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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One-week only: SHELTER US is 99 cents!

Forget Spring cleaning, it’s time for Spring reading! To celebrate, SHELTER US ebook is only 99 cents, from now until March 21! Friends, please spread the word, spread the love! Get it now: Amazon Kindle     Barnes & Noble Nook    … Continue reading

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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I wanted to tell you.

I’ve been wanting to tell you some things, but I haven’t had enough time or patience to give them their due, to connect them in a coherent story. So they sit in my head, unsaid. Sometimes I’m too busy living my life to write about it. Not writing makes me grumpy. It’s a physical need, to process through words, to wonder. But things move fast, and writing requires stillness.

So I wanted to tell you some things and it may not be perfect.

I wanted to tell you that we’re not too old to play. I nag my kids to go outside and they turn it around, ask me to play Capture the Flag. I have to force myself say yes. Lo and behold, despite myself, I have fun.

I wanted to tell you that my 15 1/2 year old niece joined in last time and was as into it as any of us.

I wanted to say how fast they, and we, grow up. My sister pulled into the driveway to pick up this teenage girl who had been screaming with abandon, “Get the flag!! Get the flag!!” My sister moved to the passenger seat, and my niece took her place behind the wheel. I watched her drive away.

I wanted to tell you to keep playing, as long as you can, even though our bodies can’t keep up with our spirits. A couple of weeks ago my husband’s softball team learned that bitter lesson three-fold, with a broken leg, a torn Achilles, and a fractured finger. Yet wary teammates will return to the field, weighing real risk against real fun.

My Dad plays football every Sunday with the same group of guys. Football is for him like writing is for me. It fills his well. Last week a player came out of the game feeling sick. Tight chest and nausea. My Dad rushed his friend to the hospital a few blocks away, where he had a heart attack in the waiting room, surrounded and saved by paramedics, thank God.

I wanted to tell you so much more, to unravel the string of words that is knotted in my heart and head. I wanted to tell you to play while you can, that there’s not enough time not to play. There’s not enough time for perfection.

I wanted to tell you I appreciate you.

And it’s time for the next thing…

 

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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The Sound of Inspiration, and Light for a Dark World

I’m trying something new — music in the background while I write, a soundtrack to inspire. So I pick Simon & Garfunkel.

“They’ve all gone to look for America…”

And I instantly discover the problem with this sytem: I stop and sing.

“I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome I took some comfort there.”

I mean, can you blame me? Here is their genius: they make me feel what they feel, with intensity. I mean, I promise I have never “taken comfort from the whores on 7th avenue” — my comfort vice is ice cream — yet when they do declare, I do declare along with them.

How do they DO that? How do they get me in that moment with them when I have nothing in common with that experience?

It’s not that the details don’t matter. They matter a lot. They paint the picture. What doesn’t matter is if I have or haven’t experienced those details myself. What I’m sharing with them is not the experience of say, taking a bus across America, but the universal feeling of wishing and yearning. That’s what I sing along with. That’s what I need to write like.

I hum their tune and some Boxer part of me wants to break out of my mold, wants to write and punch my way to glory. Another line plays and I think, aha, I can relate to that one. “All my words come back to me in shades of mediocrity…like emptiness in harmony…” Those clever devils even got a good line out of writer’s block.

I wonder who inspired their artistry? Maybe the sound of silence? (Groan. Sorry.)

Next to me is today’s newspaper, with stories that crush the heart. Earthquake in Taiwan. Libya is the new Syria. Syria is still Syria. It’s easy to ask, what kind of a world do we live in? And this morning I’m happy to be reminded that we live in a world of beauty, too. Enjoy.  

Seen through a Snowstorm: Creations Take On Their Own Life

We drove to Mammoth to celebrate my firstborn’s birthday: 15.

FIFTEEN. To you that may sound little, depending on your point of view, but indulge me. It’s as big as he’s ever been.

The weather conspired against us. It will snow all day, both days, with 50 mph winds. Lucky me, I’d decided in advance that I wasn’t skiing this time. It’s not my cup of cocoa, let’s say; I am preoccupied with falling, even before I put my boots on. My job today is ski support from the comfort of the lodge, writing and reading contentedly. Family bonus: I spare my husband having to worry about me while keeping track of the kids, too.

It’s not about the skiing, anyway, our trip. It’s about board games. It’s about meals together, and movies in the room. It’s even about the travel days, together in a car driving through California’s desert-to-mountain landscape. It’s the offhand conversations, singing with the radio, brothers watching TV shows sharing an iPad… and no fighting all day?! This is the good stuff. This is the good stuff. Did I mention 15?

At this moment I am sitting in the lodge looking out at near white-out conditions. My feet are cold despite two pairs of socks and boots. I’m supposed to be working on Novel 2. I’m in the first draft. I feel like I’m still learning how to write — in a good way — and hope to always feel that way. Bits of positive feedback for Shelter Us still trickles in, which feeds my determination to keep on writing. Like yesterday, I received an e-mail from a fellow She Writes Press author, Barbara Stark-Nemon, who had just read it and kindly shared with me the review she’d posted on Amazon and Goodreads. It began with a quote that I thought sounded so beautiful and then I realized, happily and with surprise, Duh, she’s quoting ME. I didn’t recognize my own words. My sentences took on their own life, they were not part of me anymore. They grew from me but became themselves.

I glance up and outside to the mountain. The glare is bright and my eyes take a moment to adjust. There’s the ski lift, there’s a tree, there’s the snow blowing across the sky. A faint body moves against the mountain through that snowy haze. I can’t see my boys, but I know they are out there, separate from me and gloriously growing into themselves, swooshing or falling all on their own.

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Split me down the middle; or, I need a split screen for my brain

It’s cold outside, and my laptop is (true to its name) perched on my lap, warming me as I stretch out on the white* sofa, engaging with a split screen.

It’s near midnight, and I’m watching my 10th hour of online Continuing Legal Education. I have a long way to go before next week’s deadline, and because multitasking helps me concentrate (ahem), I’m also writing to you.

Friends, my screen is split.

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The split screen–“Preparing for Deposition” and writing this blog–isn’t my only distraction. I also have in front of me a galley of the imminently forthcoming book, Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature, edited by Meredith Maran.

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Actually, it was browsing through this book while listening to the Depo Prep video, reading and nodding and underlining key passages about writing, that forced me to write.

Like this gorgeous piece:

“At its best, writing draws from the inner life, from a place deep within where we are sourced. We could call it the life of the soul. This place is filled with so much genius–an ordinary genius that’s common to us all. It’s the room where our dreams and imagination live. It’s where our wisdom lies, where memories are metabolized, images are born, and creative connections are made. I see it as an inner reservoir, I think there’s even divinity in it–something beyond our egos and our conscious selves. I’m talking about the contemplative life, of course, which is, for me, a significant part of the writing life.”

— Sue Monk Kidd, Why We Write About Ourselves

I’ve had a split personality as long as I can remember. Lawyer Me seeks fair play and justice, wants to help right wrongs in the concrete real world. Writer Me wants to listen to the small, still sounds of the soul, to unearth a nugget of truth and shine a light at it and watch it sparkle and refract, to hear the rhythm and lilt of a string of words and capture them before they are gone.

There is a tension between these sides of me–the practical and the magical, the grounded and the sky-flying, but I think they coalesce into the whole. The commute I take between my two halves connects them in a single desire: to be of use, to be of consequence, or as Sue Monk Kidd writes, “to make my small dent in the world.” And, as the writers in this lovely book do, to reach out from the page into a reader’s quiet living room late at night, to enter her mind, and nod along in mutual recognition.

 

*White sofa? Am I daft? Delusional? Optimistic? Perhaps all, but the sofa is a hand-me-down, not purchased but gratefully accepted, one of a pair that lived in my parents’ living room in pristine bliss for decades. After weathering a year of my family’s crawling and jumping and dirty shoes bumping, of our comings and goings, only some of its stuffing is coming out.

 

 

Friday Reads with new friends

I would spend every day going to author panels if I could. I wouldn’t care if I were the author or the audience. Give me a room of 80 people who made special time in their day to talk about what they are reading, what they are writing, all gathered in honor of the written word. Except for snapping a few photos, cellphones were nowhere to be seen. I heard not a word about apps or chargers or data. Ah, sanctuary.

I joined Aline Ohanesian (Orhan’s Inheritance) and Gwendolyn Womack (The Memory Painter), two generous, funny, tenacious story-tellers. (You have to read them.) I still pinch myself, I told the audience, every time I come up to a podium and remember that I’m one of the authors.

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The most delightful person I met today (and there were many) was someone who may be behind the podium in the next decade: 12-year-old Ally, granddaughter of the Friends of the Library President, who was very excited because “she had never met a writer in person.” Imagine my delight when she took the seat next to me, and I got to ask her all about her home on a small island off the coast in Washington State. I told her. “I can’t wait to read your story.”

Happy Friday, everyone. What are you reading?