For bestselling novelist Wally Lamb, finding a character’s voice is key to telling his stories. “I was a teacher before I became a writer, and two of the books I would perennially assign were TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. Both of those have really distinct voices. I remember reading CATCHER IN THE RYE when I was a teenager and thinking to myself, ‘Oh my God, you can have a real honest-to-goodness authentic speaking voice and use it to tell a novel-length story.’ I thought that was the coolest thing. Year to year, I would teach those novels, and those books taught me how to do it.”
Lamb’s first two novels, SHE’S COME UNDONE and I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE were New York Times bestsellers, New York Times Notable Books of the Year, and featured titles of Oprah’s Book Club. Since then, he’s had a number of successful novels. The audio versions of his works feature talented narrators like actors Ken Howard and Kathy Najimy, narrator Linda Stephens, and others lending their voices to the ones in his stories. While he likes everyone’s work on the production of his audiobooks, he’s partial to one all-star reader. “That’s an easy one. I do have a favorite narrator, George Guidall. In my opinion, he’s one of the masters of the form.”
Lamb believes that good narrators are continuing a hallowed storytelling tradition. “The audiobook goes back to ancient times where storytelling was an oral tradition, before there was moveable type. There’s something primal about it. And if you’re in the hands of a good interpreter, and hopefully a good writer, man, that’s a gold mine.”
Lamb also knows how important it is to grab an audience and keep it listening. “I was a high school teacher for about 25 years, and a professor at the University of Connecticut following that. To be a successful teacher requires a bit of performance. Of course, you want to engage the students and make it interactive. You entertain first, and then you slip in the instruction as a part of that. A good class is like a good potluck: Everyone brings a little something different to the party.”
Lamb’s new book, WE ARE WATER, uses multiple narrators, including George Guidall, to tell the story of an undiscovered talent and the repercussions that revelation has on a family. He says his own discovery of his literary voice had a mystical beginning. “I don’t come from a literary background. My dad boasted that he hadn’t read a book since high school, and he never finished that one. My mother read things like the Ladies Home Journal. I started writing the same summer that the first of our children was born. I was 30 years old at the time. I had stayed up all night in the delivery room, and suddenly this little miracle emerges. I went home, and I was in the shower and a character’s voice started coming to me. I had no aspiration to write fiction, but I did write down those couple of lines that character said to me on that most important day of our lives. I found what I’d scrawled a couple of weeks after that, and I sat down and started writing, and I haven’t stopped since.”
A short story in a literary journal caught the attention of an agent, and another birth brought Lamb his first book contract. “An up-and-coming editor, Judith Reagan, had been promised a first look at the manuscript,” Lamb says. Reagan had gone into the hospital to deliver her daughter by C-section, and when the book arrived, she had a fever, her stitches hurt, and she had no interest in reading his work, but she read it through the night, and when she was discharged, she bought SHE’S COME UNDONE. “That’s how it began for me,” Lamb says.--Randy O’Brien
© AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine
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