Our guest blogger today at Inkspot is Laura Lippman, who is having quite a year. Most recently, at Bouchercon 2008 in
Her work has also been awarded the Edgar®, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, and the Gumshoe awards. Nominations for numerous other awards include the Hammett and Macavity. She was the first-ever recipient of the Mayor’s Prize for Literary Excellence and the first genre writer recognized as Author of the Year by the Maryland Library Association.
Her achievements are so many, in fact, I am in danger of leaving out something important. You can see the full list of what Laura has accomplished here.
Q: Laura – that’s a lot of achievement since Baltimore Blues was nominated for the Shamus Award for best first PI novel in 1997. In a little over ten years, it looks like a clean sweep of all the major awards. But you didn’t give up fulltime reporting for The (
A: I started writing Baltimore Blues in late 1992, so it was actually nine years of fulltime work and, from 1995 on, writing a book a year. (By the time Baltimore Blues sold, in October ’95, I was halfway through my second book.) I’m a morning person, however, which worked well for me. I got up at 6 or so, wrote for two hours, went to work. I have always compared this to the old adage about saving money: Pay yourself first. I skimmed the first two hours of the day off the top, gave them to myself and then never had to worry about whether I would work late, or be too tired to write in the evening. Whatever happened at work – and a lot can happen in a typical day at a newspaper – I had gotten my writing done.
One thing I often omit when I tell this story – for years, I had been a morning exerciser, so my writing routine really entailed moving my work-out from before-work to lunchtime, or just after work.
Q: Was there a single defining moment when you felt it was safe, financially and otherwise, to leave the day job, or did you simply feel that, come what may, you had to follow your heart?
A: I worked for the Sun for twelve years, eleven of the happiest years of my life. The final year was like the end of a marriage – sad, awful, depressing. I was looking for another gig, in fact, when my longtime publisher offered me a contract that would allow me to quit. There’s actually a formula of sorts for calculating what you need to quit your day job; the blogger/novelist John Scalzi has written about it at length. Basically, look at your day job pay and add 30 percent. That will cover the benefits you don’t have as a freelancer – if you’re very lucky.
And if you’ll permit me here a moment on my soap box: There’s often a lot of hand-wringing about how government regulation/intervention stifles entrepreneurship and creativity. But the single stifling thing I’ve seen is the lack of health insurance. I have friends who left the Sun and easily replaced their salaries via freelancing and teaching, some combination thereof. But if they didn’t have spouses with health insurance, they couldn’t do that. I was lucky – I had only myself to support and I could afford COBRA for 18 months, which meant that I could then join a private insurance company with no underwriting, no restrictions. I don’t often speak of specifics, but I will note that COBRA cost me $400 a month, more than $7,000 over 18 months. I was lucky enough to be able to afford that and then join a traditional health care plan that is a fourth of that cost. But for people with families – forget it!
PART II OF THIS INTERVIEW WILL APPEAR TOMORROW ON INKSPOT.
Photo by Jan Cobb