A crackerjack mystery writer need not have been a journalist first, but the evidence is compelling that it can help—Michael Connelly, Stieg Larsson, and Edna Buchanan are good exhibits. In that pantheon belongs Laura Lippman, a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun whose most famous protagonist is Tess Monaghan, a reporter turned private investigator. Lippman is equally adept at writing novels that are not part of a series, and her three most recent, Sunburn, Lady in the Lake, and Dream Girl, are among the best mysteries published in the last few years. Seasonal Work, her new collection of short stories, illustrates how Lippman’s gift for exploring the criminal mind—and heart—can be as succinct as she wants it to be. Lippman lives in Baltimore with her husband and daughter.

JIM KELLY: When you sit down to write a book, do you always know the ending?

LAURA LIPPMAN: No, but I know the “big” secret.

J.K.: You once tweeted about an unnamed male writer who never blurbed female writers. Do you find female writers more generous in offering support than male writers?

L.L.: Not necessarily. There are some male writers who have been incredibly supportive—I almost hesitate to list them because I will leave some out, but Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, and Lee Child are some of the big names that come to mind. I could reel off a dozen, two dozen more. But I find that women, in general, have a more collaborative vibe, in general.

J.K.: It frustrates me as a reader when bookstores and reviewers make distinctions among literary novels, mysteries, thrillers, crime stories, espionage tales, and so forth. What I love about your books is that they are novels of psychological suspense, and that you brilliantly enter the minds of characters, and the plot flows so naturally that the reader cannot imagine a different ending. Do you ever feel pigeonholed as a mystery writer?

L.L.: Not really. I feel that the people who pigeonhole mystery writers are not mystery readers; they don’t know the territory. They’re like travel agents who have opinions about a country in which they have never traveled. I have met travel agents who are amazing within their areas of expertise, but can you imagine asking the person who knows everything about Australia to guide you through Italy? That’s what non–mystery readers are like. They have very out-of-date ideas about the genre.

J.K.: George V. Higgins said that he picked up his ear for dialogue by listening to so many wiretaps as a prosecutor. How did your career as a newspaper reporter shape your fiction-writing career?

L.L.: My career as a reporter gave me a healthy respect for deadlines and writing as something you do even when you don’t necessarily feel like it. My ear has been trained by a lifelong passion for eavesdropping—I have never forgotten hearing a man declare in a Baltimore restaurant, “I have such a got-damn fetish for fried chicken.” But I also found that the early days—and only the early days—of reality television provided a great window for how people speak and act when they are aware they are cultivating a persona for a larger audience.

J.K.: Is it easier to write a novel in a series featuring the same detective rather than a stand-alone novel?

L.L.: It seems like it should be, but that’s not my experience. It’s just different. Leg day versus abs day.

J.K.: What novelists shaped your career as a writer? And is there a writer living or dead who you think has been under-appreciated by critics?

L.L.: I’m drawn to novelists who are all over the place. Philip Roth was an important early influence, although that description doesn’t really apply to him. As for under-appreciated writers—Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has never gotten its due, and I think it’s because it centers on a girl.

J.K.: I know it is hard to pick a special child, but among all your books, is there a sentimental favorite?

L.L.: I would have to say After I’m Gone because I wrote it during a very happy time in my life, when my daughter was a toddler and we were living in New Orleans. I didn’t have a proper desk, just a corner in the kitchen, and I wrote a good portion of that book while my daughter sat nearby, eating the breakfast prepared by her incomparable babysitter. And the book itself centers on family, with scenes at many common family rituals. Just a warm, cozy memory.

J.K.: If Barack Obama called you up and asked you to collaborate with him on a novel, what would you say? There is a precedent of politicians working with authors, and in one case with a novelist who is quite well respected …

L.L.: O.K., so I had a knee-jerk reaction and wanted to say, “Oh, Barack Obama, you should be collaborating with S. A. Cosby.” Because Shawn is amazing and is writing about Black lives, but also masculinity in general. But I think that’s really reductive to pair a Black president and a Black writer. (I mean, they could write a kick-ass book together, no doubt, but that’s not the point.) The one writer I know to have appeared on Obama’s annual favorite list at least twice is Lauren Groff. I would love to see what they would get up to.

Anyway, I would say no. I’m a bit of a lone wolf. I think the only person who could tempt me into a collaboration would be another writer.

Laura Lippman’s new collection of stories, Seasonal Work, is out now from William Morrow

Jim Kelly is the Books Editor for AIR MAIL