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Growing up in a small suburb just north of Dallas, my wife Eileen lived in a neighborhood that for some reason was clustered with members of the Dallas Cowboys. (My south Dallas neighborhood was clustered with convicts). But, yes, where Eileen lived, several of the football players – including Mike Ditka, Mike Gaechter and Roger Staubach (for whose kids she babysat) all had houses within a few blocks.
You sorta get that feeling in a literary context around here. Man, there's a lot of major-publishing-house authors that live in our area at least part-time. Think about it: James Benn, David Handler, Luanne Rice, Daniel Waters, Douglas Clegg, Stephen Dobyns, and Roberta Isleib — just to name a few.
I interviewed Lamb last week — he's a great and kind dude — and you can read the feature story based on that session in today's edition of The Day or here at theday.com.
The thing is, Lamb said so many great things on so many different topics that there was no way I could use all the material in a newpaper feature.
In that spirit, it seemed like a fun idea to touch on a few more Lamb-ian items here in this new blog space. After all, if one is going to start writing a blog about books, authors and publishing, one could hardly do better than to have some tidbits from Wally Lamb.
For a lot of reasons, I thought it best, in the main Day article, to focus on Lamb's upcoming novel, We Are Water — which I suspect he'll feature in tonight's presentation.
However, Lamb also spoke at length (and with what might have been a bit of bemusement) about his own creative process. Unlike a lot of writers who might follow rigid outlines or at least have a fairly solid plot idea when they sit down at the computer, Lamb — whose Oprah-sanctioned and mega-bestselling titles include She's Come Undone, The Hour I First Believed, I Know This Much is True and Hopin' and Wishin' — sorta just wings it.
Well, to read Lamb's books is to be mesmerized by not just the pure storytelling, but the astounding depths and layers of his work. And that he really has no particular plan or method when he starts a project, and is yet able to create such greatness, is odd and wonderful.
For the record, Lamb walked me through the gestation of each of his four published novels.
She's Come Undone: "I had gone for a run and was in the shower when this voice appeared in my head. Just like that. The voice turned out to be (protagonist) Dolores Price. It was that simple."
I Know This Much is True: "Beginning a novel is always the hardest, but I really had trouble starting this one. After weeks of spinning my wheels, trying to come up with something to write, this little movie started in my head as I was driving down old Route 2. The Muse threw me a bone. I saw a guy in a pickup truck and I knew he was pissed off about something but I didn't know what.
"But that scene is what started me writing and, by writing, you start asking questions. And when you ask the questions, the answers start coming."
The Hour I First Believed: "I was going to be given this nice award up in Boston at the Boston Public Library. My wife and I were in our hotel room and I was in the restroom tying my tie when I heard her say, 'Oh, no …'
"And on CNN, the Columbine tragedy was unraveling. Well, a) I'd been a high school teacher and b) I had friends who were high school kids. We couldn't look away. Over time, (shooters) Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold got into my head. I wanted to figure them out but I was afraid to. I kept writing and it took me to some very dark places …"
Wishin' and Hopin': "An editorial director at Harper called one morning and said. 'Hey, a lot of writers are doing holiday novels. You should think about it.'
"I'm sure I made a face like sucking on a lemon. But literally that same day, I was going in a carpool to a friend's retirement from the Coast Guard. In the car, one of my friends said, "Hey, you should write something fun about the holidays. You're funny in real life. Stop the doom and gloom you always write about.
"I still dismissed the idea as being corny and sappy, but I also couldn't forget about it. One thing is that I'm a name junkie. I love prospective character names and I actually keep a file of them. I was looking through the file and 'Felix' jumped out at me. Then, for some reason, I came up with the alliterative 'Felix Funicello' — and that was it. I knew I had the main character for the holiday novel I hadn't wanted to write. The rest was easy — and I'm really glad I did it."
Good stuff, Mister Lamb.
If you get a chance, and you're reading this on Friday, go hear him read tonight. He's a charming conversationalist and should be captivating in cozy context of the Arts Café — Mystic.
Oh, a bonus bit of Lamb fun. In the new film Flight, starring Denzel Washington, watch carefully. There's a scene with a bookshelf and, clearly, you can see a "cameo" appearance by a copy of I'll Fly Away, the book of essays by York Correctional Institute inmates that was nurtured and edited by Lamb based on a creative writing class he taught there.