I’m sure other crime writers out there would agree that one of the finest perks of this writing gig is being part of a community of tremendously talented and suprisingly humble writers. To form friendships with writers whose words you’ve known and loved for years, and to hear them discuss their craft, is pretty darn cool.
Even among our nifty community, some authors have a special ability to articulate their commitment to and relationship with storytelling. I think Laura Lippman is one of our best, both as an author on the page and as a spokesperson for the genre.
If you’re reading Murderati, you probably already know a little about Laura. A former journalist, she has won the Agatha, Anthony, Edgar, Nero, Gumshoe, and Shamus awards. She is routinely mentioned as one of this generation’s finest crime writers.
Laura’s new book, I’d Know You Anywhere, hits stores tomorrow. It has already earned starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist. It is is one of Amazon’s Top 10 Picks for August and also an Indie Next pick. “Stoked by stinging dialogue and arresting evocations of the fog of fear, doubt, and guilt versus the laser-lock pursuit of survival, Lippman’s taut, mesmerizing, and exceptionally smart drama of predator and prey is at once unusually sensitive and utterly compelling.” – Booklist
On the eve of her launch, Laura, with her trademark generosity, agreed to answer a few of my burning questions.
1. Tell us a little bit about your new novel, I’d Know You Anywhere.
To me, it’s a fairly simple story: A woman who has managed to create a happy, contented life for herself despite being the victim of a horrible crime is forced to confront that crime years after the fact when a man writes her from Death Row. She is his only living victim and he wishes to speak to her before he dies. She’s terrified of speaking to him, but also terrified of not speaking to him. And she has no idea how to tell her children about what happened to her.
2. You’ve written with such detail and heart about your hometown of Baltimore. For this book, you’ve taken Eliza to the suburbs of Washington, D.C. How does an author’s choice about location affect the novel as a whole, and why did you decide on this location for I’d Know You Anywhere?
I am a homebody and I’ve always gravitated to fiction with a strong sense of place. But part of Eliza’s dilemma is that she doesn’t feel at home anywhere in the world. Her family moved in order to grant her greater anonymity, but that well-intentioned change has led to a general feeling of dislocation. She has lived in London and Houston and now D.C., but she’s not really at home in any of those places.
3. You often find inspiration for your plots in real-life crime stories. Where did Eliza’s story originate?
There was a serial killer who let one of his victims live. Because that person is still alive and has a somewhat unusual name, I’ve decided to say no more. I got to thinking about the case one day and suddenly thought: Oh my god, what’s it like to be that person?
4. You and I share a fascination with the frailty of human memory. How did you get interested in memory? How has your study of our fallibility as historians and narrators affected your writing, both as a journalist and in fiction?
I used to think I had a great memory. Maybe I did. I got good grades, I was on a quiz team. But a few years ago, my husband told a story he had told many times, and a friend of his shot it down. I think that started my fascination, the idea that someone could have a story that was right, emotionally, but wrong on almost every detail.
Now I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that my memory is bad. But you know what? I think most people my age have bad memories. Perhaps imperfect is a better word. You and I saw each other a week ago. I don’t remember what you were wearing. I can’t even remember your shoes! I can, however, remember what we had for lunch at Coquette in New Orleans back in January. (I had that divine grilled cheese sandwich and you had P&J oysters, which are on my mind because P&J had to close down because of the BP spill.) I have a friend who says she can remember every restaurant meal and WHERE SHE SAT in the restaurant. And it’s not like she goes out to eat only once or twice a year. She’s a foodie.
I will say that I would find it hard to be a journalist again because so much of journalism relies on people’s memories. Bill Bryson has a nice line in THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE THUNDERBOLT KID, about how the memoir is true to his memory. But my memory seems full of blank spaces. I think fiction takes up too much real estate in my head. If you think about it, novelists are living multiple lives. It gets confusing.
5. You move so successfully between standalones and your Tess Monaghan series (when you’re not writing killer short stories). When you have an idea for a book, how do you decide whether it’s a Tess novel or a standalone?
A Tess novel is about Tess. That sounds simplistic to the point of being moronic, but while all the Tess books center on a mystery/murder, the real story is what’s happening to Tess. If she can’t be at the center of the book, it can’t be a Tess novel. The idea for Every Secret Thing forced me to confront that notion. I am Tess’s Boswell, for better or worse.
The stand-alones, by contrast, are more idea driven. What are the responsibilities inherent in survival? Does everyone deserve a second chance, a fresh start? Is there a right way to grieve, do we promote closure for the grieving or for ourselves, so we might feel better? Why do girls break each other’s hearts? At what point does a parent’s advocacy for his child cross the line and harm someone else’s child.
6. You were gracious enough to headline a dinner for the New York Chapter of Mystery Writers of America last fall. One of the guests asked you which writers’ careers you would most like to have. I know you mentioned the uber-talented Megan Abbott among others. I think many of us would also mention you. Your writing just gets better and better. What advice do you have for writers who are just getting started at a time when the publishing industry seems increasingly impatient for early commercial success?
I’m going to be honest: I worry a lot that I am not confronting these issues because the current system is treating me well. There’s a part of me that’s sort of la-la-la, fingers in my ears, I can’t hear you! So maybe I’m not the best person to give advice. That said — how can you go wrong, putting the lion’s share of your writing time, whatever it is, into being a better writer? What do you have to lose by writing the best book you can? Writing a novel is a better gig than digging ditches, but it takes a lot of time. What do you want to have to show for that time? Money? Good luck, and I mean that in the best sense: Good luck, you’ll need it, because luck is a big part of making money in fiction writing. Great reviews? I’ve had great reviews. I’ve had lousy reviews. Neither changed me. The bad reviews hurt more than they should have, the good reviews failed to make me younger and thinner, so what good were they? Awards? For everyone out there salivating to win awards, let me ask you this: Who won the Edgar for Best Novel in 2009? I was there and I can’t remember. (Then again, see bad memory, above. I do remember your Grandmaster tribute. Oh, wait, I just remembered: C.J. Box won. But it took me a while.)
Look, if you don’t HAVE TO write, don’t. Be happy. Go live in the world. But if you want to be a writer, then want to be a writer. Not a millionaire, not someone who’s beloved by strangers, not a guy, like Dan Brown, who can arrive at the airport without his license or passport and grab a copy of his novel to use as ID. Those are all fun things, but they have zilch to do with writing. Write. Write your way. Don’t tell anyone else how to do it and don’t let anyone tell you how to do it.
As for the publishing industry: Whatever shape it takes, professionalism is always valued. Meet deadlines, be nice. It’s amazing how far those two things will take you.
See why this fawning fan girl finds such inspiration?
7. We share a love for good food. What’s the most ludicrous thing you’ve ever done to partake in a good meal?
A week ago, Mr. Lippman and I finished a meeting in New York City and had to head for home. But, of course, we were going to eat lunch first. I threw out Di Fara, the Brooklyn pizza place that I think might have the best slice in the world. I used the I Want ap on my iPhone, checked the hours, got directions. We drove through hideous traffic only to find it was closed for vacation! And one of Mr. Lippman’s cousins had driven in from Long Island to have lunch with us. So we drove to Totonno’s on Coney Island. It was worth it. To be candid, I was a little bummed we let our cousin have the leftovers. Totonno’s pizza travels really well. A few hours later, we were at the Walt Whitman rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike and I was yearning for that leftover pizza.
Please feel free to leave comments for Laura below.
I’m curious: Have you read Laura’s novels? Which are your favorites? And what are you reading right now?