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Tully Talks Storytelling With…Karin Tramm!

February 22, 2024

Have you ever met someone and thought, how is it that we didn’t know each other before now? That’s how I felt when Karin Tramm and I connected via Zoom to conduct this interview.

Navy spouses? Check.

Lived overseas for years? Check.

Lived in Italy during the pandemic? Check.

Returned to the U.S. in summer of 2022? Check.

Writers of memoir? Check. The parallels continued as we chatted—it’s downright eerie.

 

How is it possible, given all these connections and coincidences, that we hadn’t met or at least heard of each other sooner? 

 

Author Karin Tramm embodies the creative drive that is the hallmark of so many military spouses—that base need and desire to do what they love, that thing that makes them whole, no matter where they are in the world or what their nomadic life throws at them.

Karin writes because she has to, it’s part of who she is. Long before she met her husband, she wrote about her teaching career which took her to Guam and the Philippines. Of course, it was only natural that she continued to write as her marriage to a naval officer moved her around the globe. 

Her stories have filled notebooks, letters, and the margins of books she’s read along the way.

 

She’s truly a person after my own heart.

 

Karin turned her collection of stories, notes, and messages that she kept during the global pandemic into her memoir 100 Days Smart: A Kindergarten Teacher During the COVID-19 Outbreak in Bella Italia Shares Lessons on Life, Learning, And Community. This candid and sparkling book won the Military Writers Society of America Gold Medal in 2023.

 

Why do you write?

 

I write to document and process things that matter in my life. That’s definitely how my book, 100 Days Smart, evolved. When the pandemic in Italy unfolded, friends and family reached out with questions and concerns. Things fell apart so quickly that I felt the need to write just to keep my head straight and communicate clearly. At some point all those notes came together as a book.

I write to connect with friends and family. I love to write letters and was surprised a few years ago when my father handed me a shoebox full of letters and postcards, I’d written my first year out of college. I’d moved to Guam to teach, and the letters were full of thoughts and emotions about being a new teacher and living far away from home.

My son and I read one each night before he left for his Peace Corps assignment in Thailand. Little did I know, those letters turned out to be missives to my future self and family. 

I also write to remember. I love to travel and started keeping a travel journal. It’s fun to read back on some of our big adventures–I wish I’d started a lot sooner. Last summer I went to Cuba with a group of friends and forgot to pack a notebook.

In a thrift store I’d picked up a book about Hemingway in Cuba and ended up filling in the margins and all the blank pages. I passed the book around and everyone wrote anecdotes about our experiences. It’s a treasure.

 

When did you start writing?

 

While teaching on Guam I started writing a newsletter for a local running group and became friends with some runners that worked at the newspaper, The Pacific Daily News.

After a weeklong sailing trip gone awry, one of them encouraged me to write a travel article about our misadventures and submit it to the paper, which I did and that was the first thing I had published.

Later, when I lived in Monterey, I wrote a few travel articles for the Monterey Herald and then had a regular column that ran in the base newspaper, The White Falcon, in Keflavik, Iceland.

 

Writers are usually bookworms, so I have to ask: What book made you a reader?

 

According to this photo it might be the encyclopedia. Lol. Seriously, that’s hard to say because I can’t remember just one book. I asked my mom about my favorite book, and she said it was a Little Golden Book called Ten Little Puppies.

I don’t remember that book, but I do remember going to the library all the time. My mom is an avid reader, so I’d have to say that it wasn’t a particular book that made me a reader, it was my mom.

 

What book made you a writer?

 

When I was in elementary school, I loved reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories. I always thought how glad I was that she had written those eyewitness accounts of her life.

Once I started journaling during the pandemic, I knew we were going through an unprecedented period and thought, “This is crazy–someone needs to write this down.”

That someone turned out to be me. 

 

Favorite place to write? Favorite time of day to write?

 

I have to answer these questions together. Sometimes I wake up with words in my head and feel compelled to write even before getting out of bed. This is what happened when I started writing my book, I couldn’t even get up, I just asked my husband to bring me a legal pad so I could start making notes.

And some coffee–oops, there’s the answer to another question, too. That being said, in the morning my favorite place to write is in bed. With pencil and paper and coffee. 

However, in the evening I also love to sit down at the computer in my office, have a glass of wine and fine tune my words. I relish my quiet uninterrupted time to review, revise, and think creatively. Sometimes when I’m on a roll I’ll realize it’s after midnight, but surprisingly, I think it’s my most productive time of day.

 

Favorite part of the writing process?

 

It has to be final editing. I love to write, rewrite, and embrace the words. I like going back to the first draft to see how the narrative changed over time.

I like to read the paragraphs out loud and listen to the rhythm of the words. When it sounds right then I know I’ve said exactly what I set out to say in the best way possible.

 

Favorite book about writing?

 

“In Other Words” by Jhumpa Lahiri. A friend of mine gifted me this book while I was in the process of finishing my memoir. The author moved to Italy to immerse herself in the Italian language and then wrote her memoir in Italian.

I kept thinking if she could do this in an entirely new and different language that I could certainly finish mine in English.

 

Favorite drink while writing?

 

Coffee and/or wine, depending on the time of day. 

 

While writing, music or no music?

 

I’ve never listened to music while writing so I’m not sure if it would interfere or not. Maybe classical music or something instrumental would be okay.

I am easily distracted, so I understand why writers have a little hideaway to keep interruptions at a minimum.

 

Best feedback you’ve received about your writing?

 

When I first decided to try to get my story published, I had a lot of self-doubt. Writing a memoir left me feeling exposed and vulnerable because it’s very personal.

Even though I had some newspaper articles and a short story under my belt, I really didn’t consider myself an author. I’m forever grateful for the positive feedback from my publisher at Elva Resa.

I still have my moments of imposter syndrome, but her assurance got me over that initial hump and helped me gain confidence in myself as a writer.

 

What piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

 

Remember that everyone has a story to tell. Everyone’s story is valid, deserves to be told, and it’s never too late to tell it (remember Laura Ingalls Wilder).

Write your story and press SEND. Don’t be afraid to press SEND a lot of times. Be a risk-taker, be persistent, and be audacious. 

 

Finally, what is your favorite military spouse-authored book?

 

Well, you’re not getting just one answer here. When we lived in Virginia Beach I read Jacey Eckhart’s column in the Virginian-Pilot. Her book, The Homefront Club, came out later and as a navy wife I found it validating and humorous.

I also enjoyed Terri Barnes’ column, Spouse Calls, and Lisa Molinari’s Meat and Potatoes of Life, in Stars and Stripes. I’m so glad their experiences and wisdom were collected into books because their observations on military family life are so spot on.

And I love yours, and I’m not just saying it because you’re doing this interview. I found your story so relatable that I actually started laughing and reading parts of it out loud to my husband and jotting notes about some of our similar experiences.

Snake stories, a car named Betty, pizza night, Ian, Stella, Denmark, telling the white lie to the family, animals leaving poop as a gift (ours was a peacock), the list goes on…

Seriously, how had we never met until now? Someday we will have to mull that answer over coffee or wine!

 

*You can read more about Karin and her life at karintramm.com. Her award-winning book, 100 Days Smart, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Bookshop.org. 

 

Author

  • Julie Tully

    Cowgirl-turned-nomadic navy spouse, Julie Tully writes about life, culture and the places where they intersect. Her quirky lifestyle has taken her around the world, from rural Northern California to Europe and Africa. Julie’s writing has appeared in Legacy Magazine, Legacy Kids Magazine, InDependent, and Your Teen for Parents. Her memoir "Dispatches From the Cowgirl" was published in 2022 and details the years she lived in Sub-Saharan Africa. Now, after spending eighteen years overseas, Julie and her family have embarked on an even greater adventure—rediscovering the United States. You can read more about Julie and her work on her website julietullywriter.com or follow along on her adventures via Facebook and Instagram, @julietully

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Supporting Our Military Children

Supporting Our Military Children

One thing that has been most important to me, as a military spouse, is figuring out how to best do this life while supporting our children with the changes and difficulties. When my children were very small, there were many times that my husband was away, and I had to parent my children alone.

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