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A Family Affair

by Peter Proko

Famed author Lisa Scottoline and her daughter Francesca share more than just a passion for writing. Just don’t expect them to complete each other’s sentences.

Lisa Scottoline’s output can best be described as “prolific.” Her practice of writing, on average, 2,000 words a day, has led her to author more than 20 legal thrillers and other books, including several collections of humor essays co-written with her daughter, Francesca Serritella, based on a weekly column they write for the Philadelphia Inquirer. In other words, she has a lot of pages to fill.

Writing is something of a second career for Scottoline, an alumna of the University of Pennsylvania and University of Pennsylvania Law School who formerly worked in the legal profession. She served Philadelphia-based law firm Dechert, Price & Rhoads as an associate in corporate litigation. She stayed at the firm until 1986, when she left to raise her newborn daughter. It was at that time she began writing legal fiction part time.

Today Scottoline is a New York Times’ best-selling author and her daughter is following in her footsteps. “Watching her build her career brick by brick was inspiring,” Serritella says. “Creative careers are risky prospects, and I’m lucky that my parent isn’t praying I’ll defect to law school.”

The familiar writing duo’s latest book, Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat (July 7), is a humorous collection of shared stories and observations. Though it was a joint effort, the creative process was very much individualized. “We never write side-by-side, and we rarely edit each other, because we’d likely argue non-stop,” Serritella quips.

“I love working with my daughter,” says Scottoline. “I think we end up telling lots of stories about mothers and daughters, how they’re alike, and how they sometimes want to pull each other’s hair out. Somebody has to do it.”

In anticipation of their new book, we spoke with the authors to find out more about their process, their South Jersey connections and found out why, despite all their success, their best work remains ahead of them.

A shared passion…
FS: It’s wonderful, because my mother understands me, my goals, and my frequent self-doubt better than she otherwise might. And I had a great example growing up. My mom modeled for me that writing requires the same discipline and dedication as any job, it’s not some romantic pursuit, nor is it an inaccessible pipe-dream.

The creative process…
LS: My creative process hasn’t changed, in that I write every day, seven days of the week, and I do 2,000 words a day. I’m doing two novels a year, plus the humorous memoirs I write with my daughter that come out in the summertime, and using the word quota helps to get everything done. I don’t write with an outline, and people always ask me if I know how my books end. I have to say no, I don’t even know how they middle.

A soft spot for South Jersey…
LS: OMG, we used to go down to the Shore every summer when I was growing up, and when my daughter Francesca was growing up, I took her down there as well. We used to go to Atlantic City when I was little, and stayed with a family friend on Bellevue Avenue, in a house that isn’t there anymore, sadly. And when Francesca was growing up, we always took day trips down to Ventnor, where we sat at the Cambridge Avenue Beach because it had vending machines and a bathroom. I still do that from time to time, and it is absolutely heaven. In fact, our new book talks all about South Jersey and how great a hoagie tastes on the beach.

Envisioning a successful second career…
LS: I never thought I would be so lucky as to make a living writing books. ... I love doing it so much, and that’s what motivates me, and I also love the connection I have with our readers. I think I write to connect with other people and that feeling only intensifies as I’ve gotten older.

On what makes for a good book…
LS: I read all the time and I love a fast-paced, well-written book with believable characters and a solid story that pays off at the end. That may sound simple, but not everybody can do all of those things well, and in fact, that’s what I strive to do in my novels. I also think that fiction should contain some essential human truths, whether it lies in the characters or their situation, and I look for that in books I read, as well as in ones I write.

Learning from your surroundings…
LS: I am totally against distancing yourself from things. I love to read and I enjoy all of the arts—opera, movies, art, both fiction and nonfiction—and I think that I learn from everything that I expose myself to, which is the joy of reading and being alive, isn’t it?

A dynamic duo…
LS: We’re always writing about family, and especially the positive relationships between mothers and daughters, and I don’t think there’s a better illustration of it than when you write with your family.
FS: It’s just fun. I especially love going on tour together and meeting our readers; every [stop] feels like a party. I’m not saying my mom and I don’t occasionally fight in the car, because, believe me, it can be a cage-match on I-95, but it’s still a road trip with my best friend. And as I get older, I appreciate connecting with my mother more and more. Until I have a baby—which, mom, don’t hold your breath—bonding over these books is the next best thing.

The best is yet to come…
LS: I always think that the novel I just wrote is my best novel, and I always try to improve, so I guess the answer to your question is a resounding yes.

Upcoming appearances:
Tuesday July 7, 7:30 p.m.
Katz JCC
1301 Springdale Road, Cherry Hill
(856) 424-4444

Thursday, July 9, 7 p.m.
Avalon Free Public Library
235 32nd Street, Avalon
(609) 967-7155

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 3 (June, 2015).
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