Move Over, Boys Lisa's got the goods
By Julie A. Pierce and Rowdy Rhodes
Time Magazine says, "Scottoline is a star." USA Today hails her writing as "sharp, intelligent, funny, and hip" and says that she "gives fans of thrillers a good, twisty plot, lively characters, and an all-around fun read." One fan goes so far as to write, ". . . the amazing author Lisa Scottoline is much, much better than the most famous one . . . ."
With her trademark wit and humour, Lisa delivers thrilling, page-turning entertainment. Her best-selling novels feature gutsy, resilient female leads whose lives unfold against a Philadelphia backdrop. She writes from an internal bank of personal knowledge, enlivening her characters with compelling personalities by drawing on her experience as a trial lawyer and as a judicial clerk in the state and federal justice systems.
At the start of her career, living a life solely financed by five Visa's cards, Lisa allowed herself five years, or $50,000 in credit (whichever came first) to write and sell her first book. Three years later, Lisa had a finished book, a daughter starting school, and five maxed-out credit cards. Debt-ridden, Lisa took a part-time job clerking for a federal appellate judge. No more than a week later, her first novel, Everywhere That Mary Went was bought by HarperCollins. Critically acclaimed, Everywhere That Mary Went was nominated by the Mystery Writer's of America for the Edgar Award, suspense fiction's premiere award, and the award went to . . . someone else. But, the very next year, Lisa's second book, Final Appeal was nominated for the Edgar and won!
This month, Lisa not only releases her 14th novel, Daddy's Girl, but she also let's loose with IN providing insider advice and insights into becoming a best-selling author.
IN: When, what, where did you first start writing, professionally speaking?
LS: When it comes to writing, I make no distinction between professionals and non-professionals. This is because I really want to encourage people to write and I think everybody has a book in them. In fact, all of us who are published authors were unpublished once. So I think I started writing way back in college, where I was an English major and took courses under such great teachers as Philip Roth. A writer writes! And if you're writing, you're a writer!
IN: What prompted you to dive head first into a writing career using only your credit cards?
LS: When my daughter was born, and I unfortunately divorced, I found I really loved being home with her and that I had to think of a new career, rather than going out to be a trial lawyer. It was a personal decision, and I never fault anybody who made the decision the other way, but for me it was do or die. I saw that many men were writing novels that starred male lawyers, and I thought, is there room for one in which the main character is a woman?
IN: Why did you decide to write legal suspense novels?
LS: The reason I decided to write suspense novels is because I love the notion of a page-turner and in fact, those are my favourite kinds of novels to read. However, I never did agree with the label "legal suspense." I think of my books as stories in which the main character is a strong, smart and sexy woman who gets herself into trouble and has to get herself out of it again. That she happens to be a lawyer or a judge, or work in the legal profession is simply beside the point. Characterization is the most important thing in novels, and I never write about characters that are so completely work identified. I'm not, as a personal matter.
IN: Do you see yourself as the female equivalent to John Grisham or are your respective works of a completely different nature?
LS: I really think that my voice is completely different from John Grisham's. I know it was People Magazine that made the comparison, calling me the "female John Grisham," and while I know that was a compliment, it made me feel like I was cross-dressing. I don't think you could ever read a page of mine and one of John Grisham's and mistake the two. While I think he's a terrific author, I think I write with more interesting characterization and humour.
IN: What approaches or methods do you use when writing suspense novels?
LS: The method I use when writing a suspense novel is simply to work hard, every day. I work seven days a week, writing from the morning until late into the night, until midnight or later. I don't know how people who write in fewer hours manage to do a book a year. But for me, I find that writing, while exciting and fun, is a real bear for time. My secret is to apply my butt to a chair and not get up until I've finished at least one chapter.
IN: Who have been the most influential people during your writing career?
LS: I think every book I've read has influenced me during my writing career. I think people who are serious about writing should read as often and as much as they can. I learn something new from every novel, memoir, and even nonfiction I read.
IN: What would you tell new writers about your processes that might help them establish their own successful writing careers?
LS: I would tell new writers to take heart. I think it's really important to have your own vision and sit down and try to execute it, that is, to write every day and try to get your story out. I think it's true whether you're writing suspense novels or any other sort of novel - after all, suspense novels stand on their own, too. By the way, I'm not a great fan of writing groups. I've noticed from e-mails I receive that sometimes writing groups, and even well-meaning friends, can be discouraging to the beginner, and their criticism can land harder than it was probably intended to. To the new writer, I say nurture yourself, nurture your vision, and sit down and write.
IN: How do you conjure up new characters and storylines?
LS: Over 14 novels, I've learned to have a great respect for my subconscious and I think that's the source of new characters and storylines. I usually get one idea for a plot a year and I tend to go with that. I have no idea where it really comes from - it comes from real life and real imagination, both at once. The same is true of characters - they're never based on anyone I know, and they're more a product of my imagination. Oftentimes, the main character is an aspect of my personality. I really do believe in write what you know. And there's no one I know better than myself. Except my daughter, I'm not ready to write about her anytime soon, because she'll get mad at me.
IN: How does a writer become a best selling author, with so many writing awards, as you have?
LS: Thank you for your very kind words, but the answer to how you get to become a best-selling writer is simply practice, practice, practice. My first novel has never been published, and I had many other things that were unpublished during five years of rejection I lived through to get my first novel published. I really think that hard work, perseverance, and reading people who write the kind of book you'd like to write are the best keys to success.
IN: When one of your new books is launched how important is touring, conferences and book signings to help ensure success and book sales?
LS: I understand that some authors don't like to tour, but I love it. I'm a sociable girl and I actually don't like being cooped up all year round to write a book. So the tour for me is a chance to meet people who read my novels and talk about my books and other people's books. We have fun at my signings; I pass out cupcakes and we basically have a love fest. I feel the same way about conferences, though I did fewer of them when I was a single mother, because I couldn't leave my daughter at home alone. Now she's off to college, so I'll be doing more conferences and I look forward to that as well.
IN: What are the greatest challenges facing new writers on the path to becoming successful authors?
LS: I don't know if there are new challenges facing new writers, I think they're the same old challenges. And the answer to them is always the same - be yourself, believe your own voice, and write your novel. If that one doesn't get published, write another one. And another one and another one. That's exactly what I did, and that's why I'm privileged to write this today.
IN: You have your own website, http://scottoline.com/. How important is it for writers/authors to have a website presence in this day and age?
LS: I think a website is a really important thing to have, for many reasons. First as an author, it's your chance to communicate directly with your readers and potential readers about what you're writing. It's like free advertising, though I now spend quite a bit of money investing in my website, and I think it's important to do too, if you have that luxury. Secondly, I also think it's great to get e-mail from readers, and I answer as much of it as I possibly can. This way, I have a direct line of communication to what readers like in my books and what they may or may not like. I get to actually dialogue with them online, and it's invaluable in terms of what is working in the books and what doesn't. Plus, and most importantly, it's fun!
IN: What's next for you?
LS: A new book, which I just finished yesterday, but if I tell you more about it, I'll jinx it.
Daddy's Girl ISBN 978-0060833145 (Released March 2007) Dirty Blonde ISBN 978-0060742904 Devil's Corner ISBN 978-0060742898 Killer Smile ISBN 978-0060514969 Dead Ringer ISBN 978-0060514945 Courting Trouble ISBN 978-0061031410 The Vendetta Defense ISBN 978-0694524969 Moment Of Truth ISBN 978-0061030598 Mistaken Identity ISBN 978-0061096112 Rough Justice ISBN 978-0061096105 Legal Tender ISBN 978-0694523283 Running From The Law ISBN 978-0060524760 Final Appeal ISBN 978-0061042942 Everywhere That Mary Went ISBN 978-0061042935
Rowdy Rhodes is the Site Manager of The Freelance Writing Organization International and General Manager of Inkwell Newswatch (IN). He is also known to freelance an article or two when the fancy strikes him. If you are looking for written content for your web site, ezine, or print publication, drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and he'll get back to you as soon as possible.