Shelf Life: Alyson Richman on Her New Book’s Next Chapter

After her February book release, author and Huntingtonian Alyson Richman finds ongoing success with her latest novel, The Secret of Clouds. “The reception for The Secret of Clouds has been especially moving for me,” Richman said. “I’ve had such a tremendous response from the teachers and educators in the communities I’ve visited.”

The Secret of Clouds opens to a couple living through the uncertainty, silence, and aftermath of Chernobyl. Subsequent chapters go on to alternate with a present-day narrative in the United States, told from the perspective of a teacher who tutors the now-immigrated Ukrainian couple’s son, Yuri. Because of his parents’ exposure to radiation, Yuri is born with a rare heart condition and is often immunocompromised, weak, and home-bound. Yuri and his tutor go on to form a sincere bond, one which Richman says works both ways. “The book highlights not just how a teacher can’t forget a very special student, but also how a student and a student’s family are transformed by having a very powerful teacher in their life.” Knowing the value of this bond firsthand, Richman describes The Secret of Clouds as her love letter to teachers.

Growing up in St. James, Richman encountered devoted, supportive, and passionate teachers who transformed her future. She recalls a time in Mrs. Goldberg’s first grade-class when she and her peers were asked to fold a piece of paper over a blob of tempera paint, then write about what they saw. “I wrote about a flying pickle,” said Richman, remembering the joy of using language to access her imagination. “Mrs. Goldberg wrote back on my paper, ‘You have a gift with words.’ She was the first person who pointed out that I had something special.”

But Mrs. Goldberg was not the last to encourage Richman and her writing. In middle school, English teacher, Mr. Swink, framed Richman’s creative future in definitive terms. “His language in saying, ‘When you’re a writer,’ instead of, ‘If you’re a writer,’ really helped nurture my belief a creative life was possible.” Richman acknowledges these encounters in building her confidence to get her where she is as an author today. “I feel teachers are often the first people to notice something in children, and to believe in them. I call teachers the quiet heroes.”

While paying homage to people in a profession she admires, Richman also wanted to honor the place she calls home. “I chose to put this story on Long Island because I wanted to make it personal,” Richman said. “I also wanted to use this opportunity to create a time capsule of my childhood memories.” While her previous novels are set entirely in other eras—and required a great deal of travel, reading, and research—Richman said much of The Secret of Clouds’ contemporary narrative came naturally. “It was fresh in my memory; it was easy to recreate because I lived it.”

The Secret of Clouds resonates with many Long Island readers in the same way. “A group of teachers from the Nesaquake Middle School came to hear me speak [at the Northport Library], and they were so excited. They said to me, ‘You’re writing about our lives’!”

Richman encounters similar reactions whenever her book tour brings her close to home, and for that reason especially enjoys speaking at local libraries. “I think libraries are such important community centers,” Richman said. “Bringing in authors to give information and inspiration to library patrons is wonderful for both author and reader.” 

Though she’s often invited to book clubs, either in person or via Skype, Richman said making an appearance isn’t always possible. She is grateful to offer alternatives: “I can say, ‘I’m sadly unable to do that, but I will be speaking about the book at a specific library venue, and it’s free and open to the public’.”

In fact, Richman has two upcoming local library events. One at the Huntington Public Library on October 28, and another at the West Islip Library on Nov. 5.

Richman continues to see words as full of value and power. “Every single one of us has a plethora of stories to share,” Richman said. “And sharing those stories helps show that we’re not as all different as we think. At their core, stories unite us.”

For more information about The Secret of Clouds and Alyson Richman’s other novels, visit her website.

Upcoming Events

  • October 14, Long Island Writers Guild: Join writers at Book Revue for a monthly writing workshop. This two-hour workshop is free and open to all. The workshop begins at 7 PM; all levels and genres welcome.
  • October 20, Amateur Writers of Long Island: Join writers of all genres and abilities in the back room of Panera in Huntington Village from 1-6 PM to give and receive feedback. supports literacy efforts. If you have book-related information you’d like to share, email Molly Prep.

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