Friendship and Romance: A Conversation With Author Cathy Lamb

Cathy Lamb is the author of My Very Best Friend, a novel that explores the changing nature of friendship and what it means to really embrace living. My Very Best Friend is Lamb's ninth novel.

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I had the privilege of talking with her about what makes her tick as an author, how she keeps the ideas coming and the power of friendship, romance and love.

Let's begin with the big question -- you've written a lot of books -- what keeps you motivated as an author?

What motivates me as an author? Deadlines.

Yes, a looming deadline, even a deadline six months out, is a huge motivator. You see, if you don't turn in the book, you have to give the money back.

That would be tremendously unpleasant, equal to flossing the teeth of an alligator.

On a friendlier note, I'm motivated to write because I have an obsession with telling stories. I love to write. I feel compelled to write. I have to write. If a space alien took my hands away, I would probably put a pen in my mouth and write, that's how much I love writing.

How do you find new stories and characters to write about?

Everywhere. I am an excellent eavesdropper. I am also quite talented at daydreaming for hours on end. I can get inspiration for stories and characters from newspaper articles, wisteria, Scotland, bridges, a black eye, anger management, herbs, ancestral history, the word 'run,' lingerie, screaming and stalking, mean or strange people, laughter and the Oregon coast.

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Where did the idea for My Very Best Friend come from?

To be honest, I wanted to go to Scotland. It's where one of my daughters goes to school, and I wanted to see where she was living, studying and dancing the night away. So, I set the book there.

I wanted to explore women's friendships with each other. Specifically, long term best friends.

I was also intrigued by overgrown gardens, stone cottages, a brilliant but socially inept time travel romance writer who has no romance, terrible secrets, my fury at the Catholic church and the abuse scandals, Scottish drinking songs, lingerie bike riding and a man in a kilt.

All those thoughts were jumbled up together, tossed in the air and out came My Very Best Friend. Sort of. It took twelve edits to get it into decent shape...

My Very Best Friend paints a lovely portrait of modern day Scotland. Do you get to visit the places you write about?

I visited Scotland in October. It was my second visit. The first time I went post -- college, when I was still near broke. All of my other settings, yes, I've visited. But as most of my books are set in Oregon, this does not make me a world traveler. It makes me an "Oregon traveler."

A more clear explanation of this would be: I have a bunch of kids. I'm a full time writer. I have a home I try to keep reasonably clean. When the dust bunnies leap up and bite me, I dust them away. So, I'm busy.

I travel in my head far more than I travel in reality, which is unfortunate, but I do want to travel more in future so I can at least pretend to be cool.

What steps do you take to create place with your words?

Ah. Good question. I love setting. I want the reader to see, feel, smell and taste where I am in the book. So, I try to include all the senses to create that place for them so they're in the scene with me, not lurking along the edges peering in.

If my character is in a village in Scotland, staring at a 900 year old cathedral, trying to figure out where that priest disappeared to all those years ago, I want them to be right beside her, puzzling out the mystery.

If my character is running naked along a river at midnight, trying to get rid of her anger and grief, I want my readers on that run, listening to an owl hoot. If my character is watering her ex -- husband's Corvette with a garden hose, I want the reader to feel that cool water and hear the ex wife cackling. If my character used to weigh 350 pounds, I want the reader to know what that feels like when she's lumbering down a city street and people are snickering.

Charlotte and Bridget offer the reader a glimpse at a complex relationship. What did you learn about friendship from spending time with these two? What do you think their experience demonstrates?

There was a gap in time where Bridget was not writing letters back to Charlotte, which was worrisome. My Very Best Friend is set in 1990, so no email, twitter, etc. Some would say this was a better, more charming time.

Anyhow, when they were reunited, outside of a cottage in Scotland, their relationship was the same in some ways, they still laughed and dove deep into interesting topics of conversation, but it was different, too, as Charlotte realized the extent of what Bridget had hidden from her, the wrenching secrets she had that Charlotte had no knowledge of.

The love and friendship was still there, but they recalibrated. Friendships can take a break. You may not see or talk to a friend for a long time, but true friends return to the same place they were before. Charlotte and Bridget did that.

Charlotte is a romance writer who finds romance. What do you like best about writing about love, romance and, most importantly, sex?

Sex really isn't that good without the romance, care and love. It may be hot and lusty, but good down to your soul? Eh. So, when I write about falling in love, romance and sex, they all tie in together in my books if my protagonist is with the right man. Which, in the end, if I do have a romance, she is.

However, the women characters in my books go through all the difficulties that most of us women have gone through, or are going through now -- cheating boyfriends, inconsiderate donkey men, men who surely have a lizard sitting on their brain because they couldn't possibly be that dumb. Could they?

As someone who has been married for over 22 years, I will admit that I like to live vicariously through my characters as they leap into the emotional dangers, passionate highs and tricky lows of falling in love. And, I like to create truly awesome men who stand by their women.

What makes Toran a great match for Charlotte?

Toran and Charlotte fell in love as teens. They are soul mates. I believe everyone has a soul mate, but I, cynically, believe that most people won't meet that person. Being honest, what are the statistical odds? It's quite poor.

But Toran and Charlotte found each other. They are both intellectual, quirky, and love science, farming and the environment. They like to drink beer and sing Scottish drinking songs. They both work hard and like working hard. They like rolling about in bed, eating delicious desserts, rainy nights, books and reading, politics, etc. They trust each other. They like each other. They are utterly in love and well matched on every level.

Can you talk about your writing process?

Every novel I write gets many journals. I sketch out plotlines, characters, arcs, etc. But not too much. I have a general idea of who my character is, her name and profession, her family and all the problems she is dealing with as her life caves in around her. The rest is like a cloud. Way high up there, fluffy, unclear.

I discuss my idea with my agent and editor and a few family members. When the plot is as solid as a fluid thought can be, I write. 2,000 words a day, 10,000 words a week, or I don't go to bed on Saturday night. I set edit goals, too. Edit 10 pages a day with the first edit, fifteen in the next, etc.

I edit all my books 12 times total. It's a mess. When I'm in the middle of it, I'm a mess. The house is a mess.

Then it's done, and I celebrate by having chocolate and coffee, my usual treats, and in about four days, I'm usually bored so I start thinking about my next novel...

You can keep up with Cathy Lamb or Facebook or via the author's collective, The Tall Poppies.