Monday, March 11, 2013

Author Interview: Paul Lamb

Today, I'm interviewing Paul Lamb, the fine author who contributed Time Heals All to "The Temporal Element."  Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed, Paul.

MTI:  Starting off, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

LAMB:  I’m shy and always reluctant to “put myself out there,” which is probably a limiting quality for a writer. Despite that, though, I’ve been writing seriously for all of my adult life and have seen more than a dozen of my stories get into print. Some are speculative or fantasy works; some strive for an elusive literary stature. Like most writers I know, I have a couple of apprentice novels behind me and keep hoping to perfect my ability to write a fully realized one some day.

MTI:  Now, getting down to business; what first compelled you to weave fiction, and what's your favorite type of story to write?

LAMB:  I’d always wanted to write; I can remember as a boy reading my stories to my mother. I wish I had kept those pieces. I think I fell naturally into writing fiction because I enjoyed reading it so much, and I guess I write the kind of stories or about the kind of characters that I want to read. And because I read widely, that means I tend to write stories across the spectrum. “Time Heals All” is influenced by my reading of Asimov’s short stories. I can see the connection clearly. Yet I’ve always been cautious about knowing too much about my process or the sources of my stories. I worry that I might slay whatever the delicately balanced system is I have that bubbles these things into my consciousness. I simply write the stories I have as well as I can and try to find homes for them.

MTI:  Tell me, if you had to pick the one author who has influenced or inspired you the most, who would it be?

LAMB:  Only one? It would have to be Philip Roth. I’ve read everything he’s written and his novel The Ghost Writer more than twenty times, and each time I find something new in it. I get the sense that every word—every bit of punctuation—is exactly right and deliberately placed in his writing. Some time in my life I would like to feel that I’d written a single sentence that was Roth-like. I’m fond of the novels of Iris Murdoch and the peek they give me into lives and intellects wholly unlike my own. Yet I also like the verbal pyrotechnics of Junot Diaz and Salman Rushdie. And I still find space in my reading life to savor things like the Sherlock Holmes stories and Tolkien and even non-fiction travel narratives. As I said, I’m all over the spectrum.

MTI:  As you know, The Temporal Element is an anthology devoted entirely to time travel adventures.  These fictional accounts are fascinating, of course, but do you ever believe that humanity will discover a viable way to travel backward and forward through time?

LAMB:  Aren’t we always traveling forward in time?

I knew a man who speculated that if we could ever achieve faster-than-light speed, we could simply race out to catch up with the light that had bounced off of past events and then “see” what happened in the past. I don’t suppose that would be the same as being in the past and interacting with the people and events then, but imagine that revising and refining of history books we could do.

I don’t think the human mind has evolved enough yet to conceive a means for time travel or to get beyond the classic temporal paradox (of changing the past in such a way as to prevent our own existence to begin with) that would seem to be an impossible hurdle. We’re just not ready for such an ability and the intellectual challenges it would produce. But I keep coming back to that scene early in the Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. When the proto humans first discover tool making, they make a profound leap in consciousness, and everything they create after that—even orbiting space platforms—is trivial in comparison to that one great leap. I’m not sure that the evolution of human consciousness happens in leaps but rather in the accumulation of small achievements and awarenesses, yet I do think we continue to develop, and at some point we will look back on ourselves of today and wonder how we ever survived.

MTI:  If you could go back to any point in history, when would you visit?

LAMB: It wouldn’t be too far back. Cultural and societal norms would be so different the farther back I went that I don’t think I could process or make use of what I was seeing in a distant time. I think I’d be too terrified of misstepping and getting myself into trouble. Or I’d spend all of my time wondering how we ever survived our distant past.

If I could, I’d probably go back to witness my parents’ childhoods. Not only would the era be comparable enough to my own that I could comprehend it, but it would provide me with knowledge that was specifically useful to me.

MTI:  Looking forward now, what futuristic piece of technology would you like to own, or have to use right now?

LAMB:  Flying cars? No, the mayhem would be too much. X-ray specs? Tempting. Star Trek-style transporters? Would be handy, I guess.

I suppose it would be some fantastic technology that I can’t even begin to imagine here in the dark 21st Century. Who would have guessed, a hundred years ago, that we would have instantaneous global communication? Yet all of us rely on it to live our lives now. Or the internet? Or beer in cans? The mundane that was too fantastic for a past age to begin to conceive. So, yeah, that’s what I’m looking forward to. Something I can’t even imagine now.

MTI:  Your bio says you like to spend time in the Ozarks. Do you have an interesting story or fond memory you'd like to share about that rural getaway?

LAMB:  I think I came to love the Ozarks from having spent my summers there at Scout camp as a boy. I have a small cabin on a small lake on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks and I try to get down there as often as I can to fool myself into thinking I am shaping the land and making a positive influence as a steward. Part of me knows better and knows that nature has a time scale that is vastly different from mine.

Take, for example, the lake I mentioned. I hired a man with a bulldozer to raise a dam across a small valley in my forest. In due time, water filled in behind the dam and my lake was formed. Then all of the water leaked out through the rocky, porous Ozark soil and left a mocking basin behind. Then the spring rains came again and refilled my lake. And this time a little less of the water leaked away. It’s been that way for more than a decade now, and each year the lake seems to hold onto a little more water as the bottom silts in. I think if I live another hundred years, I’ll see my lake fully realized. But as I said, nature thinks on a different time scale than I do.

MTI:  Shifting back to your writing, can you tell us a little about what you're working on right now?

LAMB:  Lately I have been consumed by a cycle of stories dealing with a man, his son, and his son. Three generations of men loving and trying to understand each other. These stories have been “revealing themselves” to me over the past year, and I’ve been struggling to do them justice with my meager story-telling skills. I guess they’d fall into the “literary” genre, but, again, I just write the stories I have and let others decide what to make of them. But I’ve made the time to write other stories as well, and I continue to pick away at two of those apprentice novels I spoke of.

MTI:  Other than Time Heals All appearing in The Temporal Element, do you have any other stories being published in the near future?

LAMB:  One of my stories about the three generations of men will appear in the Penduline Press in March of 2013. It’s called “The Lonely Road,” and I’m quite proud of it. And I have a re-telling of the Epimetheus and Pandora myth coming out in print in the Hephaestus Devotional anthology in April. A half dozen of my other pieces are being shopped around, and I’m always hopeful that each day I’ll hear good news about one or more of them.

MTI:  On a lighter note, have you watched any good TV lately?

LAMB:  I confess that I’m not much of a TV watcher. At least I don’t watch much actual television programming. I do plug in a lot of DVDs and watch movies, sometimes to an extreme. I seem to have a once-a-month appointment with the film Field of Dreams, which is both a great fantasy film and one that addresses the relationship between fathers and sons. I’m sure I’ve watched The Lord of the Rings trilogy too many times. Forrest Gump is masterful story crafting. And I can watch To Kill a Mockingbird just about any time to remind myself of what humans are sometimes capable of, both good and bad.

MTI:  What sort of music do you like?

LAMB:  There’s so much going on in my head that I don’t have much space for music. I grew up listening to what would be defined today as Classic Rock, though I was selective about that at the time, tending toward the progressive stuff like Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. The Who, good and loud, was always fine too. I’d respected good musicianship, even if the lyrics were trite or adolescent, which is why I think I listen to classical music now. I can listen to the skill of the performer on the instrument or the blending of the sounds into a coherent whole. And I’m not left with an ear worm that bedevils me for days.

MTI:  You've got a lot of potential readers hanging on your every word right now. Do you have anything you'd like to say to them, perhaps words of wisdom or something interesting to pique their curiosity in your work?

LAMB:  Grammar is for chumps! There, I said it! I have an ongoing debate in the blogosphere about the role of grammar in creative writing. I assert that beyond the need for a sufficient level of communication, the creative writer—of fiction and creative non fiction—has a free pass on the so-called rules of grammar. What works, works, and only the fussy would insist on parsing an otherwise strong, effective, even thrilling sentence to make sure the subject and verb agree properly or that the punctuation is all in order. And I say this as a person who has a graduate degree in writing and taught composition in college for years. I understand the role of proper grammar and usage and spelling and punctuation in things like high school essays, technical writing, legal writing, and even journalism to an extent. But for a creative writer, grammar provides tools, not rules, as the writer Emma Darwin says. A serious creative writer is free to shake loose of the shackles of grammar, and it’s easy to find acknowledged masters in every genre who disregard grammar as it suits the needs of their stories. Honestly, I think more writers should pay attention to the rules of rhetoric than to the rules of grammar.

MTI:  Indeed.  Our readers love free samples.  Before we go, do you have something new to share, perhaps a few paragraphs that you recently wrote?

LAMB:  This is a bit from my story “The Lonely Road.” It’s part of a cycle of stories about fathers and sons, and you’ll see how the next generation begins:

He’d first noticed Kathy when they were sophomores. She had freckles and long red hair. Sometimes she wore it in braids. Sometimes in a pony tail that she flipped about. He’d noticed. When he finally screwed up the courage simply to say “Hi,” his buddy Jonathan pushed him in her direction. Kathy turned and looked at David with her green, green eyes. He hadn’t known she had green eyes. Two of them. They looked right through him. He immediately forgot what he was going to say, which she thought was endearing, so she did the talking that first time. It got easier after that. All of their friends agreed they were perfect together. By junior year, they were a couple. By senior year, they were pregnant.

MTI: A wonderful example.  Thank you, Paul, for this great interview.  Those who want to read more of his work can pick up The Temporal Element.

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