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Love with a twist of art: Historical novelist will sign books in Boonsboro bookstore

February 20, 2013|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Historical novelist Alyson Richmans novels typically include a main character involved in art. Richman will be at Turn The Page Bookstore on Saturday, Feb. 23, for a book signing hosted by Nora Roberts.
Submitted photo

BOONSBORO — You can’t always judge a book by its author. But if that book is written by Alyson Richman, there’s a good chance the storyline will be woven around art.

She has told the tale of a young Japanese man who studied with the Impressionists in Paris, has explored the complexities of Vincent Van Gogh and focused on the resilience of the human spirit in a best-selling love story about a painter who survived the Holocaust.

That she uses art as a theme isn’t surprising, once you know Richman’s background. Her mother is an artist who taught her daughter early in life about the beauty of color and creativity.

“Painting and drawing were my first loves,” Richman said. “From the moment I could grasp a crayon, I was trying to either re-create the world around me or create an alternative world that I saw in my head.”

Richman said she can still remember “the time my mother taught me how to mix colors, how to arrange my palette, how to use the white of the page.”

And that creativity soon expanded to other areas.

“I began writing short stories when I was in second grade and always loved to illustrate the chapters,” Richman said. “I’m one of those people who needs to be creative. When I’m getting ready to go out, I gravitate toward clothes that are beautiful and often evoke the era in which I’m writing. When I cook, I think of it as a creative endeavor, using color and texture to lead me to create something that is both pretty and palatable. I don’t think I’ve ever made a soup where I haven’t tossed some in spinach at the end because it was missing something green.”

Writing, she said, is just another avenue for her creativity.

Readers of Richman’s historical fiction will have an opportunity to meet the author when she appears at a book signing at Turn the Page Bookstore in Boonsboro from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23.

In addition to Richman, other authors will include Nora Roberts aka J.D. Robb, Mary Burton aka Mary Ellen Taylor, Laura Florand, Robin Kaye, Robert Savitt and Judy Colbert.

Richman said she first believed that she could be a writer when her sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Swink, “pulled me aside and told me I had gift.”

“The first time a person who isn’t a parent tells you that you have a certain talent, it means so much more to you,” Richman said.

While studying at Wellesley College, Richman said she had a professor also tell her she had a gift for writing.

“I was an art history major and my professor told me I had a talent for telling the story behind the painting,” she recalled. “When I graduated, I realized that this was what I loved most — telling the story of artists and how they work. I wanted to create a career for myself where I could explore art, music and history by weaving my research into a narrative.”

Following college, Richman said she immediately began writing and had an idea for the subject of her first book.

“I had received a grant to research Japanese artists who studied with the Impressionists and had studied noh mask carving in Japan,” she said. “I wove that experience into the book and that was the beginning of my writing career. I published my first novel, ‘The Mask Carver’s Son’ when I was in my mid-20s and I’ve been writing full-time ever since.”

Richman said she derived a tremendous amount of satisfaction with the publication of that first book “because I worked so hard to make sure every sentence, every aspect of the book was as perfect as possible. With the first book, you have to get the backing of an agent, so there are many steps along the way where you need to find the right support.”

She has found that support from her agent, Sally Wofford-Girand, who she has worked with for 15 years — “as long as I’ve been married to my husband,” she said. “It’s been nice to see all of our hard work pay off now that I had my first best-seller this year with ‘The Lost Wife.’ My agent really shared the joy with me on that new milestone.”

Richman said “The Lost Wife” tells the heart-rending story of newlyweds Josef and Lenka, an artist, who are separated on the eve of Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. The novel begins with the ending. Sixty years after the war they are both widowers of other marriages and find one another at the wedding in New York of their respective grandchildren. Then the story of their past unfolds.

The book has been well-received internationally and has been translated into Czech, Italian and Portuguese, to name a few.

“I didn’t set out to write a love story when I began the research for ‘The Lost Wife,’” Richman shared. “I wanted to write a novel about how an artist survived during the Holocaust, how her spirit to create could never be taken away from her, no matter how dark her circumstances were. What happened as I was writing the story, however, was that the love between the characters — Lenka’s relationship with Josef, with her parents, with her sister and later her friends in the camp, too — couldn’t be exterminated, either. ‘The Lost Wife’ is a testament to how our need to love cannot be broken.”

Richman said she has been interviewed by the Israeli media and has heard from many Holocaust survivors, as well as their children.

“There is a tremendous amount of gratitude from the Jewish community,” she said.

“Although the novel is historical fiction,” she added, “many of the characters are true-life people who worked as artists in Terezin (a concentration camp where where art workshops were kept going for the Nazi propaganda machine). In the author’s note of the book, you learn who really worked and created art and music within the camp.”

Because she does a lot of historical research and travel, Richman said it takes her close to three years to complete each of her novels.

Working on “The Lost Wife,” for instance, she traveled to Prague to interview survivors of Terezin, some of whom were the artists who worked here. She made numerous trips to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., where she listened to oral histories in the video library. She interviewed concentration camp survivors now living in the United States. Making this book, she said, was a very emotional experience.

Richman is looking forward to the book signing at Turn the Page and noted this will be the first time she has met Nora Roberts.

“I’m terribly excited,” she admitted. “It’s extremely generous and supportive of her to create signings that profile other authors. She’s shining a little light on us, and I know I’m so grateful for it.”

Meeting her readers one-on-one is something Richman said she enjoys.

“I went on a large book tour for ‘The Lost Wife’ and it was wonderful to get so much support and feedback from my readers,” she said. “I think every writer, except Nora, of course, wonders while at the computer, ‘is anyone actually going to read all this’? It’s so much work, done completely in solitude, and it’s easy to feel like it’s done purely for art’s sake.”

She tries to write every day, Richman said, and with two young children she typically writes when they’re in school.

“This is the first year that they have the same schedule, so from the moment they get on the bus, I try and get to the computer,” she shared.

Richman is currently working on her fifth novel, “Dragonfly,” the story of a cellist in the Italian Resistance during World War II who sends coded messages through her music.

“It’s out in the fall of 2014, so I hope my readers will go back and read my other books while they wait for this one to come out,” she said.




If you go ...       

WHAT: Book signing

WHEN: Noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23

WHERE: Turn the Page Bookstore, 18 N. Main St., Boonsboro

COST: Free. Tickets will be passed out beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday for your place in line. Only one ticket per person present.

CONTACT: Go to www.ttp books.com. For more information about Alyson Richman and her books, go to www.alysonrichman.com


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