Monday, December 08, 2014

Lisa Scottoline at The Poisoned Pen!

On Wednesday, December 3, when Denis and I headed to our favorite bookstore, little did we know that this author event would be very, very different from what we'd become accustomed to. For one thing, we weren't the first ones there, and I had to rethink my entire photographic game plan. As a former co-worker used to say, "Cope and adjust!" I did, knowing that my faithful readers would immediately notice the difference in camera angle because you're all sharp cookies.

That night's book haul...
From the number of chairs put out by The Poisoned Pen staff, they were expecting a full house, which really didn't surprise me because we were all here for Lisa Scottoline, author of the Rosato and Associates mystery series featuring an all-women law firm in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Scottoline is one of those authors who's always been on my radar, but I have yet to read any of her books. That will change, especially after the books that I bought that evening.

Another difference that evening was the fact that Barbara Peters would be dealing with a family issue on the East Coast and Paige Martin, a Scottsdale attorney, would be taking her place.  Several members of the Women's Bar Association had brought food and drink, and Scottoline (who was doing a little warm-up ahead of the event) encouraged us all to go over and take part in the feast. "They're lawyers, but they're funny," she assured us. I immediately noticed a couple of things about Lisa: she was high energy and liked to keep on the move, and she was as comfortable in this large group of people as if she were in her own home amongst family. I had the feeling that Denis and I were two of the very few who'd never been to a Scottoline event before. (Later on I would learn that we were "Scottoline Virgins.")

"I know Barbara will be receiving a report."

L to R: Paige Martin and Lisa Scottoline

The first order of the evening was a short recitation of the "Rules and Regs" as Paige Martin called them because she knew Barbara would be receiving a report on how the evening went. She went on to tell us that Barbara was a "recovered lawyer" who moved here and couldn't practice law unless she passed the Arizona Bar Exam. Instead Peters retired from law and decided to open a bookstore and then a small publishing firm. 

Available Now!
Scottoline said, "I'll retire at 120 if I stop spending money the way I do. You people are so lucky to have Barbara Peters; she's so far ahead of the curve! I don't know if you realize this, but The Poisoned Pen is one of the best bookstores in the country. There are very few like it. I want to come back every fall if you'll have me." From the crowd reaction, there was little doubt that everyone wanted her back as often as she wanted to appear. Paige mentioned her latest Rosato and Associates book, Betrayed, as a crime story with a family subplot before Lisa jumped in to mention the books she writes in the summers with her daughter, Francesca Serritella. (The latest one is Have a Nice Guilt Trip.) "If you like Erma Bombeck, you'll like these books!"

The author then slid down from her chair and began moving around in front of her audience. "I'm Italian, I have to move," she told Martin. "You have to control me... Good luck!" The event had barely started, and I'd already seen the writing on the wall. I looked toward the back of the room. The event was not being broadcast on Livestream. As voluble as Scottoline had already proven to be, there was no way I was going to be able to scribble down most of what she said. Furthermore, I didn't want to because this woman is highly entertaining. If I concentrated too much on what I was writing, I was going to miss a lot of good stuff, and I wasn't willing to do that. So along with my different camera angle, you're only going to get the highlights of this event. Hopefully it will give you an idea of how phenomenal this writer is as a speaker. 

"A modern Nancy Drew..."

Lisa Scottoline
Paige mentioned a recent review of Betrayed by the Washington Post, which stated that Scottoline had created a modern Nancy Drew. Scottoline liked the review. "Growing up, Nancy Drew really spoke to me," she said. "For one thing, she had ovaries. It seemed like all the other characters in mystery books were omniscient males solving problems. But not Nancy. Her roadster is key! It makes her the quintessential American-- out driving around and having adventures.

"It always seemed like something was lost in her hometown: clocks, lockets, diaries, staircases-- how can you lose a staircase?"

Scottoline and Martin were hesitant to say much about Betrayed because they didn't want to give away the plot of the book, but Scottoline did say that she thought of the Rosatos as the Beatles. "If you like dated references, you've come to the right place!" she quipped. "I'm turning sixty in the summer. I forgot what I was going to say.... There's a bit of competition between females in this book, with one or two learning that just because the others are female doesn't mean that they've always got your back."

Lisa was in and out of her chair, walking back and forth, with one arm or the other waving about to emphasize the point she was trying to make. "Fiction and non-fiction should all proceed from truth," she said. "Erle Stanley Gardner started the whole legal sub-genre in crime fiction with Perry Mason. Now, Perry Mason is a very cardboard character, and I'm not sure he would fly in this day and age. For me, character, voice and plot are all the same thing."  

"I love to talk books..."

Lisa Scottoline
Scottoline is the sort of speaker who catches you in her wake, and you find yourself quite happily being carried along, and as her enthusiasm grows, so does your own. "I love to talk books, and I don't get out much!" she exclaimed.  

Her mother was in hospice at Scottoline's home and died in April. The author works with a group of cancer survivors who like to get some exercise by going horseback riding. "Actually, we like to sit and talk while the horses walk along," Lisa said.

"I teach law and justice in fiction, and that just happens to be what I write. If anyone wants to pin me down on specific topics, I'll have you know that I've voted Democrat and Republican-- in the same election-- and I've been equally disappointed in both."

By this time, I felt that I was only capable of writing a series of one-liners because of the swift pace Lisa was setting. Segueing back to Betrayed, Scottoline mentioned that she lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, where 50% of the country's mushrooms are grown. Lots of illegal immigrants-- who play a part in the book-- take care of those mushrooms, and she talked with several while doing research for the novel. "Those were some of the most uncomfortable interviews I've ever done," she told us. In the book, Judy finds herself in a completely alien world, and Scottoline believes that the way she deals with it is very courageous.

"Why didn't you buy the book?"

"You wouldn't believe the work that goes into marketing books," Lisa said. "We know all sorts of things about you. We know that most of my readers are men, which is nice because I write about women, not for women.

"We know that you look at the cover first, then you turn it over and look at the back." Borrowing a copy of Betrayed from someone in the front row, Lisa turned the book over to show the author photo. "When you look at the back, you'll see a very Photoshopped woman... who is this?... Photoshop... ain't it great?

"Then 90% of you turn to the first page, but 10% of you naughties go to the middle of the book! See? You're being watched!"

Walking back to her chair, Scottoline shared an experience she had in an airport. "I actually watched a man in the airport bookshop do all this, and then he put the book back and walked away. He walked away! Me being me, I picked up the book and followed him. Holding it up to him, I asked him, 'Why didn't you buy the book?' He looked at me and said, 'I don't buy books written by women."

The hue and cry from all the people inside The Poisoned Pen must've been heard out on the street. We were rather vocal in our displeasure.

Lisa held her hand out to us in a Stop! motion. "Three days later the same man emailed me and told me, 'I loved your book-- you write like a man!'"

A fan asked her if Bennie was going to come back front and center. Lisa replied, "Bennie is back and corrupted!" She also said that she was mulling over the idea of revolving the characters of Bennie and Judy for a while in future books.

"If you don't know who it is, it's you."

Lisa Scottoline
The author then went on to give us a tiny sneak peek at her next book. "The Psychopath Next Door is interesting reading that I did as part of my research. It's believed that one in every twenty-four people is a psychopath." At our horrified expressions, Scottoline hurried to add, "That just means that those people lie a lot, it doesn't mean that they kill!

"I had been toying with the idea of having a psychopath stalk a psychiatrist, so I interviewed a psychiatrist. One of the questions I asked was 'Would you know if you had a psychopath on staff?' The psychiatrist looked at me and said, 'I've worked here for seventeen years, and I just recently figured out that we do have one on staff.'"

Walking back to her chair, Lisa looked over the crowd and said, "If you ever try to figure out the identity of a psychopath, just remember what they say-- 'If you don't know who it is, it's you!'"

Talk then moved on to canine and human health. Lisa has a Corgi that developed problems with her spine and now has a little cart to help her move her hindquarters. "I'm the only person I know who's built a ramp for my dog," Lisa laughed. "This dog has always been a special case-- she even gave birth by Caesarian section.

"And did you know that you can give yourself scoliosis by not turning around enough? I write three books a year, and for twenty-four years I've had my desk and television set up the same way. When I went to see my doctor about back problems I was experiencing, we pinpointed this as the problem. 'What can I do to fix it?' I asked him. 'Put your TV on the opposite side of the desk,' he said. Now I have a treadmill desk, and we'll see how that goes."  

"People are smart."

Lisa Scottoline entertaining us all.
Paige Martin took the opportunity to praise Lisa's books. "There are some great legal scenes in these books!" Paige told us. "This is real life; this is what really happens."

Lisa thanked her and told us that she'd been given suggestions on several occasions to dumb down the plots of her books. Lisa refused. "I'm sorry; people are smart. They'll figure it out."

She once again mentioned the importance of bookstores, telling us "You can't only shop online and expect to have bookstores!" We were all nodding our heads and not about to tell her that she was singing to the choir.

"I'm not afraid of a hurricane!"

Lisa Scottoline
Paige ended the evening by asking Lisa if she wanted to tell us a story about her mother, who died last April. Lisa nodded and smiled. She then issued a challenge for someone to google "Earthquake Mary" and tell her the first hits that came up. Someone did, and lo and behold, Mary Scottoline came up.

"My mother was the only person in south Florida who felt an earthquake that occurred in north Florida. She called people to tell them about it, but no one believed her. This information reached the local TV station, and it sent its news van to our house. My brother, who's gay, went out wearing a mesh tank top that showed off the map of Italy on his chest. The caption for that segment just above the station's logo was 'Earthquake Mary.' They asked my mom 'How are you the only one who knew there was an earthquake?' My mom looked at them, tapped her forehead, and said, 'Because I know these things!'

"Someone once asked my mother if she were afraid of hurricanes, since she was now a resident of Florida. She told him, 'I'm not afraid of a hurricane-- I am a hurricane!'"

Scottoline then looked out at all of us and said, "We all are."

If you find out Lisa Scottoline is coming to a place near you, I have just one thing to say-- Go see her.


  1. I love the Bennie and Judy law firm books. The best thing about them is the humor, especially about the Italian families and their friends. I just laugh my way through the pages, and think how much alike they are to Jewish families, with whom I'm familiar.

    I am astonished to see that most of Lisa Scottoline's readers are men. Those whom I know who read this series are women. I've never read about nor heard of a male reader of these books, not in my environment nor online. So, I wonder who she is referring to.

    A lot of men still won't read books written by women, thus the initials, rather than first names by some women writers -- a sad state of affairs.

    So glad you and Denis had a good time. Just from reading her books, I know that this writer is smart and hilarious.

    I'm not sure though about the interviews with undocumented workers. They're often such frightened people, afraid of losing their jobs, of being jailed or deported, or beaten up, as so many are. They just want to survive and work, not have hassles.
    Their lives are so difficult.

    My relatives were all immigrants, so I have great compassion.

    1. One thing that I can attest to, Kathy, is that half of that evening's audience were men, and that's a lot higher percentage than for almost any other female writer I've seen at The Poisoned Pen.

  2. What a great visit you had to the PP, Cathy!! I like it when authors are just as personable and witty in real life as they are on the page.

    1. It really made me want to read her books, I can tell you!

  3. I, too, for some reason have never read a book by Lisa even though I see them everywhere. Lisa sounds like a special speaker-one that entertains plus is informative. I have now ordered Everywhere that Mary Went so it is on my TBR list. Thanks for your interesting informational blogs and reviews.

    1. Thanks for reading them, Lynn. As you can see, Everywhere That Mary Went is on my TBR list, too!

  4. I live about 25 miles south of Lisa and have been to 5 of her events at the local Barnes & Nobel. These events are always highly covered by men. Did she give out Tastykakes? That's one of trademark things.

    1. No, she didn't give out Tastykakes, Bella. We don't have them here. We did have plenty of other food to eat, though!


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