Series Gets at the Nuts and Bolts of Writing


Lisa Lutz is quick to admit that in the days before she became a best-selling author, life was a struggle. As she told a local audience last week, she was relegated for years to borrowing money from relatives and friends, and had to work jobs that didn't suit her talents or her temperament while trying desperately to make her mark as a writer.

And yet, one of those unsuitable jobs — working for a family-owned and -operated investigation agency — led her to the setting she's been utilizing in her fiction. This is the "real" work she had sought all the time, she said, and it has, at last, bestowed on her the mantle of "author."

Her novel, The Spellman Files, the first in a four-part series, follows the wacky adventures (and dating pitfalls) of a private investigator in a family-run business — one Isabel Spellman, who Lutz described as "a flawed character" and "not a great detective."

"She's human," noted Lutz, summarizing Isabel. "I relate to screwing up."

Although she has one best seller behind her — which has also been optioned by Paramount to become a feature film — she admitted that some family members still can't believe her reversal of fortune. But that's their problem, she noted, since she's now on an extensive book tour to promote the second entry in her series, Curse of the Spellmans, which was released this month.

The tidbits and behind-the-scenes look at Lutz's life and work was made possible thanks to a new program called "Get Lit @ The Gershman Y."

For the next few months on South Broad Street, book-lovers can learn about up-and-coming new authors who write in various genres. The series is supported in part by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities' "We the People" initiative on American history.

The "Get Lit" series kicked off on March 13, when Lutz, who lives in California, sat down to talk with Gerald Kolpan, a Fox29 features reporter, whose own novel, Etta, will be released in 2009.

This wasn't your run-of-the-mill book review or lecture.

Instead, the frank dialogue between Lutz and Kolpan allowed for an intimate discussion about her Spellman series and future projects, as well as offered a peek into how her life works these days. Along the way, the two also delved into the cultural influences of Seinfeld, Paul Newman, Mother Teresa, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, and a debate over pop cultural references that have ended up in Lutz's book.

"I wanted to write a comedic book," Lutz, 38, explained, adding that she also wanted to create the world of a family whose members investigate mysteries, along with all the funny antics that might ensue. While her books are usually classified as mysteries, she said that they are about family more than anything else, and can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. The third book in the series is due out in March 2009.

Her writing struggles, she acknowledged, altered her in that they allowed her to realize that life's events "can be a joke" — and a source of material for the humor-driven dialogues among her characters.

Lutz explained that she began in Hollywood trying to be a screenwriter, but discovered that her first love is writing books. She said that screenplay writing involves "so many rules"; she prefers the freedom that comes with "piecing together a novel."

Three more events are scheduled for the "Get Lit" series. On Monday, April 7, Joshua Henkin will discuss his novel Matrimony, with Carlin Romano, Philadelphia Inquirer literary columnist; author Mort Zachter will talk about his memoir, Dough, with Kolpan on Wednesday, April 16; and Romano will sit down with novelist Dalia Sofer, author of The Septembers of Shiraz, on Wednesday, May 28. 


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