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Published: Sunday, 7/30/2006

Novelist likes the buzz

BY BOB HOOVER
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
Laura Lippman is the author of the Tess Monaghan series. Laura Lippman is the author of the Tess Monaghan series.
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Laura Lippman's journey from journalist to author of a chain of best-selling crime novels is a familiar tale.

It's a good-luck thing, said the longtime Baltimore resident, who recalls the days when nobody had heard of her.

Her first book, Baltimore Blues, in 1997 introduced reporter-turned-private eye Tess Monaghan. With eight more Tess books and two other novels to her name, Lippman no longer has a recognition problem. Her latest title is No Good Deeds (Morrow, $24.95).

She clearly doesn't have writer's block, either. Reached recently in Milwaukee in the midst of a nationwide book tour, she said she was planning to spend part of her day writing in her hotel room.

"I can write on planes, I can write in hotels, I can write in Starbucks," Lippman, 45, said. "That's one of the great things about having worked in a newsroom. I don't need a completely silent retreat from the world. As a matter of fact, I like working in a place that's buzzy like a coffeehouse. All I need is my laptop."

She calls her approach to writing mysteries "the distant-shore school of writing."

"I set up the initial problem, I think about what possible solutions are and then fill in all the ground in between," she explained.

"I feel like I'm on one side of the river bank and I can see the other side and I've got to get there, but the journey's different every time. You just don't know what it's going to be like to cross that river."

Lippman's work ethic keeps her pounding away at her computer as well, she said, because her books go through so many drafts.

"My first draft is sort of an outline. It's barely written in English. It's very flat and stark. I just try to get the floorboards of the story in, then I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite."

All that work has its benefits, Lippman said.

"As you rewrite, you can take advantage of all that omniscience you've developed, so it becomes easy to layer in the various subtle clues and hints you want the reader to know about. With each draft, you can really fine-tune it."

Another benefit is that it keeps the writer from getting too complacent, she added.

"I've decided to turn my weakness into my strength. Because my first drafts aren't good enough, I can't show them to people. The advantage to that is that I can't coast, that I have to work hard. For that reason, I never procrastinate."

Lippman ended her 20-year newspaper career several years ago, leaving the Baltimore Sun with few regrets.

"I don't miss newspapering, she said. "I did it for 20 years and I like to think I did it pretty well. But temperamentally, I'm better suited to the life of a novelist. I don't like working for other people."

And, while Lippman defended some of her previous bosses, she's now certain that she's "the best boss I ever had. I'm so nice to me."

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bob Hoover is book editor of the Post-Gazette.

Contact him at: bhoover@post-gazette.com.



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