Candy Store

Tomorrow, my 16th novel, The Most Dangerous Thing, goes on sale. I am a happy camper. Scratch that – I am a lucky camper. I try to remember that every day and to be consciously grateful for my good fortune. Whenever I say that, someone says: But you work hard! Perhaps, but so do others and a lot of people have to work at jobs they don’t love. I had twenty years in a business I liked, the newspaper world, and now I’ve had a decade as a fulltime novelist. To repeat: I am lucky.

This week, I want to give something back to readers, although the truth is, you can enter these daily give-aways even if you’ve never picked up one of my books and never intend to. The gifts range from silly to cool, and there’s even a day of erudition, if you will. And it’s easy to enter. All you have to do is enter a comment below the daily entry. You may comment more than once if a dialogue emerges – and I always hope it does. But in that case, only your first comment can be entered into the drawing. This week, I will be giving away: a copy of Madison Smartt Bell’s Charm City: A Walk Through Baltimore, in which a certain mystery writer takes Bell through Dickeyville, along with a complete set of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels, in hardcover; an Esskay cap and tin; a bank; a robot; and, finally, a T-shirt that says: “Be careful or I’ll put you in my novel” – and a promise that I wlll, in fact, put you — well, your name- in a novel.

I come in pizza.

I very seldom agree to Tucker-ize because it’s harder than you might think, making a pre-ordained name fit a work. (“Meyerhoff,” a surname that graces the home of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, was a bitch to work into Another Thing to Fall, precisely because it is so well-known.)

The contest was inspired by one of my favorite novels, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a book I feel has never gotten its due. Maybe that’s because it was hugely popular in its time, maybe there are nits to pick with Betty Smith’s style. I can’t help suspecting that Tree gets short shrift because it centers on the life of a girl and therefore does not feel universal.

The opening chapter is a gem, a day in the life of an 11-year-old girl in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 1912. It contains a passage that is a touchstone for me as a writer. Frannie Nolan is in the bakery, waiting to buy day-old bread for her family’s supper. She sees a dirty, unkempt old man dozing on a bench and plays “her favorite game, figuring out about people.”

“He is old. He must be past seventy. He was born about the time Abraham Lincoln was living and getting himself ready to be president. . . . He was a baby once. He must have been sweet and clean and his mother kissed his little pink toes. Maybe when it thundered at night she came to his crib and fixed his blanket better and whispered that he mustn’t be afraid, that Mother was there. Then she picked him up and put her cheek on his head and said that he was her own sweet baby. He might have been a boy like my brother, running in and out of the house and slamming the door.”

He was a baby once. This is where I start, every time I write a novel. This is what I think when I see the unfortunate men and women in my own neighborhood, sometimes sleeping on the ground on a wretchedly hot day. She picked him up and put her cheek on his head. I know not all mothers and fathers do this, that some parents can be unspeakably cruel, but I think that most wish to be good.

So, comment below if you want to be entered for the books by Atkinson and Bell. Here’s something that might get the conversation going: Why is this entry called candy store? Hint: It has something to do with a man who is called Cheapskate Charlie. Or you can show off your insider knowledge, tell folks what I always do on pub date, which I’ll do tomorrow. Or you can ponder why “James of Long Island” would wait on hold just to say that awful word to Diane Rehm while I made desperate slashing motions across my throat. I tell myself: He was a baby once. 


47 thoughts on “Candy Store

  1. Funny, I’ve had that thought too-especially when thinking about crime. Everybody was once some mother’s son. What happened? Even the most neglectful mother likely hoped for better.

    You’ve made me think of rereading Tree. I read it as a young girl-one of the first books I swiped from my parents’ shelves when they thought I was too young to read grown-up books.

  2. I am one of those Baltimore residents who was not familiar with Dickeyville! Lived here my whole life with the exception if a brief, unfortunate stint in Jersey. I listened to your NPR interview with interest as you described Dickeyville. Except for the dead bodies, it sounds like an interesting place.
    I also really enjoy Kate Atkinson’s writing. “Case Histories” was the first of her books that I read.
    “He was a baby once,” is a great way to think about unsavory, pathetic, or unusual people we may meet. It sure beats the internal thought I usualyl have when interacting with an obnoxious person, “Is it worth the lawsuit?”
    Very excited to read “The Most Dangerous Thing.” Only wish we would have the books so we could get them signed at the za party.

  3. Now that Tess is a mother (Girl in the Green Raincoat) how will she ever be able to be a good mother, undertake surveillance, and get someone to cover erratic baby sitting hours. It’s mystery to me. Can”t wait to read “The Most Dangerous Thing” to find out.

  4. Now that Tess is a mother (Girl in the Green Raincoat) how will she ever be able to be a good mother, undertake surveillance, and get someone to cover erratic baby sitting hours. It’s mystery to me. Can[t wait to read “The Most Dangerous Thing”

  5. Now that Tess is a mother (Girl in the Green Raincoat) how will she ever be able to be a good mother, undertake surveillance, and get someone to cover erratic baby sitting hours. It’s mystery to me. Can’t wait to read “The Most Dangerous Thing”

  6. I adore ALL your books and I’m sure this one is NO exception. Hoping all is well in your world and that our paths cross soon. I’ve just completed 2 months as the Events Manager for the B and N at The Grove.

    Here’s my guess for the candy. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Would love to win a contest and can’t wait to ready your new book.

    Take care-


  7. A good day at work just turned into a bad day and so I’m picking up on your openner and reminding myself that I too am a lucky camper. After several careers that were not good fits, I have a job that I love and I need to remind myself that one bad day with one really irritating person doesn’t negate that, so thanks for the example.

  8. “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” was a favorite of mine when I was about 12 or 13. Congratulations on your new novel and I look forward to reading it. All best wishes.

  9. I’ve been a fan of yours since the beginning; I’m also a fan of Kate Atkinson. I met you at a book signing event in Ft. Worth several years ago; you were charming and gracious and witty. That’s not brown-nosing; it’s the absolute truth. It’s always a bonus when an author whose books you love turns out to be a wonderful person.

    I, too, always wonder that about rude, mean people-what were they like as babies or toddlers? What were their parents/homelife like?

    I have no idea about the candy store, but enjoy your pub day tomorrow. Can’t wait to read the new book.

  10. If a person (no one I know, of course), has never read any of your books, which one should she start with. Is there a sequence she should follow?

  11. Enjoyed hearing you on Diane Rehm today and sat in the car for an extra 15 minutes to hear the rest of your interview while awaiting a trip into the grocery store. (It’s a mere 104 here!) Thought your insights as a writer were spot on and most encouraging.
    I may be barking up the sympathy tree a bit, but tomorrow, your launch day, is my birthday and what a treat it would be to actually win something! I never have.
    I also think my name would be a swell character name in one of your books, especially leaning toward feminine.
    All best for your latest creation!

  12. I’m not sure what Cheapskate Charlie is referring to, but a Google search brought up some HIGHLY entertaining results!

    “He was a baby once.” I work with very difficult people, and I really need to keep this in mind.

    Happy Pub Day! I’ll be firing up the Kindle for sure.

  13. “I very seldom agree to Tucker-ize because it’s harder than you might think”. Well, there’s my life in a nutshell.

  14. Great conversation. The drawings are random — each post is assigned a number and the great bingo machine in the sky spits out one and that’s that. But every day is a chance to win!

    Lita, so glad you’ve landed and landed well, I’m guessing. Isn’t the Grove kind of swanky?

    Marjorie — ha!

    As for where to start, there are several ways to go. If the reader likes series, but isn’t anal retentive, I recommend starting the Tess series at The Sugar House, going forward through Another Thing to Fall, then reading the first four. (Tess and I both gained confidence as the series progressed.) If you are anal retentive, read them in order. If you’re starting with the stand-alones, I’d recommend Every Secret Thing or What the Dead Know.

    How will Tess manage to do her job as a mom? That is not a rhetorical question in these parts. I’m actually thinking I might have to write some Tess short stories — all prequels to The Girl in the Green Raincoat.

  15. I loved a Tree Grows in Brooklyn - the image that resonates is Francie on the fire escape, reading her book, with her mints on a saucer. It is one of the few novels I have ever read that deals with all the small details of being poor. Time for a re-read.

  16. “He was a baby once” reminds me of the lines from film “The Conversation” as the Gene Hackman character records and listens to a woman and man walking around a square in San Francisco.
    She is looking at a homeless person and says “I always think that he was once somebody’s baby boy and that he had a mother and a father who loved him- and now, there he is, half dead on a park bench and now where is his mother or his father or his uncles now? Anyway, that’s what I always think.”
    Those lines have always stayed with me.

  17. Listening to your conversation with Diane Rehm on radio, I was struck by your ‘family memory’ example…having an ancestor who owned slaves. I think it would be a fascinating and constructive view of certain positive and negative historical figures to interview their descendents. Does having thomas jefferson in one’s ancestry affect one’s choices to live and work in a particular way? How about having a notorious criminal? And how have these families created their own “memories” of certain events?

  18. I love your books! The quote from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn made me cry. My baby is asleep next to me right now. I think I will read that book while on the library waiting list for your new one. I love all your books! I think the characters are so human, even the “bad” guys.

  19. Can not wait for a new Tess! “Tree” is also an old favorite and I have often re-read it. Loved to hate her dad! Does the candy store reference maybe have something to do with the store where she got candy in “Tree”? Hope so as I love allusions like that!

  20. I read “Tree” just a year ago, at the urging of my only “bookish” niece, and I think it affected me all the more greatly for my having read it as an adult. It broke my heart, more than once. That line brings tears to my eyes, especially now that I have a grand baby of my own, on whose head my cheek rests as often as possible :) .

  21. Ah - Happy memories…of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” as I’m a fan of that novel, too. And have you heard of the musical? I know - sounds silly - but there is some great music in that score. And put me down too as one eager to read your new outpouring, Laura!

  22. A Tree was a favorite of mine as well. And I have been worried about Tess’s ability to juggle motherhood and her job as well. It’s funny how the characters become real in our minds. Love all your books and just finished “I’d know you anywhere”, which was great and satisfyingly creepy.

  23. Used to visit family friends in Dickeyville as a young child. They had 4 boys and something exciting and crazy was always happening in that house. I have not been back since that time, but after getting to know your biography, I definitely want to return for a look. I am also very excited about your new book coming out. I have to check and see if I am on the pre-publication library wait list.

  24. Tudy Tackett was the most memorable character for me from your book I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE. I can still see her out walking on the sidewalk and making herself walk the extra distance because her doctor said she needed to. She couldn’t stand it. The portrayal of loss through the Tackett family’s eyes was unforgettable. And, Linda Emond performed Life Sentences really well. Also, Tess is still the best. You said any comment.

  25. Laura, I am very excited about having your new book in my hot little hands in the next day or two. I hope to track you down at Bouchercon to get an autograph on a book or two. Keep up the terrific writing; I have just gotten our younger daughter turned on to Tess and she loves that Tess is a grad of WAC (said daughter is B.A. History ’09 Washington College!)

    aside to Marjorie: Tucker is probably considerably easier to fit in than Bychowski (unless you’re in Chicago, of course!) :-)


    • John, well now Laura wouldn’t Tucker-ize me because what would be the challenge in that? You’ll love seeing Laura on her panels and the auction at B’con and if you really want to impress her, bring her some squirrel nut zippers. But not those orange circus peanut candies.

      Laura, John’s a class act and new grandpa. I’m sure you’ll enjoy meeting him. He’s a big supporter of authors.

  26. Laura, I really enjoyed your interview with Diane Rehm. I love your books and can’t wait to read The Most Dangerous Thing. Last month I went through my books, picking out ones to donate to the library’s book sale. Of course, I kept all of yours. I lived in Maryland for twenty-five years and now reread your books when I’m feeling homesick. I “discovered” Kate Atkinson this summer-loved When Will there Be Good News? Looking forward to seeing how being a parent changes Tess.

  27. Laura, I heard you on Diane Rehm today and enjoyed your interview so much. I’ve never read your books but plan to order some soon. I’ve seen your books before and always think of Elinor Lipman when I see your name.

    I loved your comments about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I love Betty Smith’s writing. I once read a comment about how you should see people as an infant or as a 100-year-old person. This automatically increases empathy towards them.

  28. Living in CA after 60 plus years in my beloved Baltimore makes the release of your book tomorrow a very special day. Being at the door before the local bookstore opens will trigger the same old internal debate about your latest book. Do I read this is one setting or just a couple of chapters each night at bedtime to stretch out the pleasure? My wife’s job brought us to California and she travels 2-3 days a week. I guess it’s appropriate then as I walk through the parking garage of San Francisco Airport I’m forced to wonder if any woman I pass is a “pickler” from your brilliant short story “Dear Penthouse Forum (A First Draft).” Hope sales are through the roof tomorrow for you.

  29. Dear Laura, I so enjoyed your interview today on Diane Rehm. I’ve never read your work but am familiar with your name because when I see it, I think of Elinor Lipman. I plan to order your books soon.

    I also love Betty Smith’s work. I once heard a phrase that it’s helpful to think of people as an infant or as a 100-year-old; it automatically increases one’s empathy towards him/her. Thank you for sharing yourself with the listeners today.

  30. Baltimore, 1970′s! I lived there from October of 1970 to May of 1976, and I loved it! (Okay, so I’m old…) My address was 14 E. Read Street, just up from the Monument, third floor front. I had a terrifying — but then beautiful! — experience with a ghost there, and I crafted that into a half-hour, you-are-there narrative on cd, like an old-fashioned radio show. Before that apt, I lived at 222 St. Paul Place, Apt. 2509 — it’s now the Tremont where you, Laura, “ducked in,” in at least one of your books. I worked for “old Joe” and “Bud” Meyerhoff at what was then Monumental Properties on S. Charles Street. Beautiful offices! And free Symphony tickets! I occasionally saw Bud’s daughter Zohara during the day, then would see her future husband Bob Hieronimus at night for a class at Towson U. In ’76, though, I got swept away at The Aquarian Bookstore by a charming guy from L.A. We got married and had a lovely daughter, but I eventually ret’d with her to my Midwest hometown, so she’d know her Gran and Gramp and Cousins, etc. Got re-married to Mark Smith. I talked so much about Baltimore that we visited there in 2006, stayed at the Tremont one floor above my old apt, and Mark, too, fell totally in love with Charm City! Maybe we’ll retire there! Amazing how it feels more like Home than my hometown. Sigh…

  31. I have been to Baltimore only one time in my life-over 30 years ago to watch a baseball game. I was not rooting for the Baltimore team, and the Red Sox lost! I love your writing. My name would be difficult to work in.

  32. “He was a baby once.” WOW, that is an amazing quote and so useful to think about when reading, writing, or just generally in life. _A Tree Grows In Brooklyn_ has been one of those books I have always wanted to read but can never think of at time time I am actually looking for something. I am making a note now and this will be the first book after Bouchercon. Thanks Laura.

    Good luck with the book launch. I LOVED it.

  33. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is my favorite book of all time - which, as the daughter of a bookseller, kind of says something, I think.

    Cheapskate Charlie was not cheap, nor was his name Charlie. He had taken that name and it said so on the store awning, and Francie believed it.

  34. Well, I went to and listened to the interview, which I found fascinating. I can’t wait for the book to show up on my doorstep! (Btw, the James stuff has been removed…) It’s funny - I’ve used “he/she is someone’s child” many, many, many times during my 37 years of teaching when dealing with my students, but I don’t think I’ve ever used it when thinking of an adult. It’s really very inspiring and a wonderful way to look at people! Thanks!

  35. I, too, have been hurrying through my current book so that I can get to yours. I can’t think of anything especially brilliant to say — a little late in the day — but wanted to get my entry in.

    Oh, I will say this — I think Tess saved my life at one point.

  36. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was one of my favorite childhood/high school books. What I remember is Francie’s mother letting her kids have a cup of coffee with dinner that they never drank so poor as they were, they could waste something. I see so many homeless people or people begging on the subway and I’m embarrassed to say that someitmes I’m annoyed by the people on the subway. Next time I encounter one, I’ll think, “he was a baby once.” Thanks for reminding me of that.

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