Writers on Writing: A Q & A with Lisa Scottoline
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Food, Fitness & Fiction is thrilled to share this great Q & A with the highly accomplished author of twenty-two novels, Lisa Scottoline. A New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-winning author, Scottoline has 30 million copies of her books in print in the United States. She has also been published in thirty-five countries. Scottoline has served as the president of Mystery Writers of America, and her thrillers have been optioned for television and film. She also writes a weekly humor column with her daughter, Francesca Serritella, for The Philadelphia Inquirer. She currently lives in the Philadelphia area with an array of disobedient pets.
To celebrate the launch of her latest book, Most Wanted (St. Martin’s Press, April 12, 2016), Scottoline was kind enough to share her thoughts about writing and being an author via email. What wonderful responses! Read on to see exactly what I mean.
EZ: What did you study in college and when did you become a writer?
LS: I studied English and American literature at Penn undergrad, and I majored in the modern American novel, because I was thinking about being a writer for a long time. I wasn’t sure exactly how to go about it and I still had to earn a living, as well as pay back student loans, so I ended up becoming a paralegal and then going to law school. But when my daughter was born and I became a single mother at about the same time, not exactly the path I would recommend, I realized that I wanted to stay home with my daughter and so I thought, here’s my chance to try and become a writer! After five years of rejection, I finally got published! Yay!
EZ: You do so much—and have such a big family (including several pets). Do you ever sleep, and if so, what’s typical for you?
LS: I sleep like a baby and I make sure I get about seven or eight hours a night. My newest thing is that I have a treadmill desk, which I’m deeply in love with and it’s great for my back and it’s also great because instead of sitting all day long, I work walking very slowly, even as I type this! The added benefit is that at night I’m even sleepier! It’s a great way to sneak some fitness in when your job is basically sedentary!
EZ: When working on a novel, do you have a specific process (e.g. writing a certain number of hours each day or hitting a certain word count several days a week) or does it change from novel to novel depending on what else is going on (e.g. teaching or touring)?
LS: I actually do have a certain procedure and honestly I think it is the secret to success for me. I say this because writing is very behavioral and a lot of people spend a lot of time thinking about it, which I do too, and that’s when self-doubt creeps in, even for me. So I say to myself that I have to write 2000 words a day and that’s every day of the week. Some days I’ll be finished at 6 o’clock but other days it will take maybe until 11 o’clock at night. Either way, if I write at that pace, it keeps everything humming smoothly and keeps the thoughts flowing. It’s really important to feel that flow as a writer, and for those who are lucky enough to do it all day, I really recommend you spend a little bit of time every day and setting yourself a modest word quota, maybe sixty words, so that you always stay in the groove.
EZ: What is it about mystery writing that intrigues you? And who are some of your favorite mystery writers/novels?
LS: I really love issues of justice, crime, and law, and that’s at the heart of every mystery novel, in addition to that age-old battle between good and evil. I really love the bigger subjects like that and it is really a privilege to be able to address them in fiction. In addition, I love writing a thriller where the protagonist gets him or herself in trouble, because there is nothing more fun than racing through a book to see what happens in the end. I read almost all of the mystery and thriller writers out there, and if I named one or two I get into real trouble, so I’m going to punt on that if you don’t mind.
EZ: What was the impetus that made you want to write your latest novel, Most Wanted*?
LS: The idea for the novel came from me thinking about how much I love my daughter Francesca and one day I was just thinking about what my life would have been like without her. I’m a single mother and she’s my only child, so it was really sort of unimaginable, then I started to think about what if I couldn’t have had a child, if I were infertile, and that led me into looking into infertility, which I think is a subject that really deserves to be discussed more in the open. So many couples struggle with it and with all the technological advances, such as egg and sperm donation, there are really plenty of emotional and important issues that need to be delved into, so all of that gave rise to the book.
EZ: What is the greatest part of being an author for you? And what is the most challenging?
LS: I feel so lucky and blessed to be an author I can’t even tell you. I’m so grateful to people who read me, people like you, who have such thoughtful and interesting questions! Everything about being a writer is wonderful, and I went through five years of rejection to get this career and I feel so lucky every day that I get to tell any story I want! The most challenging part is the writing itself. I think the first person to say that was the great Nora Ephron, who said the hardest thing about writing is writing. The writing process is not an easy one, though it has its pleasures, there’s lots of insecurity and self-doubt that creep in, as well as just being stumped by what a character would do next. But persevering through those hard times is a lesson in itself, and it’s a lesson I’ve been learning for the past thirty years!
EZ: You and your daughter Francesca have co-written several humor books (as a food and nutrition expert, I especially got a kick out of one of your titles, Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat?). What is the process in your collaboration and has it changed since you began working together?
LS: Thank you so much for mentioning those books because I’m very proud of them and so is Francesca, and they just made the New York Times bestseller list last year, after six years of growing our readership! We collaborate per se, because Francesca writes her stories in New York City where she lives, and I write at home in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and it’s sometimes pretty funny when we get together to make the book and see what we’ve been writing about. The best examples of a time when she was writing about how she reads the wedding announcements and worries that she’s getting near some magical age caught off and I had written about how I always read the obituaries and I’m getting too near the magical age cut off. But most of the books are about the relationship of mothers and daughters and I think that’s a wonderful thing to write about because it’s really dramatic, funny, silly, and sometimes exasperating and so many mothers and daughters are as close as we are but you never see positive images of mothers and daughters in print. And I also like to write about the lighter side of how hard women are on each other, which is something Francesca loves to write about also, and I think those books are terrific because you get her perspective as a thirty-year-old and mine as a sixty-year-old, which is surprisingly similar! In other words, don’t sweat it! Our new memoir is coming in July and it’s entitled I’VE GOT SAND IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES. Believe it or not, it’s not about literal sand, but about a lighter way of looking at life!
EZ: Where and how do you best like to write?
LS: I love writing at home and right now since it’s spring, I moved into my sunroom, which I call my summer office, LOL! It has windows on three sides and is light and airy and you might be interested to know that I work on a treadmill desk. I really love this thing, which has changed my life! I used to sit all day and I gave myself scoliosis over time, but now I simply walk very slowly while I type, and it’s terrific! I feel more energy throughout the day and I think I’m generally fitter, though God knows I could lose a little more weight! But it’s a wonderful thing to be mobile instead of sedentary, and at night it makes me even sleep better!
EZ: How do you like to keep fit, or as I say, #moveitorloseit?
LS: I wish I were in better shape, but the treadmill desk does help a little bit. I also walk the dogs and I even have a little pony that I like to ride twice a week. His name is Buddy and he’s 32 years old, so all he ever wants to do is walk and maybe trot a little, which is about all I’m up for. Though I’ve ridden horses for almost 15 years, I’m still not very good at it. I like to go nice and slow and I ride with a group of girlfriends and we yap away the whole time, so I doubt it qualifies as fitness! But still, at least we are outside!
EZ: Any advice for aspiring writers/novelists, especially women, to get started/stay motivated in what can be a grueling (though extremely rewarding) career?
LS: I really think the important thing is, just do it. I stole that slogan from Nike but it really makes sense. We tend to overthink things, especially as women, and I don’t think we’re socialized to take risk very well. I think that’s really unfortunate because it holds us back. So I think if people are thinking about writing, or just about anything, I would say, just do it! Try to write a little bit every day, even for half an hour and give yourself a little work quota, maybe fifty words. Try to tell a story in little increments, because that’s the only way stories ever get told or written. It’s probably very similar to a fitness program where the whole thing seems daunting, but if you run a mile a day, before you know it probably you’ll be able to run three. I used to be a runner I’m thinking about taking it up again and so maybe I’ll take my own advice!
*A description of Most Wanted from Amazon:
Donor 3319 Profile:
Tall. Blonde. Blue eyes.
Wanted for Serial Murder.
Christine Nilsson and her husband, Marcus, are desperate for a baby. Unable to conceive, they find themselves facing a difficult choice they had never anticipated. After many appointments with specialists, endless research, and countless conversations, they make the decision to use a donor.
Two months pass, and Christine is happily pregnant. But one day, she is shocked to see a young blond man on the TV news being arrested for a series of brutal murders―and the blond man bears an undeniable and uncanny resemblance to her donor.
Delving deeper to uncover the truth, Christine must confront a terrifying reality and face her worst fears. Riveting and fast-paced with the depth of emotionality that has garnered Lisa Scottoline legions of fans,Most Wanted poses an ethical and moral dilemma: What would you do if the biological father of your unborn child was a killer?
To learn more about Lisa Scottoline and all of her other work, visit her website.
Image of Lisa Scottoline via April Narby.
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