Saturday, October 3, 2020

Annie Lampman

Annie Lampman is the author of the novel Sins of the Bees and the limited-edition letterpress poetry chapbook Burning Time. Her short stories, poetry, and narrative essays have been published in sixty-some literary journals and anthologies such as The Normal School, Orion Magazine, The Massachusetts Review, and Women Writing the West. She has been awarded the 2020 American Fiction Award in Thriller: Crime, the Dogwood Literary Award in Fiction, the Everybody Writes Award in Poetry, a Best American Essays “Notable,” a Pushcart Prize special mention, a Literature Fellowship special mention by the Idaho Commission on the Arts, and a wilderness artist’s residency in the Owyhee Canyonlands Wilderness through the Bureau of Land Management. Lampman is an Associate Professor of Honors Creative Writing at the Washington State University Honors College. She lives with her husband, three sons, and a bevy of pets (including a tabby named Bonsai and a husky named Tundra) in Moscow, Idaho on the rolling hills of the Palouse Prairie in another 1800s farmhouse. She has a pollinator garden full of native flowers, herbs, berries, song birds, squirrels, butterflies, bumble bees, solitary bees, and honeybees.

My Q& A with Lampman:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I actually have a bad habit of picking boring book titles that sound like something nobody would ever want to read (this novel’s original title was Yellow-star Thistle!), but after a brainstorming session with my husband who has a gift with phraseology, we both knew immediately that the title Sins of the Bees had hit the nail on the head, and everybody afterward—including my agent, editor, publicist, and readers—has responded with piqued interest to the title. I think there’s something both jarring and fascinating about thinking of any fauna “sinning,” and in the case of this novel with its religious Y2K doomsday cult, beekeeping, and themes of trauma and loss and isolation and love, the title really captures something key about the book’s personality and the larger questions it’s working to explore. After reading the title, everybody always asks: “How do bees sin?” And I think that’s exactly the point: they don’t. But they can abandon the hive—the family. They can succumb to Colony Collapse Disorder. They can swarm to places both hallowed and haunted, and they can speak in languages lost to the human world, communicating something we humans have always needed to hear.

What's in a name?

Main character Silvania August Moonbeam Merigal was named for this association, which carries deeper meaning throughout the novel:
In a young memory, she stood next to her mother, holding her own small, pasty-white arm up to her mother’s darkly tanned arm. Her mother had told her that when she was born, the full moon had claimed her as its own. Silva had loved thinking about it when she was a child—her kinship with the moon—even if it frightened her a bit. The remote coolness. The unreachability. The latent power. Power enough to command the tides, direct the earth’s axis. Reflect and redirect the frenetic energy of the sun. She’d been born outside on the night of the full Sturgeon Moon, everything earth-centered, everything full of meaning and portent. They’d celebrated with a moon dance, named her Silvania August Moonbeam Merigal. She had been wanted, treasured, part of a family.
How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

There’s so much in this novel that my teenage reader self would have loved: the focus on nature (and trees in particular), the love story, the natural drama of the landscape, the character’s journeys, etc. However, my younger self also would have been a little shocked and horrified by the darker themes in the novel and even perhaps a little frightened by them even though they speak to a larger truth that I was aware of even then.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Interestingly, my novel’s current opening chapter used to be the ending! In my final revision before publication, I took the novel’s closing chapter and put it first, starting and ending the book in a completely new way which ended up being the very thing the novel needed to draw readers in immediately and create momentum. There was a kind of bookending I needed to do with main character, Isabelle, whose perspective the prologue and epilogue are in, with main character Silva making up the bulk of the rest of the novel. The movement this bookending created is what propels the deeper story as well.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

The natural world—its flora, fauna, and natural phenomena—is a constant source of inspiration for all my writing, informing the world and characters and emotion of my novels, short stories, poetry, and memoirs. Also, in tandem, the news has been a source of critical inspiration and information for particularly this novel. Specifically, I have used things from news reports and documentaries on religious doomsday cults, occupations, and survivalist movements and added them directly into the novel. Those kinds of real-world details are a vital source for creating the world and realities in Sins of the Bees.
Visit Annie Lampman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Sins of the Bees.

My Book, The Movie: Sins of the Bees.

--Marshal Zeringue