Author Lisa Lutz was once dubbed "Nancy Drew after a bottle of Jack Daniels," a description which fits her style perfectly. She is the kind of writer who someone like best-selling author Janet Evanovich can only dream of being: funny, clever, and original at the same time.
I interviewed Lutz here for Blogcritics for her first book, The Spellman Files, and became an instant fan, both for her sense of humor and her style. Seldom have I encountered a crime writer who uses footnotes which are often funnier than some authors' entire books.
She agreed to do an email interview for this, her fourth book. I should perhaps mention that Lutz gave me credit in the book's acknowledgments for helping to promote her books.
Each of Lutz' novels are at least indirectly about her fictional family, the Spellmans. They are a family of private detectives, so when the narrator, Isabel Spellman, gets a boyfriend, her mom or younger sister Rae will investigate him. Rae is quite the wacky younger sister.
What advice would you have for anyone with a Rae- and/or Isabel-like person in their family?
Boarding school, if they’re minors. I create the characters, but that doesn’t mean I know how to defend against them.
What are the high and low points of your writing career?
The nadir was the 10 years I spent writing Plan B, which culminated in a Hollywood career-ending film. The high point would be my first book deal, for The Spellman Files. I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a novelist. It continues to amaze me how much I prefer the novel format to the screenplay.
I'm picking up on a Star Wars title theme with your books. Instead of the Empire Strikes Back you have The Spellmans Strike Back and instead of Return of the Jedi you have Revenge of The Spellmans. Am I going crazy? You're not planning on a three story prequel or something?
You are going crazy. First of all, the new book is called The Spellmans Strike Again. Not Back. Although that’s a common mistake. The Spellman titles are based on the Pink Panther films, not Star Wars. However, I wouldn’t rule out a prequel one day. (Then again, I’m not big on ruling things out.)
Is this the last of the Spellman books? There was a feeling of tying up some loose ends with this one.
No, it’s not the last Spellman book. I’m still investigating how that rumor got started. I did say after I finished the fourth novel that I would take a break and work on something else, which I did.
At one point you write this: "I ordered pancakes with a whipped cream face because I thought it would keep things light. It's hard to feel threatened by someone eating a happy face." Do you know this from personal experience? I may have to try out this theory.
No. Most of what I write is not based on personal experience. Reading fiction for most people is about escape. For me, writing fiction is the same thing.
What made you decide to have a plotline involving the wrongly imprisoned? What do you plan to do with the Free Schmidt! movement that is a plotline in the book?
I’ve always been interested in the subject of wrongful convictions. Since it’s related to the kind of work a private investigator might do, I decided a while ago to fit it into one of the story lines of the new book. I became enthralled by the work done by the Innocence Project and wanted to convey it accurately and seriously, without losing the tone of the Spellman books.
I can neither confirm nor deny my involvement in the shadow organization behind the Free Schmidt! movement. I can say you should buy a T-shirt at www.freeschmidt.com to benefit the Innocence Project.
Your books' bios have long said you left Hollywood vowing to never be involved with another movie project, but now they're making a movie out of your first book. Are you involved in writing the screenplay?
While we were negotiating the option for the first novel, I was asked whether I wanted to write the screenplay. I said, “No. But they’ll pay for my silence.” I’m not involved at all in this process, and right now I don’t have any other information to share. Sorry.
Any theories on why you tend to use footnotes more than the average writer? I love them — I'm just curious.
Footnotes existed in fiction long before the Spellman books came along. David Foster Wallace used them all the time; I didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t have my own, more simple-minded version. Mine started as a test to my editor. The first draft had very few footnotes, and I kept adding them during the rewrite process. I fully expected her to tell me to cut them. So whenever I received the draft back and there was no comment about the footnotes, I added more.
Please tell me more about the footnote on San Francisco, of which you are a resident: "It's a beautiful city, with wonderful residents, but the per capita crazy has got to be the highest in the country."
I’m not sure there’s much else to say. I stand by that statement one hundred percent.
Do you smile and/or laugh as you write? Because you know you leave us readers smiling and laughing, which makes for fun moments at coffeehouses when others sneak a peek at your cover — good publicity for you — to wonder if the book is THAT funny (or to see if I'm just crazy)?
Occasionally I laugh at my own jokes, but it seems so undignified. More often I look back on previous books and wonder if I was temporarily insane. Although I fully approve of other people reading my books in public and laughing.
Lastly, what's next for you?
I just finished co-writing a crime novel with my ex-boyfriend. It’s essentially about a collaboration gone wrong. It’s called Heads You Lose and should be published next spring.