While the PI firm at the center of her Spellman series may rarely tie up loose ends, Lisa Lutz is all about closure: in fact, she’s given Izzy Spellman The Last Word.
Zola: You once worked at a family-run PI firm in San Francisco. Did any of your experiences there inspire your writing?
Lisa Lutz: In a way. What I learned from working at Desvernine Associates was that private investigators typically don’t work murder cases, the job is rarely dangerous, and they almost never solve tidy mysteries. I wanted to reflect those things in the Spellman novels. I wanted to see if I could make the ordinary compelling.
Zola: The cases the Spellmans take on are not always tied up nicely—some are closed with remaining questions, and some are even given up on. Do you feel that a piece of work, whether it is a case or a novel, can ever be truly finished?
LL: I believe in endings. I like having a sense of closure in what I write. But I suppose everyone has a different idea of what an ending is. An ending can simply be a point of understanding. Few things in life are ever tied up, nothing is ever really finished.
Zola: You present dialogue to the reader in multiple ways, including a script-like format. How did your work as a screenwriter inform which dialogues to write traditionally and which to write in this format?
LL: When you’re writing dialogue for screenplays or theater, you understand that it’s going to be heard like a real conversation and you focus on the rhythm, the sound, as much as the content. When you read a novel, often the reader gets tripped up on the “he said/she said” and descriptive addendums to a quote. I like the rhythm of a conversation, and sometimes comedy necessitates that the reader understand how the conversation might sound. Transcripts seemed like the perfect solution since we were already dealing with characters prone to audio and visual surveillance.
Zola: Izzy Spellman uses voice memos and notes to keep track of everything in her life. What methods do you use in your writing process to stay organized?
LL: I try something new with every book, probably. Index cards on a bulletin board. A short outline. Sometimes just keeping notes at the end of the chapter I’m working on to guide me into the next one. I’m not a full-blown outliner. I’ve heard of forty-page outlines, and that sounds insane and tedious to me. Please do not be offended, insane-and-tedious author, if this is your method. I’m sure it works brilliantly for you.
Zola: Your footnotes and appendix make it easy for a reader to follow Izzy’s story without having read the first five books in the series. Do you believe that the series should be read in order, or can/should the reader jump around?
LL: I provide the footnotes as asides, but also to clue in a new reader. But I definitely am of the school that my books, in particular, work better if read in order. The characters evolved in real time and I can’t imagine seeing that evolution backwards, for example. Although I wouldn’t mind if someone tried it and told me about her experience.
Zola: The Last Word is the last Spellman novel written through Izzy’s voice. How did you know that you were done with her point of view, and which member of the Spellman clan are you most interested in exploring next?
LL: I didn’t know I was done until I finished the book and I realized I had told Isabel’s story as best I could. I knew then that there was no reason to move forward with Isabel as narrator. As I was writing in Rae’s voice, I felt a new excitement. I saw where I could take the series and change the tone and the content, but still give readers a taste of the Spellmans.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.