid first. Abuse memories can reveal themselves in layers. So if you hop on that first sort of cycle of understanding and you’re right out there publishing, you could be hit with a whole new wave of memories or level of understanding. Giving yourself some time with your recovery and allowing yourself to understand how you want to approach that as an artist gives you some control over the situation.

TC: What advice do you have for other moms wanting to write a book but struggling to find the time?

ACH: It took me 23 years to find a publisher. I think many more people would have their books too if they stuck it out. Too many people give up before the miracle. I think we need to expect a miracle and keep putting one foot in front of the other because it won’t happen if you don’t keep going, just like day-to-day care of your kids. If you expect the miracle and you stick with it, the miracle is much more likely to happen, and it really is a miracle to have a book published in this day and age.

TC: Do you have any recommendations about revising?

ACH: I hope it doesn’t sound too precious to say: every word in every sentence. I look at it and consciously take myself through: Have I given the reader this information before? Is there a way I can trim even a word out of the sentence? Can I move this word or phrase or sentence to a place where there are what E.B. White calls “like things” and combine the two sentences? I am on my sixth full revision of my newest novel. It was clocking in at 148,000 words. That dog won’t hunt. Between revisions 3 and 5, I dropped it to just over 90,000 and didn’t change the story. I cut one character but gave her scene to a different character, so what I want to say is still there.

TC: What’s next for you?

ACH: As Far As You Can Go Before You Have To Come Back was published in March, and I’m writing a second novel, a companion piece. Both books involve young women who are backpacking and carrying their trauma with them right in their backpacks, and they both end up on the same island at different times. In my first book, the main character chooses to move toward the light and has every opportunity to branch off at that point and not continue. In the companion piece, right now called Crazy Medicine, the main character chooses the dark path, and at every branch, she has a chance to move in a different direction but does not. I’m personally interested in why some people get it and some people don’t. I understand that I have survived quite well. I don’t understand why me and not someone else.

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Alle C. Hall

Author: As Far as You Can Go Before You Have to Come Back: 1st Place: International FireBird Book Awards: "Literary" & "Coming of Age"