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An Interview With Lisa Lutz, Author of Trail Of The Spellmans

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Lisa Lutz is a gem in the rough of mystery book authors; her Spellman series is up there with the late great Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder series both in terms of quality and hilarity.

Isabel “Izzy” Spellman, the books’ protagonist, has chronicled what it’s like growing up, dating, and trying to live an independent life while running into all the problems that come from being part of the family business: a private detective agency. This means her mother, father and sister are at various times investigating her, each other or cases that concern her but of which they refuse to reveal details. I have been championing and promoting this series since the first book and have interviewed Lisa for each one.

Trail of the Spellmans is the fifth book in the series and Lisa seems to have no trouble finding new material to write about with this family rich in antics and dysfunction.

Isabel has been described as “Nancy Drew after a bottle of Jack Daniels.” While she has also been described, by People, as “the love child of Dirty Harry and Harriet the Spy” Lutz said she prefers the Nancy Drew analogy. Both work for me.

I’m trying something different for this interview and one I did last week with Josh Bazell, namely letting them interview each other for part of my interview.

In this latest novel Isabel is trying to understand why her mom has taken on  new activities outside the house and the work while also trying to sort out what her dad’s new secret is. Meanwhile, her niece repeatedly inexplicably repeats the word “bananas” despite not actually liking bananas. And that’s just a start of the book’s crazy but fun plots.
And here’s an example of why I love her footnotes. This footnote is on page 15: “When my sister was little, I told her if she buried the M&M’s she could grow an M&M tree and have a lifetime supply. She watered them with Kool-Aid for two weeks until my mother disabused her of that notion.”

 

How’d the idea develop for this story? As you get into the series is it becoming easier or harder to think of new ideas for plots?

Ugh. This is just a version of “Where do you get your ideas?” I have no freakin’ clue. Plus, we’re talking about something that I wrote over a year ago. I don’t remember. But, yeah, it’s getting harder.

I last interviewed you – in addition to all our fun interviews about your solo books – for your collaboration with ex-boyfriend David Hayward.  Have you sworn off all future collaborations after that? Because I think you and Josh Bazell would make a great writing team. More on that shortly.

Never say never, I say. Although the other night I ate sea urchin and I’m pretty sure I’ll never have that again. As for collaborations, I’m not anxious to do that again. Especially not with Bazell. He seems like a pain in the ass.

Why did you decide to dedicate your book to “my two favorite Morgans, Morgan Dox and Morgan Freeman”? Have you ever met Morgan Freeman? Who is Morgan Dox?

I like people named Morgan. Don’t you? No, I’ve never met Morgan Freeman, but I’d really like to if he’s reading this. Morgan Dox is one of my closest friends and I mention Morgan Freeman a lot in my book. Just seemed natural to co-dedicate it to them.

I liked your blog post about book clubs, which everyone can read here.  Have you really never been in a book club? Why not?

I’ve really never been in a book club. Why not? Because I don’t like being told what to read and I don’t like clubs.

Can you tell me what inspired you to do this video where you have kids interview you? How much of that was scripted? I thought it was hilarious.

I really like working with kids. I think that’s obvious. Nothing was scripted. They came up with the questions and I answered them as honestly as I could.

I love some of your asides and footnotes and am curious if some of the things you have Isabel do are things you have also done. For example, when she says, “I’ve discovered that formally announcing a subject change holds far more sway than just simply changing the subject. Try it yourself sometime…” is that something you’ve tried?

I’m going to move on to the next question.

I like your description of reality TV. Do you think that’s why it’s so popular?  I think you hit on its success here when you write this on page 156: “I’ve discovered that if you watch real people on television, you suddenly discover that you and every person around you are the picture of sanity and decency.” Do you have any TV series, including reality TV shows, you watch regularly?
 
I think reality TV is popular because we’re voyeurs and rubbernecks. We love watching train wrecks. To answer your second question: yes.

What’s the status of plans to turn your books into a TV series?  Are you involved with that at all?

Right now we’re trying to get the Spellmans to film. I’ll be involved in writing the script (no comment about my previous claims on this subject). We’re also hoping to have Heads You Lose adapted. But these movie people take forever just to arrange a phone call, so I might be in a retirement home by the time anything happens.

Impressive on getting a piece about writing published in The Wall Street Journal –    how did that come about? Where does that fit on your list of highs and lows in your writing career? What have been the highs and lows so far?

Getting my first book deal was the high. Although every year when I get a book published it seems pretty incredible. The low, as I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, was my film Plan B.

As for The Wall Street Journal, they’ve wanted me to write a financial column for them for a while, but I just don’t have the time. They settled for a Word Craft piece.

What are you working on next? Your blog posts have mentioned you’re working on a new book.

I’m working on a stand-alone novel called You Were Here. It’s not like anything I’ve written before. I expect a great deal of hate mail when it’s published.

And here are questions for you to answer from Josh Bazell. First, though, how do you and Josh know each other?

I know Josh through you. When you first interviewed him, for reasons that remain a mystery, you kept cc’ing me on your emails like I was his Aunt Edna. FYI, I’m not his Aunt Edna.

Questions for Lisa Lutz from Josh:
Do you think it’s still considered unusual for a woman to write books primarily about people murdering each other?

No. Women have the same murderous urges as men. They just control them better.

What’s the weirdest murder you’ve ever put into a book?

I had a character murder someone with his own fibula. Preposterous, I know, but apparently you don’t really need a fibula.

Do you have any plans to write a book about people who aren’t constantly murdering other people?

No. I’m worried about overpopulation, especially in fiction.

If you had male readers, would you increase or decrease the number of murders?

If I had male readers, I’d just add more explosions and maybe a lake monster. I hear they go for that kind of crap.

When you gave the first positive blurb to Beat the Reaper, how much are you regretting that now?

I’ve been outsourcing my blurbs for years. But Sanjit assures me he really liked the book.

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About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.
  • Laura J

    I was favorably impressed last week when I read your column that suggested anyone who likes Lisa Lutz would like Josh Bazell. I had just read “Beat the Reaper’ and I already loved Lisa Lutz, but I hadn’t put them together. So now I am getting your columns on the RSS, and I am happy.

  • scott butki

    Wow, that’s quite a compliment. I made the association first because of her blurb but then when they both use (overuse?) footnotes it seemed a natural fit. I’m not sure about my idea of having them interview each other – that’s probably a one time thing. I love her aunt edna line.