Lippman to hold signing at South Coastal Library
New York Times bestselling author Laura Lippman always knew she wanted to be a writer.
“I wanted to be a novelist when I was really young, like 5 years old,” recalled Lippman, who said she had tried to create that early novel, only to find she couldn’t read or write. So she made up her own language instead.
“My dad was a journalist for many years. I think there was something in my father’s life that seemed fun and enviable to me, and it seemed like a pretty great life, to write for a living.
“I really wanted to write fiction. I didn’t know any novelists. I knew all of these newspaper people because of my dad. So I went into newspapers, knowing it was possible to do that as a fulltime job to support oneself, and kept an eye out as to how I might make the transition to writing novels.”
Since publishing her first book, “Baltimore Blues,” in 1997, Lippman has gone on to receive numerous literary awards, including the Edgar Award, the Agatha Award and the Quill Award.
“I began writing crime novels because it seemed a little bit less presumptuous and daring than just saying, ‘Oh, I’ll go write the great American novel now.’ I began writing them because I loved them. I read them for sheer fun and enjoyment, and I understood them.”
On Friday, Aug. 24, at 3 p.m. Lippman will return to South Coastal Library for an author talk and book signing of her latest standalone novel, “And When She Was Good.”
“She gives a brief talk and people do ask questions, and then she will be doing the bookselling and author signing in the library,” explained library Director Sue Keefe. “The nice thing with this is, if we have for some reason someone to whom we have to say, ‘Sorry, I can’t get you into the meeting room,’ she’s still going to sell her books here and hold a book signing, so you still have a chance to meet her.”
Representatives of Bethany Beach Books will also be at the signing, to sell copies of Lippman’s latest novel, so patrons can buy the new release and get it signed.
“They ship all the books to the bookstore, and they take care of getting the books here, selling them — and a portion of the proceeds goes back to the library. It’s a win-win for everybody,” Keefe emphasized.
Keefe said that Lippman’s previous visit to the library was two years ago and that she was thrilled Lippman wanted to return, as her first event was so popular.
“Her publicist called us and said she really preferred doing the small venues,” said Keefe. “It was standing-room-only. The room will only hold roughly 120 people, and we filled that room.”
“My mom is a volunteer at the Bethany library, and I did an event there two years ago that was really successful, so I was really keen to come back,” explained Lippman.
Keefe said that Lippman is so popular with library patrons that her books need to be ordered and reordered.
“She’s very popular! We have to get multiple copies. People read the books until they fall apart. As a matter of fact, I had to go back and buy some more of the older ones because they were falling apart.”
According to Lippman, her latest novel is about the American “everywoman” Heloise, who is just trying to provide a good life for herself and her son.
“She’s a single mom nervous about the future, trying to provide for her son, trying to maintain a civilized relationship with the father of her son, because that’s what’s best for everyone,” said Lippman.
“The only thing that’s different is that she’s a high-priced call-girl. She is beginning to think about getting out, and learning — much to her chagrin — that getting out of the business that she’s in is going to be a lot harder than getting in was.”
Lippman said that, although the topic is currently big in pop culture, Heloise has been a character in her head for more than a decade.
“I had had this insight, if one were a single mother, that being an expensive call-girl might actually solve a lot of problems. I wrote two short stories about her. I put in the afterword that this is a character that existed before a lot of things in pop culture that would seem to have been her inspiration, but she was already in my head.”
Lippman’s novels always have strong female characters, which she said is something she wanted to bring to the crime genre.
“Early in my career, I looked around, and I was looking to see what did I have to contribute, did I have anything to contribute? Could I do anything that other people weren’t doing?
“I looked at these people who happened to be my peers, and many cases my friends — they’re writing about young men and manhood and violence in a way that was really riveting, and it felt new. I’m not going to write a better story about being a young man, but I feel like there are things about women — particularly very young women, teenagers — that I don’t see in crime fiction being produced right now, and maybe this is what I can bring.
“I want to write credibly strong women,” she said. “My women are not physically superior to men. My character Tess Monaghan has never triumphed over a man physically without using her wits or a guy. She can’t beat a guy up. Does she cry sometimes? Sure. People do cry. Women do cry. That doesn’t make them not strong. I want to show women who are resourceful, bright, flawed.”
And in her latest book, Heloise Lewis is no exception.
“What’s interesting to me about the book that’s coming out is that the character is really bright and she’s really smart, but the mistake she makes is that she thinks she can control everything, which is a really common human mistake in men and in women,” Lippman explained.
“I was interested in showing how someone who has superior intelligence, who through her own will is a very well-read, smart person — she still can’t figure everything out, because nobody can. … And how the strongest woman still needs the help of others. One of the most important things about the book is where this character finds help, because it’s not where she expects to find it, and it’s not from the people she expects to be able to help her. Yet, they’re the people who consistently come through to her.”
Another strong character in all of her novels is the city of Baltimore, where Lippman grew up and now lives.
“I’m fascinated by Baltimore. It’s my hometown. I had the great advantage of going away and coming back, which is an advantage if you want to see someplace whole,” she noted. “I was interested in every aspect of it, and it’s a big part of my life.”
These days, Lippman is spending more time in New Orleans due to her husband’s work. He is David Simon, creator of television series “The Wire” and “Treme.” Even though she admits to being fascinated by New Orleans, Lippman said her novels will likely remain set in Baltimore.
“New Orleans is a really complicated place. It has a long tradition of brilliant literary minds being drawn to it,” she acknowledged. “I haven’t seen that I really have anything to contribute to the traditions of New Orleans writers. I would have to see that I had something special to say.
“One of the strange things about Baltimore is that there had been very little crime fiction set here. New Orleans, I — right now — don’t see anything I can contribute.”
Lippman broke into fiction writing while working for such newspapers as the Waco Tribune-Herald, the San Antonio Light and Baltimore’s The Sun, and she wrote seven books while working as a fulltime journalist.
“It took seven books and seven years to get to a point where I was getting the kind of years and contracts that could support me. And then it took more time still to become a bestseller…
“Luck was such a huge part of that,” she said. “Part of being lucky is being in the right place at the right time. And being in the right place at the right time, when it comes to one’s work, means doing the work. You can’t have a bestseller if you haven’t written a book first.”
Lippman said that, if she hadn’t become a writer, she probably would’ve gone into social work or psychology.
“I’m really interested in what goes on inside of peoples’ heads,” she said. “I’ve often joked, but what my books could all be called is, ‘What Laura was interested in this year.’ There’s something that’s on my mind, and I want to start thinking about it…
“I don’t want to sound highfaluting, and I don’t want to sound like I’m not happily writing crime novels — I am. But for me there’s always something extra,” Lippman explained. “Yes, I’m writing a crime story, and I want it to work in the way a crime story is supposed to work and I want it to fire on all four cylinders. But then there’s also something else I’m interested in.”
Of her upcoming trip to the beach, Lippman said she’s excited to be returning to the Delaware shore, as her parents own a house in Fenwick Island.
“It’s a really big part of my life,” she said. “I enjoy pretty much everything. I grew up on those beaches. My family has been going to the Delaware beaches since I was 6 years old. We started off in Rehoboth, and then it was Bethany, and now they’re in Fenwick.
“I love the beaches, I love the surf. There’s just something you’ve known all your life that you have an affinity for. I was there yesterday, swimming, and I feel more at home swimming in that part of the Atlantic than any place I’ve ever been.”
Each year, when her family vacations in Fenwick, Lippman said a must-visit spot is the Fenwick Dairy Queen.
“I always have to go to Dairy Queen, and if my sister is there she goes with me,” she said. “It used to be there was a Dairy Queen inside a mall here in Baltimore. It was available to us anytime we wanted to get in our cars and drive 15 minutes. But we both agreed that that was somehow wrong, that a Dairy Queen inside of a mall is not a true Dairy Queen. Dairy Queen can only be experienced in a beach town, where they have a window that you walk up to. I always get a Peanut Buster Parfait.”
The South Coastal Library is located at 43 Kent Avenue in Bethany Beach. For more information, visit www.southcoastal.lib.de.us or call (302) 539-5231.