Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Q&A with Lynn Alsup




Lynn Alsup is the author of the new memoir Tinderbox: One Family's Storoy of Adoption, Neurodiversity, and Fierce Love. Also a social worker, spiritual director, and meditation teacher, she lives in Midland, Texas.


Q: What inspired you to write Tinderbox, and how was the book’s title chosen?


A: For many years, our three daughters—stormy with energy and needs—filled up all the physical and emotional space in our house. Our old Mexican dining table doubled as my desk back then. I sat there one day, looking out the window while on a call with some desperate parents.


Their teenage daughter had run away again. They’d tried everything; nothing helped. A mutual friend told them we were escaping that particular devastation, so they called. Parents of kids with challenging behaviors often sound like they’re running out of oxygen. Voices small, constricted.


As our conversation continued, this mom’s tone deepened as if her lungs could fill with air. I’d told them about the FASCETS Neurobehavioral (NB) Model that was transforming our life. But they thanked me for telling my stories—specific examples of better dinnertimes and schoolwork and supports. That, they said, gave them hope. I’d been hearing that a lot.


Staring at some red poppies outside after we hung up, I knew I had to write my story. I could only tell so many people in person; I could offer hope around the world through a book. Not hope that pain and challenges will disappear but that there is a way through, we are not alone, and love is possible.


My publisher mentioned the working title, Finding Home, might be the most overdone title of all time. Ha! The imagery of fire throughout the story had struck her on first read. A member of my editorial team picked up the thread and suggested Tinderbox.


I love the multiple dimensions: spark a flame to warm and nourish or maybe burn the whole forest down. It captures the two sides of our family life well. Also, the NB model focuses on a neurodivergent person’s strengths and sparks life. I’m a sucker for metaphor, so the title stuck.


Q: The author Diane V. Malbin said of the book, “What emerges from the experience of reading Tinderbox is the vital importance of community and the power of understanding as the foundation for acceptance and uncluttered love.” What do you think of that description?


A: I felt deeply grateful and validated reading Diane’s response to Tinderbox. She got it. I had accomplished my goal of translating her vital work (the NB Model) into story. “Showing how theory may be translated into life,” she said.


I especially appreciate her comments around the importance of community and the phrase “uncluttered love.” During the time the book chronicles—20 years of raising our kids—I learned I wasn’t enough on my own. People taught me, supported me, and filled in holes I couldn’t. It turns out, not having to be the expert or have all the answers offers lots of freedom.

And what a powerful phrase: “uncluttered love.” I spent those years literally uncluttering our home. That instinct took over as the chaos in our family spun out of control. I needed peace in our physical space.


Along the way, we also purged many things from our invisible environment—the way things “should” be, what success means for our kids and as a family. Our unexamined values and expectations make it hard to breathe, learn, and grow, especially with neurodiversity present. Diane taught me that.


Q: What do your family members think of the book?


A: Sometimes it feels a bit like I’m sending a naked photo out for all to see. I can’t think about that too much! Tinderbox is a raw account, including details of our daughter Clare’s childhood. She’s 23 now. Still, she and my husband have supported the project all along (Jeff is my stellar man-behind-the-scenes).


But I felt strongly Clare needed an advocate in the process. Her therapist read the first draft and helped her think through the implications of publishing our story. Then I listened and removed some scenes. Clare’s bottom line became her desire to make things better for other kids. In fact, she’s just been accepted into a Child Life Specialist graduate program to support kids in the hospital, like she was. She’s one of my heroes.


My middle daughter is much more private, so the reader doesn’t see as much of her. The youngest says she’s never caused much trouble, so she has nothing to hide. Ha! Ultimately, Tinderbox is our love story, and we all feel proud of our family.


Q: What impact did it have on you to write it?


A: I told my writing teachers the book was trying to kill me. And that I would have liked to write a book without having to learn how in the process. I do love learning new things and working hard, though. Most of the time. When I’m not napping.  


Studying documents, even pictures sometimes, was quite harrowing, and my nervous system relived events as I invited the reader into the scenes through my senses. I lay flat on the floor after a few writing sessions to recover. Therapy and movement, tears and laughter, meditation and an incredible support network made it possible. It healed many wounds, making this story part of my past rather than alive in my body as unprocessed trauma stored there.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m mostly writing essays around topics that permeate my life and work like the gifts of neurodiversity and the power of silence. I’m also updating Diane Malbin’s Trying Differently Rather than Harder with my team at FASCETS, the organization Diane founded. The fourth edition should be out in 2024.


A couple of book-lengths projects tumble around in my mind, piping up to be written. We incarcerate Black or Brown neurodivergent people in America at a staggering rate. It is shameful and unethical as well as a huge loss for society.


I also have a particular story of reckoning with racism within myself and systemically as a White mother of Black kids. The White community must talk about our racism for things to change.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, part of our family’s story, affect 1 in 20 kids in American classrooms—more than autism—yet go mostly unrecognized. Look for information and hope at


You can join me at Interabang Books in Dallas, Texas, on Oct. 4, 2023, for a book event! Find others on my website at


Thanks for the great questions, Deborah. It’s been fun talking with you about Tinderbox.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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