Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Conversation with Lisa Lutz by E. B. Davis

 “For a moment I let myself reminisce over the last time
I threw away my life. It hurt back then;
I didn’t feel it much the second time around.”
Lisa Lutz, The Passenger (Kindle Location 297)

I’ve been reading Lisa Lutz’s LOL work since 2007 when The Spellman Files debuted. Lisa’s taken a lot of risks in a business in which most writers beg for publication. I admire her guts, but then her talent is worthy of those risks.

In Heads You Lose, Lisa collaborated with David Haywood to demonstrate how two writers can undermine each other’s creation when their plotlines diverge and egos compete. She also “co-wrote” two books with her characters David Spellman (How To Negotiate Everything), a YA novel, and Isabel Spellman (Isabel Spellman’s Guide to Etiquette—What Is Wrong With You People), which I just downloaded because I couldn’t resist the title.

Today, Simon and Schuster releases Lisa’s newest novel, The Passenger, which is another departure because it is thriller/suspense rather than comedic mystery. Unlike her previous books, this one made me angry on behalf of the main character. Yes, I found myself cheering for her. Had I a Lightsaber at my ready, I would have eliminated some characters, one Machiavellian, another deceptive and gutless—and then—I won’t say more! Read the book. I refuse to spoil it for you. 

Please welcome Lisa Lutz to WWK.                                                                               E. B. Davis 

Why the change in genre?

I actually switched genres last year with How to Start a Fire, a novel about three friends over the course of twenty years. There were certainly some funny elements in the book, but it was by no means a comedic novel.

I never had any intention to only write comedy. I had a good six-book run with the Spellmans, but I don’t see that happening again. What matters to me is having a story that I’m passionate about writing and I’ll use whatever genre serves the story best.

Much of The Passenger is written as the MC’s internal dialogue. Her voice shocks us, but what she
doesn’t say is as important as what she does say. You conceived the story, but to present it, was the process one of deletion?

That’s an interesting question. I think I have a natural sense of deletion. I always construct novels that way. I like to be hooked and I think the unanswered question is a great way to involve the reader. People are curious; they want the whole truth. For the most part, I tend to know what I’m going to reveal and what I’m going to withhold as I’m writing. 

We find out through emails to Ryan, her only friend from her real life, her real name might be Jo and she is living on the run by rules. We’re slowly learning about the rules and who set them. We assume she knows, but when we learn she doesn’t know the entire truth—it smacks, even if it all makes sense in retrospect. Do we all have rules whether we know it or not?

I think so. We might call them habits, but they’re our internal codes that we live by.

Like the MC, are you a swimmer?    

No. Not at all. If I fell off a boat I probably wouldn’t drown, but that’s the extent of it.

With each alias, she encounters situations in which she must compromise. We watch her do some bad things out of necessity. We watch her do some good things appeasing her conscience. How did you decide which compromises she needed to make?

As the novel progresses, and MC is forced to make harder choices in the interest of self-preservation, her ethics erode. But she’s always trying to compensate for what she’s done. I don’t think she ever loses a sense of virtue.

Blue is a vigilante. In some ways, she’s purer than any other character—true to herself—true blue.  She’s ruthless, radical, and forces the MC into impossible situations. When the MC realizes she’s turning into Blue, changing from victim to perpetrator, she knows she has to stop. What does she recognize?

She stops because she doesn’t recognize herself anymore. She’s not like Blue but she at some point exhibits Blue-like behavior.

Only when she is guilty is she able to go home again—does that guilt enable her to forgive—allowing her to move forward? Is that the function of forgiveness? Is it power?

I don’t think she does forgive. She moves forward because she no longer bears any resemblance to the person who was wronged. Therefore, the things that happened to that girl are almost irrelevant to the woman she has become. She spent a decade wanting to go home and when she finally does, she realizes that it isn’t her home anymore.

Blue’s Southern accent was real, wasn’t it?

That accent was most definitely a put on. Blue was from Ohio.

I was surprised the MC wrote to Ryan, but then that’s the way of best friends. Two sides of the same coin—your best friend/your worst enemy. It’s common, but true. Has it happened to you?

I think MC wrote to Ryan, not just because they were once close, but because he’s the only person from her previous life that she can communicate with. It’s the only real life she ever had; she wasn’t ready to let go.

As for the frenemies—that’s not really my thing. I’m purely a friend or foe. Or ambivalent.

The Passenger is symbolic, but it’s also a clue. At what point in the writing of the book did you decide on the title?

I think I found it pretty early on. It makes me nervous when I write a book and I don’t have a good working title. I ran a few different ones at first by my agent and editor, but when I thought of The Passenger, that one stuck right away. Plus, it’s also the title of an Iggy Pop song that I love. Seemed like a good opening.

Even though you’ve vowed never to write another screenplay, I think The Passenger would make a great film. When you wrote, did you visualize the scenes as if it were a movie? If asked to adapt it for a movie, would you?

This is a very loaded question, so I’m going to plead the fifth. But, I will say that I do hope it is a movie at some point. It definitely felt cinematic when I wrote it.

Plot or characters first? Do you outline chapters?

I would argue that character doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I think character and plot, for me, form at the same time. You see character develop in a response to situations.

I always begin with a rough outline, but I like the process of discovering things along the way. If I outlined diligently, I don’t know how flexible I would be with a major revision.

Is the art of reveal, giving the reader information enabling realization, a process of revision?

Like I mentioned before, I tend to have a good sense of the right timing for reveals. But everything gets fine-tuned during revision.

For vacation would you rather go to the beach or stay in the mountains?

Mountains, for sure. 


  1. This sounds like such an intriguing story. Character based stories always bring so much to the table. Looking forward to a great read.

  2. Such versatility! Many of us have our hands full writing in one genre. You are an accomplished writer with so many different aspects to your work.

    I'm looking forward to reading some!

  3. I think arming you with a light sabre is an excellent (and scary) idea!

  4. Thank you for stopping by WWK, Lisa. Sad to see the Spellman series end, but intrigued by this new direction. The Passenger sounds great. I saw that it is being compared to Gone Girl. Is this marketing or an apt comparison?
    Thank you, E.B. for not giving anything away! And kudos for another very thoughtful interview.

  5. You ignore Steven King's advice about "branding" your writing. It sounds like you are forging ahead on your own.

  6. I think if you are a talented writer--they will come, regardless of all the PR techniques or genre. Branding and where you are on the shelf shouldn't matter. I know it's a reality, but for some, it doesn't matter. It's the story, and this one is very intriguing!

  7. Great interview. I've enjoyed many installments of THE SPELLMAN FILES and have read enough here to know I'm intrigued by this new project. Best of luck!

  8. Welcome to WWK, Lisa. Your books sound fascinating. I'm putting them on my to order list.

  9. Thanks for the great interview, E.B.! I love the Spellman books and Heads You Lose so I look forward to The Passenger. I love that Lisa is exploring lots of different writing styles!

  10. multiple genres? I'm excited to read your new book.

  11. Hi. I'm sorry it has taken me so long to chime in. Just got back home after a day out. So many great comments, I don't know where to begin. First I'll answer the bit about the Gone Girl and whatever comp. I NEVER compare my books to anything. Ever. So if there's a comp, someone else used it for their reasons and I'm not a marketing expert, so I don't argue.

  12. I love the Spellmans and I see that I'll have to try the new ones, especially this last one. Thanks for such an intriguing interview, both of you! Mountains for me, too!