American Writer and Editor, Nancy Lamb:
"Stories can help us improve our mutual understanding as human beings. Whether we invite these principles into our consciousness is another issue."
Interviewed by Elham Nosrati
March 21, 2019
This week we had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy Lamb. Nancy Lamb is an award-winning American author and editor who has published over 40 books of fiction and non-fiction. Her book “The Art and Craft of Storytelling” has been admired, recommended and used as a reference by professional writers. I have had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy Lamb about how storytelling affects our lives in 21st century.
Q1: How Storytelling shape our lives in the 21st century
Our lives engrave similar stories on our memories—with past experiences influencing future ones as we confront millions of choices throughout our lifetime.
A simple example: Should I marry him or should I not?
We all have stories to tell—from childhood to youth to maturity. And the choices we make today shape the choices we make in the future.
With luck, we accumulate wisdom as we grow older. And we apply that wisdom to our decisions—from making friends who are trustworthy and supportive, to avoiding people and situations that previous experience has taught us are corrosive.
With those thoughts in mind, I leave you with Robert Frost’s The Road not Taken:
The Road not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Q2: How have readers’ expectations from a good book changed in the 21st Century?
First the computer, then the internet and beyond. As a result, we now demand immediate answers and instant gratification.
In many ways, my personal experience mirrors the future of storytelling.
Throughout my youth, my father read bedtime stories to my sister and me every night—from Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle to The Little House on the Prairie series.
Daddy would always stop reading just at the point where I wanted to know what happens next.
I can’t prove cause and effect, but I was always an impatient reader who bored easily.
Furthermore, I was blessed to attend a school that emphasized literature from seventh grade to high school graduation.
Ancient literature (The Bible to Oedipus Rex), world literature (Anna Karenina to Heart of Darkness), poetry (Canterbury Tales to The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock), European literature (Beowulf to Great Expectations) . . . most of which bored me beyond measure. (I later learned to love Prufrock.)
It wasn’t until my senior year and the advent of American lit that my book world bloomed. And even then, it took Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls to light up my literary imagination and The Great Gatsby to enchant me.
Here, finally, were authors who cut to the chase, who dispensed with unnecessary words—my kind of authors.
Readers today have been steeped in instant everything. And as a consequence, I suspect patience is diminishing. They (and I) gravitate to page-turners. Paragraphs of endless description fade into tedium. So to my mind, the most successful books tell stories that make the reader want to know what happens next.
Q3: How can we use stories and storytelling to overcome life’s challenges?
If you seek a boilerplate example of how to triumph over life’s challenges, look no further than Educated by Tara Westover. We can all learn from her personal Hero Quest.
In the years ahead, if I can engage my metaphorical demons with half of Westover’s grace and persistence, I will consider my emotional battles a success.
Q4: How do stories help us improve our mutual understanding as human beings?
Because politics dominates much of my reading on current events these days, I wish I could claim that stories help us improve our mutual understanding.
But it appears to me that no matter how many horror stories emerge in the news, masses of people close their eyes, stick their fingers in their ears, and chant “Lalalalalalalal . . .” until the Big Bad Contradiction is drowned out by their noise.
The main takeaway from this scenario is embodied by one of my favorite quotes, thanks to George Santayana: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
This simple sentence applies to our personal lives as well as current events.
Bottom line: Stories can help us improve our mutual understanding as human beings.
Whether we invite these principles into our consciousness is another issue.
Q5: What is writing to you?
As the saying goes, “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”
Writing saved my life—financially, emotionally and realistically.
Decades ago, I had, in fact, reached the end of my rope. I was not only desperate to earn my own money, I had to find my way out of a darkness like no other I had ever encountered.
And so I tried to write about it.
Shy and insecure, I showed the first paragraphs of my wannabe novel to an author named David Markson who lived upstairs in my apartment buildering.
At that time, David had published only one avant-garde novel—high lit that opened the door to his eventual inclusion in The American Academy of Arts and Letters.
But way back then, I approached David as a friend and neighbor. And when he read the opening paragraphs of my first novel, he gripped my arm, looked at me and said, “Nancy, you are a writer.”
I owe my entire career to David Markson—not to mention, my sanity.
Even today, I can still claim that writing saved my life.
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