Sitting Down with Renowned Italian-American Author Lisa Scottoline

Interview by Mary Kovach, Ph.D.

Lisa Scottoline is a #1 Bestselling Author and earned bestseller status on a variety of lists including The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and Publisher’s Weekly, among others. With more than 30 million copies of her books in circulation, Lisa is a highly esteemed author, columnist, speaker, and interview guest. Her distinguished career is inspiring, and her caring, joyful nature brings delight to everyone she meets. In this interview, Lisa shares her passion for her Italian American heritage, advice she received from her mother, how she started a weekly article with her daughter in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and details from her latest novel, Eternal.

Your passion for our Italian American heritage is energizing! How did your Italian heritage influence your upbringing?

I am so proud of being Italian-American and it influences everything about me. In fact, I can't think of a way that it does not influence me! Of course there is the love of food, and family, arts, and of literature, and of culture, because we have such a rich heritage and so much to be proud of! But above all, I think my approach to life is distinctly Italian – that life is to be enjoyed and savored and that we can undergo hardships with humor and the love of one another.

We all have our Italian or Italian American memories that we cherish. What is one of your favorite memories, and do you have any family traditions that you continue to celebrate today?

I think my most cherished memory is that every holiday, particularly Easter, we spent around the table on a Sunday afternoon, with all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins. Believe it or not, my mother was the youngest of 19 children, most of them born in Italy, and almost all of my aunts and uncles and cousins were at our very tiny house every Sunday, maybe because she made the best “homemades” with gravy, as we called tomato sauce! I remember sitting around the table as a child, eating and listening to all the talk, gossip, arguments, and joking around. Also we had spaghetti, ravioli, or gnocchi every night. We never had anything but pasta. Later, when I got older, I realized that not all families ate dinner together and not everybody had pasta every night. All of my friends in high school ate at my house as often as they could!

Is there particular advice that you remember from your mother or grandmother that you want to instill in your daughter?

The most important advice my mother gave me was “be yourself.” It is absolutely profound and hard to live by, but I do. I also told that to my daughter, and it's really the only advice I've ever been given and really ever passed on. It’s about truth and being true to yourself, and more importantly, it communicates to a child that you are loved merely for who you are. You don't have to get As; you don't have to make money, but you have to jump up and down. You just have to be yourself, and we love you. That is the loveliest thing you can say to a child.

From what area in Italy did your family originate? Do you still have family there and have you visited?

My mother is from Chieti in Abruzzo and my father is from Ascoli Piceno in Le Marche. Growing up, you would think they were from different planets, from the way they talked! But both families immigrated to the United States through Philadelphia and stayed there, which is where I grew up and still live. I have been to Italy five times, going any chance I can, and I'm lucky enough to have my books published there, so I've even toured there! But my favorite trip was when I went back to Ascoli Piceno with my daughter Francesca, who is named for my father, and we saw the lovely town, the beautiful piazza, and the church of my father's family. I was even given the key to the city! Sadly my father had passed by then, but it was a moment I will never forget.

You've had an exciting career! You authored 33 novels and have 30 million copies in print within the United States. Additionally, you are published in 35 different countries! You are truly an inspiration for Italian American women. Do you have career advice in general, or in particular for young women?

You are so kind to say so, and I feel lucky and blessed every day for my career, which I owe completely to my readers. I hope that I do inspire other Italian-American women because I would love your more Italian-American voices in fiction and nonfiction. We have such an amazing heritage that is rich in intellect and culture, and I wish that American popular culture recognized us for the amazing contribution we make to life here. It's part of the reason that I have always had Italian-American characters star in my novels, because I want to show positive images of Italian-Americans, who are smart, hard-working, and full of heart.

You have a weekly column that you write with your daughter, Francesca Serritella, in the Philadelphia Inquirer entitled “Chick Wit,” for the Arts & Entertainment section. How did that start and what inspires your content?

The column started over 13 years ago, and it began because the newspaper asked me if I if they could run an excerpt of one of my books. I agreed, but as I said above, what I really think is that we need more Italian-American voices in print, so I simply asked the newspaper if we could write a weekly column. I promised to be funny, smart, relevant, and generally about mothers and daughters and the bond between them, because I feel that has been given too little attention in culture, too. They said okay, and column has been hugely successful, and is now published in nine best-selling nonfiction memoirs.

I don’t want to ask which of all of your novels is your favorite, but is there one in particular that evoked an emotion or a response that surprised you?

I am proud of all of my novels, but I'm especially proud of my newest, Eternal, and I think it is one that will interest your readers. It is a love triangle set in Rome of the 1930s, and encompassing the 20 years of Mussolini's rise and fall. I really wanted to depict Rome during that time, and show what everyday people went through during fascism, how they were taken in by the movement, and how they recovered from it. I think it is the biggest scope I have ever written about, on the biggest canvas, and I think it is an important book, because it is also tells the story about a little-known tragic and significant event that took place in Rome in 1943. It's a story that deserves to be told, I'm very proud to have told it in Eternal.

There are literally millions of readers all over the world who love your work. Have you ever written something and your readers’ response surprised you?

I read all of the reviews online and comments that my readers write about my books. I truly care, and I want to know what they think. I must say, they generally say great things and the real true answer to your question is that I am always delightfully surprised. I hold my breath when I publish any novel, and even though I feel that it is good, I'm never completely sure that someone else will. So when they love it, I'm overjoyed! I must say that the reviews of Eternal by my readers are the best I've ever gotten in my career, and I am over the moon!

You recently published “Eternal,” a book you’ve had stirring within you for years. Without giving too much away, it’s a novel of historic fiction with a love triangle unfolding in Rome, Italy. What/who were some of your inspirations within the story and did the narrative evolve as you wrote, or did you know the outcome prior to manuscript completion?

The inspiration for Eternal came from a college course that I took at the University of Pennsylvania as an English major with the late American author Philip Roth, who taught there. He introduced us to the work of Primo Levi, an Italian Jewish chemist who survived Auschwitz to write a memoir about it, and I became instantly interested in Italian Jewry. The more I learned, the more I wanted to write about what happened in Rome in October 1943, because I truly felt that this extremely significant event wasn't well enough known outside the scholarship. And as the story evolved, and answer your question, I knew that my mother inspired the character of Nonna, the loving grandmother in the book, though she can be feisty and wisecracking, which was totally my mother. And I never know the outcome of any novel I've ever written, and that was never more true than with Eternal, because it's a story of a woman who has to choose between two men and I didn't know who she was she was until the very end!

Where can people go to learn more about you and your collection of amazing work?

I would love for people to go to my website (, where they can find information about all my books, including 20 videos that I filmed on locations in Italy that informed the backdrop for Eternal and serve as a true companion to reading the novel.

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