Interview with… Paul Lamb

It’s the third Monday of May, and yet I’m still coming to terms with the fact May has begun. Our British weather doesn’t seem to think it has. This past week has seen rain of epic proportions which I’ve been caught in a couple of times, though luckily not with Artoo whose coat acts like a sponge!

Today, I’m pleased to introduce Paul Lamb to you. I met Paul in a Facebook group which I haven’t recently had time to participate in. (Where is time disappearing to, and should we be worried?)

Paul has been writing and publishing short stories for more than thirty years. Before that he kept busy writing and publishing feature articles for newspapers and magazines as a freelance. His debut novel, One-Match Fire, was published by Blue Cedar Press in October of 2022. It’s been satisfying, if not very remunerative, work, and he intends to continue writing fiction for as long as he can make his fingers fly (or even stumble) across the keyboard. Along the way he completed a master’s degree in writing, and his stories won a few prizes, and one story was even nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Paul worked in the soul-killing corporate world all of his adult life, making the usual number of friends and enemies there, but retired more than a year ago to live a quiet life of reading, writing, and requisite yard work with his wife of 43 years. He also has four children and nine grandchildren (with two more in the late development stage).

When left unsupervised, he escapes to his little cabin at the edge of the Ozark Mountains. It sits in the middle of 80 acres of forest, just uphill from a sparkling lake filled with fish and shore birds (including a bald eagle once!) and with the recent addition of beavers, which are taking down much of his forest in their single-minded effort to build their lodge and fill their stomachs. His intent had always been to be a steward of the wild things, so he can’t lament the deforestation by the furry little beavers too much, but he keeps trying to come up with a way to put them in a story so they can earn their keep.

Hi Paul, welcome to the Fountain Pen. Can you actually find anything else to tell us about yourself?.

I am a writer by avocation. For most of my adult life I worked in corporate America, but I quickly learned how dispensable people are there, so I dropped the idea of having a career or defining myself by my job and instead just worked to pay my bills and keep some self-respect at the end of the day. In the early mornings, the evenings, and on the weekends, I would write as an outlet for my creativity. At first, I was writing feature articles for newspapers and magazines as a freelancer. That gave me by lines and a bit of extra cash, but I always had a piece of fiction in the works to keep honing my craft; eventually my creative effort turned fully to fiction. I’ve been writing and publishing short stories for more than 30 years, and in 2022 my debut novel was published by Blue Cedar Press. I’m now retired from the vulgar corporate world and can devote myself full time to what I enjoy most of all.

Why literary fiction? Did you choose it, or did it choose you?

I’ve always been a reader. Perhaps it was an escape from life that didn’t always seem fair or pleasant. Perhaps I just enjoyed being transported to different places or times, to live different lives. I don’t try to analyze the “why” of that too much. I can remember putting down notes for story ideas since my childhood, but I don’t think I attempted writing any fiction until after I was an adult. My early stories were, inevitably, apprentice work, and I tried various genres, looking for my fit. Yet I had always been drawn to literary fiction, no doubt because I had two excellent English teachers in high school who seemed to see something in me. I am grateful for those influences.

What do you hope your readers take away from your work? What are you trying to achieve?

Readers can, of course, take away anything they wish. They say that once you publish a story, it no longer belongs to you, and I see how that’s true. Each reader will bring unique life experiences and expectations to my novel, One-Match Fire, and interpret it based on those. But I hope they will also see an honest effort to tell a story of three men – a grandfather, a father, and a grandson – and how they find peace with each other despite their differences. It is, in the end, a love story. I say One-Match Fire is a peek into the emotional lives of men and boys, and I hope I’ve achieved that. I must trust the reader to decide.

How do you approach a new project? Are you a plotter or a pantser, or somewhere in between? Where do you get your ideas?

I’m a train rider. When I embark on a story, I know where I’ll get on and where I’ll get off. I know many of the stops along the way. But I don’t know what scenery I’ll see or the people I’ll meet in the café car or the conversations I’ll overhear or the thoughts I’ll have along the way. Discovery is the best part of writing for me. I learn things about my characters or my story that I didn’t know at the start, things that make the story much better than what I had originally conceived, and that’s why I never work from a formal outline. I fear it would limit the discovery.

I don’t want to know where my ideas come from. I think it’s not healthy for me to know too much about my creative mechanism. I fear that shining a strong light on whatever it is that gives me ideas will scare it off, that it needs to live and work outside of my conscious awareness. I like to think I work intuitively. I’m fine with that.

What a fantastic way to describe your process… train rider!

Tell us about your most recent publication.

One-Match Fire, my debut novel, was published by Blue Cedar Press in October of 2022. I see it as a love story that explores the relationships between fathers and sons. The curious part is that I never set out to write this novel. I wrote what I thought was a single short story about a man visiting the family cabin in the Ozark Mountains to begin the unhappy work of selling it. When he goes there, he makes an unexpected and heart-warming discovery about his father. That short story was published in a literary magazine, and that was a sufficient outcome. But I found myself returning to that character and that setting, and I wondered if there were more stories to tell. I eventually wrote ten more stories with those characters and saw them all published. I began to think I had a story cycle in the works, but a friend told me I was writing a novel, and that was how I began to see it. After that, the work was easy, at least as easy as the hard work of writing a novel can be.

Is there anything you need to have with you when you write? A tool of the trade, a mascot…?

I suppose I’ve come upon my writing routine organically. I never set out to have a specific process or timetable or anything like that, but it seems that I do now. I generally write in the early mornings. This came about because for several years I had four teenagers living in my house; if I wanted a hot shower, I had to be the first. This left me with time before my “official” day started, so I devoted it to writing. It’s a routine I’ve continued. I rise at a ridiculous hour, generally about 3:30, and will work for four or five hours. Most of that will be actual fingers-to-keyboard writing, though requisite moments of reflection sneak in. But my writing morning actually begins the night before. I always brew a pot of iced tea to drink as I write. It’s the one “tool of the trade” I must have. And I often give myself an “assignment” the night before: I intend to begin a new chapter, or I will work on a knotty plot point. Nearly every time I do this, I find I have a solution or make great progress the next morning. I also listen to brown noise when I’m working. I do this in part to help me with concentration but also to drown out the sound of my own heartbeat, which I can hear when the house is quiet. But that’s it. I like to keep my desk clear to more easily slip into the fictional world on the screen before me.

Does social media help or hinder you?

It’s a mixed bag for me. I certainly see the value of having a social media presence for promoting my work, and I’ve discovered many new works through sites like this. Some of the authors have even become virtual friends. I do appreciate the community that social media can provide, especially for those of us in the solitary act of creative writing.

But I must be careful about keeping my writing time free of surfing. I will sometimes need to know an obscure detail for my story, and I will stop the writing to look it up online, but I do that more because the itch needs scratching than because the story needs that detail at that moment before it can proceed. Otherwise, I’ve grown disciplined enough to stay offline while I’m writing. I don’t visit social media sites until I know I am finished writing for the day.

What’s next for you?

The characters from One-Match Fire have been restless. They continued to visit me and tell me about themselves after the novel was published. I’ve written a sequel that focuses on the grandson character from OMF. It’s in first draft and I’m waiting eagerly (and anxiously) for comments and suggestions from my beta readers. But something curious had also happened. When we were going through the developmental edits for One-Match Fire, one of the editors said that she’d like to know the story of Kathy, the wife of the middle character and mother of the grandson. Never having been a woman, I didn’t think I could write such a character authentically. However, the idea stayed with me, and I thought I would give it a try. I’m now more than a hundred thousand words into that effort, and I estimate I’m only two-thirds of the way done telling her story.

When these characters finally let go of me, I’d like to return to writing some short stories. I have a few in mind that have been waiting patiently for my attention. It will be good to exercise those muscles again, too.

Good luck with the sequel. I currently have a similar relationship with one of my characters and I’m letting her take me where she wants to go. I hope your readers read quickly!

You can learn about Paul on his website, including his wonderful bio that I didn’t have space to include here, and on Facebook and Instagram.

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