WRITERS TELL ALL
With LADY IN THE LAKE, Laura Lippman Shows Raymond Chandler Who the HBIC Really Is.
Please read review of Lippman's latest, and Order the Novel Here: https://www.amazon.com/Lady-Lake-Novel-Laura-Lippman/dp/0062390015/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Laura+Lippman+lady+in+the+lake&qid=1563853050&s=gateway&sr=8-1
Matthew Turbeville: Hi Laura! It’s always a pleasure to get to pick my favorite writer’s brain. Do you mind going into any detail you’d like about how Lady in the Lake was made? What were you hoping to accomplish, and how did you manage to create so many different points-of-view?
Laura Lippman: I started out just wanting to tell the story of a woman who decides to reinvent herself at mid-life. Early on, I realized that the story was Maddy's incurious, errant path, that she was so focused on one story that she couldn't see a dozen other stories around her. So I began writing these one-off chapters about the people she barely noticed.
MT: In so many ways you are the writer every writer wants to be. For the longest time, you’ve been building on your novels, the lengths changing but you are always somehow manage to finely hone the books. With Sunburn, we see this book so slim, a perfect mixture of James M Cain and Anne Tyler. How do you feel you are progressing with your writing, what do you think are the biggest influences at this point in your career, and what books would you say influenced Lady in the Lake?
LL: My peers are a big influence. Other writers, too, but my day-to-day work is energized by the writers I know because it feels as if all our books are ongoing conversations about our genre -- what can it do, what should it do. Thinking specifically of Megan Abbott, Alafair Burke and Alison Gaylin here, but there are so many writers I could name.
MT: I know I’ve always said no book would beat After I’m Gone for me, pretty much with any author. Yet, 2019 has seen my obsession with many books, including the marvelous Lady in the Lake, and I wonder what your thought are on what I think is an abundance of great books this year, especially (in my mind, at least), most of them seem to be by women? What books are your absolute favorites this year?
LL: Well, see above, although Megan won't have a book out this year. Naming favorites is tricky; I'm going to miss some people. But there are a lot of rising stars. It's like a meteor shower out there, and that is probably a mixed metaphor at best.
MT: I have always said you are the only few writers who I think can write outside of who you are, and in most of the time I’m referring to race. Who was the hardest character to inhabit in Lady in the Lake, and was there a character you really didn’t want to leave? Which authors today do you think you’d trust with writing outside themselves? One example I love is Steph Cha’s new and also brilliant novel Your House Will Pay. Like you, she has such patience and love for everyone in the book, while also being able to look critically at everyone.
LL: They were all hard, even the easy ones, if that makes sense. I sweated the most over the chapter with Paul Blair -- a real person, a wonderful person, someone who's beloved in Baltimore years after his death. But they were all hard. Harder still were the people who didn't get to tell their stories, in their words -- Ferdie, E.Z. Taylor.
As for writing outside one's own story -- it helps if you've lived in a world where you're not considered the cultural default. But, in the end, it's something that anyone should be able to do, if they really push themselves.
MT: So, I wrote an article earlier this year about the new private investigators, and how on top of Tess Monaghan and Kinsey Millhone, these authors will continue the legacies of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Some readers were angered, saying no one could inhabit a space previously occupied by, say, Chandler. And yet you have Lady in the Lake, and I feel comfortable saying you more than rival him as one of the modern masters of crime fiction. Why do you think people—especially men—have such a hard time realizing there are new and very well written private investigators, and in your case a book just as poignant and beautifully written as a novel by Chandler?
LL: I don't think I can answer that without sounding pompous or self-satisfied. I do think that crime fiction has some old-school readers (and writers) who haven't expanded the definition of crime novel.
MT: You’re not a stranger to success, but at least for me, hearing my grandmother say this book beat Gone with the Wind and From Here to Eternity for her, I realizedSunburn was making some really big waves. So many people have been fans, and I’ve always made friends promise if I bought them a copy, they’d buy someone else a copy. And they never hesitate in doing so. What do you think so specifically about Sunburn spoke to so many people? I don’t remember anyone saying “I read Sunburnbecause it was short,” as a lot of my friends do with other authors. You really hit a home run with mostly everyone, and I’m so interested to hear why you think Sunburnappealed to so many people.
LL: I think everyone is curious about women who don't act as we think they should. Nasty women, if you will.
MT: A lot of your novels, because of the time they are set in, because of many reasons really, I associate with songs. I know people can go through me tweeting you constantly about After I’m Gone, and I believe Sunburnrefers to a TLC song (although I could be wrong), but what song would you feel defined or fit very well into Maddie’s world?
LL: Maddie's music is kind of a journey, although it's not described in the book. I imagine her moving from the sort of songs Dean Martin was singing on his variety show -- I watched a lot of Dean Martin shows to get into that mid-60s vibe -- to traditional jazz, the music Ferdie like.
MT: It would be easy for a writer less aware, less capable, etc, to turn Maddie into what I’ve heard so many people refer to as a while savior. And yet, Maddie isn’t completely dependent on saving black people or anyone different from herself. She makes a big move at the beginning of the book and this new life which does, in many ways, give her a chance to pretend she’s helping racial minorities, Maddie also is doing many things for herself. You never really try and show in an obvious way how this works, and that’s what’s so amazing about this novel. For people to write these really complex characters with different wants and needs, characters like Maddie, how do you think you’d instruct authors today trying to do this, and why do you think you’re so successful at walking a dialectic, making sure to show both sides to everything?
LL: Maddie's a white destroyer, she is so careless with other people's lives. My advice, as always, is to think about writing your characters a little smaller than life.
MT: I feel like this is really a continuation of the previous question. So many readers hate “unlikable women.” I’m not a fan of replacing unlikable with “complex,” but where do you think we are with female characters deemed unlikable and how readers view them, and do you think there’s any importance in writing characters like this?
LL: I'm going to say something radical -- forget likeable versus unlikeable, a lot of people, women included, just don't like women. There are certain concerns as a writer you just have to shrug off early on. "Will readers like my characters?" is one of them.
MT: The idea of self-destruction, people walking into a trap they’ve set for themselves, it’s so appealing to me. I think of the ending of the original run of Veronica Mars, in the third season finale “The Bitch is Back,” which Veronica goes so far with her revenge, what might continue would concern the destruction of Logan, her long-time love interest, and especially, possibly worse of all, her father, Keith, too. In crime novels, mystery novels, any genre really, what do you think is so important about destiny, and do you think you’re especially drawn to this? I think of Rachel, the love-of-her-life (I’m trying to be vague and spoiler free), and that major heartbreaking twist near the end of After I’m Gone, as well as some of your other books too.
LL: I'm not sure I'm a big believer in destiny? But some of my characters are. As you know, there's a psychic in Lady, and she believes in her powers. And it turns out that she does foretell the future. Or does she? Maybe she simply provides Maddie with a detail and Maddie finds the context that fits what she thinks she knows.
MT: In fiction, I’ve heard “this is not your battle” or “this is not your war,” similar things like that told to major characters again and again. Where do you think our characters, and ourselves as actual humans, have to learn the line we can and cannot cross? Do you ever feel you’ve crossed a line, touched on things you shouldn’t, or is there actually anything a writer shouldn’t write about?
LL: Speaking only for myself, yes, I have made mistakes, crossed some boundaries I shouldn't have crossed -- and I probably will again. John Irving, via Garp, said we are all terminal cases. But we're all also works in progress, or should be.
MT: I’ve read a lot about the impossibility of ending a novel, or at least having a really great or perfect ending. A lot of your novels—I’m thinking Sunburn, Wilde Lake (which I love and feel I don’t talk about enough), After I’m Gone, and this novel as well, end in a sort of open way. Instead of killing every character off, having a Sopranosstyle ending where we know nothing—instead you have all these possibilities, and while we do know some things about the fates of the character, I’m interested in why you tend to choose books that can continue in the readers’ minds. What do you look for in an ending?
LL: A single image. I'm always thinking about the single image at the end of the book.
MT: When will we see Tess again? Have any stories planned out for her, or does she seem far off for now? I remembered some post or statement saying you weren’t done with her, and she’s definitely made appearances in some of your standalones. What keeps drawing you back to Tess, all these years later? What feels so essential about who she is, and the stories she tells amd also how they are told?
LL: Tess has a cameo in the novel I'm working on. But it's getting harder and harder to write about her because she's making fewer mistakes. I love Tess, I'm proud of her. She's like a young friend who's come into her own -- and she doesn't need me so much anymore.
MT: What book are you working on now? Or stories? Can you hint at any work to come? Also, how was writing a children’s book? What was gratifying specifically about that experience?
LL: I'm working on a novel that's an urban version of Misery with a hint of Zuckerman Unbound, A Novel Called Heritage and another book whose title just completely slipped my mind.
MT: There are so many great (and some terrible) books being printed today. Who, if you were to guess, who be the emerging or newer authors who will be leading all of fiction and specifically crime fiction in general? I’m obsessed with Steph Cha’s new novel, and she is clearly a formidable talent in my mind. Who do you think show most promise, and who do you look forward to hearing more from?
LL: Wow -- I'm terrified to answer that question, you know I'm going to leave someone out. My primary hope, fear is that we're going to be hearing from an ever-growing diverse population of writers. We still have a little problem of hashtag Crime Fiction Too White. And, yeah, I guess I'm part of the problem.
MT: Laura, you know you are both one of my favorite people and writers. I really am thankful to get to “talk” to you, and I’m so glad you agreed to speak with me. I really am wishing you the best, and I hope 2019 and 2020 are going to be more than great for you. I can only hope you come do a book signing out in Hogeye, South Carolina. And everyone needs to read Lady in the Lake, coming out in July. Thank you again.
LL: Thank you, Matthew!
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