The Short Version
Though she once dreamt of heading to Hollywood, Marnie Lamb decided that writing, not acting, was the better outlet for her creative impulses. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Windsor before embarking on a short but glorious career as a globe-trotting ESL teacher. Her short stories have appeared in Journey Prize Stories 25 and various Canadian literary journals, most recently filling Station, The Nashwaak Review, and The Dalhousie Review. Her first novel, a YA book named The History of Hilary Hambrushina, is forthcoming from Iguana Books. When she is not writing fiction or running her freelance editing business, she can be found cooking recipes with eggplant or scouting out fashions—preferably ones with polka-dots—at the One of a Kind Show.
The Long Version
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write stories. My earliest memories are of collaborating with my brother in penning and acting out two main series of ongoing narratives: one about the Barbapapas (who lived in a drawer in our kitchen) and the other about naked stick people named Half an Hours, who came in a rainbow of colours and lived on a planet named Peru. My first short story, about a purple Half an Hour named Musha, was titled “Musha Finds a Ball.”
My passion for writing continued into my tween years, when I began to type twenty-plus–page stories without accompanying drawings. Many of these tales revolved around the life of my sophisticated stuffed animal, Woolma Lamb from The Get-Along Gang, a famous actress who starred in The Lamb Show, an ovine version of The Cosby Show. Outside work, however, she was cheating on her boyfriend, the track star Zipper Cat, with a flashy lothario named Frank Zip (who was, I’m pleased to say, entirely my own creation).
When it came time for university, I knew that English, with its glorious and long-stretching opportunities to write stories and poems, was my program. Imagine my distress when my high-school English teacher informed me that English literature programs involve writing essays, not short stories—or as my co-nerds (whose specialties lay in science and math) were fond of saying, “dissecting a poem till there’s nothing left of it.”
Six years of essay writing at the University of Ottawa resulted in a BA, an MA, a highly sensitized critical faculty that precluded reading several writers whose works I’d previously adored, and a doubt in my own ability to write anything worthwhile. But a tiny spark said, “Keep trying. Take a creative writing MA.”
To return to my roots, I left home to study at the University of Windsor. There, I rediscovered the play and abandon in writing creatively, in doing cartwheels through a field. My critical faculty turned out to be helpful: whenever I executed a lopsided cartwheel and was about to smash headfirst into the ground, this faculty was the voice that commanded me to shoot out my arm in time to break my fall. (The irony of this analogy is that I’ve never been able to physically perform a cartwheel. But I like irony.)
Rather than “write what you know,” my mantra is “write what you care.” I don’t know what it’s like to be a seventy-year-old Japanese woman or to live through a world war. But I was able to write a short story on this topic that was convincing enough to be nominated for the 2013 Journey Prize. Why? Because my deep interest in the character gave me the drive, patience, and courage to take an imaginative leap. I believe that taking such leaps has made me not only a more accomplished writer but also a more humane person.