This week, Alyson Rich­man, the author of The Lost Wife and the forth­com­ing The Gar­den of Let­ters (com­ing in Sep­tem­ber from Berkley) blogs for The Post­script on writ­ing like an artist and the impor­tance of shift­ing per­spec­tive. The Post­script series is a spe­cial peek behind the scenes” of a book. It’s a juicy lit­tle extra some­thing to add to a book clubs dis­cus­sion and a read­er’s under­stand­ing of how the book came togeth­er. 

To host” Alyson at your next book club meet­ing, request her through JBC Live Chat

As the daugh­ter of an artist, I learned at an ear­ly age not only how to mix col­ors on a palette board, but also how impor­tant it was to shift one’s per­spec­tive. My moth­er believed you couldn’t ful­ly appre­ci­ate a piece of sculp­ture unless you actu­al­ly walked around it. She was known to take my child­hood draw­ings and turn them upside down, encour­ag­ing me to see how every­thing changed when you sim­ply altered the view. 

I have often returned to these lessons when craft­ing one of my nov­els. When I’m in the midst of research­ing a book, I try to explore the sub­ject mat­ter from dif­fer­ent angles. I find it fas­ci­nat­ing to write from alter­nat­ing char­ac­ters’ per­spec­tives, so I can explore how two dif­fer­ent peo­ple might expe­ri­ence the same moment in dif­fer­ent ways. I also try to exam­ine how a char­ac­ter changes when placed in the var­i­ous dif­fer­ing roles and respon­si­bil­i­ties they have in a life­time. For exam­ple, the hero­ine, Lenka, in The Lost Wife is not just an artist. She’s also a daugh­ter, a sis­ter, a young bride, and a friend. In all of those roles, she reveals anoth­er part of her­self. In my new nov­el, The Gar­den of Let­ters, Elodie is a cel­list, a daugh­ter, then a secret mes­sen­ger for the Ital­ian resis­tance dur­ing WWII, and ulti­mate­ly a fugi­tive seek­ing shel­ter. As an author, I try to turn each char­ac­ter around — to encour­age my read­ers to see them from all sides — so they are not one dimen­sion­al, but rather spher­i­cal, con­tin­u­al­ly reveal­ing anoth­er aspect of them­selves as the nov­el unfolds.

By writ­ing through the lens of an artist, light and shad­ow also have a tremen­dous inter­play in my work. I con­stant­ly chal­lenge myself to pierce eras of great his­tor­i­cal dark­ness with per­son­al episodes of beau­ty and light. In The Gar­den of Let­ters, I explore not only the tur­moil the Ital­ian nation expe­ri­enced dur­ing times of great polit­i­cal and social upheaval, but also how my char­ac­ters use their art to com­mu­ni­cate with each oth­er, both to trans­mit codes for the Resis­tance as well as to chan­nel their emotions.

At the end of the day, the process of writ­ing is sim­i­lar to the way an artist cre­ates a paint­ing or a com­pos­er invents a score. I search to under­stand the world around me, to carve some­thing beau­ti­ful out of the dark­ness. And many of the tools I use are ones I learned when I was in the com­pa­ny of my moth­er, clutch­ing a tiny paint­brush in my young hand. In the end, it was she who told me to open my eyes and take in the entire world around me — to nev­er see it only from one direc­tion, but always from sev­er­al shift­ing points of view.


Relat­ed Con­tent: Alle­gra Good­man’s post on artists and writ­ers 

Alyson Rich­man is the inter­na­tion­al best­selling author of The Mask Carver’s Son, The Rhythm of Mem­o­ry, The Last Van Gogh, The Lost Wife, and The Gar­den of Let­ters. Her nov­els have been pub­lished in eigh­teen lan­guages and have been best­sellers in sev­er­al coun­tries. The Lost Wife is cur­rent­ly in devel­op­ment to be a major motion film.