The Memory Project

One-Word Resolution Challenge: A Tradition

December 26th, 2011
The problem is -- it has to be one word and "Change" is kind of a duh resolution. I also feel strongly that the one-word resolution has to be a verb in imperative form. (To date, mine have been: Stretch, Maintain, Venture, Be. Are all these imperative? I'd argue that they could be.) Anyway, what I want to do is hard to capture in one word. I yearn to honor my good intentions -- to follow-up, follow-through. To be conscientious, to remember the little niceties. Thank-you notes, condolence cards, atta-boys. I want to be the kind of person who sends flowers and bakes casseroles and is never late with a birthday card. Read more [...]

What Bookstores Provide

December 13th, 2011
Now, I pay pretty close attention to the world of books. I'm a writer and I'm a reader. I know what's going on in "my" world. But in the Booksmith, there were several books and writers that were new to me. I assigned myself a task: Buy a book that you might not buy, were it not for being in this store. Read more [...]

The Case of the Missing Blogger, or — Wha Happened?

November 30th, 2011
This summer, Beth and Jeff Tindall put an enormous amount of work into redesigning my website and integrating The Memory Project blog, which was housed at the wonderfully low-tech Journalscape site. The new site is gorgeous, the blog is easier to use and update -- and I have been MIA pretty much since early September. Read more [...]

Secret Soundtracks

October 10th, 2011
In a slight variation to our usual Monday theme, I offer up the playlist from I'd Know You Anywhere. Which I'm still not explaining. Read more [...]

“Loyal, Shabby and Unknown”

October 6th, 2011
One of my favorite pieces of nonfiction, ever, is Roger Angell's "Three for the Tigers," to which I link here with some reluctance: I don't like to give away anyone's content, but it's on Google Books and I like to think that anyone who reads it will go out and buy Angell's books, which range from compendiums to a lovely memoir. The title for this entry is taken from Angell's piece. Read more [...]

Secret Soundtrack

October 3rd, 2011
This particular tuneisn't so secret -- it's a custom ringtone that's been mentioned several times. Let's make this interesting: first respondent who knows the first book in which this song was mentioned will win a galley of The Most Dangerous Thing. Read more [...]

Secret Soundtracks

September 27th, 2011
Then I thought, well one thing I can do is blog regularly about songs that have been key to the books. Read more [...]

How Late I Was, How Late

September 14th, 2011
But today, I plugged various numbers into a random number generator and selected winners for each of the items offered in my little "candy store" sweepstakes during the publication week for The Most Dangerous Thing. Read more [...]

Found Poetry

August 29th, 2011
One question: How frigging old will I have to be before I live my way into the answer? But then, perhaps I haven't been very successful at living the questions. A completion junkie, I like to finish things -- tasks, books (reading and writing), trips. Perhaps that's why I hate gardening. It's never truly done. Read more [...]

Goodnight, Irene

August 26th, 2011
These two "I" storms provide a nice moment for reflection -- on the week, on the last seven years, on the ten years since this website launched. I've had a decent publication week, two events, six interviews. (It would have been seven, but the earthquake forced Bill Thompson to cancel.) As noted yesterday, I've received lots of review coverage, which is increasingly rare for writers. Read more [...]

The Voices Not in my Head

August 25th, 2011
There have been quite a few reviews of The Most Dangerous Thing since it was published Tuesday. I am going to present the links here, without comment. I can't imagine anyone but my mom clicking through and she doesn't use a computer, but I just don't have anything to say about most of the reviews. Read more [...]

The Forest Primeval

August 24th, 2011
Actually, Baltimore has been fricking adorable in general this week, providing my guests with all sorts of Baltimore moments. My favorite, I think, was the woman driving her trash to the dumpster -- on the hood of her SUV. Yes, she had two enormous trash bags on the hood of her vehicle as she drove v-e-r-y-s-l-o-w-l-y to deposit them (quite illegally) in the dumpster at the local shopping center. Read more [...]

Pub Date

August 23rd, 2011
Years ago, I compared touring to something called The Naked Dance, a delightfully unselfconscious jig performed by a child for whom I babysat. Except adults are never unselfconscious, alas. Sixteen novels, one novella and a book of short stories later, I'm not impervious to reviews, but I've gained a lot of perspective, especially in the past ye Read more [...]

Candy Store

August 22nd, 2011
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. Read more [...]

Last Call

August 15th, 2011
I confess, I worry when I see a word like "confusing" in a review, even when the reviewer goes on to say that readers will be rewarded. Then again -- the time and POV shifts in the book are meant to be disorienting, part of the larger mystery (I hope) of how our parents' lives can be hidden in plain sight. Let's make that the reader question of the day: How do you feel about books that keep you off-balance and not just plot-wise? Read more [...]

Debbie Downer

August 9th, 2011
I prize honesty. I'm a basically honest person. I say "basically" because I'm a big fan of the social lie. But I've lied to get out of trouble. I lied to get out of speeding ticket recently. (I claimed I was racing to the nearest restroom and the young state trooper was so embarrassed for me that he let me go with a warning.) Read more [...]


August 8th, 2011
But a year ago, I promised my readers "Za" -- well, pizza, if they got me on this list. The bill has finally come due. For the next week, there will be an offer here for those who want to attend the party at Iggie's on Aug. 22 in Baltimore. This is key: The time to commit is this week, although we can extend the offer for a few days. Read more [...]

The Basement

August 5th, 2011
We often speak of the mind as an attic. I think that's because our heads are at the top end of our bodies; the brain is a storehouse under the eaves. But lately, I feel like my brain is more of a basement. I am digging deep, dredging up stuff I forgot that I had. ("Oh, yeah, her mother's only fifty-five, that's interesting, use it.") I am getting dirty and sweaty. There is little visible sign of progress. Read more [...]

What They Said

August 4th, 2011
In writing yesterday about how literary novels also have a formula of sorts, I should have bowed to the master, Stewie Griffin: Read more [...]

A Fan’s Notes

August 3rd, 2011
Whatever one thinks about crime fiction -- the best, all-purpose label, encompassing more than "thriller" or "mystery" or "whodunit"* -- nothing is more formulaic than the semi-annual thumbsuckers on the genre, which require that 1) someone point out that crime fiction is popular (yes) 2) that it is formulaic (some, not all) 3) that it is a conservative form that breaks the world in order to re-order it, granting readers the illusion of control missing in daily life (true dat, most of the time) 4) that it is ultimately inferior to literary fiction because if a crime novel is really good, it can't be a crime novel. Read more [...]

Robot Love, Lippman Love

August 2nd, 2011
I have a longstanding passion for folk art, documented here. It is a progressive disease. It doesn't get better, it just finds new areas to attack. I've had my Mexican phase, my Mose/Annie Tolliver phase, my Jimmy Lee Sudduth phase, my Clementine Hunter moment. Lately, it has been robots. No, I don't know why. I enjoyed Lost in Space when I was young, but I actually preferred Dr. Smith to the tedious robot. Read more [...]

A Win-Win-Win Situation

July 28th, 2011
On Aug. 23, I have a new book out, The Most Dangerous Thing -- my 16th novel, my 19th work overall, if you want to give me credit for the one I edited. And you know what? I want to reward my longtime readers. Heck, I want to reward my first-time readers. It always cracks me up when someone at a conference says: I'm just a reader. Just a reader? JUST a reader? I don't think so. Read more [...]

Apparently, It’s July

July 19th, 2011
And I have a book out in August. Five weeks from today. It will probably be a lot like the last Harry Potter movie. Or maybe not. But the early reviews for THE MOST DANGEROUS THING are quite good (two different publications called it "superb") and I'm looking forward to promoting it, if not myself, a key distinction. So let the games begin here. Read more [...]

Perfect Crimes

June 29th, 2011
My Columbo binge continues and I've noticed something else -- most of his killers do make mistakes. The conductor (one of my favorites) retrieves his boutonniere from beneath the piano of his victim; it's the lack of a boutonniere in the televised concert that proves to be his undoing. Jack Cassidy, as the vengeful publisher, sets up an alibi that includes being on a drunken spree and professes to remember little of his evening, yet immediately knows that the parked car he hit contained more than Read more [...]


June 24th, 2011
Peter Falk has died. He was a terrific actor with a large and varied body of work, but it is as Lt. Columbo he will be remembered. I happen to be in a bit of a Columbo marathon this week and it made me playful. Over on Facebook, I started to create a list of tips for the killers on the show, drawn from my pretty vast knowledge of the stories. I never stipulated my criteria, but I was compiling things that tripped up more than one killer, truisms, if you will, not one-offs. For example, a lot of Read more [...]


June 20th, 2011
Ellen Gilchrist once wrote about the "mysterious drawers of summer houses . . . secrets no real house would hoard or remember." Somehow, this led to my theory about books in houses where people visit often, which may or may not be summer houses. I think they should be full of discoveries, even for the owners, that the shelves should be full of books waiting to be plucked like fruit. Idiosyncratic, united by nothing other than the fact that this one person (or two) happened to acquire them. My parents Read more [...]

And The First Will Be Last

June 17th, 2011
This spun out of a light-hearted Facebook thread about being the odd girl out when we had to partner up in my exercise class yesterday. I didn't really mind -- the other women in the class all had "real" friends there, whereas I'm just the Tall Old Woman With Bad Clothes Who is Nevertheless Formidably Strong. But then I remembered that the worst thing that ever happened to me, in all those years of being picked for teams and gym class square dance lessons, was being picked _first_. We had an influx Read more [...]

Word of the Week: Revenge

June 15th, 2011
Is revenge possible? I expect that most people here know the qualifier to "revenge is sweet," and we all agree that it's best served cold. And then there's that bit about living well . . . There's a person who's wronged, repeatedly, a friend of mine. It enrages me in a way I would never be enraged on my own behalf. Because I learned, accidentally, the best way to deal with someone who has done you wrong: Act as if you have no knowledge of it. Several years back, I got a pre-publication review Read more [...]

What Would You Do for a Klondike Bar?

June 3rd, 2011
Alafair Burke's Duffer Awards poll inspires me to share some of my more crazed foodie moments. Read more [...]

Cars: A Straightforward History

May 26th, 2011
Novelists use cars all the time to create insight into character. Here's mine: Doesn't care about cars, drives them into the ground, likes to drive stick, prefers a nimble sedan over an SUV behemoth. What do your cars say about you? Read more [...]


May 25th, 2011
I assume there is an entire generation of people now who don't know how to make popcorn. What else is lost to the ages? What no-longer needed skills do you possess? The bottom line is that I always think of my father when I make popcorn and that makes me happy. Read more [...]

Stuck inside of Mobile

May 13th, 2011
Stuck in a bad (and mysterious) flight delay, why not blog about my first flight? Read more [...]

Writer Request: Is it Just Me?

May 11th, 2011
There is still a lot of crime fiction where women show up only to die, although preferably after having sex with the protagonist. It happens in a lot of bad books, but it happens in some otherwise good books, too. Read more [...]

Reader Request: Omnibus

May 10th, 2011
I realized when I promised to blog reader requests for a week, it was already Wednesday -- and I try to stay off the Internet on weekends. So I thought I'd take one more day to answer some questions that were posted to the Facebook page. Read more [...]

Reader Request: Where’s Waldo?

May 5th, 2011
A reader asks: Where's Tess Monaghan? I have been dropping hints about this since the beginning of the year, but it is a case of good news, bad news. Read more [...]

Reader Request: Food, Glorious Food

May 4th, 2011
I don't call a lot of attention to it, but I live in two cities now. So when I'm asked about my favorite food, I can't limit myself to Baltimore anymore, I need to throw in some New Orleans, too. Read more [...]

Reader Request: The Darkness Within

May 4th, 2011
A reader asked how I deal with the darkness of my work in my own life. Here goes. Read more [...]

The Biggest Loser

May 3rd, 2011
I am one of the losing-est people in the history of the Edgar Award. In fact, I have a hunch that I am THE losing-est woman in the history of the Edgar, but I'm not convinced my research on this is complete. Read more [...]


April 20th, 2011
There is a random quality to Netflix's instantly streaming program that I really love. Not everything is available all the time; movies come and go. So when I saw "Diner" in my recommended queue Saturday night, I immediately clicked through. Netflix then recommended "Breaking Away," which made for a very nice 80s double-feature. BA is charming, but creaks a little with age and sentiment. (Although props to the filmmakers for a) Paul Dooley's speech outside the library b) the look on the bad guy's Read more [...]

Where Was I?

April 2nd, 2011
This year I took a pass on winter. In more ways than one, you might be thinking. I have been absent from this blog, not particularly active on my "author" Facebook page. What the heck was I doing? Writing, mainly. I finished a book at the end of January, which allowed me to celebrate my birthday in great style, revised it in February, then enjoyed another respite that was perfectly timed to coincide with Mardi Gras. (Although I did write a short story in that lull, for Laurie King and Leslie Klinger's Read more [...]


February 2nd, 2011
If you've talked to me lately, I have probably bored you silly on the subject of my closet intervention, which was engineered by a very good friend. (Wow, look at the male regulars here heading for the exits. Amazing. Trust me. We are leading up to a memory. Two, in fact!) Like most women I know, I secretly wanted a makeover that would somehow involve no criticism of the self being made over. And definitely no public shaming via television show. I want Cliff and Stacey to tell me not what to wear, Read more [...]

Finishing the Hat

January 25th, 2011
Today, I sent a 340-page (just shy of 100,000 words) manuscript to my editor and agent. I was thirteen days early, unless one considers the fact that my Feb. 7th deadline was a revised one. Normally, I deliver my books between Oct. 1 and Dec. 1. This means that I did not complete a novel in 2010, the first time I have failed to do so since 1996. Granted, I didn't even start this book until February, which means I managed to write it in less than twelve months. But I still feel a little sad about Read more [...]

Blown Deadlines

December 31st, 2010
According to my calendar, I should be writing my final chapter today. Instead, I wrote the penultimate chapter. It's only 10:30, I could hunker down and throw myself into the next chapter. It's a first draft, after all, rough and dirty. Plus, I'd kinda like to find out what happens when these four characters finally sort it all out. But I'm not allowing myself to write it. Because I want to. Too much. I want to be finished. I love finishing. And for those who think a book-a-year novelist is crazy-fast, Read more [...]

The Writing Life

December 28th, 2010
Raymond Carver once wrote that he began a short story knowing nothing more than this line: He was vacuuming the rug when the phone rang. I wish I had the essay at hand, but I don't and to try to pull up more from it would be foolish for someone with a memory as porous as mine. Today, I got back to work. (A day late, to be honest. Life got a little complicated yesterday.) I am in the final section of my 16th novel. I have an outline of sorts. I didn't have an outline for the rest of the book. Perversely, Read more [...]

Fourth Annual One-Word Resolution Challenge

December 17th, 2010
I know New Year's is two weeks out, but I think -- hope! -- that people will begin drifting away from their computers over the next few days. I know I will. At any rate, time for the one-word resolution challenge. I had a good one and -- no joke, see name of this blog -- I forgot it. It was a really good one, too. Well, maybe I'll remember it in time for 2012. Meanwhile, I've found a substitute:BE.Remember when Bill Clinton famously said it depends on how you define "is"? It's an easy line to mock Read more [...]

A Christmas Letter

December 17th, 2010
[I cut and paste this from my website, where it was explained that certain words on the microfilm copy were illegible.]Janus, the two-faced god who looks back and ahead, is the journalist's guide this time of year. Today, back at 1984. Saturday, ahead at 1985."Ronald Reagan's landslide victory, while no surprise, was the top story in 1984 in a poll of Associated Press member editors and broadcasters," AP's John (last name illegible) wrote last week. That the story was "no surprise" means the editors Read more [...]


November 23rd, 2010
I wrote this for my website, then decided to hijack it for the blog. There will be formatting glitches because I wrote it in Word. Earlier this month, I received a letter at my home addressed to someone who, to my knowledge, has never lived here. (I know the names of the three previous residents, going back to 1998). Normally, I would toss such a letter into the recycling pile. But this letter looked official. I’ve had a lot of problems with my mail lately simply because I tried to have it forwarded Read more [...]


October 28th, 2010
So I was reading Nancy Nall's blog this morning -- and you should, too -- and ready to chime in that the interest rate in 1979/80 reached 18 percent. Or did it? I grabbed the notebook in which I had all my research, referenced in the previous blog post and there was the solution to a problem that has been dogging me all week, a quote from someone not particularly famous in the world-at-large (Dr. John Money) about the "pro-incest" movement that was, according to Time, briefly in vogue, a trend story Read more [...]

Everything Old is New Again

October 1st, 2010
I spent the morning at the Enoch Pratt, reading issues of Time from 1979 and 1980, looking for things that would be very much on my characters' minds (inflation was 18 percent, the hostage crisis, the 1980 presidential race) and things that might be more subtextual (Mount St. Helens, "Who Shot J.R.?" and an attempt to "normalize" the public view of incest.) Along the way, I jotted down a few things that sounded awfully familiar. "The art of editing is in decline." "Is capitalism working?" "First-hand Read more [...]

David Thompson

September 14th, 2010
David Thompson died yesterday. He was a sweet, ebullient man who helped to run Murder by the Book in Houston. In his honor, I spent the day away from Facebook, although that was kind of ass-backwards. It was because of Facebook, indirectly, that I first learned of his death. Because of Facebook, I had more regular contact with him than I might have otherwise; we had IM'ed just a week or so ago. And his Facebook page is an interesting testament to the man. His last two posts included a status update Read more [...]

Let’s Hear it for the Boy

September 10th, 2010
Credit where credit is due: Terry Gross had Jonathan Franzen on "Fresh Air" on Thursday. At the beginning of the interview she characterized the discussion about Franzen's coverage in the media as a "certain amount of resentment of your success by some writers." Here's Franzen's response, transcribed from the podcast. "I haven't been following any of that closely, but the little bit that's trickled back to me hasn't sounded particularly ad hominem. It seems like there's a different critique, it's Read more [...]


September 6th, 2010
I want to tell you I remember the first book I ever read. I don't. What I do remember is my sister giving me an early start on reading by giving me a "Dick and Jane" book. I can still see Sally on her tricycle going "Oh! Oh! Oh!" It was like being given the Rosetta Stone, but with a key that explained everything. Letters put together made sounds and then words. I could pass into the adult kingdom now, the world of books. I remember . . . the Oz book (The Lost Princess of Oz) that was in the basket Read more [...]

“Hey, Dad — would you like to have a kvetch?”

August 27th, 2010
Well, this was an interesting week. Although I know it sometimes seems as if I'm constantly online, this week was neatly divided between my professional life, which is Going Very Nicely, and my personal life, which has been a series of Domestic Disturbances. Knock wood, I think I have finally assigned each problem/dilemma to the proper professional, although for all I know the catsitter is outside doing the brick work and our plumber is devising the menu for Mr. Lippman's birthday dinner. When I Read more [...]

Ladies of the Club

August 25th, 2010
I have been trying for a week now to work out what I think about all the Franzen love and the reaction to the Franzen love, but I just can't organize my thoughts. So I am going to make a listicle of random (or are they?) observations.1) Middle-age women are the engine that drive fiction in this country. Ian McEwan told the New Yorker this year that he literally couldn't give novels away to men. 2) Although women dominate fiction as consumers/readers, there is a genre known as "women's fiction," yet Read more [...]

Pub Date: A Tradition

August 17th, 2010
"I remember one year my friend Carpenter and I had books out on the same day. We talked about it all summer. We each had modest expectations. I had modest expectations for his book; he had modest expectations for mine . . . Finally the big day arrived and I woke up happy, embarrassed in advance by all the praise and attention that would be forthcoming. I made coffee and practiced digging my toe in the dirt . . . Then I waited for the phone to ring. The phone did not know its part. It sat there silent Read more [...]

Trust Me — This Could Be Fun

August 12th, 2010
Jonathan Franzen is going to be on the cover of TIME. I had it on good authority that I was the other August author under consideration, but so it goes. Now, many years ago, Nora Ephron -- man, how many times have I cited her on this blog -- had a killing parody of how to write a magazine cover story. Interestingly, the rules as she observed them do not seem to have changed much. This profile (an abridged version is online) begins with a comically strained scene involving 41 sea otters. "One of the Read more [...]

Anne Allen

August 9th, 2010
Sad news came today -- Anne Allen died Aug. 5. Anne was a dance teacher in Columbia, MD, and a gifted dancer in her day, the real thing. Her daughter, Cathleen, was a good friend in high school. I can't remember why my friend Dana and I wandered into her ballet class at the community center. I had to be self-aware enough, at 15, to know that I had no talent. Somehow, Anne recruited me to play the Comet can in her whimsical take on the Sorcerer's Apprentice, which featured many name-brand cleansers. Read more [...]

Website updated

July 28th, 2010
Click on the link above.


July 26th, 2010
I sucked my thumb until I was eight years old. If memory serves, and you know what we say here at TMP: Memory serves, but it's usually self-serving. Still, who would make that up? I chose to give up thumb-sucking the summer between second and third grade because I had the good fortune to have the same wonderful teacher, Lorraine Shapiro, for the second time and I cared deeply about her opinion of me. Not that she knew I sucked my thumb. By then, I sucked it only at night. Still, I knew it was time Read more [...]

Pimp Hard! Pimp Often!

July 19th, 2010
What the Dead Know is on this list. I will make it clickable later this morning.

Is anyone else hating the weather this summer as much as I am?

More anon.


July 19th, 2010
So, given there was an immediate outcry of "What about --?" based on the long-long-long list I mentioned in the previous entry, I thought it would be fun* to ask people who migrate here to name what I'm going to call Quintessential Crime Novels. Not best-ever because I don't have the reading bona fides to rate books that authoritatively. But I think it is possible to argue that certain books shaped/influenced/changed the genre to a degree that they have certain bragging rights. Or should have! One Read more [...]

The Sony Walkman

July 1st, 2010
Some cool trivia from a quick research foray today:

The Sony Walkman cost $200 when first introduced in 1979. Prices quickly dropped, but that's almost $600 in 2009 dollars.

Makes you rethink the iPad, no?

A Contest for a Contest

June 29th, 2010
Except there's no prize. Here's the deal. I have run two completely random contests for ARCs. But this is big. Really big. Thanks to one of my best reader friends ever, I have pristine copies of Laura Lippman first editions. Granted, they are all inscribed to Bob "One O" Smith, which diminishes their value in the market at large, but increases their value tenfold in my estimation. Bob recently moved to a smaller place and had to downsize and asked me if I had any use for my own first editions. I Read more [...]

Return to Peyton Place

June 23rd, 2010
I recently read a delicious novel, Debra Ginsberg's THE NEIGHBORS ARE WATCHING (to be published this fall) and I told Debra it reminded me of PEYTON PLACE, but realized that most people think that term simply connotes "soap opera." Anyway, blah, blah, fish cakes, here's an article I wrote about this seminal book, which is (c) Baltimore Sun. It appeared in 1999. There will probably be some typographical weirdness; I'll try to fix it later. THE WOMEN OF PEYTON PLACEThe photograph is known as Pandora Read more [...]

And the winner is . . .

June 19th, 2010
Rebecca! She didn't use her last name here, so I won't either.

New contest coming soon.

Contest 2 winner . . .

June 18th, 2010
will be announced later today. Thank you for being patient with me. What can I say? I've been living in Crazytown for the past month and my lease still isn't up.


May 26th, 2010
Facebook has lately been under assault -- for very good reasons -- about its ever-changing privacy defaults and rather calloused attitudes toward its users. But I don't think I'll quit anytime soon. Why? In the last five minutes, I: *Watched videos of the talented son of a writer I've met exactly once, but read intensely and feel as if I know. Besides, he was singing show tunes. * Seen a photograph of another writer friend's grandsons.*Laughed out loud as another writer confesses that she's learned Read more [...]

New Contest

May 21st, 2010
This is like the last <a href=""> one</a>, only the winner will receive a signed hardcover when the book is released in August. First, read the essay <a href=""> here.</a>. Then return here, or click through to the Facebook page and fill in one of these sentences: If I had a pet, I'd name him/her --The best pet I ever had was --You don't have to do anything more than insert a name after just Read more [...]

And the winner is . . .

May 10th, 2010
Michele Lea Rosenberg.

However, I hope to give away more free books before the August publication date of I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE so keep watching this space.

And thank you everyone for providing such delightful mini essays. I don't know about y'all, but I'm having pizza for dinner.

It’s On!

April 19th, 2010
As noted at, I am giving away an advanced copy of I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE through a random drawing. If you're reading this here, all you have to do is go to the comments section and complete this sentence: "The best slice of pizza I ever had was . . ."What, you may ask, does this have to do with a crime novel in which a serial killer reaches out to his only living victim weeks before his execution? Not much, actually, although I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE does celebrate quotidian happiness Read more [...]


April 9th, 2010
Someone pissed me off yesterday and I am tempted to write about it. But it seems so counterproductive. In fact, I'm more interested in why I invested emotion into the exchange, which is staggeringly unimportant in the scheme of things, than I am in the exchange itself. But perhaps that's a safe place for anger to go, sometimes. Instead, now in a flight delay at BWI -- I'm not complaining, when an airline wants to swap a plane out for mechanical reasons, I am all for it -- I am thinking about my visits Read more [...]

David Mills

March 31st, 2010
David Mills, one of my husband's oldest friends and colleagues, died yesterday after collapsing on the set of Treme where the two old friends were working together for -- the fifth time? The sixth? It's hard to quantify. They met at their college newspaper, then went on to work for newspapers in the same area. They co-wrote an episode of Homicide together, the one staring Robin Williams, and ended up being nominated for a WGA award. Legend has it that David Mills then said, "This television shit Read more [...]

TMP: Pack Rat Denial

March 21st, 2010
Remember the scene in the SEX AND THE CITY MOVIE where Carrie has her friends vote on her wardrobe, requiring a majority vote if a certain item is to be kept? No? At any rate, I started cleaning my office this weekend. I've occupied this space for eight years, which means a lot got tossed years ago. Now I am confronted with some items I'm not sure I should save, including: * My contract with CBS News, when I was a 20-year-old hired to be the co-hostess on a kiddie version of Charles Kuralt's Going Read more [...]

TMP: Evening

March 9th, 2010
I was walking home from the gym, listening to my iPod. (Allison Kraus, followed by Dolly Parton, if you must know.) Became aware of a man walking nearby so, like the good wary urban resident that I am, I unplugged, announcing to the world that I was Paying-Attention-So-Don't-Mug-Me. I instantly heard an amazing noise, cacophonous yet unified. First, I thought of grackles, but we don't have grackles here. I knew they were birds, flying north, but the sky was dark. My potential mugger -- really, a Read more [...]

TMP: The $338 Cheeseburger

March 6th, 2010
The good news: It turns out that my house is really hard to break into.The bad news: Last night, I was lucky enough to be heading out for a girls' night out with a group of the incredibly fun women who live in my neighborhood: Burgers at the Abbey, then IN THE HEIGHTS at the Hippodrome. I was excited. So excited that when they knocked on my door, I threw it open, bounded out -- and realized that I had just locked my keys inside, something I have not done in eight years of living in this house. After Read more [...]

Pub Date

March 2nd, 2010
The paperback of LIFE SENTENCES comes out today. It would make me very happy if you bought it. Reading it would be nice, too, yet less essential. You can use it to swat flies, or prop up a bureau with a missing leg. It has an essay, "Shut Up, Memory," in which I write about my preoccupation with memory's power and imperfection. So, even if you have the hardcover, don't you want to spend whatever it takes to get that essay? <g>Usually on pub date, I run an excerpt from BIRD BY BIRD, but it doesn't Read more [...]

Envy the Night . . . the Morning . . . Afternoon . . . Teatime

March 1st, 2010
Anne Lamott is the only writer I know who addresses envy in a writing book. Yet it's present in almost every fictional treatment of writers. And then there is the famous verse, The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered, although I suppose that's more properly filed under schadenfreude. Here's what I think about envy. Envy is corrosive. Envy fills you with little holes. When you are envious, no matter how much success and love and money you have, it will all seep out of you. To be envious is to choose Read more [...]

And Your Little Dog, Too

February 28th, 2010
Last week, I was admitted to the literal vault of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. Among the treasures I saw was a handwritten letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald to H.L. Mencken, thanking him for his review of THE GREAT GATSBY, which Fitzgerald believed (or so he told Mencken) had turned the critical tide in Fitzgerald's favor. As a former journalist, it is very hard for me to reach out to critics. It seems improper. I have my job to do, they have theirs. Certainly, there are critics who have made me very Read more [...]

The Malady is Familiar

February 27th, 2010
Let's jump ahead to that frabjous day when the race has been won -- you have sold your first book and now it's being published. But it comes at a terrible price. You now most likely have a disease: First Author-itis.Oh, a few people escape it, but they are very noble people. I wasn't among them. For about eight months, I was the center of the universe. Didn't you know? Haven't you heard? I WROTE A BOOK! I actually uttered those words at my first Bouchercon, upon meeting a woman, Sally Fellows, who Read more [...]

Let’s Get Physical

February 26th, 2010
Super Reader Marjorie, an incredibly generous and thoughtful woman, suggested yesterday that I talk about my physical travails vis a vis writing. I have had some bum times, to quote Sondheim, but I'm still here. And relative to a lot of people, I've drawn to a genetic inside straight, if you will. You should see my mom. So, instead, I want to talk about how writers need hobbies that remind us that certain things are futile, frustrating, surprising, unexpectedly rewarding. Gardening, cooking, carpentry, Read more [...]

Who Do You Love?

February 25th, 2010
If you are a writer, or thinking about writing fiction, make a list: What do you think you will do well? What do you think your weaknesses will be? If I had made such a list in 1991, when the first Tess Monaghan novel began taking shape in a black-and-white Roaring Springs notebook, my list of perceived strengths would have been: DialogueCharacterHumorSense of PlaceAnd my list of weaknesses would have included: PlotPacingSyntax (I suffer from a kind of logical dyslexia in which I deliver information Read more [...]

What’s the Rumpus?

February 24th, 2010
"That's the problem with all you readers. You know all the plots." That line jumped out of SUNSET BOULEVARD the other night. William Holden is speaking to a studio reader, a young woman who earns a living by reading books and scenarios for possible adaptation. But it gave me an idea for today's entry, which is about plotting and recreational readers.If anything can be learned, it's plot. First of all, you already know more about plot than you realize. As a reader and a movie-goer and a television Read more [...]

What’s In a Name?

February 23rd, 2010
Of all the things I do as a writer, I find creating character names difficult and baffling. Except when it's not. Some characters have arrived in my life with names affixed. Tess Monaghan, the Bethany girls. Others, as explained yesterday in the comments section, were drawn from newspaper bylines. If I were a historical novelist, I might use cemeteries for names. I have consulted phone books to find surnames and Googled the popular names lists of particular years. Whenever I fantasize about hiring Read more [...]

Who’s That Girl?

February 22nd, 2010
Yesterday, regular commenter Andy mentioned a poet who seemed to resent being asked if his poem had been inspired by him and his son. As I hope I made clear, I think all questions for writers are fair game. But this is one of the trickiest. It happens that I was asked Friday if a character in one of my early novels was inspired by someone close to me and I found myself almost -- almost -- nonplussed. The best response, I think, is the new cliche: It's complicated. First of all, let's put aside the Read more [...]

“Where Do You Get Your Ideas?”

February 21st, 2010
Holy cats -- I just realized I have a book coming out in a week from Tuesday. It's the paperback edition of Life Sentences and, for the first time since 1997, I am NOT touring. I am doing events in my two hometowns, Baltimore and New Orleans. You can find me:March 2, 7 p.m., Barnes and Noble, Ellicott City, MD, Long Gate Shopping Center.March 15, 7 p.m, Garden District Bookshop, 2727 Prytania, New Orleans. But as a countdown to publication, I'd like to switch this blog from memories to advice for Read more [...]

Liquor is Quicker

February 17th, 2010
I am writing a new book and a character arrived with a sweet tooth. That's how these things work, as the writers who visit here know. You're toodling along, making stuff up, and suddenly there's this little girl lying belly down on the banks of the Gwynn's Falls, a net at the ready to catch the crayfish (as we called them) and the next thing I know, she's demanding that her new friend help her acquire "Circus Peanuts." I don't think I've ever actually eaten a circus peanut and, having read up on Read more [...]

Big Moments

February 8th, 2010
I missed what appears to be a record-breaking snowfall in Baltimore. And, in some ways, I really did MISS it. I don't much care for snow, particularly in my hometown, which isn't particularly skilled at handling it. (Our snow removal plan seems to rely rather heavily on the old-fashioned technology known as "Melt, please.") But these are the things of which memories are made. And, sometimes, valuable new habits: It was the blizzard of 2003 that got me started writing at Spoons on a daily basis. I Read more [...]

We All Live at the Jersey Shore

January 27th, 2010
So there was this show on MTV, the Jersey Shore. Never heard of it? Good for you. Heard of it, but never deigned to watch it? Even better. But whether you realize it or not, you've lived it. In fact, that's why I think this show became a cultural phenomenon. It managed to capture the intense feelings that a random group of people experience in a singular situation. Isn't most reality television like this? Actually, no. First, many center on competitions. The contestants may share an intense, unusual Read more [...]

The Cheese Stands Alone

January 3rd, 2010
Every year of the past decade, I started a new book on the first official work day of the New Year. The schedule evolved by accident. IIRC, Jan. 1 had been my official due date for my first four books. But there was a scheduling issue in 1999 and I was asked if I could submit my fourth book by Oct. 1. At the time, I was working fulltime AND teaching, so we compromised on Nov. 1. My submission date flitted back and forth between Sept. 1 and Oct. 1 over the next few years. This year, I asked if I could Read more [...]

3rd Annual One-Word Resolution Challenge

December 26th, 2009
This year, you have an entire week to boil your 2010 resolution down to one word. In '09, I chose VENTURE. How did I do? Well, if we consider "venture" as a word that indicates to go forth, to travel, I certainly did that. Here's a list of places I went in '09: St. Petersburg, FL; Guatemala; New York City (multiple times); Boston, Jacksonville, St. Simon's Island GA, Atlanta, Winston-Salem NC, Indianapolis, Fort Lauderdale, Cumberland MD, Pittsburgh,, El Paso, Phoenix, Houston, Charleston, Austin, Read more [...]

An Open Letter to a Young Writer

December 18th, 2009
This started off as an e-mail reply to a writer I know who's struggling. But, given that I not long ago opined that most people don't really want to hear opinions that don't gibe with their own, I thought I would publish it here, modified to be more generic. I wrote on my website that the first thing a would-be novelist must do is "finish." But what do I mean by finishing? Here are my thoughts about the danger of being too focused on finishing.Whatever a writer's natural speed, almost everyone wants Read more [...]


December 14th, 2009
It's the time for best lists. I've had the good fortune to appear on two -- Margaret Cannon, the Toronto Globe and Mail, Adam Wood, the Seattle Times. And Sarah Weinman chose Every Secret Thing as one of the books that defined the "aughts" in crime fiction. (Sarah's list is meant to be provocative, but I like the fact that she picked my first stand-alone, which I also believe represents a significant shift in my writing, which happened to be concurrent with a significant shift in my life as well. Read more [...]

“Liberal Minded”

December 8th, 2009
I was working the Times Sunday crossword puzzle last night and was surprised to see that these two words, Liberal Minded, were -- spoiler alert! -- the answer to 29 Down: Tolerant of other opinions. The word "liberal" has been twisted so in modern rhetoric that I actually wondered if Fox News would complain, or at least cite 29 Down as proof of the paper's lefty bias. The clue struck me because I've been working, off and on for several days, on a piece about the MWA and Harlequin. Here's the <a Read more [...]

Flying Too High With Some Guy in the Sky

November 9th, 2009
. . . is my idea of a pretty good way to finish a novel. In fact, I was so tickled to write the final chapter of NOVEL NO. 15 (title's not set in stone) that I took advantage of the Internet link and signed on, sending an e-mail to the SO and announcing my status on Facebook. The result was a flurry of questions. When will it be published? (2010, but I'm not sure what month.) Is it a Tess or a stand-alone? (A stand-alone.) Will I tear up my latest "design"? (No, I'll probably create a new version.) Read more [...]

John Mashek

November 5th, 2009
John Mashek, one of my father's oldest friends, died this week at the age of 77.I knew John pretty much my entire sentient life. Like my father, he was a Washington-based correspondent for a Southern newspaper. Our families were close enough that John and his wife, Sara, looked after my sister and me when my parents took a holiday weekend. While staying with the Masheks, I think -- hey, IIRC and all that -- my sister and I learned about this amazing institution known as Candy Night, in which the Read more [...]

TorMentors, or yes, I’ve been listening to early Joe Jackson

October 23rd, 2009
I had the good fortune to have dinner last night with a kind, generous writer, whom I'm not going to name because it would feel like a thudding anvil of a moment. (And I was just one of several people that he treated.) During dinner, he observed how seldom people thank their teachers. He has a point. So, here, I'll thank Lynne Collins, Meredith Steinbach, J. Lyndon Shanley, Sallie Gaines and Sandra Cisneros, who were, respectively: my high school math/homeroom teacher, my first creative writing teacher, Read more [...]

Oh Brave New World

September 24th, 2009
Website's been updated. Click on the above.

I'm also participating in <a href="">Significant Objects</a>, a very cool project that the link describes better than I can.

Bid me up! (I had a link going straight to eBay, but I can't get Journalscape to show it.)

(An aside: Who knew there were so many motel keys on eBay?)


Crab Feasts

September 14th, 2009
Why is Tess Monaghan allergic to shellfish? I thought that would be funny, this quintessential Baltimore girl, incapable of eating the region's signature dish of steamed crabs. Then someone very dear to me developed a shellfish allergy and I realized it's not that funny. But, by then, I was seven books into the series and I couldn't change Tess's fate. And the fact is, I'm not particularly passionate about this local delicacy. Too much mess for me -- the Old Bay under the fingernails, the newspapers Read more [...]

Oh Brave New World

September 12th, 2009
The Facebook link above now goes to a fan page.

The Hazards of Collecting

September 8th, 2009
[This is part of an experiment in which I cross-post here and to Facebook. Facebook will have the photos and text. Here, just text.]This weekend, we had a great throwing-off at my house, which always makes me happy. The next day, we went shopping, which is not as insane as it sounds. And if you're going to roam the antique stores of West Virginia, it's good to do it after confronting your stuff. I knew what I needed, I knew what I used. And I knew that they were certain objects that I would never Read more [...]

Killing Tess. Not

August 13th, 2009
I was invited to contribute an essay to the Washington Post's The Writing Life series and <a href="">here</a> it is. This same week, I received a copy of The Lineup, a book in which crime novelists write about their characters' origins. Most of the pieces in the book are straight-forward; writers such as Lee Chil, Michael Connelly and John Connolly explain when they found their character/calling. Mine is Read more [...]


August 4th, 2009
Flare-up of tendinitis/RSI means I have to abandon all discretionary computer use. And, alas, this counts.

Don't worry about me and -- please! -- no e-mails. I know what to do and I'm doing it.


Video Killed . . . Everything?

July 28th, 2009
I'm old enough that I've managed to observe most of the milestones in my life without video capturing it, and I have no regrets about that. But I was curious when Dave White, a friend of TMP, posted a link on his blog to the wedding video that has gone viral, the one in which a bunch of very good sports dance down the aisle to a Chris Brown song. (Cynical thought #1: A Chris Brown song, at a wedding? Not my first choice.) It's rather sweet. I think Dave, in fact, nailed the source of its charm: These Read more [...]

Where Were You When . . . ?

July 19th, 2009
Another topic suggested by a TMP reader, that I've altered slightly. "Where were you when . . ." Now fill in the blanks. During the moon walk? In the living room of our home on Wetheredsville Road. That's it. I recall being alone, but how can that be? I think I must actually be remembering what happened earlier in the evening, as I walked by, impatient to see the big event. And now . . . Where were you when:JFK died. I don't remember. The Persian Gulf war started: In the newsroom, but I'm just inferring. Read more [...]

Index Cards

July 13th, 2009
I have mentioned before -- here, on my website, in talks -- that I was profoundly influenced by Madison Smartt Bell's book, NARRATIVE DESIGN. Every year, I break down the work in process into some sort of visual pattern. For the past two weeks, I've been trying to write around a structural problem in Book #15. (Ah, yes, those colorful Lippman titles for works-in-progress. Mary Kay Andrews told an audience at Sykesville's A Likely Story that she can't begin without a title. But, to paraphrase T.S. Read more [...]

Lippman’s Law (A new TMP feature)

July 2nd, 2009
I used to know every musical that had won the Pulitzer, but my mind decided to let that tidbit go. It was, IIRC, a weird group. SOUTH PACIFIC? Sure. RENT? Hmmmm. A CHORUS LINE. Maybe. FIORELLO? I would like to see what else opened that year. While the show has some crowd pleasing moments ("Little Tin Box," The Name's LaGuardia"), it doesn't hold up particularly well. There's Marie's Law, for example, which begins: "My law/Shall state/To whom/It may concern." (The line is repeated as a man pretends Read more [...]


June 25th, 2009
This topic was suggested by a TMP reader. (Uncredited only because I haven't asked permission to credit him/her.) Yes, that is allowed at TMP. Encouraged, in fact.The other day, a man in suburban Baltimore was shot and killed by his ex-wife. The story jumped out at me for several reasons -- it is very unusual for women to kill their exes -- but the detail that really seized my imagination was that the man had worked for the Baltimore County school system for more than 30 years. Got up and went to Read more [...]

That old Poet and the Peasant Smell

June 19th, 2009
Although I sometimes fantasize about renting one of the empty stalls at the Cross Street Market and working on my novel there, as a kind of performance art with proximity to oysters, fresh Utz chips, sashimi and egg salad, I don't really like to talk about my "process" too often, unless it's to mock writers who talk about their process. But today, as most people drift away toward the weekend, I am thinking about my -- you'll pardon the expression -- aesthetic. I have completed 40,000 words of my Read more [...]

A Brief History of My Mouth

June 17th, 2009
1964: First cavity. I am a dirty, dirty girl. I am Goofus to my sister's Gallant.1964-Today: Multiple cavities. I will be in my 40s before I find out that some dentists actually give Novocaine for people getting fillings. 1982: Wisdom teeth removed over three visits, at $40 a piece, all I can afford as I have no dental insurance. This means no gas, no sedation. Tooth #1 comes out okay. On second visit, tooth #2 turns out to be "much more complicated than I thought," according to the dentist, who Read more [...]


June 11th, 2009
An odd fact jumped out of the radio this morning: It is illegal in Maryland to own turtles whose shells are less than four inches across. Surely I heard wrong, and it's illegal to own turtles whose shells are more than four inches across? I thought about the turtle I had when I was 10 or so. The sad little plastic container, with the ramp up to the plastic palm tree. It seems unspeakably cruel, especially that fake palm tree. Did I really call him Diver Dan? How long did he live? How did we dispose Read more [...]

Move Along, Not Much to See

June 5th, 2009
Website updated for first time since February.

It wasn't worth waiting for, but so it goes. (Link at the top of the page.)

Better Than Remembered

June 4th, 2009
Thanks to -- rumored to be contemplating a subscription fee, and I think it should -- I've been revisiting some old television pilots, such as ST. ELSEWHERE and HILL STREET BLUES. The pilots hold up pretty well, although I see (or am simply reminded of) the elements that would later disturb me in SE.*Revisited any blasts from the past as of late? How did they hold up? I also re-read SPIDERWEB FOR TWO, and it's divine. I cried at the last line. *My central complaint about almost all television Read more [...]

Your John Deere 4440 Moment

June 1st, 2009
I've been inspired by Brian's comment from the previous thread -- a lovely story about driving a tractor and learning that the John Deere 4440 has three pedals on the floor, none for the gas -- to throw open this question: What's your John Deere 4440 moment? For our purposes, this will be defined as a discovery made via an experience that you found exciting or seminal. An example: I was recently reading a memoir by Jen Lancaster in which she recalled going into a bookstore and seeing her book for Read more [...]

Unacknowledged Debts

May 28th, 2009
This entry is going into two very different directions. 1) I picked up THE SATURDAYS recently, a childhood favorite by Elizabeth Enright. In it, the Melendy siblings pool their allowances, which allows one child to have a spectacular outing. But many of the chapters center on discovering a story about someone they might have not otherwise thought had a story. The same device is used to even greater effect in Enright's SPIDERWEB FOR TWO. In writing "The Girl in the Green Raincoat," I knew I owed a Read more [...]

Obsession, or HIBOWHIMYM

May 25th, 2009
Many years ago, maybe five, a young teacher from New Jersey wrote me about my book, Every Secret Thing. We had some mutual friends, we became friends, I watched as he went on to publish his own PI fiction (the excellent Jackson Donne series). I dropped in on his blog, forgave his love of the New York Yankees. (Yankee love, is, in fact, much easier to forgive than Met love.) Over time, I noticed that the young writer, Dave White, had a pronounced fondness for a television show called HOW I MET YOUR Read more [...]


May 22nd, 2009
For the most part, I don't. Procrastinate, that is. Give me a deadline and I'll usually come in under it, then use the leftover time to loaf. It's the best loafing, the loafing of the smug and sanctimonious. Part of the reason I prefer self-employment to working for others is that when I finished a task early at the Baltimore Sun, I was expected to do more work. Where's the incentive in that? When I finish a book early, I go buy earrings.But, as some readers of this blog have surely noticed, I haven't Read more [...]

By Request

May 15th, 2009
. . . and written in "just the facts" Memory Project style. Here's my experience on The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson.I arrived in Los Angeles Wednesday night after a blessedly uneventful flight. Just before leaving for the airport, I had done a "pre-interview" with one of the show's producers. She told me that the interview would be unlike any other I had done on television. I confessed to being a fan and a nerd (not necessarily in that order), so I had seen the show quite a bit and also gone Read more [...]

Rites of Passage

May 12th, 2009
I compose in Word (although I might be trying something new soon) and I keep the current book on my desktop in a single folder, with all the multiple drafts contained therein. Eventually, I move that folder off the desktop into my document file, where it's no longer visible. I did that today with LIFE SENTENCES. The new book, the work-in-progress, now has the desktop to itself. This annual ritual feels almost Oedipal, or at the very least a case of sibling rivalry. Time for you to shuffle off, LS, Read more [...]

Great Moments in Broadcasting

May 6th, 2009
I did a local news show this morning to promote the Maryland Film Festival, where I am introducing one of my favorite films, Funny Bones, this weekend.

Here's how it started: "Welcome to Baltimore, Laura."


What Should Laura Read Next?

May 3rd, 2009
Everyone's talking about shopping in one's own closet during these times; today I went browsing in my own bookshelves. Granted, I'll never stop buying books. I bought books when I was barely making minimum wage and all I have to show for it is . . . well, actually, some valuable modern firsts. Last week alone, I purchased two books and scored a free one on a visit to my publisher. Today, I was trying to winnow my collection again -- I periodically select books to be boxed up and stored in the basement, Read more [...]


April 20th, 2009
I have to say, it was remarkable fun to began an entry without the LS designation that I used for tour-related blog entries. That said, a few additions to the tour: April 27: Barnes and Noble, Upstairs at the Square, 33 East 17th Street, New York, NY, 7 p.m. I will be appearing with John Wesley Harding, a terrific singer-songwriter who's also a novelist. (Unfair, isn't it, to do both so well?)April 29: Edgar Symposium, 2 p.m. (This is a ticketed event, sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America Read more [...]

LS: This is Just to Say

April 18th, 2009
This American Life had a wonderful piece on the William Carlos Williams poem "This is Just to Say." It's sort of a non-apology apology and a poem that other poets love to parody. Anyway -- this is just to sayThat I had already decided To absolutely lose itIf one more person mentioned my hair colorIn a way/setting I deemed irrelevant.And you were the lucky winner, kind volunteer at the Annapolis Book Festival.(I had been stuck in traffic, too.)World, I am now so brunette. Get over it. Read more [...]

LS: The Problem With Endings

April 17th, 2009
There's a certain justice that the tour for LIFE SENTENCES doesn't have a definitive end. One could argue that the book, too, has a rather open feel, although to say more would be a spoiler. This week alone, I did two events, and I haven't blogged about either. In short: White Oak Library in Silver Spring, MD, magnificent, 100-plus people, thank you very much, Andy Gordon; and Westchester Public Library System, lovely to speak to you at your 14th annual luncheon, sorry I had to run, but the train Read more [...]

LS: To Recap

April 9th, 2009
Five days, six events, six planes, home.

Perfect weather, almost perfect travel, with a slight glitch today, but it all worked out.

LS: Fitness on the Fly

April 8th, 2009
Although it looks as if I will actually string together three workouts this week, when I travel like this, I am always looking for opportunities to add a little exertion in airports. I take stairs where I can find them, eschew trams if possible and, when confronted with a moving walkway, I not only don't use it, I -- this is a little embarrassing -- covertly race the people who are walking on it. And I usually win. Even today, going uphill in the Charlotte airport.The thing is, although I try to Read more [...]

LS: Crap E-Mail from some Dude

April 7th, 2009
Regular Jezebel readers will realize I ripped off the title of today's entry. And I also feel guilty because I think that I am going to violate netiquette by publishing portions of an e-mail, which the writer probably assumed was private. But given that this actually touches on an incident in the very first chapter of LIFE SENTENCES, I feel that's . . . well, no I don't feel that it's justifiable. I just feel like doing it. Here's the note, with my comments in caps."Please do not beoffended by my Read more [...]

LS: Numbers

April 5th, 2009
Remember the Harper Index? Here's mine.Hours of sleep last night: SixNumber of times I awakened from said sleep: SixHours of sleep previous night: FiveNumber of times I awakened for said sleep: SixHours of travel today: SixHours between breakfast and next actual meal: 12.5Glares glared at man in Chili's who attempted to engage me in conversation about my reading, which happened to be Olive Kitteridge, and prompted this observation from him "Maine is really small. It's about the size of Las Cruces, Read more [...]

LS: Too Pooped to Pop

April 4th, 2009
What's that from? I can't remember.

Home, ever so briefly, then back on the road for five days. The end is near.

LS: A New Road

April 3rd, 2009
I've never driven to Pittsburgh by way of Cumberland before so I've never come up the Mason Dixon Highway, now aka the Flight 93 Memorial Highway. I listened for much of the drive to an old This American Life episode on my iPod, Hoaxing Ourselves and Others. It included an excerpt from Dani Shapiro's memoir, which I am now keen to read. It's a dreary day, weather-wise, but I wanted sushi for lunch so I walked a little ways, settled in at the bar at Sushi Kim. The fortune cookie said: "Now and then Read more [...]

LS: Cumberland MD

April 2nd, 2009
I am in Cumberland, Maryland, which is two hours west and many worlds away from Baltimore; it's significant that the local cable system has DC channels, but no Baltimore ones. I am staying in a Holiday Inn where I stayed twelve years ago. Maybe eleven, but I think it was twelve. It's a great story -- sad and funny and odd and sad again -- and I realized it's no longer mine to tell. It's a story that makes me think of Michael Feinstein's version of "Thanks for the Memories," when he lowers his voice Read more [...]

LS: Another 48 Hours

March 30th, 2009
I have an event at A Likely Story Books in Sykesville tonight and then I have two entire days without any appearances, the first time since March 10 that I will have this much time off. Then I hit the road for seven straight days, with events scheduled for every day but April 8, a travel day. Stops during that week of travel include Cumberland, Pittsburgh, El Paso, Phoenix, Houston and Charleston. There are still a few "one offs" after I return home from Charleston and even a weekend at the Lake Read more [...]

LS: Big Bang Theory

March 28th, 2009
I was in my hotel about 5:30 p.m. Friday night in New Orleans when I heard a loud explosion. Really loud, about as loud a noise as I had ever heard. I went to the window and looked down, fourteen stories, to the intersection of Iberville and Royal. Smoke had started billowing from a large grate, filling the sky, but it was possible to catch glimpses of flame beneath the street. The response to whatever was happening seemed somewhat sluggish. Attendants from a parking garage on Iberville stopped traffic Read more [...]

LS: Found Poetry

March 27th, 2009
From the galley I finished reading today:

Epigraph to come, flush left, ragged right
x 14 picas, center unit on longest line


LS: Serendipitous Reading

March 26th, 2009
I keep a small bookshelf of literary memoirs in my bedroom and I often go there when I want to read a few pages before sleep. Last night, I grabbed Martin Amis's Visiting Mrs. Nabokov -- which really doesn’t belong there -- and read his reportage from the set of Robocop II and then a piece on Nicholson Baker, written when Baker was enjoying a great deal of attention for Vox. It begins: "Writers lives are all anxiety and ambition. No one begrudges the anxiety, but the ambition is something they Read more [...]

LS: And on the 15th Day . . .

March 25th, 2009
. . . she rested.

Nothing to do today but write, run an errand or two. And I'm going to celebrate by having a burger tonight at a new local place I've yet to try.

Leg 2 starts tomorrow, but it's a short one, only three days in one place, New Orleans. I know, I know -- it's a hardship.


LS: The Perpetual Argument

March 25th, 2009
Does touring matter?

Life Sentences has gone from #28 to #17, just missing the printed list for the week of April 5.

So, I'm going to go out on a limb and say, yep. And now I'm going to go out on the town and have a burger.

LS: The Numbers Game

March 24th, 2009
Back in my beloved routine for a few days, I sat down and began creating one take of my WIP (work-in-progress). I have written more than 31.000 words. Now, those of you who are good at math might query: But, Laura: There have been eleven full weeks since the year began. If you were meeting your quota, wouldn't you have 55,000 words? True. But when you add one short story (8,000 words), and the introduction to the re-issue of Heaven to Betsy/Betsy In Spite of Herself (1,000 words) and another short Read more [...]

Bonus: Words, Words, Words

March 24th, 2009
TThis morning, I had the good fortune to read <a href=" ">this</a>, which then took me to <a href="">this</a>, which reminded me of <a href=" ">this</a>. Good writing advice (by a good friend), followed by two examples of brevity's charms.Meanwhile, in the grand tradition of friend/good Read more [...]

LS: And It Was Still Hot

March 23rd, 2009
Yesterday, my flight from Fort Lauderdale was two-and-a-half hours late, which meant that I had exactly 65 minutes to get luggage, take a cab home, grab my car and go to Borders in Timonium. I was exactly one minute late. June was there and I hugged her twice, once for me and once for everyone else at TMP who was kind enough to mourn Syd's passing. And Ab, another TMP denizen and friend, asked a question so gratifying that I'm sure some people suspect he was a plant. I am updating the blog at Spoons, Read more [...]

LS: Stuck Inside Fort Lauderdale With Those AirTran Blues Again

March 22nd, 2009
My flight home is delayed an hour and fifteen minutes. Ah well, at least I don't have a connection to make. Although I do have an appearance at 4 p.m. at Borders in Timonium. This is the end of the first leg. Overall, it was very good, but I am primarily grateful for the serendipity that dropped me in Fort Lauderdale with enough free time to attend the wake/celebration for Barbara Parker. I met Barbara only a few times, but she was a delight. I also know she was particularly good to another friend Read more [...]

LS: Friends Indeed

March 20th, 2009
Thanks to Brian and David for making the effort to come to Carmel, Indiana, last night. I have to say, I love meeting TMP denizens on the road.

LS: Casssandra and Me

March 19th, 2009
In Life Sentences, Cassandra's novel makes it to #23 on the New York Times extended list. Life Sentences has made it to #28. Talk about meta!

LS: Downright Respectable

March 18th, 2009
LIFE SENTENCES begins with a writer at a book-signing that is, by her standards, not well attended. Where once she drew upwards of 200 people in a particular venue, she has a crowd of "only" thirty. But she quickly decides that thirty people is "downright respectable" on Valentine's Day. Let me be clear: I think thirty people is wonderful, any day. I still hew to the standard I set for myself when I first began keeping a private tour blog, which I believe was in 2005. (Yep, I honestly can't remember.) Read more [...]

LS: Pimpage and Must Reading

March 17th, 2009
We're not much here for craven pleas, but I wouldn't mind if people dropped by <a href="">here</a> and asked me anything.

Meanwhile, please take a gander at <a href="">this</a>. Very cool article about how memory functions.

LS: Prodigal Daughter

March 16th, 2009
I spoke today at an event sponsored by the St. Simons Island Library Foundation. For those of you not familiar with this area of Georgia, St. Simons is one of the "Golden Isles," along with Jekyll Island and Sea Island, near Brunswick. My father's mother's family was from here; he lived here as a child. And, family legend has it that when I first came here, at age 6 or so, I held my nose and said: "This place stinks." Brunswick has paper mills, you see.My parents are longtime snowbirds in St. Simons Read more [...]

LS: White Wisteria

March 15th, 2009
I am in St. Simons Island, staying with my parents. (And trying, in vain, not to be drawn into discussions of what I want to eat two hours from now, then six hours after that, and then perhaps for breakfast tomorrow . . .) This morning, I headed out to the local coffeehouse for a latte to have with breakfast.(Homemade banana bread from a cousin I will see tomorrow.) I was walking in my too-fast way when an older woman on the path stopped suddenly, so suddenly that I had to be careful not too bump Read more [...]

LS: The Art of Losing

March 14th, 2009
Things have been going so well that there's almost an odd relief in losing my phone, although the timing is less than ideal. If you see it, send it home, but I suspect I will never see it again. And I am sad that the young woman at the restaurant was not charmed when I tried to describe to her the wonderful photo that would have popped up, should she find it. (I'll put that on the Facebook link when I'm finished here.) But the loss of the phone got me thinking: Why, when we lose things, do we say Read more [...]

LS: No Sleep ‘Till Brooklyn

March 13th, 2009
Up at 5:30 a.m., in New York by 10:30 a.m., about to start a pretty long, packed day. I did, however, get my writing done, so 1-W down.

The weekend's dispatches should be a little less harried. But it's been a very good first week for the book and, again, it's a privilege to be this busy.

LS: Holy Grail, Within Reach

March 12th, 2009
Today may be a 2-W day. Those who have indulged my previous tour natterings knows that I shoot for two things every day on tour: writing and working out. I wrote 1,500 words this morning and my very kind media escort has said I can have a few hours off this afternoon, which means time to work out and shower before tonight's event. The 2-W thing, based on just the first three days of this tour, is clearly going to be a harder goal to hit this time. In some ways, that's a good thing, because it means Read more [...]

LS: Good Busy

March 11th, 2009
Things are great, but there's not going to be any time to update this today, I fear.

LS: Pub Date

March 10th, 2009
"I remember one year my friend Carpenter and I had books out on the same day. We talked about it all summer. We each had modest expectations. I had modest expectations for his book; he had modest expectations for mine . . . Finally the big day arrived and I woke up happy, embarrassed in advance by all the praise and attention that would be forthcoming. I made coffee and practiced digging my toe in the dirt . . . Then I waited for the phone to ring. The phone did not know its part. It sat there silent Read more [...]

LS: Talking Points

March 9th, 2009
Today, a page from my calendar:9:30 a.m., telephone interview with local radio station.11 a.m., tape television interviewNoon, tape radio interview with Sheilah Kass, at Baltimore's NPR station.3:15, telephone interview with newspaper in Winston-Salem, NCI guess it's time to figure out what, exactly, I want to say about this book. This morning, inwardly fuming about daylight savings*, worrying about the dozens of little things that have to be in and around interviews, I stopped myself, forced myself Read more [...]

Bonus: A Free Short Story Online

March 9th, 2009
Check out The Babysitter's Code at <a href="">Fifty-Two Stories</a>

LS: On Your Radio

March 8th, 2009
I'm not one of those writers who has a lot of music in my books, although LIFE SENTENCES has a small section about some childhood friends forming a singing group during the Jackson 5 era. But today, as the SO and I drove to Washington for a matinee (DOG IN THE MANGER, terrific), "Maggie May" came on and I could remember exactly where I was the first time I heard it. (In a car somewhere between Atlanta and Marietta, Georgia.) Then I began sorting through all the songs I could remember listening to Read more [...]

LS: The Crider House Rule, Redux

March 7th, 2009
<a href="">Bill Crider</a> is one of those people who upends this whole apple cart about how blogging is a young person’s game. Because Bill is, um, possibly over 30, and yet has an encyclopediac knowledge of pop culture, as his delightful blog establishes. But, as I head out for book tour, I always liked to revisit a lesson that Bill taught me years ago, with consummate gentleness and consideration. In fact, he didn't even try to teach me this lesson, Read more [...]

Barbara Parker

March 7th, 2009
Folks, this shaping up to be kind of a crappy week. Now we've lost <a href=",0,6774778.story ">Barbara Parker</a>.

It's not my story to tell, but I know Barbara was the person who was there for a friend of mine in recent years. And she was just a delightful lady.

Syd Goldfield

March 6th, 2009
It may come as a surprise to the people who read this careless little blog that it takes some planning to file every day, something I do only when I have a new book coming out.I can't remember what I intended to write for today, however. Whatever plan I had, it was out the window when I received some bad news: Syd Goldfield died yesterday. Hardcore regulars here know his wife June from the comments section and I think Syd even slipped in here once or twice. I met Syd soon after I began publishing Read more [...]

LS: On the Links

March 5th, 2009
Today is all about the links:<a href="">One</a><a href="">Two</a><a href="">Three</a> (Hat tip to my agent.)And my own <a href="">addition</a>, which is NSFW, but: "If I write for anyone, Vinnie, I write for me!!" Read more [...]

LS: French Flaps!

March 4th, 2009
As my editor keeps reminding me, I have three books out, or about to be out: LIFE SENTENCES, the hardcover, goes on sale March 7, but yesterday saw the release of the mass market paperback of ANOTHER THING TO FALL, while WHAT THE DEAD KNOW has been released as a gorgeous trade paperback. Yep, that's a whole lotta Lippman. And, serendipitously, the terrific writer John Connolly has made WHAT THE DEAD KNOW his book club selection this month. The conversation is just getting under way <a href="">here</a>. Read more [...]

LS: Light Housekeeping

March 3rd, 2009
The Facebook link for the LIFE SENTENCES group now has a link posted at the top of this page. If you check out the discussion thread on memoirs, you'll find some posts by Steve Luxenberg, who is far too modest to mention that he has an amazing book coming out in May, ANNIE'S GHOSTS. A memoir, but one reported with scrupulous care, about family secrets. P.S. The wonderful people who maintain my website (linked in the same menu above) have been inundated with server problems, so I'm not even going Read more [...]

LS: Vantage Points

March 2nd, 2009
In fact-checking a piece I've written on ten memorable memoirs -- if it gets published, as I hope, I'll link here later -- I found this exceptional <a href="">piece</a> on Truth & Beauty. It's a treasure trove of good links. Vantage point is a crucial issue in memoir. Who gets to tell the story? Why? Does the mere fact of being a writer entitle one to own a story that belongs to many others? Read more [...]

LS: From Our Archives

March 1st, 2009
I recently had a discussion with a gifted musician about a bizarre exchange he had with a chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. And, as it often happens, something that had bugged me for years was illuminated by another person's experience. "Don't you see?" I asked. "He wants to talk to you about what you do, but he doesn't actually understand what you do. I think this must happen to creative people a lot. After all, almost everyone _likes_ music, but that doesn't mean we know how to speak to Read more [...]

LS: Cover Story

February 28th, 2009
I started typing a long reply to Brian in the comments section on the previous entry and decided that a quiet Saturday morning, 10 days out from publication, is as good a day as any to start the annual tour blog. Brian made some interesting observations about covers, and I found myself writing: Covers matter. It may be true that one can't judge a book by its cover, yet people do, all the time. I know I do. And I firmly believe that it was the cover of WHAT THE DEAD KNOW that helped that book break Read more [...]

LIFE SENTENCES has a Facebook page

February 26th, 2009
I've created a Life Sentences "group" on Facebook, which means anyone who joins can post photos, links, video, start discussions, etc. Go to and search for Life Sentences and it should pop up.

Twelve days out from publication date. (And only five from the paperback edition of Another Thing to Fall.) Things will definitely be busier here and there.

How To Lose a Day of Your Life, aka, This Is Why You Have to Keep the Wireless Off While Writing

February 20th, 2009
This morning, I was working on a scene set in 1985. Two people -- a 20-something man who's not quite right, to use the Baltimore vernacular, and a 14-year-old girl, emphasis on girl -- begin talking about music. This conversation was not part of the plan when I started writing today; the only thing on my mind was, "Well, what now for these two?" She reached for the radio and the next thing I knew, two deeply unhip people were talking about their musical preferences. Let's be clear, this is not George Read more [...]

I Keep Forgetting (Ha!)

February 18th, 2009
Tour info, through April 7th, is posted at the website. Click on the link above.

Looks like "The Girl in the Green Raincoat" will be published in book form, maybe this year. More news when I have it.

Beany Malone (Most Will Opt Out)

February 3rd, 2009
I know there are some fervent Beany Malone fans here -- hi Zelda -- and that most of them know that almost every Tess novel has a Beany or Katie Rose reference. Being me, I often forget what they are, but I swear there's always one. But, just yesterday, more than a decade into a series that includes 10 novels, a novella and several short stories, I realized that the entire Tess Monaghan story comes from one Beany novel: Pick a New Dream. To wit: Beany wants to be a newspaper journalist and is counting Read more [...]

For Kathy D.

January 30th, 2009
In the previous thread, Kathy D. asked me what happens next -- to Tess, to her baby, to "The Girl in the Green Raincoat." If you haven't read it -- well, spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk. Still here? Okay, you were warned. I'll take the easiest question first. Carla Scout is not going to have long-term problems associated with her premature birth. That part of the novella was inspired by three families I met when I was a reporter and their three surviving children had no health issues. (However, Read more [...]

John Updike

January 27th, 2009
John Updike died today. I wrote about him, in a fashion, on my <a href=""_blank" "> website</a> back in 2005. I really don't have much to add. I loved the Rabbit books, particularly "Rabbit is Rich," somehow never read the Bech books, although I may still. The other novels I read -- well, in Lippman vernacular, they were not for me.


January 25th, 2009
Two things ended for me today: my annual week at Writers in Paradise at Eckerd College and "The Girl in the Raincoat." And I'm a little wistful about both, although there's no way I could sustain the pace of either for much longer. As it happens, Sterling Watson, one of the directors of the writers conference at Eckerd (his former student, Dennis Lehane, is the other), gave a talk on endings during the week, a provocative one. He argued for feeling as a standard and reviewed some of the best, and Read more [...]

I Wonder What Happens Next . . .

January 9th, 2009
These <a href="">installments</a> post earlier than you might suspect.

Cliffhanger! More to come!

January 2nd, 2009
Chapter <a href="">Thirteen</a>, aka "Sacred Places" has been posted. Only two to go!


The Return of the One-Word Resolution Challenge

December 27th, 2008
Last year, an open invitation to boil one's New Year's resolutions to a single word ended up generating more comments than almost any other topic in the history of this little blog. To recap, I chose "stretch." In the literal sense, I failed. I simply don't stretch enough and my hamstrings are tight as . . . well, I find myself failing to find a good Raymond Chandleresque simile here. Tight enough to make a bishop put his foot through a stained glass window? Tight as a tarantula on a slice of angel Read more [...]

My First Waltz

December 22nd, 2008
My sister had (and has) extremely good, diverse and often ahead-of-the-curve taste in music. As the younger sibling, I left music to her; I was largely indifferent to pop music until I discovered punk and New Wave. At last, something to call my own. (Only I really couldn't, as my sister had been listening to the New York Dolls all along. Foiled again!) Late, as always, I went to see "The Last Waltz" in 1979, a year after its release and, IIRC, three years after the concert it documented, a farewell Read more [...]

Isn’t it Ironic

December 16th, 2008
Like Tess Monaghan, I am tempted to down a shot whenever I hear a television anchor misuse the word "ironic," but I'm not sure I use the word correctly myself. Given that I have just trudged through my latest copy-edit, I'm not sure I'm entitled to mock anyone's usage. This is my 14th novel and some problems do not appear to be abating -- the subjunctive, my use of commas, my inability to remember if it's Haussner's or Hausnner's. (The former, I think.) So is it "ironic" that, having finished, more Read more [...]

Rowan Oak: A TMP Example

December 8th, 2008
When I first began trying to get students to keep "memory" journals -- diaries that record only facts, no emotions, in the hope that I could prove to them that active, tangible descriptions convey emotion -- I would usually use an example of a day in March 1982 when I went snake-hunting with Butch Hefflefinger. It was for a story at the Waco Tribune-Herald, my first gig in journalism. The rattle snake round-up was a kind of perennial, and often given to Yankees. I spent the day in Bosque County, Read more [...]

Godfather Part II: As Tony Soprano said (or did he): I GET IT!

November 24th, 2008
Finally, I have solved a mystery. I know I allegedly do it on the page all the time, but I have the advantage of making those up.Perhaps others have solved this mystery, too. I deliberately did NOT Google or do any Internet-based research when I decided to solve my mystery. So if I am echoing something that someone else figured out long ago – my apologies, but know I’m no plagiarist. But I think I finally know why the Rosato brothers invoke Michael Corleone’s name (“Michael Corleone says Read more [...]

Listen Up! Talk Back!

November 20th, 2008
You can find me <a href=" ">here</a> tomorrow afternoon (Friday, Nov. 21) at 3 p.m. If I sound giddy, it will be because I have survived the final draft of LIFE SENTENCES. I won't bore you with the details -- that's what spouses are for -- but I decided in the final draft that certain sections needed to be tightened. We're talking about 14,000 words that I cut back to under 10,000. If you think cutting something by almost Read more [...]

Website Finally Updated

November 12th, 2008
And you'll notice that I cheaped it out, decided to let this entry stand through the end of the year. Link's above.I don't know why I've felt so overwhelmed this autumn. A year ago at this time, my work was essentially done and I was heading to South Africa, via Milan, for a vacation, knowing my galleys would catch up with me in my final week there. This year, I'm in the middle of a final draft, not because I've missed a deadline, but because my editor has been generous, allowing me to tweak to my Read more [...]


November 1st, 2008
The latest <a href=" ">installment</a> of The Girl in the Green Raincoat is up at the New York Times site, and I realize it has an unusual bit of serendipity going for it. In it, Tess's father, a longtime muldoon (to use the Baltimore vernacular for a political foot soldier) makes a startling confession: He went almost forty years without voting. This is a shocking revelation to Tess -- almost Read more [...]

The Trouble With Cross Referencing

October 22nd, 2008
If <a href=" ">Jack Pendarvis</a> were in charge of The Memory Project, I am sure he would be blogging about TCM’s recent screening of “The Trouble With Angels.” I loved this film when I was young and even read the book on which it was based. (Very witty, almost as good as MY SISTER EILEEN, which is my personal gold standard for humorous memoirs. Everyone, even David Sedaris, is rated against my internal Ruth McKenney scale.)The film is better than Read more [...]

What Was I Thinking?

October 14th, 2008
I know a great, great story about something that made a writer look like the most brilliant person on the face of the earth -- and it was a complete accident. That story is not mine to tell. But now I have one of my own. Mine doesn't make me look like a genius, more of a kook/idiot. But I still want to tell it. Last weekend was Bouchercon 2008 in Baltimore, so I saw lots of my friends from the mystery world. One, Margery Flax, said to me: "Thank you so much for using the New York Times serial to Read more [...]

Better Late Than Never

October 5th, 2008
Over the past few weeks, the short story nominees for the Anthony have been made available online for those who want a chance to read them before voting at Bouchercon this weekend. I was the last one to join the party, for two reasons: 1) I’ve been in the midst of revisions and 2) my story is the title piece in a collection that will be published Tuesday, so I needed to make it available for only a limited period of time. Anyway, here’s the <a href="">link</a> Read more [...]

Baltimore Food: An Update

September 30th, 2008
As some of you know, I did devise a restaurant guide for Bouchercon. (Click on "My website" up above.) But -- note the title of this blog -- I forgot a few places. The Brewer's Art is a mile north of the hotel, according to Google. I don't go there often because it makes me feel old, but it has outstanding beers. They also want you to know that they do not and have never made their fries in duck fat. Ever since they set the record straight on that, I have been longing for fries in duck fat. Bicycle Read more [...]

Flattery Will Get You Everywhere

September 22nd, 2008
Thanks to the folks who have worried about the missing chapter in the serial; it turns out the Times had a special publication this week, so there was a gap. Meanwhile, although I haven't been publishing the reviews of Hardly Knew Her here, I got one today so nice that I feel compelled to quote it. Bear in mind, I still believe that good reviews are probably more damaging to a writer's mental health than bad ones. And I'm not crowing or gloating. But it's just a really nice review that highlights Read more [...]

James Crumley: Take my word. It’s been fun

September 18th, 2008
James Crumley, one of the most influential crime writers from the second half of the 20th century, has died. I might have more to say about this later, but for now I'm just going to post the transcript of an interview I did with Jim for CrimeSpree: ETA: This was a transcript I found on my laptop and I had screwed up the title of Crumley's first book.ETA: Actually, I had it right, trusted someone else, changed it, made it wrong. Now it's right again. Sheesh. I first met James Crumley in the Bahamas Read more [...]

Presumably Y’all Know About This

September 8th, 2008
But just in case some TMP denizens missed <a href=" ">it</a>.

And if anyone new is dropping by: Welcome. This is a blog of sorts, based on a writing exercise I once used. I also hijack it at times to link to career stuff.

Strange Shelf Fellows

September 3rd, 2008
For reasons I can't quite fathom -- actually, they are totally fathomable, but I am in denial -- I threw myself into a very rigorous office cleaning yesterday and today. And, possibly, into tomorrow. I am lucky enough to have a nice office with lots of shelf space. But it's never enough, is it? So I began weeding my book collection into two piles -- "Give Away" and "Keep but Box." Years ago, while I was interning at the Atlanta Constitution, I remember the television critic -- Richard Zoglin, at Read more [...]

Live Memories

August 18th, 2008
Some days, you know you're living a memory. Those are the days that I encourage students to record in journals, as factually as possible, the events of their lives. Last week, I had one of those days, and this is what I wrote under the title, How to Make a Memory. (Hence, the use of the imperative throughout. It's kind of crappy, but it's what I wrote. I blame the excessive coverage of the Rielle Hunter-Jay McInerney connection.)Drive south of Kona, Hawaii, to a recommended snorkeling spot. Get a Read more [...]

Now It Can Be Told

August 8th, 2008
The Mystery Project, to which I've alluded to several times on this blog, is a 15-chapter serial, The Girl in the Green Raincoat.

It's slated to begin in the New York Times Sunday magazine on September 7.

Oh, and it's a Tess Monaghan story.

And she's pregnant.

Edward Eager (Again)

July 29th, 2008
Recently, perhaps because of my Jezebel stint, I received an e-mail from someone who had a personal connection to Edward Eager, one of my all-time favorite writers. This prompted me to go in search of The Time Garden, but I couldn't find it, so I settled on The Well-Wishers, an atypical Eager, in that the magic may or not be "real" magic. It also has one of the better integration stories of the era, one handled with great subtlety. Eager never says that the new family in the neighborhood, one whose Read more [...]


July 21st, 2008
Last week, I had the supreme honor of filling in for Lizzie Skurnick at <a href=""_blank">Fine Lines</a>. Now, I’m on a pretty strict Internet diet and stopped reading about myself months ago, but I thought I could bend the rules a little and check the comments. Funny thing happened: my Safari browser began shutting down every time I did this. Now, on one level, I thought this Read more [...]


July 13th, 2008
I'm back home, a little jet-lagged. En route most of yesterday, I didn't spend much time on the Internet. Up at 6:30 today, I find that things got a little, um, heated, in the comments section on the previous post. Even so, it ended with an apology from the anonymous poster, which I thought spoke well of the vibe here, one created by a small core of generally lovely people. The thing that bothers me is that someone read the previous post and inferred that I was complacent or smug. It's sort of the Read more [...]


July 11th, 2008
A little more than twenty-four hours ago, I woke up laughing, somewhere high above Ireland. The night before, I had the privilege of being the first-ever recipient of the Strand magazine’s critics’ choice award. After a brisk dinner with some lovely people from Morrow, I went to the airport, changed out of my dress and into my sweats, boarded a plane and headed to London. Where, last night, I put on the same dress and went 0 for 2 in the CWA daggers. I am inordinately proud of this. It was mentioned Read more [...]

Nancy Drew and Me

June 23rd, 2008
I just found out that <a href=" /"_blank">this</a>, which I recorded weeks ago, has finally run. One thing that’s not in the interview – Renee Montagne uncovered an important Nancy Drew-Tess Monaghan link. She asked me how I came to start reading the books and I suddenly remembered that my family did not own any Nancy Drew books – we borrowed them from the Monaghans, who lived two doors away. (My sister Read more [...]

Plug, Paradox, Plug

June 16th, 2008
I’ve been asked to point folks toward <a href=""_blank">this link</a>. Discuss, but please – no cussing or ad hominen attacks.Meanwhile, it feels paradoxical to post a link to this <a href=" ">article</a>, but it confirmed many things going through my head when I decided to move away from the Internet. I read it in the magazine, however, and only let my attention drift two or three times. The previous Read more [...]

An Embarrassment of Riches

June 4th, 2008
Peter Guttridge, one of my favorite novelists -- I can't say enough good things about his Nick Madrid series -- is also a terrific critic and reviewer. Once, in a typically thoughtful review of one of my books, he said in passing that I was "weighted down" with American awards for crime-writing. I always liked that phrase because it sounded a little sinister, as if I had been fitted for a nice pair of cement shoes. But it also seemed to get at the way that awards can function as straw men. When people Read more [...]

Hiatus, Hypocrisy, Holiday

May 23rd, 2008
About two weeks ago, I broke up with the Internet. "It's not you, it's me," I explained. "You're great. I wish we could still be friends, but I'm not very good at that. So here's how it's going to go. I'm going to use you. Remember a couple of years ago, when the New York Times discovered the term, friends-with-benefits? You are not going to be my friend, but I'll still reap the benfits. Research. Communication. Utility -- buying stuff, booking travel." Other than that, I'm allowed 30 minutes a day Read more [...]

My Forgotten Forgotten Book

May 23rd, 2008
Meanwhile, how perfect is this? I forgot to blog about my forgotten book, after Sandra Scoppetone tagged me. This is the brainchild of Patti Abbott. (although, come to think of it, isn't Megan Abbott the brainchild of Patti Abbott? Belated congrats on the much-deserved Edgar (r) win.)Anyway, my choice is A NOVEL CALLED HERITAGE. A little dated, in its way, as the story would now be told through emails, no doubt. And its mix of memoir and correspondence may seem less fresh than it did. But I love Read more [...]

Epitaph for a Bathrobe

May 12th, 2008
It was at least a decade old. Probably older. The sad truth is, I think it was a knock-off of an item of clothing worn on FRIENDS. It was big and blue, with a motif of giant coffee cups. I adored it.It had worn bald in spots. I think it was beginning to give me a rash. Over a dozen years, subtracting an average of 65 nights per year for travel, it was probably worn 3,600 times. And washed, gee, at least twelve times. Kidding about the last stat. Then again, that could explain the rash. That, or the Read more [...]

The Elevator Challenge

April 30th, 2008
You get to ride six or seven floors in an elevator with someone you admire. What do you say? I said: "I don't want to gush or impose, but I am very much an admirer." He said: "That's okay, darling, just keep doing what you do." Pick your person, pick your bon mots. Be realistic about what you might really say, on the spot, and what you would love to say if you had time to think about it. For example, I should have said, after I held the elevator for this gentleman and he thanked me: "That's okay Read more [...]

Unique Sentences

April 18th, 2008
It's very hard to come up with unique sentences, something never uttered before. Today, for example, I saw some Hare Krishnas on a fire drill. But I wasn't the only one and I'm sure other people will go home tonight and recount that over dinner: Hey hon, I saw the Hare Krishnas on a fire drill. But what I'm about to write, this just might be a unique sentence. Or, at the very least, a unique claim. When I finished reading Charles Baxter's The Soul Thief, I decided to follow that up by re-reading Read more [...]


April 15th, 2008
If anything, this proves my contention that I don't Google myself: I found out from a poster here that I have won the ORBA (the Only Real Book Award) for having balls. (The link is entered in the comments section of the previous entry, for those who are curious.)Of course, I'm flattered, although -- neurotic, paranoid person that I am -- I worry it's a hoax, a very sophisticated way of mocking me. Have I made rash, self-important statements about having balls? (I know I made some about Barbie dolls Read more [...]

Day 23: The Last Day, Sorta

April 4th, 2008
For my purposes, the tour ends when I arrive home tomorrow. I still have events and interviews through April 23, but nothing that will take me away from home, overnight. I've said repeatedly this past month that I don't believe in complaining about touring. A homebody by nature, I prefer my own bed, my own routines. But this isn't a hardtime gig. This leg has been especially easy, with no early morning wake-up calls and an astonishing number of friends along the way. I've been able to work and exercise, Read more [...]

Day 22: Stereotypes Are Fun

April 3rd, 2008
New theory about my productivity in Iowa and, now, Nebraska, where I have managed another 2-W day (and even done an interview) before 11 a.m.: It's all those meth labs. Crystal meth has seeped into the water table. I'm shaking with energy. I'll come at you like a spider-monkey, old man! This is, of course, a gross stereotype about certain midwestern states, one gently mocked in THE QUALITY OF LIFE REPORT, a book I quite liked, although I was wildly envious of the writer at the time. I can't even Read more [...]

Day 21: Can I Nudge Your Opinion of Me Even Lower?

April 2nd, 2008
I just drank protein powder. You mix it up with water and it allegedly fills you up. You see, I am about to drive across Iowa, to Omaha. There are Culver Custard Stands in Iowa. Culver's, home of the butter burger and cheese nuggets. Now I know how sailors felt, trying to sail past the Sirens. I got past one yesterday. Barely. Des Moines is almost as good as Iowa City, in terms of getting large amounts of work out of me. 1,200 words today on the novel, 2,300 on The Mystery Project. What does Christina Read more [...]

Day 20: The Tricks of Memory

April 1st, 2008
Still in Iowa City, still getting a scary amount of work done. Which is good, as I have a scary amount of work to do. Because of the novel in progress, I've been doing a lot of research about the day Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Specifically, sad as this sounds, I've been researching television schedules, to check my memory that I learned about King's death from a bulletin right before the 8:30 pm. broadcast of "Bewitched." Now, here's Keith Olbermann, from a transcript, in which he was discussing Read more [...]

Day 19: Iowa City/Nothing Halfway

March 31st, 2008
As Joe Willard once asked Betsy Ray: Do you get these allusions? Although Joe Willard made literary allusions, while I usually fall back on musical comedy. At any rate, maybe the caffeine in Iowa is better or maybe I am just bored because I have done so much work this morning it scares me. I decided to begin preparing the first three chapters of the Novel-in-Progress to send to my editor, a spring ritual that I think we both find reassuring. And then I wrote 2,500 words on The Mystery Project. Granted, Read more [...]

Day 18: S’more, please

March 30th, 2008
Last night, I had dinner at an old friend's house where I -- face it, Pat, you know it's true -- shamelessly invited myself. I could imagine no greater treat than a home-cooked meal with a family. We had a lovely dinner, then gathered in front of the fireplace where we toasted marshmallows for s'mores and then younger brother faced off against older sister and her friend in several rounds of Stratego. (There was also a delightful interlude where everyone -- sister, friend, brother -- modeled sister's Read more [...]

Day 17: Life Is Good

March 29th, 2008
Who knew I had so many friends in the Twin Cities? Sujata Massey provided me a place to crash Thursday night, I saw many of my favorite librarians yesterday and had dinner with one of my favorite TMP lurkers last night. Today -- more friends, in and around book-signings. Also, a new reader of this blog heeded the call and brought me wine last night. Iowa City, Des Moines, Omaha, Lincoln, Pittsburgh, take note! And although it's not quite 10:30 a.m., and a Saturday to boot, I've managed to put in Read more [...]

Day 16: Minneapolis and St. Paul

March 28th, 2008
If there is someone keeping a little scorecard on us, here on earth, I think I should get a gold star for today. I went five hours at the Public Library Association and, except for two bathroom breaks and one gobbled bratwurst, was in constant motion, either speaking (on a panel with T. Jefferson Parker, C. J. Box, Linwood Barclay and Karen Rose, then in an interview for the virtual conference) or signing books. Happily, let me emphasize, always happily. In fact, I only broke away because I had a Read more [...]

Day 15: Nashville

March 27th, 2008
I stayed up late last night, having dinner with an old friend after the Politics & Prose signing (thank you, Andrea and Jackie, for stopping by). I won't say I had regrets when my alarm went off at 5:45 a.m., but I know I packed poorly. I flew into Nashville, did six stock signings (or maybe seven) and then had the honor of speaking to folks at Ingram, the huge wholesaler. I also had excellent company in my media escort (a term that seems stranger in our post-Spitzer world), Sharon. As my blood Read more [...]

Day 14: I’m #2

March 26th, 2008
In the CrimeSpree Awards, with John Connolly's THE UNQUIET winning the top spot. (Actually, I don't even know that I'm second, but I'm second on the list.)

On the BookSense mass market bestseller list.

And, you know, forever in my own household, but so it goes.


Day 13: A Likely Story

March 25th, 2008
Friend: How many people came to your signing last night? Writer: Almost 100.Friend: Almost 100 in a town the size of Sykesville! A likely story.Writer: Yes.Friend: What?Writer: Yes, A Likely Story.Friend: So how many people came to your signing last night? Writer: Almost 100.Friend: A likely story!Writer: Yes, A Likely Story. (with apologies to Abbott and Costello)A Likely Story is, you will have gleaned by now, a most unlikely story, a relatively new bookstore (just celebrated its second anniversary) Read more [...]

Day 12: Routines

March 24th, 2008
I had the weekend off, although there was a television interview Saturday morning and then a quick stop to sign stock at a local bookstore, the Ivy. But the rest of the weekend was wonderfully quiet, including some time in my office, paying bills and filing. I happened on the copy of my schedule that included all the events for this tour and counted 35, which didn't include 3 things I've set up on my own. But I'm more than halfway through and, as of April 5th, have no events that require travel. Read more [...]

Day 11: My Last Luna Bar

March 21st, 2008
My Last Luna Bar (with apologies to Robert Browning and Lizzie Skurnick) That’s my last Luna Bar in my knapsackLooking as if it were real food. I callThat bar a wonder, now: Fiber, protein, Worked into a day’s supply of Vitamin C“Will’t please you notice the Calcium?” I said“Luna Bar” by design, for never knew Strangers like you that orange-blue wrapperThe heft and satisfaction of its earnest nutrition,But to myself they turned (since none extols Nutz over Chocolate, quite like I)And Read more [...]

Day 10: 4 a.m. Wake-up Call

March 20th, 2008
'Nuff said.

Well, enough said about me. Last night, waiting to go on the Chuckanut Radio Hour in Bellingham, WA (a blast), I got a congratulatory email from Linda Fairstein, whose book KILLER HEAT hit the Times list at #5. It was only later, reading the listserve DorothyL, that I discovered Linda has canceled several tour dates because of an illness in her family.

So send some positive thoughts her way, if you would.

Day 9: Hit ‘Em Where They Ain’t

March 19th, 2008
Like my idol, Wee Willie Keeler, I laid down a Baltimore chop that bounced so high that I managed to get on first base. Another Thing to Fall sneaks onto the New York Times bestseller list, essentially tied for #15 with Lisa Scottoline. And that means I'll be on the printed list. I was at lunch when I got the (quite unexpected) news. It might be the first time anyone has ever ordered a glass of Dom Perignon to quiet her nerves. Given that this actually cost more than my lunch, I paid for it with Read more [...]

Day 8: Three Luna Bars to Go

March 18th, 2008
Which means I have three more days on the road. I started with 10 Luna Bars, and that's been my breakfast every day since I Ieft Baltimore a week ago today. I'm in Seattle, hanging out in the lobby of my hotel until I go over to the Mystery Bookstore for the mid-day signing/hang-out. I've signed stock in a couple of places and let's pause here to remember that it's nice that bookstores have stock. The Powell's event was terrific, although I suspect at least a few people in the crowd of 30 or so came Read more [...]

Day 7: Fans

March 17th, 2008
The fans have been gathered outside the hotel since late afternoon, held back by velvet ropes. Polite and courteous, they have bags and bags of memorabilia. They are waiting for Shaquille O'Neal, in town with the Phoenix Suns, or so I gather. Had two interviews this morning, on a terrific local television show and at a community radio station, where I sat down with my old friend Ed Goldberg, a fine PI writer. Ed does a great interview, no surprise there, but the television interview was also delightful. Read more [...]

Day 6: San Diego Airport Has Free Wi-Fi

March 16th, 2008
I'm a big believer that touring authors should NEVER complain, so I won't. Okay, perhaps a teensy cavil: My rental car's radio simply didn't work. So -- and this may strike you as odd -- I bought the original cast recording of "Peter Pan" to keep me company on the drive from Fullerton to San Diego. I am now determined to memorize Captain Hook's entire spoken interlude in his eponymous song. ("But perhaps if Cook had less ambtion . . . I'm told when the children play at Peter Pan, the bay-BEE has Read more [...]

Day 5: I Know I’m Tired, But . . .

March 15th, 2008
. . . I swear the terrific writer, Lou Bayard, is on Jeopardy as I type this. So I'm halfway through the first leg, five days behind me, and I'm a little fried, but happy-fried. Today, I had two events -- the Day of Authors at Cal State Fullerton, and a signing at Book Carnival. Anyway, I've hit the wall a little hard, so I don't feel I can do justice to the meeting with Tonya, a Baltimore ex-pat, or my lunch with Jan Burke.ETA: What the Dead Know is #5 on the BookSense mass market list. I find this Read more [...]

End of Day 4

March 14th, 2008
As noted in the comments for the foregoing entry, I'm pretty sure I've been up almost 18 hours. I got up at 5 a.m., CDT, and now it's almost 9 p.m., PDT. Frankly, I'm too tired to do the math. But I need to be working on my talk tomorrow at this lovely conference, here in Fullerton. A few idle thoughts from today: More people should bring me bottles of chardonnay. Thank you, Tom. Media escort Diana Faust is a goddess. And also sort of a Buddha. But mainly a goddess. I think I've said this before, Read more [...]

Day 3: No DFL

March 13th, 2008
I'm writing this as I scarf down my usual breakfast Luna Bar, bolt a little coffee, with only 10 minutes before I leave for the airport. New York always feels like a reward. I get to see friends and the marvelous Morrow crew, along with my agent. But it was a little bittersweet this year, as it was the first time in my publishing career that I couldn't stop at the Black Orchid. The store closed last year. Still, I got to sign a book to the owners, Bonnie and Joe, as Joe was classy enough to stop Read more [...]

Day 4: Everything’s Bigger in Texas

March 13th, 2008
This is a cheat, but I have a 5:30 a.m. pickup tomorrow and then a long-ish day -- flight to LA, three events. I came to Fort Worth for an extraordinary event, part of a series that is underwritten by a local foundation and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. My writing friends, please heed my advice: If you are ever offered this gig, crawl across glass to do it. The series routinely draws 500 people and Jeff Guinn, the former book editor (and now a very successful writer in his own right) is the ideal Read more [...]

Day 2

March 12th, 2008
The first day lasted about 20 hours, from start to finish. Granted, I happily added three hours to that, having dinner with Lionel Shriver after our joint reading. In fact, I'm happy about the whole day. I saw TMP people at every stop -- I even did the secret handshake for Lois -- and Sandra's comments about pub date shook an idea loose in my fogged head. In the absence of old pub date traditions, whatever they were, why not create new ones? I would be inclined to go back to Book Crossing again. Read more [...]

Pub Date: A Tradition

March 11th, 2008
The tradition lives, but before we get to the required pub date reading, a quick link: Tess takes the <a href=""_blank"> 69 test</a>. (Get your minds out of the gutter!)ETA: I keep forgetting to mention that I've been nominated for the Gumshoe Award for best mystery. You know how everyone says it's an honor, etc., etc? Well, I always mean it, but this time I really, super-duper mean it: James Lee Burke, Read more [...]

Offers That Can’t Be Refused

March 10th, 2008
With three interviews and numerous errands today, and a 10-day tour that starts at 4 a.m. tomorrow, it was hard to justify going to a concert last night. Harder still to justify going backstage and talking to some guys in the band until almost 1 a.m.But when the band is the Pogues . . . well, I'll sleep when I'm dead. Bear in mind, this is an opportunity that came about because I hang with some big dogs, guys who attract a lot of admiration from the kind of people that also attract admiration. Sometimes, Read more [...]

Wisdom from the Golden West

March 9th, 2008
Not California, but the Hampden restaurant where I had a lovely brunch this morning. It's one of my favorite Baltimore restaurants.The bathroom stalls have terrific graffiti, too. (I particularly like the red "Man Up" that has been changed to WOMan Up.") And then there is this sentence, which struck me as good advice for an author, two days ahead of publication: "Right now, at this very moment, you are exactly what you need to be." Not "where" -- although I certainly did need to use the facilities Read more [...]

Golden Oldies

March 8th, 2008
A <a href=" "_blank"> link</a> from the past, just to keep the streak alive. (Hey, even Ripken had his off days.)

The Things We Leave Behind

March 7th, 2008
Yesterday, as I checked the calendar at Viva House, I realized that the combination of the book tour and some family travel meant that I would not return to the soup kitchen until May 8 -- nine weeks. I couldn't have been more depressed. Let's be clear: Viva House doesn't need me. I need Viva House. My shift there is one of the reliable bright spots in the week. There are, apparently, scientific reasons for this, relating to the pleasure centers of the brain and how they respond to such activity. Read more [...]

Check Your Calendars . . .

March 7th, 2008
If it's the Friday before publication date, it must be time for Entertainment Weekly to give me a B+. (I've gotten the same grade for the last three books and have no complaints. Although, hey, I could take on some extra credit if that would make a difference.)Another Thing to FallLaura LippmanMysteryDown-to-earth Baltimore PI Tess Monaghan signs on as the bodyguard for a spoiled starlet in town to film an inane new TV series. The show appears to be jinxed: Someone detonates a smoke bomb in the production Read more [...]


March 6th, 2008
I am being photographed as I type these words. It's a photo shoot for some local magazine. I have honestly forgotten the name. I was writing up until a few minutes ago, but I came to a natural end.The tour hasn't even started yet, and the 2-W day -- writing, working out -- is already a challenge. In Chicago on Tuesday, I managed to write about 1,800 words on the flight, but was too tired at day's end to -- excuse me, I need to sit up straighter and suck my stomach in, Bettie Page's immortal advice Read more [...]


March 5th, 2008
It's amazing I can type this: I've spent the past 36 hours traveling to and from Chicago, where I signed 6,144 copies of my backlist. That's four different titles, 32 cartons of each title, with 48 copies in each carton. And you won't catch me complaining. I did this for Levy, a big wholesaler that has been really supportive of writers. When I heard they wanted me to sign books, all I needed to know was "when" and "how many"?The thing that was totally humbling was that it took three men from the Read more [...]

TMP’s Movie Week: Part II

March 4th, 2008
I'll explain tomorrow why I was so late posting this, but today -- what makes you cry? Tess Monaghan admits, reluctantly, that she cries at the moment in STRICTLY BALLROOM when the sound system is cut, and the father has to start clapping the paso dobles. (Hell, I'm crying just typing that line.)The puckering strings of my heart aren't pulled tight, to paraphrase the great Lenora Mattingly Weber, but I cry at some mighty odd things in movies. I tear up when Andie MacDowell walks into the ballroom Read more [...]

TMP’s Movie Week

March 3rd, 2008
TCM, beloved by <a href=""_blank"> many</a>, had a particularly good Saturday: Singin’ in the Rain/Funny Lady (so bad it’s good)/The Barefoot Contessa/All About Eve/Crimes and Misdemeanors/Radio Days. I’m surprised I ever left the house. (I did go to the gym, but I managed to time my interval training to “Let’s Hear it For Me,” which was pretty nifty.) At the end of Singin’ in the Rain, as I watched Gene Kelly, Donald Read more [...]

Tess in Baltimore magazine

March 1st, 2008
And, no, it's not as a hot single.

Another Thing to Fall is excerpted in this month’s Baltimore’s magazine, which also happens to be the restaurant guide. What a <a href=" "_blank"> two-fer</a>! (You can’t click through to the chapter, but you’ll see a cool slide show of the contents, which gives you a sense of how the piece has been illustrated.)

What’s In a Word, Part II

February 29th, 2008
I thought I might be able to blog daily as pub date approached, but Thursdays are just too long. After an intense shift at Viva House -- last Thursday of the month -- I had an interview yesterday, the first -- and my first chance to think about what I want to say about this book. Another interview today. This is a tough book to discuss because I prefer never to discuss my private life, but ANOTHER THING TO FALL invites a few, perfectly fair inquiries. It also happened that I heard kinds words, from Read more [...]

Laura Lippman’s Plot Kit — now with extra glue!

February 27th, 2008
I recently met a (lovely, talented, gracious) woman who said (kindly, sincerely): “It must be fun, being a mystery writer, and having the plot all done.”Even as I nodded and smiled and said how much I love my life as a writer, I patted my pockets, looking futilely for my magic plot wand. Perhaps I had a kit, like the one I bought at the Museum of Natural History, on my first-ever trip to New York? It was a plastic model of a Baltimore Oriole and, as it turned out, putting it together was sheer Read more [...]

Tess Monaghan’s BMI

February 26th, 2008
My memory is suspect, hence this blog. (After all, we determined just yesterday that I could sit through an NCAA tournament contest, one where I was writing a feature story about the fans, and forget that it was a 1-point heartbreaker.) So to say the following memory is vivid is to say nothing, but here it is. At one of my first mystery-writer conferences, a small one in Philadelphia, there were several female writers standing together and they were asked to describe their characters. Now, the women Read more [...]

Coppin State

February 25th, 2008
<a href=""_blank"> Coolness.</a>And if you can explain the title entry of this blog -- and you really shouldn't Google -- I might send you a book, but in interest of full disclosure: I have yet to make it to the post office after an entire week of trying. Eudora Welty wrote "Why I Live at the P.O." I would have to write: "Why I Can Never Get My Sorry Self into the P.O. That is a Half-Mile from My House." Read more [...]


February 21st, 2008
Whatever kind of writer you are, there are trade-offs. I'm fast. Too fast. It is 9:40 a.m as I write this and I have written almost 2,000 words this morning. Granted, they are rough draft words, the kind of words one writes in the early throes of a novel, when it has the power to shock and surprise you. I am, in fact, still a little stunned by something just revealed to me. I knew my main character had been betrayed by girls she considered her friends, back when she was 15, but the nature of the Read more [...]

The Tour, Again

February 15th, 2008
Beth Tindall, who maintains my website, has some pressing stuff behind-the-scenes, and the update has been delayed. So I'm publishing it here until Beth catches up. (P.S. I'm very flattered when people inquire -- "Why not . . .?" But it's really unlikely that any location will be added this spring. Unless you're from Hawaii, and have a good gig for me. To understand why Hawaii gets special treatment, go to the archives at and look for an entry called "North Dakota Ho." Tuesday, Read more [...]

Alice Adams

February 13th, 2008
Here's how my mind works: Garrison Keillor was doing the Writer's Almanac and he read a poem in which he mentioned "terraces." And, somehow, I found myself thinking about the Alice Adams' novel, Superior Women, in which two lovers have breakfast on a terrace. I love Alice Adams, who died a few years ago, but I've always been mildly, happily mystified by her ability to slip the bonds of "women's novelist." Her work has many of the hallmarks associated with that genre -- glamorous cities, people with Read more [...]

Tour Info!

February 8th, 2008
We had a saying in my writers workshop at Eckerd College’s Writers in Paradise: Never disdain the easy solution. In that spirit, I offer you <a href=""_blank"> this.</a>

And, no, 5 a.m. on March 11th is not a typo.

Website Update Coming, Soon

February 6th, 2008
The first week of February has been busy – heck, the first day of February was busy, with me in three time zones in eighteen hours -- and I haven’t had time to put together the comprehensive tour info for the web site. Meanwhile, news, mostly good, keeps arriving at a pace that makes it difficult for me to keep up. For example, I’ve just learned that WHAT THE DEAD KNOW has been nominated for an <a href=""_blank"> Audie</a>, Read more [...]

Bouchercon Countdown: 247 Days To Go

February 5th, 2008
And now a new feature for the Memory Project -- Bouchercon '08 countdown, with tips and advice on what to do while in Baltimore, and what do you mean you're not coming? Today's tip: Vanessa's Vintage Treasures, 1132 S. Charles Street. This is a mile-plus due south of the hotel and the windows alone are worth a visit. The eponymous Vanessa, who describes herself as self-taught, puts together amazing tableaux appropriate to the seasons, changing them once a month on average. If you're used to shopping Read more [...]

What Becomes a Legend Most?

February 3rd, 2008
Do you remember those ads for Blackglama furs? I do, although not as well as I remember the Ron Rico rum ads in New York magazine, which I mentioned in WHAT THE DEAD KNOW. I loved those ads, the rum ones, because I wasn't sure what was going on. Ads are amazing time capsules for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in an era. Researching WTDK, I spent as much time reading ads as I did anything else, especially ads in Seventeen magazine. Bonne Belle! Hope chests! (The discovery of the latter definitely Read more [...]

Communities and Contests

January 30th, 2008
Yesterday was the day that writers across the Internet threw their weight behind the paperback publication of Patry Francis’s The Liar’s Diary. Consider this my two cents, a little late. And check out Patry’s blog, <a href=""_blank"> Simply Wait</a>, which is as impressive as her debut novel.Meanwhile, I had always planned to do a third contest for an ARC of ANOTHER THING TO FALL. This one centers on soundtracks. And, providentially, John Rickards’ Read more [...]


January 18th, 2008
The Edgar (r) nominees were announced today and I was nominated for best short story. For those who have emailed and said that they expected to see me in another category -- well, I didn't expect to be, and I can produce the person to whom I made this prediction a week ago.But it is very gratifying to receive my first short story nomination, for Hardly Knew Her from Dead Man's Hand. And here's the reason why: Otto Penzler put me through a very tough rewrite on that story. I submitted it almost two Read more [...]

Contest #2: Winner!

January 15th, 2008
Diane, a Baltimore ex-pat who frequents these parts, nailed the two-parter. Yes, as several people noted here, a character changed names between Peyton Place and Return to Peyton Place. (The second book, for my money, is far more sordid than the first, between the plot by Ted's mother to murder her daughter-in-law, and the strange young actor who attempts to play psychiatrist.)But Grace Metallious at least had a legal reason to change a character's name. I have only my poor memory to blame for the Read more [...]

PW chimes in.

January 14th, 2008
In full:Another Thing to FallLaura Lippman. Morrow, $24.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-0611-2887-5Hollywood comes to Baltimore in bestseller Lippman's assured 10th PI Tess Monaghan caper (after 2006's No Good Deeds). When Tess literally stumbles onto the set of Mann of Steel, a big-budget TV miniseries shooting in her neighborhood, she finds herself hired as a bodyguard for Selene Waites, the show's 20-year-old hard-partying star. Flip Tumulty-the show's writer and son of a Baltimore-born Hollywood mogul-tells Read more [...]

Contest #2

January 10th, 2008
Okay, here's another chance to win a galley of Another Thing to Fall, but this is hard, hard, hard. It involves finding a mistake discovered only when a book was translated. So it got past me, and all the wonderful safety nets I have. In short: What character, who has appeared in at least two of my novels, changed first names? But there's more! In a sequel to a 1950s bestseller, a major character underwent a name change, but not because the author was forgetful. The real-life person who believed Read more [...]

That was Fast

January 9th, 2008
<a href=" "_blank">Website</a> has been updated.

The contest was won even as I was tweaking my own typos. Still, go read it. To quote Brother Blutarski, it don't cost nothing.

Here We Go Again: The 1st Review

January 8th, 2008
The first review of ANOTHER THING TO FALL is in and it's from Kirkus.

Cutting to the last line, which is where Kirkus issues its verdict:

"Like lunch at Atwater’s, Tess’s latest leaves you fully satisfied but looking forward to next time."

I satisy, I leave you craving more. I'll buy that for a dollar.


January 7th, 2008
Since the fall of 2001, I've been pretty dutiful about filing a monthly letter for the website. I even plan ahead, at times, setting up interviews -- two in 2007 -- or jotting down topics that I want to cover. But now it's a week into January and I just can't seem to stir myself. I have started two different pieces and pulled the plug on both. One was about the realization that I am now, in my hometown, a semi-public figure, but it suffered from the second paragraph problem, lack thereof. (And, also, Read more [...]

The One-Word Resolution Challenge

December 31st, 2007
Mine is:


Doesn't have to be a verb, or even English. The only rule is -- one word.

Oops, I Did It Again

December 30th, 2007
I’ve been reading a lot of best lists over at <a href=""_blank">Crime Fiction Dossier</a> and been saddened by the dearth of female names. So I did what I always <a href=""_blank">do</a> when I worry about bias. I start with myself. First, the good news: One of my three chosen titles for the Crime Fiction Dossier round-up was by a woman (Three Dog Life, by Abigail Thomas.) Bad news: I mangled that very Read more [...]

Remains of the Year

December 23rd, 2007
My list of 2007 literary highlights, over on the website, has been bugging me. It's clearly tilted toward the end of the year. (Because, of course, of my poor memory.) So I'm throwing in some things I overlooked. 2007 was a great year for blurbing. Again, I'm going to forget some books here, but the books I had the pleasure of blurbing in 2007 included: A Poisoned Mind (Natasaha Cooper); An Ordinary Spy (Joseph Weisberg); Saturday's Child (Ray Banks); Head Games (Craig Macdonald); The Graving Docks Read more [...]

Goofus and Gallant

December 15th, 2007
Baltimore City has finally -- finally -- upgraded its recycling system, introducing the one bin/all materials system used in most Maryland counties. But, this being Baltimore, we had to stand on line this weekend to get the bins.The good news is that a lot of people in Baltimore want to recycle. I got to one of the distribution centers five minutes before the process was supposed to start, and a long line had already formed. How long? I waited for an hour and fifteen minutes to buy my bins. (Yeah, Read more [...]

Better Late Than Never

December 10th, 2007
<a href=" "_blank">Website</a> finally updated!


December 6th, 2007
I'm sitting in Spoons where I just took my last malaria pill. Twenty-four hours ago, give or take, I was in Sasolburg, South Africa. In the past three weeks, I've seen Milan, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. (I also leaned out of a boat on the Chobe River and smacked my palm on the soil of Namibia.) It was one of the best trips I've ever taken. Saw four of the "Big Five." Also spent every lunchtime for the past week watching bare-chested young men work out. Celebrated the Read more [...]

A Good Writer, A Good D.J.

November 7th, 2007
There are maybe four writers who could persuade me to go to iTunes and download music without even listening to a preview.

Here's <a href="">one</a>. I am listening to Richard Hawley as I type this, and have also purchased albums by Keren Ann and Kate Rusby.

(The books are superb, too, by the way.)


November 5th, 2007
Turns out has been down for a couple of days.

And one person noticed.

So I'll put <a href=" "_blank">this</a> here.


Tess Time

October 29th, 2007
I am going over the copy-edited pages of the next Tess Monaghan novel -- ANOTHER THING TO FALL, coming this March to a bookstore near you -- and marveling over the usual things. The fact that the first "F" in french fry is lowercase. My inability to spell the name of Baltimore establishments that I adore --Vaccaro's, in this case. And then there is the literal age-old question: How old is Tess Monaghan? For the record, I got it wrong, but I also caught it. Then again, Tess has aged only four years Read more [...]

A Feather in My Cap

October 23rd, 2007
I have been to an unusual array of award ceremonies, ranging from the Macavitys to the Emmys, and, somehow, they manage to be more alike than different. The primary difference at the Quills, given Monday night, was that the winners were announced beforehand. (Cormac McCarthy, by the way, was a no-show.) Still, there was suspense galore.1) Must I follow Brooke Shields down the red carpet? No, seriously -- must I? 2) Who is speaking to Tina Brown? Oh, it's Fergie! Well, I think we can infer at least Read more [...]

Department of Clarification

October 15th, 2007
I enjoyed this <a href=""_blank">article.</a>But one clarification. When it says that George Pelecanos and David Simon "met" at a funeral, some readers might infer that was their first meeting. They had known each other for quite some time by then. And, more important to me -- the funeral was for Paige Rose, co-owner of Mysery Loves Company. Paige adored George -- I always thought he was her second favorite writer, after Read more [...]

Doris and Me

October 12th, 2007
Not a piece of which I'm particularly proud -- I didn't have anywhere the knowledge I needed to write well about Doris Lessing -- but how many chances will I get to share an interview with a Nobel Prize winner. And bonus: She touches on this blog's favorite topic at the very end. I'll recount my memory of the interview in the comments section later today.NEW YORK -- Like T.S. Eliot's Madame Sosostris, Doris Lessing has a cold.Unlike Madame Sosostris, though, this does not imply her powers are diminished. Read more [...]

Website Updated

October 3rd, 2007
Go <a href=" "_blank">here</a> if you want to read yet another interview with Dave White. Meanwhile, I'm thinking of adding a new feature to this website: TRTB -- The Road to Bouchercon. Bouchercon will come to Baltimore a year from now. And as most of you know, I'm a homer who takes eating very seriously and I am trying to go to as many restaurants as possible before next October. (A tough gig, but as the only local, I feel I must.)Last night, friends took Read more [...]

Win Some, Lose Some

October 1st, 2007
As noted in the previous entry's comments section, I won the Anthony for Best Novel at Bouchercon. I _never_ expect to win an award, but I usually have some comments semi-prepared. This time, I was really caught off guard and neglected to thank -- well, just about everyone. My publisher, Lisa Gallagher, who was at the dinner. (D'oh). My editor and agent. Two reps from my UK publisher, who were at the conference -- and treated me to a bike ride on the coastal trail, where we saw a moose. I was really Read more [...]

Casting Call

September 21st, 2007
Let’s <a href=""_blank">play.</a>. I’m out the door, but will add my thoughts later this morning.Updated: I've usually been reluctant to play this game, in part because so few books end up being adapted, but also because I know that unexpected casting choices can work out extraordinarily well. Take the case of, oh, The Wire. Jimmy McNulty was written for a lumpy, more odinary guy. John C. Reilly was approached, among Read more [...]

Oh yeah

September 17th, 2007
I guess I should mention <a href=" "_blank">this.</a> Vote early and often, but don’t feel obligated to vote for me.(Although, fyi, I hear that the folks over at Cormac McCarthy’s blog are going nuts, but you know how they are, with the matching T-shirts and the recipes and all the little in-jokes.)Meanwhile, I was thinking this weekend that it would be cool if we had a TMP book club, but I’m way too lazy to get it going. So let me just recommend Read more [...]

Among the Porcupines

September 10th, 2007
<a href=""_blank">Pigs fly.</a>

Bill Murray <a href=""_blank">explains</a> the big picture.


September letter posted

September 6th, 2007
<a href=""_blank">Website’s</a> updated.Is there a story behind the story? Yup. Does it involve a stalker? Nope. (Although I did find a reader wandering near my home a few weeks ago. A harmless fellow. I think.)Could it affect things here? I hope not. I’ve done a careful inventory of the archives here and there, and I think I’ve been pretty consistent in not trading on my adult private life for material. But I'll probably be censoring myself more and more. Read more [...]

Roger Angell on memory

September 5th, 2007
"What is startling about memory is its willful persistence and obsession with detail. 'Hold on,' it says. 'Don't lose this.' The other day I unexpectedly found myself seeing the shape of the knobs at the top of the low iron posts that stand along the paths of Central Park -- a magnolia bud or perhaps an acorn -- and then, long before this, the way such posts looked when they were connected by running strands of heavy wire, which were slightly bent into irregularity and almost loose to the touch. Read more [...]

Thought for The Day

August 28th, 2007
"It always takes a year for me to get over a book. I mean, I can't leap into the next one."
--Michael Ondaatje, in "The Believer."

Memory SOS: Aguirre Wrath of God

August 27th, 2007
I need to check my memory of the Herzog film, Aguirre, the Wrath of God:Is there a character who holds something in his hand that is never revealed? Is that character Ursua, the leader of the expedition that Aguirre overthrows? Okay, but while I'm here: I am writing about Hollywood in my latest book and it has led, inevitably, to me thinking about how important movies were to me, once upon a time, and how that faded, and whether that's just me, or part of getting older. As an intern at the Atlanta Read more [...]

My Typical Day

August 26th, 2007
. . . is shockingly like <a href=""_blank">this</a>.

Only I don't subscribe to The Sun.

ETA: The clip of "Good Morning, Baltimore" has been removed from YouTube. Fair enough. I don't want anyone giving away my copyrighted material, either.

Update: NPR

August 23rd, 2007
Here's the <a href=" "_blank">link</a>.I'm posting it here because the page includes lots of fun stuff, including a link back to my recommendation of Jack Pendarvis's book and my appearance on "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me." (I just went back and read this and laughed at myself. Yes, "lots of fun stuff" = "lots of stuff about Laura." Sorry about that. Really, it's the extras, about Jack and those two duds who write for The Wire Read more [...]

I Don’t Usually Do This

August 22nd, 2007
This is an apolitical blog.

That said, I think everyone should see
<a href=" "_blank">this</a>.

Today was a day of petty annoyances. But it began with this image, from the morning paper.

The petty annoyances are forgotten. This photo, along with the others, should not be.

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

August 21st, 2007
This week, <a href=" "_blank">NPR's Morning Edition</a> has launched a series called Crime in the City. So far, they’ve done pieces on Donna Leon’s Venice and John Burdett’s Bangkok. Still to come – Michael Connelly’s Los Angeles . . . and Laura Lippman’s Baltimore. Hence, the reference to the old <a href=" "_blank"> “Sesame Street segment.</a> I’m always a little reluctant to give advance notice of Read more [...]


August 10th, 2007
About 12:50 p.m. today, EDT, I finished my thirteenth novel -- and promptly burst into tears. Well, it's long been acknowledged that I'm not particularly hardboiled. Now "finished" is a relative term. Would I send this version to my editor or agent? No, in part because -- it's not due yet. And it really needs a good polish, particularly the last 10,000 words, most of them new and most of them written this week in increasingly manic bursts that have left me with sore-ish wrists and a punky right shoulder. Read more [...]

Little House in the Big Woods

August 7th, 2007
In the late 1990s, a local realtor called me about a house that was about to go on the market. It needed a complete renovation, but it was on one of Baltimore’s most beautiful streets, East Lane, a hard-to-find alley street that backed up to the verdant stretch known as Stony Run Park. A fixer-upper was my only hope of living on that street, but even the fixer-upper price seemed out of reach; I could afford the house, but not the renovations. Reluctantly, I said no. What I could not have, I gave Read more [...]

Perfecting the BLT

August 5th, 2007
I made a perfect BLT today. You might think that this is not particularly impressive, especially when you hear that the it was actually a BST -- Bacon, Spinach and Tomato. But it was so good that a profferred bite to someone out the door, en route to lunch, resulted in a plea for one. It's hard to make a bad BLT (or BST) in August, when local tomatoes are abundant. It helps, too, that I, behind-the-curve-type that I am, became fiercely devoted to the local farmers market this summer, rising at 7 Read more [...]

The Oriole Way

July 31st, 2007
Fandom, sports fandom, is such a strange concept. You decide – usually arbitrarily, based on geography or a parent’s influence – to entrust your heart to a group of strangers who are not aware, in the specific, of how much they control your ups and downs. With so much unavoidable heartbreak in life, why do some of us sign up for extra helpings? My family moved to Baltimore in 1965; the Orioles won the World Series, in four straight, in 1966. How could I not succumb? And it wasn’t a fluke, Read more [...]

Summer Reading, Update

July 24th, 2007
This morning, in a Starbucks -- yeah, I know, that's lame -- on Charing Cross in London, I set two books free, the Bill Bryson and Maxine Swann's Flower Children. I loved both, but I knew it was unlikely that I would re-read them. I put notes inside, saying they were looking for good homes. I finished the ARC on the plane, then made it 100 pages into Mark Billingham's Death Message. I've also read a portion of The Dud Avocado. So, of seven books -- three read, one started, three untouched. My only Read more [...]

Summer Reading, Had Me a Blast

July 17th, 2007
Sarah Weinman has a <a href=""_blank">link</a> to Time’s survey of writers and their “guilty pleasures” for summer reading. I can’t understand why anyone ever feels guilty about reading anything. I feel guilty about not reading. But, pretty soon, I'm going to atone.I have seven books ready for a week-long trip and it’s my plan to discard of at least four of them upon finishing, leaving them in places where they might find new homes – and freeing Read more [...]

Shut up!

July 16th, 2007
Years ago, during a very bad time in my life, I went to lunch with a male friend and poured my heart out to him. This was bad stuff, serious stuff, and I really needed my friend’s ear. At the end of our lunch, an older man walked over and passed a note to my friend: It said: “The average woman speaks three words for every word a man utters during that day.” Or something to that effect. He then scurried away, perhaps fearing what my next three words might be. (First one “go,” last one, “yourself.”)A Read more [...]

WIP, Day 5

July 13th, 2007
I think I'm at 12,000. Yesterday, I started a time-honored trick. I began writing the book backwards. That is -- I sat down and wrote, "Ultimate Chapter," and put down a few paragraphs, then sketched in some things that needed to be explained/explored. Then it was onto "Penultimate Chapter," which is more or less blank, because I don't know what happens, just who's present. And then it was the Penultimate Penultimate, where I discovered something interesting -- I had backed right into the 32 chapters Read more [...]

WIP, Day 4

July 12th, 2007
Haste makes waste. I'm up to 11,300 words as of today, but there are some structural problems that will have to be addressed in future drafts. I've also got two very complicated days ahead of me, with various appointments and obligations. (By the way, I keep forgetting to mention that I'm at Olsson's tonight, the one in Penn Quarters, helping to promote BAD GIRLS, an anthology of essays. Yes, I'm in there, although it took me a while to find a topic.)My hunch is that I'll end up in the 13,000-14,000 Read more [...]

WIP, Day Three

July 11th, 2007
One chapter, 2,400 words, done as of 11:10 a.m. and I am strangely hungry. Or perhaps not so strangely? I'm taking a break and may not resume writing until after lunch, but I'd like to get the next chapter under way, rather than risk freezing up. A version of the old <a href="" target="_blank">Graham Greene</a> trick, if you will. Plus, I have to go downtown with the contractor and pull a permit and lord knows how long that will take. Read more [...]

Hypergraphia/Writing in Public

July 10th, 2007
When I was 15, I was enrolled at an open-space public school. The founding philosophy had been "go at your own pace," but this had already been amended to "go at your own pace, but there is a minimum speed limit." Some classes were taught traditionally, but others were taught via LAPs (learning activity packets). Do 12 LAPs, get a full credit for English, for example. Most of my peers did no work until May. I front-loaded the work, at least my first year, and got so far ahead in English that it became Read more [...]


July 6th, 2007
I think dreams are a bit of a cheat for novelists, although I've availed myself of the technique at least once (By a Spider's Thread). My own dreams are so obvious in their meanings that they bore me. For example, many of them center on impossible trips, where I simply cannot get where I'm going. Last night, for example, I dreamed that was I staying in a New York hotel, probably at Lexington and 50th, or thereabouts. I needed to change and make it across town for an important meeting at 5 p.m., then Read more [...]

Why So Quiet?

June 30th, 2007
I've been wrestling with the work-in-progress and having about as much luck as Owen Wilson in Anaconda. But I'm blogging
<a href=""_blank">here</a> starting Monday, so please drop by. There will be recipes!


June 19th, 2007
Today, I was walking home from a morning of work, feeling the heat gather its power, and thinking how happy I was that I had a pitcher of iced green tea at home, how tea had more body than water somehow, was more satisfying. Then I thought: No, someone else said that, something about tea having body and bite. And then I realized I was thinking of CANDY, by Terry Southern*. The professor serves tea -- not sherry --to his nubile student, with a little speech about it having body and bite.** She then Read more [...]

Dewey Decimal

June 16th, 2007
NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday had a story today about a library that uses neither the Dewey Decimal nor Library of Congress cataloging system; instead, it's modeled on Barnes and Noble. Baltimore's Enoch Pratt system is one of those rare library systems that uses the Library of Congress shelving codes, which are impossible to memorize. But my elementary school library used the Dewey Decimal system and I immediately rememberd: 398 and 921.398 was where one found fairy tales. There was a beautiful Read more [...]

Sopranos, Styron, Vomit

June 11th, 2007
The final episode of The Sopranos aired last night. I had my <a href=" //" target="_blank">prediction</a>. I had my opinion, which I’m not going to share here. But I also have some memories, which I will share. Memory #1: I didn’t have HBO in 1999, but I happened to be in a hotel when “University” was broadcast. I was smitten. Memory #2: In 2002, because Read more [...]


June 9th, 2007
<a href=" //" target="_blank">Here’s</a> a good overview, while <a href="
//" target="_blank">this</a> provides a follow-up.


June 8th, 2007
I couldn’t be more excited about <a href=",,20041807,00.html?cid=recirc-peopleRecirc //" target="_blank">this</a>.(As much as I love the Tales of the City books – especially the later ones, especially SURE OF YOU, whose epigraph makes me cry –my favorite Maupin book is THE NIGHT LISTENER, one of the best books I’ve ever read about our need to know what’s true, and our willingness to reject that truth once we’ve established it. Actually, just Read more [...]

June is Bustin’ Out All Over

June 7th, 2007
Because it links to a couple of the regulars here, I want to make sure you know the June letter is up at the <a href="" target="_blank">website</a>.

Ready to Wear

June 6th, 2007
Take an event in your life that happened at least ten years ago, a date of significance, but one that was not immortalized in a photograph or video. Now tell me what you wore. First day at a new job? First day of school? First date? Graduation (not the cap and gown, but the outfit to the party afterward.) The thing is -- I cannot do this, not without the cheat of a photograph. There's practically a genre of books devoted to what women wore on certain occasions. (And maybe men, too, but I haven't Read more [...]

Not Much, Just Quillin’

June 3rd, 2007
Read about it <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>.

More later. En route.


May 24th, 2007
Several entries have occurred to me late -- BREAKING AWAY, and why it holds up; various pet-vet emergencies (inspired by <a href="" target="_blank">First Offenders</a>), including the one where my cat ate Easter basket grass, which became apparent when a single blade protruded from . . . do I need to spell it out? "You see this mass on the X-ray?" the vet asked me. "It's either Easter grass, entwined around his intestines -- or it's gas. All we can do Read more [...]

If Space Had Allowed

May 18th, 2007
I saw a reference on another blog to what my household is calling the <a href="">Newsweek thing</a>– my rather inexplicable appearance in a regular column that, the week before, featured Tom Wolfe. There is a story behind the story. Another writer dropped out, they needed someone at the last-minute, my e-mail is readily available, the editor’s mother had once profiled me . . . But the reason I’m mentioning the article here Read more [...]


May 10th, 2007
George Slade wrote me a few weeks ago, after seeing me on television. I did some quick math and realized he's sixteen now, very grown up. He would probably be appalled by the fact that I keep his school picture, circa 2001, on my desk. Three years ago, in honor of my last day at Goucher, I ran my all-time favorite article, the one I most enjoyed writing. It occurred to me that some new folks have started reading the blog since then, so here it is again, in honor of the coming summer -- and George. Read more [...]

The Fault, Dear Brutus . . . (Logic Watch)

May 4th, 2007
Is not in ourselves, but in the genre.Here's New York magazine on Michael Chabon's new book: "Chabon . . . [a]lthough he cranks away with all kinds of fresh energy, he’s still limited by the detective story’s familiar machinery: When trails go cold, chance encounters heat them back up; imminent death is reliably thwarted by coincidental nearby hubbubs; guilty parties give helpful expository speeches.I only mention this disappointment up front because it happens to be my single real reservation Read more [...]


May 1st, 2007
Every generation gets the cinematic version of The Three Musketeers that it deserves. (An aside: The "every generation/deserves" paraphrase has been used so often, according to Google, that I should feel vaguely ashamed of myself.) Mine got Michael York, Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain and the guy-that-nobody remembers playing Porthos. Also Charlton Heston as Richelieu, Faye Dunaway as Milady, and Raquel Welch as Constance. Plus, Geraldine Chaplin and the actor from Young Winston. Simon Ward? Insomnia Read more [...]

Then We Came to the End

April 29th, 2007
That happens to be the name of the book I began reading on the plane ride home, after I finished Declan Hughes’ The Color of Blood, but it also seems a fitting way to wrap up this tour blog. Because the tour is – sorta kinda, -- over as of today. There are some things in May and one in June, but none requires an overnight. I had a 7:50 a.m. flight out of Los Angeles, but given that I hadn’t changed my watch since landing Friday afternoon, I didn’t see it so much as an early morning, just Read more [...]

Darkness in Paradise

April 25th, 2007
Back in the summer of 2000, Harlan Coben -- who had worked in the travel business -- was asked to organize a mystery conference for Club Med. At that time, Harlan and I had known each other for four years and the joke was that, whatever Harlan did, I did two years later. Harlan won the Edgar, then I won the Edgar. Harlan went to hardcover, then I went to hardcover. Harlan wrote a stand-alone for his eighth book, I wrote a stand-alone for my eighth book. Harlan became a huge international bestseller Read more [...]

Luna Bars

April 24th, 2007
My two cents? Never travel without them. I'm in the Columbus airport. It has free wireless, ever-so-civilized, but the breakfast selections are not going to win any prizes for nutrition. Luckily, I had one more Luna bar tucked in my knapsack. Here's what I love about Luna bars: 1) Like a Timex, they take a licking and keep on ticking. Okay, not ticking. (Because then they would be seized at security.) But while they may bend, they seldom break. Which means they also meet the criterion of comedy established Read more [...]

In Thurber’s Closet

April 23rd, 2007
I'm in Columbus, where I'll be speaking at the Thurber House tonight. It's a pretty great gig -- dinner tonight, followed by a speech to what they anticipate will be over 100 people (including one of my Eckerd students, which I think is cool). Afterwards, my signed photograph (the Marion Ettlinger one) will be mounted on the wall alongside many, many truly famous writers. Because wall space is getting tight at Thurber House, I'll be in the bathroom. But those who know their Thurber will remember Read more [...]

DorothyL (The “L” is for Lifesaver)

April 22nd, 2007
The first thing to understand is that the dilemma was of my own making. If I had looked at my schedule ahead of time, I would have known that it didn't tell me how I was to travel from downtown Cleveland to the Beachwood branch library.Could I take a cab? Of course I could take a cab, and for a very reasonable amount. But, usually, the schedule says "Take a cab," and I was worried that there was an plan, and I didn't know it. (And, yes, the schedule usually states such basic things as "Take a cab" Read more [...]

How to Kill 3 Hours in Traverse City

April 21st, 2007
Technically, that's the Traverse City Cherry Capital Airport. My flight is at 7:10 p.m. and it's currently about 4:30. Oh, and everything is closed because that 7:10 flight is the next and last flight of the day. Not to worry: I have Internet, which is how I'm writing this. I have access to an outlet, so I don't have to worry about power.I have a Diet Dr Pepper. I have several good books (including one from Byron, two student short stories and a couple of unwatched 30 Rock episodes on my iTunes.) Read more [...]

Greetings from the Mitten

April 20th, 2007
I’m not going to pretend I’ve got this whole writer thing figured out. But I have learned one lesson that I’m willing to impart: When you travel, see friends whenever possible. Not to swell the attendance at signings (although that’s always nice) but just because it enhances one’s sanity. Last night in Ann Arbor, I enjoyed an embarrassment of riches – <a href=" "_blank">Bryon</a> and <a href="">Nancy</a> Read more [...]

Sweet Sixteen

April 19th, 2007
WTDK will be #16 on the Times list on April 29th, but without an asterisk. So no printed list, but I'm very pleased that I held my position even as four new books hit the list for that week. To recap: In five weeks, the book has spent three weeks on the printed list, two on the extended, as high as #10 and as low as #24. This is far better than I ever expected. The next 10 days will be the toughest on my calendar, with a lot of travel and events. But as of April 30th, this tour comes to and end. Read more [...]


April 16th, 2007
I have come to terms – almost – with the idea that I will never produce a perfect book. Bear in mind, I’m not speaking of aesthetic perfection, which I always knew was beyond my abilities. I’m talking about a book without typos or factual inaccuracies. So far, I’ve learned of four mistakes in WHAT THE DEAD KNOW. So far. Those who have contacted me, by e-mail and in person, have been exceptionally kind. Usually, the factual errors – inconsequential to the story, but of great consequence Read more [...]


April 16th, 2007
Edenwald is a retirement community in Towson, a very nice one. I have spoken there and I know at least one resident.In WHAT THE DEAD KNOW, Kevin Infante visits Edenwald and it unnerves him. He's relatively young and he has lost his father, whose last years were spent in a much cheaper nursing home on Long Island. Kevin thinks: "Nursing homes -- and whatever they called these places, retirement homes or assisted living, they were still nursing homes -- were creepy to him." He goes to TGIFridays, postponing Read more [...]

Taco Heaven

April 14th, 2007
I'm back from three days in Texas. I didn't blog on the road because I was suffering burglar paranoia again. The trip to Texas was a great combination of work and fun. It started in San Antonio, where I lived very happily for six years in the '80s. The San Antonio Light ended up folding in the early '90s, but I still have friends there. One came and took me to breakfast Thursday morning; we went to a place in the King William neighborhood, Mad Hatter. "This used to be the Beauregard," I said, remembering Read more [...]

I {HEART} Asterisks

April 11th, 2007
In my first work of fiction – a six-page story about a caveman and a dinosaur, written in caveman language – the asterisk makes several appearances. To a five year-old, flailing away on her father’s manual typewriter, the asterisk was a thing of a beauty. A little flower, a daisy, the prettiest piece of punctuation there ever was. On April 22nd, an asterisk will power me back onto the New York Times printed list. I’ll be at #16, but the asterisk that follows the 16 means I’m considered Read more [...]

One Clarification, One Recommendation

April 10th, 2007
The April 18th reading at Goucher College will be at 7 p.m., not 7:30 p.m. For those who like readings, this will probably be a little longer than the short sample I've been doing on tour. I might read the first chapter, or I might piece together a series of short scenes. (For some reason, it's tempting to read about Kevin Infante's wake-up call in Chapter 2, given that it takes place just a few miles down the road from Goucher, on a different college campus.)Now for the recommendation: I finally Read more [...]

This Just In

April 10th, 2007
The thing about independents is that they tend to be, well, independent. They go their own way, at their own pace.

So <a href=""_blank">this</a> is nice.

Me and My Big Mouth

April 8th, 2007
Actually, my mouth is on the small side. In fact, my upper lip is so thin as to be non-existent. So this is just my metaphorical huge mouth. Steve Allan interviews me <a href=""_blank">here</a>. I learned earlier this year that Steve and I share a profound affection/admiration for <a href=""_blank">Roland Merullo</a>. (I am also crazy about Read more [...]

Chutes and Ladders

April 5th, 2007
WHAT THE DEAD KNOW slides off the printed New York Times list as of April 15th, down to #24. Bear in mind, two weeks ago I couldn’t imagine being #24, so my mellow continues unharshed.

Meanwhile – boy I’m glad I learned how to link. Here’s a good <a href="" target="_blank">one</a>.

WARNING: At least one reader has found this link mildly spoiler-ish, and I see her point.

Espirit d’escalier, Part III

April 4th, 2007
Another encounter with my nemesis. N: Congratulations, Laura. Me: Thanks! N: Now get that all-American novel going. (Yeah, he actually said all-American. And it wasn't exactly espirit d'escalier, because I instantly thought, but did not say, "Do you mean the Great American novel? Because if you're going to throw cliches around, you might as well get them right.")The blog has been quiet because I haven't actually been doing any book-related events, other than media. Yesterday's photo shoot for the Read more [...]

Lucky Thirteen

April 1st, 2007
Today marked my 13th visit to Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, PA. (For those doing the math, that's 12 novels and one short story collection, Like a Charm.) I traveled by plane, the first time I've ever done that, but I just wasn't up for the up-and-back drive in one day, and I am trying to spend as many nights in my own bed as possible. My early a.m. Southwest arrival meant I got to have a marvelous brunch with Mary Alice Gorman, Richard Goldman and Kathy Sweeney. Mary Alice looked marvelous Read more [...]

The Sisterhood of the Expanding Pants

March 31st, 2007
Celebrity sighting: <a href=""_blank">These guys</a> came to my book-signing today in West Chester, PA. Parker behaved beautifully. I wasn't sure if they'd be able to come, but I packed some gifts for Parker and his sister, just in case, and wore a shirt I thought he might like, one covered with silk-screened images of vintage cars. (And dating back to 1991, to continue the theme of "Laura keeps and wears clothes forever.")It Read more [...]

The Surreal Life

March 30th, 2007
Things are getting a little kooky in Baltimore. That's all I'll say for now. Meanwhile, Espirit d'escalier, Part II. Here's a tough lesson: If there are people in your life who have consistently patronized you, there is nothing you can do or achieve that will change that. Trust me on this. Here, with names and details changed to protect the smug, is a recent exchange in my life. Man #1, a man who has previously said, more than once, that he hopes that one day I will write a "real" book: How are things Read more [...]

Espirit d’escalier

March 28th, 2007
<a href=""_blank">Davis Rogan</a>, a favorite musician and songwriter, introduced me to this expression, generally translated as the wit of the staircase. These are the things we think to say too late. In this case, it's not a lost opportunity for wit, but a missed chance at candor that bothers me. I was asked Monday night if I chose to use a real-life inspiration for WTDK because I thought it would help me sell more books. As a Read more [...]

As I Suspected . . .

March 28th, 2007
I will not be #11 on the New York Times list on April 8th. I'll be #10. Happy now, Bryon? Seriously, this is far more than I hoped for. I was hoping that I might hang on for a second week, at slot #15, but it seemed like a lot to ask. Lovely to see Barbara and Clair tonight. And thank you, my mystery benefactor -- you know who you are, but I won't out you without permission -- who left the kosher-for-passover Coca-Cola. Terrific signing at Politics & Prose, as always. Bonus -- my two sisters-in-law, Read more [...]

I’d Rather Be a Writer

March 27th, 2007
I got up at 4:30 a.m. this morning to make my 6 a.m. call time at the set of THE WIRE, where I was to deliver a single line as Lippman, a rather obdurate reporter. Yes, I was typecast. I've been to set several times, but I was watching things through fresh eyes, mindful of my current work-in-progress. I longed for a notebook to jot down the jargon ("Last look." "Check the gate."). Among other things. THE WIRE takes 9-10 days to film an hour of television; today, there were two scenes, the first to Read more [...]


March 26th, 2007
In my giddiness last week, I overlooked a corporate cousin also on the <a href="" target="_blank">Times list</a>: Joe Hill. In fact, Hill’s debut novel HEART-SHAPED BOX has been on the list for five weeks. Hill happens to be the son of Stephen King, but as Morrow publisher Lisa Gallagher told the students at the Writer in Paradise Read more [...]

Madame Sosostris and me

March 25th, 2007
Yes, I seem to have a cold and today is my only day off for the next seven days. (Hooray for Passover, which means a couple days off, not because I'm particularly religious -- I am managing the trick of being nonobservant in two faiths, although I show up for all the meals -- but because most bookstores don't want to compete with Seders.) This weekend marked my third trip, in five years, to the Virginia Festival of the Book. Lee Child gave a really extraordinary speech at the Crime Wave luncheon, Read more [...]

Good News Week, Bad Hair Day

March 23rd, 2007
This was a nice week, business-wise. If I had to compare it to a poker hand – remember, CASINO ROYALE was on the westbound flight, so I saw a lot of poker, and it was okay, but I prefer THE STING when it comes to poker, CASINO ROYALE for torsos – I’d say a straight flush. There was more good news today; WTDK is #14 on the Wall Street Journal’s bestseller list. Imagine me, living in a place where executives would never want to tamper*, on the WSJ list. But – well, I’ll be mulling that Read more [...]


March 22nd, 2007
I'm in the Denver airport, checking e-mail and a woman comes over and says, "I hate to ask you this, but are you Laura Lippman?"

And her daughter, a 4-year-old cutie that I had noticed while we were in the ticket line is named . . . Tess. Yes, that Tess. We just had our photo taken together and her mother, a lovely woman named Angie, claims it will be their Christmas card.

I Think I’ll Remember This Day

March 21st, 2007
So, I'm in Edwards, Colorado, a little off, possibly from the altitude, and wondering where I'm going to find the energy to go to my reading, when my cell rings. And my editor -- dear sweet Carrie Feron, my editor for 12 books, and also my friend -- says: "Congratulations, New York Times bestseller." I'm #11, separated by an asterisk from Mitch Albom at #10, which means our sales are virtually the same for the week. I'm one notch up from Lionel Shriver, another HarperCollins author. (Meanwhile, Lisa Read more [...]

Brains and Legs

March 20th, 2007
I have a strange weakness for a subgenre of SciFi movies about technology involving the human brain -- Brainstorm (best known for being Natalie Wood's last film) and, even more so, Strange Days, which persuaded me that Angela Bassett should be an action hero. In both films, inventions allow people to feel what someone else has experienced. Inevitably, the technology is abused to the point where some people fry their brains. In Brainstorm, for example, one man plays a tape that allows him to experience Read more [...]

Spoiler podcast: Updated

March 20th, 2007
Pssst: Look up. Up. UP! The link is at the top of the page, right next to the link for my website.

I'm not sure I can make this any easier.


Good News Will Out

March 19th, 2007
I'm a non-Googler and, except for the last 24 hours, a person who doesn't check Amazon or I wasn't always a non-Googler and it's not for everybody. But it works for me, in part because of my theory "Good news will out." As will bad news and, as I wrote on my website a year ago ( it's always instructive to find out who wants to be the first to tell you something unkind or unflattering.I've known since last week that the Washington Post would review Read more [...]

Am I Done Yet?

March 18th, 2007
My calendar shows a mere 31 events left! And, really, it all tapers off after the end of April It's Sunday morning and I've attacked the usual sections of the Times, in the usual order -- Book Review, the magazine (great Joe Hill profile by Baltimore Noir contributor Ben Neihart), Styles, Week in Review, etc. The Book Review is an odd document for me. I really find it hard to read negative reviews of almost anyone's work, with the exception of known jerks. Speaking of reviews . . . the SO found one Read more [...]

Interim report

March 17th, 2007
On the day, not the tour. I got up, drove to WBAL for a live interview. My street is treacherous, but the major streets are all clear. The 2 o'clock signing at Daedalus books is still on. I wasn't the only writer with a cancellation this weekend. Mystery Lovers Bookshop had to cancel two events -- one with Lisa Scottoline and the other with John Banville. (I discovered this when I called to arrange for autographed copies.) As a writer, I don't play favorites with bookstores, but MLB is particularly Read more [...]

“We Want the Formula!”

March 16th, 2007
Recognize the reference? E-mail me -- you're on the honor system, no Googling -- and you will win . . . my respect and admiration. At any rate, this morning I feel like chanting: "We want the formula! We want the formula!" The past two weeks have wreaked havoc on my writing life, and I'm really struggling with the book-in-progress, although I've done some work this morning that helps me understand the story better. I'm stuck in the middle and, yes, when I type those words, I suddenly see Michael Read more [...]

Tonight’s Event Canceled!

March 16th, 2007
We just don't know where the snow/ice line is going to be about 5 o'clock tonight, so we're rescheduling the library appearance. More later, when it's all firmed up.

Train, Taxi, Town Car, Train — batting .500

March 15th, 2007
Credit Lizzie Skurnick. In our spoiler podcast (coming soon! promise!) she observed the ways in which transportation plays a major role in WHAT THE DEAD KNOW, constantly undermining one character. Over a twelve-hour period in New York, I was that character. First, there was the taxi ride downtown, to meet two old friends, Lisa Pollak and Chuck Salter, for a late-ish supper of pizza. (Name-dropping like crazy here. Google them, and you’ll find some very impressive stuff.) On Fifth Avenue, my cab Read more [...]

I May Have Just Qualified for a free Train Ticket

March 14th, 2007
I am writing this on the train, back to Baltimore, where I will teach my Goucher class – then return to New York so I can do the CBS appearance that was postponed for a day. And then home again to Baltimore. But, today, I’m a teacher. And I’m a teacher who does not allow my students to discuss the commercial potential of anyone’s work. This is true not only in my Goucher class, but also in the week-long course I’ve taught at Eckerd College’s Writers in Paradise. I tell my students that, Read more [...]

Pub Date: A Tradition

March 13th, 2007
Today is my pub date and I believe that every writer should consider this passage (from BIRD BY BIRD) on pub dates."I remember one year my friend Carpenter and I had books out on the same day. We talked about it all summer. We each had modest expectations. I had modest expectations for his book; he had modest expectations for mine . . . Finally the big day arrived and I woke up happy, embarrassed in advance by all the praise and attention that would be forthcoming. I made coffee and practiced digging Read more [...]

CBS Plans, God Laughs

March 13th, 2007
My CBS appearance has been moved to Thursday. For those of you keeping score at home, this means I have to leave New York at 8 a.m. tomorrow, go home, re-jigger my suitcase, go to Goucher, teach, meet with an independent study student, then get back on the train to New York, do CBS Thursday morning, then come home.

It's all good.


We Interrupt this Blog . . . For a Rant

March 11th, 2007
Sometimes, my memory is okay. For example, I am essentially correct in my memory of a Calvin Trillin piece for the New Yorker, describing a blind wine-tasting in which experts could not tell red from white when it was served in black glasses. But I was also right to do a little checking on the Internet before I wrote about it; it turns out that the so-called Davis test was conducted on aroma alone. However, I found a blog by a wine lover who tried his own version of the test, and his results were Read more [...]

Day 5: Mature Artists Steal*****

March 9th, 2007
Years ago, when I was an aspiring writer -- pre-published, some folks call it nowadays, although I would maintain one is pre-published only if one has a contract to publish* -- I read a profile of Robert Crais. He was touring for Voodoo River, which happens to be one of my favorite Elvis Cole books, and the article portrayed a man subsisting on airline peanuts, appearing before sometimes-thin crowds**, and -- this was the part that bothered me -- never finding time to write. I swore it would be different Read more [...]

Day 4: This Time the Joke’s On Me

March 8th, 2007
Yesterday, in an IM interview (to be published the last week of March), Duane Swiercynzski asked me why I decided to keep a public tour blog and how it would be different. Well, for one thing, in this tour blog -- the joke's always on me. In the original one, I admit, I had a little fun with one stalker-ish fan and a limo driver who said: "People always tell me that I should write a book . . ." You know what? When someone says you should write a book, they might actually be saying: "Because if you Read more [...]

Day Three: Twists

March 7th, 2007
A decent morning of writing, about 1,200 words, not bad for a day when I need to close shop a little early, get to the gym, then get to campus for office hours and class, and then zip home for an interview. I did an interview yesterday, too, for the Baltimore Sun's shopping column, Five Things I Want to Buy Right Now. I won't upstage the writer by revealing what they were, but I will say the list did not include some very basic needs, such as new gym shoes. (And no, Dave White, it did not include Read more [...]

Day Two: A Little Inside Baseball

March 6th, 2007
I don't know how other writers spend the week before publication, but I took last Saturday to launch a massive housecleaning/tidying project, attending to various tasks that had been ignored for weeks, even months. A painting whose wire had snapped was re-hung. Papers were filed. I even cleaned out the junk drawer in the kitchen, removing things that didn't belong -- photographs, a couple of movies on VHS, please don't ask me to reveal the titles -- and sorting through the various tools, screws, Read more [...]

Tour Blog: Day One

March 5th, 2007
Technically, it's a week before the tour, but as long as the virtual tour is percolating at Blogher (see the March 2 entry, "A Craven Plea") I think I should blog every day this week. It's 10 a.m. and I've produced 1,800 words, an entire chapter. It's not awful, by first draft standards, and a 2-W (writing/workout) day would seem assured, as I have a 2 p.m. session at the gym with the trainer. At 4 p.m., I'll do a short telephone interview for the Washington Post Express, which is going to focus Read more [...]

A Woman’s Prerogative

March 4th, 2007
Less than two weeks ago, I stated here that I would not keep a tour blog. Welcome to my tour blog. Why the change of mind? First, some context. In 2005, I kept a truly confidential blog, available only to those who were e-mailed the link and the password. In 2006, I invited people to request the link and the password, asking that everyone be on the honor system: If someone else wanted in, they had to e-mail me. And, as far as I know, the honor system worked. Still, it's tricky being candid about Read more [...]

A Craven Plea: My Virtual Tour

March 2nd, 2007
The link is:, and I think it would be great if you stopped by and checked it out.

Meanwhile the details about the non-virtual tour are up at And it lasts longer than a week.

Twofer Friday: Strangers on a Train

March 2nd, 2007
Meanwhile, I have to tell this story. I was on a 7:35 p.m. train out of New York last night. I was scheduled to take the Acela at 8:15 and the switch was going to improve my arrival time in Baltimore by only 20 minutes, but it meant 40 minutes fewer in Penn Station, which is insanely overheated. So I switched to a business class ticket on the regional (this is the only way to ensure a seat) and jumped on board. There was a woman with two children in business class, a little unusual, but not extraordinary. Read more [...]

To (Tour) Blog or Not to (Tour) Blog

February 27th, 2007
In 2005 and 2006, I kept a tour blog. In 2005, the link was sent out to certain friends; in 2006, I posted an invitation here. Everyone behaved beautifully. No one ratted me out. (Not that there was much to report. I was candid, but largely about my own mistakes and mishaps.) The blogs, when I read them now, are as vivid as my last successful journal-keeping exercise, which dates back to the 1989 diary I kept in Mexico. Nothing proves the central concept of The Memory Project better than my actual Read more [...]

The Meme of Beeg

February 24th, 2007
1. What time do you get up in the morning? Between 7 and 7:30.2. Diamonds or Pearls? Diamonds3. What was the last film you saw at the cinema? The Queen4. What is your favorite TV show? The Wire and Project Runway.5. What do you normally have for breakfast? Dannon Light 'n' Fit vanilla yogurt with fruit, walnuts and a sprinkling of granola.6. What is your middle name? Madeline7. What is your favorite cuisine? Based on frequency of consumption, Japanese. 8. What food do you most dislike? Octopus Read more [...]

Rereading Myself and Others

February 19th, 2007
Actually, I don't re-read myself very often (although The Memory Project is turning into a nifty alterna-journal), but I couldn't resist the literary allusion. Some people find it insane to re-read when there is so much to be read. I usually invoke the Valium defense, saying that re-reading is not reading but a narcotic experience, one in which familiar words wash over me until I'm in a trance-like state that otherwise could be achieved only via rocking back-and-forth and sucking one's thumb. And Read more [...]

The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Tour Info

February 16th, 2007
Here's the link:'s the info, but some things may change. Tuesday, March 13, 200706:30 PMBLACK ORCHID BOOKSHOP303 E. 81st St. New York, NY 10028212-734-5980Wednesday, March 14, 200707:00 AM - 09:00 AMCBS-TV/Early ShowThursday, March 15, 200707:00 PMENOCH PRATT FREE LIBRARY400 Cathedral ST Baltimore, MD 21201410-396-5494Friday, March 16, 200707:00 PMPAGES BOOKS1354 Reisterstown Road Pikesville, MD 21208(410) 602-8884Saturday, March 17, Read more [...]

Fun on a Snow Day

February 14th, 2007
This is my first bona fide snow day since a blizzard hit Chicago in 1978. (Or maybe it was '79.) Reporters don't get snow days; neither do the self-employed. But today was my day to teach at Goucher, and the campus is closed because of some pretty wretched conditions. Still, I'm at home, working, and I found this sentence in one of the greatest books ever written: "A pleasant smile broke quietly over his lips."Is it just me, or is this godawful? Could it have been consciously godawful? I will note Read more [...]

It Never Gets Old, Redux

February 13th, 2007
On Feb. 6th, 2006, I reported here what it was like to see the galley of NO GOOD DEEDS. Today, a year and a week later, I received the final copy of WHAT THE DEAD KNOW. Ten years in, book #12 and, yes, it's still thrilling. Also terrifying. But mostly thrilling. A young author of my acquaintance saw his pages typeset for the first time recently, and asked if it was normal to be excited. Yes, I think so. In fact, I think it would be quite depressing to be jaded about it, ever. The transition still Read more [...]


February 1st, 2007
At the gym today, my trainer -- I'd like to omit that detail, but it's hard to tell the story without it -- mixed in some cardio with the usual weights, lunges, Bosu balls, etc. On the second round, he brought me over to the ergometer and said: "Do you know what this is?" I almost ran screaming from the room. The Concept II ergometer is a training tool for rowers. It is smarter than most workout equipment, able to determine actual effort as measured in strokes-per-minute and meters traveled. If you Read more [...]

Apparently She Was Nice

January 29th, 2007
I recently had the odd experience of reading an obit of someone who was once -- so briefly, so many years ago -- unkind to me. Her obit made her sound really nice. Obits tend to do that, as they should. The thing is, I'm pretty sure the person in question thought I was so stupid, so naive, so without redeeming value that I would not actually understand that she was running me down to my face. She thought that her contemptuous insults were coded, over my head, a joke to be shared with the other two Read more [...]


January 18th, 2007
When did they start? 2002? 2003? I am fairly certain that it was after I left The Sun, but that's about as precise as I can be. Hives, little red bumps, barely noticeable to anyone else.At first, I blamed the sticky Baltimore summers for the mild rashes I would get on my arms and, sometimes, legs. Then they started appearing in late spring. Now, it's January, and I have a few red spots near my elbow. Time to restock the Benadryl. How to solve the case of the (time) traveling hives? It's more a case Read more [...]

“God I Hope I Get It”

January 12th, 2007
Thirty years ago, give or take a month, I saw "A Chorus Line" on Broadway. Thirty-one years ago, I was introduced to the work of Stephen Sondheim by Todd London and Steve Gore, counselors at Harand Camp. Tuesday night, I saw "Company" in New York, followed by a Wednesday matinee of "A Chorus Line." The former was enthralling, the latter enjoyable, but I felt very old and very cynical, sitting in the midst of some snuffling NYU theater majors. What changed? Well, the musical hasn't changed at all. Read more [...]

Irrational Exuberance: An Update

January 6th, 2007
Over at, there's a follow-up to a post here, about irrational fears. Mine was burglary and, well . . . go read the January letter. We're still discovering missing items -- the latest is a digital camera with some EXTREMELY precious photos on them. On the plus side, a very nice patrolman came to my door today with all my credit cards, insurance cards, etc., and I was pleased to see that I had a Blue Cross/Blue Shield card that did NOT use my Social Security number. One card was Read more [...]

You Asked For It

January 4th, 2007
The paradox in putting together a favorite list of 2006 is that I have to remember what I read this past year. Not my strong suit. Let's see -- I actually read it late in 2005, but THE WOMAN AT THE WASHINGTON ZOO changed my life. I loved: THE NIGHT GARDENER, A FIELD OF BLOOD, the Elizabeth Gilbert memoir, MISS AMERICAN PIE, HEAT, THE THUNDERBOLT KID (probably my #2 pick of the year, or a tie with NIGHT GARDENER) THE GOOD PEOPLE OF NEW YORK, SMONK, HOMELAND, SWEET DREAM BABY, INTUITION, DIGGING TO Read more [...]

My Hannibal

January 2nd, 2007
I'll admit upfront that I'm cheating here, using a memory to launch a theory, but so it goes. I first met Hannibal Lecter in the Michael Mann version of RED DRAGON, renamed MANHUNTER. Somewhere in the Internet ether, there's an essay I wrote for Tart City about how I prefer Brian Cox's Lecter to Anthony Hopkins's, an opinion that no one seems inclined to share with me. So be it. At any rate, the Mann film launched me into Harris's work. I loved the first two books, but decided not to continue with Read more [...]

Something Ventured

December 31st, 2006
More than a year ago, I started something called The Reading Project, which I documented here until wrist pain forced me to ease back on non-essential computer use. I was going to try to read two pages of Shakespeare and the Bible, every night, aping the family in A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN. The project derailed by spring, but it had the usual consequence of making me read more than ever; I just stopped doing the "required" reading. Every reading resolution I've ever made has been like that. But I Read more [...]

T’is Better To Give

December 22nd, 2006
How old are children when they begin to focus on the giving aspect of the holidays? It happens pretty early, in my experience. There's a wonderful story in CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN in which one of the sons, no more than 7 or 8, wriggles with pent-up excitement as his parents, brothers and sisters open up his gifts -- tacky ashtrays for a group of nonsmokers. The young person in my life was about the same age, I think, when he started to care as much about what he gave as what he got. When I was 8, I Read more [...]

Irrational Exuberance

December 16th, 2006
I'm home, jet-lagged beyond belief after 12 days in Dublin and London. Normally, jet lag isn't a problem for me on the east-to-west leg, but this trip took, door-to-door, 23 hours. We flew from London to Dublin to Kennedy Airport in NY and drove home, although there is a daily flight from London to Baltimore that would have taken less than half that time. Why? Well, because someone in the traveling party of two (not me) has an irrational fear of terrorism and did not want to fly British Airways out Read more [...]


November 30th, 2006
It began with my attempt to remember all five of Kubler-Ross's "stages" to death. Anger, Denial, Bargaining and Acceptance. I could guess at the fifth (sadness? grief? self-pity), could even remember Cliff Gorman acting them out in "All that Jazz" and saying it sounded like a Jewish law firm. But I could not, with any certainty, pull up that fifth stage. I recalled that it was once said the brain will always forget one thing in a list. But, in recently committing the original "Seven Sisters" schools Read more [...]

Poster Child

November 16th, 2006
Still no galleys. Yesterday, the UPS man pulled up in front of the house and I was leaping about joyously -- and it turned out that all he had for me were gifts. Stinky old gifts. I want my galleys! I need work! There is no laundry left in my house. Yesterday, in anticipation of how busy I'll be Thanksgiving a.m., I made blueberry coconut macadamian nut muffins and froze them, so I'll be able to feed guests without too much fuss. So, while I wait, I might as well confide that I seem to be shaping Read more [...]

The Platonic Ideal

November 14th, 2006
But first -- I know what you're thinking. Why the hypergraphia, Laura? Why are you writing about memoirs and stuffing versus dressing? What's wrong? Well . . . I have nothing to do. Okay, "nothing to do" is strong. But I am in a lull, waiting for the galleys of WHAT THE DEAD KNOW and owing only one piece of writing that I recall, a short story for Megan Abbott, one that I'm not quite ready to write. (It needs to simmer for a while.) At any rate, the previous entry on memoirs led to a mention of A Read more [...]

Memoirs Are Bumming Me Out

November 13th, 2006
I keep a little bookshelf of memoirs in my bedroom, so it's often the shelf into which I dive when I have insomnia. Last night, I began with one book that I have read several times and suddenly realized the writing is shockingly bad. I had never mistaken it for high art, but -- yowza. It was like checking the nutritional label on a favorite food that I believed to be semi-acceptable and finding out it was basically lard laced witih sodium. So I moved on to Ann Patchett's Truth and Beauty, a book Read more [...]

Too Good to be True

November 8th, 2006
No partisanship here, just a local note: Homegirl is going to be the speaker of the house. Nancy Pelosi is Baltimore born, bred and buttered, a member of a storied political family here. In fact, her brother features in a Baltimore Sun legend, a story so good that we all know it's probably not true. Still, we tell it. Now, one thing about being a reporter -- you blame a lot of stuff on the bosses. "I hate to ask this, but my editor says . . ." Or, sometimes, you blame it on the faceless entity known Read more [...]


October 25th, 2006
I was taking a trip down memory lane yesterday, driving the roads of the suburb where I went to high school, when I saw this campaign sign."Titman for Judge." The candidate is David Titman, a local lawyer. I'm sure he has heard every possible joke about his name. Still . . . "Titman for Judge." My father was enchanted with a candidate in Delaware, an Asian-American man whose sign simply said: "Woo." But still . . . "Titman for Judge" It's against the law to steal campaign signs in Maryland. But if Read more [...]

The Evanston Express

October 13th, 2006
I went to school in Evanston, the town/suburb directly north of Chicago. Evanston was dry at the time, so if you wanted to drink, you had to take the 'el to Howard Street, the border between Chicago and Evanston. (You also needed a fake ID, as the drinking age was 21 in Chicago, although it has been 18 back in my home state of Maryland.) Howard Street was also where you changed to catch trains downtown. But during rush hours, you could get lucky and catch something called the Evanston Express, which Read more [...]

She’s ooooooold, isn’t she?

October 10th, 2006
The temptation was to call this entry "Galley Slave," but I fell back on my favorite line from His Girl Friday. Walter (Cary Grant): What about Hildy's old age? Think of Hildy. I can see her now. White-haired, lavender and old lace. Can't you see her, Bruce?Bruce (Ralph Bellamy): Yes, yes, I can.Walter: She's old, isn't she?It helps to know the spin that Cary Grant gives that last line. At any rate, I am feeling quite elderly this morning because I am going over the galleys for, lord help me, the Read more [...]

School Pictures

September 23rd, 2006
First, you need to know about the hand-me-downs. I was the younger of two girls, three years apart, so I inherited my sister's clothes, which were immaculate and pristine when passed down to me, but not necessarily clothes I would have chosen and, given our age difference, never in style. In third grade, I either had a growth spurt or I wasn't tall enough. At any rate, I got to buy a whole new wardrobe for school, instead of just a few pieces. There was a rust-colored corduroy jumper that I believe Read more [...]

The People’s Choice Award

September 20th, 2006
Not exactly a memory, but -- Baltimore Noir, edited by moi (sorry, I liked the almost rhyme) has been chosen the best local book by readers of the City Paper. Bear in mind, Anne Tyler had a book out this year (Digging to America, wonderful as usual) and there's no beating Tyler in a readers' poll. Until this year. Sixteen stories, fifteen neighborhoods -- we were a mathematical lock. But let me state for the record: There was no walking-around money involved and no problems at the polls. As the Read more [...]

Future Tense

September 5th, 2006
Are you ever conscious of a memory in the making? Yesterday, on a whim, we went to see the Nationals play. (The Orioles were out of town.) Decent weather, small crowd, stellar game. The Nats' pitcher, Ortiz, was carrying a no-hitter into the ninth -- and he hit a homerun in the bottom of the eighth. He gave up the no-hitter on the second pitch of the ninth, but this may be the closest I ever get to seeing a no-hitter and, given the rarity with which I attend games in the National League, the only Read more [...]


August 22nd, 2006
Sorry it's been so quiet. I'm working hard, with a challenging-but-not-impossible deadline of Sept. 1 for my next book. I tried to figure out how many deadlines I've had in my working life: twelve novels (counting the one in progress); a dozen-plus short stories; maybe a dozen more freelance articles. One anthology as an editor. Oh, and twenty years of journalism where I think I wrote at least forty-fifty pieces a year, closer to a hundred if I was covering a political campaign or legislative session. Read more [...]

Impulse buys

August 4th, 2006
I am Costco's bitch. It's the one place where my impulse buys far outnumber the items on my list. Today, I went in for bottled water and came out with:DVDsA nifty Pyrex cooking/storage systemCheeseSuper-soft bedsocksGel pens. But the item that briefly tantalized me was a . . . timeclock. I just thought it would be very funny to have it in my kitchen, that I could punch in every morning, make other members of the household punch in and out. If, for example, someone was sitting at a computer, obsessing Read more [...]


July 31st, 2006
We went to the pool all day. It was an L-shaped pool, a swim club in the Baltimore tradition -- just a pool, wading pool, basketball courts, ping-pong table, a shuffleboard court. No golf, no tennis. No one EVER showered before entering pool, despite what the sign said. In the water, we played: Marco Polo, underwater tag, freeze tag, regular tag. It was a strict place, so no toys were allowed in the pool -- no balls, no floatation devices. But it was in the pre-liability era, so there was a high Read more [...]

Hanan’s Fine Foods

July 17th, 2006
Events conspired in an interesting way this morning to all but force me to tour my old school, Northwestern. Granted, I had decided to take my laptop to downtown Evanston, to a Starbucks about where I remember the old movie theater once stood on Sherman Avenue. But I didn't plan on my laptop not being charged. So I stowed it in the trunk of the rental car and took a quick walk. Downtown Evanston has almost no stores or restaurants I remember, save the Burger King. And many buildings have been added Read more [...]

Memed Again

July 1st, 2006
From the blog of Edward Champion (Return of the Reluctant), which I've always read, but now am reading with even more intense interest. 1. Have you ever been searched by the cops?Nope.2. Do you close your eyes on roller coasters?For a minute here or there. I used to love them, by the way, but last summer, I realized something had changed, and my stomach wasn’t up for it. Yet I still love log flume type rides. Go figure. 3. When’s the last time you’ve been sledding?This past winter, in Patterson Read more [...]

TMP: Party Time

June 27th, 2006
This is tricky because it's not a memory that most can share. But let's see what I can do. My first book party fell on the day of a snowstorm, which did not play to Baltimore's strengths. It was a middling snow, as such things go, but those are the ones that seem to discombobulae us the most. Still, people came to the store where I signed -- including friends from as far away as Minnesota and Texas, in a surprise visit. The party was held at the home of two good friends, married co-workers. It was Read more [...]

Reminder: E-mail for access to tour blog

June 20th, 2006
The tour blog is private. Those who want access should e-mail me.

We Interrupt this Blog — A Focus Group

June 16th, 2006
To blog or not to blog. More specifically, to tour blog or not to tour blog.Pros, from my point-of-view: I dunno. What are the pros of a tour blog? I loved Laurie King's, but -- she's Laurie King! Ditto Lee Child. Lee Child's tour blog is more exciting than some people's novels. Debonair Englishmen flies across the country, is greeted everywhere by adoring women, drinks excellent beer, watches Yankees. Man, change the locale to Boston and the team to the Red Sox, and it's practically a Spenser novel. Read more [...]

TMP: Aquahart Boulevard

June 11th, 2006
It's Route 2 on most maps, although a few might include "Governor Ritchie Highway" as well. To locals, it's "_the_ Ritchie Highway," as if we're worried it might be confused with some lesser Ritchie Highway. For years, it was the only route to 50, which takes one across the Bay Bridge and onto the shore, but now we have an Interstate to do the heavy lifting to 50. (Which is a shame, because it means you don't go past Ann's Footlongs, an amazing hotdog stand that refused to sell out to a big mall, Read more [...]

TMP: Thirty

June 7th, 2006
I stole this from Karen at First Offenders. But her post about being thirty got me wondering -- if forty is the new thirty, why is it that there are so many bright young twenty-somethings writing crime novels these days, or trying to? When I started out, Dennis Lehane was, at 30, the youngest guy in the room, with Sujata Massey clearly the youngest gal. The other "youngsters" included Harlan Coben, Steve Hamilton, Rick Riordan and, well, me -- all thirtysomething IIRC. I have a theory about this. Read more [...]

TMP: Prom Dresses

June 5th, 2006
Baltimore magazine recently ran a photo of me in my prom dress. I'm sure you're all profoundly disappointed that it's not on line. Two things struck me about the photo, which I provided for an article about Baltimore's strange obsession with high school. 1) The hair. Oh lord, the hair. And 2) My prom dress is strangely similar to the dress I wore to the Edgars banquet in 2005.A good prom dress was hard to find when I graduated from high school. My mother and I must have made at least three different Read more [...]

TMP: A Digression

May 31st, 2006
In "When Harry Met Sally," the Carrie Fisher character says: "Everyone thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor, but they can't all possibly be right." Or does she?* I just wrote that off the top of my head natural, to use a favorite Baltimore-ism, as opposed to checking it on IMDB. When Nicholson Baker wrote "U and I," one of my favorite books, he did the same thing, trusted his memory of John Updike's novels, then used footnotes to confess, oh so cheerfully, where he got it wrong.Now I Read more [...]

TMP: Twelve Seconds

May 10th, 2006
The Wright Brothers' first flight lasted twelve seconds, a fact I learned at the National Air & Space Museum. It sticks with me, when so other facts fail to, because it strikes me as about the same length of time that one can maintain excitement/wonder at flight. Actually, I was probably excited for most of my first flight, on an Eastern jet from Baltimore to Atlanta, when I was 10 or 11. This was an annual trip, sometimes twice-yearly, and we usually drove, which took 11.5 hours. So I was pretty Read more [...]

We Interrupt this Blog — Memed Again

May 5th, 2006
Stolen from Terry: (• I am: waiting for my furnace to be inspected. • I want: an assistant. Someone who could, for example, wait for the furnace inspector.• I wish: I had some sour cream in the house. • I hate: people who rationalize behavior in themselves -- gridlocking interesections, for example -- that they find unacceptable in others. • I love: lamp! (Inside joke). • I miss: someone that no one suspects that I miss. • I fear: more things than I can enumerate.• Read more [...]

TMP: Mary McCarthy’s THE GROUP

April 14th, 2006
If I were to start an Internet-based quiz called "Which member of the 'Group' are you?" do you think may people would play? Is it possible to name the eight members of THE GROUP off the top of one's head, or will the list come up one short, a la the Seven Dwarves? Let's see: Kay, Helena, Libby, Lakey, Dottie, Priss, Polly, Pokey . . . you'll have to take my word on it, I did it in three seconds. Then again, the eight girls have true narratives, unlike the dwarves, who just have adjectives.I can't Read more [...]

TMP: Ten Things I Knew in Kindergarten

March 29th, 2006
It's a memory. It's a meme. It's a memory. It's a meme. It's two blog entries in one!First of all, don't confuse this with the self-help/inspirational title of many years back, EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN. (An aside: Really? What about long division? What about tampons? What about putting on pantyhose? I'm sorry, but all kindergarten gave me was phonics, which has left me with the inability to use about 30 percent of my vocabulary in conversation.) No, these are the things Read more [...]

TMP: Pity Party

March 21st, 2006
I did say that I thought I could be here as often as once or twice a month, right? Anyway, a progress report. The enforced hours away from the computer help a lot. Also, I park the wireless mouse on the left side of the computer. Arm's improving.I had meant to include the following in the original post. It's a passage from Stephen King's ON WRITING that reminds me that I don't know what pain is."That first writing session lasted an hour and forty minutes, by far the longest period I'd spent sitting Read more [...]

TMP: Sleeping Monsters

March 18th, 2006
I had a lot of jobs in my teens -- lifeguard, swimming instructor, Swiss Colony cheese pusher, factory worker (two days) -- but, mostly, I babysat. I had a regular gig my first two years in college, sitting with the precocious daughter of a journalism prof. When she was awake, I was expected (quite rightly) to play with her. And I did. We read books, we took walks. But when I was very, very tired, as college students often seem to be, we played a game called Sleeping Monsters. I was the mother monster, Read more [...]

TMP: Answering Machines (A Cry for Help)

March 14th, 2006
I bought my first answering machine in 1989 or 1990. It was a small black rectangle with a miniature cassette tape. It blinked red when it had messages. How I hated it, for the machine confirmed that very few people called me. Eventually, I switched to voicemail. Now I cringe when I see the blue light flashing at me, a light so bright and pulsing that I can see it through the frosted glass as I unlock the door. Fran Leibowitz was right: Adolescence is the last time you'll ever be glad to hear the Read more [...]

TFPP (The Found Poetry Project)

March 9th, 2006
In my handwriting on a scrap of paper found on the floor today:"A sole-shaped knish sold outside the train station." There's also a phone number, NOT in my handwriting. I haven't a clue. Looks like someone's food memory, a la Nora Ephron's recent ode to Hungarian whatever on the op-ed pages of the New York Times, but "sole-shaped knish" didn't come up on Google. I am a sucker for a good food tip. (Go back and read Ed Levine's piece on chicken soup for the Times, assuming it's still on line.)"A sole-shaped Read more [...]

TMP: Bikes

March 7th, 2006
My first bicycle was used, painted a dull, flat blue. It was purchased after my father had a good night at poker. And it had, for reasons no one knew, a small metal elephant sitting on the back fender. I loved that elephant. I thought it gave my bike distinction. That bike started with training wheels, but I soon shed them in the traditional way -- father running alongside, then letting go, so I was on my own. There was the honey-gold Schwinn with the wicker basket; it showed up Christmas morning, Read more [...]

TMP: RIP Kolchak

February 26th, 2006
It's a ritual in these parts: I buy bananas, they don't get eaten, I make banana bread with toasted coconut and macademian nuts. On Thursday morning, I had a spare hour and I stirred up two loaves of banana bread, while watching "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" on the SciF Channel.For the young'uns . . . the ABC Movie of the Week was once a very big deal, kind of the HBO Sunday night lineup of its day. And one of the ones I remember most vividly was "The Night Stalker," a vampire tale set in Las Vegas. Read more [...]

TMP: Media Darling

February 23rd, 2006
My first appearance in the media was my birth announcement, which appeared in (among others) the Sparta (Ga.) Ishmaelite. Could I make that up? If a proper lady's name appears in a newspaper only three times, I am most improper. My scrapbook includes a photo of me, hair wildly uncombed, with the principal of my nursery school; me posing as Sleeping Beauty in the Columbia Mall, part of some odd Halloween or April Fool's edition of the Columbia Flyer; and, of course, the "It's Academic" photo, which Read more [...]

TMP: Sucker!

February 22nd, 2006
Why does a sentient human being who reads lots and lots of book reviews plunk down $25 for a book that she's pretty sure she's not going to like?Because I had to find out what happened to Corinne and Russell Calloway. Duh. I'm very fond of BRIGHTNESS FALLS, Jay McInerney's attempt to -- in his paraphrased words, but I think I'm pretty close -- do the BONFIRE OF VANITIES but with heart. (Isn't that like making a gin martini, but with chocolate? Which is JUST WRONG, by the way. Frankly, I don't even Read more [...]

TMP: Sick days

February 17th, 2006
Is it possible, as an adult, to recapture the comforts of a sick day? When I had a fever or an upset stomach -- mere colds were not enough to excuse one from school -- I was put to bed in my room, the old black-and-white television playing at the other end. Pre-remote, it would usually stay on one channel all day, not that there was anything good to watch. No, between "Dialing for Dollars" and "Dark Shadows," it was mostly soap operas. (I got hooked on "One Life to Live" at an early age, largely Read more [...]

TRP: An Interim Report

February 13th, 2006
It's not going well. I'm behind in all my "assigned" reading. Does this mean I haven't been reading? Not at all. I read Bob Ward's "Four Kinds of Rain." I re-read TRUTH AND BEAUTY. I've started reading Liz Perle's book on women and money. I read Jane Bryant Quinn's book on money. (Do you detect a theme? Please do not worry. I am not struggling with an excess of money. Or a deficit. I am struggling with some really stupid pyschological stuff re: money, almost paralyzed by the need to make decisions Read more [...]

TMP: Front-and-Center Goldman

February 10th, 2006
Harand Camp of the Theater Arts is now in its third home in Wisconsin, but when I attended, it was in Elkhart Lake, Wis. Cabins were named, in the most part, for musicals: South Pacific (older boys); Plain & Fancy; Camelot; Brigadoon; Carousel; LaMancha. Our athletic field was Green Pastures; the main building was Wonderful Town. We swam On the Waterfront. (Okay, not a musical.) As for theaters, we had two -- Carnegie Hall, inside Wonderful Town, and the Forrest Tucker Theater in the town of Read more [...]

TMP: It Never Gets Old

February 6th, 2006
The first time I held one of my published books in my hand, I kept putting it on the shelf and saying: "Look, it looks just like a real book!" That memory is very vivid, very clear. Yet I am less sure of what I felt when subsequent books arrived. I do remember the thrill of seeing the cover for The Sugar House, my first hardcover. And I remember the dismay I felt at seeing a prototype cover for one book, which my editor was kind enough to send back to the drawing board. But, in general, key book-related Read more [...]

TMP: Worst Ever, Best Ever

January 31st, 2006
Worst Birthday Ever (Dedicated to my under-30 friends)The day I turned 25 was a drizzly bleak Tuesday in San Antonio, not cold but biting in the way that only Sunbelt cities can be in the grip of below-normal temperatures. I worked the 3-midnight police shift and Tuesday was my Friday. The first call of the day was a fatal fire on the West Side; two children had been killed. The fire was long over by the time I visited the site, but a sweetish smell hung in the air. At the time, I thought the odor Read more [...]

TMP: Strangers on a Plane

January 26th, 2006
The descent was bumpy. "Why is it so bumpy," murmured the woman in the window seat, "when the trees below us aren't moving?" It was bumpy enough to make me feel nauseous and I clutched my arm rests, even checked for the folded bag that has been part of airline travel throughout my lifetime. I've never used one, but it's nice to know they're still there. It had been an uneventful trip from Tampa, the plane relatively empty, so passengers had plenty of personal space, with middle seats largely left Read more [...]

TRP: An Interim Report

January 26th, 2006
I have no bedside table. It's a design thing, part of an effort to keep the bedroom very spare. But I recently decided to "build" a bedside table by taking a stack of books, books I don't intend to read anytime soon, and building them into a tower just high enough and broad enough to hold my small alarm clock. And if I were a smart person, such as Keith, I would include a photograph here.I provide this detail because it's obvious that someone who has a fake TBR pile must have a pretty formidable Read more [...]

TMP: In Change the Ambassadorial

January 18th, 2006
No, I have no idea what it means. But I've been saving the more creative spam subject headers for a while now. And I've decided that this one is as good an excuse as any to ask people what they celebrate and how. How, in effect, do you in change the ambassadorial? Years ago, I started buying myself little gifts when I finished a book, usually a pair of earrings. Nothing expensive or elaborate; I just wanted to mark the occasion. But in 2002, while in Boulder, Colorado with one of the best media escorts Read more [...]

TMP: Feed Fat the Ancient Grudge

January 16th, 2006
The Indianapolis Colts lost yesterday and a lot of people in Baltimore are happy. Okay, I can't say a lot with any authority. I am happy. The four people who were having breakfast next to me this morning were happy, and I believe they will do the right thing and teach their baby girl to be happy, too, when she can understand such things.The Baltimore Colts left town on a snowy night, spirited away by Mayflower moving vans. There are people in Baltimore to this day who won't use Mayflower. Okay, some Read more [...]

TRP: An Interim Report

January 13th, 2006
For newbies here, TRP (The Reading Project) refers to an off-shoot of TMP (The Memory Project). Inspired by the reading habits of the Nolan family in A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, I decided to read a little Shakespeare and the Bible every day. Two weeks into the New Year, it’s already evident that my life won’t accommodate any daily, seven-day-a-week ritual other than moisturizing. So instead of reading one page of S & B daily, I try to read Shakespeare at the rate of one scene per sitting and Read more [...]

TMP: Five Weird Things

January 13th, 2006
Okay, I'm cheating, the "M" stands for meme, but I just found this on Tribe's blog. 1) I'm not superstitious, but I act as if I am. I don't walk under ladders (but, really, it's unsafe) and I hate the no. 13. You'll notice that if comments here stall at 13, I'll usually post again, just to get the number going. That said, I sneer at cities that have no 13th floors listed in their elevators, just jump to 14. Baltimore acknowledges the existence of 13th floors. 2) I re-read children's books, particulary Read more [...]

TMP: Theme Songs

January 8th, 2006
Long before Tracey Ullman told Calista Flockhart that everyone has a theme song, I had contemplated mine. I was 13, on a cross-country trip with my mother, and she had just bought me a wonderfully up-to-the-minute dress (to my Baltimore eyes) at Blum’s in San Francisco. I felt like the star of my own sitcom and, no, I won’t tell you the song that played in my head as I walked down the streets of San Francisco. It’s way too embarrassing. Over the years, I’ve tried on other theme songs, mostly Read more [...]

TMP: We are all Spartacus

January 5th, 2006
Permit a former journalist to tell a few war stories. Imagine me draped over a bar, if you like, at one of the journalist watering holes I've known over the years -- Pat's Idle Hour, Mel's, the Brass Elephant, the CVP in Towson. The first story harkens back to when I was an in-way-over-my-head political reporter for the San Antonio Light, sent to the border to write some sort of news feature on Lloyd Bentsen, the local "boy" who was Dukakis's running mate. Being me (perverse), I ended up writing Read more [...]

TRP: A Comedy of Errors

January 3rd, 2006
So it's the New Year and I'm actually ahead in my reading of Shakespeare and the Bible. If you recall, I pledged only to read a page of each, every night, but I'm ahead because I read a great deal of Genesis in December, then started A Comedy of Errors and found that it's very hard to read just one page of Shakespeare. But not in the Lays potato chip way, I hasten to add. It's just that once I get my Shakespeare vibe up and running, I don't want to stop in a page. So I'm well into the second act Read more [...]

TMP: Fat is Everybody’s Issue

January 3rd, 2006
Recently, an article on "intuitive dieting" led me to look for my worn copy of "Fat is a Feminist Issue," by Susie Orbach. I can't find it. It should be on the shelf devoted to books about eating and cooking -- Laurie Colwin's "Home Cooking" and "More Home Cooking," "The Man Who Ate Everything," Ruth Reichl's memoirs, "Julie/Julia" "Candy Freak," the Amanda Hesser book, "Fat Girl" and "The Fat Girl's Guide to Life." "My Kitchen Wars" Francine Prose's "Gluttony." FIAFI, if you'll allow the shorthand, Read more [...]

TMP: Christmas letters

December 21st, 2005
This will be a long one. Bear with me. So there was this woman at the Baltimore Sun, a Hateful Boss. (She once said to a friend of mine: "Are we supposed to put 'Your child had a fever of 105' on page one, so readers will know why you didn't attend the school board meeting," or words to that effect.) Before she was a Hateful Boss, she was an Obsequious Toady, which is often a prerequisite to achieving Hateful Boss status. And I have to give her this: She saw early that this thing called the Internet Read more [...]

The Meme of Four

December 20th, 2005
The trick is to do it fast!Four jobs you've had in your life: lifeguard, Swiss Colony salesgirl, information desk attendant, journalist.Four movies you could watch over and over: All That Jazz, Quiz Show, Shattered Glass, Miller's CrossingFour Places You've Lived: Baltimore, Evanston, Waco, Cuernavaca.Four TV Shows You Love to Watch: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Freaks and Geeks, The Wire, The Real World (points for honesty, okay?)Four Places You've Been on Vacation: Galway, New Orleans, Charleston Read more [...]

We Interrupt this Blog . . . Found Poetry/Memoirs

December 15th, 2005
A snow/ice/rain weather front moved into Baltimore about noon today and no one could predict what it would be like by 4 p.m. I don't mind driving in snow or rain, but ice is simply impossible around here. So I walked to the soup kitchen where I work Thursday afternoons, a distance of just under three miles.Along the way, I saw a joint called The Opposite Sidewalk Saloon. The sign is positioned in such a way that one would never see it from a car. I filed it away, thinking it would make a good name Read more [...]

TMP: That 70s Show

December 12th, 2005
It should probably be a rule that one can use the term "Proustian" only if one has, in fact, read Proust. So permit me to flout the rule I just made. In researching the mid-70s at the Enoch Pratt today, I took a Proustian hit when I flipped through the pages of an old Seventeen magazine and saw . . . an ad for Noxzema. It's my hunch that Women of a Certain Age are now nodding their heads and inhaling that heady odor. Sharp, tangy, it just missed being medicinal. It was a serious smell for a serious Read more [...]

TRP: Beta Phase

November 28th, 2005
This was predictable. With only a few weeks to go before my 2006 reading project starts officially, I've had a complete meltdown. I spent some quality time with Lenora Mattingly Weber (I Met a Boy I Used to Know) and Maud Hart Lovelace (Betsy and the Great World) and now I'm re-reading The Serial by Cyra McFadden (GREAT satire about Marin County in the 1970s). The really strange thing is that my copy of The Serial fell apart years ago, so I've got only the first 24 chapters, not even half of the Read more [...]

TMP: No Sweet Potatoes, Please

November 22nd, 2005
I was a finicky child, which might be surprising to anyone who knows the strapping adult I've become, or seen the way I now eat. My parents tried many approaches, ranging from nonchalance to "just one bite" to "you will CLEAN your plate." The latter rule was in effect when it was decreed on the day after Thanksgiving that I would not be allowed to skip the sweet potatoes again. On an impulse, I mixed them with my white rice, soaked in turkey gravy. This did not improve either dish. I sat at the round Read more [...]

TRP: A head start on Genesis

November 20th, 2005
I was at a super-long bat mitzvah Saturday (almost three hours) and I flagged a bit in the final stretch, so I began reading Genesis. Made it through most of Adam and Eve, along with Cain and Abel. The thing that struck me was how the omniscient God pretended not to know what Adam and Eve had done. He -- let's just use "He," as it's as the Bible would have it -- has to know, of course. The Judeo-Christian God just loved testing. He was, in some ways, the original Jewish mother. The reading for the Read more [...]

We Interrupt this Blog . . . A Tree Grows . . .

November 16th, 2005
A TREE GROWS IN BALTIMOREOkay, so I've become persuaded that I can keep the Memory Project on track, if I a) post less often and b) cannibalize my pre-teen youth, while saving my teen years for the next book. But I also want to add a new feature to this blog, a reading project. As some of you know -- hey, Joe! -- I'm a huge fan of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a book that has been held back from straight-up classic status, IMHO, because it has a female protagonist. Anyway, those who know the book well Read more [...]

Teen Idol Dichotomy

November 12th, 2005
Because Rosemary asked, in the long-standing debate over David Cassidy vs. Bobby Sherman, I would have to say . . . Mickey Dolenz.But first I need to clarify. I do not think it occurred to me to have crushes on adult men who sang little-girl songs until I first discovered a magazine called "16." I would have been 8 at the time, not that I think that makes me precocious. I think the average 16 reader was a pre-teen. There was also Tiger Beat, a better name if one is writing about that era in fiction Read more [...]

A Quiet Time

November 9th, 2005
So I started to write about a hair dryer, my first, that I received as a Christmas gift when I was 13 or 14. It was a shade deeper than robin's egg blue and came with a little comb attachment. It's a toss-up to this day whether I was inept or the hair dryer was poorly designed, but you'll notice that not many stylists use blow dryers, as they came to be known, in conjunction with combs.Why did I pull the plug? And why didn't I write about what it was like to return to the neighborhood where I grew Read more [...]

We Interrupt this Blog . . . A Fundraiser

October 27th, 2005
I'm not saying that our culture suffers from attention deficit disorder, but . . . remember Katrina? There's a fundraiser for Katrina in Baltimore on Nov. 1, at a club called Sonar. Doors open at 6 p.m. and all ages are welcome.Tickets cost $50. Pricey, I know. But EVERY PENNY goes to Katrina relief. And if you buy a beverage, every penny or profit goes to the relief fund as well. Plus, Wendell "the Bunk" Pierce and other Wire types will be there. Check out for more details.So what Read more [...]

My Parents’ Records — an Update

October 24th, 2005
A favorite breakfast place in Baltimore -- and y'all will all be coming for Bouchercon 2008, right? -- is the Golden West on 36th Street. The menus are all placed inside old album covers, which also have been used to decorate the walls in the bathrooms. I ordered from a Lester Scruggs album, while my dining companion was given a Pete Fountain.And in the ladies room . . . yes, there was "First Family"!Breakfast quesadilla, huevos rancheros, and Frito pie highly recommended, along with lime-aid and Read more [...]

The Second Law of Thermodynamics

October 19th, 2005
Things fall apart. I went to the roof yesterday to read (a book of essays by Marion Winik), have a sunset cocktail. To my shock and horror, an old willow loveseat that I've had for at least 20 years appeared to be smashed. Had it finally succumbed to the abuse of outdoor life, especially the 9 inches of rain we had ten days ago? Or had someone smashed it? (The roof is more accessible than I'd like and there were some bad neighbors, although I thought they had moved.)The collapsed/broken/smashed loveseat Read more [...]

Our Parents’ Bookshelves

October 14th, 2005
I want to start with the shelves themselves -- tall, dark, flanking the fireplace. My sister would inherit those shelves when our parents sold the house, but I don't think the shelves followed her to her new home, purchased three years ago. They were falling apart by then, which seems unfathomable to me. I thought those shelves would stand forever, like Memorial Stadium, which . . . was leveled a few years back. And then there were the objects -- a porcelain duck (why? I don't know, but I own it Read more [...]

My Parents’ Records

October 11th, 2005
Eddy ArnoldJune ChristyCharlie ByrdThat woman with whipped cream all over bodyShow tunes -- Annie Get Your Gun, Guys and Dolls, Camelot.I began thinking about my parents' records when I learned that "the Bride" had won a guitar signed by Jo Dee Messina. [] I like country music and feel sorry for those who don't, although I'd have to put Messina in the guilty pleasure camp. But then I remembered how much I disliked my Read more [...]

Just for Fun

October 1st, 2005
Because I was such a grouch, let's begin October with the Bernard Pivot questionnaire from "In the Actor's Studio." I'll go first:01. What is your favorite word?Serendipity02. What is your least favorite word?Don't03. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?Walking in my neighborhood in the early morning or at dusk.04. What turns you off?Condescension05. What is your favorite curse word?Goddammit06. What sound or noise do you love?Train whistles in the distance.07. What sound or Read more [...]

We Interrupt this Blog . . . Comeback, Please

September 29th, 2005
A contest of sorts, although I haven't decided on the prize. But what should we say to people who say things such as:"Is that the Great American Novel?" (Said by leering man on the make on Amtrak. Same guy thought the details of his just-settled divorce would be absolute catnip.)"When are you going to make a run at the Great American Novel?" (One of the ROMEOs -- Retired Old Men Eating Out -- at my local hang-out.)To the first I said: "It may very well be." To the second: "I already have." But I'm Read more [...]

What Mr. Sammler Knew

September 27th, 2005
At the end of my freshman year in college, I needed to take my bedspread to the dry cleaner. It was a modish brown plaid (Calvin Klein? Some designer who had licensed his/her name.) I don't recall that it was particularly large; in fact, it was almost certainly twin-size. But my friend Ellen helped me carry it to the dry cleaners and, at some point, with the giddy logic of the 19-year-olds we were -- actually I was 19, Ellen was two months away from that birthday -- we put it over our heads, so we Read more [...]


September 10th, 2005
In the early days, my mother carried a rectangular plate, smaller than today's cards, that was good at every Baltimore department store: Hutzler's Hoschild's, Stewart's, Hecht's. The first three are long-gone, the last is about to lose its name and be rechristened Macy's. I didn't understand that the cards got a percentage of the purchase and I puzzled over why these good people wanted to lend us money for free. "They don't make money off people like us," my mother said.For a while, with me, they Read more [...]

“The Beastmaster”

September 9th, 2005
How to explain this movie? How to explain my fondness for this movie -- well, really, two scenes. I like the part where they insert the leech into the brain of the "death guard" and it oozes green, and then he starts rampaging around, and I love it when the ferret takes Rip Torn out. John Amos in a leather diaper! Mark Singer in a leather diaper! I assume it was post-Conan and everyone was saying: Put me in one of those movies where I get to wear a leather (or fur) diaper. And, really, how would Read more [...]

We Interrupt this Blog . . . Katrina

September 5th, 2005
What was the first book you owned? I'm pretty sure mine was THE CAT IN THE HAT COMES BACK, given to me on my third or fourth birthday, when my family was living in Alexandria, VA. Or -- oh so politically incorrect -- LITTLE BLACK SAMBO. I still own the latter, a battered, red-cloth cover on the outside, indefensible illustrations on the inside. According to the listserv DOROTHYL, there's been a call to send books to a Borders in Kirby, Texas, which will then distribute the books to those evacuated Read more [...]

Shave and a Haircut . . .

August 26th, 2005
Do your kids hate haircuts, I asked the stylist who trims and dyes* my hair every six weeks.They did, she said. Why is that? I thought hating haircuts as a kid had to do with going some place dull, sitting still and then being made to look ridiculous. If your mom is this totally cool, very gifted haircutter (don't judge her work by my mess of a head), why wouldn't you love it? Back in the day, Baltimore kids got their hair cut at the barber shops attached to local Hess Shoe stores, where squirrel Read more [...]

Sweat Equity

August 22nd, 2005
When I was 21 and jumping up and down in the fashion of the day to the punk version of "Leavin' on a Jet Plane" as performed by the Swingers, or going to see the Ramones multiple times . . . When I was 23 and danced every minute that the Fabulous Thunderbirds played at the annual LULAC fundraiser in Waco, losing almost five pounds in water weight, so that I had to buy a giant Butterfinger just to have the strength to drive home . . . When I went to West Fest just to see Brave Combo, the "nuclear Read more [...]


August 19th, 2005
My childhood dentist, John Martielli, had an office above a five-and-a-dime -- or was it a grocery? -- in the Woodlawn section of Baltimore. We went twice a year. I climbed the staircase, hoping against hope I wouldn't have cavities. Over the course of my childhood, I must have had six-eight and each one left me with the feeling that I had been stamped UNCLEAN. (My sister seldom had cavities.) There was always a debate about who got to go first; we Lippmans were big believers in getting unpleasant Read more [...]

You Scream, I Scream

August 17th, 2005
At Northwestern University, the history department was quite good and there were several professors who had famous lectures. Wiebe -- did I really summon that name from my memory banks? -- performed a 19th century melodrama that was intended to showcase, um, I'm no longer sure. Family relations? Henry Binford did ice cream. Evanston, after all, was home of the ice cream sundae, a WCTU (Women's Christian Temperance Union) alternative to those sinful, fizzy sodas. And IIRC (the Memory Project's official Read more [...]

“The Godfather”

August 10th, 2005
It was seventh grade and I can see the dimpled, clownish face of the boy who brought the book, but I can't recall his name. He read the section where Johnny Fontaine's actress wife came home from a night of adultery and Johnny couldn't even bring himself to hit her in the face. I think the line that moved us to awed silence was "Johnny never fucked me." I was already quite the dirty-book specialist, but this was a DIRTY BOOK. I bided my time, knowing it would come into my hands eventually.Strangely, Read more [...]

Funny Lady

August 7th, 2005
Here's the tough trick about adulthood for me -- divided loyalties. I want everyone I love to love one another. And when I dislike someone, I want those who love me to dislike that person, too. Which means that I should dislike anyone disliked by those I love. Talk about ignorant armies clashing by night.It's just not possible. So I've turned it around, accepted F.Scott Fitzgerald's dictum about the first-rate mind's ability to hold two conflicting thoughts, and learned to understand that someone Read more [...]

Heating Pads

August 4th, 2005
I thought I might need a heating pad, but was reminded in the drugstore yesterday that technology marches on -- BenGay patches, these one-time-use thingies that wrap around the afflicted area with the help of velcro. Oh brave new world, etc.Still, I felt wistful for the heating pad we had when I was a child. I think it was used for mild earaches because I didn't have a lot of other aches as a kid. That treatment has probably gone out of fashion, along with taking Coca-Cola syrup for an upset stomach. Read more [...]


July 29th, 2005
The city where I was born is inaccessible to me now, a complete mystery, a mosaic. I no longer know how anything connects, how to get from Point A to Point B. I recognize pieces and I know some places, but the way the city fits together was wiped from my mind long ago. My hotel was opposite Lenox Square, where my grandfather walked every day. My grandfather had three heart attacks before I was born and he made the recommended lifestyle changes with a disciplined zeal I've yet to see in the rest of Read more [...]

Home Movies

July 21st, 2005
My mother has finally taken the home movies and had them placed on videotape and on my parents' 50th anniversary we watched the footage of their wedding day. Part of it was shot by a cousin, who seemed a) entranced with cars and b) indifferent to people's heads. "I guess we know why he lost that football scholarship to Auburn," my father remarked. When my sister and I were kids, we watched these movies a lot and the family lore is that I kept asking plaintively when I would show up. My sister was Read more [...]

“Nervous But Determined”

July 10th, 2005
The call came in November 1979. It was the secretary to Joel Goodman, a producer at CBS News. "Look," she said, "we just wanted to give you a heads up. John J. O'Connor reviewed the show in the Times today and he wasn't kind. But he never likes anything we do." "Okay," I said. I was 20 years old, my photograph was in the New York Times and the accompanying review described me as "nervous but determined." I was pretty blase about it.But you probably need to know more.In my first two years at Northwestern, Read more [...]

Hotels and Motels

July 1st, 2005
I know. Long time, no see. I've been touring, which led me to think about hotels and motels, which I dearly love, short term. With age comes snobbery, or at least a taste for creature comfort, so I do like Fluffy Bathrobe Hotels when I'm lucky enough to stay in them. But in my youth, I was no Eloise. My family stayed at Quality Inns and Holiday Inns and Travelers Inns, the one with the sleepwalking bear, a once intriguing and terrifying logo. I watched an eclipse of the moon from the second-floor Read more [...]

Fire Flies

June 16th, 2005
We caught them in jars, yes. Jars with lids with holes punched in them. Jars with a paper towel stretched across and held in place by a rubber band. Why? Because we could. Because someone showed us how. I was an adult before someone told me that a firefly (or lightning bug) wouldn't leave my finger if I kept walking; I test that theory sometimes, but I don't capture them in jars anymore. That didn't turn out so well. I dropped the Mason jar and a shard bounced up from the pavement, cutting a neat Read more [...]


June 6th, 2005
A classmate wrote -- not the one who tied me to a tree -- and asked if I remembered him. I knew him the moment I saw his distinctive name in the e-mail address. As RR recalled, I was his first girlfriend. He was not, I must report, my first boyfriend; that was Rusty, back in nursery school. I arrived at school one day and saw a younger man with a blond crewcut putting the pots and pans in the refrigerator. "You must be a bachelor," I said. "You need a woman." Ah, why did it get so much harder to Read more [...]

Growth Spurts

June 1st, 2005
I'm 5-foot-9 and have been since my mid-teens, but I never had a growth spurt. I just kept adding inches, slow and steady, to everyone's amazement. For one thing, I was a low birthweight baby. (Under 5.5. pounds.) Plus, everyone else in my immediate family is small-boned. If you see me with my father, mother and sister, the only conclusion to draw is that there was just enough food for one person and I got it all. In grade school, however, I was smaller than my sister and wore her hand-me-downs much Read more [...]

As Chairwoman of the Reception Committee

May 24th, 2005
Is it possible to warn children to use their lovely sponge brains carefully? To tell them -- this is it, this is what you will remember, these are the things that will crowd out your adult attempts to gather SERIOUS THINGS into your brittle gray matter? For a lot of boys, it's baseball and popular music; don't get me started on how these two things have been fetishized to High Seriousness. ("Ask me what's on the B-Side," Shrevie says in DINER. His wife stares in confusion; his best friend just does Read more [...]

Adam and the Meme

May 20th, 2005
I should probably save this for the July letter on my website -- June is done, by the by, aren't I the eternal grade-grubbind nerd -- but it's on my mind this dismal rainy afternoon. Plus, I've noticed that the folks who frequent these parts seem to like memes, no matter how ancient.A few weeks back in the blogosphere (yes, this is equivalent to "A long time ago, in a galaxy far away . . . ") people started listing movies they could watch over and over. I first saw it on Victor Gischler's excellent Read more [...]

Hello, Sweetheart — Get Me Rewrite

May 11th, 2005
Here's a story about where a single memory can take you.I was playing radio roulette and I hit the country station in the middle of SHeDaisy's "Little Goodbyes." In the song, the clearly disgruntled girlfriend brags that she "left the litter and took the cat." This actually happened to someone I know, at least 15 years before this song was on the radio. His wife called him at work and told him to come to the airport if he wanted to dissuade her from leaving. He headed to the airport. She, meanwhile, Read more [...]

Eating. Again. Again.

May 5th, 2005
Checking through the archives, I've noticed that food is most likely to get others here to write about their memories.I just spent 10 weeks on something we called "the Edgar Initiative" because if someone says the word "diet" in front of me I insert my head into a bag of chocolate peanut clusters from Eddie's and refuse to come up for air. So here's what I've had since I hung the dress up in the back of my closet. Not that I plan never to fit into it again, just that I plan to have a little fun for Read more [...]

School Days

May 4th, 2005
Today was my last class at Goucher. I still have grades to submit (and several final papers to read), but it had the sweet finality I remember from other last-days-of-school. So, here we are. Again. But instead of writing about my last-day-of-school, I'm going to cut-and-paste here the story about George Slade, written in my last year at The Sun. I had met George on a previous story and he dearly wanted to be quoted, but he just didn't fit. Later, I could have kicked myself. He was 9! All he wanted Read more [...]

We Interrupt this Blog . . . Again

May 2nd, 2005
The Old Hag ( refused to pass this meme to me, on the grounds that I was too well-dressed. Unfair! So I'm taking it anyway. You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. Which book do you want to be? So I have to memorize a book? Then it's Lolita. But if I'm living in a book, I want it to be one of the later Oz books, probably Glinda of Oz, or an Edward Eager, either Half Magic or Seven Day Magic.Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?Joe Willard (Betsy-Tacy) and Jules of All-of-A-Kind Read more [...]

The Dickey Hill Book Fair

May 1st, 2005
First, let's get the "Dickey" stuff out of the way. I grew up in Dickeyville, a former mill village on the banks of the Gwynn's Falls, where the Dickey family had once run the mill. I went to Dickey Hill Elementary School. I've heard all the jokes, as have the kids from Cockeysville. Get over it.When I was in second or third grade, the school started a spring book fair. A mimeographed sheet of titles would be distributed and students were expected to make a shopping list before they were admitted Read more [...]

The #15 Lorraine

April 24th, 2005
In my youth, Baltimore City had "open enrollment," a policy that probably kept the desegregration of schools here at bay a little while longer, as one theoretically could attend any school. The city's best and the brightest competed for slots in the "A" course at Western and Polytechnic, public schools that were allowed to be same sex schools well into the '70s. Finally, a girl enrolled at Poly, which was known for its math and science curriculum. Poly trained the engineers, City College trained Read more [...]

Clothes Make the Woman . . . Insane

April 23rd, 2005
It's spring-cleaning time and I've been cleaning out the Fibber McGee closet in my office, so it can do double-duty as the office supply larder/off-season clothing storage. (An aside: Boo-frickin'-hoo, she has to store her off-season clothes next to her office supplies. Yeah, I know. But I lived for a while in a one-bedroom apartment with six closets and it forever changed my concept of what adequate closet space is.)I think it's been established elsewhere on this site that I was officially Hard Read more [...]

Forgotten Writers, Remembered Poems

April 18th, 2005
Another forgotten writer and this one is unfathomable to me: W.S. Merwin. I spent quite a bit of time with him back in 1994, when he came to Columbia -- MD not U. of -- for a lecture. In the time I spent with him, I seemed to remember every line of poetry I had ever studied -- and even some I hadn't. I found myself quoting Villon -- where are the snows of yesteryear -- when I was usually more apt to think that was a lyric written by the "I Do, I Do" team. Then this weekend, I read that Tony Kushner Read more [...]

Heartbreak in a Syllable

April 7th, 2005
"Hi," said the toddler in the stroller. "He's getting so he knows you," said his mother. And I felt very warm and happy -- until I remembered that he knows me because I'm a volunteer at a soup kitchen where his family eats almost every week. Bubba is pale, with dark blonde hair and large, greenish eyes that demand comparison to some exotic, nocturnal animal, but I'm never sure which one. He's a good eater. That's how I know the kids who pass through my station regularly. Good eaters, spillers, talkers, Read more [...]

And the Pulitzer goes to . . .

April 5th, 2005
Three things happened yesterday. The Pulitzers were awarded. I had a hilarious/neurotic exchange with the writer Bob "Red Baker" Ward. Which reminded me that Bob Ward has a cameo, if you will, in an article that should have won the Pulitzer. I'm going to reprint it here, in several takes. (It's long, over 5,000 words.) As I recall, this story wasn't submitted for the Pulitzer. My boss at the time said: "Stories like that don't win Pulitzers." That's all you need to know about the flaws inherent in Read more [...]

Divining Comedy, Part II

April 5th, 2005
Why did Burton search for the Nile? Why did Amundsen trek to the South Pole? Why did McGuire seek Amsterdam? The answer is simple: It was their destiny. Plus, somebody else paid the way.For years I nursed the dream of going out to Hollywood and divining comedic truth from my mythical dean, Morey Amsterdam. I longed to understand the cosmic mysteries of comedy: Why is funny funny? How does one become funny? Am I funny enough? Somewhere in those Hollywood Hills I knew I could find the answers.My role Read more [...]

Divining Comedy, Part III

April 5th, 2005
The next day I drive up above Sunset Boulevard into the older Truesdale Estates section of Beverly Hills. About three-quarters of the way up a steep hill, in a neighborhood lined with impossibly tall palm trees and incredibly posh dream houses, I find Morey's place, a rambling, one-story structure spread over an acre and a half.A woman in a crisp white uniform answers the door and I step into a bright, airy foyer tastefully appointed -- as is the entire house -- in the art and architecture of the Read more [...]

Divining Comedy, Part IV

April 5th, 2005
Five miles away, on the second floor of the massive CBS television complex in Hollywood, another funny man in flannel shirt and jeans stares at me across a desk. But Dennis Miller, the cerebral edge-meister who made a name for himself as the caustic newsman on NBC's ``Saturday Night Live,'' is clearly a man of irony, not love.``Did you see the sign on the door?'' he chuckles when I bring up the name Morey Amsterdam. He walks me back to the entrance and points out the name he had installed there.Alan Read more [...]

Divining Comedy, Part V

April 5th, 2005
Much later, at Hollywood's most famous landmark of humor, the Improv comedy club, Kevin Rooney, bald enough for Miller to refer to him as Remulak -- after the home planet of the hairless Coneheads -- listens to my Hollywood School dream and smiles.``You know the joke about comedy writers,'' he says, ``is that you take all the dropouts from high school and they're making a quarter-million a year out here, because they're too dumb to get a regular job.''He has paid his dues with a decade working the Read more [...]

Divining Comedy, Part VI

April 5th, 2005
The next day at a Sunset Strip restaurant called the Source, I have lunch with Greg Dean, who runs a school for stand-up comedians. A veteran of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey clown college as well as the comedy-club circuit, he describes himself as a comedy clinician. In the next two hours I begin to realize the wisdom of E. B. White when he suggested dissecting humor was like dissecting a frog: complete goosh.``My basic piece of theory,'' he begins, ``is that all comedy happens in the Read more [...]

Best [Insert Food Here] Ever

March 28th, 2005
I'm not sure it's ethical to state this in a publicly accessible online forum, but my students at Goucher this year are an extraordinary group. I'm also not sure I should single out a recent story, which had an enormous effect on me. In part, I realize now, because I have lived it. It centers on a middle-age woman's memory of the best peach she ever ate. But, of course, its true subject is memory, how delectable the peach seems in hindsight. There was much discussion if the peach was, in fact, the Read more [...]

Let’s Get Lost

March 21st, 2005
Although it's hard to make a generalization on the basis of twice, I always get lost driving to Charlottesville. But then, I get lost a lot, although I have an excellent sense of direction. I love getting lost, although usually in hindsight. Good things happen. The single biggest scoop of my journalism career, for example.However, when I got lost as a 5-year-old at Mount Vernon, it wasn't fun. I ducked behind a wall to get a drink at a water fountain. When I emerged, my family was gone. (We were Read more [...]

The Lift

March 16th, 2005
It's Terry Teachout's observation that writing begets writing; it's merely my experience. I've been updating this blog fairly regularly and the other writing in my life is flowing. So -- the story I promised in the backblog.I was (am) a big-boned female. If my facial resemblance to both parents was not so pronounced, one would doubt that those fine-boned, high-metabolic types produced me. But they apparently did and, like Topsy, I grew and grew and grew. (Aside: Can one say "Like Topsy" anymore? Read more [...]


March 15th, 2005
Is it a given that one never remembers one's own tantrums because they occur at such a young age? Then again, perhaps that screaming fight with my boss (September 1999, I won't every forget that) counts as a tantrum. And I vividly remember one thing I screamed, so the entire department could hear me: "WHEN ARE YOU EVER GOING TO STAND UP AND DO WHAT'S RIGHT, JOURNALISTICALLY, AS OPPOSED TO WHAT YOU THINK IS MOST POLITICALLY EXPEDIENT FOR YOUR CAREER?" By the way, it's my grudge against that particular Read more [...]

A Bag of Peanuts

March 14th, 2005
The Memory Project isn't so much about memory as it is about trying to recount memorable events with concrete detail and thereby reclaim the emotion of the event. At least, that's today's claim.So when a vivid memory of mine came up against three family members who had no recollection of it, I refused to back down. They admitted it _could_ be true (well, two out of three did). Besides, the event wouldn't be memorable to them, so it's plausible that they forgot it while it burns on in my feverish Read more [...]

Ridley Pearson

March 11th, 2005
Another forgotten writer. And this one really is inexcusable. Ridley was one of the first writers I interviewed after moving to the features section of the Baltimore Sun. I think the piece was assigned to me, but perhaps I lobbied for it after reading the press materials on Pearson. At any rate, I remember it was a lovely autumn day and he was staying at the Radisson in Baltimore. For some reason, I even remember what I was wearing, a pale green dress from Banana Republic. We went to lunch or coffee Read more [...]

I Forgot

March 9th, 2005
Other writers I interviewed: Dave Eggers. Roddy Doyle. Sebastian Junger. Marion Winik.This list could continue to grow. Being forgotten clearly means nothing as Doyle and Junger were too of my all-time favorites, and Marion and I have socialized since she moved to the area. (Oh, and Jonathan Harr.)You know what really bugs me, though? The list is overwhelmingly male. How did this happen? Am I sexist? Do male writers tour more often than females? I need to go brood on this. Read more [...]

We Interrupt this Blog -

February 28th, 2005
. . . to bring you yet another variation on the "Ten Things" meme.Here are 10 things I got to do because I was a reporter:1) Went on a rattlesnake round-up with a man named Butch. "We" caught 17 snakes.2) Was selected as an alternate for "American Gladiator." 3) Got into a shouting match with George W. Bush, who was campaigning for his father -- and resented being contradicted on his utterly false statements about the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project.4) Was hugged by Boris Yeltsin, Read more [...]


February 25th, 2005
I encourage it. I encourage it in the Harriet the Spy way - listening to people you can't see and trying to figure out what they look like -- but I also believe in just listening to people in order to appreciate the rhythms of speech and the way people organize the facts of their lives when presenting them to others. Overheard today (ellipses sub out the questions asked by the hairdresser.): "I'm moving to California so I want a new look . . . Wednesday. I guess I need bangs. Bangs are the thing Read more [...]

Falling In

February 15th, 2005
The Gwynn's Falls wends its way through western Baltimore County and into Baltimore City and its path includes Dickeyville, the neighborhood where I grew up. (Go ahead -- try to make an original joke about the name. It comes from the Dickey family, by the way, who ran the mill.) When we first moved to the neighborhood, the dam was falling apart, but it was capable of holding back a flat, smooth expanse of water that could be counted on to freeze at least a couple of times per winter. When I was 6 Read more [...]

Valentine’s Day

February 11th, 2005
My father was a procrastinator, a last-minute guy. One year, he got home so late that he didn't have time to stop and buy Valentines for my mother, sister and me. So he decorated the house in toilet paper with hearts applied in lipstick. I've gotten flowers and candy and even earrings for Valentine's Day, although I was never a femme fatale. In fact, I was so _not_ a femme fatale that it might be logical to assume that I would remember those lovely gifts with some clarity. Nope. What I remember is Read more [...]

Time Capsule of Yearning

January 23rd, 2005
Some context: Cabin fever makes me clean. Stuck at home, I started the day by sorting out the basement, a task that was initiated back in September for Tropical Storm Isabel, in which all the boxes of books in the basement were placed on pallets, and -- that was about it. The storm passed, the books didn't get wet, the basement didn't seem so urgent until the BG&E men dropped by last month and I felt a cringing embarrassment. "I'm sorry it's so messy," I kept repeating. "We've seen much worse," Read more [...]

My Toboggan

January 23rd, 2005
It was considered unusual at the time -- a flat-to-the-ground piece of waxed wood, curving at the front, an outsider in a world of Flexible Flyers. But it provided a better, faster ride in a climate where deep snows were rare, which meant a sled's runners couldn't get much traction. The path we most often took ran alongside the Monaghans' property, next to the wire fence that separated it from the Pfeiffers, an older couple with the most beautiful and well-cared garden I had ever seen. The path ended Read more [...]

How This Works. Or Doesn’t

January 20th, 2005
Since the crush of last fall's deadlines, I haven't been able to post here as much as I did in the early months. But the recent quiet is not a byproduct of too much work. I've been reflecting on the nature of the Memory Project and wondering if it falls into the category of "hypnotic" techniques that my teaching mentor, Madison Smartt Bell, discourages.Some background. I wrote about Bell, his wife (the poet Elizabeth Spires) and the Goucher College writing program in the fall of 2001. The program Read more [...]

Try to Remember

January 2nd, 2005
My Hamilton Beach hand-mixer is not long for this world. Then again, it is almost 24 years old. It has outlasted cars and hair dryers, a set of Revereware, several computers, bicycles, my first Cuisinart. And I'm a good enough cook, or at least dutiful enough and extravagant enough, to reward myself with one of those lovely KitchenAid mixers. So why do I cling to this Hamilton Beach, whose cord has a tenuous connection to the mixer at best, which rattles and hums ominously? Simple: It was a college Read more [...]

Santa, baby

December 25th, 2004
My sister told me. As it often happened, she had some hot intelligence and no one to share it with, my parents already being clued in on the Santa thing. (The same thing would happen with sex education. She had to tell someone and all her friends knew, so I was the lucky one.)I didn't want to know. I continued to write Santa letters, hoping my faith could somehow change the facts. This earned me mockery from my paternal grandparents, who accused me of being a disingenuous faker and/or hedging my Read more [...]


December 18th, 2004
Do children think about money when they make their Christmas lists? I did. I remember lying on the floor with the FAO Schwarz catalog and eliminating things that I realized were too costly. The item that tempted me for several years was a hollowed-out log, sort of a tree house triplex, with all sorts of woodland creatures and whimsical furniture. My memory is that this cost $89.95, which I just ran through an inflation calculator; in 2003, such a toy would have cost $431.33. Instead, I "settled" Read more [...]

Sweet Potatoes

November 27th, 2004
It comes as a shock to those who have known me only in my adult incarnation, but I was a fussy eater. My mother even recorded this fact for posterity, under the "I like!" page in my "I'm a Girl" baby book."(15 months): baked potatoes, carrots, green beans, squash, all kinds of fruit and particularly my fruit and orange juice.(20 months): I eat only meat and fruit and practically no vegetables. 3 yrs. old: I like only hamburgers + fruit."(And don't fault my mom for writing about me in the first person. Read more [...]

What’s playing at the Roxie

November 17th, 2004
In Baltimore, we give directions according to what used to be there. So if I was sending you to the Double-T Diner, for example, I would tell you to go down Route 40, past where the Westview Theater used to be.Am I the only one to find movie theater names evocative? Baltimore had the Westview, which started as two theaters, rather grand ones, with a wishing fountain. Over time, it expanded -- to four, then six, then 10, until it was so big that it was possible to miss the first 10 minutes of your Read more [...]


November 17th, 2004
Sorry to be silent for so long; just know that I'm working hard.Anyway, here's a quintessential Bawlmer moment, from yesterday: Dusk, a quiet block of rowhouses in South Baltimore. A boy kicks a football, much to the delight of a little girl, who goes skipping and squealing after it. She sees a stranger. "Hi! What's your name?""Laura. What's yours?"The girl's mother comes running up. "What are you doing?" "I'm talking to this lady. Her name is Laura." "Don't talk to strangers," the mother chides, Read more [...]

The Rain Bonnet

October 20th, 2004
Found while cleaning a closet -- a pink plastic rectangle, stamped: THEO. LIPPMAN-STATEWIDE INSURANCE. Inside is an intricately folded plastic rain bonnet, something a woman could carry in her purse in the event of an unexpected shower.We had dozens of these once upon a time, although I'm not sure if I ever used one for its intended purpose. We also had my grandfather's business stationery, which we used for drawing paper. I still have five or six pieces, yellowed now, although the distinctive red Read more [...]


October 14th, 2004
This may be a long one.On the highway today, a sign: "Purple Heart Trail." I thought briefly about the presidential race and the role of military medals therein, but my thoughts quickly hopscotched to a Baltimore-area thrift store, the Purple Heart, and the taunt: "You dress like you shop at the Purple Heart." There were really only two fashion faux pas in my world, sixth grade through eighth -- "fish-heads," defined as any athletic shoe that wasn't a Ked All-Star or a Jack Purcell, and high-waters. Read more [...]


October 4th, 2004
"You have no idea what it's like being a kid now," the Kid said. He may have even said "in the new millennium," lord help us. Bear in mind: Nickelodeon is writing a lot of his material. "Actually, I do," I told him. "I know everything about being a kid and I don't think it's remarkably different now. In fact, I'd be curious if you could name a single thing that's different about your life that isn't related to technology."The Kid was stumped. (Hey, I've got 35 years on him.) A few days later, I was Read more [...]


September 17th, 2004
So sorry, but it looks as if September will be dark. But feel free to tell deadline stories on yourselves. I'll tell a quick one. When I first came to the Evening Sun, I had never worked for an evening paper before and was a little fuzzy on the deadlines. (The San Antonio Light was a former evening paper that published on an "all-day" schedule, which meant one could update until 8 a.m. or so, but it was basically a morning paper by my time there.)So, the first weeks at the Evening Sun, alone and Read more [...]

Back to School

August 30th, 2004
The suburban counties surrounding Baltimore City send their children back to school today; Baltimore -- quite properly -- waits until the Tuesday after Labor Day. Last night, I looked at a 10-year-old's fresh notebook -- looseleaf paper in a binder, with a zippered pencil case with 12 pencils at the ready. ("They told us to bring 12!" I was told when I remarked on the number.) At any rate, I was reminded of fresh starts, and my vain attempts to keep neat notebooks, with torn holes reinforced and Read more [...]

Alan Sillitoe

August 24th, 2004
Sarah Weinman's blog jarred this one loose.When I was a teenager, the community center in Wilde Lake Village Center screened old films. I saw Psycho and Amarcord. I loved both, but especially enjoyed Amarcord, which made me wonder if I might really be smart, after all. (See "cheese, love of," elsewhere on this page.) But I was most affected by The Ragman's Daughter, adapted from Alan Sillitoe's short story. To this day, I don't know if it was a "good" film or not, or what its critical reputation Read more [...]

My First 15 Minutes

August 18th, 2004
This came back to me while walking to pick up Thai food:When I was 11, a friend of the family called and asked if I wanted to be on television. Of course I did! Didn't everyone? (With no crystal ball at my disposal, I could not know that a) I would later appear on the pilot for a CBS kids show b) I would be captain of my high school's It's Academic team, appearing four times on local television c) I would be forced to sing in a television commercial for my then-employer, the San Antonio Light d) Read more [...]

Three Wheels on My Wagon (I love cheese)

August 15th, 2004
I was watching the end of A Mighty Wind and noting with approval how perfectly Parker Posey and Jane Lynch smiled in that pleased-with-myself-but-not-really-conceited-although-maybe-I-am way of the New Christy Minstrels. Whom I adored as a kid. There was a time that I knew all the words to Three Wheels on My Wagon, and Lily Langtry, and several other songs on the album whose cover features the Minstrels in cowboy-and-Indian garb. Then again, one of my earliest memories is pushing a green car (a free Read more [...]

Melody Flop

August 9th, 2004
I thought my memory of Harand Camp was unusually sharp, especially now. (I'm writing about theater geeks in my current novel -- yes, I was one.) But Nancy Goldman Greenberg, who put me up on the final days of my book tour, shook loose a memory simply by uttering the words: "Melody Flop."Trips to this Milwaukee theater-in-the-round were a traditional part of our summers at Harand and the nickname pretty much says it all. I hadn't thought about Melody Top for years and the moment Nancy spoke I saw, Read more [...]

Cacahuetes Estilo Japonese

August 3rd, 2004
My grandparents' visits involved several food rituals -- pumpernickel from Bauhof's bakery, walnuts and ribbon candy (Christmastime) and, always, peanuts from Hickory Farms. These peanuts had an edible shell, very thin, with a slight salty flavor. When Hickory Farms disappeared from this area, I couldn't find those peanuts, or even a reasonable facsimile. Until Cuernavaca, where they are sold on the street as "Peanuts, Japanese style." They came in blue-and-white packages with the caricature of a Read more [...]

The Photo

July 29th, 2004
A long-ago boyfriend's brother-in-law came to my booksigning in Pittsburgh and re-introduced himself. (It has been 21 years.) He introduced me to his beautiful daughter and showed me a photograph of the entire family -- him, his daughter, his wife and his son, Jack. "Do you remember holding him?" he asked me. And I did, immediately. I held him when he was no more than six months old. (He's 21 now, about to start his final year at University of Chicago). "I tried to find a photo, but we've just moved Read more [...]

Our Creed

July 20th, 2004
Not a memory, just a good description of what we do here, courtesy of Roger Angell:

"Memory is fiction -- an anecdotal version of some scene or past event we need to store away for future use."
(From the June 7, 2004, New Yorker.)


“The Cowboys”

July 19th, 2004
I will buy almost any DVD priced at $10 or less. I made a 99-cent exception for "The Cowboys," a movie I loved when I was 15, a book I loved even more. I bought the book in paperback at the downtown Hutzler's, then a 10-story, two-building compound of wonders. (Now: The Department of Human Resources.) I loved "The Cowboys" so much that it inspired me to try my hand at fan-fic, although I didn't know the term at the time; I just wanted the story to continue. (And the short-lived television series Read more [...]

Bonnie Prudden

July 16th, 2004
The name I heard on the radio talk show -- a touchy-feely program, during which the host once said we had to pay attention to "the way we language" and she clearly did not feel she had left a word out -- was Susie Prudden. I instantly had a vision of an exercise book, circa 1950s, with a woman in capri-length tights and tied-off top, doing all sorts of static poses. On the cover was a silhouette of a woman in what I would now call "boat" position, having taken a lot of yoga classes in the past year.Bonnie, Read more [...]

The Refrigerator

July 5th, 2004
The first house I bought did not come with a refrigerator, and two friends, Meredith and Ian, were kind enough to donate their old one, a truly old one, faded white and round. Its shape reminded me of a Studebaker pickup truck for which I still yearn, whose humpbacked cab and color put me in mind of Moby Dick. I used to glimpse it on the streets of San Antonio, but I could never catch up with it.The refrigerator, alas, did not last long. But I loved it so that I kept it in the backyard -- padlocked, Read more [...]

Rabbit, Rabbit

July 1st, 2004
Yes, I still try to say it on the first of the month. When did I first learn of this ritual? I can't say for sure, but I think it was at Harand Camp -- P&F year, when I was 15.P&F was short for "Plain and Fancy," for the cabins at Harand were named for musicals, with a few Western-themed exceptions. (Ponderosa and Rodeo.) The camp never mounted a production of P&F, which I believe is about New Yorkers among the Amish, but it did teach part of the score. Let's see if I can remember what Read more [...]


June 24th, 2004
Something broke in the house last night, something precious, but also something that can be repaired. Still, it made me feel weirdly sad, and also made me think about my complicated relationship with broken things.I started to write something, but it occurred to me I already had. What appears below was published in The (Baltimore) Sun in March 1999. It was always a sad piece. It's sadder now in many ways.c. Baltimore SunThe voice on the voice mail was a familiar one, my husband's, and the message Read more [...]

Summer (Indulge me)

June 21st, 2004
The local paper has started a feature in which it reprints scenes of summer "from a different point of view - from writers who over the years have featured local scenes in their work." Hmmm, I haven't been asked, but I've written a few passages about Baltimore summers in my time.My favorite: "Summer finally began. It began over and over again. It began in mid-May, with a disturbingly early heat wave. It began again on Memorial Day, when the private swim clubs opened for business, even though the Read more [...]

First Baseball Memory

June 14th, 2004
Inspired by the comments on the previous entry, what was your first baseball memory?

Mine is 1966, the Orioles in four, over the Dodgers. I was standing in our very narrow kitchen when I heard the news, but I was too young to understand how truly extraordinary it was.

Then came 1969 . . .

How This Works

June 13th, 2004
Not a memory here, just a plug for how tiny, factual bits can summon up more emotion, sometimes, than the most detailed, overwrought accounting.I have a shelf full of journals, literally, notebooks I kept on and off over the years. Yesterday, out of curiosity, I plucked off the shelf the 1989 account of my time in Mexico. The most riveting reading was my datebook -- a calendar I inserted in the three-ring journal after the fact, where I had jotted down little notes about the activities there. For Read more [...]


June 7th, 2004
I was in Chicago for BEA, just a few miles from where I attended college, and found myself telling this story:In college, I ran for fitness, something that was fairly new to me. (Running, fitness.) I trained for a 10K, aiming for nothing better than a nine-minute mile. But I found the psychology of running very difficult. For example, if I decided to run to the Bahai Temple and back -- a lovely landmark about two miles from where I lived -- the first half seemed almost impossible because I was so Read more [...]

First Bike

June 3rd, 2004
It's family legend that I got my first two-wheeler because my father had a good night at poker, and who'd want to tinker with a story like that. (Haven Kimmel, in "A Girl Named Zippy," has a hauntingly beautiful chapter on the things her family gained and lost, according to her father's luck, but I knew only about my father's good luck, as he played for small stakes.) But it was only in retelling that oft-told story a few days ago that I remembered a detail about that bike -- it had a cut-out of Read more [...]

Bette Davis

May 28th, 2004
"Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" was on television last night. This is the first Bette Davis I knew -- Baby Jane Hudson, the evil/good twins in a film I want to say was called Dead Ringer, the haunted alcoholic in Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte. These films seemed to play a lot on the Sunday afternoon movie shows in Baltimore, one of which was known as Picture for a Sunday Afternoon. Was there anything better, in a world of just three channels and endless sporting events, then finding out that the Picture Read more [...]

The Dentist

May 26th, 2004
My childhood dentist, John Martielli, died in a freak accident in the fall of 2000. I had returned to his care after moving back to Baltimore and found it very reassuring. Dr. Martielli, after all, had no reason to criticize the work in my mouth, as most of it was his. (I had broken three front teeth in a biking accident in San Antonio and an excellent dentist there put me back together.)About the same time that Dr. Martielli died, I cracked two back teeth, which set into motion a long series of Read more [...]

An Hour at Pre-Dawn

May 23rd, 2004
I woke about 5 a.m. and for the next hour memories seemed to wash over me in the way they envelop Robert DeNiro at the end of Once Upon a Time in America, as he succumbs to an opium haze. Most of these memories were about my life in Texas. I remembered an act of breathtaking selfishness, one that would be done to me just five years later. I remembered the hometown of the young man who helped me move from Waco to San Antonio (Frost), but I couldn't remember his name, which is shameful, given the Read more [...]

Flea Markets

May 18th, 2004
I was re-reading Sarah Bird's The Boyfriend School when a section about the character's unreliable boyfriend somehow set me thinking about life in Waco, Texas, when I was in my early 20s. In particular, the flea market, near the traffic circle, home of the Health Camp, home of the milkshakes that I saluted in In Big Trouble.I bought Fiestaware at that flea market, among other things. Still have most of it, too, except for the inevitable breakage. It was always hot, hot in a way I don't think I could Read more [...]

My First Oxymoron

May 13th, 2004
"Vacation Bible School." I was reminded of this tonight while walking, and seeing a sign advertising the "Lava Lava Island" (?) vacation Bible school at a local church.There was a church near the bank my parents used. (Equitable Trust, Ingleside Avenue, long subsumed by some other big banking company.) I remember seeing the pennant posted on its lawn and thinking: That's just not right. And I could spin that bank into a dozen other memories, but I have a long day tomorrow. Read more [...]

Book Covers

May 11th, 2004
Jennifer Weiner has a nice rant -- I'd link if someone would tell me, via e-mail, how to use the HTML feature here -- about Erica Jong. For now, I'll just give you the address ( use it as a springboard to talk about That Cover.You know the one, if you grew up in the '70s. It was the paperback cover of Fear of Flying, a zipper revealing what today woul be considered an impossibly zaftig torso. I remember Read more [...]

Other People’s Books

May 7th, 2004
I seldom travel without a book, but I love going through other people's bookshelves when I travel and picking something to read. Once, at the home of the Internet's Most Brilliant Mind, I was given a galley of a new Groucho Marx bio. When I visited L. and M. in their Houston home, I always plucked Marjorie Morningstar from the shelf. (This was before I got my own copy.) And at my parents' beach house, it was always great fun to dive into the trashy books they kept on hand for beach-reading -- Kitty Read more [...]

Sixteen Magazine

May 5th, 2004
It was the year of the eclipse of the moon, the first full eclipse of my conscious life, and the family was en route to Atlanta from Baltimore, a 700-mile trip we made up to twice a year to see all our relatives. Usually, we did it in one day -- Must Make Good Time is the Lippman credo -- but on this particular trip, this wasn't possible. A late start? Was it the Easter Sunday on which I learned it was unwise to eat a lot of milk chocolate before a long car trip? Somewhere in North Carolina, I assume, Read more [...]

The Saturday morning line-up

May 3rd, 2004
Spoons Coffee Shop, which usually has impeccable taste in music, this morning was playing the tune whose refrain ends "And a Panama hat with a purple hatband!" I first heard this song on an old local talent show in which lip-synching was considered a talent, an idea that seems more and more appealing as "American Idol" progresses. And this led to an attempt to remember the truly awful Saturday-morning and weekday afternoon television shows broadcast in Baltimore during my youth, such as: The Jackson Read more [...]


May 2nd, 2004
This is the last restricted entry at the Memory Project. Sometime this week, the site will go "public" via my own updated website. I hope more and more people will use this site to: a) noodle a vague memory toward specifics and b) have fun with writing. Most of all, I hope people will be patient if I don't file often. It's going to be a busy summer.(Edited to add): The working model here is Nicholson Baker's "U and I," one of my favorite books. Baker chose an unorthodox method, writing about Updike Read more [...]

Candy bars

April 28th, 2004
I bought a candy bar yesterday. Hershey with Almonds, the regular size. It cost 62 cents, which didn't shock me too much -- I was much more obsessed with the 210 calories I was about to consume -- until I began contemplating the wrapper. The Hershey bars I remember came in foil wrappers with an outer sleever; this was sort of a candy bar onesie. Just as sanitary, probably more responsible in that it produces less trash, but . . .And then I began to think: 62 cents! (with tax). Did I really used to Read more [...]

The Things We Carry

April 22nd, 2004
I recently reorganized my office and, as a result, confronted the odd collection of items I have kept on my desk over the years. I'm a sentimental person, but also one increasingly disinclined toward clutter and non-utilitarian objects.That said, why do I have a soiled plastic Donald Duck, four inches high, on my desk? Why has this duck followed me from Waco to San Antonio to Baltimore, surviving a total of eight moves? I have no particular affinity for Donald. I liked Tweety Bird and Foghorn Leghorn Read more [...]


April 18th, 2004
"Open Space" education was already losing steam when I was enrolled in Wilde Lake High School, the flagship high school of Columbia, the so-called "New Town" built by Jim Rouse. "We still say go-at-your-own pace," guidance counselor Sam Nissan said as he gave my mother, sister and me a tour of the school, "but now there's a minimum speed limit."By then, the self-directed, independent study mode had been all but abandoned for math and science courses, but was still used in English and social studies. Read more [...]

My First Time

April 15th, 2004
I'm talking about crime, of course. But even as I start to type, I realize my first time as a crime victim, indirectly, was in Alexandria, Virginia, where someone broke into the car and stole the radio, while the family Scottish Terrier, Dreamy, kept barking to alert us, earning only a "Shut up!" for her efforts. (But what kind of car was it? The pale green Valiant, or the one before? Family cars, in order: Valiant. Red Ford station wagon. A dark green Triumph that was later painted taxi cab yellow. Read more [...]


April 14th, 2004
It's working: Sarah's question about choir brought up the vivid image of "Reiko" (spelling approximate), the young Japanese accompanist who played for the children's choir at Dickeyville Presbyterian. More accurately, what I see in my mind's eye is a photograph I know exists in some Lippman scrapbook, of Reiko with a paper plate of cake balanced on her lap. Her going-away party, perhaps? It was a warm day, spring or summer, and I remember being happy. Because there was cake and punch, of course, Read more [...]

“Project” Indeed

April 12th, 2004
So I wrote and aborted two entries on Sunday. I realized I'm serious about this being a "project" -- if the thread doesn't bring up something almost forgotten (my parents' special crab mallets), or a sharp, almost physical sensation, then it's not working. I wrote about the boulders in my family backyard, but it was static, an Official Version rehearsed into lifelessness. Interesting, though. I don't know many people who grew up with a backyard full of boulders. The crab mallets, however, reminded Read more [...]


April 10th, 2004
Welcome to the Memory Project, a response to some recent feedback on my website. As those who frequent know, I have resisted blogging because I have on-and-off problems with my wrists and forearms.I also have an increasingly poor memory, but a theory that I can improve it the way I would my muscles or lungs -- through use and training. Because the majority of people who come to my site seem to associate me with Baltimore, the memory project will center on idosyncratic fragments Read more [...]

Crab Feasts

April 10th, 2004
When my folks had crab feasts -- and, living in Baltimore, they invariably did -- the shells had to be taken to an incinerator that seemed far,far away to my 6-year-old self. I'm not sure if this journey was required by law, or the vagaries of trash pick-up. It seemed to take forever to reach the trash-burning facility, which was as terrifying as it should be -- smelly, with open fires burning and sullen men chewing on cigars. Can any of this be true? At any rate, it imparted the lesson that every Read more [...]