BOB GARFIELD: We're back with On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I'm Brooke Gladstone. There are novelists that turn to reporting, like for instance Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal; and there are reporters that turn to novel writing like, say, Pete Hamill or Laura Lippman, an award-winning mystery writer who spent a dozen years covering real life crime for the Baltimore Sun. Lippman, whose latest novel is called The Last Place, noticed one strange phenomenon when she made the switch to fiction -- her readers who rarely questioned her facts when she was a crime reporter were suddenly on her back for accuracy when she entered the land of make believe. She joins us now. Laura thanks for coming on.
LAURA LIPPMAN: I'm glad to be here. Thank you for having me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So it's been your experience that readers pay more attention to facts in novels than they do in news reports?
LAURA LIPPMAN: All together I was a reporter for 20 years because I was in Texas before I came back home to Baltimore, and I've noticed that I have received so much more e-mail about the books than I ever did about what I was writing for the newspaper, and since it's only been a year since I left the newspaper, this can't just be an example of people having internet access in greater numbers. [LAUGHTER] They just seem to care so much more about the credibility of the world of Tess Monaghan than they ever cared about anything I wrote for the Baltimore Sun.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now she's the detective that you've created who runs through your books.
LAURA LIPPMAN:Yes, she's been in seven books. This is the seventh book coming out, and I guess it's a sort of compliment in that she's become real enough to readers that they want her world to be real too.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You've lived in Baltimore for a long time. You grew up there?
LAURA LIPPMAN: Yes, I grew up here and came back here to work as soon as I could.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And do you find that fellow Baltimoreans get on to you when you make a factual error about your home town?
LAURA LIPPMAN:I believe it's become a great sport [LAUGHTER] among local readers to try to find errors, and they really keep me on my toes. So far I would assert that I've never been caught in a mistake about Baltimore, but I can't convince readers of that, because they sometimes get confused about what I'm making up. I'm often told -- often -- that I have made a mistake about the place where my heroine lives, and I try to convince people that it doesn't actually exist -- that the cross streets may be true, but the building isn't there, so therefore the alley isn't there -and so therefore I can't possibly have the door in the wrong place - which is something I've heard quite a bit.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What other sorts of mistakes tend to inspire the letter writers.
LAURA LIPPMAN:Well there's firearms. I received an e-mail from a man this year that began: Dear Miss Lippman, I don't know how you sleep at night [LAUGHTER] given the errors you have made about firearms and telecommunications.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What mistake were they objecting to?
LAURA LIPPMAN: I put a safety on a gun that doesn't have a safety.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Shame on you. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
LAURA LIPPMAN:And-- I know! I make mistakes when I'm absolutely sure I'm right. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and the fact that I had taken shooting lessons and taken the time to do my research, the fact that I keep a book on 9 millimeters, you know, close at hand when I'm writing -- those things made me complacent, and I didn't check it out. And the only reason there was even a reference to the safety is I'm very interested in showing my character as a responsible gun owner.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you take more time checking your facts as a novelist than you did as a reporter?
LAURA LIPPMAN:Absolutely because they're two tiers of facts. This is not to suggest that I was careless as a reporter. I was pretty anal-retentive about it. But you know at this point I've written over 700,000 words about Tess Monaghan. There's a pretty large body of biography, and I will get complaints from readers if I contradict myself from book to book - they're paying close of attention. So that's the first tier of facts I have to go through. And then when I get a manuscript in copy-edited form, I have to make a list of every fact-fact in the book, and I then have to double check it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Laura what's the mistake you made that bothered you the most?
LAURA LIPPMAN:Well it was in In a Strange City, and it was about Groucho Marx, and I am positively arrogant about my knowledge of the Marx Brothers.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So in that book you were flaunting your Groucho knowledge?
LAURA LIPPMAN:Yes, just tossing it off. I know exactly what I did. My character was watching a show on what in the book is called the far right end of the cable dial -- think Bill O'Reilly crossed with Chris Matthews, [LAUGHTER] and it is her observation that like the character Groucho Marx played in Duck Soup, he might as well be singing the song Whatever It Is, I'm Against It. And then one day I received the sweetest e-mail from a man who lives right around here, and he said I hate to tell you this, but Groucho sang that in Horsefeathers. [LAUGHTER] And I knew instantly he was right. And I felt so-- sheepish.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Just another story of the anguish of the novelist's life. [LAUGHTER]
LAURA LIPPMAN: Oh, yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Laura Lippman thank you very much.
LAURA LIPPMAN: Thank you, Brooke; it's been a pleasure speaking to you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Laura Lippman is an award-winning mystery writer whose latest novel is called The Last Place. [MUSIC]