Alyson Richman enters Starbucks breathless, auburn hair pulled back, and eases her long, lean frame into a cushioned chair. A native Long Islander, Richman is the author of 2012’s Long Island Reads novel, The Lost Wife, which tells the story of a medical student and an artist whose courtship in pre-WWII Prague is interrupted by the Holocaust.
Richman is also a mother, and like many of us, engages in the daily “juggling act” of coordinating her children’s schooling, activities, and play dates with family meals and outings. Unlike many of us, however, she recently published her fourth novel — a best-seller.
Alyson Richman lives in Huntington with her husband and two children, and says she mapped out a “five year plan” when she was in her mid-twenties to “get married, have kids, and write books” – not necessarily in that order! “I’m happy two books came before my first child,” she says matter-of-factly, explaining that publishing established her with an agent, a readership, and a sense of purpose. Frequently asked at readings and book club appearances how becoming a mother changed her writing, Richman “imagines it comes from people [mostly women], wondering how she does it.” She shrugs. “It certainly makes it more difficult,” she admits.
So how does she do it? Richman says that she puts herself “in the place where I’m not mom,” doing her best work when her children are in school – mostly between the hours of 9 am and 2 pm. She works in a small room in her house on a computer without internet access. She knows she needs to “surrender to the process,” and doesn’t begin working on a novel until she’s decided how it will begin and end.
Still, she believes being a mother has made her a better writer. If writing is informed by experiences, we agree over coffee, then certainly the experience of being a wife and mother informs — arguably strengthens — the writer’s craft. Perhaps that is what makes The Lost Wife so heartbreakingly authentic. Its characters face unimaginable suffering and horror at the hands of the Nazis – something Richman was not alive to witness — but they also experience first love, marriage, pregnancy – which she has. They are sorting out family life before and after the Holocaust as sons and daughters, as spouses and parents.
Richman’s own children are now old enough to be “really proud and excited” about her career and the book’s success. They’re even providing editorial advice: her daughter’s suggestion for mom’s next novel? “The Found Wife.”
Long Island Reads is sponsored by the Nassau Library System and the Public Libraries of Suffolk County. This spring, in the initiative’s tenth year, readers in Nassau and Suffolk will come together to discuss The Lost Wife and enjoy related events in their public libraries.