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Interview with Lisa Lutz, Author of The Spellman Files

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You are going to hear a lot of positive buzz about Lisa Lutz in the next few weeks as her first book, The Spellman Files, comes out. Believe the hype. She's hilarious, creative and brilliant. It's one of the funniest, most imaginative things I've read in a year or two.

Just when you may start to think that all the possible variations of mystery novels involving private detectives have been exhausted, along comes Lutz with the Spellman family. Detective work is the family business and by that I mean not only do the parents take jobs but the family members are constantly investigating each other. This drives the main character, Isabel Spellman, crazy, especially when her little sister is tailing her to report back to their parents on the details of her latest boyfriend. 

Isabel announces she wants out of the business but the family says she has to first work one last case. And that case is a doozy. Isabel breaks laws and bends rules and such, while trying to solve cases and get away from her family. This book made me laugh out loud, which always gets me odd looks when I’m reading while dining alone.  

Lutz was gracious enough to not only let me interview her but also to put up with questions about comparisons that are already being made about her. Just because it’s her first book doesn’t mean reviewers are going to wait to compare her to others.

Scott: In what ways are you like Isabel? In what ways are you different? 

Lisa: I’m not a vandal, I use doors most of the time, and I’m fairly polite. I probably have more in common with (Isabel’s sister) Rae and Uncle Ray than I do with Isabel. That said, Isabel and I probably share a sense of humor, but our histories are completely different.

If you could collaborate with one famous writer, who would you choose and why? 

I actually don’t have any interest in collaborating with anyone on anything. What I like about writing is that it’s a solitary enterprise. But, if you’re just asking as a hypothetical and I can fill it in with a dead author, then: Marlon Brando. (The word ‘author’ is a stretch, I know, but he did write his autobiography, which was pretty great). I pick Brando because I’ve always been a huge fan (aside: on the day he died, I received condolence calls) and think we could have been great friends. Most of the writers I have great respect for I doubt would enjoy my company all that much. But Brando, I think he would’ve liked me.

What are some of your influences? 

Here are some authors that I LOVE: Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith, George Pelecanos, Dashiell Hammett, Richard Price, David Foster Wallace, Vladimir Nabokov among many others. That said, I’m not sure how significant their influences are. I don’t feel like I can emulate my favorites, so I never think about anyone else’s style or aspire to anything in particular when I write. Mostly what I’m concentrating on is how I can bypass my own literary limitations and find the best way to tell the story. Influences are the last thing on my mind and I kind of doubt they’re in the periphery either.

I’ve already seen some reviews saying your book reminds readers of the Royal Tennenbaums? Do you think that’s a fair comparison? Do you mind it? 

There are some comparisons that annoy me. This one doesn’t, because it defines my book more in terms of a family saga than a mystery, which I think is far more accurate and lets the reader in on what to expect. Many of the other comparisons feel misleading to me. But, it would be nice if people could describe books without resorting to “It’s The Maltese Falcon meets The Bridges of Madison County” (as an example). A favorite past time of mine is coming up with ridiculous novel/film hybrids. When you’re reading that stuff about your own book, it gets old after a while.

Your publicity materials compare you not only to Wes Anderson – see above – but also Veronica Mars, Buffy and chick-lit. Do you agree with those comparisons? 

Most of the comparisons feel forced to me. I think there was one review which mentioned Buffy and Veronica Mars. My book has a very different kind of energy than those shows – and I’m not dissing them, I’m just saying that I think they’re very different.

Who do you like better – Janet Evanovich, who some will compare you to though I think you’re much better than her – or Donald Westlake? Both are witty mystery writers who write about crime. 

I don’t really connect with either. Just because I write comedic fiction that somehow relates to the mystery genre, doesn’t mean that I read it. I’m much more likely to read urban crime (Dennis Lehane, Pelecanos, Price – all who’ve written for The Wire, by the way) and other stuff. I write what I write because that’s what I can do best. But it’s not necessarily the kind of fiction I like the most. Does that make sense?

Ain’t It Cool News has a line, in its review, which I think sums up your style and I wanted your opinion on it: “Nancy Drew after a bottle of Jack Daniels.” What do you think of that description?

 

Lisa: I LOVE that description. It’s my favorite so far.

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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.
  • http://philobiblon.co.uk Natalie Bennett

    This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States. Nice work!

  • Scott Butki

    I’ve been telling everyone I know to read two
    books if they want to laugh and enjoy life and good writing. This one and the Spellman Files.