We’re thrilled to welcome New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award winning author Lisa Scottoline to the blog today. Lisa writes page-turning, emotional thrillers and her latest, MOST WANTED, was chosen as Best Book of the Spring by Amazon!
Lisa stopped by to take our Tall Poppy Q&A, where she shares her favorite character(s), where she loves to be most, why Dunkin’ Donuts is her go-to, and what advice she has for aspiring writers…
Talk about one book that made an impact on you?
There is no one single book that had an influence on me, but I was definitely influenced by the Nancy Drew series. I loved that she was the main character, a rarity in those days and not plentiful enough now, and I love her bold spirit of adventure. I love that she drove her own car. I love that it was a blue roadster. I love that she had a best friend, just like me. She had a boyfriend, which I didn’t all the time, but as a child, I really identified with her boldness and wanted to be like her. I grew up with her in my mind and when I started writing, there’s a part of me that got permission to write about independent female heroines from Nancy Drew! Not to mention my mother, whom we called Mother Mary, who was strongly flavored herself, in a most delightful way!
Who’s one of your favorite (fictional or non-fictional) characters?
For similar reason, I loved Scout in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and the similarity between Nancy Drew and Scout are easy to see. In fact the English major in me would point out that neither had a mother, which was probably the plot device that enabled the young girl to have adventures. But I love how Scout ventures out into the world and gets herself into situations that her father Atticus wishes she wouldn’t, and I also love the relationship between father and daughter, which very much mirrored my relationship to my father.
Talk about one thing that’s making you happy right now.
Believe it or not, I’m just happy to be able to get some writing time, like many of you! Just to give you some background, I was trying to get published for five years, and enduring five years of rejection, before I finally got published. I don’t regret that struggle because it made the achievement all the much sweeter, since it was so hard fought. But I admit that when I was unpublished, I always thought that when I was a published writer I would have tons of uninterrupted time in which to write, and that is not the case! There’s still lots of business questions to be answered, email to be answered, social media to be posted, and I just got back from tour, which is something I love to do because I meet my readers. But still, it takes away from writing time and it’s very hard to tour in the middle of a novel because it completely breaks the mood and train of thought that you were in before you left. So I’m actually delighted to be able to come home today, the first day after tour, and spend some time thinking about my new book and starting to write it, probably tomorrow morning.
Where do you love to be?
I love to be home. I just love my home. I am a born homebody and I have five dogs that I love being around, as well as three cats and even a pony, and I’ve been trying all my life to make a domestic life as pleasant and happy as possible, since I work at home. I know that sounds boring, but there is simply no place I would rather be, and it’s a beautiful spring day now, with a magnolia tree just beginning to flower outside of my sunroom where I work in the summer time. The five dogs are snoring away and I have the peace and time to answer this very thoughtful questionnaire. You really can’t beat it.
Which talent do you wish you had?
I guess I wish I were better with numbers. I think I have math anxiety, or maybe I just let myself off the hook when I was in school, but I actually freeze up about numbers. It extends even to addresses. If it’s a number, I mentally freak out. I mess up on how much something cost and it’s a real effort to leave a tip in a restaurant, and I always leave 20% because it’s easier to figure out than 15%. Also, I used to be a waitress. LOL!
What’s your secret or not-so-secret superpower?
My secret superpower is that I remember people’s names, and the truth is, I think it’s just because I listen when they tell it to me. And I love meeting people and for some reason I instantly associate their names with who they are, and I rarely forget their name. It’s very touching because I often have a reader say, you remembered my name and I always think you told it to me, so of course I remember it. The funny thing is, there is nothing I remember that well at all. I often forget my daughter’s birthday, for example. I can’t remember the ages of any of my pets. I can’t remember where I parked my car in the parking lot. I often forget which floor of the store I’m on. I never know where my keys are. But I can remember the name of almost everybody I meet!
If you were a drink, what would you be and why?
I would be tequila because tequila is warm and cuddly an awesome. I love tequila and I love margaritas and whenever I drink tequila, I’m the happiest drunk ever. I tend to be a happy drunk anyway, but tequila is a mellower happiness. Now I’m making myself thirsty.
The road to publication is twisty at best–tell us about some of your twists?
The real truth for me is that there was so much rejection and I just learned to go ahead anyway, and also I learned to try to write something different. I actually took the rejection letters I got very seriously, and though most of them were form letters, some of them weren’t. Some of them explained very carefully why they didn’t like the novel I had sent them, but told me I had talent and suggested I try something else. I really found that encouraging and I’m a cactus of a person — if you just give me a little bit of water, I’ll grow forever. I think that’s a good trait for a writer and maybe for people who are writing and want to be published right now. So I give it as advice, imagine yourself as a cactus, study rejection letters, because there aren’t many people who would take the time to explain why they rejected you. And then write something different. Don’t get stuck on sending the same book or story out over and over again. You can keep sending it out, but in the meantime, work on something else.
To me, writing is like an education. It’s never wasted. The more you write, the better you’ll be as a writer. It’s as simple as that. And in the meantime, read as much as you can. Read people who write the type of books you would like to write, though your work will of course always be original. You must either be reading or writing, that was my rule to myself. Even when I was unpublished, which as I said earlier was for a five-year period, I said to myself if you are not writing your own book, then you should be reading someone else’s. This way you’re taking yourself seriously in the career you are trying to choose or switch to, and you nurture yourself in this way. I really would encourage anybody who wants to write because I think so many people have wonderful stories in them, and I would love to hear them all.
When you were a teenager, what did you think you’d be when you grew up?
I thought I would be a lawyer, which I was, encouraged by reading so many Perry Mason novels as a child. But I secretly always wanted to be a writer and I just didn’t know how to go about doing it, and also, frankly, I lack the courage to take a risk. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten better with risk, and I really want to encourage anybody who’s taking the plunge right now.
What time of day do you love best?
I love all times of day for all different reasons. I love the productivity I have in the morning, but I also love the mellowness at night, and I use that in my writing. If there is a sadder scene, or a more emotional or romantic scene, I write it at night when my defenses will be down.
Share one quirk that most people don’t know about?
I’m the quirkiest person ever, but my biggest quirk is that I must have Dunkin’ Donuts coffee with extra cream, extra sugar when I start writing. I really don’t think I can write without it. I’ve tried every kind of coffee maker ever and none of them are as good as Dunkin’ Donuts bought at the store.
Tell us a secret about the main character in your novel — something that’s not even in your book.
Let me tell you something, there is no secret about a main character that isn’t in a book and I would venture to suggest that if there is, you might want to think about putting it in the book. I think of the reader as my confidant, or my character’s confidant. My reader knows almost everything that’s going on in the mind of my characters, and I think that helps to build identification between reader and character. My characters have no secrets, and quite honestly, neither do I.
I write a series of humorous memoirs with my daughter Francesca Serritella, in which we write about the lighter side and even the more poignant things in our personal lives, and I love doing that. I love to read memoir, and it’s even more fun to write it.
Share something guaranteed to make you laugh?
My dogs make me laugh every day.
What is your advice for aspiring writers?
I think I said much of it above, but I really would be encouraging. And the most important thing about it is to try to have faith in yourself, even though sometimes self-doubt will begin, press on regardless. The most valuable advice I can give is that writing is behavioral, you have to sit down and do it every day. You may have a day job — I had a day job the first two years of my writing career too. But the truth is, if you can just sit down and write even for as little as fifteen minutes a day, it will keep your mojo going.
My other piece of advice is that you set yourself a word quota. It doesn’t have to be a very high one, it could be as low as sixty words a day, but just try to write to that amount every day. And let that be your goal, so you know when you’re finished. It will give you a great feeling of satisfaction, in addition to continuing toward finishing a novel. It’s really important to get that first draft down and to keep at it every day, and keep the faith!
Have you ever tried writing in a different genre? How did that turn out?
I write lots of different genres — mystery, thriller, women’s fiction, and now nonfiction memoir — and the truth is, it’s all the same. You have to be confident in your voice and just tell the story as well as you can, with as fully realized characters as you can, and try to edit it later so that you don’t bore the reader or bog down the narrative. I really think that genre and classifications are an illusion, and even the difference between fiction and nonfiction is irrelevant. It’s all about voice and story and anybody can do it!
Thanks so much for stopping by, Lisa!
Lisa Scottoline is the New York Times bestselling author of seventeen novels and also writes a weekly column, Chick Wit, for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Lisa has won many honors and awards, notably the Edgar Award, given for excellence in crime fiction, and the Fun Fearless Female Award from Cosmopolitan Magazine. She also teaches a course she created, called Justice and Fiction at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and regularly does speaking engagements. There are twenty-five million copies of her books in print, and she is published in over thirty other countries. She remains a lifelong resident of the Philadelphia area, where she lives with her array of disobedient pets. Find Lisa on her website, Facebook page, and on Twitter.