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Inspired Correspondent
Bethanne
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Laura Lippman, March 16-20

We're so pleased to welcome novelist Laura Lippman to Center Stage and hope we all give her an enthusiastic reception! Her latest novel is Life Sentences, which joins her considerable backlist.  

 

Laura Lippman was a reporter for twenty years, includingtwelve years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novelswhile working fulltime and published seven books about “accidental PI” TessMonaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001. Her work has been awarded theEdgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe and Barryawards. She also has been nominated for other prizes in the crime fictionfield, including the Hammett and the Macavity. She was the first-ever recipientof the Mayor’s Prize for Literary Excellence and the first genre writerrecognized as Author of the Year by the Maryland Library Association. 

           

Ms. Lippman grew up in Baltimore and attended city schoolsthrough ninth grade. After graduating from Wilde Lake High School in Columbia,Md., Ms. Lippman attended Northwestern University’s Medill School ofJournalism. Her other newspaper jobs included the Waco Tribune-Heraldand the San Antonio Light.  

 

Ms. Lippman returned toBaltimore in 1989 and has lived there since. She is the daughter of TheoLippman Jr., a Sun editorial writer who retired in 1995 but continues tofreelance for several newspapers, and Madeline Mabry Lippman, a former BaltimoreCity school librarian. Her sister, Susan, is a local bookseller.   

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becke_davis
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Re: Laura Lippman, March 16-20

I've been a mystery fan since I first learned how to read, and I don't know why it took me so long to discover this author.  I loved What the Dead Know, and as soon as I read it, I started recommending it to everyone I know.  The next book I read was the short story collection that came out last year: 

Hardly Knew Her

 

This was one of the best mystery anthologies I've read in a long time.  I hope there will be more short stories to come!

 

I bought Life Sentences today, and I'm looking forward to reading it.  After reading What the Dead Know, I also picked up several of the Tess Monaghan books, but those are still in my TBR pile.  I'm excited to read them, too, I just can't read fast enough! 

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Laura_Lippman
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Re: Laura Lippman, March 16-20

[ Edited ]

I'm sneaking in here a day early to welcome everyone who stops by. I'm on tour as I write this, so it's probable I'll be checking in early in the day or late at night, but please know that I'm here and ready for any and all questions. Even tough questions, and I'll throw out a few that have been coming up on the road: 

 

What are the ethics -- if any! -- in using real-life crimes as inspiration for a novel?

 

If everyone's memory is fallible, then what is the implication for memoir? Should we read memoirs as stories told to the best of someone's recollection?

 

Did you lose weight or something? (Just kidding, but that question does seem to be coming up a lot. I have lost a little weight, but the real change is that I have darker hair and bangs, as you'll see if you watch the video I made for Life Sentences, which is posted on the book's page at bn.com.) 

 

ETA: I fixed some typos. Forgive me!  

Message Edited by Laura_Lippman on 03-15-2009 05:32 PM


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becke_davis
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Re: Laura Lippman, March 16-20

Laura - I wanted to wait to post again until I finished Life Sentences, but I couldn't wait.  Wow -- this book is amazing!  When you wrote it, did you have your tongue in cheek, realizing readers would instantly start wondering how much of yourself you put into the heroine? (Any time an author makes her main character a writer, I think it's almost guaranteed to happen.)
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Laura_Lippman
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Re: Laura Lippman, March 16-20


becke_davis wrote:
Laura - I wanted to wait to post again until I finished Life Sentences, but I couldn't wait.  Wow -- this book is amazing!  When you wrote it, did you have your tongue in cheek, realizing readers would instantly start wondering how much of yourself you put into the heroine? (Any time an author makes her main character a writer, I think it's almost guaranteed to happen.)
Not so much tongue in cheek as heart in throat, because Cassandra isn't particularly nice at times -- especially in her own head -- and I know some people will think I am her. 
 Yet that seems a fair bargain to me: I get to write what I want, readers get to think what they want. So, if someone thinks I am Cassandra, so be it. I'm not (I hope), but I think my life informed hers. And I had the advantage of knowing where she was going, which made it much easier to write about her.  

 


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becke_davis
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Re: Laura Lippman, March 16-20

[ Edited ]

Yes, Cassandra does see everything through a very narrow world view.  I wasn't thinking you were like that, but her opening comments about the book signing, and her observations about writing follow-up books after a best seller seemed to resonate a little too clearly to be entirely made up.  But then, this could just be another example of brilliant writing.  (Either way, you can't really lose!)

 

I know some people don't like first person, but I've never understood why that would be.  I've always liked first person a lot, and I think it's really interesting the way this book goes back and forth between Cassandra's third person viewpoint, and her first person observations (written as excerpts from her best selling book).  Did you start out with a plan to write the book this way, or did you hit on this along the way?  I'm always curious about an author's process, and this seems as if it would have been tricky to write. 

Message Edited by becke_davis on 03-15-2009 09:53 PM
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Bethanne
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Re: Laura Lippman, March 16-20


Laura_Lippman wrote:

I'm sneaking in here a day early to welcome everyone who stops by. I'm on tour as I write this, so it's probable I'll be checking in early in the day or late at night, but please know that I'm here and ready for any and all questions. Even tough questions, and I'll throw out a few that have been coming up on the road: 

 

What are the ethics -- if any! -- in using real-life crimes as inspiration for a novel?

 

If everyone's memory is fallible, then what is the implication for memoir? Should we read memoirs as stories told to the best of someone's recollection?

 

Did you lose weight or something? (Just kidding, but that question does seem to be coming up a lot. I have lost a little weight, but the real change is that I have darker hair and bangs, as you'll see if you watch the video I made for Life Sentences, which is posted on the book's page at bn.com.) 

 

ETA: I fixed some typos. Forgive me!  

Message Edited by Laura_Lippman on 03-15-2009 05:32 PM

Welcome, Laura! Thanks for "sneaking in." We'll be happy to see you whenever you manage to post. These are great questions to get everyone started.
Bethanne 

 

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Laura_Lippman
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Re: Laura Lippman, March 16-20


becke_davis wrote:

Yes, Cassandra does see everything through a very narrow world view.  I wasn't thinking you were like that, but her opening comments about the book signing, and her observations about writing follow-up books after a best seller seemed to resonate a little too clearly to be entirely made up.  But then, this could just be another example of brilliant writing.  (Either way, you can't really lose!)

 

I know some people don't like first person, but I've never understood why that would be.  I've always liked first person a lot, and I think it's really interesting the way this book goes back and forth between Cassandra's third person viewpoint, and her first person observations (written as excerpts from her best selling book).  Did you start out with a plan to write the book this way, or did you hit on this along the way?  I'm always curious about an author's process, and this seems as if it would have been tricky to write. 

Message Edited by becke_davis on 03-15-2009 09:53 PM
I've had a very different career path from Cassandra's, starting out in paperback original and I like to think that my much longer path -- seven books before I could leave my day job -- has made me a little nicer. But, yes, I'll cop to a few overlaps in our experiences at book signings. 1) People frequently comment on my author photo and they almost always say they prefer me in real life. I happen to think my author photos have been pretty flattering, but I recognize that this is meant as a compliment. 2) I am aware of the crowd as I speak; my eyes are scanning, trying to gauge how my talk is being received. Inevitably, I put more emphasis on the people who are frowning, even if everyone else is smiling and nodding. 3) Like Cassandra, I welcome all questions, no matter how many times I've been asked them. After all, the person in front of me hasn't had the chance to ask the question before. 
 As for process. I figured out early on that Cassandra's memoir had to be part of this book. This is a story, after all, about someone who can't see the life right in front of her, even as she's writing about it. And a memoir has to be in first person. An interviewer recently asked why I haven't written more in first person and I believe it's because I get sloppy in the first person, fall back on a less disciplined, colloquial voice, much closer to my day-to-day speech. I think I have a first-person novel in me, but it will have to be about someone extremely different from me, sort of like what Marilynne Robinson did with Gilead, although I don't believe I could ever write anything on a par with anything by Robinson. 

 


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MarjorieofConnecticut
Posts: 3
Registered: ‎03-17-2009

Re: Laura Lippman, March 16-20

Hello, Laura.  One of the things that I enjoy about your books are the pop culture references.  I am 80 pages into "Life Sentences" and enjoying it very much and at one point there is mention made of a cartoon television series from my own youth.  When you are writing do these television, music, food, etc. references come from your own memory or is it part of your research process for the books? 

 

--Marjorie of Connecticut

New User
shosetsu
Posts: 3
Registered: ‎03-17-2009

Re: Laura Lippman, March 16-20

Finished the book a few days ago and am dying to know how Aubrey is connected to the mystery. Why does Callie fall apart when she finds out about Aubrey's existence? Where does Aubrey really come from? There seemed to be something more than Callie breaking down because Donna has a child and she doesn't.

 

And what happened in Donna's marriage to make her barren? 

 

BTW: The whole "you look better in person" thing is because you've got such a warm, bright personality. Which your author photograph captures, but only partially. 

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MarjorieofConnecticut
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Re: Laura Lippman, March 16-20

Laura,

 

This question comes from brian s., another member of your great Memory Project website that I am forwarding along:

 

"Is any writing NOT 'memoir', at least to some extent? Overt memoir writing
(especially when the subtitle is something like "A Memoir"!) raises the
standards; using real names certainly does also...but what about books like
Primary Colors, wherein a memoir goes incognito?

Or, as the NYT article on memory reminds us, are people ALWAYS going to try
and impose order and patterns on things that might really be random and
invented?"

 

Thanks,

Marjorie of Connecticut

 

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Laura_Lippman
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Re: Laura Lippman, March 16-20


MarjorieofConnecticut wrote:

Hello, Laura.  One of the things that I enjoy about your books are the pop culture references.  I am 80 pages into "Life Sentences" and enjoying it very much and at one point there is mention made of a cartoon television series from my own youth.  When you are writing do these television, music, food, etc. references come from your own memory or is it part of your research process for the books? 

 

--Marjorie of Connecticut


Marjorie, 
 
Believe it or not I actually try to go pretty lightly on pop culture references, which I guess indicates how many I consider and reject. I am reading a book right now and I love it, but I have found myself second-guessing its use of pop culture, so I better watch myself.
 
I start with my memory, but I have learned the hard way that my memory is not to be trusted. Mainly, though, I start with the characters and try to figure out what their frames of reference would be. Cassandra Fallows was very easy because she's only a year older than I am and has very similar tastes. The other characters were trickier.
 
You might recall, however, that there's a section about Tisha at Northwestern, and her discovery of the Br'er Rabbit stories as rendered by William Faulkner (not the Nobel Prize winner, but a former slave who told traditional stories in much simpler language.) That was drawn from my life. Her professor, Sterling Stuckey, was my professor, and the discussion about Jelly Roll Morton really happened. I wish I could remember how I got Tisha started on her "Song of the South" rant, but that memory is lost to me. However, once she got the ball rolling, it was natural to write that story for her.  
 
 

 


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Laura_Lippman
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Re: Laura Lippman, March 16-20

I'm dying to answer these questions re: Donna and Aubrey, but wonder if there's someone we can control for spoilers? Moderators? Anyone? They are good questions and I am yearning to elaborate! 


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Laura_Lippman
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Re: Laura Lippman, March 16-20


MarjorieofConnecticut wrote:

Laura,

 

This question comes from brian s., another member of your great Memory Project website that I am forwarding along:

 

"Is any writing NOT 'memoir', at least to some extent? Overt memoir writing
(especially when the subtitle is something like "A Memoir"!) raises the
standards; using real names certainly does also...but what about books like
Primary Colors, wherein a memoir goes incognito?

Or, as the NYT article on memory reminds us, are people ALWAYS going to try
and impose order and patterns on things that might really be random and
invented?"

 

Thanks,

Marjorie of Connecticut

 


I do believe that we are forever trying to create order via narrative. That's why pesky details fall away, or mutate, if you will. 
 
Primary Colors is an odd beast in the fiction menagerie; it traded on the mystery of its authorship to find an audience, but it turned out to be Joe Klein -- a very good political reporter, but with pretty much the access of any good political reporter at a big news organization. It's a good example of the roman a clef.
 
Me, I think a lot of memoirs are still zipping around the world as autobiographical novels, and I quite approve of that.  

 


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becke_davis
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Re: Laura Lippman, March 16-20

I've been trying to hold off on questions and comments until I finish the book, but it's not going to happen.  I've bent pages all over the place to remind of things.  When I mentioned to my daughter that I was reading LIFE SENTENCES and said I'd pass it on to her, she said, "Too late!" -- she already went out and bought it.  We both read What the Dead Know last summer and it hooked us both.

 

I think the whole concept of a memoir as "property" is intriguing:  who owns a person's history?  Is it fair to write a story that features real people, knowing they are being portrayed in another person's perspective?  I'd never really thought of it that way. 

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Bonnie57
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Registered: ‎03-18-2009

Re: Laura Lippman, March 16-20

Laura,

   I discovered your books in a library in Littleton, Colorado where I live now but was immediately interested since I, too, am a Baltimore native! I grew up in Catonsville, Md. and what I enjoyed the most about your stories was that I knew most of the places and streets that you referred to!

   Most of the references to the way things looked in Baltimore from the past and some of the suburbs that you referred to were my memories as well! I couldn't wait to get another Laura Lippman crime novel not only for the mystery but for a story that takes place where I lived for 35 years. I only wish that you were on camera so I could hear your Baltimore accent-"Hi hon!" really made me laugh! I will get my family to read your books so they can enjoy them like I have!  Thanks, Laura!

                                                 Bonnie!

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Laura_Lippman
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Re: Laura Lippman, March 16-20

 Thank you, Bonnie. I'm not going to quote your post back, as it's not a question per se, but I will use it as an opportunity to note that I am often asked -- by Baltimoreans -- if other people "get" the books. And what I have learned overtime is that Baltimore may be far from universal, but "hometown" is definitely universal, whether one loves it or hates, stays or flees. 


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Diane_L
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Re: Laura Lippman, March 16-20

Just finished Life Sentences and loved it.  Beyond the usual Lippman treats of great writing, characters that you start to think of as real people, and perfect pitch in terms of getting Baltimore, I particularly loved that the protagonist is my exactly age (well she's 2 weeks older than I am).  Thanks for daring to write about that most forgettable or unnoted of people, the older middle-aged woman (actually women, this book was about the survival skills of middle-aged women coping alone).

 

 

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Laura_Lippman
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Re: Laura Lippman, March 16-20

Diane, 

 

I love your take on the book. Yes, it is full of women at midlife and (I hope) they are interesting, vibrant, complicated women.

 

Then again, I'm only a year younger than the lot of them.  


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becke_davis
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Re: Laura Lippman, March 16-20 ***SPOILERS***

[ Edited ]

I stayed up late trying to finish this, but sleep forced itself on me.  Finished it this morning, and it's still simmering in my mind.  Wow, so many layers in this book.  I loved it!

 

Little things that clicked with me:

 

On page 78, I loved Cassandra's snarky come-back to her snippy ex-doctor.

 

And could anyone read page 81 without Googling "Charles Bukowski" and "shoelace?"  I'm so glad I did, that poem is amazing.  I'm so glad I found it!  A little long to quote in the book.

 

And since I'm a little twisted, I had to go find a used copy of LAUREL CANYON, too, since I somehow missed that one.

 

Loved: "Google's rectangular robot mouth."

 

On page 142, I caught myself calculating how old Cassandra would have been, based on MLK's assassination date.  I was trying to figure out how close to my age she was.  Then I had one of those "duh" moments, because I actually knew how old I was when that happened: it happened weeks before my sixteenth birthday, so Cassandra's about the same age as one of my sisters.  Not sure why I had to stop and figure that out.

 

I loved Callie's POV scenes, especially the ones late in the book.  I loved how she worried about storing tea bags in the coffee canister, about "season to taste."  I shuddered as she remembered her mother's behavior.  

 

One of my very favorite things in the whole book was the way Callie talked to Mr. Bittman -- and I was so excited to find out he is a real person, and that HOW TO COOK EVERYTHING is a real book!

 

I loved that Callie bought her first book at Barnes and Noble, and I was thrilled to share that experience with her. 

 

At the end,  I thought her story could have been called "What I Did For Love."  It really was Callie's story, more than Cassandra's, and that's why I liked it so much.

 

But I'm still having trouble switching gears to pronounce Calliope like "Alley-Oop!" 


Message Edited by becke_davis on 03-18-2009 07:51 PM