How I Wrote It: Laura Lippman, The Most Dangerous Thing

Lippmanpicture I got to know Laura years ago when we worked together as reporters at the Baltimore Sun, and I've since followed her relentless progress as an author - eleven novels in her award-winning Tess Monaghan reporter-turned-investigator series and, my favorites, five moody, spooky stand-alone novels.

Her newest stand-alone, The Most Dangerous Thing, is the most personal of her thirteen books, as she explains in the acknowledgements. I asked Laura if she'd would describe a scene or passage that was particularly memorable or emotional or difficult to write, and to explain how she wrote it and how it felt.

Here's her response...

"My first novel was published in 1997 and I’ve always been very open about the fact that I didn’t really know what I was doing. Few first novelists do, no matter how polished their efforts. But I had some insights into the road ahead of me and I knew that I would get only one shot to write about the neighborhood where I grew up in Baltimore and that I should wait until I was ready. Ready in terms of skill, but also in terms of story. Not just any novel could be shoehorned into this setting. Lippman

"Dickeyville (unfortunate name) is an old mill village tucked away in a corner of Northwest Baltimore. Most of the houses date to the 19th century. A stream meanders through it and a vast, overgrown forest, Leakin Park, curves around one edge. As a child in the ‘70s, I wandered those woods with impunity, disappearing as children did in that era, with few warnings and even fewer rules. It was a perfect setting for the story I decided to tell in The Most Dangerous Thing, which centers on a group of childhood friends burdened with a terrible secret.

"But if one is going to write about Dickeyville, one must write about its 4th of July parade, an event that epitomizes everything that is charming and quaint and, okay, maybe a little smug and self-satisfied about the neighborhood. I struggled with that chapter for a long time. It centered on a boy who has been sexually abused and his decision to march in an inappropriate costume -- and his father’s even more inappropriate rage. But after several false starts, I realized the chapter would work better if the boy tried to do something silly yet heroic, and his father ended up helping him to realize his dream of marching in the parade and winning a prize. It’s a brief moment of triumph for a family sorely in need of such triumphs. The heartbreak comes when the father realizes that it’s not enough to “fix” his son, that he may never be able to help his son heal.

"I’m married to a writer, a good one, David Simon. (The Wire, Treme, Generation Kill, two excellent books of narrative nonfiction.) We don’t talk about writing as much as people might think, but we have often discussed how to take an initial idea, the obvious idea -- angry father compounds son’s tragedy through his senseless rage -- and “flip it.” When I wrote the 4th of July chapter for The Most Dangerous Thing, I flipped it – and found myself staring into the tragic heart of the book."


-The Most Dangerous Thing at

-Laura's Amazon Author Page

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Review my new "Irish Wake: In Loving Memory of Us All," by James A. Freeman, a collection of 10 interconnected short stories on in paper, hardcover, and for Kindle?

Posted by: James Freeman | Friday September 16, 2011 at 6:51 AM

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