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Interview: March 2, 2012

In TRAIL OF THE SPELLMANS, the newest installment in Lisa Lutz’s Spellman series, the Spellman family is in chaos and Izzy is trying to avoid her questioning boyfriend while tackling the case of a mysterious mathematician. In this interview, conducted by’s Donna Volkenannt, Lutz talks about her inspiration for writing these novels. She also shares her thoughts on the redesign of the covers, describes her process of developing characters, and gives a glimpse into her next book. TRAIL OF THE SPELLMANS is the fifth installment in your hilarious and entertaining mystery series. What was your inspiration for these books?

Lisa Lutz: It’s been many years since the idea first took shape, and my memory is a bit muddled. I wanted to write something about surveillance and suspicion that maybe had the feel of a spy novel, but with all the major players part of the same family. I also know that I was keen on writing a female character who was deeply flawed and didn’t have another quality that compensated for that flaw. Isabel is not a “damaged yet brilliant investigator.” She’s a screwed-up PI who’s good at her job, but entirely capable of making an error or two or three.

BRC: Izzy Spellman, her unusual yet lovable family, and the rest of the characters are fresh and memorable. Besides having a great sense of humor and comedic timing, how are you like Izzy?

LL: I’m unusual, lovable, fresh and memorable! I’m not sure how to answer this question. I suppose I’m as much of a screwup as Isabel. That’s probably the thing we have most in common.

BRC: The Spellmans are a family of sleuths who conduct private investigations, and the details and investigative procedures contained here are realistic. Do you have experience as a PI or in law enforcement? If not, how did you research the PI business?

LL: I worked for almost two years at a PI firm in San Francisco. I was stuck in the office most of the time, but on occasion they’d give me a field job just to shut me up about it.

BRC: Demetrius, Gertie, Walter and Grandma Spellman are fun characters. When writing your novels, do you ever have a character take over and demand a larger role?

LL: Absolutely. You often don’t know how a character is going to feel or where his or her trajectory will take them when you start a novel. For instance, Henry Stone was just an investigator in the first book. And after trying to flesh him out, even as a secondary character, I found that I didn’t want to leave him behind at the end of the book.

BRC: Demetrius is a great cook, and some of the dishes he whips up sound delicious. Is cooking one of your hobbies, or are you more of a restaurant reservations/takeout kind of gal? 

LL: None of the above. Sometimes I like cooking. Occasionally I’ll throw a dinner party. Sometimes the food is good; sometimes it isn’t. In fact, I once cooked this really awesome chicken dish (thank you, Martha Stewart), and I overheard one of my guests ask, “Who cooked this?” The dinner party was at my house, and I was serving the food. I am perfectly capable of following instructions when in the mood.

BRC: What hints can you give us about the future of Izzy and Henry?

LL: You know as much as I do. Actually, that’s not true, but I’m keeping this one to myself.

BRC: In addition to the lively humor, the unusual structure of the series is fascinating. The addition of footnotes and the dossiers adds to the enjoyment of the books. Why did you decide to include these elements? Do you write the footnotes as you go, or go back and add them later?

LL: I generally write the footnotes as I go along, but as I revise, everything is subject to change.

BRC: I love the new look of the book covers in the series --- they are so eye-catching and clever. What prompted the decision to make this change? What influence, if any, did you have in the design?

LL: I always thought that after the first Spellman book, the design wasn’t quite right. I know a lot of people love the early covers, and I’m grateful to those who picked up the books after being blasted with pastels and eyeballs. But I thought they might be limiting my audience. As a reader, I probably wouldn’t have looked twice at the books with the old jackets, and many friends have told me the same thing. So for the last few years, we’ve discussed a redesign with my publisher, and he agreed.

That said, the Spellmans are difficult to define and therefore hard to jacket. I think we got lucky when the publisher reached out to the designer, Noma Bar, who just nailed it. I couldn’t be happier with the new designs. Authors usually don’t have a great deal of influence over their book jackets, so I’m fortunate.

BRC: Congratulations are in order as books in the Spellman series have reached the New York Times bestseller list and have been nominated for Edgar and Macavity awards. Has your life changed in the wake of the series’ growing popularity?

LL: Thank you. My life changed drastically the moment I got my first deal and writing became my full-time job. The simplest difference is that I’m happy now.

BRC: Who are some of your favorite writers? Which books or authors have influenced you as a writer?

LL: I’m not influenced by other writers. It really works best for me to work with blinders on and try to not think about what other people do.

That said, there are plenty of writers I admire and books that have really spoken to me. I always read the next book by Laura Lippman, Tana French, Gillian Flynn, Megan Abbott, Kate Atkinson, and Mary Roach (yes, I am deliberately listing women first). I also love John Connolly (adored THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS). Dan Chaon’s AWAIT YOUR REPLY was amazing. Donald Westlake. My favorite book is probably LOLITA or THE KILLER INSIDE ME.

BRC: What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

LL: I don’t take advice, really. But if you want to write a novel, write the whole novel and don’t waste your time getting hung up on page 5, 35, or 205. Finish the novel. You can fix it later.

BRC: What are you working on now? And what can we expect to see next from the Spellmans?

LL: I am currently working on a stand-alone novel called YOU WERE HERE. It’s about the jarring shifts that can happen in life and how we perceive change. It’s also about growing older. Which I suppose is what the Spellman books are often about. Well, a ton of books are about that. Does that sound boring? It’s about a rogue CIA agent hunting an environmental terrorist group that’s figured out how to control the world’s water supply and is selling it for more than the cost of gasoline. I haven’t worked out all the kinks.