Nadzam, Bonnie - LAMBLast night at a ceremony in New York, Bonnie Nadzam was awarded the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize for her debut novel Lamb. The Flahery-Dunnan First Novel Prize is awarded to the best debut novel of the year. The author of the winning book receives $10,000 and the other shortlisted authors receive $1,000 each. The award is given annually at The Center for Fiction’s Benefit and Awards Dinner. The Prize was originally established in 2005 as the John Sargent, Sr. First Novel Prize. More information about the award, as well as a list of finalist and previous winners, can be found here.

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Bonnie Nadzam’s debut novel Lamb has been shortlisted for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. The winner will be announced at a ceremony in New York on December 6.

The Flahery-Dunnan First Novel Prize is awarded to the best debut novel of the year. The author of the winning book receives $10,000 and the other shortlisted authors receive $1,000 each. The award is given annually at The Center for Fiction’s Benefit and Awards Dinner. The Prize was originally established in 2005 as the John Sargent, Sr. First Novel Prize.

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On October 24 at 7:30pm, join Other Press publisher Judith Gurewich and authors Sarah Bakewell, Lawrence Douglas, and Bonnie Nadzam for readings and a wine reception at Greenlight Bookstore.

Sarah Bakewell, author of the NBCC Award-winning How to Live, was a curator of early printed books at the Wellcome Library before becoming a full-time writer, publishing her highly acclaimed biographies The Smart and The English Dane. She lives in London, where she teaches creative writing at City University and catalogs rare book collections for the National Trust.

Lawrence Douglas, author of The Vices, teaches at Amherst College. He is the author of The Catastrophist, The Memory of Judgment, and coauthor of a book of humor, Sense and Nonsensibility. His writing has appeared in the The New York Times Book Review, McSweeney’s, The New Yorker, and Harper’s. A regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement, Douglas lives in Sunderland, Massachusetts.

Bonnie Nadzam, author of the Flaherty-Dunnan Prize finalist Lamb, studied English literature and environmental studies at Carleton College, and earned her PhD from the University of Southern California. She taught and served for two years as the Daehler Fellow in Creative Writing at Colorado College. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Mississippi Review,  Story Quarterly, and others.

Monday, October 24, 7:30 PM

Greenlight Bookstore, 686 Fulton Street (at South Portland), Brooklyn, NY 11217

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Setting a Story in Motion

by Bonnie Nadzam

Nadzam, Bonnie - LAMBMidway through writing Lamb, my heart misgave me. I knew, could feel as a sort of misaligned bone in my rib cage, that there was something wrongheaded if not dark-hearted in the way I was writing it. In fact, I was not unlike Lamb’s manipulative and deluded protagonist, who tells stories to convince himself and others that abducting an eleven-year-old girl is in her best interest. There was violence in my initial impulse—a thinly disguised attempt to protect and polish my ego. The draft I was working on was misleading, and in a very particular and insidious way. It was, at that time, a version of Lamb that pointed many fingers at questionable human behavior, never acknowledging my own capacity for and history of speaking and acting in the ways David Lamb, Tommie, and Linnie often do. I put the manuscript away for a summer and didn’t write a word. These were days of sitting still, of talking to friends and family, of trying not to flinch when peering into my own heart.

If you can’t learn about an author’s personality by the formal elements of the novels he or she writes, you can perhaps read, indirectly, something of the author by the novel’s implied author (a term coined by Wayne Booth that is distinctive from author and narrator and by which he means the persona and values we attribute to a real-life author, based on the literature itself). In fact, I would even argue that you can sometimes tell what an author wants his or her implied author to look like. Not a bad way to establish a cult following, to sell books, or to unconsciously reinforce the person you wish you were, rather than the person you are. The former may be particular to a contemporary market, but the latter motive is, I suspect, fairly timeless.

There are so many ways to play each other and ourselves false. What exactly was I attempting to do by writing Lamb? Whom or what was I serving as I wrote? I want to believe that whatever my aim, it had little or nothing to do with any of the ways stories can be told to hurt and destroy. Such is the practice that David Lamb, Linnie, and Tommie spend a tremendous amount of time and energy learning to master. They are each so good at it. And it’s a talent that seems to spread like fire.

The following September, I threw away that entire first draft of Lamb. It was hundreds of pages. And by “threw away” I mean deleted permanently from the world and all computers. But what became increasingly clear to me as I worked on a new manuscript, with a “new” approach, was the slyness of that ego, the endless opportunity in three hundred pages to deliberately and then unconsciously sneak in an adjective, a single word, here or there, suggesting worlds of authorial backstory reinforcing the story I’ve long told myself about who I am. Cultural values, religious beliefs, political opinions, special knowledge, eating habits…

I’m not quite sure what the difference is between this matter of consciously and unconsciously creating an implied author as I describe it, and the perfected aesthetic objectivity some attribute to, for example, Shakespeare. Perhaps there is none. But there seems to me some subtle and significant difference between the two. I’m not thinking so much here about artistic skill, but, more broadly,  what it is we’re aiming for in this neverending dialogue of and about literature, and how we get in our own way. After all, all kinds of things are set in motion when a person tells and/or responds to a story—some willfully, others more mysteriously. Especially when we’re telling stories without noticing we’re doing so.

Bonnie Nadzam was born in Cleveland, went to high school in suburban Chicago, and has moved continually westward since then. She studied English literature and environmental studies at Carleton College, and earned an MA and PhD from the University of Southern California. Her fiction and poetry have been published in The Kenyon Review, The Mississippi Review, Story Quarterly, Callaloo, The Alaska Quarterly Review, and others. She taught at Colorado College, where she served for two years as the Daehler Fellowin Creative Writing. She is married to her childhood love and lives with him in the Rocky Mountains.


This article originally appeared in the September 2011 edition of the Other Press newsletter. Click here to subscribe.

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Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam

Author signing: Tuesday, May 24, 11:00 am, in the Other Press booth (#4421)

ARC giveaway throughout BEA

A conversation with Bonnie Nadzam….

Nadzam, Bonnie1. Lamb deals with a complicated relationship between a child and an adult that blurs the lines between friendship and intimacy. How did you approach such a difficult subject?

The age difference between them is not that essential to me; what is essential to me is the way they communicate, the way Tommie is seduced by the same narratives and lies with which Lamb seems to seduce even himself. In this final draft, some of the more interesting work I think the age difference accomplishes involves the way it points to different kinds of human vulnerability on one hand, and on the other hand, a very common adolescent human desire—regardless of age—to experience at any cost something like beauty, something like love, something bigger than ordinary daily life seems to offer. That’s a powerfully seductive desire—and so ubiquitous it’s easy to miss it’s influence in our lives. It can be a helpful compass point, a misguiding force, or—as I think it is for Tommie and Lamb—both at once.   Adolescence is really a state of mind, which Tommie is just entering, and which Lamb seems hopelessly trapped in—and it’s not something that’s easy to outgrow in contemporary American culture. I would hope beyond a knee-jerk reaction to the age difference, some of these issues would become more engaging for readers than, say, a mistaken first association with something like Lolita.

2. David Lamb behaves badly at times, and yet, there is a sympathetic quality about him. Are you afraid that readers won’t understand your decision to portray him in a somewhat compassionate light? 

Wow, no. That never crossed my mind. I wasn’t consciously trying to be compassionate, rather to show, as much as possible, that someone making decisions like Lamb doesn’t make them because he thinks or believes they are the wrong decisions to make. I do know other people—and recognize in myself—a capacity for self-delusion that can make almost any horrible thing seem like a good idea, perhaps even divinely inspired. There’s nothing special about Lamb behaving badly.

3. Lamb has a voyeuristic feel. Was it a conscious decision to write in third person to give the reader some distance from what is unfolding?

The questions of who is telling it and why are as vexing for me as I imagine they’d be for any reader. Actually, it isn’t really a third-person point of view. It’s first-person, albeit a distant one, yes. Every now and then this narrator shows his or her hand.  I would love to hear from some reader just exactly who this narrator is. Of course I have some theories, myself.

4. Lamb decides to “save” Tommie by taking her into the wilderness. Do you think that nature played a role in the evolution of their relationship?  

I think Tommie and Lamb, both, are hoping to find something that transcends ordinary life, or contemporary American culture—and not only their lives in it, but their dependency on and service to that culture, as well. To find it, they look to each other and to this odd, supposedly divine or special romantic friendship with each other; they also look out of the suburbs and into “the West.” Their assumptions about nature and life in the West are so convoluted it’s hard to tease them apart. For example, the very idealized image of ranch life beyond Nebraska that Lamb paints for Tommie is what precludes that particular Western landscape from being an escape from anything like familiar American culture. They see more cattle, cattle tracks and cow patties than anything. The native and endangered species exist mostly in sentences, not in the world they’re traversing. If their friendship seems somehow analogous to the state of what was once a “wild” landscape, I think that’s only because it’s not really possible for anyone—or any two—to be ahead of (or behind) their time. All of their longing and delusion are parts of the age in which they’re living. There is no escape, there is nowhere to go. I do believe they experience some of this, too, about what is valuable—even miraculous—about their relationship and degraded landscape. 

5. Were there certain writers or books that you turned to for inspiration while writing Lamb?

I was studying Eighteenth Century literature for a PhD when writing this. Perhaps there’s some Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding influence. I would love to think so. I hope there isn’t any John Locke in it. I also read an embarrassingly huge amount of Louis L’Amour books while working on the manuscript.

6. What are you working on now? 

Two things: a non-fiction collaboration with a climate-change scientist in Alaska, about which I’ll say little, and another novel. In this novel, the at-risk 15-year-old male protagonist unintentionally leads the little brother of his love-interest into some serious trouble, but he is committed to figuring out what it means to be a man, and to do right by the people in his life. He is a pretty good guy and I’m fond of him—and I’m increasingly surprised by what he does and doesn’t do. He is also, of course, totally in love. It’s set in a powerful and high desert area of Colorado, a starkly beautiful place where there is a lot of real hardship and suffering these days.

This article originally appeared in the BEA 2011 issue of the Other Press newsletter. Click here to subscribe.

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