Lisa Scottoline is amazing. She's not only a live wire with the greatest perspective on life that I know (you'll see when you read her interview), but she's also the New York Times bestselling author and Edgar award-winning author of 24 novels, including CORRUPTED. She also writes a weekly column with her daughter Francesca Serritella for the Philadelphia Inquirer titled "Chick Wit" which is a witty and fun take on life from a woman's perspective. These stories, along with many other never-before-published stories, have been collected in six books including their most recent, Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat?, and earlier collections, Have a Nice Guilt Trip; Meet Me at Emotional Baggage Claim; Best Friends, Occasional Enemies; My Nest Isn't Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space; and Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog, which has been optioned for TV. Lisa reviews popular fiction and non-fiction, and her reviews have appeared in New York Times, The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Lisa has served as President of Mystery Writers of America and has taught a course she developed, "Justice and Fiction" at The University of Pennsylvania Law School, her alma mater. Lisa is a regular and much sought after speaker at library and corporate events. Lisa has over 30 million copies of her books in print and is published in over 35 countries. Lisa's books have solidly landed on all the major bestseller lists including The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Publisher's Weekly, Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, and LOOK AGAIN was named "One of the Best Novels of the Year" by The Washington Post, and one of the best books in the world as part of World Book Night 2013.
What happens when, as an adult, you take on the person who bullied you as a child? Lisa Scottoline's extraordinary new novel Corrupted delves into the failures of the law--and the failures of our own selves, and I'm thrilled to have her here to talk about it.
I always want to know what sparked a particular book, what the thing that haunted you that made you need to write Corrupted?
It started with the character, in that Bennie Rosato is such a strong, confident woman, but I wanted her to explore self-doubt and regret. Why? After twenty years of writing about her, I feel that she's really become real to me, and as I've gotten older, I think about my life with regrets. I can’t pretend I don't have one or two, and I became tempted by the idea of a second chance. People always think they want a second chance, but if they were confronted with the same situation, what would they do differently? So Bennie has a legal case that she regrets deeply, not only because she didn't get justice for her client, but because it also compelled her to leave behind a man she loved. And she hasn't been in love with anyone, for real, since then. So I wanted her to look back, both professionally and personally, and think, if I got a second chance, what would I do with it?
I’m always bowled over by your research (I seem to keep asking, how did she KNOW that?) on just about every pages. What is it like? What surprises you? Do you ever want something to be able to happen, and then your research shows you that it can’t possibly?
Thank you so very much for saying that, and I did a lot of research for this book. I love doing research, not only because I get to learn stuff, but also because it's easy! As anybody who writes knows, it's not easy to produce something out of nothing, every single day; that's both the challenge and the joy of writing, whether you're published or not. (I'm curious whether you agree, since you're one of my favorite authors!) But to stay on point, the research I did for this book had to do with juvenile justice, which is different in many ways from the adult criminal justice system, and in certain respects, is terribly antiquated. The judicial corruption scandal at the heart of this novel, which was true-life and took place in Pennsylvania, exploited this very defect in the system. We are only just now beginning to understand the complexities of the adolescent mind, and I think we need to appreciate and safeguard the rights of younger people more and more; in fact, the United States Supreme Court just heard the question of whether it is constitutional to incarcerate juveniles for life. That question will involve an analysis of law, justice, as well as societal and political norms, and I love exploring the bolus of interests that will yield the answer.
This novel, like all of your novels, deals with moral issues as well as telling a gripping, smart story. There is always so much at stake. In Corrupted, Bennie Rosato, represents a man who killed the bully who taunted him as a child, and led to his being sent to juvenile prison. And she feels that part of this is her fault, as well as that of the whole legal system. You make us care deeply about your characters. Do you think the legal system will ever be fixed? And do you think there are strong lines between right or wrong, or do you think you can do something wrong for the right reasons?
First, thank you for saying nice things about the book, and I think it's important to care about the characters, if only if not because it makes an entertaining novel, but because it gets people to really think about the underlying issues. I always think of myself as writing for smart people, so I never write down to anybody, but I “play up,” or assume the reader knows what I'm talking about or will figure it out. When I learn something, which I did in my research for this novel, I pose it to the readers so they think of great questions, like you did.
In answer to your first question, whether the legal system will ever be fixed, the legal system is completely dependent upon legislative branches, both at the state and federal level. If we can get people interested in the law, they can vote people in who will vote their way, and people can actually influence the law in that way. It's remarkable, truly. The best example of this is rape shield laws. If you think back a long time ago, victims of rape were prosecuted twice, and it was really fiction that brought that to the fore, dramatizing what these women went through when they had to testify to convict their rapist. As a result, people put pressure on legislatures to develop laws that would protect crime victims, and rape shield laws were born. So it's a perfect example of how when people mobilize, they can actually impact law to gain justice, and I draw enormous comfort from that, so I think people can fix the legal system if they just know more about it and motivate themselves to do so.
As for whether there are strong lines between right and wrong, I don't think so, and that's really the stuff of my fiction; the differences between right and wrong, legal and illegal, justice and injustice. And as for whether you could do the wrong thing for the right reason, or vice versa, that sounds vaguely like the story of my life. LOL!
You are an acclaimed mega-selling author of 29 (29!!) books and yet you have this warm, welcoming, down-to-earth presence. Do you ever get nervous or worry about a book or do you feel more like the seasoned pro you are?
OMG, how sweet are you! The truth is, I am nervous and I worry about my books every day of my life. I write 2000 words a day, and I am constantly worried if it's good enough. I'm starting to understand that this is part of my makeup, and being anxious comes with the territory of being a writer, for many women. To overcome it, I tell myself to “act as if,” in therapy speak - in other words, to act as if I'm not worried or anxious or insecure. I think this is really key to happiness in life, honestly. Just go forward, despite whatever worries her anxieties you have. The point is that it’s behavioral, it's about action, and I try to channel my anxiety into action. This may be a sexist assumption, but I feel as if this insecurity plagues women more than men, or maybe they just hide it better. Sometimes I even think to myself, what would a man do? Or day? Would he edit himself or just say it? Then, say it! I'm always amazed when I see men praise their own books and see how easy it is for them. I could never say those things. But what I do feel is determined to get it right and extremely lucky to be able to tell the stories that interest me and touch my heart, in the hope that they will reach other people who feel the same way.
You’ve collaborated with your daughter on books--what is that like? And how can I convince my son to collaborate with me?
LOL, I love reading about your son on your blog! Make him do it! Punish him if he won't! (Yeah, right.) Francesca and I started writing together, honestly, because we wanted to see more realistic and positive images of mothers and daughters in the culture. We really are best friends, even though we get into what we call “Chihuahua fights,” and among my friends, all of them are very close to their daughters. So we were both like, why don’t we give it a try, and we both end up telling the true, if comic, tales of mothers and daughters. We been doing it for six books, and this last summer, we made the New York Times Bestseller list with DOES THIS BEACH MAKE ME LOOK FAT? It's an awesome title, which Francesca thought of, and it's all about how the last thing women should worry about is their weight.
What’s obsessing you now and why?
You might not believe this, but I'm not the obsessive type. It takes too much work. I really love things, and if I think about what I really love, besides my daughter, it's my dogs. Daughter Francesca has wisely moved to New York and so she is out of my adoring gaze, but my dogs cannot escape. They're always around me, sleeping on the sofas and chairs, begging for scraps at mealtimes, or barking whenever I have a phone interview. But despite their adorably disobedient nature, I take time every day, several times a day, to just go over and kiss each one, hug them and scratch them, and generally have a Zen love session with a furry, warm little animal. And I have five such animals, so you can imagine this is time-consuming, but it recharges me for my day, if not my writing. And when I think about what I’m really feeling right now, it's enormous love and gratitude for my life. I'm healthy and happy, and I finally managed to say no to lots of obligations and requests that I didn't really want to fulfill, in order to spend more time working on what really matters to me, like my books. I call this protecting the candle, and I could talk forever about it, because I think it's really been a journey for me and for a lot of women, to realize that every time you say no to someone else, you are saying yes to yourself. To not worry about pleasing others, but to worry about pleasing yourself and devoting your spare time to your interests. I think women get socialized to believe that this is selfish, but nothing could be farther from the truth. It's just setting limits, and leading life on your own terms. I suspect I have this perspective because my only child is up and grown, and I was a single mother almost her entire life, but I suspect that many mothers will feel the same way, as the years come on. It's truly a glorious time in a woman's life, and it only gets better.
What question didn’t I ask that I should have?
Please, you asked everything, and I just went on and on and on because I feel as if I know you so well, and we must meet someday! And your IS THIS TOMORROW, which you so graciously signed to me, is at the top of my to-be-read pile as soon as my edit-deadline is over!!!
I just realized I have been pronouncing your last name wrong all the time! Forgive me! It’s SCOTT oh Leen ee, right? And not SCOTT Oh Line. That’s correct, right?
Caroline, my father always said to tell people it rhymes with fettuccine, but that isn’t very literary, is it? Still, it works and you can call me anything you want! Hope we get to meet someday and let's do try! xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox