A Conversation with Author, Robert Lamb
In 2008, I co-chaired the SCWW Writing Conference. My primary role involved lining up the agents, editors, and authors for our faculty. I met Robert Lamb that year when he agreed to serve on our faculty. He's a journalist, teacher, and author, so you might want to pay attention to what he has to say.
Robert LambBorn in South Carolina, Robert grew up in Augusta, graduated from the University of Georgia, served in the Navy, and then began a career in journalism, last with The Atlanta Constitution. After 20 years in journalism, Robert switched to Academia, first at Clemson, then at the University of South Carolina. His first novel, Striking Out, was nominated for the PEN/Hemingway Award. His second novel, Atlanta Blues, blipped briefly on the bestseller list and was named by the Sumter newspaper as “one of the three best novels of the year by a Southern writer—and maybe the best.” He followed these with A Majority of One, about a clash between religion and the Constitution over book censorship, and Tell Tchaikovsky the News about the regenerative powers of rock ’n’ roll. He's won the 2009 S.C. Fiction Project and an Excellence in Storytelling Award. Now retired, Robert writes full-time, is married, and has four sons.
What are you working on?I’m between writing projects, devoting much time in trying to get my latest novel published. Working title (it has had several) is All That Blood Can Tell. It’s a story of recovery from the collateral damage of a suicide in the family, especially a psychological condition called “frozen grief.”
How do your books differ from others in their genre?To my complete surprise, four of my novels have been about my life experiences as lived by a semi-fictional me named Benjamin Blake. They tell you to write what you know; I’ve certainly done that. Blake’s not always the protagonist. But in 20 years in journalism, one can live through a lot of dramatic incidents as a reporter/feature writer/columnist/weekly newspaper owner. Atlanta Blues came from all that. In truth, though, my novel ideas came from a variety of sources; a mere (but impassioned) admission by a hostess at a party was the seed of A Majority of One. A love of music was the origin of And Tell Tchaikovsky the News.
The idea for my latest, All That Blood Can Tell, came when I learned, through a friend’s travails, about generational family therapy in psychology, which posits that families, like individuals, have psychological profiles and that memory plays a crucial role in the therapy. Blood explores the importance of remembrances in recovering from a traumatic psychic wound. All That Blood Can Tell focuses on the interplay between the protagonist’s inner life and outer life, connecting the then and now.
Why do you write what you do?For better or worse, the literary novel is the only genre that deeply interests me, probably because it is about the Human Condition and because I’ve had a lifelong interest in human behavior. I’m not nearly as interested in what happened as why it happened—and the consequences.
How does your writing process work?Over the five or six novels I’ve written, my writing process has changed little. I aim for 1,000 words a day, write from 8 to noon, then begin the next day by reading over what I wrote the day before. For beginning writers, I hasten to add that I was a bit more methodical in writing my first novel. Here’s why: I knew how to write long before I knew how to write a novel. So I set out to learn the how-to of novel writing: things like where to start, point-of-view, keeping the reader’s interest, avoiding adverbitus (i.e. all those words ending in “ly), etc., and, most important, writing not only to be understood, but so that you can’t be misunderstood.
And in case you wondered, I still consider my writing a work-in-progress, an internship, an adventure.