With a career marked by bestsellers and recognition, Lisa Scottoline is a multifaceted and versatile author. In addition to winning the prestigious Edgar Award for her 35 novels, Lisa also shares her insights and humor in a weekly column, “Chick Wit,” co-written with her daughter Francesca Serritella. Her works, ranging from humorous memoirs to gripping novels, have been bestsellers in over 35 countries, with over 30 million copies printed. Recognized for her ability to create captivating characters and engaging narratives, Lisa is a sought-after speaker at literary and corporate events, as well as a respected reviewer of fiction and non-fiction. Her influence extends beyond the literary world, being recognized by organizations such as the Mystery Writers of America and Cosmopolitan magazine. Despite all these accomplishments, Lisa considers her greatest achievement to be a single mother to a Harvard graduate, bestselling author, and columnist.
With over 35 novels, including the recent “Loyalty,” how do you perceive the evolution of your style throughout these works?
This is such an interesting question, and it’s catnip for any English major like me, but I don’t want to be too self-indulgent here. Bottom line, I don’t write with an outline, so I don’t even know what is going to happen in the story before I start. I have only a single idea, and I try to figure out what would happen next as I go along. Now to try to answer your question more specifically, I do notice that certain themes surface in each of my novels, namely, family, love, and justice, and I return to them again and again, refining them each time and trying to make them resonant. But none of this is planned and weirdly, it only can be seen when you reverse-engineer it, in other words, after the novel is written. Often I’ll look back and say, oh, I must’ve been interested in that, and that’s why I wrote a book about it and that’s how one book leads to the next. Not terribly impressive, but it’s absolutely true.
The column you co-write with your daughter, “Chick Wit,” provides a humorous take on life. How did this collaboration begin, and what is the most rewarding aspect of writing it?
I think because I love writing about great themes like crime and punishment, I do have a side that likes to make people laugh. For that reason, a lot of the characters in my books are smart and engaging, and I hope, witty. But when I want to take a break, my daughter Francesca Serritella and I write humor columns about our every day life and have been doing so for the Philadelphia Inquirer for over for 13 years. We recently left the newspaper, but I still write the column just for fun, and I send them out free in my own newsletter which anyone can sign up for at my website.
Your humorous memoirs, like “I See Life Through Rosé-Colored Glasses,” share funny and touching stories. How do you decide which stories to include, and how do you balance humor with emotion?
The touchstone is always, what would I tell my girlfriends about on the phone. And as soon as you write about that, you know you’re writing about something that can be relatable to every woman, and many men. Like, for example, I write about the time I found my first gray chin hair and thought I was turning into an Amish man. Or what it’s like to have an adult daughter who’s way smarter than me. What it’s like to share my life, and my bed, with four Cavalier King Charles spaniels, and how that might be the best life you can ever wish for on this planet. And as soon as you’re talking about stuff like that, the real stuff of being a human being, then everybody can join in and you know you have yourself a column idea.
You’re known for your energetic and funny thrillers, but you’ve also ventured into “Chick Lit.” How do you approach these genres differently, and what challenges come with transitioning between them?
It’s a fascinating question, and the real secret answer is that there’s no difference. The bottom line is that for any type of writing, regardless of genre, whether dark or light, or funny or serious, you have to write from the heart and something authentically true. Sometimes you have to think a lot before you begin to write, and just get to the essential truth of what you’re trying to say. If you’re authentic, it will have the ring of truth and people will relate to it immediately. Anytime you pull your punch, or tell some sanitized joke like on a bad sitcom with the laugh track, then you’re sunk. And I would really encourage anyone who wants to write to just go for it. There’s no school or farm team that you need to attend. Just sit down and do it. There are no rules.
Your contributions to literature have been widely recognized. Which award or acknowledgment means the most to you, and why?
I must tell you that I thank God every day for my life and the blessings of having real readers. I started writing 35 years ago, and that’s about 35 novels ago, and I was published originally only in paperback. I have worked my way up all this time, book by book, chapter by chapter, and reader by reader. So anytime someone picks up one of my books and either writes an online review about it or writes me an email about it, I am over the moon. Each reader is an accomplishment. And a dream.
As the president of the Mystery Writers of America, what was your focus, and what legacy would you like to have left for the organization?
I started writing crime fiction partly because I felt that there were not enough female voices in it, especially women as a main character. That was in the 1990s, and though the situation is better, it’s hardly equal. During my time and tenure, I tried to promote as many women as possible, and still do. We really have an obligation to help younger writers, not just women, but men as well, because I think everyone has a voice, and I want to hear everyone. Diversity is our strength, always.
You taught the course “Justice and Fiction” at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. How does justice intertwine with fiction in your perspective?
I loved developing and teaching that course, and the answer would take way too long, but here’s the gist: in the conventional model of law and justice, law is supposed to lead to justice, but we know nowadays that law does not always lead to justice and worse, paradoxically, we know that law can sometimes thwart justice. Anytime that happens, and it happens way too often, I am interested in that ironic wrench that will be at the heart of the story. For example, in my novel LOYALTY, I learned how legal changes in Sicily in the 1800s, which were enacted in theory to enable non-nobles to buy land, actually had the paradoxical effect of contributing to the birth of the mafia. Now that’s interesting.
Which authors or books have significantly influenced your writing over the years?
I must tell you I read so widely that there are too many to mention here and if I did, I would get in trouble. But I just encourage everyone to read, and read both fiction and nonfiction. Memoir in particular is so fascinating to me and I read tons of it. I think I learned something from every book and every author I read. I make a point of that, in any event.
Besides writing, your life is filled with interests, from your passion for gardening to your pets. How do these activities impact or inspire your writing?
I have way too many dogs, and cats, and chickens, and even a horse or two and a new pony. I’d love to be outside and playing in the garden and riding the pony and just trying to stay on top and not fall off. I think it’s really good to do something away from the computer and the printed word from time to time and often I get my best ideas that way. If I’m stuck on a point of plot in the novel, and I go for a ride, it will come to me. Or even during a yoga session. Or in a shower or walking the dogs around the block. It’s hard to say with this mystical connection is except sometimes I think I have a pasture outback, and I know that has to be fallow sometimes and rest to be fertile. I think the brain is like that, just a little bit of time to rest every day pays dividends and brings the joy back into creativity.
Can you give us a sneak peek into your future projects? Is there anything specific you’re currently working on and would like to share?
I just started my next novel today, and I wrote 1100 words. Now that’s a slow start in my view because I like to write 2000 words a day and I don’t stop until I get to the end. I never edit along the way, I do what Hemingway says, which is: write drunk, edit sober. Except I do it without the alcohol. You get the idea. That’s all I can say about the next novel, but I’m really excited about it, and it’s the story about a young woman who gets herself in very deep trouble and then gets herself out of it again. Kind of like life, no?
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