Monday, October 21, 2013

Q&A with author Alison Krupnick

Alison Krupnick is the author of Ruminations from the Minivan: Musings from a World Grown Large, Then Small. A former Foreign Service officer, she lives in Seattle.

Q: Why did you decide to write Ruminations from the Minivan? 

A: I fell into writing after 9/11. While on a hike at Mt. Rainier, shortly after the tragedy, I was pondering my reaction and how I would one day make sense of it for my daughters.  This became the basis of an essay I wrote.  As time passed and more senseless tragedies occurred—the death of a friend, the seriousness illness of a four-year-old boy—I used writing to process my feelings. 

Later, I decided to tackle the ambivalence I felt about motherhood and career and my frustrations about not being able to travel. I intended these stories to be a legacy for my daughters, so they wouldn't have to wonder about my motivations and about my life before them.

I was lucky (and surprised) to publish some of these stories and eventually decided to compile them into a book-length manuscript.  I had more surprising good luck (a few awards, some agent interest), but for years I struggled to create a story arc.  

Then, while on a run, shortly after my mother died, I hit upon the structure I would use to create the book. Clearly I should exercise more often, as it seems to lead the way towards unlocking creativity.

Q: You write that "my minivan is the one place where all of my disparate selves come together." Why do you think that is? 

A: During those early years mothering young children, the minivan was literally and figuratively my getaway car. When the kids were little, I had a babysitter on Tuesday afternoons and I crammed every bit of "me" time into those precious hours:  yoga class, a trip to the library, a solo dinner of Thai noodles, writing class.  

On the way home in the minivan, knowing that my hours of freedom would have to sustain me till the following Tuesday, I jotted down story ideas and read snatches of my library books, trying to squeeze in every bit of intellectual stimulation before returning to the family fray.

I still have the minivan, but ironically, it's become more of a prison, because I am always driving kids somewhere or another. Now I crave the quiet contemplative space of home, when everyone else is away.

Q: Your subtitle is "Musings from a World Grown Large, Then Small." How difficult a choice was it to leave the foreign service? 

A: I would have said it was the most difficult choice I've ever made, but I was lucky enough to have a "north star." I experienced the proverbial feeling of being struck by lightning when I met and got to know my husband, and this gave me a comforting certainty in my decision.

Q: What was your family's reaction to the book?

A: I found the courage to publish the book because my husband, who can be a tough critic, encouraged me to do so. Even if it's not a commercial success, I accomplished exactly what I'd hoped for my daughters. They love the stories and now have a piece of family history to carry them through their lives.

My only regret is that my mother did not live long enough to be able to hold the finished book in her hands. She would have been so proud.

Q: Are you working on another book? 

A: I'm not currently working on another book. I'm at a stage in my life where I'm trying to contribute to the greater good. I currently work as an education reporter and believe that the current debate around education is an important civil rights issue of our time.

I also write a blog called Slice of Mid-Life, in which I explore the humorous and poignant aspects of this unique life phase (with recipes, of course).

I'd like to write another book. Maybe the path to doing so will be revealed to me during another vigorous exercise session.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I can't wait to get rid of my minivan and graduate to a cooler car. My eldest daughter is almost driving age.  As you can imagine, she's less than thrilled over the prospect of being a minivan-driving teen.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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