The murder of a high school teacher was the real-life inspiration for Laura Lippman's new novel.
PW: How long have you lived in Baltimore?
LL: Most of my life. My family moved here when I was six years old. I later left to go to college and spent my first eight years as a journalist in Texas, but the goal was always to come home. I finally returned in 1989, when I got a job at the now-defunct Evening Sun, which was eventually folded into the Morning Sun. But those of us originally employed at the Evening Sun always thought of it as a distinct and separate place. We liked to say we worked where H.L. Mencken and William Manchester worked—a most illustrious history. I've been home now for 12 years, and I can't imagine living anywhere else.
PW: You say in your acknowledgements to In a Strange City that "This book grew out of the long-ago, still-unsolved slaying of a beloved high school teacher, Don McBee." Can you expand on that?
LL: At the time of his murder, my high school drama teacher was working in a nice restaurant while he pursued an acting career. According to the press coverage, he was killed by a young man he'd invited home with him from the restaurant. At times, I felt this crime wasn't seriously pursued because he was in some way complicit in his own death. But I now know enough about homicide detectives to know they take all crimes seriously, and are not the least bit judgmental about such things. It wasn't something I thought about every day, but it was always there. I realized as I was writing the book that part of the book was coming from this story lodged in my head.
PW: Reflecting another part of the book, have you ever been a first-time home owner with a giant renovation project such as Tess has?
LL: I've never had such a big renovation project, but I know from the experiences of my parents and various friends what it's like.
PW: What's the balance between real and made-up places mentioned in the book?
LL: It's a mixture. Sometimes I forget, myself, what's real and not real. At any rate, Tess is still working on the house in the book that follows.
PW: Tell me about the upcoming book.
LL: At this point it's an untitled novel, although it's due soon. It doesn't restrict itself to Baltimore, but ranges all over the state. Five of the six books I've written to date have been pretty much exclusive to Baltimore with, maybe, the occasional trip to one outlying town, such as Washington. One book was set in Texas, which was just a complete aberration. But now, for the first time, I really feel like I'm using the entire state. Tess is roaming much more. I have no idea what I'm going to call it!
PW: How do you come up with your titles?
LL: Usually I come up with a title and my publisher says "no," although I've gotten better at it. In a Strange City was a natural. There it was, right in Poe's poem, "The City in the Sea." The Sugar House popped up years ago, when some of the locals were explaining the Domino Sugar factory building. Charm City was kind of a natural. It's slightly ironic. You can say in a large, general sense that all my books are about a place, whether it's a particular neighborhood, as in Butchers Hill, or a setting we can all relate to [In Big Trouble].
PW: What attracted you to the Poe "mystery"?
LL: Well, I think it's sort of inevitable, if one is a journalist working in Baltimore.