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January 30, 2010


TLC ALERT:  Tonight's the Night!  The television premier of our very own Sarah Strohmeyer's "The  Cinderella Pact" made into the movie "Lying to Be Perfect" on Lifetime!  9 pm EST - check your local listings - for more, check this link: SARAH's MOVIE!!  Now back to our regularly-scheduled blog with the fantastic Laura Lippman - and thanks, Laura, for the space.

Laura Lippman has won every major mystery award. She's currently president of the Mystery Writers of America. Her latest novel, "Life Sentences," will be published in March. But Laura is not only a writer. She's also a reader. And readers can fall out of love with even the best authors.

By Laura Lippman

I don’t know if you heard, but Philip Roth and I broke up late last year. Or maybe it’s a trial separation. I’m not sure yet. All I know is that we had been together since I was a senior in high school. It wasn’t serious at first, but eventually he became The One. The author whose books I purchased the day they went on sale and usually read within a week of acquiring them. The writer who has practically his own shelf in the "good" bookcase.

Then, last fall, THE HUMBLING came out and I couldn’t stir myself to buy it. Pfft, just like that, we were200px-The_Humbling over. I’m not sure why. Although I wasn’t crazy about the last two books – okay, I was completely ooked out by EXIT GHOST and thought INDIGNATION was an interesting exercise built around a fabulous metaphor – I believed they were worth reading. They engaged me, engendered strong feelings. They were interesting.

Still – Reader, I left him. With a lot less acrimony than Claire Bloom, but not a little introspection. The thing is, I imagine I will always re-read him – WHEN SHE WAS GOOD, PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT, the title story of GOODBYE, COLUMBUS, MY LIFE AS A MAN and ZUCKERMAN UNBOUND are all in my re-reading canon, an admittedly idiosyncratic list. So why can’t I go forward? Why am I spoiling my chance to be a Roth complete-ist?

As a writer, I am constantly looking to my own reading behavior – and book-buying patterns – to understand how others might approach my work. Just this week, I had a strong impulse to read GAME CHANGE, but decided it was a Kindle purchase, something I didn’t want to own in physical form. Interestingly, the Kindle version of GAME CHANGE won’t be available until late next month and my hunch is that the impulse will be gone by then, never to be recaptured. I worry that happens to my books, too, that people have a fleeting Lippman jones, much in the same way I had a yen for Cheetohs this afternoon and talked myself out of it.

Over the years, I’ve broken up with several writers. Sometimes angrily, with a feeling that I’d been betrayed. (Yeah, I’m looking at you, John Irving.) Sometimes I just wander away, distracted by newer, shinier pleasures.

And, yes, readers have broken up with me. Although in my case, this usually involves a rude e-mail that ends with the observation that I don’t look anything like my author photo.

I have been thinking about this break-up thing since Robert B. Parker died Jan. 20. Because as much as I owe Parker, as a writer of PI fiction, I had ceased reading him with SMALL VICES, the 24th book in the Spenser series. To me, it felt like the perfect end to a series that had given me endless joy. Parker clearly didn’t agree; he went on to write fourteen more Spenser novels. And you know what? I bet they were all good. But I had found my endpoint within the series.

Which means – readers will find their endpoint within my series, and it might not be the one I intended. LifeSentences_pb_c I’m on the record http://tinyurl.com/lqte4v that it’s my intention to bring Tess back. She’s appeared in only ten novels and one novella. I don’t feel through with her, although she’s not going to show up in 2010 and I’m pretty sure we won’t see her in 2011. (I do hope the novella, THE GIRL IN THE GREEN RAINCOAT, will appear sooner rather than later, but that’s out of my hands.) This very pause may be the thing that leads some readers to drift away, in search of fresher, newer protagonists.

Meanwhile, I have a feeling I may buy a copy of THE HUMBLING, but only because I can’t bear for that one collection to be incomplete. Sometimes, when you’ve traveled so far with someone, inertia is enough to get you through.


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Laura, a very nice explanation of how and why our reading tastes change. I've caught myself more than once recently reading a Favorite Author, and feeling oddly unsatisfied at the end of the book. (Any and all Tart Works are, of course, excluded; one can never be dissatisfied with Perfection!) I'm not certain if it's a matter of my tastes changing, or the Author running out of steam, or the reluctance today of publishers allowing anything "different" from a tried and true series.

It is an interesting question, though, and you summarized it nicely....

Ah, Laura, I felt the same way about John Irving. I gave him up reluctantly, but I did it. And I adore Richard Russo. I do, I truly do. But he needs some therapy to come to resolve his relationship with his dad, I think, so he can write about something else. Because I'm on the edge with the dad thing, lovely prose or not.

Thanks for being our guest!

Tonight's the night for LYING TO BE PERFECT! Do we have our red carpet outfits ready?

You might go back, though. I felt that way about Sue Grafton, and then I read her latest, U is for Undertow, and I was blown away. In a way, I admire her for the daunting task of taking on the entire freakin' alphabet, and then I think how hard it must be, especially to ignore your desire to write something else, anything else, despite being on such a road. Can you imagine writing 26 mysteries, all with the same central characters, but with different enough themes? That has to be difficult. In fact, it was one of the reasons I had to stop reading her books; I was just worn out on her behalf. Luckily, I decided to give her another try.

Evanovich, though. I was an enormous fan from her first Plum book, and got so many people turned on to her that she should send me free books for life. But they've started all seeming the same to me, and I'm just not as excited by them, any more.

Like you, I was a huge Philip Roth fan, but have not read any of his books in years. That goofy one about baseball and Nixon did it for me. And the title: "The Great American Novel". Groan.

First of all, I have to correct myself: Parker died Jan. 18. In working from memory -- a strange habit for someone who has a famously bad one -- I assumed the day I heard was the day it happened, then became further confused and thought that day was Wednesday, not Tuesday. In my defense, I was teaching last week at the annual Writers in Paradise conference and things get blurry.

Saw a nice write-up in Entertainment Weekly on LYING TO BE PERFECT. Congrats, Sarah. Getting a project to completion -- I can barely imagine it, even with two options out there to two wonderful people.

Meanwhile, now that I'm in New Orleans, I've remembered another writer that I've broke up with, but keep getting lured back to: Ellen Gilchrist. It's been a while since she's been able to equal the brilliance of the early stories, which I re-read obsessively. Lately, I've been struggling with that eternal PC question: are Rhoda Manning's attitudes toward Jews and African-Americans reflective of the writer's, or the mark of a writer so bold that she risks the confusion? Rhoda, one of the great inventions of late 20th century literature, is very much a woman of her time and class. And she doesn't have a traditional bigotry toward African-Americans, more of a "magical Negro" thing going on. But the rather bald anti-Semitism in one story is hard to read.

Which reminds me -- I urge folks to seek out an out-of-print Mary Gordon essay, "Dead Girls and Good Boys," which is an instructive piece on how to deal with good writers with troublesome subtexts. (In short: Great writers are not gods, but unreliable tour guides, so take what they tell you with a grain of salt.)

Laura, I remember another writer I broke up with, long before the currently hot vampire madness: Ann Rice. Her work was getting way too dark for me.

In her place I got turned onto Katie MacAllister, and her Aishling Grey series, which she doesn't seem to be writing anymore. (And yes, I realize there is no comparison between these two writers!) My youngest daughter has been an online friend of Katie's for years, starting when Holly was probably 12 (she's now 22), and she's the one who shared her books with me. I'm not reading those, anymore, either. Done with the vampire stuff. Finito.

Hey Laura! Great to see you here and I can't wait for your next book - I do miss Tess, but the intervening books have been so good it's worth it!

You're in New Orleans? What a great place to be this week - their first Superbowl and Mardi Gras is only a couple of weeks away.

Hope to see you at Mystery Lovers sometime soon!

TO ALL: Tonight's the Night! Sarah's movie on Lifetime - 9 pm. Don't call me starting at 8 - I'll be fitting my tiara!

Hello, Laura! I love coming here and being introduced to writers that I have yet to read. I latched on to Janet Evanovich nine years ago and voraciously read everything that she wrote. I am reading Charlotte Hughes' HIGH ANXIETY RIGHT now and Sue Grafton's latest is on my coffee table.
Romantic suspense and bodice rippers took up a lot of my time early on and Sandra Brown's latest books are pretty griity at times.
I have most of Nancy Martin et al in my collection.
I find that I am drawn to character driven myteries and just finished Robert B Parker's HUNDRED DOLLAR BABY and loved it. I am late to the party on some authors but it sure gives me something to look forward to and I am anxious to pick up your titles.
I am guilty of disoylaty sometimes when I am lured by another author.
Hopefully, I can remain faithful to my favorites.
Thanks, and all the best.

moving to another character/storyline rather than reaching the point where the series becomes stale. I'm not a writer, just a reader, but I know how disappointed I have been when a series I have known and loved no longer piques my interest. It's almost like losing a good friend. And Laura, I agree that eternal PC question: author's own views vs author's ability to take big risks, historical novels notwithstanding.

I love following series, but I have gotten to the point where I just don't care anymore. I've done that with Evanovich, and for a while with Grafton. I've heard so much about U is for Undertow, though, that I'm thinking of going back and picking up where I left off.

Great to see you here, Laura. I love your description of "breaking up" with an author - I understand completely what you mean, but could never have put it into words.

Opps, Mr. Typepad is apparently NOT my friend. I had a hard time posting this and apparently the cut and paste I did didn't work in it's entirety. Sorry. Agreed with Karen on Sue Grafton and will read her latest on Karen's recommendation. And the unfinished sentence refers to Nancy's leaving readers still wanting more of the Blackbird sisters before they became stale and moving to other characters/storylines.

Now, let's see if this will post.

Nancy, I have my family geared up for Lifetime's Lying To Be Perfect this evening.
Kathy, if you are reading this Rachel was praised by Alex Trebeck last evening for being such a memorable contestant when she won the Teen Jeopardy contest. He related how she was so bright, enthusiastic and knew how to handle herself. But then, you knew this about Rachel all along! Hope you feel better.

Laura I was struck by the declaration in your interview linked above that a new writer must be armed with arrogance and ignorance. I guess that would mean that these characteristics would indeed give courage to a new writer.
Also, your advice concerning stand-alone titles and series compilations was very intriguing when you observed that it's a good thing not to be too successful in just one classification. I sometimes am jarred by stand-alones but then am completely won over by the end of the story.
Thanks for such a great interview.

Laura, you are a serial monogamist and I'm feeling like the Queen of the One Night Stands. The combination of needing to write in my free time, deal with 3 kids and read nonfiction for research has completely trashed my fiction reading habit. Oh, yeah -- and saying yes to blurbing books, which I feel is karmically the right thing to do, but maddeningly time-sucking.

So I try to read one book of everyone I know, and more if they're Sarah, Nancy, Elaine, or Hank, and I'm still way, way behind. And then every once in awhile, my enraged Inner Reader will rise up and start screeching, like when I'm in a bookstore. Or reading this. THE HORROR. THE HORROR. I want to run away and join a convent, some obscure order where they make you stay in a small white room and read all day.

I'm wearing my tiara NOW, just to make sure I'm ready for tonight. And my husband just brought me soup for my cold. So this tiara thing is working for me. And may become a habit. Congratulations, Sarah! (How do we let the network know we loved it?)

And Laura, you need a tiara, too, for your new role at MWA. Very exciting. And probably also something like an orb of power. They'll fedex it to you, I'm sure. Thanks so much for visiting us!

And me, too. I tried and tried to keep my relationship with John Irving, but he just wasn't interested.

I wonder how authors feel, though, as they realize readers are turning away. Do they decide new ones come to take their place, like in Many Moons?

I've finally been able to walk away from a couple of writers that I really lost interest in awhile back, but felt some kind of misplaced loyalty, I guess, and stuck around longer than I should have. Then I decided I was an idiot. They didn't know me, didn't know I'd been reading their books, would never know they'd lost me. Once I let that sink in, you're right, it was easy to walk away. Wish I'd wised up sooner. Except I do miss them, or what they once were.

This is funny -- I started a long post, then closed the window by accident when a friend called. She's been stranded in North Carolina, but I think I'm getting her out with my Southwest Rewards and she'll be here tomorrow for dinner -- and, not incidentally, to appear as an extra Monday in a scene that will feature Roy Blount, whom she considers tantamount to a godfather. Don't say you never learn anything on book tour because what I've learned is that Southwest is always a good plan B. And, frankly, they are usually my Plan A.

Anyway, I just want to say that if you add friends with books into the mix -- not to mention three kids! -- that's all the more reason to cut the dead weight. I also believe that blurbing is a karmic debt, but I still say no. A lot. If I do six a year, I feel I'm doing my bit.

Meanwhile, I just returned from my local independent where -- wouldn't you know -- there was a new Ellen Gilchrist. I managed to walk away.

Surely even the karma gods recognize that we can't blurb everybody who asks. There are only so many books you can read every week.

I dug out an old tiara for tonight. It says "happy birthday" but I think it's still fetching and therefore Cinderella-appropriate.

I break up with authors only reluctantly, although my latest Rules are: no horror, no mafia [long story, not now], no blatant templates. I have recently come to love the Blackbird Sisters (thank you, Nancy!). I read Book 1 of Harry Potter because I wanted to see what that southern lady was trying to ban, and never looked back: have read the whole series at least twice and bet that woman hasn't read an entire story in the series or she'd stop her campaign (has she stopped?). But, Sue Grafton, bless whoever she is, will most likely not get my attention because I'm adamantly upset with templates and gimmicks like 'A is for . . .' that supposedly draw the reader back over and over again. I know, publishers think that it works, and for someone as fabulous as Wollie (and her creator), I'll accept the 'dating' repetition in the title. But, I think that when publishers become condescending in their formulas, it is part of why people look down on 'genre' work, and that's just wrong. You fabulous women are excellent authors, and that's why your work is published, and made into movies--gooooo, Sarah!

P.S. My neighbor, who goes to bed early, is going to try to DVR 'Lying', but if she doesn't succeed, does anyone know if Lifetime will repeat the broadcast so we could see it at a different time? Hopelessly unaware of cable/satellite habits . . . .

Wish we could have a rogues' gallery of everyone in their tiaras! Mine is likely to be the gold foil crown from a Christmas cracker last month, as I seem to have given my various tiaras to little girls playing dress up!

My tiara says "Bitch" -- which says it all.

Nancy -- only so many books you can read "every week" ?! I'm lucky to read one a month. I only blurb people with far-off blurb deadlines. And last year was a big blurb year, so this year I expect that no one will ask.

In any case, my agent has instructed me to "just say no."

Good column, especially as I've just spent most of the past week culling out books. Ten boxes, much to my surprise, and I think I'm done for awhile.

An author I broke up with, several years ago: Patricia Cornwall. The first three or four Scarpetta books were good, but something happened. I felt that she had a contractual obligation and was just grinding out something to fulfill her end of the deal.

Interesting, Kaye, thinking about "what they once were."

Do they miss their old selves? Or are they happy with their new selves? Are they trying to recapture old magic? Or do they not realize...

Hmm. How do any of us know when we should have stopped?

Maybe I've taken too much Dayquil. Ha-choo!

(Oops, sneezing makes one's tiara tilt.)

Poor Hank--feel better soon! Seems to me, when an author loses interest in her characters, so do the readers. Thank goodness SJ Rozan still loves Lydia and Bill, and Laurie King is fascinated with Russell and Holmes, (etc.)
Sometimes, the author does a 'forced close' on a series, as JKR has done for Harry, but whether that was wisdom or a Salinger (I hope, hope, hope there's more in his safe!), is hard to know.

Hank - you sound awful, girl! Feel better soon.

I guess the one series that jumps immediately to mind that is not, in my opinion, what it once was is The Cat Who series. I can't even begin to imagine that this is a series that's happy with what its become. I think Lilian Jackson Braun deserves better, and I wish "they" (and no, of course, I do not know who's making these decisions regarding her work & it "may" very well be Ms. Braun herself, but - ) would quit publishing this series. The books were, at one time, quite lovely.

Laraine, you would enjoy the Grafton books, I think. There is a strong female lead, and she's always doing something real. Sue said she started writing murder mysteries because she was fantasizing about ways to kill her ex-husband; the books gave her a safe outlet. ;-) And she got the last laugh, because she's been wildly successful with what has turned into a long series.

Kaye, I KNOW. The Cat Who series used to be so good. And I stopped reading Patricia Cornwell, too, because her books had gotten so terrifyingly dark. There's enough creepiness in real life, thank you very much.

Harley, this too shall pass. Your kids won't stay little for much longer. Before you know it you'll be sitting at the last ones' graduation, bawling. I promise.

I broke up with Patricia Cornwell, too.

According to the website for Lying To Be Perfect, it will be on again tomorrow at 9pm, and on the Lifetime Movie Network on 2/1. I'm re-reading the book to refresh my lousy memory, and I had to chuckle when Nola mentioned a Lifetime movie. And, I think it's very cool the website has a link to an excerpt from the book.

Wait: Is LYING TO BE PERFECT a serial? It does say it's on two consecutive nights, the 30th (tonight), and the 31st. Or is it just being aired twice?

I'm confused. And sitting here with my tiara on crooked is not very attractive.

Karen - I'm pretty sure it's just being aired twice. Lifetime tends to do that.

Karen, I am holding my spouse hostage tonight and he IS going to watch Lying to Be Perfect. He asked me to describe the story and I told him that if he can watch the series Spartacus:Blood and Sand (lots of blood and plenty of sex) on The Srarz Network I can watch my wildly entertaing show with Poppy Montgomery.No tiara but maybe a mai-tai cocktail.

I'm watching the movie and remembering the book! This is so exciting.

And Karen, I know, I know. My oldest is turning 10 and she's so tall, the tallest girl in her class of over 100 kids . . . she used to be a baby!

I don't have cable, so I will be the lone voice in the wilderness tonight.
I once read a book that was a real page-turner. Stayed up all night to finish it but the ending was so flat & disappointing, it pissed me off & I threw the book across the room!
Sometimes I think we just 'outgrow' a genre.
I read Patricia Cornwell till I discovered that she stole all her plots & characters from Robert W. Walker. But I got burned out on serial killers after awhile.
Stuart Woods dropped a notch when Stone Barrington made a reference to the smell of Cordite! (That's Lee's fault LOL)

After three days of hell at work, Lying To Be Perfect, was just what I needed !!!!!! Great casting, great story line, and just one fantastic feeling after it ends. Congrats Sarah, Good Job

Congratulations, Sarah! It was fantastic. They did a great job keeping all the great things about your book!!!

Great movie, Sarah! Loved Poppy Montgomery and the rest of the cast. Congratulations!

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