Monday, April 11, 2016

Nature verses Nurture. Murderous sperm donors and how we bond with our children. Lisa Scottoline talks about her whipsmart new page-turner, MOST WANTED, gardening, mothering, garter snakes, more

Lisa Scottoline is the New York Times Bestselling author of 26 novels. That's right. Twenty-six. Over 30 million of her books are published in over 35 countries. She writes a weekly column with her author daughter, Francesca Serritella. Warm, funny, and so, so smart, Lisa is also the kind of person who, when she can't show up at your reading, buys six copies of your book from the bookstore long-distance. 

I'm always honored to host Lisa on my blog! Thank you, thank you, Lisa.

So much of you wonderful, tense novel, Most Wanted, is about nature verses nurture—are we who are genes tell us, or are we how we are raised? Added to this is the new scientific research about how the genes of our ancestors might play a role.  I know how the novel plays out, which is absolutely terrific, but I’m curious about how you, personally, feel about this. 

I'm still trying to make up my mind on the subject, not only as a novelist, but as a mother.  And it's a subject that interests me very much, and always has, especially since I found out late in my life that I had a half-sister I didn't know about, on my father's side, and in fact, a half-brother as well, but on my mother's side!  (I know, you can't make this up…) It was surprising to get to know them both, but it has become wonderful, and it provides me with an in-house examination on the difference between nature and nurture.

It's a long story, but I'm starting to think more and more that nature plays more of a role than I had thought, and I see this more and more with my own daughter Francesca, with whom I'm very close.  I'm a single mother, so it's always been just her and me, and now we are co-authors on a series of humorous memoirs about our lives, so we're learning a lot about each other, day by day, (and given our occupations, so is everyone else).  More and more, I see that her innate intelligence, her great good humor, her way of looking at the world, and her wonderfully thoughtful temperament is something that she was simply born with.  I'm the wacky one, of the two of us!

Your plots are always so intricate and have what I call the “oh my God, what is he/she going to do NOW?”  Is there ever a moment when you are writing where you think, “Oh, I just can’t do that to a character?” and go ahead and do it anyway?

Thank you so much for saying so, and I wish I could take credit, or at least give my characters some, but the fact is, I don't write with an outline so none of it is planned out.  I simply begin and say what would logically happen next, in this character's life.  In other words, what would she do, logically and of course, that begins to define her as she goes along.  For example, in MOST WANTED, I just got the idea, what if I were a pregnant woman and I had used a sperm donor and I found up my sperm donor was a serial killer?  (Yes, I know, I have a lot of weird what if thoughts, but it's a good thing in my job).  And I took it from there.

And in more direct answer to your question, the longer I live, the more surprised I am in the curve balls that life throws you, and I'm also amazed and marveled at the resilience and strength of the people I know and my girlfriends there all dealing with so much, both good and bad, and it never seems to stop.  So in a way, I think each of my novels is a little bit of a tribute to the resilience and strength in every woman.  And every man.

So much of your book is about what it means to be a parent and how that translates in how you bond with your child or don't bond—Do you feel that there is really something primal about all of this? I know that when I see anyone’s baby, I feel that primal urge to care for it—though there are certainly many many women who don’t. Can you talk about this please?

What a fascinating question, and I would expect nothing less from such a superb novelist and observer of families and parenting as you.  I absolutely do think it's primal and I can think of an example, a funny incident happily.  It actually happened when I was giving a signing at a bookstore in Dallas, and the bookstore happened to have an escalator and my signing was at the top of the escalator.  I was just yapping away, because I like to entertain during my signings, (I never read because I think my readers can read and they would rather know the inside stuff and I'm happy to do that for them.)  So anyway, were laughing and talking and asking questions and all of a sudden a toddler starts to wander over to the escalator, fairly close to the top.  The closer she got, the more distracted I got, and then I started to notice that there were people in the crowd looking over.  None of us could concentrate because we are worried about this kid, and I know that at some point, I might've begun to lactate.  Okay, just kidding, but all I can tell you is that the response of all the people watching this toddler, both men and women, was positively primal.  We all jumped up almost at the same moment and rushed over to get this kid - I actually stopped talking and went over - even though frankly, I'm not sure she was in any danger.  It was just something in our DNA telling us to save the kid and so that's my highly scientific explanation for my answer.

I also wonder about how people with unhappy childhoods transcend that in being a parent, which also snaps up in your book. I had an unhappy childhood, but my husband and I managed to raise our child the opposite of how we were raised, and not only was it great for our son, but it healed us. Do you think our whole notion of parenthood requires more thought, that everyone should explore their own childhoods and what they needed and be sure to give that to their child?

Here's when you find out that I can be a little bit nutty because the truth is I think your question is absolutely on point and correct, and not only that, I think we should be mindful in everything we do.  I love the line of Stephen Sondheim’s when he says “careful the things you say, children will listen.”  I write a lot about my mother, whom I call Mother Mary, and though she loved us very ferociously, or perhaps because she loved us very ferociously, she tended to be very protective.  That meant that when I was younger I got a lot of messages that were like don't try, don't take the risk, don't run too fast, stay right here.  It was very loving in one way, but it made me a fairly cautious child and I had to grow out of it.

When my daughter Francesca was born, I caught myself doing the same thing but I tried to make myself do the opposite, just like you.  I don't think the world needs another little girl that is afraid to take risks, and thank God, I don't have one.  But to get back to my point, mindfulness is important in all things.  I’ve become more  aware of my carbon footprint, and I have become a major vegetarian.  I no longer see the difference between the dogs I adore and a pig, so I can’t eat bacon or anything else delicious anymore.  I sleep better at night, feeling like my ethics are in line with my actions, and I know I don't contribute to any food chain that at the opposite end causes factory farming.  So as you see, I'm all for all of us exploring how we do things, why we do things, and questioning ourselves, above all.

I always want to know how one novel is different from the one before—if there was anything that you learned or that nudged you into Most Wanted?

It really was the what if of what if I couldn't have had my daughter?  What if I had been infertile?  What would my life be like?  I think it started also because now that I am a straight up empty nester, in that I live alone, I still very much have my daughter and my life via phone and email and text, but I am a capella.  It's an interesting position for woman to be in, especially one who identifies so much as a mother, and I think all these thoughts were swirling around and gave rise to MOST WANTED.

And I think what I learned from the book, in addition to the more emotional aspects of mothering, is the more scientific side that came from my research.  Because I learned that the situation in the novel is absolutely plausible given the lack of regulation in the sperm banking industry.  It’s not something people talk about much, but they should, because it turns out it’s a business like any other but there are relatively few regulations in place to protect people who buy donor sperm.   

The details are in the book, because it makes a very interesting legal problem for the heroine and her husband, but my research showed me that once again it’s really important to have laws and regulations in place to protect people when big money interests takeover, especially when people are at their most vulnerable, like times when an infertile couple wan to have a child.  It’s also an issue that I think deserves more and more attention, since so many single women, single man, and same-sex couples are using donors of all kinds.  There has to be regulations and laws in place to protect everyone.

You main character says she doesn’t know what she is leaving behind, but she also doesn’t know what she is going to—which to me is like a door opening and it takes great courage to make that step. You agree?

Yes I totally do agree, and I feel that life offers that almost all the time.  More and more, we don't know what were going to and sometimes, we don't even know what we’re leaving.  I've never been unhappy with any risk I've taken and the only times I regret things are when I don't take a risk I think I should have.  As I’ve gotten older, my most current thought is, onward and upward!

Of course I have to ask you, what's obsessing you now and why?

Happily, my latest obsession is my garden, which is a fun thing to be obsessing over until you find out you have a nest of snakes, which is what I discovered the other day, after turning over a rock.  I went from being instantly horrified, to gradually interested, and now finally fascinated.  These are the most photographed snakes in history and they look like garter snakes, so I don’t think they’ll hurt me, so I vowed not to hurt them.  This is a triumph over mindfulness in the face of scariness!

1 comment:

Linda C. Wisniewski said...

Thanks for interviewing Lisa. I met her years ago at the U of Penn writer's conference, where she was smart, engaging and even shorter than me! Loved her novel, SAVE ME, and MOST WANTED is next on my list. Motherhood is scary! So glad you've both taken it on in your writing, both fiction and non. ;-)