DC at Night

DC at Night

Friday, October 26, 2012

On Reading Your Reviews

Best-selling author Laura Lippman knows 2 things with certainty if she is appearing at a bookstore as part of a book tour. First, while she loves discussing books and her work, she won't be reading from her own writing. And, she adds emphatically, "I'm not going to come into a book store and not do some shopping."

Lippman, with the 2 books in hand she had picked up off the shelves after her arrival, appeared recently at Politics and Prose to discuss her latest offering And When She Was Good.

The author told her audience that her latest novel came from her fixation on eavesdropping, a skill she developed in her years as a Baltimore reporter. "I know it's not supposed to be polite to eavesdrop, but now, the way people talk on the phone, I feel they almost invite you into their world," Lippman said.

The idea for And When She Was Good actually began as Lippman was standing on the sidelines of a youth soccer field and overheard a discussion about a woman who "had to move away."

"That sounded so Peyton Place," Lippman said. "I asked why the woman had to move and they said divorce - she couldn't afford to live here anymore."

Lippman said she has always been intrigued by economics and jobs and money.  She began contemplating the woman who had to move away. "What (lone) woman could afford to stay in a suburb with expensive schools? She would have to have a high-paying job. And with kids, she would have to have flexible hours," she said.

Finally, Lippman created a main character for the story - Heloise Lewis. In the comfortable suburb where she lives, Heloise is a mom, the youngish widow with a forgettable job who somehow never misses a soccer game or a school play. In the state capitol, she's the redheaded lobbyist with a good cause. But in discreet hotel rooms throughout the area, she's the woman of your dreams—if you can afford her hourly fee. And now, the secret life she has carefully built is being threatened and therein lies the story.

"Money and economics. I think that's everyone's story right now. You know, if I lost this job right now, could I provide?" Lippman said.

The book became the best reviewed novel of her career. That is until a final "snarky" review in the prestigious Sunday New York Times. While not trashing the work, the reviewer found the story line wasn't believable. And this critique troubled Lippman, who was convinced similar stories (albeit without the prostitution angle) were being played out in communities across America..

"Usually, I just say about a bad review, well they really just didn't dig it," Lippman said. "I get to write all these words, so why shouldn't the (reviewer) person get the last word?" she said. "The debate in our world (of the writing business) is extremely formalized. You put out your work and then people reply to it."

But as she pondered the idea of the negative review, she couldn't let the idea go that her novel's basis might not be credible. "I still think she (the reviewer) missed something. This is basically an allegory of being a modern mother and having a son and having to support a family," Lippman said.

And being a modern mother is something that Lippman is learning about on a daily basis. She now has a daughter with her husband, David Simon, creator of the HBO TV shows The Wire and Treme.

"Everybody told me I would write differently when I had kids," she said. "It really hasn't changed how I write about children and how they wrestle with the question of good and evil, but it has changed how I write about parents," Lippman said. "It really does take a village to raise a child. I never realized how much I would rely on others. Suddenly you have this little person and you need so much help."

"But Heloise doesn't have this help. She stands alone and doesn't have anyone. That is the suspense of the novel. And that is what I think the critic missed," she concluded.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Lippman and her husband Simon were both Baltimore journalists. So who was the better reporter? Lippman is quick to answer. "There's no question it was David. He is a natural," she said. So do they help each other with their projects? Lippman joked that she used to let her husband read her novels in progress, but she got tired of seeing so many suggested changes. Well, what about David's projects - does he consult his wife? "Really, I've only made one major suggestion that appeared in The Wire. It involved the character Stringer Bell.  He was a major drug dealer, but I said he should be reading business books," she said.

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