Lippman draws on her experiences of motherhood for her 11th Tess Monaghan novel, Hush Hush (Morrow).
I never knew how passive-aggressive people could be until I became a parent. Or even aggressive-aggressive. It actually began before I had a child. A relative asked me out to lunch and told me I was too old for motherhood. “Friends” told me I would never be able to continue the book-a-year pace I had maintained since I published my first novel in 1997. A passionate reader rattled off a list of her once-favorite writers, their work now undercut, in her opinion, by having children.
And they were all mothers. That is, the writers on that list were all mothers, but also my... um, advisers—people I looked up to and whose opinions guided me.
At the time, I was a midlist writer hoping for a breakout. I had published 11 books, all in the crime genre, nine of them within the Tess Monaghan series that had launched my career. I began looking around my field. Lo and behold, the most successful female writers were childless or had started writing when their children were at least school-age. Meanwhile, several promising young women had ended up opting out of writing after the birth of their children, only to discover that publishing could be a tough place to opt back in.
Mary Higgins Clark was an exception, writing short stories even when her children were very young. But then Mary Higgins Clark has been an exception for much of her career, breaking out with one of the ultimate motherhood books, Where Are the Children? I remember her telling a would-be writer who had children, “If you want this, you will do this, even if it means getting up at 3 a.m. to write.” William Morrow senior vice president and executive editor Carrie Feron—my editor for the entire span of my career—was another role model, acquiring my first two books while she was pregnant, going on maternity leave, then returning six weeks later, never missing a beat.
As it happens, it took me five years to become a mom after I decided to have a child. In that time, I wrote what would become my first bestselling novel, What the Dead Know, and my bestselling novel to date, I’d Know You Anywhere. In the single craziest year of my life, 2008, I wrote a novel and two novellas. That came to 168,307 words. One of the novellas, The Girl in the Green Raincoat, began with Tess on bed rest for a difficult pregnancy. Forty thousand words later, she had solved two murders, thwarted an attempt on her life, and gone into premature labor. Luckily, her daughter, Carla Scout, proved to be as indomitable as the mother.
“Green Raincoat” was serialized in the New York Times Magazine, then published as a trade paperback in 2011, but I found it difficult to tell new Tess stories. How could I write a crime novel, with its requisite suspense and jeopardy, when the main character was a mom? But as I tell my writing students, sometimes you can sidestep a problem and sometimes you just have to run right at it.
Reader, I ran right at it.
I wrote a book about mothers. Good mothers, bad mothers, stepmothers, secret mothers. I wrote about what it’s like to juggle childcare, ignore a tantrum in a public place, fret over nutrition. I wrote about the rooms that are never clean, the laundry that is never done, the fears that are always there. Am I a good mother? Am I doing this right? That book became Hush Hush, the first Tess Monaghan novel since 2008.
Oh, and one more thing: I wrote it in a year.