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Novel set in Maryland, plus interview with author, Laura Lippman

7th July 2016

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman – novel set in Maryland.

Wilde Lake is the twenty second novel by New York Times best-selling author, Laura Lippman. And it is not hard to see why she is so successful and so productive. The book is beautifully written and beautifully constructed. Two stories are told in alternate chapters throughout the book – they then collide at the end.


The first story (in one type face) is of the childhood and growing up of Luisa ‘Lu’ Brandt in Colombia, Maryland. She lived in the area of Wilde Lake with her father, Andrew Brandt (the State’s Attorney for Howard County in which Colombia sits), her brother AJ, eight years her senior, and their black housekeeper, Teensy. The story opens in 1970 and runs through to 1980. It describes with great insight and understanding the experiences of a child as Lu grows up into the world. It is gentle, empathetic, and observant. It is placed very much in the era it portrays. This story culminates when AJ saves his best friend from an attack at the expense of the assailant’s life. AJ is cleared of any wrongdoing by a Grand Jury.

The second story (in another typeface) is present day. Lu has herself just been elected as the first female State’s Blog tour graphicAttorney for Howard County. She is prosecuting a mentally disturbed drifter accused of the random murder of a woman in her home. Her predecessor, Fred Hollister, has joined a local law firm and is the defence attorney. As Lu prepares for the case, she realises that the drifter was in the same class as her brother and his friends at Wilde Lake High School – a few years ahead of her. Is there a connection, and who is anyway paying for the defence? It takes her back to the events when AJ saved the life of his best friend all those years ago. Was she told the full truth at the time? If not, what was hidden?

The two stories collide with violent result.

Columbia, set around Wilde Lake – a man made reservoir and recreational space – was built in 1966 as a planned community of ten villages. It is where Laura Lippman grew up. It was established to eliminate racial, religious, and class segregation. Howard County is the second richest county in the whole United States. Great, as ever, for TripFiction to read such an excellent book set so firmly in a real and very interesting location.

Wilde Lake is a very well constructed and very well written novel. I would recommend it.

Tony for the TripFiction Team

Now over to our interview with Laura…


Laura Lippman © Leslie Unruh


TF: Wilde Lake is set in the real life community of the same name in Howard County, Maryland. How true to life are your descriptions of the area and the location? Would a reader of the book be able to find his / her way around Columbia? Would much seem familiar?

LL: I think most people would agree that the book is accurate to Columbia — except where it’s not. And good luck to anyone who wants to navigate Columbia’s cul de sacs. I lived there three years, spent many years there when my stepson was young and I just got lost again the other day. 

TF: You grew up in Wilde Lake and attended the same school as Lu and AJ. How much of your writing about the school is based on your own experiences? 

LL: The school is very much as I remember it at that time. But around 1980, it began to change and is no longer the experimental school I remember.

TF: Your description of Lu’s childhood is one of innocence in a somewhat idyllic age – pre mobile phones and pre internet. Is this how you remember your own childhood? 

LL: Absolutely. I had an even better childhood than Lu.

TF: You have built a great cast of characters. To what extent are Lu, AJ, their father, Teensy, and their friends based on real people? And to what extent are they from your imagination? 

LL: Lu, AJ, their father and Teensy are inspired by four characters from an American classic — To Kill a Mockingbird. But they are of their time, so there are issues that were never explored in Mockingbird. “What does a widower do for female companionship when he has a very public life?” for example. They definitely came into their own while I was writing the book.

TF: You use the device of alternate chapters in the book to tell two stories forty years apart. The stories then finally collide… What brought you to this very effective method of storytelling? 

LL: Oh, just three to four months of slowly banging my head against a wall. I always knew the stories were connected, but it took me a long time to find this structure. Finally, I saw a solution in how we experience the present — in present tense, with literally no knowledge of what is going to happen next — and how we tell our stories in the past tense, thinking we now know the whole story. We never know the whole story because life keeps going.

TF: Lu develops into a feisty and ambitious woman, determined to succeed. How typical of women in US public life do you think she is? 

LL: There are a lot of ways to be a woman in the US today. I will say that Lu reminds me of myself and my friends. She’s definitely leaning in. She’s ambitious, she’s complicated. I think I’d enjoy having a drink with her.

TF: A question we always ask authors whose books are published on both sides of the Atlantic… Covers are crucial to success. The US cover of Wilde Lake is quite different to the UK one. Is this something in which you get involved – or are you happy to leave such decisions to the overseas publisher and their marketing people? 

LL: I always think that publishers, who know the big picture, have a better handle on what cover best serves the market. I love the UK cover for Wilde Lake.

TF: Do you plan a book in detail before you start writing? Or do you sketch out a rough plot and let the book ‘write itself’ as the characters develop? 

LL: Somewhere in-between.  I know a lot, but there are so many discoveries to be made.

TF: How do you organise your writing day? Do you work for fixed periods or do you let inspiration take over? How much of a ‘9 to 5 job’ is writing? 

LL: I try to write in the mornings, after I drop my daughter off at school. I have to do a minimum of 1,000 words a day, and I can usually get that done, maybe more, by lunch. I save afternoons, when my energy is low, for less creative tasks. I consider writing a 9-to-5 job, but my boss might look askance at what I consider part of that job. Luckily, I’m the boss.

A big thank you to Laura for answering our questions so comprehensively.

You can connect with Laura via her website, Twitter and Facebook

And do come and say hello to Team TripFiction via Twitter (@tripfiction), Facebook (TripFiction), Instagram (TripFiction) and Pinterest (TripFiction)… and now YouTube

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