Lisa Scottoline began writing books at the same time she began raising her daughter. One question, she says, helped shape both those endeavors: "How can we raise our daughters to be stars?"
She seems to have found some answers to that. Scottoline's 17 books, filled with strong, funny female characters, have sold more than 25 million copies. Daughter Francesca graduated from Harvard and is now writing her own novel and occasionally filling in on Chick Wit, her mother's weekly column for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Scottoline's 13th thriller set in an all-female Philadelphia law firm, Think Twice, was published in March. She's been touring to promote it and, during a break, talked by phone from her car ("Don't worry, I have hands-free") near her home outside Philadelphia. She will appear at the Largo Public Library on Saturday).
Scottoline, 54, earned a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania and practiced as a lawyer. "I decided to try writing because I wanted to stay home and raise my daughter. Basically, I was divorced when she was born."
Why choose to write thrillers, a genre that then and now is something of a boys' club? "I'm a bookaholic," she says. "I knew that all kinds of popular fiction were dominated by male main characters. They still are. I grew up reading Nancy Drew, and I thought, where's Nancy Drew?
"All praise to Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky, who were groundbreakers. But they were still writing about expert sleuths. I wanted to write about an ordinary girl who's strong and smart and funny. That's how the women in my life are."
Scottoline has written several stand-alone novels, but most are about the lawyers at the Rosato law firm. Unlike some other crime series, they don't all focus on a single character. "The effect of writing a series is the examination of character over time, so I'm really writing about four very different women over time. They're like atoms in a molecule — they change over time, they re-form. They shape each other."
Think Twice focuses on lawyer Bennie Rosato and her long-lost, criminally inclined twin sister, Alice Connelly. Their reunion as adults has not been a happy one, and in this book Alice goes for broke, drugging Bennie, burying her alive (no spoiler alert — that happens in the first 30 pages) and posing as Bennie to take over her life.
Scottoline has written several times about twins, something she was interested in even before "I found out at midlife I had a half sister I didn't know about."
She says she knows a plot involving twins and switched identities might seem "hokey. But I live nature vs. nurture. How could we be so much alike when we'd never even met?"
Her sister tracked down her biological family after her adoptive father died, Scottoline says. "I went to the library for self-help books, but there were none about me, about my experience of being found when I didn't know I was lost."
She is happy to have her half sister in her life, but she asked before writing her books about "an evil twin."
"She said, go for it."
Last year, Scottoline published her first nonfiction book, Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog, a collection of the humor columns she writes for the Inquirer.
"I went to them and said, can I do this for you? It's Erma Bombeck. It's what I wanted to read in the newspaper."
She enjoys doing a different kind of writing: "I write about murder in the morning. In the afternoon I write about the gray hairs growing out of my chin."
The column is about sharing experiences, she says. "What if I have a mother who has a bra that's 35 years old? I know if I write about that I'll get e-mail that says, 'My mother has a bra that's 37 years old!' The more remote and technological we get, the more we need that communication."
An interesting effect of the column is that many strangers know a lot about her life. When she goes on book tour, she says, it can be like old friends getting together.
Her fans also know all about her love of animals and the considerable menagerie at her rural home: five dogs, two cats, a pony, a horse and 10 chickens. "I just went to the food store, and the cashier recognized me, which is always nice. He heard I had two of the dogs in the car, so he came out with me to meet the dogs." (That would be Cavalier King Charles spaniels Little Tony and Peach.)
She's planning another collection of columns, with some from her daughter. "We're going to call it My Nest Isn't Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space."
In addition to writing, Scottoline teaches a class every other year at the University of Pennsylvania's law school called "Justice and Fiction."
People's views about our justice system are formed by their encounters with lawyers, she says — and that includes fictional lawyers. "We go from Perry Mason to To Kill a Mockingbird to The Godfather to me. It's important for everybody to understand the justice system, and for lawyers to behave. I try to raise their sights."
Scottoline says she's looking forward to visiting Florida: "God bless it, people there read. They support the library systems."
It also means she can visit her mother and brother, who live in Miami. "Florida is very tempting to me. I'm thinking maybe someplace not quite as exciting as Miami.
"I own a snowplow. I'm so over it."
Colette Bancroft can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8435. She blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.