Lisa Scottoline deserves a high five for her novels Damaged and Exposed. These back-to-back homeruns hit at reader’s heartstrings with her gripping and riveting storylines and characters. In Damaged, released last year with the paperback version out August 1st, a ten-year-old child, Patrick, has fallen under the radar of the government agencies. His needs are not being met regarding dyslexia, abuse in a public school by a teacher’s aide, and having to endure classmates’ bullying. Law partner Mary DiNunzio is hired to fend off a lawsuit accusing Patrick of attacking a teacher’s aide, while at the same time threatening the public school to pay for Patrick’s education in a private school.
Even when things come to a solution in Damaged, the next book, Exposed, has Mary
facing more problems. Childhood friend, Simon Pensiera, who is more like family, requests her to file a wrongful-termination case against his employer, OpenSpace. His boss,Todd Eddington, fired him when his daughter Rachel’s medical expenses rose into the stratosphere. The problem, her partner, Bennie, represents Dumbarton Industries, OpenSpace’s parent company, so there’s an obvious conflict of interest. The suspense increases after a major plot twist that has both partners reevaluating their respective stances as the case heads into an unexpected direction that includes a dangerous cover-up.
Elise Cooper: Both books have at the heart of the plot children’s issues. In Damaged Patrick has dyslexia and is abused while in Exposed Rachel needs a bone marrow transplant?
Lisa Scottoline: I love to write about children. Sometimes in fiction children are not really differentiated; although, today we are more aware of children’s disabilities and illnesses. I think these children need to be given the spotlight with my job making sure that the issue is as real as possible. In essence blurring the line between fiction and non-fiction.
EC: Why dyslexia?
LS: Patrick became an introverted and inward little boy because the dyslexia became an important aspect to his development. I want readers to imagine what it is like for a child when he does not get the programming that he needs or is entitled to within a public school. More and more I have come to this saying, which I put in my books, ‘If you have a hammer everything looks like a nail.’ I think Mary had come to the situation with fresh eyes and was able to think outside the box.
EC: In Exposed you talk about the bone marrow transplant issue?
LS: The research I did was amazing and heart breaking. I wanted to honor the parents and children who are going through this. I want readers to understand families’ feelings as they watch their loved one go through it. It is so important to get the details right and not gloss over anything. I hope maybe I can educate a little without hitting people over the head.
EC: Your books always give glimpses on how the justice system works?
LS: Yes. I want to give the real true view of what the justice system is like, and not sanitize anything. Does law lead to justice? With both books I wanted to show if you really follow the law it might not lead to the result you want. In Exposed the two law partners, Mary DiNunzio and Bennie Rosato, had what appeared to be a conflict of interest. Bennie represented the parent company and Mary was suing the subsidiary. I thought there must be an easy straight ethical answer until I started doing the research. The case featured in Exposed is based on a real ambiguity in the law regarding what constitutes a conflict of interest when dealing with large conglomerates with numerous subsidiaries. I called a lawyer friend of mine, Larry Fox, who teaches ethics at Yale. He allowed me to talk to the class and even made it their semester project to find out if a lawyer like Mary could actually defend someone if the client of the firm was the parent company. All of the nuances I learned were put in the book.
EC: Describe Bennie and Mary?
LS: Mary is vulnerable, warm, fuzzy, and cuddly. Bennie is the direct opposite and much more ambitious. She made herself and is very direct. She doesn’t do people pleasing, and is a not a compromiser. I did not always appreciate gruff people until I started writing about her. Yet, inside she is a very caring person, but will not utter the words.
EC: Who are you more like?
LS: People think I am more like Bennie, but I am really more like Mary. I am not as tough or direct as people imagine. I am actually a little 5’2 cupcake.
EC: Did you base Mary’s family and community on yourself?
LS: It is in my memories now that my mom and dad have passed. I did have in my family what Mary has, complete unconditional love. In fact, Mary sometimes has the problem of not being able to cut the cord and declare independence. I also knew my parents thought the world of me. My mother loved me so much where everything I did was great. My dad even came to my book signings. Somebody in the audience once asked him if he was proud of having his daughter a writer? He responded, ‘I was proud of her the day she came out of the egg.’ They just wanted me to be happy in life, which is what Mary’s family wants for her. They are very supportive. We have to understand the characters’ backstory and maybe borrow a little liberally from our own life to do it.
EC: In both books the antagonists are lawyers who are jerks?
LS: They are very similar. Both are bombastic and want to be personally feared and not loved. They are arrogant, sexist, harassing, and egocentric. Nick in Damaged has a last name of Machiavelli and believes the end justifies the means. Nate in Exposed follows that philosophy. What is most important to them is to win and they don’t care how they go about it or who is hurt in the process. It is easy for a lawyer to misconstrue and turn aggression into a no holds barred.
EC: What do you want the readers to get out of both books?
LS: I hope they understand that the core of the series is how Mary and Bennie change over time and also change each other. After being around Bennie, Mary has more guts and is more secure at being able to take people on, while Bennie is softer. Both in the two latest books stepped up and helped each other. It is about how women yield power.
EC: What about your next book?
LS: It is called Feared and is a Bennie and Mary book.