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Bestseller Lisa Scottoline Shares Where “What If?” Can Lead a Story—and Why Perseverance Pays

Having interviewed countless bestsellers during my time here at Writer’s Digest, one thing I’ve learned is this: When a writer’s advice sticks with you in a way that changes your own writing life for the better, you should make a point of following that writer. First, the least you can do is return the favor. And second, there’s probably more to be learned.

I feel this way about suspense bestseller Lisa Scottoline, who started her career as a lawyer-turned-author being touted as “the female John Grisham” and made her own name across genres with success in women’s fiction and humor. The first time I met her, about six years ago, I was sitting at her educational session at ThrillerFest and watched jaws drop (including my own) when she generously gave every single person in the room a referral to her agent, complete with a personal email address. (She also shared these excellent “9 Ways to Get Started and Stay Motivated.”)

To learn more about Lisa Scottoline’s trio of books out this year, visit lisascottoline.com. Also, you can read more about Most Wanted here. Follow her on Twitter @lisascottoline or like her on Facebook.

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This post is by Jessica Strawser. Strawser is the editor of Writer’s Digest magazine and welcomes connections with all fellow writers and readers alike on Twitter @jessicastrawser and on Facebook. Her debut novel, Almost Missed You, is forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press in March 2017. Sign up at JessicaStrawser.com to receive a notification when the book is available for preorder.

(Left photo credit - Ryan Collerd)

She shared one of her mantras that day, and she shared it with WD readers again when I interviewed her for our October 2014 WD Interview. It has to do with giving yourself permission to take your writing seriously—and then holding fast to that permission in a world that doesn’t always understand:

“You have to nurture this dream. I visualize it as a candle. You’re the person in the movie walking around in the dark scary house, and you have to protect it with your hand. It can blow out very easily. And the world is not going to help you hold that candle. You’ve got to protect the candle. You’ve got to go, ‘No, I can’t come into work on the weekends—that’s when I work on my novel.’ … People deserve those dreams, and they have to fight for them.”

(You can read more outtakes from that interview here.)

To this day, I have a candle on my writing desk at home to remind me of Scottoline’s wise words. And sometimes when I’m tempted by an invite during my normal writing time, the mantra echoes almost automatically in my mind:

Protect the candle.

Scottoline has a new book out this month: Most Wanted, in which a pregnant woman becomes convinced that a newly arrested serial killer is the sperm donor who fathered her unborn child. We caught up with Scottoline to chat about her new release.

The premise of MOST WANTED gives me chills. What sparked the idea for the story?

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One day I was considering my own life, and got one of those what-if questions. I was thinking about how much my daughter, Francesca, means to me—[I’m] a single mom with only one child, her, and we are really close. We’re even co-authors! Even as she's gotten older, she’s still the best part of my life, and the thought came to me: What if I couldn't have had a child? That made me think about infertility and what I would've done, had my life turned out differently. I'm still single. I would've thought about using a donor, and then I thought, What if I used a sperm donor and that sperm donor turned out to be a serial killer? That may tell you something weird about how my mind works!

In our last interview, you talked about never knowing how a book is going to end when you start—and this one seems like it could have gone in so many different directions. What can you tell us about the process of shaping this particular story?

You’re absolutely right: It could've gone so many directions. And as is my usual crazy practice, I had only the idea to start with, with no roadmap as to how it would end. My first hurdle was to determine if the plotline was even implausible—and I found out that it is horrifyingly plausible, as a result of the lack of regulation in the banking industry.

The more I researched that, I ended up going into the legal issues that the character might face as well use to her advantage. By the time the novel was over, I had visited a fertility clinic and a maximum security prison, and all of that research informed not only what the character does, but why she does it and who she is—which is always the most interesting part of any novel.

You have two more books coming in the months ahead: I've Got Sand in All the Wrong Places, your latest humor essay collection co-authored with your daughter Francesca Serritella, and a new Rosato & DiNunzio legal thriller, Damaged. What are the most rewarding and challenging parts of sustaining this variety and pace these days?

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I feeling so lucky these days to be able to be writing more and more, and part of that is because I lack a social life. (LOL.) Still, I'm not complaining. Every empty nester knows the feeling of having the time of your life back in your own hands, and with fewer demands of me, I feel like I'm more open than ever before to writing different things and more things, which is a really terrific position to be in as a writer.

We need to keep our hearts and minds open and free, and all writing feeds each other regardless of genre, which is a fact I knew in the abstract but now see day-to-day. I find more humor coming into the novels because of the humorous essays that I write, and even the stand-alones and the series cross fertilize each other in many ways.

I am spending more time writing, so I’m working harder, but I hope it's heartening to know that like anything else, writing gets better and easier with practice. It's still hard to know which words will come next, or which plot event, but I have more confidence simply because I've done it for 25 years now. I hope all of your readers know that everybody who sits before a computer struggles and fights to squeeze out a sentence from time to time. I think I'm living proof that if you just persist, you will succeed.

Thanks for visiting The Writer's Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
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