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The Wisdom of Children

An Interview with Minnie Lamberth

by Pam Kingsbury


Minnie Lamberth's Life with Strings Attached, winner of the Paraclete Fiction Award, is creating an unusual literary buzz. The mayor of Montgomery, where Lamberth lives and works, attended the inaugural booksigning for Life with Strings Attached. Active in her church and community, Lamberth's first novel has been compared with Haven Kimmel's A Girl Named Zippy and Sue Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees.

Talk about growing up in Alexander City, Alabama. Did growing up in small town inspire parts of LIFE WITH STRINGS ATTACHED? Did you use bits of local history in the novel?

As I wrote about Hannah Hayes, a seven-year-old in Alabama in 1972, I had great fun trying to recapture the ambience of a southern neighborhood back when children ≠ and dogs ≠ roamed freely.  Iím familiar with that, having grown up in Alexander City, and I recreated some of the sights and sounds that help me remember my hometown with such vividness.  I used the geography of Alexander City for the setting, but the events were all new to me.  

In the earliest stages of my work on the book, I was reading a number of successful novels in hopes of understanding what made them so notable.  I noticed that a couple of them included a brief history of the town where the story was set.  So I set out to create a history for my town too.  This history is not Alexander Cityís history, but rather a merging of elements from the histories of about a half dozen towns.

Talk about your "formal" education. You attended Huntingdon College. Was it your intention to write as a way of earning your living? Did you have any outstanding teachers who inspired you?

Iím sure I did want to become a novelist when I grew up, but I also wanted to become an advertising copywriter.  That was my original goal.  I took a couple of writing courses in college (there wasn't a writing program), and I received encouragement.  But my real training began in the workforce once I became a copywriter.  Thatís where I became familiar with such concepts as brevity and clarity. If I needed to make a point on a billboard or in an ad headline in five words or less, I learned to challenge every word.  

Do you want to discuss your personal life?

My family is made up of two sisters and a brother, various in-laws, five nieces, a nephew and now a great niece, and I stay in close touch with each.  I love being an aunt.  Three of my nieces were around the age of my narrator Hannah at the time I was writing, and when I was with them, I was paying attention.  I was always interested in what they were thinking and how their thoughts were being shaped.  Many things they said and did influenced Hannah's story.  

Do you still work in advertising and public relations?

Yes, I work on a freelance basis with advertising agencies, marketing firms and other businesses.

What was the first scene or character in LIFE WITH STRINGS ATTACHED?

Hannah had an earlier form; she was 88 years old and had a tendency to fall asleep and recall her childhood through dream sequences.  I put that aside for a while and when I went back to it, I simply discarded the dream sequences and made her seven years old. I kept one scene from that earlier version:  Hannah is sitting at the piano playing middle C when her brother Franklin walks in and decides to invent an automatic page turner for piano music.  

There are some incredibly funny lines the novel about church life and women's role in churches, particularly southern congregations. Do you see the book as being a comedy, a coming of age story, a women's book, an inspirational novel or a combination of the various genres?

It would have to be a combination of the various genres. Because Hannah's seven, it's not quite a coming of age story.  With the notion of a girl preacher, you could say that the book reflects womenís issues.  Yet my favorite part of the treatment is that it is done within a strong, nurturing relationship between father and daughter, which might lend itself more to the inspirational category.  In any case, I wouldnít have enjoyed writing any of it if there were no opportunity for large doses of humor.

You sing in your church's choir and mention your home congregation on the author's page. Talk about Hannah's hope of becoming a preacher. Do you feel the same emotional pull toward the ministry?

No, this is Hannahís story, not mine.  While I can't think of a single moment in my life when I have wanted to be a preacher, I don't think Hannah as a character has to be limited by own lack of desire to preach.  

One reason the narrator is so young is because I wanted to capture her at a moment before she questioned or doubted ≠ before she even knew that it was possible to question or doubt.  What I find amazing is that, for children, believing that the God of the universe has something very special in mind for their lives is the most natural thing in the world.  So I appreciated the chance to see through Hannahís eyes what itís like to be fully confident that the universe will unfold as it should and to be willing to act on that confidence.  

Did you encounter any problems in writing a book set in the not too distant past? Did you have to research the details for historical accuracy?

I read newspapers from that period, including letters to the editor, so that I would understand what people were talking about and thinking about.  I printed off a calendar for each month and wrote in one color actual historical events and in another color fictional Hannah events.  Historical events ≠ or references to them ≠ are in some cases intertwined with the story.  Thus, to keep the story straight chronologically, it was as important to know what day George Wallace left for a four-week presidential campaign trip as it was to know what day Hannah went with her family to the zoo.  

How did you find Paraclete Press? Talk about your experience with publishing. Is this novel your first published work?

Publication for Life with Strings Attached came about when it was selected as the first winner of the Paraclete Fiction Award, a contest launched by Paraclete Press seeking a literary novel with Christian themes.  After spending some time trying to find the right agent or publisher ≠ without success ≠ I saw a newspaper notice about the contest, and I submitted my manuscript.  Leif Enger, author of Peace Like a River, served as the contestís final judge, and he announced me as winner last April at the Festival of Faith on Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  This novel is my first published work.  

Where will your book tour take you?

I started with Montgomery locations, then other Alabama locations, and I'm working on arrangements in neighboring states.  

Are you at work on a second or third novel? And would you like to talk
about it/them?

I have something in the works, but I donít want to talk about it.  It might be bad luck.  

Life With Strings Attached
By Minnie Lamberth
Paraclete Press, 2005
Hardcover, $19.95 (244 pages)
ISBN: 1-55725-416-8

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© 2005, Pam Kingsbury, All Rights Reserved