The Anniversary Waltz
Ten years ago, a funky web designer from Cincinnati e-mailed me and said my name had come up in a discussion of writers who should be on the web. Why didn’t I have a website?
Pretty much out of laziness, I admitted.
Beth Tindall guided me to an Internet-world where websites were writers’ primary way of reaching people. My first “Letter from Laura” was about my uneasy relationship with something I called the “D” word, discipline. The letter also stands as documentation of a very different life, one in which I was still working fulltime — and still drank orange juice. That situation changed within a few months, at least the job part. Orange juice hung around for a few more years until I decided there were too many empty calories.
And the world would change, too, although not as much as I thought it would when I wrote letter #3, The Last Good Saturday Night. (Happy to be wrong about that. There have been good Saturday nights since, although maybe not in the same way. The thing I’ll never forget about the days after 9/11 is how the sky outside my apartment building emptied of airplanes. I gave that memory to Gloria Bustamante in Life Sentences.) From 2001 through 2010, I wrote about a great many things: the errors I make, the books I love, my year in review. However, nothing seemed to resonate more than my simple plea that people stop calling me “sir.”
In 2003, I started a blog on the Journalscape site. Ostensibly about memory, it also allowed me to post more timely updates about books and tours. But it had a hard-to-find RSS feed — I discovered it only when I decided to move it, in fact — and things were changing so quickly. Facebook! (Which I do, here and here.) Twitter (Which I don’t.) As Tommy Lee Jones says in Men in Black, imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.
Meanwhile, the original LauraLippman.com needed a facelift. I’m sure someone will argue that the original Laura Lippman does, too, but I’m just going to stick to moisturizer and trying not to get too skinny. (“Trying not to get too skinny” is the most achievable goal I have ever set for myself.) The original site had been designed to look DIY, although I really didn’t DI myself. But I wanted it to seem approachable and friendly. I still want those qualities to shine through, although I admit to having less time to respond to e-mail and requests. (Please read the FAQs!)
Now seems like the perfect time to launch a new site. There’s a new book, The Most Dangerous Thing, with several keen contests connected to it. See here for contest number one, more to follow. I’ve always maintained that author tours are really about readers, so isn’t the publication of my new book also about the readers?
I confess to being excited about the new book and not just because the early reviews have been gratifyingly strong. (Starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, while Booklist called it “superb.”) I have waited a long time to set a novel in the neighborhood where I grew up, Dickeyville. Meanwhile, the novel has many shout-outs to Lippman loyalists. The cabin in the woods? Yes, you’ve seen that before. The two cops in the Towson Diner, the lawyer at the counter? You know them, too. The former gift shop mentioned in chapter one – yes, that’s Dave Bethany’s sad shop. Oh, and when you get to the part about the private detective – well, who else would it be?
Ten years ago, when Beth wrote me, I was at a low point in my newspaper career and still recovering from some devastating experiences in my private life. The past decade has been very good to me and, in large part, that’s due to the people who read my books. Thank you.
Well, if that doesn’t increase traffic on this site, I don’t know what will.
Seriously – on Aug. 17, my fifteenth novel, I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE, will be published. The pre-publication reviews have been good – starred notices in Booklist and Publishers Weekly, an inscrutable-but-benign squib in Kirkus. It is one of Amazon’s top ten books for August and an Indie Next pick. More importantly, some wonderful booksellers throughout the country were kind enough to give the book their personal endorsement.
Yet, for personal reasons, I am making very few public appearances for this book – Bethany Beach, Oxford, MD, Oxford, MS and Baltimore are pretty much it. Hence, the BOOB tour, with Memphis tacked on the very end. Although it looks like I’ll make Los Angeles as well at the end of the month, and I still neeed to figure out a date in my second home, New Orleans, so – BOOB-M-NOLA? Bubbelah? (I also am doing a big event with PEN/Faulkner on Sept. 20th, but that’s not really part of the book tour. I am one of several writers reading original pieces on “Indiscretions.”)
It happens that one of my longtime readers – a word that I prefer to fan, not because there’s anything wrong with being a fan, I just happen to think that being a big reader is even cooler – likes to refer to himself as Bob “One O” Smith and used to ask me to sign his books that way. I stole that line for one of the Tess books; Crow uses it as a pseudonym. But Bob is moving to a smaller place and he can’t keep all his books. Much to my delight, he asked if I wanted his collection of signed Lippmans. I said I would take them if I could give them to someone else. Bob agreed. Want the books? E-mail me the title of the book in which Bob “One O” Smith is cited. Yes, I know it’s hard. Heck, I couldn’t remember which book it was without Bob’s help.
Bob’s generous offer made me think about how I could pay things forward. The paradox in my life is that I speak for a fee, almost always to libraries, and donate that fee to my hometown library. But the fact remains that while some libraries are still doing well, many are not. I would like to show my support for a library that can’t afford to bring in speakers. So here’s the deal: Write an essay about your hometown library and why I should visit. It can be personal – an anecdote about how you learned to write your name in order to get your library card there, or how you curled up on the window seat in the children’s room to read a beloved book on a snowy day. It can be factual, with details about how many people use the library and why it’s central to the community. I’ll pick my favorite essay and will then visit, completely at my own expense, at a mutually agreeable date within the next year.
A few more rules.
- The library must be within the continental United States, not because of cost of travel, but because I have only so much time.
- No bitching about the outcome! Plus, I’ll send signed copies of my new book to the libraries cited by the top ten runners-up.
- You’re on the honor system. If your local library is one of the lucky ones, with a robust speakers series and and/or an endowment, I hope you’ll give the less fortunate libraries a chance.
- No flattery. The essay shouldn’t mention me or my work at all. Tell me about your library and its staff, your town. And while I’ll be happy to enjoy a meal while I’m there, don’t worry about enumerating the delicacies on which I might feast. Think: books. Think: community. Think: libraries.
- My relatives and friends are prohibited from entering – sorry, Mom! – but their libraries are not. That said, the Enoch Pratt and the Baltimore County library systems are not eligible for this offer.
- The essays should be no more than 1,000 words and must be received by Sept. 30, 2010. No essay will appear anywhere without the writer’s express permission. It will not be possible to acknowledge receipt of all the essays. I prefer that the essays be in the body of the e-mail, not sent as attachments.
- Send your entry to laura at lauralippman.net, along with your name, e-mail address, and city/state of the library you have chosen.
I am a librarian’s daughter, as I’ve mentioned many times. I used both the Baltimore city and county library systems growing up. One of my favorite childhood memories centers on going to the library before a big trip and checking out books for the road. I know the scores of countless Broadway musicals because I could check the albums out of my local library. Years later, I began discovering opera the same way, only via CD. Meanwhile, my shelves are filled with writers I never would have discovered without libraries.
I am who I am today because of libraries. Perhaps you have a similar story to tell. If so, I really want to hear it. And if this works out, I hope to do the same thing for a deserving independent bookstore.
Over the past decade, my reputation as a writer has become inextricably linked to my hometown of Baltimore. Thirteen years, fourteen novels, and only one, In Big Trouble, is set outside Maryland.
So why does the fifteenth, I’d Know You Anywhere, unfold in the suburbs of Washington D.C.? And is the vagueness of the landscape in the novel a reflection of my own vagueness about the area or indicative of a writer too lazy to drive 45 minutes and expend some shoe leather on exploring new neighborhoods?
None of the above. The fact is, I have a pretty good working knowledge of the D.C. suburbs. I am married to a native; I have in-laws and friends there. I can even figure out an alternative route when flummoxed by the traffic. Yet I chose to place my main character, Eliza Benedict, on a fake street in a fake neighborhood somewhere in a hazily rendered Bethesda. Her daughter attends a school with a real name — North Bethesda Middle — but every detail about it, save the bullying policy, is concocted. The few recognizable landmarks in the novel tend to be commercial enterprises with no real local flavor — Five Guys, Montgomery Mall, Rita’s Custard. What gives?
Generally, I don’t like to tell people how to read one of my books. It feels presumptuous. I have always maintained I get my say, 100,000 words or so, and then the book goes out into the world and the readers should have their say. But because this book breaks with some familiar patterns in my work, I do want to address the issue of Eliza’s relationship with the D.C. suburbs.
Eliza is a woman living in exile. Her family left Baltimore when she was fifteen, hopeful that a change of residence would help everyone in the family put behind the horrible memories of Eliza’s kidnapping and rape. For the most part, it has worked. Eliza is, given her circumstances, a remarkably sane and levelheaded woman, happy in the life she has made for herself. She has attended college in Connecticut, lived in Houston and London. But, for all her travels, she has no home in the world. Careful readers will note that she is forever cataloging what is wrong with her house, although it sounds quite nice. In an early draft, I think I even referenced the final song of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, “Anatevka,” but that mournful litany was too on point. Instead, there is a scene where Eliza watches BRIGADOON on TCM one Sunday afternoon.
“Of course it ended happily — at least for Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. But what of the other Brigadooners — Brigadoonites? — who might not meet their true loves in the small village, or who might not love with a ferocity that awakens a town that otherwise would sleep for a century? What would happen over the years, as the town’s residents became more connected by blood?”
For every person who loves his or her hometown, there’s probably one who needs to leave in order to realize big dreams or ambitions. I’ve always felt that part of the reason my books have been translated into twenty languages is that the love of a hometown is pretty universal, no matter how peculiar the hometown. (Yes, there really was a place in Baltimore that served deep-fried green pepper rings dredged in powdered sugar. Yes, cops of a certain generation here do say “a police.”) But there is an equally universal desire to move on from some places, for many reasons. Eliza keeps moving on, in hopes that she will find her place in the world.
As a writer and reader, I have always been drawn to novels where place matters. But I’ve been lucky to have strong roots in a town I love. Perhaps you have, too. How would you feel if you had been uprooted at a vulnerable age and forced to leave a beloved place behind? How would you experience new places, new people? The vagueness of Eliza’s world is not a comment on the D.C. suburbs, but on her situation. What will it take to make her feel safe, to allow her to consider a place her sanctuary? That, as much as anything else, is the story of I’d Know You Anywhere.
Two months ago, I promised more posting in this space and a chance to win free books. Then my life, as Robert Burns once wrote, aft agley. Sorry about that. But here’s an easy way to win a free book from me: Be the first one to post this message in the comments section of the current thread, Thumbsucker, at The Memory Project: “I like free books.” And stay tuned for more freebies — more copies of I’d Know You Anywhere, an entire set of gently owned Lippman first editions and even a visit to your favorite library or independent bookstore. That is, I’d visit, but it wouldn’t cost the library, store or my publisher a single cent.
The new book will begin heading out into the world as an ARC/ARE (advanced reader’s copy or edition) at the end of May. By my calculations, the seventeen months between the hardcover publication of Life Sentences and I’d Know You Anywhere is one of the longest in my career. So I feel I should try to provide more fresh content here on the website, old-fashioned as it feels in these Tweeting, Facebooking, blogging times. And with each new essay, there will be a chance to win a copy of I’d Know You Anywhere. (You won’t get it until August, but it will be a signed first edition.)
The first story I want to tell is about a dog in the book, named Reba. The dog is inspired by a story I wrote for The Sun in January 1996. A young man, allegedly high, took his dog for a walk — with his car. Yes, he was driving and walking his dog at the same time. He was pulled over and his dog, a very handsome Chesapeake Bay retriever named Barkley, was featured in the newspaper and on the local news programs. Hundreds of people vied to adopt him. I felt bad for Barkley, too. But I knew there were hundreds of dogs in our city’s shelters and I wondered — why didn’t all the people who wanted to adopt Barkley go ahead and choose another dog? Why are humans so driven by specifics, focusing on individual examples of a problem — animal abuse, missing children, domestic violence — and so lousy at the big picture?
During my research, I went to a local shelter where the manager confided in me that she was heartsick over a dog named Reba, whom no one wanted. This was a no-kill shelter, so Reba had caught a break, in a sense. But she had been there many months and she just didn’t have any charisma. She was a hang-dog dog, shy and mopey. But so sweet, the manager told me.
So what did I do? When I put in the photo request for the story, I included detailed instructions that asked that the photographer make sure he got Reba’s picture. I claimed she was central to my story, although she really wasn’t. Why? Because I suspected the very human tendency I was criticizing would work to Reba’s benefit. I would put her in the paper, featuring her in a story about how people always respond to specific appeals, and that would increase her odds of being adopted. Did that make me a grade-A hypocrite? Or just incredibly manipulative?
At any rate, Reba was adopted within days after the article appeared. So if that’s what a little hypocrisy can do, I have no apologies.
I’d Know You Anywhere has a shelter dog named Reba. It also has a main character who knows the pitfall of being the single face associated with a notorious story. Eliza Benedict has, finally, managed to evade her past. Or so she thinks. Then one day, a letter arrives. I saw your photo in a magazine. I’d know you anywhere.
Want to be considered for a free copy of I’d Know You Anywhere? Enter a random drawing by going to The Memory Project or the Laura Lippman page on Facebook and finishing this sentence: “If I had a dog, I’d name him/her –“ Or, if you prefer, you can finish this sentence: “The best pet I ever had was -“
Originality encouraged, although not necessarily rewarded. The name of every entrant will be thrown into a hat or a bowl. If your name is picked, you get a free signed copy of I’d Know You Anywhere.
Meanwhile, here‘s a fun link to a story about a NOT lost dog who also generated a lot of attention and interest.
Win an advance copy of I’d Know You Anywhere.
Here’s all you have to do:
- Become a fan of Laura Lippman on Facebook or read her blog, The Memory Project.
- Add your comment to a thread at either site. The thread, to be posted April 19th, will be utterly silly and trivial and seemingly have very little to do with the book.
- The thread will be up for one week. Anyone who comments (except for trolls, and we know who you are) will automatically be entered into a random drawing for I’d Know You Anywhere.
The robot has a copy. Shouldn’t you?
Book news for 2010
My fifteenth novel, I’d Know You Anywhere, will be published this summer and the paperback of Life Sentences is now available.