The countdown is on! (Literally. You can see the National Book Festival countdown “clock” at www.loc.gov/bookfest.) In just eight days, the 15th National Book Festival will kick off at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The festival, on Saturday, Sept. 5, from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. (doors open at 9), will present more than 175 authors, poets and illustrators in exciting and fascinating programs for attendees of all ages and interests.
The festival will feature authors new to this annual event as well as veteran participants. One such veteran is mystery writer Lisa Scottoline, one of the nation’s best-selling authors. Scottoline will appear for the fourth time, to discuss her new thriller, “Every Fifteen Minutes” (St. Martin’s Press). Her previous National Book Festival presentations were in 2007, 2009 and 2012. During Scottoline’s most recent appearance, she came with her daughter, Francesca Serritella, with whom she writes humorous books based on their weekly column, Chick Wit, which is published by The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The two writers answered a few of our questions:
How did the Chick Wit column get started? Do the two of you write together or do you each contribute separately?
Lisa: It got started because one day we realized that our beloved local paper, The Philadelphia Inquirer, was stuck reporting the news, which was generally bad. We thought the paper could use something funny and fresh, as well as needing more women’s voices. I remember loving the late great Erma Bombeck, and I wished there was something like that in the newspaper. So we went to the newspaper and told them they needed us and, amazingly, Chick Wit was born! It has run every Sunday for the past six years, and our columns, as well as many that were never before published, are now part of a series of six critically acclaimed books — and still going strong!
Francesca: We write and contribute separately, which is the safest way to work with your mother. But since we talk about twice a day on average, we often talk out our ideas. There’s not that much we don’t talk about, actually.
What do you hope readers will come away with after reading your new book, “Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat?”
Lisa: We want readers to laugh out loud when they read this book, as well as the other books in the series, and if there is any serious message, which there is, it’s that we women need to be a lot easier on ourselves in every way. We lie awake at night beating ourselves up because we ate a second piece of pizza, or because we didn’t work out, or because we didn’t get the laundry done on time, or because certain assignments went undone at work. We need to cut ourselves a break!
Francesca: I hope they’ll see themselves in us, see our struggles and mess-ups and small victories. And I hope after they close the book, they’ll be a little kinder to themselves. Women get and give themselves so much pressure to look and be a certain way, I hope this book lets them laugh off that tension and believe in their own power.
Francesca, how has your mother’s success as a writer affected your career choice?
Francesca: I feel very lucky that I was born to a beginning writer instead of a best-selling one. I got to watch her build her career brick by brick, and I saw firsthand that an artistic career requires perseverance and discipline like any other. I’m inspired by my mother’s work ethic, her commitment to honing her craft and pushing herself even now. That’s what I aspire to, not her success. The hard work is the only part of this job you can control.
Lisa, you have an enormous fan base. Did success come easily as a novelist? How easy or hard was it to get your first book published?
Lisa: I had a very difficult time getting my first novel published; in fact, it never was. It remains unpublished today, and now I lost it, somewhere on one of those stiff little floppy disks that we used to use, in the olden days. But when it didn’t get published, I had already caught the writing bug, and I wanted to stay home as a single mother and raise my amazing daughter, so I kept at it, and my second novel was published, after five years of rejection. My favorite rejection letter was from a New York agent who wrote me, “We don’t have time to take any more clients, and if we did we wouldn’t take you.” I see that guy every year at Book Expo in New York City. And when he calls my name, I pretend not to hear.
Where do you two get your ideas for your column?
Lisa: You’ve heard the expression that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and I absolutely believe that. There’s no greater example than my life, because I’ve examined every inch of it in these books, from my bunion surgery, to the loss of my mother, to the sprouting of gray chin hair, which was when I realized I was turning into an Amish man. I get the ideas from my everyday life. But the most important point is that it isn’t about my life per se, but I stand in the shoes of every woman who deals with the same kind of things I do, every day. In other words, we write in a representative capacity, but funny.
Francesca: Whatever story I tell my girlfriends over drinks to make them laugh, I know that’s a good story for a column or an essay in these books. And any “aha! moments” I learn, finally, typically after making the same mistake several times first, I’m eager to share. Life as a 20-something woman trying to be a real adult, dating men who are definitely not real adults–the material is endless.
The 2015 National Book Festival theme is “I cannot live without books,” a quote from Thomas Jefferson. What are the books you could not live without?
Lisa: There is no single book or books I can’t live without, because I do not reread books. That said, I’m a complete and total bookaholic, and I buy dozens of books, read dozens of books and let dozens of books go unread, until my retirement, which at this point will take place in the year 2930. I truly could not live without books, and one visit to my house would tell you that, because books are my end tables and coasters.
I didn’t know Thomas Jefferson was the author of this quote, so now there’s another reason why I have a crush on him.
Francesca: It’s hard to say definitively, because the magic of reading is that there’s always a new book to be discovered and to connect with, often at just the right moment in your life. In my past, those books have been Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities,” because in middle school, when no one would ask me to the dance, it was my nerdy kid version of the romantic tearjerker that I slept with under my pillow; Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury,” because it taught me you can love a book even, and especially, when you have to work to understand it. I read Chris Cleave’s “Little Bee” right after college, and it underscored the lesson that the world is a lot bigger than I ever imagined. Jesmyn Ward’s “Salvage the Bones” to remind and inspire me that writing can be more powerful than any storm. And, perennially, “The Little Prince,” because that book tells you everything you need to know about the human heart, with illustrations.
Lisa Scottoline will discuss “Every Fifteen Minutes” at 10 a.m. in the Mysteries, Thrillers & Science Fiction pavilion and sign books at 11-12. She and Francesca Serritella will discuss “Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat” at 12:45 in the Contemporary Life pavilion, and they will sign books at 2-3 p.m.