By Leslie Lindsay
“The truth is messy, riotous, overrunning everything. You can never know the whole truth of anything. And if you could, you would wish you didn’t.” ~From WILDE LAKE
For twenty years, she was a journalist. She understands space and economy of words. She ‘gets’ motivation and the messiness of people. And it shows. She’s been awarded The Edgar, The Anthony, The Agatha…and so many others. All well-deserved.
And then she churns out WILDE LAKE, a complex coming-of-age story set between the 1960s and present day released May 3rd by William Morrow. Baltimore native Laura Lippman delivers a tale of justice and loyalty, all of which mingle with their friends truth and memory.
Lu (Luisa) Brant, younger by eight years is fascinated by her brother, A.J., his friends and his life. She’s the pesky younger sister, but a smart, observant one. As an adult, she gets her “first murder,” thrusting her back to her younger days, when everyone lived in the planned community of Columbia, all divided into succinct villages with a certain number of homes. On high school graduation day, 1980, Davey, a quietly eccentric black friend of Lu’s brother is accused of rape by his girlfriend.
Now, thirty-five years later, as Lu prepares for trial, the events of 1980 seep into her consciousness. The past events catch up in the present-day narrative, intermittently weaving the two stories together.
WILDE LAKE is another smashing stand-alone in Lippman’s repertoire, and I’m super-honored to chat with her about her book, writing, and life.
Leslie Lindsay: Laura, such a joy to chat with you today. I’ve read about all of your stand-alones and have enjoyed every one. But WILDE LAKE, while stunningly good, is different, almost memoir-like in the storytelling. What was haunting you enough to spin this story?
Laura Lippman: It started in a very impersonal way: I was thinking a lot about what we now call “rape culture” and how my attitudes toward certain narratives had changed. For example, when the Woody Allen-Mia Farrow separation first happened, I’m sorry to say that I took a he said/she said attitude, I was very quick to buy into the idea of a “woman scorned.” But when Dylan Farrow wrote that letter for the New York Times website, affirming that she had been victimized, I began to rethink how I had seen that story. As someone wiser than I said: If you are a woman who believes her child has been assaulted, what response can you have other than rage? I then began to see how that change in perspective could shift our view of fictional stories. Years ago, I alluded to the very confusing Luke and Laura story on General Hospital, in my book I’d Know You Anywhere. So in WILDE LAKE, I took on TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Of course, in MOCKINGBIRD, Tom Robinson is innocent. That’s the point. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But that’s the 1930s. What happens if you bring the basic facts of that story into an era in which “good” people feel themselves enlightened on the topics of race, sex and class?
And then my dad died while I was in the middle of writing it, and that changed everything.
L.L.: You have just an uncanny ability to get inside the heads of your characters in such a way that it feels like you *are* them, or know them intimately. Can you talk a bit about character for a minute? Do they sort of ‘reveal’ themselves to you, or are they the result of careful construction?
Laura Lippman: I acted in high school and, amateur as I was, it did teach me a lot about thinking about things from someone else’s POV. And I was a kid who liked to play pretend — I’m a unicorn! I’m an otter! My Barbie doll games were elaborate soap operas and my dolls were always the “poor” ones because, unlike my perfect sister, I was forever losing those tiny little shoes. So I create the characters and I follow the blueprint of my creations. I will never force a character to do something for the sake of plot.
L.L.: The novel meanders between time periods, but all are told from the POV of Lu (Luisa) Brant, the county’s first female* (and newly elected) state’s attorney in Howard County, Maryland. Symmetry isn’t far behind; her father once held this position when Lu was younger. What is it, in your opinion that often brings the past to light? Is this a conscious decision on the part of the author to draw those parallels, and do they typically happen in “real life,” too? [*the first actual Howard County state’s attorney was actually someone else and used creatively within WILDE LAKE.]
Laura Lippman: Early in my adult life, I noticed that I could store facts that made no sense, waiting for the day that they would have context. Here’s a story I’ve never told anyone: I was dating a guy, a bit of a bastard, and there was an impromptu social gathering at his house, where one woman struck me as strangely chummy with my boyfriend. She mentioned where she lived — the block, not the exact address. Several weeks later, I couldn’t find my boyfriend one evening. We both worked night shifts at the newspaper and he was supposed to call me when he got off at midnight. I got in my car and drove to that block, saw his car there. That tiny, inconsequential fact had waited for me. This still happens to me. I have a poor memory, but my mind seems very intuitive when it comes to knowing what information I should have later.
L.L.: WILDE LAKE is not a crime/thriller/mystery in the traditional sense, but more of a literary read with the crime sort of shoved to the back. Oh, but it’s very present. WILDE LAKE mostly about truth, justice, loyalty and the tricky effects memory has on our mind. In fact, I love how you braid those concepts together, particularly memory. Can you speak to that, please?
Laura Lippman: This is controversial, but I don’t believe in anyone’s memory, including my own. And I think it’s strange to argue over memory. I’m a huge fan of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, the 3-part musical that Joss Whedon made. Do you know it? Dr. Horrible’s nemesis is Captain Hammer, a superhero who almost kills someone and is then credited with her rescue. When Dr. Horrible points out this inconvenient fact, Captain Hammer says simply: I remember it differently. Isn’t that the truth behind every disagreement that centers on memory? And who gets to referee? I think we need to recognize memories are the essential myths we have created for ourselves.
L.L.: I have to say, I was absolutely fascinated with Lu and AJ’s mother. She really doesn’t make an appearance in WILDE LAKE, but she’s there, lurking in unanswered questions. Without giving too much away, how did you conceive this piece of the narrative?
Laura Lippman: Think about who’s missing in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Then think about the real-life story of Harper Lee’s mother, if you know it. I can’t say more. I might have already said too much!
L.L.: Lately, I’ve been interested in titles. Do you start working with one in mind? Do they echo throughout your work-in-progress? Or maybe they appear at the end of draft one? And what factors work to their overall success?
Laura Lippman: I am AWFUL at titles. They are inevitably the last thing I write and I need lots of help. WILDE LAKE was my editor’s title, I think. My editor or my publisher. But once it was suggested, I saw how perfect it was. Wilde Lake is man-made, which promotes the dangerous illusion that it can be controlled. But it has all the risks inherent in any body of water. The book begins and ends by its shores.
L.L.: What’s inspiring you now? What has your attention?
Laura Lippman: Without being aware of it, I’ve moved into a phase where my work is more influenced by other books than real-life stories. Right now, I’m doing something that can only be described as a mash-up of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE and Anne Tyler’s LADDER OF YEARS. And it even has a title: PINK LADY. Which, by the way, was suggested by my editor after she read the first 40 pages.
L.L.: What should I have asked, but may have forgotten?
Laura Lippman: Not a thing. You’ve made me feel very smart. Thank you!
L.L.: Laura, it’s been a pleasure chatting. Thanks for popping over.
Laura Lippman: It was a pleasure.
Author Bio: Laura Lippman was a reporter for twenty years, including twelve years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working full-time and published seven books about “accidental PI” Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001.
Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe and Barry awards.
She also has been nominated for other prizes in the crime fiction field, including the Hammett and the Macavity. She was the first-ever recipient of the Mayor’s Prize for Literary Excellence and the first genre writer recognized as Author of the Year by the Maryland Library Association. Ms. Lippman grew up in Baltimore and attended city schools through ninth grade.
After graduating from Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Md., Ms. Lippman attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Her other newspaper jobs included the Waco Tribune-Herald and the San Antonio Light.
Ms. Lippman returned to Baltimore in 1989 and has lived there since. She is the daughter of the late Theo Lippman Jr., a Sun editorial writer who retired in 1995, and Madeline Mabry Lippman, a former Baltimore City school librarian. Her sister, Susan, is a local bookseller. [Special thanks to E. Homonoff at WilliamMorrow. Author and cover images retrieved 7.18.16 from the author’s website]