Sunday, January 20, 2013

One Writer's Process: Sarah Lamstein

Sarah Lamstein grew up in a house surrounded by books.

"Writing was in the air," says Lamstein, the winner of the 2008 Sydney Taylor Honor Award for her picture book, Letter on the Wind.

Her father loved writing stories, and Lamstein took great delight in reading them aloud to the family whenever he finished one. "Those times were as exciting to us," she says, "as opening night at a Broadway play."

Lamstein started out writing plays in fifth grade, then picked up her pen again when her own children were little, inspired to try her hand at writing for children by the books that they read together.

Since then, she's written a handful of picture books beloved by readers such as Big Night for Salamanders, Annie's Shabbat, and I Like Your Buttons, as well as the award-winning YA novel, Hunger Moon.

"Writing is like a great adventure, a grand 'expotition,' as Winnie-the-Pooh would say," admits Lamstein. "I feel lucky to be doing it."

She was kind enough to take some time from her current work-in-progress to share her thoughts on writing with wordswimmer:

Something pleases me, I want to write about it, celebrate it – a bird, a feast, an act of kindness.

If research is required, I do it and overdo it. Research is soothing. It postpones the writing.

The thought of writing is frightening, water over your head, panic. Actual writing quiets the flailing, though the shore is far off.

One time I made it to shore with sure, fast strokes. One time.

Most always I set out but tire or think some island or mirage is shore. I set out again with new eyes and come closer. Again and again I set out, each time with newer eyes.

The journey is long. At times the shore is unreachable.

Once in a blue moon, I stumble out of pulling pushing waves and stand on land. In a blue moon.

I write hopeful others will be pleased by what pleased me. And hopeful they will be pleased by the wrapping – the form, the sound, the rhetoric.

Once I wrote from shame, a swamp of difficult memory, a bad act.

In the service of tension and suspense, I darkened the past, fictionalized family.

In this way, shame begot shame.

I asked myself, should I be in this morass, laying bare, exaggerating, defaming? Still, I swam through the muck, effecting, for the sake of story, my character’s transformation and found I too, in a process intensely emotional, became transformed.

The displeasing turned pleasing. Shame’s underbelly exposed love. I was celebrating again – family, self. The swim was arduous, the ending calm.

I always return to the water, struggle toward land, return again to the water.

The water pleases me.

For more information about Sarah Lamstein and her work, visit her website:

To read an interview with her, visit:

1 comment:

Smithwright said...

Thank you for this post, Sarah and Bruce. The swimming metaphor is apt and wise--I will take it with me today in my efforts to swim and not sink.