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, one that I’m still mulling over, making a case for the Darwinian nature of fiction. Why did humans start telling stories? What was the purpose, given that almost all early human activity was rooted in the need to survive? I’ll botch it if I try to paraphrase more, but if you get a chance to see Lee speak, you should try to take it. (Of course, on Lee’s book tours, I’m not sure he has a chance to speak. My sense is that it’s sort of like Beatlemania, with women screaming so loudly that Lee can’t be heard. To date, there are 20,000 “Reacher’s Creatures” — fans of Lee’s hero, Jack Reacher. If you know anything about publishing, you know how extraordinary this is.)
Lee and I began publishing the same year, 1997; I remember seeing him accept the Anthony Award for Best First Novel at Bouchercon in Philadelphia. From the outside, his success has seemed meteoric, but Lee said something this weekend that indicated it didn’t always feel that way to him. Fired from his job as a television director in England, he reinvented himself at midlife. In his final months at his job, he was a shop steward. In my final months at my job, I was my shop steward’s best customer. Lee seemed to relish his battles with management far more than I did, creating a network of spies and specialists: Imagine “24″ played for slightly lower stakes, with custodians fishing confidential memos from the trash and computer experts pirating hard drives away in the night, copying all the files, and returning them before management arrived at 9 a.m.
Me, I was so stressed out that I ended up cracking my back teeth and spitting them out while at work. But you can read all about that this summer, when Norton releases BAD GIRLS. My essay is called “Laura the Pest.”
From T.S. Eliot to Beverly Cleary in just a few hundred words. Truthfully, I admire Cleary more. (http://www.lauralippman.com/july05.html) (By the way, those who have linked in the comments section here, how is that done? I want the formula. Or the code.)
Oh, one more story from the book festival. I interviewed George Pelecanos and David Simon about THE WIRE, and George reminded me of a detail that I am ashamed to have forgotten: David’s pitch to George about writing for THE WIRE was made en route to Paige Rose’s shiva. Paige was one of the two co-owners of Baltimore’s Mystery Loves Company, and she was very good to George and me, among other area writers. In December 2001, she died a most Baltimore death — she had a massive stroke outside a Little Italy restaurant, shortly after chatting up a former Baltimore Oriole. I tried to discern the identity of the player, but those who were with Paige at the time were from Philadelphia and couldn’t be sure. So George and I have decided to say it was Brooks Robinson because that makes for the best possible story. It should have been Brooks. Or, at the very least, Boog Powell.