Last night, I caught myself. I was at my event in NYC and a wonderful woman -- really, it was like Central Casting had sent out a call for "Laura Lippman reader" -- asked about the somewhat different style of Wilde Lake. The book, for the first two-thirds, switches between Lu Brant's first-person narration of a series of childhood events and the present-tense third-person limited POV of Lu over several months in 2015. The lovely woman in the audience, who said she had read everything I had written, asked if this structure had been difficult to conceive and execute.
It had been hard work and effort is one thing I feel I'm entitled to claim. (Results, achievements not so much.) Delighted by the question and this thoughtful reader, I started to say, "Oh yes, I --"
I doubt if anyone in the audience noticed, but I paused and substituted a verb for the one I had intended to use. I can't remember what I did say, but I know what I did not say: "Slaved."
My mind had just enough time to process this choice. How offensive, how misguided to use this word as a description of writing a novel. As a description of any work that is voluntary. I did not "slave." I wrote 3-4 hours a day and I was paid very nicely.
I offer this story because I know people fret about so-called micro-aggressions and political correctness. And, yes, I can see that sometimes we get a little silly about language.
But it never hurts to check ourselves, to examine the words we use, the biases and stereotypes that flit across our consciousness like cockroaches in the kitchen, fleeing the light.
Think about it this way: If you walk up to a friend and start fondling her breasts, that's quite rude. But if you do it to yourself once a month, in the privacy of your own home, it's just good preventive health care.
Speaking of language, I'm tagging this post "breasts" just to see what happens.