I was excited (if a little daunted) to interview Laura Lippman, author of Life Sentences [link to my review] as well as 15 other books, including the Tess Monaghan mystery series.Word Lily: After reading on your website about how private of a person you are, to the extent that you removed your bio from your website, I’m a little intimidated to interview you. Perhaps I can interview Cassandra [your main character in Life Sentences], instead? No, just kidding. I’ll forge ahead.
Word Lily: What character in Life Sentences do you feel the most comfortable with? Why?
Laura Lippman: Most comfortable? I think that would have to be Tisha. She’s a straight shooter and she’s the only character who doesn’t rely on a self-created myth to get through the day.
Word Lily: Of all the books you’ve written, which is your favorite? Why?
Laura Lippman: My favorite is always the book I’m currently working on, because it’s the only one that still has the theoretical potential to be perfect. I love all my books, but the completed ones are inevitably imperfect. The book-in-progress is the only one that can offer the illusion that, this time, I might really get it right.
Word Lily: I know that feeling. How did you transition from writing journalistically to writing fiction? I read that you wrote your first seven books while working full-time at The Sun. (Having worked in the newspaper world, may I express my awe over that feat.)
Laura Lippman: I think it’s important to be candid: Those first seven books meant having NO life and that is not something I recommend. At any rate, I was always a novelist at heart. I went into journalism because it was a job that would allow me to write every day. And I learned a lot from journalism. First and foremost, I learned how to explain immensely complicated stuff. Once you’ve had to describe the inner workings of the city water system, or how public works projects are financed through bonds, a murder mystery starts to look really simple. Journalism teaches lucidity. That’s a good place for any writer to start.
Word Lily: What does the future of journalism look like?
Laura Lippman: I honestly don’t know. Instead, I’ll offer up the Pollyanna-ish prayer that those who profess to love democracy will be reminded that the fourth estate is vital and that good journalism is worth paying for. The truth is, we all — and by “we all,” I mean those who read even one section of the newspaper — got a free ride for a long, long time. The cover price — whether it was 35 cents, 50 cents, a dollar — didn’t begin to pay for what we were getting. Advertising subsidized our newspaper habit. Journalism is of value, but even before the internet, we were getting it for a pittance. Time to pay up or shut up.
Word Lily: Some more general questions now. Why do you write?
Laura Lippman: I think it’s compulsive. Do you know the musical, Once Upon a Mattress? There’s a character who’s been under a magical spell and can’t speak. At the play’s end, the spell is lifted and, upon learning that he can speak, he says: “And I have a lot to say.” I’ve never been the silent type, yet I feel that way, as if I have all these words bottled up inside. I have so much to say.
Word Lily: How did you start writing?
Laura Lippman: The temptation is to say, One word at a time. Or to ask how I should define start? I’ve always written. I wrote before I knew how to write. I started trying to tell stories when I was five. I tried to write my first novel at age 12. Then again and again and again. Finally, at age 33, I started a novel that I managed to finish. Starting was easy for me. Finishing was really hard.
Word Lily: What question have you always expected (or been dying to hear) but never actually been asked? And what’s your answer to that question?
Laura Lippman: What a wonderfully dangerous question. I think every writer has a secret allusion that no one gets and one waits and waits and waits for the reader who will pick up on it. Recently, I heard from a reader who had turned her husband onto my books. He’s a really big fan of the Oz series, to which I allude many, many, many times. And it pleased me that a) he got it and b) that he thought I got something wrong, checked it, and found out I was right. Let me be clear — I make mistakes, I am far from perfect. So it was delightful to find out that another Oz aficionado had questioned my credentials and discovered I was right.
Laura Lippman: But I feel I’ve sidestepped your question. I think the thing I long to be asked is how my husband feels about being married to me. To which I would say: He knows he’s the luckiest man in Baltimore.
Word Lily: Ha! What are you working on now?
Laura Lippman: I have finished-finished a book called I’d Know You Anywhere, which will be available in August. It’s about a very happy woman, whose contented life is disrupted when she receives a letter from a convicted serial killer. Turns out that she’s his only living victim and he wants to speak to her before he’s executed for one of his crimes.
Word Lily: Thank you so much for your time! Anything else you want to say? Am I missing something?
Laura Lippman: You haven’t missed a trick. The only thing I want to say about Life Sentences is that I know Cassandra is a gigantic pain in the ass. But — I hope! — that makes her journey that much more interesting. If Cassandra had always been a good/nice person, she wouldn’t be in the fix she’s in. I guess I like to think that it’s never too late to learn how to be a good person.
About the author
Laura Lippman grew up in Baltimore and returned there in 1989 to work as a journalist. She has won numerous awards for her work. Her 17th book, I’d Know You Anywhere, is set to be released in August.