THE BLOG
09/18/2014 10:05 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Older I Get, the Less I Like Rules: An Interview With Author Cathy Lamb

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Photo by Marv Bondarowicz

Cathy Lamb, 47, is a women's fiction author. Her first novel, Julia's Chocolates, was published when she was 40, in 2007. All of her nine novels have been published by Kensington Publishing in NYC. The most recent book, What I Remember Most, is the story of Grenadine Scotch Wild, a successful artist and painter, who is on the run. Again. Lamb lives in Oregon; she is married with three kids and has an odd cat named KC who meows to her and insists she meows back. She does.

When did you know you were a writer?

I knew I had to be a writer when I was 16. There was nothing else that interested me. I became a teacher simply so I could support myself, not starve to death, and have health insurance until I published. I did not have a lot of confidence that I would publish. I knew, though, that I had to try until my brain exploded. Yes, I was that desperate to become a writer. "Write until you can literally write no more," was my motto.

I knew if I ever gave up I would regret it. I knew I would be seventy years old one day so I told myself: Wouldn't it be better to reach the age of seventy and say, "I tried and failed," instead of, "I tried and quit because I couldn't take the rejections. I didn't buck up and fight back because I am a total wimp." I would have regretted not bucking up and fighting back and no one likes a wimp.

What is your publishing story?

Rejection, rejection, head banging rejection. Finally, I thought, what the hell? I am getting too old not to write what I really want to write. I'm going to write a kick butt book that I would like to read, and that's what I did with Julia's Chocolates. I wrote forty pages, approximately. I sent it to four agents and an editor. There was no way I was writing a full manuscript again only to find that it wasn't going to sell.

Call it, "I am tired of getting rejected and we're playin' my way now."

The older I get the less I like rules.

I heard from all the agents, they wanted to see the manuscript. I waited for my own agent who I have now - my favorite - to respond. He wanted to see the book. I lied and said, "I have a little editing to do." I then wrote from ten at night until two in the morning to finish the book.

I had three young kids and was a freelance writer for a newspaper then. I hardly slept. I looked like I'd been hit in the face by a Mack truck. I don't know if I washed my hair. I sent the manuscript in. The agent loved it, sent it to Kensington Publishing, and they bought it in about two weeks as part of a two book deal. I was in business. I was grateful. Still am grateful.

What changed for you after 40?

By the time I was forty, I had buried my mother and father and my beloved mother in law, they all died of cancer, and my father in law. I had been through other difficult problems and issues. After those hard knocks I finally had something to say. I wrote from grief, anger, and loss, and I wrote from laughter and happiness. Laughter is sweeter after you've been drug through the sharp trenches of life. That was the difference in the quality of my writing--the grief.

What roadblocks or obstacles did you face to becoming a writer?

There are always roadblocks and obstacles in life, and if you wait for those to crumble, you will never write a book.

If I waited for everything to be smooth in my life, I would never get anything done.
So I goal set. On my first draft I write 2,000 words a day. If I don't write 10,000 words a week, I don't go to bed on Saturday night. When I'm editing, I have to edit a certain amount of pages each week. If I don't meet that goal by Saturday night, same torture I impose on myself. I don't go to bed. This leads to acute grumpiness but it's the only way I can get a book written.

What is your advice for people like you who want to start publishing after turning 40?

1) Use your experiences, both good and bad, and put them in a book.

2) Be honest in your writing. Dig deep. If you are crying when you're writing part of your book, good. It'll come out in your story and you'll make your readers cry. If you're laughing while you're writing part of your book, excellent. You'll make your readers laugh.

3) Be very careful who you allow to comment on your manuscript as you're working on it. This may mean writing groups. One person likes this, one person doesn't. One person likes to tear other writers down, one person likes to give false praise. Soon, you have a dozen people in your head telling you what's right and wrong with your book, some screaming louder than others, others just flat out annoying.

Listen to yourself. Listen to people that you trust - hopefully a hired editor - who does not like or dislike you, but will give you honest feedback. Then listen to the feedback without getting your ego all tangled up and keep on keeping on.

The best thing that happened to me before I published was when I hired a freelance editor named Jessica Morrell to review my work. She shredded my partial manuscript over about 20 pages of critiques. I don't think she liked a single thing. I studied every page, every word. I have always been grateful for her honesty. I implemented all criticisms into my writing. I sold soon after that.

How do you write?

I have a novel, and often a short story, due every year. The novels take about eight - ish months to write. I write a first draft, after consulting about the plot with my agent, my editor, and my daughters, then I edit that draft at least eight or nine times before it goes to my editor. He makes suggestions, I make them in the manuscript, I edit the damn thing two more times, it goes to editing and proofing, and I edit it twice again.

It's a dizzying process, but each of my novels is edited - by me - twelve times. By the time I'm done editing I'm ready to move to a remote cabin in Montana with no electricity, sit in silence, and try to find myself again.

To learn more about Cathy Lamb and her books, connect with her at her website:
http://cathylamb.org/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cathy.lamb.9
Twitter: http://twitter.com/AuthorCathyLamb