Always Plotting
For Lisa Scottoline, the former attorney turned bestselling author, the story never ends
by Bill Donahue

Lisa Scottoline’s output can best be described as “prolific.” Her practice of writing, on average, 2,000 words a day, has led her to author more than 20 legal thrillers and other books, including several collections of humor essays co-written with her daughter, Francesca Serritella, based on a weekly column they write for the Philadelphia Inquirer. In other words, she has a lot of pages to fill.

Scottoline’s latest novel, “Betrayed,” goes on sale on November 25. (Visit for details on upcoming signing events at bookstores in Philadelphia, North Wales and Exton.) In “Betrayed,” Scottoline returns to familiar territory, with another installment of the popular Rosato series. The novel follows protagonist Judy Carrier, an attorney at an all-female Philadelphia law firm, Rosato & Associates, as she investigates the suspicious death of an undocumented worker at a local farm.

The audio book version of “Betrayed” features the narration of another luminary with ties to the Philadelphia area: Maria Bello, the actress (and Norristown/Conshohocken native) best known for her roles in films such as “A History of Violence,” “Coyote Ugly” and “The Jane Austen Book Club.”

Writing is something of a second career for Scottoline, an alumna of the University of Pennsylvania and University of Pennsylvania Law School who formerly worked in the legal profession. She served Philadelphia-based law firm Dechert, Price & Rhoads as an associate in corporate litigation. She stayed at the firm till 1986, when she left to raise her newborn daughter. It was at that time she began writing legal fiction part time.

Scottoline, a Lower Merion High School grad who now lives in Chester County, spoke with us about her new book, for starters. She also discussed the task of sitting down to a blank page every day and the struggles she faced as a single mother working toward her dream of becoming a full-time writer.

What has you most excited about your upcoming book, “Betrayed”?
I’ve had such a long career, and even though I’ve already had so many books published, I still get excited every time it happens. I’ve written 13 stories in the Rosato series at this point, and these are about the normal, everyday struggles that people must overcome in their personal and professional lives. … It’s sort of like going back to see old friends. It gives me a chance to examine the series over time, unlike a standalone book, where you have only 350 pages with somebody. For me, Rosato feels like coming home.

Has your success changed the way you approach your characters or the plot?
I don’t feel like I am successful. Like every writer who sits down to a blank page, it’s so humbling. You could have 30 books behind you, but you still have to sit down at the same blank page every day. You get a little better at it, but it doesn’t come easier, especially when you’re struggling with the plot. My characters all live in a real place and a real time. They live in this area, and the story is set in this area.  

Why was Maria Bello the right person to bring it to life for the audio book?

I asked for her. The publisher asks you who you think would be the right person to do it, and I thought of Maria Bello. She’s smart, funny and beautiful, and I think she is so strong. And she’s from Conshy. I liked all that, so I was really thrilled she said yes.

How many of your ideas make it to print?
All of them, but I don’t have a lot of ideas. I do two novels a year, so I guess I have two ideas a year. … I invented everything in “Betrayed,” but about three months ago, I saw an actual criminal plot that was basically the same one in “Betrayed.” I thought, Damn it, I made that up.

You’ve earned a number of prestigious writing awards. What do you consider your greatest accomplishments—as a writer, as a mother, as a person?
I guess they all intersect. I don’t compartmentalize myself; I’m always a writer, I’m always a mother. This may be a lame answer, but I feel very lucky and blessed in this life. It wasn’t always that way. When I started, I tried to get published for five years, and I was really broke, struggling as a single mother; it wasn’t a living wage at all. There was so much struggle and about 10 years of agida. It’s very gratifying now, with so many great things about having this job and this time of my life. From my point of view, to be able to write these stories, about these strong women, there’s something special about that.
Photography by Ian Warburg