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Interview: April 11, 2003

April 11, 2003

In this special interview for's Suspense/Thriller Author Spotlight, bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, author of COURTING TROUBLE and the upcoming book DEAD RINGER (due in stores in 04/27/2004), talks to William Lashner about his new book FATAL FLAW (due in stores May 9th) setting books in Philadephia, femme fatales and the word love.

Lisa Scottoline: You look great. Have you been working out?

William Lashner: Absolutely, Lisa, and thank you for noticing. Basically every day I do the fifteen reps, two sets each arm, of cheese curls and then I press my pants. Doesn't do much for my body, but my creases are impeccable.

Lisa Scottoline: Victor Carl, the lawyer hero of your books, is unusual in that he follows his own brand of ethics, which turns out to be rather twisted. Who were you thinking of when you created him?

William Lashner: My lawyer heroes are Clarence Darrow and Thurgood Marshall, men of unquestioned integrity and strong moral beliefs, and so of course they were not the models for Victor Carl. Instead, in fashioning Victor, I harkened back to the old pulp detective novels I still love. I wanted a character that believed the rules didn't apply to him, but who, in the end, wouldn't violate some internal code of honor, a code that is completely opaque to the rest of the world and not quite clear to him, either. The major difference between these old pulp detectives and Victor is that Victor never ever uses a gun.

Lisa Scottoline: Is there anything similar between you and Victor in the way you practiced law?

William Lashner: We both believed in getting the retainer up front.

Lisa Scottoline: The first time we see Hailey Prouix in FATAL FLAW she's a corpse, but she ends up taking over the book. Was that intended from the start?

William Lashner: I think you're right that she steals the story. At the start, I was more interested in Guy Forrest, the man who leaves his wife and children for the other woman, and Hailey was simply his bad choice. But as I wrote the book, and as the stories about Hailey started pouring forth from the other characters, she became more complex and more interesting than I had originally thought. By the time I reached the end of the first draft I realized it was her book and that every secret, every mystery, every explanation of motive came out of her past. I was surprised and then pleased and then I went about tearing the thing apart and rewriting the story with her in the forefront.

Lisa Scottoline: You seem to have a thing for femmes fatales. What's that all about and are you seeing someone about it?

William Lashner: I've always been a sucker for a dangerous woman, which is why I admire you so much. A femme fatale is mysterious and frightening and she quickens the blood and leads you to do all these things you would never do without her but with her you can't stop yourself from doing with her. In that way she's all about sex, I suppose, but I'm not talking about the act, more like the way sex lives like a dangerous spark in our consciousness, waiting for something to set on fire. The interesting thing about a femme fatale is that she is a femme fatale only in the warped consciousness of the man heading down the dangerous road with her. To herself, she's just a woman trying to get by. That was what surprised me about Hailey. She can't help herself when it comes to manipulating the men with whom she becomes involved, but in her heart she's only doing the best she can with the rotten hand she was dealt.

Lisa Scottoline: Victor says in the book that while Eskimos have all their different words for snow because they understand snow, we only have one word for love because, basically, we are clueless about what it really is. Do you really think that's true?

William Lashner: Absolutely. We love our kids, our spouses, our parents, our friends, our favorite books and each is very very different. And sometimes we give up all that we profess to love for something that we also call love, something inescapable and powerful and transforming in both positive and negative ways and that in the end can either deliver us or destroy us.

Lisa Scottoline: The defendant in the book, who is accused of Hailey's murder, seems to have given up everything for love. It clearly worked out badly for him, but do you think he was he a hero or a fool?

William Lashner: That's the question isn't it? Whenever I start a novel I begin with two contradictory ideas, which I write out and on a note card and tape to the wall, and then I let those ideas fight it out for supremacy over the course of the book. For FATAL FLAW the contradictory ideas were about love and whether or not there was a price too high to pay for finding and pursuing it. Usually in my books one or the other idea comes out the victor but in FATAL FLAW I think they slugged it out to a draw. The idea that love can save you is very dangerous and can lead to desperation and obsession and brutal disappointment, because it places on another person responsibility that really belongs to the self. On the other hand, of course, life without love is not something I would want to live. In that way, I suppose, love is a lot like air-conditioning and the remote control.

Lisa Scottoline: We're both Philly guys, setting our books right here. What role does Philadelphia play in your writing?

William Lashner: Not only is Philadelphia my home, it was my father's home and my grandfather's home, so it has a place deep in my heart. Its language is my language, its baseball team is my baseball team, its geography is hardwired in my brain. The great thing about these pulp detectives I was talking about before is that they are perennial outsiders, which makes them perfect explorers of all the differing strata of society, which Philly has in abundance, the rich, with their locked jaws, the poor, with their missing teeth, the powerful and put upon, and the guys on the corner who don't give a damn about any of it. Victor moves easily among all the differing levels, which lets him see so much of the city's character. And of course there's no shortage of sordid stories in the newspaper to feed the imagination.

Lisa Scottoline: Part of the book takes place in Las Vegas. Was that necessary for the story or a cheap ploy to send you to the Strip for research?

William Lashner: Let me just say that the sweetest words a man can ever say to his wife is, "Dear, I have to go to Vegas for business." Actually, I read that Henderson, Nevada was the fastest growing town in America, an honest-to-goodness boomtown, and I thought that would be an interesting place to set a scene. Just imagine my delight when I looked on the map and I found it was fifteen miles from the Vegas Strip. Just imagine. "Dear, I have to go to some place called Henderson, Nevada for business. " She felt sorry for me until she looked at the map too.

Lisa Scottoline: Your detective in the story says he has a system for playing craps. Care to share it?

William Lashner: It's a little technical. If you know something about craps my system might make sense, if not, you'd be better off reading Dostoyevski in the original Russian.

Lisa Scottoline: Does it work?

William Lashner: Not really, but the advantage of this system is that when you lose money, by the end of the session you have such a headache you don't care any more.