Article originally published here
I have been championing Lisa Lutz’s series of books about the Spellman Family since her first one, The Spellman Files (2007): interview here. I interviewed her for the other four books in the Spellman family series: Curse of the Spellmans (2008), Revenge of the Spellmans (2009), The Spellmans Strike Again (2010) and Trail of the Spellmans (2012).
Each of the books is about a family detective agency whose members seem to spend more time investigating each other than doing work for their clients. For example, in the first book the protagonist/narrator, Isabel Spellman, finds her younger sister, Rae, is investigating her and Isabel’s new boyfriend. Put simply, they put the fun in dysfunctional families.
For the new book in the series, The Last Word, I was excited to see Lutz was coming to Austin so I arranged to interview her in person this time. Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided to send so much rain that day that I was stuck in gridlock for an hour (people in Austin do not know how to drive in the rain) so we had to do this one by email.
But I did get to briefly meet her and hear her speak to about 50 fans at BookPeople in Austin so I’m sprinkling some quotes from that to this article. And I’m ending the piece with a hilarious exchange between Lutz and a fellow smart-ass, albiet one who is only 12.
You can get a sense of her writing style from this FAQ on her web page, including how she uses footnotes – many of them quite hilarious – more often than the average writer. She told the crowd she knew she had the perfect editor when rather than telling her to cut back or remove all footnotes – as she feared would happen – her editor instead told her she loved the footnotes.
An audience member asked about a non-Spellman book Lutz and her ex-boyfriend, David Hayward, wrote called Heads You Lose. They try to co-write a book but clearly they were setting out out to write different books.The best parts of the book are the notes between the two writers where they question what the other is writing, picking it apart, mocking it. Lutz told the crowd, “I had a fine time but he apparently was miserable.”
She was asked a common question: If there are overlaps between Lutz’s family and the Spellman family. She said no and added it would not be entertaining to write or read about her own family.
She was asked why she recently moved from San Francisco, where the series is based, to New York. She said, “I dont know. I have wondered that every day” since she moved. She has learned things like deer sound like “really plemmy men.”
Pick up this book – you can thank me later for all the laughter it induces. And with that let’s get to the interview
How did this new story develop – the idea of Isabel taking over the family business leading to rebellion by her parents?
After Isabel got fired in Trail of the Spellmans (doc. #5) she had few options left. Return to bartending or stage a hostile takeover? I know what I’d do.
Are you tired of descriptions of Isabel as “Nancy Drew after a bottle of Jack Daniels” or the “love child of Dirty Harry and Harriet the Spy?”
No. I’m tired of (Janet) Evanovich comparisons.
What questions are you tired of being asked? Maybe about similarities between you and Isabel and your family and the Spellman family?
How far ahead have you planned and written this series? Do you know, for example, where the characters will be in a few books?
My head is in my next book, so I can’t really answer that question. I don’t see the Spellman series progressing in the same manner as the first six books.
Would I be right to guess – based on references to it in this book – that you are a Plants Vs Zombies fan?
I was. I mastered it, so my interest has waned.
I like Sydney, David’s daughter. She’s comedy gold. Do you know any kids that hardcore? (This is a kid who whenever Isabel comes over shouts “No Izzy!”)
I know this kid who really likes Lego. I watched him have a meltdown for about two hours because he didn’t get any Lego for Hanukkah. The parents didn’t budge, but I would have bought him Legoland, if I could.
Do you read your reviews?
What question do you wish you would get asked more often?
Can I buy you a drink?
Lastly, can you tell me about the two side books: The book on negotiating (that’s the one that was referenced in your prior book, correct?) and your book on etiquette?
How to Negotiate Everything was indeed featured partially in Trail of the Spellmans (doc. #5). It’s the children’s book David Spellman wrote in college that he read to (his sister) Rae repeatedly. It clearly had a major influence on the manner in which Rae navigates the world. Isabel Spellman’s Guide to Etiquette: What is Wrong with You People? is Isabel Spellman’s etiquette manifesto (currently only available in eBook form). I’m fairly certain it’s the only etiquette primer with a section on organ donation.
Thanks for asking about them. I’m very proud of both projects.
As promised I’ll end with this story from the booksigning.
This 12-year-old boy asked one question, which I missed. Then he had another later and this time she asked if he read the book and he said he did. She turned to her parents and questioned their judgement in letting him read the book. She recounted once getting a letter from a nine-year-old who had read one of the books and wanted to know what “scoring some blow” meant. This boy said she mentioned Dr. Who a lot in one of her books and so his question was: “Have you actually seen any Dr. Who episodes?”
“Well, you’re a smart-ass,” she replied. Of course she watched the series, she said.
Later someone asked about her writing process, does she, for example,start each morning with coffee (she nodded) and then sit at a desk for four hours writing?
She said yes to the coffee part but not writing at a desk each morning. She said whenever she hears an author say they write each morning for four hours she thinks they are lying.
Cut to the final question of the night by, of course, the 12-year-old. His was a comment, not a question, he said. “JK Rowling wrote for 10 hours a day when writing one of her books”.
She just stared quietly at him and, after laughter died down, she said, “If you were six years older I would have had a different response.”