Writer’s Life: Lisa Scottoline

 

Lisa Scottoline--Credit April NarbyWhat I love most about the Writer’s Life interview series is the chance to glean wisdom from so many different writers. Today, Lisa Scottoline, New York Times bestselling author of 22 novels (whose current release, MOST WANTED, hit the shelves April 12) offers one of the best nuggets of parenting-cum-writing advice I’ve read yet: Be yourself. Meet Lisa:

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer? 

I was very close to both my mother and my father and they were wonderful parents. I truly think that the thing I learned from them that helps me as a writer is “Be yourself.” There is simply no better way to explain what voice is, in my opinion.

It’s a good thing to tell new writers because there is so much self-doubt in the beginning, and, truly, it never goes away completely. Writers often doubt if what they’re saying is different or original, or if their ideas are good enough, or if their characters are fresh. If you are being yourself when you write, or being your character, then the voice will be authentic, true, and original – and will also be compelling. There are only a few stories in the world. We probably all know the quote that there are only two plots: a stranger comes to town, and a man goes on a quest. But though there are very few stories, there is an unlimited number of stories told by you.  Or your character.  And so “Be yourself” is simply the best thing you can ever be in life and in writing.

Where do you write? What do you love about it? 

I write in my home. I love my house so much, especially because my five dogs and three cats are always around, which is like bringing a little nature and unpredictability into every situation. I have a sunroom I like to write in in the warmer months, and I just moved into it today because it’s spring. There’s a cherry tree right outside the window, and it’s very quiet because it overlooks my backyard. With the sun flowing inside, I feel like the luckiest writer in the world.

If you had a motto, what would it be?  

It would be “Be yourself,” for the reason I said above. But if I’m going to suggest a second motto, it would be “Just do it.” I borrowed that phrase from Nike when for so many years I was nervous about trying to become a writer and I had a lot of self-doubt and insecurity.  One day I just got so disgusted with doubting myself, I said to myself, “Just do it.” Writing is very behavioral, in that you have to sit down every day and settle those negative feelings inside, and just do it. I have a writing quota that I meet every day and I write seven days a week. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the best way for me to write and to actually finish a draft, then I get to edit. And there will be a time when I’m writing and I come to an especially hard passage or plot point and I actually still say to myself, “Just do it!”

Who inspires you? 

I feel inspired by every book I read, because I see the interesting task that a writer has assigned himself or herself, and how he or she has gone about executing that idea. I’m proud of anybody who starts and finishes a novel, whether it gets published or not!

What charity or community service are you passionate about? Why?

I really love animals. I’m a vegetarian and I am very passionate about animal welfare. I wish we treated animals better in the world, not only dogs and cats, but aquatic animals and the like. I abhor factory farming, which is a disgrace. Paul McCartney once said that if slaughterhouses had glass walls, nobody would eat meat. I think he is absolutely right. The more you know about animals, the more you understand yourself in relation to nature. I hope someday we will overcome our natural tendency to subjugate and kill such sentient and intelligent beings.


Thanks to Lisa and St. Martin’s Press for offering one copy of MOST WANTED for a giveaway! To enter, visit my Facebook page and click on “Giveaway” tab.


LISA SCOTTOLINE is a New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-winning author of twenty-two novels. She has 30 million copies of her books in print in the United States, and she has been published in thirty-five countries. She 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, and those critically acclaimed stories have been adapted into a series of memoirs, the first of which is entitled, Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog. She lives in the Philadelphia area with an array of disobedient pets. Visit scottoline.com for more info.

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Writer’s Life: Marin Thomas

Marin Thomas is the author of more than thirty western romances, and her first Women’s Fiction title — THE PROMISE OF FORGIVENESS (Berkeley/NAL) – was released March 1. Seeing as Marin played NCAA basketball for the University of Arizona Lady Wildcats, this season of college basketball Madness is the perfect time to talk about her new book, how she came to writing and who influenced her. Meet Marin:

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What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as writer?

I’ve learned that forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give or receive. Not until I became a parent and found myself navigating the rough waters of raising teenagers did I experience a parenting epiphany. I realized that the mistakes my parents had made raising me had been committed with the best of intentions. Every parent strives to do the right thing, but often we’re winging it as we go. Acknowledging the mistakes I made with my children has enabled me to forgive my own parents and appreciate the difficulty of parenting on all levels.

Forgiveness is a common theme in many of my books because it paves the way to a richer, sweeter more meaningful life.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

I write in the spare bedroom of our home. What I love most about my office is my desk. My husband purchased the Texas Ranger style monstrosity for me after I sold my first book to Harlequin in 2004. To date I’ve written over thirty books sitting at this desk.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Listen more, talk less.

Who inspires you?

My mother, who is now deceased, continues to inspire me each and every day. She was a bookaholic before the term became popular and she passed her love of reading on to me. She became my biggest cheerleader when I confided in her that I dreamed of becoming a published author…before self-publishing was even an option. Then she became my biggest fan when I finally sold. With each book I write, I give a quiet thanks to my mother for supporting my dream.

What charity or community service are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about supporting the University of Arizona Alumni Association and the Letter Winners program. I credit my college experience with changing my narrow view of the world and broadening my horizons. I grew up a middle-class girl in a small southern Wisconsin town with little diversity. My athletic scholarship exposed me to different races, religions, and philosophies. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today if I hadn’t gone to college.

In 1982 I learned my first lesson in racism. While participating in a basketball tournament in rural Alabama our team was not allowed to eat in the main dining room of a restaurant because we had an African American coach and several African American players. Instead, we were escorted to a back room, where we ate in silence behind closed doors out of sight of the other diners.

I’d like to believe my experiences in college have made me a more sympathetic, caring human being. The small-town girl who graduated high school in Wisconsin is a far cry from the one who graduated college five years later and it has nothing to do with earning a degree.

What books do you recommend?

I’m a member of a wonderful group of women authors called The Tall Poppies. I’ve read several of their novels and would highly recommend any of them. You can find a list the authors and their books at www.tallpoppy.org

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“There’s a big promise in this book: love, redemption, and a story so gripping I couldn’t put it down.” – #1 NY Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber.

Marin Thomas grew up in Janesville, Wisconsin. She married her college sweetheart in a five-minute ceremony at the historical Little Chapel of the West in Las Vegas, Nevada. They currently live in Houston, where she spends her free time junk hunting and researching her next ghost tour.

Writer’s Life: Julia Dahl

I met Julia Dahl last May at the Jewish Book Council‘s author “pitch fest,” at which hundreds of authors have two minutes each to give book festival planners a glimpse into their synopsis, soul, and speaking capability. When Julia stepped up for her turn, I heard a thrilled murmur of anticipation among the attendees, and when she described her latest book, Run You Down (out today in paperback!), I understood why. Meet author and journalist, Julia Dahl.

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What have you learned from parenting,or from your parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

Well, my son is barely 4 months old, so at this point I’m just trying to learn parenting itself! But from my parents I learned to love reading – my mom’s motto is “bring a book!” – and from my love of reading came the desire to write.

I also brought a lot of my parents into my mystery series, which features a protagonist whose mother is Jewish and father is Christian – just like my parents. Our family celebrated both religions and there was never a conflict. My mother and father respected each others’ faith and saw similarities, not differences. Once I grew up and left home, however, I saw people from both religions who seemed keen on emphasizing what divided the two, and I wanted to challenge that with my writing.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

I tend to write in coffee shops and cafes and I rotate between about half a dozen places near my home in Brooklyn. I like a little noise and distraction and I like getting out of my apartment to work. It helps me feel like what I’m doing is important enough to get dressed for.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

“Talk about a dream, try to make it real.” – Bruce Springsteen

Who inspires you?

Right now, my son, Mick, inspires me. He was born a month early and wasn’t really ready to be out in the world, but he’s such an unbelievable trooper. He’s endured poking and prodding by doctors and two unprepared and overwhelmed parents, and he’s done it all with grace. I truly can’t wait to see who he becomes.

What charity or community service are you passionate about? Why?

Several years ago I went through training to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children in the foster care system. I’ve mentored girls since I was in college and while some of the experiences have been tough, I’ve always felt that giving my time to young people who have been let down by the adults in their life is incredibly important. I haven’t been active in CASA for a couple years, but I hope to go back one day. In the meantime, I try to help teens where and when I can. A friend of mine – who left a strict Hasidic community and has managed to make a wonderful life for her children despite the death of her husband – asked me to help her son with his college essays and I loved doing that.

What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

The three best books I’ve read in the last few months are The Harder They Come by TC Boyle, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, and Purity by Jonathan Franzen.

Julia Dahl writes about crime and justice for CBSNews.com. Her first novel, INVISIBLE CITY, was named one of the Boston Globe’s Best Books of 2014 and was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel. Her second novel, RUN YOU DOWN, is now out in paperback, and the third novel in her Rebekah Roberts series will be published in 2017. Julia was born and raised in Fresno, California and now lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and son. Connect on Twitter (@juliadahl), Facebook (JuliaDahlAuthor) and www.juliadahl.com.


 

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Writer’s Life: Seré Prince Halverson

Sere Prince Halverson

Seré Prince Halverson is the internationally bestselling author of The Underside of Joy and All the Winters After, which was released yesterday! She is a sensitive observer of the beauty and frailty of the human condition, and her novels are infused with humanity, compassion, and love. In the brief meeting we had last Fall, I got the distinct sense, in the midst of the bookish hoopla going on around her, that she was infused with a calm, steady wisdom. Having four grown kids may do that. I’m pleased to introduce you to Seré Prince Halverson.

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

Trust the process. (My children are grown now, so allow me this benefit of hindsight.) Like most parents, I had my share of self-doubt, the realization that I had no idea what I was doing. Sure, there were those shiny moments when I knew, with renewed certainty, that I had this down, that no one else could so expertly raise these particular children into adulthood without the benefit of my vast understanding, humor, and intuition. Ha. But soon things would fall apart again—on the drive home from practice or at the dinner table. We’ve all been there. Still, we keep showing up, trying to do our best, trying to listen, learning as we go, mostly learning from the kids we’re attempting to teach.

All this can be said for my characters too. I keep showing up, writing through the self-doubt, listening, trusting that when it’s time to let them go, they’re going to somehow find their way in the world.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

We live in a house that’s surrounded by trees but fortunately still gets a lot of sun. I write in a small room that was an open loft before it was finished off with sloping wood-lined walls and lots of angles. It’s like a starving artist’s garret, but more comfortable. (My husband is a great cook so there’s no starving going on here.) One of the windows looks out over our living room and to the trees-and-sky view beyond. I have a cozy daybed, a desk, an old upholstered chair, lots of books, and my dog and cat for company. What do I love about it? Everything. But it’s a little too comfortable. Recently I moved my mini trampoline in to encourage me to get up and move more.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

My motto, like life, is always changing. Right now it’s: Get Up and Move More.

Who inspires you?

I’m lucky; I’m surrounded by people who inspire me in different ways: my husband, my kids, my family and friends, other writers and artists. Small and big acts of courage, kindness, vision, honesty, generosity, and tenacity all inspire me to try to be better. My dog, Stuart, inspires me to greet each morning with more tail-wagging enthusiasm. I’m working on that—but only after coffee.

What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

I recently read Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton—a tender sword through my soul. Everyone should read it, and apparently everyone is. I just started The Story of a New Name, the second book in the addictive Elena Ferrante Neapolitan series. So good.

Recommending for book clubs: Three wonderful books that just came out in paperback: Pieces of My Mother, a memoir by Melissa Cistaro; The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy; and A Small Indiscretion by Jan Ellison. And I devoured The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, which is available in March. [Ed. note: And who will be interviewed here in March.]

Recommending for writers: Because You Have To by Joan Frank; Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memorists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature edited by Meredith Maran; The Modern Library’s Writer’s Workshop by Steven Koch

On the top of my towering to-read pile: Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa; The Spirit of Grace by Terry Thomas; A Paper Son by Jason Buchholz; Shelter Us by Laura Nicole Diamond (I’ve heard this one is exceptionally good). [Editor’s note: Isn’t she sweet?]


Seré Prince Halverson is the international bestselling author of The Underside of Joy (2012) and All the Winters After (February 2016)—novels that explore nature, grief, forgiveness, and the intimate layers of family. Her work has been translated into eighteen languages. She and her husband have four grown children and live in Northern California in a house in the woods. www.sereprincehalverson.com and www.whomovedmybuddha.blogspot.com.

All the Winters After on Amazon and Indiebound

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Kachemak Winkel never intended to return to Caboose, Alaska, after his family died in a plane crash twenty years earlier. When he finally musters the courage to face the abandoned homestead where he grew up, he’s surprised to find a mysterious young Russian woman hiding from her own troubled past. Nadia has kept the house exactly the same–a haunting museum of life before the crash. And she’s lived there, afraid and utterly isolated, for a decade. Set in the majestic yet dangerous natural beauty of Alaska, All the Winters After is the story of two bound souls trying to free themselves, searching for family and forgiveness.

Writer’s Life: Meredith Maran

Meredith Maran

I’m pleased to introduce you to Meredith Maran, editor of the new collection, Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (And Others) in the Name of Literature.  I tore through this book, which (like the best memoirs) creates a personal connection between reader and writers. If you want to know more about some of your favorite writers (including Anne Lamott, Sue Monk Kidd, Kelly Corrigan…), get your hands on this gem. And now, get to know Meredith…

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer? 

The same energy that’s required when a kid is having a tantrum is required when my writer-mind is having a tantrum. Writing is a fine balance between experiencing your feelings and modulating and moderating them, so they can be turned into art. Raising kids is a similar process. You can have big emotions where your kids are concerned, but you can’t express them exactly as you feel them. You have to express them based on what’s good for your kids, not just good for your own need to vent.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

It’s very important to me where I write. As we speak, I’m outside in a garden. I built myself a writing studio and put up a hammock. I live in sunny, warm Los Angeles, and I’m outside most of the time while I’m writing. Its important to me that it’s peaceful and beautiful and also that I can’t see any chores that need doing while I’m writing.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Tell the truth. And hurt self and others as little as possible while doing it.

Who inspires you?

My first inspiration was the French memoirist Françoise Sagan. I read her memoir, Bonjour Tristesse, which means “Hello Sadness” when I was a young teenager. My parents had her book on their shelf. They told me not to read it so of course I did. It was inspiring to me because she was 17 or 18 when she wrote it, and it was so emotional and beautiful and I thought, that’s what I want to do.

What charity or community service are you passionate about? Why?

Whenever an issue comes up, you can find me demonstrating for peace, and equality. Day to day, bringing diverse voices into the book marketplace is my cause. I review a lot of books for a lot of different publications, and believe me, I don’t do it for the money. I’m in a position to be able to promote the work of writers of color, women, lesbians, gay men, overlooked writers and small presses, and doing that is my mitzvah, as we Jews say.

What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

I just reviewed a memoir called The Narrow Door by Paul Lisicky, a memoir of friendship and marriage. It’s stunning. I also reviewed the amazing novel Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I loved Jillian Lauren’s Everything You Ever Wanted and Claire Bidwell Smith’s The Rules of Inheritance. Thanks for asking!

Meredith Maran, a passionate reader and writer of memoirs, is the author of thirteen nonfiction books and the acclaimed 2012 novel, A Theory Of Small Earthquakes. Meredith also writes book reviews, essays, and features for newspapers and magazines including People, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, Salon.com, and More. A member of the National Book Critics Circle, Meredith lives in a restored historic bungalow in Los Angeles, and on Twitter at @meredithmaran. Her next memoir, about starting over in Los Angeles, will be out from Blue Rider Press in 2017.

Why We Write About Ourselves on Amazon or IndieBound

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Writer’s Life: Julia Claiborne Johnson

Julia Claiborne Johnson ap1

When you meet Julia Claiborne Johnson (and I really hope you do), you will be instantly charmed. She is authentic, humble, and though she hates speaking in public, she pulls you in with her humor and vulnerability in a way that makes her unforgettable. The same can be said of her debut novel, BE FRANK WITH ME, which launches today.  If you are fortunate enough to attend a book event, please go. You’ll make her so happy, and you’ll be smiling all the way home, too. Meet Julia:

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

What I have learned from parenting is that I know nothing, though I thought I knew everything. I mean, once you’ve been a kid, you think you understand exactly what it must be like to raise one. So I was an idiotically confident parent in my twenties, when I didn’t actually have any children. Flash forward to my forties, and having kids, and feeling absolutely incompetent when it came to raising them. That’s why there’s an older mother and a younger woman helping her temporarily parent the kid in my book. They’re the two versions of me as a parent, the idealist and the exhausted.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

My very favorite place to work in my house is our guest room. There’s a guest in it more often than there isn’t, but when it’s empty, man oh man, my whole family fights over it. For one thing, it has the most comfortable bed in the house. That’s my husband’s favorite place to work. For me, I like the desks. There are two of them—a big one where I can spread out papers, and a little one where I can put my computer. I sit at the little desk and look out my window at the fountain in our garden where the birds come to drink and bathe. I love it there. It’s also very tidy, because it’s the guest room, and all the furniture is nice, because it’s the guest room. It has its own bathroom. Sometimes I pretend it’s my studio apartment, and I live in it all alone, in Manhattan. I realize all this is crazy since there would be no birdbath outside my studio apartment in New York since when I was young and living by myself I always lived in some dangerous not-Manhattan neighborhood of New York and cried every night when I came home from work because I lived by myself and was sure I always would. No birds, no birdbaths, just stray cats fighting in the yard all night and waking me up so I could cry some more. That thing Fitzgerald said was right: “In the real dark heart of the soul it’s always three o’clock in the morning.”

If you had a motto, what would it be?

“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” The thing I’m going to have engraved on my gravestone is “I had a coupon.”

Who inspires you?

You know who inspires me? This is a horrible thing to say, but it’s all the bullies and the popular mean girls in grade school, who laughed at me for being clumsy and chubby, for having to eat food that was different from everybody else in school (allergies) and who picked me last for every team and never invited me to slumber parties. I’ll show them! Clearly, in my heart I’m still nine years old. Some scars don’t heal, I guess.

What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

I just read The Expatriates, by Janice Y.K. Lee. Guess what it’s about? Expatriates in Hong Kong. It was fascinating. Then I went back and read her first novel, The Piano Teacher. Also terrific. My favorite book on earth is Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett. I also love I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith. And one of the best and most helpful books for me as a writer was the biography Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg. I learned so much from that.

Julia Claiborne Johnson worked at Mademoiselle and Glamour magazines before marrying and moving to Los Angeles, where she lives with her comedy-writer husband and their two children. Connect with Julia on  Facebook and Twitter. See her Book video  or read an excerpt from Be Frank With Me.

BE FRANK WITH ME on Amazon or Indiebound  

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Coming Tomorrow…the Writer’s Life Interviews.

Think of this post as the soft opening before the Grand Opening of a new series on this blog, Writer’s Life Interviews. Tomorrow, you’ll meet author Julia Claiborne Johnson, whose debut novel BE FRANK WITH ME is launching to excellent reviews. Julia is the perfect author to kick off this series, as her novel tells the story of a unique child, Frank; his overwhelmed, reclusive author mother; and the idealistic young assistant who enters the fray to help them both.

I’m so excited for this new series of Writer’s Life interviews. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that my children turned me into a writer; motherhood was my muse. So I love to hear how writers blend their personal and writing lives, to peer into their creative processes, and to get to know them outside of their books.

I’ll ask everyone these questions, and they can answer as many as they want:

1. What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?
2. Where do you write? What do you love about it?
3. If you had a motto, what would it be?
4. Who inspires you?
5. What charity or community service are you passionate about these days?
6. What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

I hope you’ll enjoy meeting new authors, or getting to know “old favorites” in a different way. For me, preparing the interviews have already paid unexpected dividends in the form of parenting wisdom and great book recommendations.

See you tomorrow with Julia Claiborne Johnson!

– Laura

P.S. What burning question do you have that you’d like me to pose?