“Answer Girl?” What are you, some kind of superhero? Do you think you know everything?

Naming my site “Answer Girl” is asking for trouble. It’s a joke, mostly, and a reference to the main character of my never-ending novel in progress, who runs a research service.

But the truth is that I have a lot of information, useful and not, at my disposal. I like to look things up. I’m good at it, and I remember most of what I read. I won Ben Stein’s Money in 2000, lost
“Jeopardy!” to a replicant in 1999, and can no longer find anyone to play Trivial Pursuit with, unless it’s the sports version. I don’t know everything, but I don’t mind asking the people who do.

Okay, Answer Girl, give me tonight’s winning lottery numbers.
This seems a good opportunity to discuss the things I don’t do. I am not psychic, nor am I a lawyer, an agent, a publisher, a graphic designer, an accountant, a financial adviser or a private detective. I do, however, know people in all of these professions; if you need any of these, I’m happy to refer you. I’d rather not give you romantic advice or tell you whether that scab looks infected, but thanks for trusting me enough to ask.

How do you get your answers?
For writing and editing projects, I use three essential references: Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook and the 15th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style, with which I occasionally disagree.

For research projects, it’s often not enough just to look things up. The Internet and the public library are both invaluable resources, but my best information usually comes from personal interviews. My enormous Rolodex of sources includes experts on topics ranging from rocket science to bank robbery.

If you need help in other languages, I can read French, German and Spanish well enough to look through periodicals and popular literature, but I probably couldn’t get through anything technical.

What do you charge?
In theory, I charge $40/hour for research, editing and proofreading, and $75/hour for writing, coaching and more sophisticated consulting work. In practice, the lines between these services blur quickly, so I prefer to set a flat fee with clients at the beginning of a project.

How do I hire you?

Send me an e-mail describing your project and what you need. Please include a daytime phone number. I’ll get back to you by phone or e-mail within 48 hours.

To protect your own intellectual property rights, please don’t attach manuscripts to your initial e-mail.

What’s your background?

My formal education is in international relations – specifically, Comparative and Regional Studies in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, so for obvious reasons I’m not doing a lot with that degree.

I spent a year after college working for Georgetown University’s School of Nursing while I waited to hear from the Foreign Service and dithered about whether to go to graduate school. This experience gave me a working knowledge of medical terms, especially those related to midwifery and gerontology.

Rejecting both diplomacy and advanced education, I took an administrative job with the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, the national association of state officials responsible for regulating banks. CSBS promoted me to legislative analyst and lobbyist just as the savings and loan scandal was breaking. My lobbying career spanned the passage of the savings and loan reform bill (FIRREA) and the banking reform bill that followed (FDICIA), an education no money could buy.

In 1992 I moved over to become CSBS’s director of communications, a position I held in various incarnations for the next seven years. I wrote a weekly newsletter, the CSBS Examiner, as well as testimony, annual reports, press releases, speeches and presentations on the major changes taking place in the banking system: the move to nationwide banking and the deregulation of bank products and services. CSBS sent me around the country to speak with state officials, examiners and bankers, allowing me to make friendships I cherish to this day.

I left Washington and CSBS for Los Angeles in 1999, looking for new challenges. That phrase is usually a euphemism for “fired,” but in my case, it was true. CSBS remains one of my most valued clients, and their confidence in me made my transition to freelancing possible.

Over the past five years, my practice has evolved beyond writing about banking issues to writing, editing and researching on a variety of subjects. My first book project was helping business writer Tom Ehrenfeld complete his guide for entrepreneurs, The Startup Garden, in 2001. Since then, I’ve worked with authors on more than half a dozen novels, several screenplays, and a couple of self-help books, providing services that ranged from rewriting to proofreading.

Where can I get references?
Click here to see some kind things clients have said about my work, and to see a current client list. If you would like to speak to any of my clients directly, e-mail me for contact information.

Why do your clients refer to “Ellen Lamb” and “Clair Lamb”? Are there two of you?
The name on my birth certificate is Ellen Clair, after my mother, who’s called Ellen. My family calls me Clair because my mother never liked the name Ellen. It apparently didn’t occur to my folks that this would make me “E. Clair,” which is surprising, considering how fast the boys in my third-grade class figured it out. I started using my first name when I got to college, and lived and worked as Ellen for 17 years in Washington, D.C. Moving to Los Angeles put me back into a group of people I’d grown up with. They already knew me as Clair, so it seemed easiest to return to that name.

I use the names interchangeably now, depending on context. Call me whichever you prefer.

Answer Girl
Ellen Clair Lamb
P. O. Box 921
Gardiner, ME 04345