This is the story as it was told to me. More correctly, this is the story as I remember it being told, along with some parts I think I actually remember, but I'm probably getting at least half of it wrong. Still, it's definitely truish. Enough. And anyone who says otherwise about a childhood memory is either a) still a child b) the lucky possessor of a freakishly great memory c) a disciplined diarist d) a damn liar or e) all of the above.
When I was 3 or 4, my speech was completely incomprehensible to everyone around me, although my older sister claimed she could translate. [Aside: Did she translate, or simply invent the translations? This could shed some light on another bit of Lippman apocrypha, the infamous bite-that-drew-blood incident, in which I sunk my teeth into my sister's back and wouldn't let go. Again, I don't remember this, but everyone else in my family is strikingly clear on the particulars - me, clinging like a pit bull to my sister's back, refusing to let go for quite some time, even as they slapped my face, unleashed the family Scottish terrier on me, poked me with a cattle prod, etc.] My mother took me to a doctor who said I had developed a secret language, and I would drop this nonsense upon enrollment in nursery school. The other children would laugh and tease me, he promised my mother, and I would immediately begin to speak as everyone else did.
She sent me to school. The other children laughed and teased me -- and I still couldn't speak normally. I was sent to a speech therapist for what seemed like years, but it was probably no more than six months. The primary problem was that I didn't know how to breathe properly. The speech therapist told me to close the little trapdoor at the top of my nose before talking. He gave me exercises -- blowing bubbles, pushing ping-pong balls across tables with my breath. I would sit in his office, furnishing a dollhouse and giving a play-by-play of what I was doing, working on my "S" and "U" sounds, two letters that gave me particular trouble. ("Our dining room table at home has a lazy-susan.") Eventually, I was able to speak as others did.
I haven't shut up since.
Could this explain the compulsion to write? Well, it could in a certain kind of novel or film popular in the 1950s, where a single repressed memory explains all. I'm not sure it has any bearing on anything. But I do believe there's a compulsive aspect to my writing life, as if too many words got dammed up long ago. As of July 31st, when I totaled up the words in the third draft of Book #9 -- 89,141, thank you very much -- I had written almost a million words of fiction. Throw in my journalism career, and I probably have a couple of million words out there. [webmaster trivia: this website has 43,779 words, excluding this sentence.]
From time to time, I even think about starting a blog on this site, but I have concluded that I can't carry it. Instead, I refer you to those who can - Terry Teachout, who will whisk you through his art-filled life and amazing mind in About Last Night, and Nancy Nall, who posts five days a week. Terry has reminded me that James Lileks is another blogger worth reading, and gotten me hooked on The Minor Fall, The Major Lift, which led me to Maud Newton, who is smart, young and pretty. Life is so unfair.
The blog is a tough, unsparing form, much like a newspaper column, and it invites a lot of criticism from those who think they could do it better. My hat's off to anyone who tries it. My bookmarks are at the ready for those who pull it off.
Speaking of criticism:
A month from publication of Every Secret Thing, and the reviews are in from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Library Journal. So far, so good. I printed the salient parts of the Kirkus here last month, and I can't find the Library Journal, which was starred. (I do believe I was deemed essential for all popular collections.) PW said: "With this engrossing mystery/suspense novel, Lippman . . . solidifies her position in the upper tier of today's suspense novelists. . . With this book, much darker than any in her past series, Lippman shows she is an author willing to take risks in both writing and storytelling . . . Look for this one to garner critical praise."
Speaking of books:
I'm reading for the Edgars, and my views on those books must be kept confidential. But I've found time to read Trading Up, The Dirty Girls Social Club (hey, it's summer, okay?); re-read The Group and Beany and the Beckoning Road (diehard Beanyphiles, take note: I have a copy of the trivia test given at Beanycon this summer); and start two books that seem particularly promising, Neil Gordon's The Company You Keep and San Remo Drive, by Leslie Epstein. The New York Times review said the latter was one of the best books written about Hollywood, along with Epstein's earlier book, Pandemonium, and a Budd Schulberg book that more people should read, What Makes Sammy Run? I suppose it's only a matter of time before Jayson Blair shows up as a Sammy Glick for the 21st century. But the fact is, one feels a little sorry for Sammy at the end, and I can't imagine feeling sorry for Blair. At least, that's how I remember the book. But this, finally, is a memory I can check:
From the penultimate page:
"He was a lonely little figure in the shadows of Glickfair, the terrible little conqueror, the poor little guy . . . No matter where he would ever be, at banquets, at gala house parties, in crowded night clubs, in big poker games, at intimate dinners, he would still be wandering alone through all the brightly lit rooms."
Imperfect memories? Childhood nightmares to share? Recommendations of Hollywood novels. (I'd add Little Me to the must-read list.) I'm here, more or less, although I may be out of e-mail range for much of August. Drop me a line.