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September 2004

Three Women

By A Spider's Thread

Calvin Trillin once said the average trade book had a lifespan somewhere between milk and yogurt. By a Spider's Thread came out June 29th, and by mid-August, I felt I must be giving off a distinct smell. Perhaps you felt so, too. Still, the profiles and reviews kept coming. I'm going to assume that anyone who visits this site also visits blogs that link to newspaper articles in a much more timely fashion. Besides, while the profiles -- one in the New York Times and the other in The (Baltimore) Sun -- were quite nice, I can't imagine that they were particularly illuminating to anyone who already knew my work or this site. As for those who discovered the books via those articles -- welcome. This site is updated monthly, although I might take October off, as I have a book due Oct. 1. If you're a writer who needs advice on publishing, go into the archives and read Self-Help. If you're looking for good reading on the Internet, I recommend this, this, this and this.

As noted, the articles written about me were lovely, probably far too kind. But space is always finite and some important people were omitted from my life story. I'd like to mention three of them.

The first is my mother, Madeline Mabry Lippman. My mom gave me the best of both possible worlds -- staying home while I was young, then heading back to graduate school in library science when I didn't need so much supervision. One of my fondest memories is reading the Newbery Award winners alongside my mother. I also remember an ingenious card catalog she designed, a system in which one threaded knitting needles through certain subject holes to narrow one's search. I was a reader long before I was a writer. Thanks to my mother the children's librarian, I was exceptionally well-read. And she still knows how to give a kid just the right amount of rope -- she watched me do a spectacular flame-out on my Rollerblades over Labor Day weekend and didn't argue with me when I insisted on continuing to skate. But when I came back to the house, she had the Baci-tracin at the ready.

Second is the woman who has read every one of my books to date pre-publication, Joan Jacobson. Joan, a tenacious investigative reporter, was one of my best friends at The Sun and she was the first person to read Baltimore Blues. As fate would have it, we left the newspaper about the same time; our going-away party was a joint affair. This October, Joan will publish her first book, Wised Up, a wise-guy memoir unlike any you've read, I promise.

It's the story of Charlie Wilhelm, a member of Baltimore's small-m mob, who left the life because of a crisis of conscience. No charge on him, no deal to be made, he just decided to get out before he crossed the line to homicide. Joan stumbled on Charlie while covering a trial in Baltimore County and became determined to help him tell his story. What started as a six-part series in The Sun is now a full-fledged book, written in Charlie's voice, with Joan filling in the parts of the story that Charlie couldn't know first-hand. A must-read for any novelist or true-crime aficionado who wants an insight into the quotidian details of a wise guy's life. It's both moving and funny. I especially like the section where Charlie, having decided to leave town, goes to Hollins Market and buys a huge can of Utz potato chips. (He feared they wouldn't have decent potato chips in Alabama, where he planned to go into hiding.) And you have to read about Billy Isaacs, Charlie's best friend and the leader of the gang, who refused to take meetings while his favorite soap operas were on.

Finally, I want to say thank you to Suzanne Balaban, the William Morrow publicist with whom I've had the great fortune to work for the last two years. When someone is as good as Suzanne, it's inevitable that she'll either be moving up or on. Suzanne is leaving Morrow this week for a wonderful opportunity. I will miss her, personally and professionally -- and culinarily. On the plus side, she has raised the bar very, very high for whoever follows her. Laura's signature

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