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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

John Searles and Wally Lamb Discuss Help For The Haunted

John Searles' first book in nine years is Help For The Haunted, a spooky coming of age story with a murder mystery as its catalyst. To celebrate the publication of this terrific novel, author Wally Lamb and Searles discussed the book at the Cherry Lane Theatre last month.
Photo by Joe Noga, Cleveland.com
Lamb opened by joking that they are "both obviously good looking, slim, fit and have a full head of hair." Then he removed his hat to reveal his bald head. He told a story about the first time he met Searles, offering him a ride in a blizzard to Searles' first ever book reading for his novel Boy Still Missing. (Because of the blizzard there were four people at the reading- Searles, his mother, the bookstore manager and Lamb.)

Wally Lamb
Searles quipped from the audience that "I put my hand on his leg", with Lamb piping in "And I liked it!", leading to guffaws from the sold out crowd. Then Lamb clicked on a graphic that opened up onscreen above the stage; instead of the book cover, a cover for the book The Haunted Vagina popped up and Searles yelled "I will explain!", with Lamb stating "You'd better explain!" Again the audience exploded with laughter.  A friend of Searles sent him a link to the book, which has as its tagline- "It's hard to love a woman whose private parts are a gateway to hell."

John Searles
More pictures were shown, including a short video of Searles as a child holding a tiny notebook and pen, proving that he always wanted to be a writer. We saw a photo of his first childhood short story collection from 1976; the first story was titled "Over the Rainbow", the second one "Behind the Rainbow". He joked that even after this, his parents were shocked to discover he was gay.

Things got serious when Searles talked about being bullied as a child; he wasn't athletic and spent a lot of time in the library. He began to pursue writing as a career after his younger sister died, knowing that life is too short not to try.

There were many friends and family in the audience, including his parents and brother, co-workers from Cosmopolitan magazine, his editor and others from his publisher William Morrow, fellow writers from Yaddo, bloggers he has met, and perhaps most telling about what kind of guy he is, two friends who worked with him at a restaurant when he was in high school were there. If you still have friends from high school willing to drive a few hours on a Monday night to hear you speak, you are a good guy.

While working at the restaurant, Searles would write notes on napkins, and he recently found them in a box of his stuff packed away. They came up onscreen, and they were hilarious and sad all at the same time, showing his frustration and talent. (One note described a rude woman who insisted on discussing the crouton count of her salad with Searles, claiming that "six croutons on a salad is a ripoff." Anyone who has worked in the service industry knows this woman.)

This was one of the most entertaining, enlightening evenings I have been to in a long time. Lamb (everyone's idea of the perfect high school English teacher- I'm seriously jealous of any student who had him as a teacher) asked great questions about where Searles dark stuff comes from, how long it took him to write this book, his process and where his wicked sense of humor comes from.

Lamb closed the evening by telling us to go read Help For The Haunted because "I f*#king loved it!" I read it too and totally agree with Lamb's assessment. It has everything you want in a good read- suspense, a murder mystery, a coming of age story, interesting characters and brilliant writing.

My review of Help For The Haunted is here.
Wally Lamb has a new book, We Are Water, publishing this month and you can get more info here.

Lamb and Searles

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