Monday, July 25, 2016

Q&A with Ann Wilson, Author of "In Small Boxes"

Ann R. Wilson

Ann Wilson is the author of In Small Boxes which is available for pre-order now at Eckhartz Press (the book ships in mid-August). Ann is having her book release party on August 10th from 7-9pm at Vintage Charm (729 W. Hillgrove Avenue in Lagrange).

We recently caught up with her to ask her a few questions. As you can tell below, Ann has lived a pretty interesting life...

What inspired you to write this book?

Ann: In my work, I spend a lot of time with adolescents, and I notice that many struggle with their identities, their confidence, and their ability to self-advocate. I empathize with them because I was incredibly shy as a young person, and I struggled with anxiety. And as girl, I linked my self-worth to my appearance.

In addition, as the world has become more of a global marketplace, families move more often; whether it is across the country or around the world, moving can be particularly difficult for children. I wrote this story because I thought my experiences might help others navigate similar challenges. Whether you are a parent trying to smooth the bumps for your children or a child trying to understand your parents’ struggles, this story reveals that problems that seem monumental in the moment are not only ‘survivable’ but ultimately give us the gift of resilience.

I know you are an avid reader. Who are some of your favorite authors, and how did their styles influence this work?

Ann: I love so many authors, but my favorites are probably Ann Patchet, Elizabeth Strout, and Jonathon Franzen. It feels awkward to say that these authors influenced this work because I could only hope to be half as good as they are, but of course, everything I read influences how I write. I have always been drawn to characterization revealed through dialogue. When I think of memorable characters, I often think about Patchet’s Truth and Beauty, which sensitively tells the story of a college friendship, and Strout’s Olive Kitteridge and My Name is Lucy Barton, which both feature lovable, flawed characters. I love Franzen for his ability to nail all that is quirky in people, and for his subtly sarcastic tone. I enjoy books about relationships, the more flawed the better, and people who openly face their weaknesses. I think some of these elements are present in this memoir.

It's always tricky writing about your own family. How has your family responded to this?

Ann: It was tricky writing about my own family! It wasn’t easy. At first, the men in my family were skeptical, and the women encouraging. But now that the book is finished, my entire family has been very supportive and enthusiastic.

While this story ‘airs some of our dirty laundry,’ it is nothing new to anyone who already knows us. And the topics are more familiar to today’s readers than they were to my family in the 1970’s. Today, anxiety, depression, and divorce are better understood and less stigmatized, and I hope this story keeps those conversations going. Most important, this story focuses on my own shortcomings and my own rush to judgment of the adults around me when I was a self-centered, emotional, insecure teen. So yes, my family supports me in revealing how ridiculous I sometimes was, though they probably do not fully understand why I would want to share such information!

In addition, it is very clear that the weaknesses of all the people in this book are also their strongest assets. Isn’t that how it is for most people? A person with anxiety is also incredibly empathetic and nurturing; a person who is strong-willed is not only domineering, but also inspiring and fun. I know that my family enjoys reading and reliving some parts of this memoir, and other parts they would rather not relive. But this book was not written for us. It was written for people who might be experiencing similar struggles right now.

As someone who also was uprooted and moved overseas in my youth (in my case, Germany), I could really relate. I was really upset about it at the time, but in retrospect, I realize there were also many positives. Now that you've had time to reflect, and write a book about the experience, what are the most positive elements of that move?

Ann: The most positive aspects are the connections I feel to Asian Americans now that I am back here in the United States. I can imagine what America must look like to them, based on my understanding of their native homes, and I love visiting Asian communities, whether it is China Town, or smaller communities like the Asian grocery store in Westmont that is patronized almost exclusively by the Asians living nearby me in the western suburbs. When I go places like that, I feel ‘at home’ in a new way, and I feel blessed that I can have those feelings within a different cultural environment.

Another positive is that as a person, I reject stereotypes, because through traveling, I have seen more people who defy stereotypes than those who fit them. But one of the biggest positives is how that experience strengthened our family and all of us as individuals: even though we hit rough waters, we came out of that time with our senses of humor intact and a willingness to redefine what ‘family’ meant to us. Not too long after my parents’ divorce, we were still doing things as a family – graduations, weddings, grandkids birthdays – we do all those things as a family, and even included my father’s new wife. We moved on from those difficult times, and I think that travel experience gave us the resilience to do that.

When was the last time you were in Hong Kong and do you stay in touch with the friends you made there?

Ann: I have never been back to Hong Kong. It’s pretty darn far! My dad went back several times for work, but I have never returned. Recently, my husband spent a couple years travelling to China for his job, and I could have figured out a way to tag along and visit Hong Kong with him, but in the end, we decided to use our vacation time and his miles to visit our son who was studying abroad in Europe and visit another international home – London – where my husband and I lived in the early 1990’s. I hope that someday I will go back.

I am still very close to our friends ‘Neil’ and ‘Sherry’ in my memoir, and we never tire of recalling our adventures from that time. I feel a very deep connection to them, unlike with any other couple I know, simply because of all we shared in Hong Kong.

An amazing thing happened about ten years ago. I was walking our dog across a park one morning and a woman called across to me from about a block away. It was a girl whom I had known at the international school – she was a classmate of mine but not someone whom I hung out with regularly. It blew my mind that not only was she living in Western Springs, but that twenty years later, she recognized me. It turned out we both have kids the same age. She has since moved away, but I look forward to seeing her again at our class reunion which I am attending for the first time this summer. It is being held in Chicago. What a small world.

Can you describe your feelings when Dave handed you your book and you held it in your hands for the very first time?

Ann: Just WOW! Butterflies and goose bumps all at once! It is so exciting, but I must admit, I am also a little nervous. I have been working on this project for a long time, and now it will finally be ‘real.’ The book is beautiful – just lovely. You guys have done such a great job helping me through this process.

You've probably heard that the lead singer of Heart ("Barracuda", "Magic Man", "Crazy on You") is also named Ann Wilson. Do you have a standard answer when people point that out?

Ann: That’s so funny that you ask that! People ask me that question a lot, and it stumps me because ‘Ann Wilson’ seems like the most common name in the world. There must be so many people with my name! I always just say something boring like, “No, I’m not that Ann Wilson.” Now I can say, “No, I am Ann Wilson, the author,” haha!!