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Letter from Laura
July 2003
 

Bootstraps (Not as Racy as it Sounds)

Beth, the divine webmistress -- I think it's in our contract that I have to use that modifier whenever I speak of her [Webmistress note: it's supposed to be capitalized and said with awe, read the rider on page 2] -- said I could take a month off. And I might, in August. But I learned an odd lesson last month: writing begets writing.

The week of June 22nd, I signed up to do the Slate.com diary gig. You can read the result here, which will kick up the final entry. I recommend clicking on "Monday" at the top and reading them in order. I am loath to admit it, but those five breezy 800-word installments did not come off my head natural, to use one of my favorite Johnny Ketchumisms. (Johnny was an Evening Sun editorial assistant, whose persistent malaprops were catalogued by co-workers. The list stood at 500, give or take, when Johnny died a few years ago.) Anyway, I was exhausted by week's end.

Now with a daily deadline of 800 words for Slate, I thought I might be tempted to slack on my other work. But the more I wrote, the more I wrote. It was almost as if I raised my metabolic writing rate. I wrote and revised 14,000 words the last week of June, a respectable chunk of work for a second draft heading toward completion. Two days into July, I have already done 7,000 words and solved a few knotty problems in the work-in-progress. It is getting harder to take weekends off, something I consider vital for my sanity -- and my wrists. If life doesn't hand me any unexpected developments, I should finish the second draft by Independence Day and embark on the third, which puts me on track to finish this book by Sept. 1.

I need to finish on Sept. 1 because Every Secret Thing will be published on Sept. 2, and I start touring on Sept. 3. The tentative schedule is packed. I don't want to go into details just yet, but I will say the list is constantly expanding. If I'm not in a city near you, the odds are good I'll be in your region. Meanwhile, early feedback on Every Secret Thing has been excellent. I especially like this review -- not just because it's favorable, but because Ruth Jordan picked up on a seminal point in the book, one that I wasn't certain people would notice. Kirkus said: "The creator of Tess Monaghan crosses over in a chilling study of mothers, daughters, love and murder...Lucid, tight and compelling. It's Lippman's gift to show the Good Ronnie and Bad Ronnie in every one of her characters, leaving no one unscathed and no one unredeemed."

Finally, a confession: Many people wrote me and wanted to know how I ended up with the Slate diary gig. I had written for Slate once before, detailing consumer complaints about "411" directory assistance. The assignment was great fun, but something of a loss leader, as it required almost 40 hours of research. Subsequent to that assignment, an old friend, Jacob Weisberg, took over as editor at Slate and asked if I wanted to write for them again. I spoke to the editor of the "Diary" feature and she was interested in my pitch, which included a more-or-less normal week in my life, set against the backdrop of The (Baltimore) Sun's labor negotiations. Working with Amanda Fortini proved to be a heavenly collaboration, one that embodied all the things I loved about daily journalism, with none of the drawbacks.

It's my experience that this is how things happen in the world -- a combination of luck and merit. People are reluctant to speak of this, and I do know a handful of folks who owe their success to sheer hard work. But connections and networking play a part even in avowed meritocracies. I also found my literary agent through a friend I met at one of Jacob's parties in the early 1990s. (Jacob, like his mother, Lois, is one of those people who knows people. Click here and here, to discover just two writers I met at Jacob's parties over the years. And I still haven't recovered from the surreal shock of finding Jacob and his wife, Deborah Needleman, making pasta for Amanda Hesser in Cooking for Mr. Latte.) I can't cite a single job -- including a short-lived gig at Swiss Colony -- that didn't involve a little inside information from a well-placed acquaintance or friend. Pretending otherwise seems more shameful to me than claiming to be an unalloyed Horatio Alger heroine.



The June Reading List:

Still off the wagon, I continue to tipple at area bookstores. I honestly lost track of everything I read this month, but I know it included A Crime Novel To Be Named Later (it was a review for the Washington Post), Jennifer Haigh's Mrs. Kimble, Elinor Lippman's The Pursuit of Alice Thrift, Carolyn Parkhurst's The Dogs of Babel and half of another book that I'll call The Dog of Summer. Laura's signature Promised to be light and frothy, received good reviews, but it struck me as turgid. A Reed Farrell Coleman galley is in the on-deck circle. Also re-read Lolita, my favorite novel. Honest query: Would this book be published today, or would it face even greater obstacles than it did back in the 1950s? My in-box is always in, even when I'm out.



Read The Lippman Lot
Read Local News
Read Lilac Time
Read I'm A Believer
Read Three Little Words
Read Reading in Public
Read How to Punt.
Read Catching Up.
Read Let's Do the Time Warp (Again).
Read The Naked Dance.
     Read Self Help.
Read Mistakes Were Made.
Read Play With Yourself.
Read Musings and Advice.
Read We Were Haranders.
Read Spying on Harriet.
Read Gone Baby Gone.
Read The Last Good Saturday Night.
Read In a Strange Kitchen.
Read The "D" Word.

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