Booknotes & The Art of Writing
Brian Lamb was known for asking questions beyond the book’s subject matter. He was especially interested in the ins-and-outs of the writing process. Many authors related this was outside the norm for television interviews. Lamb believed that learning about how an author wrote provided insight into the book world for his audience of avid readers. He also thought these questions helped to show more about the author as a person. The attention paid to the process of writing highlighted the hard work that went into writing a book and celebrated the authors’ accomplishment.
Some authors preferred a “low tech” writing process. One such author was Robert McNamara. In his April 1995 “Booknotes” interview, McNamara revealed that for his book In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam he chose to hand write his book. Working from his Washington, D.C. office, McNamara did not use a computer.
On the flip side of McNamara’s low tech approach, some authors relied heavily on technology. When researching and writing his book Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary, author Juan Williams used three separate computers in his writing process. In this oral history interview, Williams discussed how each computer was dedicated to a different task - timelines, research, and writing.
It is usual for an author to be asked about their writing process on television interviews. And author Robert Kurson believes this is a missed opportunity. In his May 2014 oral history interview, Kurson revealed that readers always ask him about his writing process. Because the viewing public is interested, Kurson was very pleased that Lamb always included these questions in his “Booknotes” interviews.
Asking authors about their writing process could lead to surprising answers. On May 15, 1994 author Forest McDonald appeared on “Booknotes” to discuss his book The American Presidency: An Intellectual History. When asked about his process, McDonald explained that he often wrote in the nude on his front porch in rural Coker, Alabama. In this picture, Forest sits on his front porch, clothed, showing Lamb where he wrote while Lamb was researching Booknotes: America’s Finest Authors on Reading.
Asking over 800 authors about their research and writing methods made Brian Lamb an expert in the process of writing. In this oral history publisher Peter Osnos asserts “Brian is a publisher’s ideal author” because of this familiarity with the book process. This expertise made Osnos excited to work with Lamb when he was ready to publish his own books about the Booknotes experience.