The Key to Circus-Mom Highway


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.


“We have a long drive ahead of us. Don’t make me turn this car around.”

“You can’t say that when you’re not driving, Jen,” said Jesse. “It makes no sense.”

“I know! I was kidding!” She let out an exasperated sigh.

Jack stroked Sean’s head and returned to staring darkly out the window at the passing scenery. Jesse eyed him surreptitiously in the mirror. 

Over the next hour, Jennifer occasionally attempted some small talk to ease the tension, but no one was having it. Nerves were frayed and tempers were short after too little sleep the previous night. Not to mention the disturbing story from the previous day that they were all still attempting to process. 

After another hour, Jennifer couldn’t stand the crypt-like silence anymore. She reached for the radio, asking the others what they wanted to listen to. Jack answered “Country” as Jesse simultaneously said “Anything but Country.”

“What’s wrong with Country??” he roared. “They’re the best damn storytellers in the music business!”

“If you have to even ask that question,” said Jesse, “then it’s pointless in even responding to you.”

“Good! I don’t wanna hear it!”

“Fine!” Jesse snapped.

“Fine!” he snapped back.



Jennifer was morbidly curious to see how long they’d keep that call-and-response going, but after 3 more rounds of “Fine!” she yelled, “SHUT UP!! I don’t want to hear another word out of either one of you for the rest of this drive.”

That seemed to do the trick. 

That is, until Jesse mumbled, “You’re not the boss of us…”

About the Author:

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.


Q&A With the Author

What did you enjoy most about writing this book? 

Honestly, I loved every part of the actual writing and revising of the book. I love the aspect of world-building. Even though you’re not building everything in the world from the ground up, if it’s taking place in a real location in the contemporary world, you still have to determine what elements to include in the world of your book and your characters. 

I loved the combination of me making some of the plot choices but also letting the characters have a say in where the story went next, letting the story unfold before me. I can’t tell you how many times I was surprised by how the story unfolded as I wrote it. It’s so much fun when that happens. 

Throughout the writing of the book, whenever I’d re-read it again from start to finish, I come to a certain point, put myself in the mind of one of the characters, and ask myself, “What would make this more interesting? What would be surprising here for this character at this moment?” Because let’s face it, whether you’re a real person or a character in a book, life rarely plays out the way we think it’s going to. I mean, there will be moments when things will move along as we expected them to, but who among us hasn’t been blindsided by something unexpected?

We have free will, but so does everyone around us. That means we have less control over events in our lives than we might wish, but we have total free will over how we respond to things. Each of the characters had very distinct personalities in my mind as I wrote, which means each one of them had a unique perspective from which they reacted. It’s why for me it’s important to really solidify the characters’ personalities first.

I also love the aspect of research that goes into it. I love learning new things. And the amount of research involved in The Key to Circus-Mom-Highway was extensive.

Do you have any other books you are working on that you can tell us about? 

I do! I actually started this novel before switching over to write Circus-Mom first. It’s a comedy about a woman on the verge of turning fifty years old. She’s newly divorced and entering the online dating world for the first time (there are some funny/awful dates I’ve already written for her). She’s also trying to decide the direction she wants her life to go since things haven’t turned out as she thought they would. The story includes her friendships with two women she’s known since college as well as a new friendship with a feisty 80-year-old she meets by accident toward the beginning of the book. She’s in the middle of a panic attack and has bent over on the street to put her head between her knees to breathe. She’s in front of a retirement center with a big front window and this old woman using a walker thinks Nicki is mooning them. And there’s also an Australian paragliding instructor in the book whom Nicki meets on one of her new adventures and who gets under her skin. She’s not quite sure how she feels about that. I have no idea how the book ends yet. (Note: anyone who goes to my Author Website and signs up for my periodic newsletter has the chance of getting one of the funny supporting characters in this book named after them. And also the chance to win a free copy of The Key to Circus-Mom Highway with every newsletter sent out.)

I’m also at work on my fourth women’s coloring book. I’ve created three others: The Color of Joy, Dancing with Life, and Wonderland. They include mostly drawings, but there is also inspirational (or sometimes humorous) writing that goes with some of the pictures. Those are available on my other website.

Can you tell us about what you have planned for the future? 

In terms of writing, I’m working on that new novel I just talked about. I’m also in the middle of writing a screenplay–a crime drama set in 1920. I’ve finished a detailed outline of it, so I do know how this one ends. And I have bits and pieces of dialogue jotted down on the index cards for each scene. Now I have to go back and start writing the full scenes.

In terms of the rest of my life, I’ll continue making my mixed media art and getting back to my photography. I sold my L.A. apartment and had a cross-country move during the last couple of months leading up to the book launch. That timing was a little stressful, to put it mildly… Now that the book is out, I can finish unpacking and settle in here. And then get back to work on my creative projects.

I’m also in the process of making my walk-in bedroom closet a home recording studio (in addition to housing all my clothes). I had so much fun recording the audiobook for The Key to Circus-Mom Highway (it brought the old acting chops back into play) that I decided to make myself available to do other audiobooks. I don’t really think too much about the specifics of where I want things to go. I just want to wake up in the morning and be able to work on creative projects that inspire me and see where those take me. 

Since making my comedic rap music video message to my rapper son, Fine, I’ll Write My Own Damn Song, so many people have asked if I’m ever going to make another one. I do plan on making another comedic “old lady” rap music video at some point, but it probably won’t be this year. Maybe that will happen in 2024.

I also might be going to Portugal this Spring with my mom and a couple of her friends.

How long have you been writing? 

I started writing seriously at the end of 2011. It was a TV pilot for a show idea that I had in 1997 and didn’t pursue at the time. I told a friend about it in 2011, and we wrote the pilot together. It’s an hour-long, large-cast dramedy called Harlem Blues. In 2012 I revised it and wrote some new scenes for it on my own.

Then, starting in early 2013, I wrote a pilot and several other episodes of a half-hour sitcom called Panty Soldiers with my son’s stepmom. She had been writing a one-woman play based on her experience in a job at a pink and sparkly bra store that shall not be named. And she asked if I wanted to turn it into a TV series with her. So we started with the play as the jumping-off point and then expanded it from there. We came up with a different title, revised some characters, added others, and expanded the role of our “shared” family in it, then wrote a 5-season outline. It’s very funny. Like Modern Family meets Freak and Geeks. Half set at work, half set at home. I still have hope that we’ll sell it to a network or streaming network. The production company I work with, Atomic Focus Entertainment, has optioned it and is shopping around the pitch deck we created for it. They’ve also optioned a Christmas movie for TV that I wrote that incorporates my family’s tradition of making beautiful hand-decorated Christmas balls–a tradition started by my late grandmother.

It wasn’t until 2016 that I started writing novels. I really love the freedom that comes with writing a novel! You can do anything you want! And it doesn’t have to be 90-120 minutes like a screenplay, or time out to 22 or 44 minutes of content with room for commercial breaks like TV scripts. After writing The Key to Circus-Mom Highway I could see myself writing novels the predominant genre I work in.

Anything more you would like to say to your readers and fans?

Thank you so much for stopping by today to read this interview! I hope you’ll pick up a copy of my novel. It was meant to be a fast, fun read that will have you laughing throughout, with some serious themes woven in. There’s plenty of humor because we human beings, and life in general, are absurd! 

I know you have so many books to choose from, but this one has been getting great advance reviews. “In this rollicking family dramedy, debut author Rice sends three lovable siblings on a zany yet touching road trip…Fans of family drama, road trips, and non-stop laughs will love this cross-country adventure.”BookLife/Publisher’s Weekly, A ”feverish, entertaining novel.”–Foreword Clarion, “This breezy, charming tale incisively shows a family's bittersweet facets.”Kirkus Reviews, “Allyson Rice creates a rollicking good read that is filled with humor, wry life observations, and odd family interrelationships…which excels in the unexpected.”–Midwest Book Review, and “5 stars… Must Read. The Key to Circus-Mom Highway was an extraordinary story, exciting and enjoyable, from cover to cover.”–Reedsy Discovery.

A Note to BOOK CLUB MEMBERS: I am offering to do an Author Q&A over Zoom with any book clubs that choose The Key to Circus-Mom Highway as one of their selections. I have a “Suggested Book Club Topics” sheet I can send along if you're interested.

Now please go sign up for my Newsletter (scroll to the bottom of the landing page)! I’m going to be choosing the “funny supporting character” winner soon from the list of existing subscribers! And thank you again for stopping by and taking the time to read this. XO Allyson

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

Social Media Links:




Buy Links:

Amazon book Link

Barnes & Noble book link

KOBO book link 

Target book link 

Goodreads book link:


Allyson Rice will be awarding a $20 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Thank you for sharing your Q&A, bio and book details, I have enjoyed reading about you and your work and I am looking forward to reading The Key to Circus-Mom Highway. As a mother of ten, grandmother of nineteen and counting and a brand new great-grandmother I have always considered myself a circus mom, lol.

    1. Congratulations on newly being a great-grandmother! Wow, 10 kids and 19 grandkids. That's pretty amazing. :)

  2. A "comically surreal trip" sounds like a lot of fun to read.

    1. Thanks, Mary. That was my goal when writing it! I hope you'll get a chance to read it at some point. :)

  3. The book sounds like a great read.

    1. Thanks, Sherry! If you get a chance to read it, drop me a line through my website and let me know your thoughts! :)

  4. I love the cover and would love to read in print and will review on a few sites peggy clayton

    1. Thanks, Peggy! I hope you get a chance to read it at some point. :)

  5. Thank you so much for being a Tour Stop on my GoddessFish Book Tour! Much appreciated! –Allyson

  6. Sweet book, liking the q&a.. wonderful intro.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read all of this and comment, Calvin! :)

  7. I like the idea of a family dramedy. The characters are so cool.

  8. I generally prefer historical fiction, but this one will be going on my TBR pile.

  9. This sounds like a very good read.


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