TALKING PIGEONS WITH LISA SCOTTOLINE
Lisa Scottoline has written eight legal thrillers, including EVERYWHERE THAT MARY WENT (1994), FINAL APPEAL (1995), RUNNING FROM THE LAW (1996), LEGAL TENDER (1997), ROUGH JUSTICE (1998), MISTAKEN IDENTITY (1999) and MOMENT OF TRUTH. Her eighth, THE VENDETTA DEFENSE, was published in March, 2001. All of Lisa's books draw on her experience as a trial lawyer as well as her judicial clerkships in the state and federal justice systems.
Jonathan Lowe: When and how did you become a writer? What is your background?
Lisa Scottoline: I began as a writer about ten years ago, when my daughter was just an infant. At the time I was a trial lawyer for a large law firm in Philadelphia, Dechert, Price & Rhoads, and my marriage ended at about the same time my daughter was born. As much as I loved being a lawyer (really), I found that my kid turned my head. I wanted to be able to stay home and raise her, which required me to find another way to make an income. At the time, John Grisham and other male lawyers were writing legal thrillers successfully, and I noticed that no women were. I had majored in English, in the contemporary American novel, at Penn, so I figured why not try? I also thought I could bring a new perspective to the genre as a woman.
I think that law school was where I learned to write novels. As a lawyer, you need to sort through the facts, pick out those that are most important and will add to your argument, and then put them on paper in a succinct and persuasive way. Every word counts, and you are trying to create a perspective - a spin, if you will - in the readers' mind. This is the same way I create a character. And, in order to keep up the pace of a novel, you need to make sure that each line adds to the story, and drives it forward. I write with the thought that every word counts. And every reader.
Lowe: How was your first novel received? What did that feel like?
Scottoline: Thank God, my first novel was very well received, and all of my novels have shared the same good fortune. My first book, EVERYWHERE THAT MARY WENT, was nominated for the Edgar Award, which is the most prestigious award given to mystery writers. Although my first book did not win, my second book, FINAL APPEAL, was nominated the next year, and did win. When the first good review of EVERYWHERE THAT MARY WENT came in, I made my editor read it over and over to make sure it was true. Then to be nominated for an award, seemed more than I could have ever hoped for. The whole writing experience has been a thrill for me and it gets better and better with each book.
Lowe: When you get fan mail now, what do most people seem to connect with. What most interests them about your characters?
Scottoline: I try very hard to write characters that are interesting, yet realistic. The thing that I hear the most is that people love my characters because they feel like they can relate to them. Once a reader makes a personal connection to a character, they are naturally more involved in the story. I like that my characters are not super people. They're just like all of us.
Lowe: What most interests you, personally?
Scottoline: My family is the most important thing in my life. That includes a hubby, kids, a cat, three golden retrievers. Beyond that, I am, of course, interested in everything. I am never bored. I love to read. I watch endless TV. I listen to Sinatra. I like Gilbert & Sullivan. I cook like crazy.
Lowe: You must be Italian. How did THE VENDETTA DEFENSE come about. . . what was the genesis for it?
Scottoline: THE VENDETTA DEFENSE sprang from a childhood memory. When I was about seven, I was walking in the city with my mother and when we stopped at a light, a huge pink car pulled up, with chrome and fins. The woman behind the wheel was even more dramatic -- dark hair and eyebrows, big red lips like bumpers. My mother said, "Watch this," then walked over to the car, only to have the window close in her face. My mother returned chuckling to the curb. When I asked who was that, she said, "That was my sister." Turns out they hadn't spoken in seventeen years and never would again. I learned the word vendetta at age seven and decided to find out why.
Lowe: What is your opinion of the jury selection process? I ask because Lawrence Block told me it seems that defense lawyers are looking for the most gullible and docile in the gene pool.
Scottoline: This may be the only time I disagree with Lawrence Block. I think that jury selection has the same ultimate goal, only with much higher stakes, as developing characters for a novel. I don't think that you are looking for gullible people at all, but rather people who can relate to the defendant, and who can understand, or at least appreciate all the factors involved in the case. I think that this helps bring about a fair jury, and I don't think you can ask for anything better than that. I am a big fan of the jury system. It works.
Lowe: Is justice a game, and does it really exist? Jay Leno still jokes about the O.J. trial, in which the jury actually put past police brutality on trial, and ignored DNA evidence.
Scottoline: Justice isn't a game, in my book ( no pun, I think). In my opinion, the prosecution on O.J did such a poor job putting on its case -- first by having their star witness lie on the witness stand -- that they could not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, even with a defendant whom I think was guilty. You know what? As tough as it is to take in that case, the system worked in O.J.
Lowe: If O.J. had no moral right to take his wife's life, do you believe Pigeon Tony in THE VENDETTA DEFENSE did have such a right to kill the man who murdered his wife?
Scottoline: I think the O.J case is so different from the case in THE VENDETTA DEFENSE it's like apples and tomatoes. But it took me 450 pages to set out for the reader why Pigeon Tony killed Angelo Coluzzi, and I don't want to usurp the reader's role here, myself. I love and respect my readers and it is their judgment to make, each for him or herself.
Lowe: I'll take that as a yes. Why pigeons in THE VENDETTA DEFENSE? The guy behind me keeps pigeons, and they drive me nuts. At least they don't make a lot of noise, like other birds, though.
Scottoline: Pigeons mate for life. Pigeons always come home. Pigeons resonate for me inside, and so I followed my heart and let them fly their way through Vendetta. I think they lift the novel up -- no kidding. I'm sorry if they drive you nuts. Do they have a First Amendment right to coo?
Lowe: Maybe coo, but not poo. But enough about pigeons. What's next for you?
Scottoline: I just started my next novel, which will be out next year, in March. I don't write with an outline, but rather, work off a core idea and develop the story as I go along. For that reason, I can't really tell you much about the story just yet, because it is too early. Also I could jinx myself. I am Italian, you know.
Lowe: I knew it! Thanks for indulging our curiosity, Lisa.
For rent or sale of most audiobooks, visit Earful.com, or call 1-800-532-7385. Reviewer Jonathan Lowe is author of POSTAL, an Earphones award-winning suspense novel read by Frank Muller and endorsed by John Lutz and Clive Cussler, who called it "mystery at its best." Now BlueMurder's new audiobook director, Jonathan is hard at work on the upcoming and exciting premier BlueMurder audio CD project, SIX FOR THE ROAD, with award winning narrator Dick Hill and sound engineer Jeff Davis.