Meet Alyson Richman, Author of so many books. Thank you so much Alyson for your time and wonderful insight into many things.Lindas Book Obsession Interviews Alyson Richman, Author of “The Secrets of Clouds”.
What was your motivation in becoming an author and writer? What did you do before you were an author?
I was an art-history major in college and during my senior year I began contemplating what career options I had. I remember sitting under a tree and thinking to myself: “if I could do anything the world, I’d love to write novels about the creative-lives of artists. I had been intrigued by the idea that a lot of art historians had examined how French artists were influenced by Japanese at the turn-of-the-century, but no one had looked at how the Japanese artists were influenced by French. I decided to apply for a grant to research three Japanese artists who left Japan in the 1890’s to study in Paris and began imagining the seeds of what became my first novel, “The Mask Carver’s Son,” which I published in my mid-twenties. I’ve been writing ever since.
- What was your motivation in writing “The Secrets of Clouds”?
The Secret of Clouds was initially inspired by a story a dear friend and teacher shared with me, about how every year she assigns her third-grade class to write a letter to their eighteen-year-old selves, and she holds onto those letters until the week they graduate high school—a decade later. One year, she tutored a child who was too sick to attend school, but she still gave him the same writing assignment as the rest of her class, keeping his letter with those from her other students. When it was eventually time for him to graduate, emotional and poignant memories of those home-tutoring sessions returned to her, and she realized just how deeply this one particular student had transformed her. I was immediately struck by this profound and life-changing connection between a teacher and their students, which can transcend time and distance, and I wanted to explore that more deeply.
- What motivated you to include the Ukrainian thread in your story?
Because all of my previous novels have so extensively woven in a historical theme, I again wanted to create a backstory of a part of history that I felt needed to be explored more in contemporary literature. When my son was an infant, his first babysitter was a nurse from Ukraine. She shared with me her stories of the accident at the nearby Chernobyl nuclear plant in 1986. I’ll never forget her describing how, for three days, no one in the area knew about the accident, so they were all outside sunning themselves in the unseasonably hot weather and bathing in the now unusually warm waters of the local river. Babies were soon born with rare cancers and heart defects akin to what my character Yuri has. Countless health problems related to the radiation leak still plague the Ukrainian population. I wanted to illuminate this trauma in my novel. Weaving together the story of the letters of the Long Island school children and the history of Chernobyl was the perfect way to explore the themes that were important to me.
Do you usually visit the countries that you write about?
I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Japan, France, Italy and the Czech Republic for research for my novels. I didn’t travel to Ukraine for “The Secret of Clouds” because I was lucky enough to be able to interview many Ukrainian immigrants who had vivid memories of those first few days after the Chernobyl accident happened. Since the new book takes place on Long Island where I grew up, it wasn’t essential for me to travel for that part of the book. I lived it.
- I feel that “The Secrets of Clouds” was a tribute to teachers. (Thank you for that!!) What are some of the qualities that you feel that a special teacher should provide?
When I think back to my favorite teachers, they were the ones who not only were patient and compassionate, but ones who also had a creative spark. Getting students to connect with material isn’t always easy, but I drew from my own experience with my children when creating my main character. A teacher who was passionate, dedicated, compassionate and curious, One of the things I wanted to show in the book was just how much Maggie learns from Yuri. Their relationship is symbiotic. They learn from each other and their relationship transforms over time.
- How do you incorporate your love for music, art, literature, and dance in your novels? (I especially love that you do)
Thank you for mentioning that, Linda. I really want that to be my signature in all of my novels. That’s why I made sure to have Yuri’s mother be a ballet dancer in “The Secret of Clouds” and Maggie’s father an aspiring luthier, who builds violins in his basement. I love showcasing the different forms of artistic expression in all of my books!
- How does your family contribute to your career as an amazing author? My parents each influenced my writing in their own unique ways.
My father was an electrical engineer and he always taught me to truly understand something you needed to learn how to take apart all of the intricate pieces and understand how it works as a whole. Writing historical fiction has so many small pieces that need to be woven together and I think my father’s intellectual curiosity and desire to understand how things worked, motivated me to want to weave historical detail in my novels. My mother was an abstract painter and she taught me to see the world though what I describe as an “artistic lens.” With all of my novels, I try to make my chapters seem like “mini-paintings” to the reader. I strive to make my books as sensory-rich as possible. I also want them to be full of color and texture, as well as light and shadow.
- What are your goals for your readers to take away after reading your novels?
I love to learn something new in every book I write and it makes me so happy to share that new knowledge with my readers. I hope my readers find they always learn something new when they read one of my books.
- What are your hobbies, or things that you like to do in your downtime?
I love to cook and to go to museums with my daughter, just like my mother did with me. I used to do ballet before I sat down to wrote each day, but lately I’ve been doing barre class instead. I do find I get my best ideas when I manage to pull myself away from my desk!
- What is some advice you can give a new writer?
I think determination is really important. You have to be willing to write every day even when some days you don’t feel like it. There are some afternoons I look at my word count and realize I’ve deleted more than I’ve actually written that afternoon, but it’s all helping to make the book better. So it’s movement in the right direction!
- Can you tell us anything about your next writing project?
I am currently working on my novel “The Rivers of Grace.” It centers around an Irish immigrant, a Vietnamese refugee child and a Vietnam veteran and how all three lives collide during the early 1980’s and hot their unexpected friendship helps heal the previous traumas in each of their lives.
- If your book “The Secrets of Clouds” were adapted to the screen, what actors could you envision for the main characters.
I think Emma Stone or Jennifer Lawrence would make a great Maggie Topper. For Yuri, the actor Justin Trembley, who was in Room and Wonder would be a perfect Yuri.
- How would you like the readers to connect with you? I’d love for readers to follow me on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/thelostwife/?ref=bookmarks
Or Instagram at : @alysonrichman
Here are other wonderful books from Alyson Richman: