By Barbara Falconer Newhall
When best-selling author Anne Lamott learned that her 19-year-old son Sam was about to become an unwed father, her reaction was, “It’s all over. The baby will be raised in a shelter. They’ll be on the street.”
But as soon little Jax Jesse Lamott was born in July, 2009, her grandmothering instinct took over – as did Lamott’s instinct for turning life into art.
She asked Sam whether he was OK with her writing about being a newly minted grandmother. He said he was delighted. Soon the book, Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son, became a joint project.
Their book tour earlier this year included a stop at Montclair Presbyterian Church in Oakland, CA, where more than 250 people – mostly women – showed up for the reading and book signing, which was sponsored by the bookstore A Great Good Place for Books in nearby Montclair.
I personally had been counting on getting a first-hand glimpse of Sam, the focus of Anne’s earlier book, the best-selling Operating Instructions, written during Sam’s own first year of life.
But Sam – a busy art student and now the father of 2-year-old – was a no-show that night. The assembled fans had to settle for an evening of witticisms from the mistress of bons mots.
About writing a book with Sam: They’re still teenagers at 22. They just are. Getting him to finish it was like getting your kid to finish their term paper junior year.
On writing: I do it every day, five days a week. I don’t wait for inspiration. I don’t believe in inspiration. If you want to be a writer, you sit down and write. But Sam, at 19, believed in inspiration . . . so I would give him assignments.
(I’d give myself assignments too. For example: “Just introduce the characters.”)
How some of Sam’s part of the book got written: Sam would call and start to say something amazing [about Jax], and I would say wait, wait, wait – and I’d get a pen or a laptop.
On being the young, single mother of Sam: Things are so much harder than the popular culture would lead you to believe. I wanted to wrap up the baby very carefully and leave him out for just one night.
On writing about Sam when he was a kid: By the time he was 10, I cleared every story I wrote about him.
On writing about family nowadays: I don’t air the family laundry. I don’t write things I would tell only a few friends.
On writing about the baby’s mother and her family: I showed it to Amy and her parents and said I will take [what they say] into consideration.
What the younger generation does when they see you struggling with computers and remotes: They grab things out of your hand.
On getting your book published: Think about an ebook. It’s the wave of the future. The publishing houses are not the wave of the future. They are going under. If you sell a book for $10 on Amazon, you [the writer] get $5 instead of $2.
Another thought on writing: It’s like driving at night with the headlights on. You can only see a little way in front of you.
Your writers group: The single most valuable thing you can have as a writer. Two or three people who will keep you honest.
On being Sam’s mother at age 57, going on 58:
“Mom. There is something I want to talk about.”
“What is it?”
“It’s your pants. I think you can do better. I think you should talk to your friends.”
What Anne says Sam would have said if he hadn’t been a no-show: “I’m sure half of you were dragged here by someone who likes my mother.”
On witnessing the destitution in India as an American traveler. It puts you in your place: You [realize you’re only] responsible for what’s inside your own hula hoop.
On Jesus: Everything I’ve written has ultimately been about faith. I came from an atheist family, but I’ve always believed. My father was raised by Presbyterian missionaries. They didn’t tell him they loved him and yet they preached this gospel of love.
I don’t understand complicated theological ideas and, you know, I don’t care. I could sit down with Ann Coulter (because that would be Jesus’s way). She might think that I’m a murderer because I believe in women’s rights and abortion rights. But we could talk about Jesus.
For more writing tips find out what Jasmin Darznik has to say.