Saturday, December 6, 2008

Wally Lamb

Wally Lamb’s third and latest novel is The Hour I First Believed. From his Q & A with Kevin Howell for Publishers Weekly:

PW: Tell us about Oprah choosing your first two novels for her book club.

WL: I’ll tell ya, she called me up in December 1996 but I’ll always be honored that she called me four years earlier. One day in 1992 my son handed me the phone and a woman said, “This is Oprah Winfrey calling. You owe me two nights sleep because I couldn’t put your book down.” She was very funny and told me that she liked to call and thank authors when she read a book she liked. This was a big deal for me because after my first book, She’s Come Undone, was published, I used to send my kids to the mall and offer 25 cents to the first one who could find my book on the shelf. It was dismaying when 25 minutes later, they’d come out saying, “We can’t find it, but can we still get the 25 cents?”

Years later, I picked up the phone again and Oprah told me that she’d chosen She’s Come Undone as the fourth book for her Book Club. She said that if the popularity of her Book Club keeps going the way its been going, I needed to call my publisher that night—a Friday, after hours— so they could start printing more copies. I got hold of them and on Saturday morning they contacted their paper supplier and started printing. Oprah announced the selection the following week if memory serves. It was a wild rollercoaster ride.

In the summer of 1998, I Know This Much is True was about to be released and I was doing an interview in a hotel room. Oprah called and said, “Guess what? You’re going to be our Summer Book Club Pick.” I knew from the first time that it needed to be a well-kept secret before she announced it so I said, “Oh, that’s nice, ma’am. Can I call you back in 15 minutes after I finish this interview?” She laughed and said she’d call me back in 20 minutes. I finished the interview and walked the reporter to the elevator, and returned to find that I'd locked myself out of room. I raced downstairs to get another key and sat by the telephone waiting for her to call back, which she did about 45 minutes to an hour later. I couldn’t believe that lightning had struck twice.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue