You’ve heard of her LGBTQIA+ meets The Bachelor romance novel, now let learn more about this outstanding author.
Welcome to Date with a Debut Author! A Bookstr series where we meet up with a new author to get to know them, their writing process, and their book.
This week we got to meet with the amazing Alison Cochrun to learn more about her and her charming, hilarious, and witty debut novel, The Charm Offensive.
Date with a Debut Author gets you up close and personal with the debut authors you should be looking out for each week. So, are you ready to get to know Alison better? Let’s go!
Conversation Over Coffee
Since we’re just getting to know Alison
Serena Knudson (SK): The Charm Offensive is a hilarious, queer rom-com about Charlie, an awkward yet incredibly loveable tech nerd, and Dev, the hopeless romantic producer who ends up being Charlie’s handler for the fictional reality dating show Ever After. What inspired you to write this book about these two men falling in love behind the scenes of a reality dating show?
Alison Cochrun (AC): The biggest source of inspiration is my reluctant love of reality dating shows, and in particular, my long-suffering role as a member of the Bachelor Nation. The concept for The Charm Offensive came from a random daydream I had one day at work. I was wondering what would happen if someone like me went on a show like The Bachelor. And the obvious answer was, someone like me would never go on The Bachelor. At the time, I was a closeted lesbian with untreated anxiety and depression; I certainly don’t look like someone on The Bachelor. Yet, I was fascinated by the idea of someone completely ill-suited for that world ending up on a reality dating show. From there, the character Charlie Winshaw was born. And because I was closeted at the time, I wasn’t yet comfortable with writing a love story about two women, yet I knew queerness was going to be an integral part of the story, so that’s how I ended up with these two cinnamon roll heroes.
SK: There are so many amazing scenes in this novel, I couldn’t stop falling in love with your characters. What was your favorite part of The Charm Offensive?
AC: There are honestly so many scenes in this book that have emotional or sentimental significance to me. But it’s a romance, and the first kiss in a romance is always really important, so I would say that is maybe my favorite part of the book– that scene, and all the scenes leading up to it.
SK: What has been your favorite part of being an author so far?
AC: So far, my absolute favorite part of being an author is hearing from readers. As a book fangirl myself, I always thought I would be bothering authors if I reached out to them, but I love it when a reader slides into my DMs to tell me about their experiences reading this book! It’s been especially validating and rewarding when people share how seen they felt by the mental health and asexual spectrum representation in the book.
SK: In The Charmed Offensive, the characters travel around the world from New Orleans to Munich to Cape Town to Bali. Have you ever been to any of these locations?
AC: I’ve actually been to all of them! In pre-pandemic times, I loved to travel, so one of my favorite parts of writing this book was getting to incorporate some of my favorite cities and places I’ve visited (even if it’s fairly impractical that a show would fly around the world like this!).
SK: If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go and why?
AC: I have so many places on my travel list right now, but right before the pandemic, I had a trip planned to Portugal and Spain with one of my best friends. Even though I’ve been to Spain before, I would love to be able to do that trip together because I always feel like the best part of traveling is who you do it with.
SK: What is something you are passionate about?
AC: I’m passionate about a lot of things (mostly things of the food-or-pop-culture-variety), but in The Charm Offensive, I think two of my passions come through quite clearly. One, I’m incredibly passionate about representation in the media, and in particular, LGBTQIA+ representation and mental health representation. Second, I’m embarrassingly passionate about reality dating shows.
Let’s Get Intimate
Don’t you want to know more about this amazing author?
SK: You created a wonderful cast of characters with Charlie, Dev, Parisa, Jules, Angie, and Daphne just to list some of my favorites. I know a lot of authors get character inspiration from people in their own lives, so were there certain people who inspired characters in The Charm Offensive?
AC: This might sound narcissistic, but most of my characters are just me–just different facets of my own personality parceled out into different characters, especially Charlie and Daphne. Jules and Parisa are loving and loyal, like my own best friends Meredith and Michelle, and Jules is also loosely inspired by every apathetic elder Gen-Z I have the privilege of teaching in my high school English classes. But otherwise, they’re mostly all clones of their creator.
SK: In the novel, mental health is discussed quite a bit as it ends up being a very important part of the story. How much research had to go into The Charm Offensive to represent the mental illnesses in a realistic light?
AC: With the representation of mental health and mental illness, I mostly wrote from my own experiences, and then did research after writing the first few drafts to make sure I wasn’t misrepresenting or providing harmful information due to my own implicit biases. It’s tricky to write about mental health because what my depression looks like might not be quite the same as what a reader’s experience with depression looks like. But ultimately, I knew I couldn’t write a story that represents every single person’s experience. All I could do was write about my own experiences and hope some people feel seen by reading it.
SK: What advice would you give other authors who are trying to include mental health into their stories?
AC: My advice would be to do it, especially if struggles with mental health are true to your own life experiences! It is terrifying to open up and be that vulnerable (at least, it was for me), but I think the reward outweighs that risk. I’ve had multiple people reach out to me and say that reading The Charm Offensive prompted them to go back to therapy, and I feel like that is the best thing I could hope for in writing a book: putting something to the world that could do some good for some people.
SK: The Charm Offensive is a fairly light-hearted and funny romance novel, what was the hardest scene for you to write?
AC: There were so many scenes that gave me a tough time for various reasons, but definitely the hardest scene was the first scene. I rewrote the first chapter at least twenty times. I always struggle with beginnings and the balance between exposition and action. It’s your one chance to hook readers into the story, and that’s stressful!
SK: What came first for you, the plot or the characters?
AC: In the case of this book, the plot came first, or at least the concept did, since it started as simply wanting to write about a queer character on a heteronormative dating show. Generally, I think I like starting with world-building first because the circumstances tell me a lot about the characters who might inhabit that world.
SK: How has publishing a book changed the way your view yourself?
AC: For a long time, I didn’t consider myself a “real writer,” whatever that means. I didn’t think I was allowed to consider myself a writer because I’d never written anything professionally (aside from academic articles), and getting published helped me realize that entire way of thinking was ridiculous.
SK: Is there a character you wish you were more like?
AC: Parisa, definitely! She’s confident, she doesn’t take nonsense from anyone, and she’s fearlessly true to herself. I would love to be that comfortable in my own skin.
SK: What perspectives or beliefs have you challenged with The Charm Offensive?
AC: In some ways, I think I decided to write this book to challenge my own internal belief that I’m not worthy of love. I wrote about two characters who represent parts of myself that I’ve mistakenly thought make me less lovable, and I wrote Charlie and Dev a happily ever after to try to remind myself that we are all worthy of love, in whatever form we want it.
SK: I know you are publishing another book that is supposed to be released in 2022, is there anything you can tell me about it?
AC: Yes! It’s a sapphic Christmas romantic comedy set in Portland, Oregon with a twist on the fake-dating trope. It’s about a disaster bisexual in the midst of a quarter-life crisis who falls in love with a hot butch baker after agreeing to a fake engagement with her brother. There’s a dog named Paul Hollywood, boozy grandmas, and so much angst!
Fun and Games
Now that we’re well-acquainted with Alison, here are some fun questions and what she had to say about them.
SK: If you could write a spin-off about one side character, who would you pick?
AC: Well, immediately after writing Charm, I wrote two companion novels in the same universe–one about Daphne and one about Jules– so I would say either of them. But most people who’ve read the book ask for more Parisa, so I would love to write her story.
SK: If The Charm Offensive was chosen for an adaptation, who would act as your characters?
AC: Oh no, I am so bad at answering this question! Even though I love watching television, I never picture real-life actors in my head when I write my characters. I love Rahul Kohli, and even though he’s a bit too old, I would love for him to play Dev. A reader once told me they sort of pictured Bradley James as Charlie, and I can see it. Though honestly, I would probably prefer two unknown actors. The only character I actively picture as a celebrity is Skylar Jones, Ever After’s lead director. I picture her as Karen Robinson, who plays Ronnie on Schitt’s Creek.
SK: Charlie is always conscious about whether people are laughing at him or with him. Please allow us to laugh with you and tell us a time when someone tricked you into believing or doing something ridiculous.
AC: I am a shockingly naive person, so it’s pretty easy to trick me into believing and doing ridiculous things. This, paired with the fact that I’ve taught high school for eleven years, has led to some rather humiliating experiences involving teenagers. I believe there is a video from 2011 of me rapping “Ice, Ice Baby” somewhere on the internet, and a video of me dabbing in 2017. I am not proud.
SK: If we were in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, who are three people you’d want on your team?
AC: I mean, truly no one would want me on their team during the zombie apocalypse, because I have an anxiety disorder and literally zero real-world skills, so I think I would mostly just cry? But I would choose Bear Grylls to keep me alive, Michelle Buteau to keep me laughing, and my therapist, to help with the crying thing.
SK: If you could go back in time and do something different, what would you change?
AC: Nothing! I don’t think there is anything I would do differently in my life. It hasn’t been perfect by any means, but I know I am always growing and evolving and becoming a better version of myself. And if that’s too much of a cop-out answer, then I would go back in time to my twelve-year-old self, who had a massive crush on Eliza Dushku in Bring It On, and tell her she’s gay right then and there so I wouldn’t have to wait until thirty-three to come out.
SK: If you could spend the day with any fictional character who would it be?
AC: It’s cliché, but probably Lizzie Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. She’s so iconic, and she’d be a hilarious person to hang out with. She seems like a cool person to get a beer with.
SK: What are your favorite book recommendations?
AC: I’ve read so many amazing books in 2021 already! If you’re looking for something along the vein of literary fiction, I highly recommend The Vanishing Half and Detransition, Baby. If you’re looking for romance, I just read Timothy Janovsky’s debut Never Been Kissed (out in May), and I’m currently reading Anita Kelly’s debut Love and Other Disasters (out in January). If you want to laugh and weep at the same time, I recommend The Guncle by Steven Rowley (maybe my top read of the year so far). If you want something spooky with an amazing ace rep, check out Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand. If you like contemporary YA, I love Leah Johnson’s Rise to the Sun and Mason Deaver’s The Ghosts We Keep. I also got really into gays in space this year, so I recommend Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir and The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer.
In Alison Cochrun’s The Charm Offensive, Dev has always believed in fairy tales; he’s built his whole life around them as the most successful producer in reality dating show Ever After’s history. Crafting love stories for each contestant even when his own love story is a complete disaster.
Now the show has cast the disgraced tech genius, Charlie Winshaw, to be their next prince and he is far from being the prince charming viewers of the show expect. Only agreeing to be on the show to re-establish his image in the tech world, Charlie doesn’t believe he could ever fall in love, especially on a show like Ever After. As an anxious mess with no idea how to date twenty women on television, Charlie is stiff on camera. Along with being cold, emotionless, and awkward off-set.
As his handler, Dev must try to get Charlie to loosen up with contestants while they film a worldwide tour. But as the two begin to open up to each other, Charlie realizes he has more chemistry with Dev than anyone he’s ever met. But as the star of the season, Charlie can’t just choose Dev to be his prince if Charlie wants to re-establish his tech career and not jeopardize Dev’s career in production.
Alison Cochrun is a high school English teacher living outside of Portland, Oregon. When she’s not reading and writing queer love stories, you can find her torturing teenagers with Shakespeare, crafting perfect travel itineraries, hate-watching reality dating shows, and searching for the best happy hour nachos.