Laura Lippman had much to say about her book Lady in the Lake, newly published in Italian, and above all, the two main characters: Maddie Schwarz and Cleo Sherwood.

Joining Noir remotely from Baltimore, Laura Lippman virtually inaugurated the 31st edition of Noir in Festival one day earlier than the official start of the event, which kicked off today in the two venues IULM University (the Caligari Prize finalists) and the Teatro Filodrammatici (the Scerbanenco Award finalists).

Interviewed by author and journalist Annarite Briganti, Lippman spoke about her 2019 book Lady in the Lake (Bollate Boringhieri), now out in Italian, and primarily about its two main characters: Maddie Schwarz and Cleo Sherwood.

“Maddie Schwarz was inspired by the character Marjorie Morningstar, in a novel by Herman Wouk. And it’s a novel I reread every year. But it was only upon reading it in 2017, I think…maybe 2018, that I realized that the woman that is seen at the end of the novel, through the eyes of a man who yearned for her and never had her, and he sees her as old and grandmotherly; he’s rather relieved that he didn’t end up with her because he’s a few years younger – and she’s only 39, and I had never noticed that! I mean, at 39 I’d barely gotten started as a novelist and I had so many major changes ahead of me, in my life. And I began to think about how someone from your past can arrive in your life and make you remember what you said you were going to be, what was your ambition when you were young. And that was my main concern. I wanted to write this story about a woman who wanted to matter, and wanted to find something that gave her life meaning. And it wasn’t my original intent to send her into a newspaper. I’m always nervous about former newspaper people writing novels, ‘cause it can get like way too inside and full of details that nobody cares about, but my father was a newspaper man. and he had died about four years before I began writing this book, and I realized that writing a book set in 1966, about a woman who’s trying to make it into a newsroom, would give me a chance to revisit my father’s life. So, in the end, it just made perfect sense for Maddie to become a journalist.”

“Cleo Sherwood was inspired by the unsolved mysterious death of a woman named Shirley Parker. And it was a story that, although I grew up in Baltimore, I didn’t hear about until I was working at the newspaper decades later. Because the fact is, in 1966, the mysterious death – not even ruled a homicide – of a black woman would not have been big news. If she hadn’t been found in the fountain, in the park, we probably never would have heard about her. So I was really interested in that, and around the time I started writing this book, it happened to be the birthday of the director/writer Billy Wilder, and someone was circulating his rules for writing on the Internet. And I think he might have said, you know, “Steal; steal smart”. He definitely said “Grab the audience’s attention”. And I was like, you know? Billy Wilder had a dead person narrating the story in Sunset Boulevard. Why can’t I have a dead person? And it’s very important in Lady in the Lake that we hear from Cleo Sherwood. It’s important that her voice is the first voice in the book and it’s the last voice in the book, because this is book that is about how the victim can get lost in a murder investigation. And especially, whether it’s a crime novel or a podcast, or longform journalism, it can become about the investigator, or about the writer herself. And I wanted to write a victim, the dead woman, who somehow managed to live in the mind of the reader.”

To watch the entire podcast: