TheReadingRoom had the pleasure of speaking with Lisa Scottoline regarding her new novel, Betrayed–which will be released on November 25. The latest in her series of Rosato & Associates novels, Scottoline explains what she loves about her characters and how she gets her inspiration.
In Betrayed you return to the Rosato & Associates law firm; your thirteenth novel in the series. What’s kept you coming back to these characters?
I don’t let go of people easily, in life or in fiction. In life, in fact, I am still super tight with friends I’ve had for 30 and even 40 years. Also, as an author, I think it’s really important to keep trying to stretch yourself and do different things. I like writing a series in addition to the standalones, especially the long-running Rosato, which is 20 years old! In a series, you are examining the way events in a life change characters over time, and the weight of the characters relationships to each other change. It’s especially true in a tight group of four women who work together, and when one best friend becomes the boss of the other, it’s likely to cause some excitement, like it does in BETRAYED.
When writing the next installment in a long-running series, how do you keep things fresh and interesting for returning readers, but just as captivating for new readers who aren’t as familiar with the backgrounds and relationships of these recurring characters?
I think the key is to keep it fresh for yourself. I’ve never written a book with an outline, in fact when everyone says do you know how your book ends, I not only have to answer no, but I have to say I don’t even know how it middles. That means that you’re in a perpetual state of anxiety when you’re writing, because you don’t even know that you will have the story, and I’m a stickler for strong endings. If I may say so, I think I write some of the strongest surprise endings around, and because I have a fairly high standard, I’m nervous that I’m not going to meet it. So I am always trying to do new things, bring in new characters, and somehow the characters find themselves in difficult situations that change them, which is another way that books are just like life. As far as bringing new people along, I’m happy to say that new readers find me, and I’ve always conceived the series as that you can pick up any one book and it will give you everything you need to know. It’s not as if you have to read five books to read the sixth. The challenge is to feather in some facts that are from the back story, but not all of the facts. Readers are supersmart and they figure it out very quickly. God bless them.
Where do you find inspiration for your stories? And how do you decide which are ideas you should run with and which you should push aside?
This will sound completely corny but the ideas find you, and once they find you, they don’t let go. There’s no question of pushing them aside, because you just find yourself returning to a subject. For example, in BETRAYED, I really wanted to figure out how Judy would deal with the fact that her best friend, who she truly does love, is upstaging her in every way possible. It’s a touchy issue to deal with the competition between friends, and Judy has never found herself on the short end of the stick before. That is the central conflict in the novel, in addition to the murder plot, which provides plenty of surprises on its own, but the real pull of this book for me was the relationship between two very dear friends, who suddenly find themselves not only employer and employee, but at loggerheads on many other for points.
As a book reviewer yourself, whose reviews have appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer, how do you handle reviews of your own work?
I have been writing books for 20 years now, and the fact is, I’ve developed a very thick skin. I’m not going to pretend I don’t read my reviews, in fact I not only read them, I memorize them. I feel very lucky that someone is taking my work seriously enough to ask you have an opinion about it and write about it. I’ve been very lucky to get wonderful reviews in the main, but my heart is always in my throat whenever I read a review. If someone says something negative, I take that very seriously and challenge myself in my mind. By the way, that is as true for online reviews. I find that I read them less often because sometimes people are just mean and snarky for the hell of it, but I do like to get a bead on how people are reacting to my work.
Has your writing process evolved over the course of your writing career? Are you a more comfortable storyteller now, or does every new manuscript wipe the slate clean?
I think I’m a much better writer now than I was before, and I believe that adage about writing being like a muscle, the more you use it the stronger it gets. In addition to writing to novelty here, I am also writing a humorous memoir series with my daughter Francesca Serritella, the most recent of which is forthcoming this summer and is entitled DOES THIS BEACH MAKE ME LOOK FAT? I mentioned it here because I think writing those essays has really strengthened the writing in my novels. Primarily, the essays are short, 700 words or so, and they taught me to get to the point very quickly and to make my point very quickly. I think pacing has always been the strength of my novels, but writing though short essays has made my pays better than ever. I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging, because the best message for everyone is, and the truth is, the writing is very hard work. But the more you do it, the better you get at it and the more you understand about how to do it well and easily. And also as an aside, you learn to get out of your own way more as an emotional matter. I think a lot of writers get very insecure, myself included, and especially women, who tend not to take risks as well as they should. I’ve learned to just rock ‘n roll a little more and write what I think, rather than second-guess myself. It’s all about finding your own voice, and I really encourage anyone who’s writing to keep writing. And if your first novel doesn’t get published, your second one will. That is exactly what happened to me.
Moving onto your reading habits, do you still have time to indulge in a good book despite being engrossed with your own stories?
Of course, I read all the time. Reading is such a pleasure for me and such relaxation, and I’ve noticed that it’s so different to read a novel or nonfiction book than to spend time reading on the Internet. I do both of them, and I have monitored myself, as any novelist is wont to do, to be a little bit of a navel-gazer. I noticed that when I read stuff online, like when anyone of the websites I cruise around, or on Facebook or twitter, I get a whole lot of information that makes me feel jumpy and strange, or maybe vaguely inferior. But when I read a novel or nonfiction, it makes me feel centered, relaxed, and nurtured. I’ve learned over and over again the power that books have, and I feel truly honored to be able to write them and grateful to the readers that I have. So I never stopped reading good books, even when I’m writing, because I’m writing all the time, producing two novels and humorous memoir every year. I’m never going to give up reading, and on the contrary, I think my reading informs my writing on more levels and I can’t even count. There are so many wonderful authors and I learned something every time I read somebody else’s book.
What has been your favorite book of the year so far?
I really enjoyed I AM PILGRIM.