Chats with Laura Lippman re: her new crime novel revealed a penchant for mixing flashback chapters with the pursuit of a possible killer of a missing man’s mistress. That is, if she was actually the victim of foul play. It was a cold case and an ex policeman was in no particular hurry. The opening, years earlier, draws you in as the man who disappeared averts a jail sentence by absconding with a cache of money with his mistress in tow. More flashbacks bring you back 50, 40 and 26 years and deal mainly with the domestic effects of the absent man’s flight on his wife and three daughters. At any rate, it's a leisurely read and even by page 180 or so the tale has gained no clear-cut traction.
(I know what you’re thinking. It’s Laura Lippman. She’s an established brand with a huge following. But then again, she was a keynote speaker whose charge was to enlighten us about the current state of the genre.)
At the same time, I had a few meetings with a senior editor who insisted I follow her three-part submission format to the letter. Moreover, every page, every single paragraph and sentence of my latest had to move the story forward in order to meet crime fiction standards.
A panel of agents agreed that the main criterion was writing that was unique and captivating but that’s as far as they would go. A publisher on another panel declared that MFA writing-- that is anything that seems at all literary-- is out of place. During her speech Laura Lippman was up in arms at any differentiation between crime writing and literature. The woman next to me at lunch was a proud graduate of a noted MFA program. Moreover, her noted crime novels were published by Minotaur.
I could go on and on. I could mention the auction of critiques of the first thirty pages by some best-selling authors with disparate aims and styles. And the bidding, which in most cases started at $500 and was beyond most attendees' means.
And so, as PBS interviewer Travis Smiley would put it, “What's the takeaway?” Perhaps it’s simple. Perhaps in this business you have to sprinkle everything you come across aome it all with the proverbial grain of salt.