Bestselling crime writer Lisa Scottoline pairs up with her daughter, Francesca Serritella, in “Have a Nice Guilt Trip” (St. Martin’s, $24.99) — their fourth book featuring essays on relationships, mothers, pets and shoes. They spoke via conference call from greater Philadelphia and New York.
In “Have a Nice Guilt Trip,” you both admit that you feel guilty about everything – but you don’t sound guilty about anything.
Scottoline: But it’s true! As women we sort of beat ourselves up. I think it comes with the ovaries. What I like about this book is, we take a light look at that, and we write about specifics. If you say, “I always feel guilty,” nobody gets it. But if you write, as Francesca does, about your boyfriend giving your dog a chicken bone, and the drama that causes when you hesitate calling the vet because you don’t want to upset him, people get it. Domestic life, family life, has to be slowed down and examined.
You seem to be navigating that balance between feminine and feminist: It’s okay to like shoes, but not okay to damage your feet in high heels.
Scottoline: Somewhere early on, we set up a dichotomy between feminine and feminist, but feminine is being feminist. To me what it’s really about is strength. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten less worried about what other people think and truer to myself.
Serritella: I don’t see it as different, though I acknowledge there are certain things that are “feminine” that are societally informed. Tracy Anderson, who’s a personal trainer to people like Gwyneth Paltrow, has this catch phrase: “Get your teeniest, tiniest self.” I hate that. Why is that the goal of fitness, which should be about strength and health? That’s obviously societally informed. I hope we can all take control of our gender. My sex is female; my gender — to what extent I choose to take on the feminine or the masculine style of societal expectations — is my choice.
This writing is pretty different, Lisa, from your usual fare.
Scottoline: It looks different, but actually it’s not. I have maxims that I tell myself as a writer, and one of them comes from the director Francis Ford Coppola, who said, “Nothing in my movies ever happened, but all of it is true.” When I write novels, I’m always looking for the emotional truth because that’s the truth that will connect with people. Six years ago when we began this series, I discovered to my amazement that it’s the same thing: I’m still looking for the emotional truth.
What’s it like to write as a mother/daughter team?
Scottoline: We write across state lines — the safest way. Then we put them together in the book. But I love this, because I feel like my journey with this is every mom’s journey, which is watching your daughter grow and find her own voice.
Francesca, as a young writer, how do you deal with the shadow of your mother’s fame?
Serritella: It wasn’t difficult because she never pressured me — the passion was mine. But the courage to do it was definitely from her. I was not born to a bestselling author. I watched her build her career. . . . Her first novel didn’t get published, and I don’t even remember that time as being turmoil because she just sat down and wrote a new book. I think that lesson — that failure and rejection are events and not definitions — was the greatest lesson aspiring writers could learn.
Burns is head of creative writing at the University of Southampton in England.