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Published: Saturday, 5/8/2010

Lisa Scottoline: A success at the business of writing

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Lisa Scottoline will speak Wednesday in the Stranahan Theater. Lisa Scottoline will speak Wednesday in the Stranahan Theater.
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A ride on her pony might be the way she starts the morning at her little farm outside Philadelphia. Maybe an amble with the five dogs, or cleaning out the chicken coop.

"Disgusting. But I like tasks that you don't have to intellectualize: you just clean it," says Lisa Scottoline.

The rest of the day she'll devote to crafting literary jewelry, stranding words into sentences and sentences into pages, comforted by the comings and goings of cats and canines until she breaks for The Colbert Report at 11:30 p.m. She could be reviewing a book ("I'm a cupcake" of a reviewer), writing Chick Wit, her newspaper column (to which she devotes about 20 hours a week), or crafting one of the fast-paced novels she calls grown-up Nancy Drew stories: "An ordinary girl with a lot of energy and pluck and intelligence and a car can have adventures. And really that's what my characters do and what I do and what a lot of women do."

Scottoline, 54, has written 17 novels and a collection of columns, My Third Husband Will Be a Dog. "It is not man-bashing, it's just merely dog-loving." She'll dispense free books, hugs, and humor at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Stranahan Theater, wrapping up the 16th season of the Authors! Authors! series, sponsored by the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library and The Blade.

‘Sure, go for it'

First, her name (pronounce it scott-a-LEE-nee): "My dad said to tell people it rhymes with fettucini. But it doesn't make people take you seriously as an author if you tell them that. It makes them take you seriously as an entree."

She says she'll give away copies of her newest book, Think Twice, about attorney Bennie Rosato and her evil identical twin, Alice, who kidnaps Bennie and assumes her life. Scottoline drew on a jarring personal experience to inform the story.

"In midlife I found out I had a half-sister I didn't know about. ... So the truth is, when she first appeared, for 10 years it destabilized me."

The woman with whom she shared a father had been adopted by another family.

"When I first met her I thought she was my twin. She has my father's blue eyes: Her eyes are big, round blue eyes; mine are smaller. It's a weird experience. You can't not write about it. It goes directly to character and identity. I asked her if she minded if I made her the evil twin, and she's like, ‘Sure, go for it.'"

Scottoline and her younger brother attended public schools in the suburbs of Philadelphia; their father was an architect, their mother (she dubs her "Mother Mary"), a secretary.

She was an early Internet adapter, employing it to connect with readers. Her friend-next-door-style Web site features videos of Scottoline promoting books and encourages clubs to send photos of their members holding copies of her books. All clubs that submit a group photo are invited to her home for a huge party, but one is selected for special treatment — Scottoline visits and takes them out to dinner. Last year, 700 people RSVP'd for the party at her home but a storm kept attendance at 400.

Persistence

Scottoline worked as an attorney for six years and many of her books star female lawyers. In 1986, when Francesca Serritella was born, she quit to stay home, raise the child, and try her hand at writing.

"I don't start with an outline. You could guess that somebody who's getting pregnant when her marriage is falling apart isn't a good planner."

During the five years before Francesca went to kindergarten, Scottoline survived on credit cards. In exchange for her voluminous writing, she received rejections, including: "We don't have time to take any more clients and if we did we wouldn't take you," she huffs, adding that she occasionally runs into the New York agent who wrote that. "You don't tell somebody that they can't try. That's just un-American!" But harsh words don't deter her.

"I don't take a lot of water to grow," she says. "I'm a golden retriever at heart. I'm waggin' my tail."

In 1993, Everywhere That Mary Went was published in softcover and nominated for a Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award. Her second book, in 1995, Final Appeal, won the Edgar Award for Best Original Paperback. With that, her publisher printed her books in hardcover and she paid off $38,000 in debt.

"Being an author is like becoming your own business. [Film director] Francis Ford Coppola took out second mortgages. That's what it required [of me] and that's a good thing. If you spend money on it, then you will do it, unless it's a gym membership. I would pay not to go to a gym and that's what I'm doing now. If there's a lot on the line then you take it much more seriously."

Chick Wit

She's got gumption in spades. When the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper asked to excerpt portions of her book, she lobbed an idea at them.

"I said what you really need is some good news in this newspaper. I missed [the late humor columnist] Erma Bombeck, and there's no one doing that. I'm not as talented as she, but I really wanted to have the woman's perspective on everyday life and the light side of it." Hence, her Chick Wit column, to which Francesca also contributes, was born. "What it's like to be a woman, especially of a certain age where you have a younger daughter who will tell you how to get dressed for a blind date and a mother who will tell you how to make meatballs even though you're 50."

She also teaches a class she developed and asked to teach, Justice and Fiction, every other year at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

"I start them with Merchant of Venice; it's such a good example of how law and justice are not always the same thing. Then I go to Perry Mason, the very '50s idea that law does always lead to justice, and from there, deconstruct it over time as we all come to learn different things about our justice system."

Lisa Scottoline will speak at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Tickets are $10; $8 for students, and can be purchased at library branches and at the door. After her talk, she'll answer questions and sign books. Information: 419-259-5266.

Contact Tahree Lane at:

tlane@theblade.com

or 419-724-6075.



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