A Buried Family Secret is Revealed in Little Pieces of Me by Alison Hammer – with Author Q & A

Little Pieces of Me

My Review:

An engaging and fast read, Little Pieces of Me is perfect for a weekend away!

Paige had a special connection with her beloved father, Mark, and with his recent death, she was missing their closeness. Her relationship with her mother, Betsy, was tenuous yet she returns home to be with her and the rest of the family to commemorate her father’s passing. While she is there she receives an email from a genetic testing site saying she has a newly discovered parent-child match. A man is alive, out in the word, and genetically appears to be her father. This emotionally overwhelming and unexpected news puts into question Paige’s entire life, her identity and feelings of belonging.

With alternating chapters that go from current times back to the early 1970s University of Kansas, where Paige’s mother and father attended college, we follow the ups and downs of Betsy and Mark’s young romance that lead to Paige’s entry into this world. Long buried secrets are uncovered as we dig into the past, shedding light on Paige’s parents and the love they had for each other and for her. Does knowing how we got here and our genetic makeup weigh in on who we really are? How important is the truth proven by science when it comes to our identity?

A current hot topic, based on the technology of today and brought to the forefront for many readers by Dani Shapiro with her nonfiction book, Inheritance, DNA testing can provide results that change who you think you are in a drastic manner – the impact can be as joyous as it is devastating. In Little Pieces of Me, we see how family connections can grow stronger with love, the knowledge of science and the willingness to be understanding. I highly recommend this book!

Author Q & A

Q: I love genetics and taking notice of inherited traits and features…I recall l when I was younger looking in the mirror side by side with my dad to examine how we may be similar.  Do you think all families have these moments and how was it that paternity doubts never came up for Paige? 

A: I think most people look to their parents to help them feel grounded in the world and understand who they are. While Paige didn’t have any specific doubts about her dad there was one moment in the book when we see a memory where the subject comes up. 

In the scene, she’s working on a school project to create a family tree when she notices that none of the people in her family photos look like her. It ends up leading to a special moment between Paige and her dad where we see how he always made her feel special and like she belonged to him. It’s a sweet memory! 

Q: Unexpected news like what Paige discovered is shocking – how did you get the idea for this novel?

A: The story of Little Pieces of Me was actually inspired by something that happened to a friend of mine. She had a similar experience through Ancestry.com, where she got a parent-child match with a man who wasn’t her father. The story and the characters are fictional—but it was definitely sparked by her experience. 

Q: I enjoyed Paige’s friendships with Maks and Margaux.  What influenced your decision to have her friends be so different from her? (backgrounds and ethnicity)

A: Paige’s friends Maks and Margaux were inspired by two real people who had been involved with supporting my friend through her DNA journey. While the characters had different circumstances in their lives, their experiences all had something in common. 

All three characters struggled with their identity at some point, feeling like they didn’t belong: Paige felt like she never fit in with her family, Maks came out in the very conservative Ukraine, and Margaux had the experience of being one of the few Black families a very white neighborhood. While their stories and experiences were different, they each could relate to that struggle and yearning to belong.

Q: Have you personally done a DNA test and did you learn anything unusual?

A: I did do a DNA test as part of my research. And I roped my poor family into it under the guise of a holiday gift! There were no real surprises, everyone who was supposed to be on my family tree was there, and it showed that I am VERY Jewish. My results were 99.5% Ashkenazi Jewish, and .05% Eastern European. I’d actually hoped the results would get a little more detailed on the specific countries. 

Q: Did you model Andy Abrams after someone you know?

A: Andy Abrams was one of the few characters who wasn’t modeled after anyone I know. While Paige, Maks and Margaux were inspired by real-life people, the characters in the past timeline were all figments of my imagination. It made them a lot easier to write—with the present-day characters I was very careful not to let the fictional versions get too close to their real-life inspiration. I wanted to make sure there was no misunderstanding that the story and the characters were all fiction!

Q: Paige’s mother kept a huge secret that impacted her relationship with her daughter. When writing, did you explore any other options for revealing the truth?

A: From the beginning, I had planned for the truth about Paige’s paternity to be revealed through the DNA test, but I didn’t have a clear picture of how the conflict would be resolved between Paige and her mother. They have a few false starts throughout the book, but the scene where they finally talk and have a real conversation at the end is one of my favorites. It was challenging to write, but sometimes the best scenes are the hardest to get onto paper! 

Q: Do you think Mark ever questioned Paige’s paternity?

A: That’s an interesting question, and one I don’t honestly know the answer to. But knowing Mark and the kind of person he was, I don’t think the way he felt toward Paige would have changed even if he suspected she wasn’t his. Paige would still be his little girl! 

Q: Do you think Betsy settled by marrying Mark and what advice would you give young, pregnant Betsy if she were your daughter?

A: I don’t think Betsy settled by marrying Mark. I think she loved him, and I think their love evolved and grew deeper over time. Even before they broke up, I think Betsy was influenced by her best friend Sissy who had a very different approach to love and relationships. 

Sissy thought her best friend was too young to “settle,” that Betsy was missing out on playing the field and having fun. But that was just in Sissy’s opinion. If Betsy had stayed true to herself, I think she may have realized that she was looking for something different than her best friend was. 

As for what advice I would give a young Betsy? That’s so tough. I would tell her that the truth will always find a way of coming out, and that she should be honest with herself and with the other people involved. Easier said than done! 

Q: When Paige asks her mom what kind of love she is looking for, her mom says “At this point in my life, I just want someone who’s good company, who treats me well and makes me laugh.”  It seems like that is what she had with Mark and that is what Paige has with Jeff.  Are you suggesting this combination is one that makes for a strong marriage?  

A: Another great question and insight! I think there’s definitely some truth to that. At this stage in her life, I think Elizabeth is just looking for companionship—but I do believe the relationship she had with Mark is similar to what Paige and Jeff have. 

Q: During revisions, did you take anything out of the book you wish was still in?

A: The only scene that comes to mind is one where Paige and Sissy go shopping in Chicago. It was a short scene, but didn’t move the story forward so I ended up taking it out, and moving my favorite part of the scene (Paige wondering if this different version of herself would have had different taste in clothing) to another chapter! 

Q: Did you write an outline before digging in and how did you organize the Then and Now chapters?

A: I do create an outline before I start writing—I usually go chapter by chapter, but leave some room for the characters to influence the story. Little Pieces of Me was a unique experience because when I first wrote the book, it was told in three parts. Part One was present day as Paige made the DNA discovery, Part Two was back in 1974 when her mom, dad and DNA dad were students at the University of Kansas, and Part Three was back in present day as she was coming to terms with the news and what it meant for her identity.

After my agent read the third draft of the book, she pointed out that Part Two had a driving energy, because you know that the two characters in question will have sex at some point, and you keep reading to find out the details. So, it was her idea to take the book apart and put it back together again with interwoven timelines. 

I printed out a chapter-by-chapter outline with the ‘now’ scenes in blue and the ‘then’ scenes in red. I cut each chapter out and literally laid the story out on my kitchen counter. It was amazing how well it flowed together—I only had to write four or five new scenes to add to the “then” sections. 

Q: Did you always know what the ending would be or did your story evolve as you went along?

A: When I wrote my outline, the story ended with what ended up being the second-to-last chapter. But when I was walking my kitchen counter and looking at the way the story had come together with the blended timelines, I had the idea for the last scene. I know some readers don’t love it—but it gave me goosebumps when I thought of it, so I knew I had to write it! 

Q: How did the title come about? I always enjoy when I discover the words of the title in the middle of the book😍 

A: Little Pieces of Me wasn’t actually the original title—but I love it, and I had fun working it into a scene (I get a kick out of finding the title in the text, too!) Like Paige and her dad, I have a love of puns—and the original title for the book was Blank Paige (which is still mentioned in the story!) 

My editor wanted to find something that was a little more telegraphic to what the book was about, and that would be harder to misspell (the other title had the Page vs Paige problem). 

An early favorite on the new list was Pieces of Me, but there was a book already out with a similar title, so we added ‘Little’ to it. I love how well it relates to the theme of the story—and the idea that our DNA is just one of the many little pieces that make us all who we are.  

Q: How long did it take you to write and how did the pandemic effect your launch?

A: The first book I ever wrote took me 15 years to finish writing. (That one is currently hiding away in a digital drawer, hopefully I’ll pull it back out one day!) But I wrote the first draft of Little Pieces of Me in about two months thanks to the magic of NaNoWriMo. 

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it’s an international program where writers around the world are challenged to write 50,000 words in the month of November. I love the intensity of the deadline and the community spirit of it, and have participated in the event every year since 2016. 

Q: If Little Pieces of Me were to become a movie, who would you want in the cast?

A: I am SO bad at this question. Someone suggested Amy Adams for Paige, and I really like that idea. I can also see the present day Andy Abrams being played by Andy Cohen (who actually graduated from the same high school as I did in St. Louis!). So that would be really fun! 

Q: What books do you recommend for summer reading along side Little Pieces of Me?

A: So many good books! If you want to read more DNA inspired stories, Jessica Strawser’s “A Million Reason’s Why” and Christina Lauren’s “The Soulmate Equation” are both amazing. A few other favorites are “People We Meet on Vacation” by Emily Henry, “The Invisible Husband of Frick Island” by Colleen Oakley and “The Tiger Mom’s Tale” by Lyn Liao Butler! But I have so many more I could share! 

Q: How can we keep up with you and all you are doing?

A: You can find me on all social media platforms under the handle @ThisHammer, but I’m the most active on Instagram. And my website is www.alisonhammer.com

This was a lot of fun, thank for such great and thoughtful questions! 

Alison Hammer

About Alison Hammer:

Alison Hammer has been spinning words to tell stories since she learned how to talk. A graduate of the University of Florida and the Creative Circus in Atlanta, she lived in 9 cities before settling down in Chicago. During the day, Alison is a VP Creative Director at FCB Chicago, but on nights and weekends you can find her writing upmarket women’s fiction. Alison is represented by Joanna MacKenzie of Nelson Literary Agency. Her debut novel, “You and Me and Us” and her new novel, Little Pieces of Me are both out now from William Morrow (HarperCollins).

For more DNA stories check out Book Nation by Jen’s review of Inheritance by Dani Shapiro and The Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan

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