Last night author Wally Lamb was at Barnes & Noble in Dallas, midway through a 40-city book tour to promote his new novel, We Are Water. Susan and I were part of an intimate crowd, as Mr. Lamb told the story of how this novel came to be. In 2009, when unprepared to answer the question, “What are you writing next,” he off-handedly said he would write about “the flood.” In his hometown of Norwich, Connecticut, “the flood” referred to the devastating 1963 flood that swept through the city, killing six and causing massive damage.
He shared the story of the Moody family, mother Honey, father Ronnie, and three sons aged four and under. Honey, Ronnie and their teenaged family friend Tony managed to pull the little boys to safety, placing them in a tree high above the flood waters. But moments later, Honey was swept away and died.
A collective gasp came from the crowd as Mr. Lamb introduced his special guest, Tom Moody, Jr., the four-year-old flood survivor, now in his fifties, who has since written a non-fiction account of how the flood affected his family. To the wide-eyed crowd, Mr. Moody read a few pages of this account, A Swift and Deadly Maelstrom: The Great Norwich Flood of 1963, a Survivor’s Story.
Mr. Lamb returned to the podium and was as warm and genuine as any author we’ve met. When was the last time you went to a signing and the author gave up his spot for another author to read?
He relayed that while he framed the novel We Are Water around the flood, at its heart was a family torn apart when the mother, an artist, moves to New York and leaves her husband for a woman. He read from the story and, though it features some heavy themes, we were treated to an amusing section where her son’s fiancée, a fundamentalist Christian, calls Dr. Laura Schlessinger for advice on whether or not to attend his mother’s gay marriage. Mr. Lamb’s delivery was perfection. In fact, he told us, he is one of 9 voices performing the audio version.
As for his writing method, he doesn’t outline, he lets the story come to him more organically. For him, a novel might take five years or nine. "It takes how long it takes." For We Are Water, he started out with two points of view and then only later realized six more characters would demand to be heard. Most of his readers would agree: he is a master of character.
Though amiable and light-hearted in person, Wally Lamb’s fiction is anything but. To a woman questioning how he delves into some of his characters’ sinister minds, he said he’s always had a high-level of empathy, but in volunteering his time running a writers’ workshop at the York Correctional Institute, a women’s prison, he has come to hear first hand the often toxic situations in which these women were raised. Working with these women has changed his life, he said.
|Joan Mora, Wally Lamb, Susan Ishmael-Poulos|
As he signed our books afterward, he shared some great writerly advice to us. Susan shares on her own site how his words were just what she needed to hear. I agree.
If you’re lucky enough to live in one of his next tour cities, go! You won’t be disappointed.