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Five things you didn’t know about Baltimore author Laura Lippman and her new book ‘My Life As a Villainess'

Laura Lippman's first essay collection is called, ‘My Life As a Villainess.'
Laura Lippman's first essay collection is called, ‘My Life As a Villainess.' (Lesley Unruh)

The best-selling crime novelist Laura Lippman is a woman you can be around all your life without ever really knowing.

She’ll pop up in a Federal Hill cafe near her home or on Twitter or in The New York Times. She has a knack for detecting emerging cultural preoccupations — whether selfies without makeup or dressing up for Twitter during a pandemic — and usually has something funny or perceptive to add to the conversation.

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But like many writers, her gaze has turned outward. That’s about to change with Tuesday’s publication of her debut essay collection, “My Life As a Villainess.” To celebrate the book’s release, Lippman, a former reporter for The Baltimore Sun, will join novelist Alice Bolin in a virtual conversation Aug. 12 sponsored by the Ivy Bookshop.

The essays are candid, but circumspect. “There’s tons of stuff I won’t say. I’m very firm on the idea that honesty and authenticity do not equal full exposure,” Lippman said.

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But there’s also tons of stuff that Lippman will say. Below are five unexpected insights gleaned from her book and a follow-up interview:

She thinks she’s a crummy friend

Lippman doesn’t fully understand why she’s reluctant to initiate contact with friends, but instead makes them approach her.

One close buddy was Rob Hiaasen, former deputy editor of the Capital Gazette. But when Hiaasen and four coworkers were fatally shot in 2018, Lippman estimated they hadn’t spoken in two years.

“I want to be the best friend I can,” she said. “If you call or email me, I’ll always be there for you. But, there’s an inertia that keeps me from reaching out.”

Her friendship essay originally was published last fall on the online website Longreads — and the response put to rest suspicions that she may have judged herself too harshly.

“I didn’t receive an avalanche of letters from my friends encouraging me to think differently about myself,” she said.

She fostered her husband’s ‘bromance’ with Anthony Bourdain

Lippman’s husband, David Simon, creator of “The Wire” and former Baltimore Sun reporter, wangled a phone number for the late chef Bourdain from a mutual acquaintance in 2009 after watching a marathon of the travel and food show “No Reservations.” But Simon stewed over how to approach the superstar.

Lippman suggested that Simon ask Bourdain for help creating a chef character to be featured in Simon’s new television show. The ruse worked and Bourdain became a writer for “Treme.”

“Those two guys were meant to be friends,” Lippman said. “Bourdain and David got each other on a level you rarely see.”

When Bourdain took his own life in 2018, she and Simon were heartbroken.

“The only person who can explain why someone commits suicide is the person himself,” Lippman said. “But he’s never around to provide answers.”

She became a mother and de facto single parent at 51

“My husband wanted another child,” she writes in the essay, “Game of Crones.” (Simon has a grown son from his first marriage.)

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“That’s our dynamic. He writes checks; I make things happen.” (The essay doesn’t specify how Lippman made their daughter’s birth happen.)

She became a mom though Simon’s television producer job kept him out of town weekdays from February through mid-September. Child care would be primarily Lippman’s responsibility — and inevitably disrupt the “crazy ambitious” writing schedule that resulted in the publication of 24 books since 1997.

Motherhood may have slowed Lippman’s writing regime, but hasn’t stopped it. Still, when the pandemic shut down film and TV production, it conferred an unexpected benefit.

“For the past five months, I’ve had a 50-50 co-parent and it’s been fantastic,” she said. “It’s the greatest thing in the world.”

Lippman struggled with her body image

A statuesque, big-boned blond, Lippman was born into a family of diminutive women. Growing up, she was subject to insults about her size.

“I was very aware of being tall and broad-shouldered and not a tiny, feminine person who required care and protection,” Lippman said.

“Now I think I’m a knockout. I put on my two-piece bathing suit and go to the pool. Boy, I wish I could have figured that out a lot earlier.”

She suspects her daughter loves her former nanny more than her

Lippman doesn’t pretend her caregiving skills are on par with those of Sara, the former nanny. Nor does she pretend it won’t make a difference in her daughter’s affections. But she’s convinced that stepping off to one side was the right thing to do — for her and Georgia Rae.

“I saw the love between my daughter and this woman which was instantaneous, and it felt great,” Lippman said.

“I’m so tired of women feeling guilty because of the choices they make, so I wanted to push back. That story hasn’t been told enough.”

“My Life as a Villainess: Essays,” will be published Tuesday by William Morrow and Company. $28.99.

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