Anne Lamott Reflects on Her 20th Book, Marrying at 65 And How to Hold Onto Hope in a Frightening World (Exclusive)

"Everything I wanted to write about has to do with love," the celebrated novelist says of her latest, 'Somehow: Thoughts on Love'

<p>Sam Lamott</p> Anne Lamott and

Sam Lamott

Anne Lamott and 'Somehow'

Even if you haven't read one of Anne Lamott's 20 books, you've likely come across her wisdom.

Her first book came out in 1979 and the phrase "bird by bird" became shorthand for "one thing at a time" after the book of the same name came out in 1994. Through it all, she's been writing, writing, writing. "I've just been doing this so long that it's kind of a habit," the writer, 69, told PEOPLE, with a laugh.

"It feels amazing that it's my 20th book, and that it's my 70th birthday because I think I'm 53," she added. "So it feels wild and exciting, and like it's sort of meant to be."

In advance of Somehow: Thoughts on Love, out April 9 from Riverhead Books, we sat down with Lamott to soak up some of her signature wisdom on writing, parenting, grandparenting and holding onto hope in a frightening world. The following discussion has been edited for length and clarity.

'Somehow: Thoughts on Love' by Anne Lamott
'Somehow: Thoughts on Love' by Anne Lamott

You've been in the writing game a long time. How has it changed since you started?

I've been under a book contract since I was 24, when I sold my first novel [Hard Laughter] and that was amazing because it was about my dad's journey through brain cancer. It was written before he got really sick, so he got to read it and know it was gonna get published. So of all 20 books, that's the biggest miracle.

But the industry has really dramatically changed. It used to be you wrote your book, then you waited for the book reviews, and that was it. Maybe if you were huge, you got on Dick Cavett or something, or you got on the radio station. Now, there are so many books published every year, so it's gotten harder and harder to really get noticed, for a writer coming up. It's just so much harder than it was for me. I've been so blessed.

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Has the act of writing changed for you, over the years?

I sit down at the same time every day, because it helps my subconscious kick in and that's where my visions and ideas and imagination and dreams and history and wisdom and insights are all stored. Then my subconscious looks over at its little watch and it goes, "Oh, for goodness sake, is it 9?" And then we just start working.

Every writer I know is in the same boat, which is that we have equal proportions of raging ego and narcissism and terrible self-esteem. But to be a writer means you got one of the golden tickets, like in Willy Wonka. When you grew up, you got to be an artist.

<p>Sam Lamott</p> Anne Lamott

Sam Lamott

Anne Lamott

Speaking of growing up, Somehow has a lot in it about your family. How did it come about?

I started out to write a book for my family, for when I'm gone and everything I wanted to write about had to do with love. These are essays and meditations on everything that has ever worked before, and that certainly will work again: some kind of spiritual life, some kind of path that we can stay on with a little light to see by, really delicious companionship and getting out of our own pinball minds of to-do lists and anxiety and hooking into something much, much bigger.

What I want to write about is how we come through hard times when we're just really clenched up and grief-struck. I write about grace as spiritual WD-40. Sometimes we step on the cosmic banana peel and we land on our butts, and that's where the answer comes: when we surrender.

The Buddha asked, "Do we want to be right, or do we want to be happy?" and of course, I want to be both. It makes me happy when I'm right. But really, I want to be happy, and that means surrender and releasing people to their own consequences and mistakes and choices and values, and putting down my weapons and breathing in all that is beautiful and sacred and sweet around me.

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Tell me about getting married later in life. What was that like?

Well, I got married [to husband Neal Allen] three days after I got social security. So that was funny. [Getting married] wasn't like a huge thing for me, particularly in my 40s or 50s. I mean, it had been a childhood dream and a dream in my 20s. But there were so many incredibly fabulous women out there who are iconic to me, who'd never gotten married, and so I always felt like I was in really good company.

I met [Neal] on and we met for a cup of coffee in August of 2016, and we've never been apart for a day unless one of us has had to travel out of town without the other. It was just like we stepped into this shape that had been waiting for us our whole lives. And so we've done the work to tend to that as a garden, and to cherish it, and to be grateful for it, and to do the sometimes hard work of marriage and relationships.

We make each other laugh and I always said that laughter is carbonated holiness.

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Tell me about your son, Sam, who features prominently in this book.

[My son and I are] very close, and we're also two opposite people. We're both alcoholics and drug addicts, and we both have long-term sobriety by the grace of God and a lot of other sober people that held us up. I was a single mother with no money, but with this precious, beloved community. And then his father came around when he was 7 years old, and so we just always had these elements that could be shaped into a beautiful childhood.

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And then, when he got off the trails as a teenager with drugs and alcohol, I had by then some tools in my battered old toolkit, and they had to do with releasing him and getting the kind of help that wasn't harmful, and also having to let him be the man he was going to be at 18 that I couldn't control or manage or manipulate anymore. And then he found his way into healing.

Your son and grandson, Jax, live on your property now. What's that like?

They're very autonomous. They put a lock on the door to lock darling Nana out, but it was magic, because it really established the boundary. But they come in and out [of mine and Neal's house] because I'm a grandmother, and I always have food around. It just sort of works out perfectly, and when it doesn't, Sam and I sit down and talk about it, and it's miserable, and I end up crying. Then we come back together. It’s just real life.

Somehow: Thoughts on Love comes out April 9, and is available for preorder now, wherever books are sold.

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