It’s hard to believe but I read 54 books in 2013. Since I love books in all forms, this includes audiobooks, print books and e-books. You can check out the full list of what I read here. Below are a few of my favorite books, categorized by genre, that I read this year.
Today Lisa Scottoline’s new novel, Don’t Go, came out and she’s started her book tour to support it. In the morning she was on Fox 29 speaking about the novel, and her first book signing was at Barnes & Noble on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, PA. While I woke up today feeling lousy, I planned on going to the signing for months. It was a beautiful day in the City of Brotherly Love, so I sucked it up and went to the book store.
Like last year, I took the escalators to the third floor where the signings take place. I walked in with 10 minutes to spare and was greeted by a room full of people and limited seating. But I made the most of the situation and stood off in the corner, eagerly awaiting Lisa’s arrival. I also noticed the table displaying the new book and a couple boxes of Hershey’s chocolate bars. Last year Lisa gave out Tastykakes, but this year she had trouble acquiring them, so she opted for another traditional Pennsylvania sweet.
After being introduced, Lisa was met with a warm round of applause. She quickly launched into funny stories about everything from a recent pap smear to her ex-husbands. She had the crowd in stitches the entire time with her honest, unfiltered humor. Then, Lisa started talking about the inspiration for the book and how it all started with a visit to her podiatrist. She explained that while podiatry may not be the most prestigious specialty, overseas, in the middle of a war, “these men are gods.” Lisa wanted to tell the story of those serving at the end of a war and the issues they encounter, as well as what it means to be a man and a father. She described these standalone books as “family stories” featuring crime, and her Rosato & Associates books as crime stories featuring families. Speaking of which, her newest Rosato & Associates novel, Accused, is coming out in October.
After Lisa spoke, she took questions from the audience, including one from me. I asked if she obsessively edits her writing the same way other writers – like myself – do, or if she has someone else handle it. She admitted to editing extensively. According to her, “When you cut out stuff you don’t need it helps the pacing.” She referenced James Patterson as being one of the best authors when it comes to establishing a great pace, and she said “I keep a folder of stuff I’d like to get rid of but can’t bring myself to delete.”
Then Lisa started signing books and meeting with fans. Many of the fans she knew from previous signings, and one fan said meeting Lisa was a dream come true and that her books helped her get through a period in her life when she had to have an operation on her legs. When I got to the front of the line I thanked Lisa for allowing me to interview her a few weeks back, and she complimented me on my Don’t Go book review. I told her that my girlfriend was a little jealous about her referring to me as “sweetie” and including “xoxoxoxo” in our correspondence. Lisa laughed and said, “Well you are a sweetie. Tell your girlfriend we’re keeping it clean.” She ended by offering to support my writing however she can, and I was touched. She also gave me six Hershey’s chocolate bars before I left. As I’ve said before, Lisa’s a genuine and generous person. Buy a copy of Don’t Go, and make sure to go see her if she’s in your area during any of her appearances.
I recently had the honor of interviewing Lisa Scottoline, the author of the wonderful novel Don’t Go, available April 9. As you’ll see below, her answers were a compelling and insightful look into the life of a bestselling author. I hope you enjoy the following Q&A.
Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit” while Ray Bradbury felt, “Digression is the soul of wit.” When setting out to write engaging dialogue for your characters, what do you find works best?
What a great question! First, I never forget that the Shakespeare quote was in fact by Polonius, who is a bit of a fool, but he was definitely on the right track with his observation. I think I side with him more than Ray Bradbury, as great as Bradbury was. I say this because the governing principle of writing any novel, regardless of genre, is to get to the point. You really want to keep the reader engaged and turning the pages. That only happens if pace is paramount. Therefore nothing should be extraneous or extra. If you’ve made the point, you don’t need to make it again. Like I am now, in fact!
Some authors outline books ahead of time, like James Patterson, while others, like Lee Child, just sit down and write without planning ahead. How do you approach writing a story? Do you know exactly what’s going to happen and when, or do you let the characters lead the way?
I admire James Patterson, but I’m not as smart as he is, and I have much more in common with the wonderful Lee Child, in that I just sit down and write without planning ahead. I always say that not only do I not know how the book ends, I don’t even know how it middles. The great thing about writing is that there’s no correct answer and you get to do whatever works best for you. This works best for me because I like the spontaneity and excitement that not knowing what’s going to happen brings to me as a writer; I think if I planned it all out in advance in an outline, I would feel like the writing of it afterwards was like filling in the blanks, or playing Mad Libs. Also, the way I do it is unfortunately the kind of thing that leads to a constant state of anxiety, because I don’t know if I have a successful plot line at all, but part of me rationalizes even that. I think that being hyper-aware when you’re writing finds its way into the book and keeps the tension and excitement high, leading to that page-turner goal I always try to meet.
Ian Fleming wrote 2,000 words a day by sitting down at his desk and typing non-stop for hours at a time. Do you have a strict writing schedule to which you adhere?
This is amazing, because I never thought I had anything in common with the great Ian Fleming, but evidently I do. I actually sit down every day, 7 days a week, and meet a word count of 2000. I think that’s the perfect number because it takes the entire day and sometimes most of the night, but it seems to be about 9 pages and therefore enough to get out a single scene or plot element in a 1st draft. The good thing about having a word limit is not only does it enable you to get the words down the paper, which you absolutely must do in the end, but it also permits you a stopping point, in the event that you reach your 2000 word goal early. This happens to me a lot, and I like that very much. Mainly because, as anybody who works at home will tell you, it’s hard to turn work off when it’s just upstairs. If I meet my 2000 word goal at 7 o’clock, I can watch television or read without guilt, and that’s something to rejoice over.
Many bestselling authors have started to co-author books. You’ve collaborated with your daughter and contributed to The Chopin Manuscript and The Copper Bracelet. Would you ever consider working with another author on one of your novels?
I have cooperated and contributed to serial anthologies or chapter books for charitable reasons, like the ones you just mentioned, and I’m proud of my work in those things, but I never collaborated per se with another author in the actual writing of each sentence. I have already collaborated with my amazing daughter Francesca Serritella on the nonfiction humor books, but even there, she writes her own stories and I write mine, and we combine them in one volume. It’s hard for me to imagine a true joint production on something as personal and voice-laden as a novel, but I often think about writing a children’s book or something later with someone else. For that, we’ll have to stay tuned.
What did it mean to you when you won the Edgar Award in 1995 for Final Appeal?
I was really honored to win the Edgar award because it’s given by the Mystery Writers of America, which is our oldest professional organization, and I was even lucky enough to be nominated for the award the year before that, though I didn’t win it. I actually think that loss was an equally important accomplishment, because the ultimate lesson in writing is to write the absolute best you can for yourself, and not for any extrinsic reward, whether it’s a wonderful award like the Edgar, or even a newspaper or blog review. I read all of those things and I care very much about them, but I don’t write for anyone else but me, and my assumption is always that if I think something is wonderful, my readers will too. They are my highest and best award ever.
Instead of the massive text and trite visuals most book covers are known for, your most recent novel covers have featured interactions between real people. Don’t Go has a beautiful orange glow to it and it features the book’s main character, Dr. Mike Scanlon and his daughter in a loving embrace. What led to this change in artistic direction a few years ago and what kind of feedback have you received from your fans?
Another excellent question! This is a completely accurate observation and I have a wonderful publisher in St. Martin’s and a great editor in Jennifer Enderlin, and we have together come up with these new covers, which I love. At the macro level, I’m writing 3 books years these days; two novels – one of which is a standalone and the other is the next installment of the Rosato & Associates series – and a humor memoir. Our little team wanted to figure out a way to differentiate these books, so that readers could easily see which was a standalone, which was a Rosato, and which was the nonfiction humor. I think the covers accurately capture that, and at the same time they share a common font and typeface which ties them all together, since they’re all books by me. In my heart, I believe that if you like one type of book by me, you’ll like the other type, because the voice always remains the same, and I work hard on that. But I’m aware that some people will read only Rosato and some people will read only the standalones, and so I feel really happy that we are always accurately representing my work and positioning it in a way in which it reaches the most number of readers.
Don’t Go focuses on the tumultuous life of a Doctor serving in the military. What was your inspiration for this novel?
There were so many inspirations for this book that is hard to pick just one, but the bottom line is that like any American citizen, I have been following with great absorption and concern the progress of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I am overwhelmingly grateful to the men and women who fight them on our behalf, as well as to the families and friends on the homefront, who make their own sacrifices, though not the ultimate sacrifice made by the soldiers. I’d also read a lot about the effects of wartime on custody arrangements in general, and this idea came to me and so I went with it. More and more I think the standalone novels, and even the ones that feature Rosato & Associates, as a blend of love story, family story, and crime story. I have educated myself on the development of the mystery and thriller genre in general, and I think this is a natural direction for it to take, because it’s not just a few writers that transcend genre but in fact, all of us are transcending genre these days.
Don’t Go is filled with interesting information about the day-to-day life of our armed forces overseas. Did you go into the book already aware of these details or did it require a great deal of additional research?
I did so much research for this book it’s not even funny. I don’t think I have ever spent so much time researching a novel except for Killer Smile, which as you may know, involves the internment of Italian-Americans during World War II. The research in Don’t Go was for much of the same reason, too; wartime is a grave and dramatic time in the history of a nation, if not globally, and attention must be paid to the details. Everything has to be right, because real lives are being sacrificed in real time. I interviewed an Army surgeon who served in Afghanistan and he read everything in the manuscript to make sure it was accurate, which I think is the best you can do when you’re writing about an Army surgeon who served in Afghanistan. It’s straight out of the horse’s mouth, so to speak. I also read widely and extensively on the subject, both fiction and nonfiction accounts of both wars, I listed all of those books in the Acknowledgements. While none of them gave me specific ideas, because that comes only from my head and heart, they certainly help form a backdrop that would help me get the details right.
Don’t Go is your 20th novel – a monumental accomplishment for any writer. Looking back, what’s your proudest professional accomplishment?
Aren’t you so nice to say so, and I am very proud of producing a really fine body of work over the past 20 years. I really want the name Scottoline to be synonymous with quality fiction, whether it’s humor, crime, love story, or family story. But of course, I have to tell you that my proudest accomplishment is raising a wonderful and amazing daughter in Francesca.
When I met you last year, at your book signing at Barnes & Noble on Rittenhouse Square, I was blown away by the fact that you remembered your fans’ first names upon seeing them. It was as if they were part of your extended family. After your first novel was published, how did it feel when people started to notice you and praise your work?
I do tend to remember people because I am such a people person, and of course my favorite people in the world are my fans, because they support me, both literally and figuratively. There is absolutely no feeling as good as walking into a room full of people who read a novel written by you and therefore know your heart, the way you think, the way you express yourself, the values you value as important, and all of the other things that any good novel contains, which is some amalgam of heart, brain, and human soul. I remember my readers because I love them. It’s as simple as that. And going to any signing is like a homecoming, even though we’ve never met. That is proof positive of the magic of fiction, because it brings people together at a soul level. And I feel so lucky to be a part of that partnership with my readers, forever.
And the interesting part about your question about when my 1st novel was published, how did it feel when people started to notice and praise my work, is that it doesn’t feel any different today than it did then. I still feel lucky and happy and surprised and blessed. I work very very hard, but I have a wonderful job, and I always endeavor to keep my side of my compact with the reader, which is to tell them a wonderful story, that even though it’s fiction, will contain an emotional truth that will resonate with them, and maybe help them deal with the ups and downs of their own lives, or maybe even encourage them through the tougher moments. Books do that for all of us, and I know it’s not only literally true, but that is a point worth making, because I get lots of e-mail from people who are actually convalescing or recovering from surgeries, were going through chemotherapy, or have just had a mastectomy, and all of them tell me that they managed to lose themselves in one of my mysteries or were laughing really hard at the humorous memoirs. Nothing can make me happier, and there is no greater purpose to fiction, or any form of writing, than to heal the human heart.
I recently finished reading Lisa Scottoline’s new book, Don’t Go, available April 9. Below is my review of the novel, and in the coming weeks I’ll be posting an interview I conducted with the author about this book and her career.
Not only is Don’t Go Scottoline’s 20th novel, but it’s the first time she’s writing from the point of view of a man. Up to this point, I had only read one other book by the author, Come Home, and it was pretty good. I never read a novel focused on a member of the military, and it wasn’t something that interested me. But I kept an open mind going into this book. To my delight, I quickly fell in love with Don’t Go and was fully engrossed in the plot from start to finish.
Many of Scottoline’s recent books have focused on relationships between family members, and it’s something at which she excels. What really struck me was her effortless ability to construct magnificently descriptive prose that spoke to me. It not only carried me through the story, but it made me feel what the characters felt. Unlike some of her contemporaries, Scottoline’s writing comes off like she does in real life: Genuine.
As you’ll see in the synopsis below, this novel focuses on the tumultuous life of Dr. Mike Scanlon. His wife dies while he’s serving as an army doctor in Afghanistan, and he’s forced to pick up the pieces when he gets home. He not only has to come to terms with his wife’s passing, he has to learn how to be a father to his daughter, who barely remembers him. It’s an emotionally-charged tale that’s peppered with Scottoline’s signature humor. And it’s filled with unpredictable twists and turns that kept me flipping through pages late into the night.
Don’t Go was an excellent read, and I highly recommend it. It’s a compelling thriller filled with nuanced characters you can’t help but care about. Most of all, I loved how this novel had a theme weaved throughout. In addition to being the title of the book, the phrase “don’t go” is something Mike Scanlon hears and ponders during his journey. It’s a beautifully executed storytelling device that makes the title feel inspired and the plot cohesive. So far, this is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Be sure to add it to your list to check out, and look out for my upcoming post where I interview Lisa Scottoline about Don’t Go as well as her storied career.
Lisa has thrilled millions with her emotionally-charged novels that feature strong women exploring the boundaries of family, justice, and love. In Don’t Go, she breaks new ground and delivers the story of a soldier who discovers what it means to be a man, a father, and ultimately, a hero.
When Dr. Mike Scanlon is called to serve as an army doctor in Afghanistan, he’s acutely aware of the dangers he’ll face and the hardships it will cause his wife Chloe and newborn baby. And deep inside, he doesn’t think of himself as a warrior, but a healer.
However, in an ironic turn of events, as Mike operates on a wounded soldier in a war-torn country, Chloe dies at home in the suburbs, in an apparent household accident. Devastated, he returns home to bury her, only to discover that the life he left behind has fallen apart. His medical practice is in jeopardy, and he is a complete stranger to the only family he has left — his precious baby girl. Worse, he learns a shocking secret that sends him into a downward spiral.
Ultimately, Mike realizes that the most important battle of his life faces him on the homefront and he’ll have to put it all on the line to save what’s dearest to him – his family. Gripping, thrilling, and profoundly emotional, Don’t Go is Lisa Scottoline at her finest.