LISA SCOTTOLINE Interviewed By Ava Black
By Ava Black
Lisa Scottoline is the New York Times, USA Today, Washington Journal, and Washington Post bestselling author of twenty-four novels, including the Rosato and DiNunzio series, with over thirty million copies in print. She’s won numerous awards for her fiction and non-fiction works, including Final Appeal and Why My Third Husband Will Be A Dog. Her weekly “Chick Wit” column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, which she pens with her daughter Francesca Serritella, is crafted with clever humor and bold perspectives on modern women’s issues as seen through the eyes of a Baby Boomer and a Millennial. Her most recent novel, the psychological thriller Every Fifteen Minutes, spent multiple weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Amazon has named her forthcoming novel, Corrupted (October 2015), as one of the top twenty blockbuster books of fall.
Ava Black: The Kids-for-Cash scandal inspired your newest novel, Corrupted, the third in the Rosato and DiNunzio series, which explores how law and justice can conflict. When your main character, attorney Bennie Rosato, begins questioning her own convictions, she tries to restore her faith in herself and the legal system by proving her client’s innocence even though she suspects he’s guilty. What sub-plot themes did you use to accomplish this?
Lisa Scottoline : First, thank you for such a thoughtful and probing question. I wanted to write this novel in a way that made Bennie’s personal crisis dovetail with her legal task at hand, which was to get Jason acquitted. I did this because I think if I am known for anything, it’s probably my strong female characters, and I think I have always tried to think of main characters in a holistic way, even when they were lawyers. (LOL) No one is their occupation; we are much more than that. So I think I accomplished this in the novel not only through the subplots, but I hope through the main plot, because I wanted to make the point that Bennie’s personal crisis and her professional crisis are one and the same; they are not severable. So in this sense, the personal crisis that Bennie experiences, not only in wanting redemption for a case she should have won, but also a man she truly loves back in her life, isn’t a subplot at all, but a throughline that runs parallel with the main plot.
AB:How has your career as a lawyer influenced your writing? How has it shaped the themes of morality and justice in your books?
LS: I loved being a trial lawyer and I loved standing up and arguing to judges and juries. I gave this love to Bennie and I think anybody who becomes a trial lawyer selects themselves in an almost Darwinian way; you don’t go through it unless you love it, and you have to love it to be successful at it. Or at least have a happy life. And in the novels, as I fell to my professional life, I am always interested in the place where law and justice disconnect. In modern thinking and everyone’s practical experience, law does not always lead to justice and even occasionally thwarts justice.
AB: Mental illness torments Dr. Eric Parrish and his teenage client, Max in your previous non-series novel Every Fifteen Minutes. How did you decide which psychological disorders would best propel the plot without destroying it?
LS: I always write what I’m interested in, and I have always been interested in mental illness because I see very clearly the way that it connects with our justice system and in fact is criminalized throughout our justice system. I have always been interested in OCD because it’s something that I think so many people toss around in a slang way, like “I have so OCD so I’m always on time to meetings.” The more research I did, the more I learned that those kind of comments, which I myself have made, really misunderstand the true nature of the illness and its deteriorating effects. I love doing research so much for that novel that I know I will return to that subject and the impact of mental illness on the justice system. Sadly, that is an issue we live with every day.
AB: Because you reach out to readers with a uniquely genuine and relatable voice, fans connect with your work in highly personal ways. Have you ever connected with a fan’s letter, or had a fan experience that’s resonated so strongly its inspired a character’s thoughts or a novel’s theme?
LS: I love getting email from my readers and I read every one and reply to as many as possible. I draw inspiration from them every day, because many of them talk about how a book of mine, or even books in general, help them get through the difficult times in their life, like the illness of a parent, or chemo, or just a difficult emotional crisis. Those letters inspire me in many ways and through their true strength. They have never inspired a plot line or anything like that, because I truly think those have to come from within, at least in my case. Every novel has to come from some emotional truth that I feel personally, and you can’t get that from an email from somebody else, however heartfelt.
AB: Writing can be an overbearing festival of self-doubt and rejection. You’re an incredibly talented writer who’s worked diligently at sharpening her skills. What’s the toughest lesson that honing craft has taught you?
LS: I have so many lessons, and I love to talk about them because I really want to help people. But my biggest lesson is a behavioral one and I borrowed it from the Nike company. Which is just do it. Don’t over think it. Don’t judge yourself. Sit down and try to write for long stretches of time, and an uninterrupted fashion. That means no Internet, no texting, no nothing. If you are lucky enough to be able to find this time, good on you. If you’re not, try to make it for yourself. My biggest advice to anyone and what I have learned the most of is what I call protect the candle. I always think about people in haunted houses running around with candles and they have to shield the candle. It’s a delicate flame and it can be extinguished by the slightest thing. That’s how writing time, and how writing itself, is for me. It needs to be protected from the outside world. So I think it’s important to give people who want to write, and even people who are lucky enough to be writing today, permission to tell the outside world to go away. To merely keep it at bay. To seem antisocial when people ask you to lunch, which seems like nothing to them, but which will shoot the day for any writer. My social life has diminished greatly since I become a writer, but I feel personally much more fulfilled and happy because I’m attaining my goals, which is telling stories I want to tell and choosing the social things I want to do, not merely saying yes when someone asks. That’s protecting the candle. And by the way, I think it’s especially hard for women, who tend to people-please. It’s taken me a long time to learn it, but now I say no without guilt. Say no to someone else is saying yes to myself.
AB: In an interview with Tavis Smiley you brought up a question Maya Angelou once asked him about writing a thank-you note to the man who challenged him through adversity. Who is your thank-you note addressed to and what does it say?
LS: Thank you so much for this question and for watching that interview. I watch Travis Smiley every night and seeing him and talking with him was honestly one of the highlights of my life. My thank-you note is truly addressed to my readers. I love their emails, I love when they tell me what they like in my books, and even like it when they tell me what they don’t like. I love it when they tell me to write more or write faster. I love it when they send me questions about books I wrote ten years ago and I can’t even remember the answer. It is an amazing feeling to have people out there who actually want to read what you write, and I think every writer at core just wants to be taken seriously. There is no more important thank you that needs to be sent, and that would be mine.
AB: What is the biggest obstacle today’s readers face?
LS: Distraction, distraction, distraction. I know it myself, and I often catch myself scrolling through my phone on twitter or Facebook, at a time when I would normally be reading a book. But I think finally the novelty is wearing off and people are beginning to realize something, which I am just realizing to: if you spend an hour reading dumb stuff online, afterwards you feel unsettled, vaguely edified, but generally nothing. But if you spend an hour reading a novel, I always feel centered, nurtured, and generally great. Books really do have magical powers in that way, and they nurture us, heal us, and connect us to each other. And that’s why I love reading.
AB: If you could choose to be a female writer born into the Boomer, X, or Millennial generation, which would you choose and why?
LS: What a difficult question! I guess I’m going to say Boomer, because that’s what I am, and I feel so lucky and happy, even with all the years of struggle, and believe me I had plenty. There were five years of at the beginning in which I was completely un-published gettirejected by everybody. I always quote my favorite rejection letter from an agent New York who said he “didn’t have time to take anybody but if he did he wouldn’t take me.” I see him every year at Book Expo where I pointedly avoid him. And even after I got published, I was published only in paperback original, which made me want to try harder to develop a following, and ultimately to get into hardback. Writing really isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon, and that’s why I tell newer writers to not hold so tightly to their first novel. It’s just their first novel hopefully in a career that will include many many many novels. So I think the struggle that I went through has made everything since then sweeter and I am more profoundly grateful for everything that I have, including my readers and even being interviewed by wonderful magazine like Crimespree! Thank you so much!
AB: You’re incredibly open and close with your adult daughter, Francesca, and often joke about embarrassing situations. During a Google Plus Hangout session, you spoke about how easy it is to rattle her, mentioning that when you suggested wearing identical blazers to an author event she was mortified. What else do you do that makes her eyes roll?
LS: LOL! I love that you watch that interview it has been one of the many blessing of my life to watch my daughter Francesca find her own voice as a writer, as well as in it as an adult, and to not only be my co-author but to finish her own novel, which she just did! And there are so many things I do or say that and make her eyes roll, I can even list them here. That’s my job, isn’t it?
AB: Brownies: Chewy, cakie, or fudgy?
LS: Okay, let me tell you something very important. Brownies are not the same thing as chocolate cake. I love chocolate cake, but brownies don’t do it for me, at all. And chocolate cake can be chilly, kinky, or fudgy, and I will eat it. I’m glad we settled that.
AB: Would you ever adopt a bird?
LS: I already have fourteen chickens and they have taught me so much I can’t even begin to tell you. As soon as I got to know them, and saw that they came to their name, came to me for treats, and generally love popcorn, I stopped eating chicken forever. I never even looked back. So yes, I would adopt a bird. Don’t tempt me.
AB: You’re deeply devoted to the cause of animal welfare and loyally dedicated to the horses, chickens, cats, and dogs who live on your farm. Recently, your Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Peaches, had puppies. How are they doing?
LS: How nice of you to ask! I do love all animals, and since I believe that might does not make right, I don’t eat them. I’ve even stopped buying leather, which is a huge pain in the butt, but once you know something, you can’t unknow it, especially as a writer. All of my animals are doing fine, and the dogs are sleeping happily away as I write this, which is one of the greatest things ever about dogs.