A Conversation with Lisa Lutz, Author of The Spellmans Strike Again
1. What was the inspiration behind the Spellman family? Was the series originally supposed to be about Isabel or did you always plan on writing about a family of sleuths?
I first envisioned the Spellmans over seven years ago. And if memory serves me, which it rarely does, the entire cast of characters sort of came to me over a short period of time. The germ of the idea was always to write about a family of private investigators and how the nature of the business affected their family life. I knew that if the parents were spying on their children, they’d need a motivation. That’s when Isabel’s character took form. I figured a history of rebellion would keep the parental unit constantly on watch.
2. Isabel has an interesting relationship with her family, to say the least. Do her experiences represent any of your experiences with your parents/siblings? Or are you guys relatively “normal”?
I wouldn’t say that my family is normal. I’m not sure how many of those are left. But the Spellmans are pure fiction. They do not in any way represent my family or my familial experience.
3. Which of your characters do you feel has matured the most over the course of the series? Do you think any of them have regressed?
Isabel has matured the most. She had the furthest to go. The rest of them go through phases of regression, depending on the book. But that has always seemed to me to be normal development. People don’t move in straight lines.
4. Have you ever had any prom night shenanigans like Isabel did? We won’t tell anyone, we promise…
There was an incident the night before graduation that I was involved in. So was some toilet paper. I’m afraid I was nowhere near as delinquently creative as Isabel.
5. In each book in the Spellman series, you’ve denounced the myth that stakeouts are fun or exciting. You make them seem like tedious, time-consuming work. Have you ever been on one yourself? Are they as bad as you make them seem?
I was on a few surveillance jobs as part of a big team. I would be the person to follow the subject on foot when the need arose. But most of the time, we were sitting in a car doing nothing. Generally surveillance is a solo activity. How exciting can sitting alone in a car for hours on end be?
6. Where did you get the idea to put the footnotes at the bottom of the pages? Was it only meant to happen once or twice and you just started having too much fun?
That’s pretty much how it happened. When I was describing Get Smart, it was too easy to add a funny detail about an episode or character. And it required very little effort. I also liked the idea of Isabel adding commentary to what was already essentially her commentary.
7. You instruct readers that if they haven’t seen Blazing Saddles, High Anxiety and Young Frankenstein, they are to immediately “run, not walk, to your local video store.” Are you big fans of these movies? What is your favorite movie and why?
I am a huge Mel Brooks fan. And I do think that not seeing his canon of classics is a bit criminal or clueless. I could never really choose a favorite book, but whenever I’m asked what my favorite movie is I always say Withnail & I, a British film from 1987. It’s funny and sad and absolutely gorgeous to look at. It’s the film I can watch over and over again.
8. Throughout the Spellman series, you’ve also mentioned a number of TV shows that Isabel is a fan of: Get Smart, The Wire, Doctor Who. Are you a big fan of these shows as well? Did you intend to incorporate so many pop culture references into your book or did it just turn out that way?
I love The Wire. I can’t think of a television show that I think is superior to it in any way. I was obsessed with it from the moment it came on the air. I do also love Doctor Who and Get Smart. As I’ve said before, you can learn a lot from a person’s choice of entertainment. That’s part of the reason for pop-culture references in the books. But it’s also because in real life we reference these things all the time. Far more than most books indicate. It just seems to be a fair reflection of reality.
9. Why did you decide to reignite the romance between Henry and Isabel? Was there ever a different ending to the book where they parted ways? Did you always think they were meant to be together from the moment he was introduced in The Spellman Files?
When I first wrote The Spellman Files, I had no idea that Henry Stone would turn out so interesting. He was a small character in the first book. But I didn’t want him to read as flat. So as I tried to flesh out his character, he took on a life of his own, and his various relationships with the Spellmans happened organically. I’ve written the relationship between Henry and Isabel as I’ve gone along. There was never a master plan. I just wrote what felt right.
10. What’s next for you? Are there more Spellman adventures to come?
I just completed my first non-Spellman book, which was very exciting, and now I’m ready to come back to them. So I suspect there will be a return of the Spellmans in the not-too-distant future.