Sitting at a table in what used to be part of a practice field at Exeter High School, alumna Allison ‘Michl’ Bitz was back on her old stomping grounds to sign copies of her recently published debut novel.
Bitz quickly sold out of more than 20 copies during the special signing event during Exeter/Exeter-Milligan alumni weekend. A Lincoln resident, Bitz will be back in Exeter during Exeter Days on Saturday July 29 and will sign and sell copies of her book from 10-11 at Exeter Public Library.
Bitz started her fictionalized story of a young teenage girl headed to a college prep boarding school for music back in 2017. “Honestly, I just wanted to write something fun. . .mainly to entertain myself.”
Bitz was inspired to write, “The Unstoppable Bridget Bloom,” by Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” Her main character Bridget, like Ariel, just “feels like she doesn’t belong in her current world.”
She also found inspiration for several of her characters in the book from Elle Woods (from “Legally Blonde”) and Rachel (from the TV show “Glee”). Reading the first few sentences of her book you can see the references to others close to Bitz in real life including a shared Grandma Evelyn with Bridget and a necklace made by her own grandfather like the necklace Bridget has.
Bitz emphasized that Bridget “is not me! Things happen to her that were inspired by me. . .being a plus size teen, but she is not me.”
As she was signing books a former classmate and fellow Exeter band member came in and visited Bitz. They shared memories and Bitz explained that some of their band camp memories were also experienced by Bridget.
Bridget hails from Lynch, Neb. a small town in northern Nebraska that Bitz thought she made up (her apologies to the real town of Lynch). However, Bridget experiences the same feelings that Bitz did growing up in small town Nebraska, “I was looking through the lens of not always feeling like you fit in in a small town. I am definitely weird in this town, but not in a bad way. I value Exeter.”
Bitz talked about how she wasn’t sure how much of her perceived weirdness was just in her head as a teenager. Bitz, who has a PhD in psychology and works as a counselor in Lincoln used some of her “psychology stuff and therapy know-how” in the book and wanted to emphasize “body positivity – you can be beautiful and graceful and live a life at any size.”
Bitz mentioned both Mrs. Betty, her English teacher, and Mrs. Murphy, her music teacher as influencing her future success. “Mrs. Betty told me I was a good writer and Mrs. Murphy was all about the music.”
Bitz shared the process of how she went from a seed of an idea to a published hardback novel. Her process has evolved to where it is now, an outline that she expands on by plotting scenes using a spreadsheet. She also employs what she calls a word dump or a “word vomit” to get a flush or paragraphs down. She sometimes uses the word vomits but mainly it’s time to begin writing and re-writing.
Once the book is done it’s time for revisions. This involves both her agent and the publisher, “Basically, it’s unrecognizable from its original form,” explained Bitz.
Her original agent didn’t feel Bridget was “on brand” for Bitz and so Bridget went “in the drawer” until 2021 when a new agent sent her proposal to multiple publishers and “pretty quickly’ her book was picked up by Harper Collins and Random House (yes there were a few rejections in there but she accepted a “very good offer from Harper Collins”).
Holding that first hardback copy of Bridget gave Bitz “a sense of surrealness, like ‘okay I know I wrote this but can this be real?’”
She is currently writing a second book which is scheduled to be released in 2024 from Harper Collins. It’s called “Three Things About Emmy Crawford.”
Bitz shared that it is the story of an influential senator’s daughter who is a “kid in the spotlight, a high school senior who is good a debater and falls for her chief debate rival.”
Emmy, like Bitz, has Crohn’s disease and she has incorporated the challenges she has faced battling the disease in her upcoming novel. “I’m using it so people know about Crohn’s. I’m not ashamed about having Crohn’s I don’t want it to limit my life. I ignored it but got really sick. So does Emmy.”
She has had several virtual events to launch the book but her publisher sponsored one in New York City at a library in the Bronx and her husband, James and children, Evie and Jonah, attended along with her parents, Alan and Shari Michl, and brother Nate and his wife, Abby.
In addition to signing books at Exeter Days, Bitz will also be greeting fans and signing copies of her book in Seward at Chapters on Monday, July 3 from 1 – 2 p.m.