Lisa Lutz grew up in Southern California. After graduating high school, she attended UC Santa Cruz, UC Irvine, University of Leeds in England and San Francisco State University, although she still does not have a bachelor's degree. Lisa spent most of the 1990s hopping from a string of low-paying odd jobs while writing and rewriting a mob comedy called Plan B. After the film was made in 2000, Lisa vowed she would never write another screenplay. Lisa is the author of The Spellman Files, Curse of the Spellmans and Revenge of the Spellmans. She highly recommends reading her books in order.
The other day, I accidentally wandered into a dive bar with a friend. We thought we knew the owner, but were mistaken. Since we were already there, we decided to spend the night hanging out with the barflies. Shortly after I arrived, the woman to my left asked me to hold her seat. I complied, shooing away another stranger when he tried to take it. Then the bartender told me that the woman was crazy and had simply taken a seat elsewhere. Eventually, the seat next to me was occupied by a patron suffering from the common malady known as “man trouble.” I bought her a drink. In the corner was another woman, who I later learned owned the place. The bartender served her a glass mug containing three parts hot water and one part stale coffee.
“That is disgusting,” I said, wondering why someone would try to turn bad coffee into tea.
My friend assured me she had seen it before, but I continued to express my shock and horror that someone would subject her taste buds to such a hideous beverage. Especially someone who owns a bar and has limitless libational possibilities.
“I have never seen anything like that in my whole life,” I said, with perhaps a little too much enthusiasm.
“You need to get out more,” the bartender replied.
I couldn’t argue with him.In truth, I don’t get out much. I write novels for a living full-time. That has been the case since the beginning of 2006. I work from home, not in a café; I don’t have children, so I don’t carpool or participate in play dates. I’m not a member of any club to speak of. I leave my home for necessities and exercise and to hang out with friends, but I’m not a social animal and I learned a long time ago not to rely on real people for writing material. I’ll steal a line of dialogue here or there, but what I like about writing is that it’s not about real life—or more to the point, not about me. It’s the one time I can truly escape myself. The novels I write are for the most part pure fiction—I don’t generally get my ideas from the outside world. That said, I don’t want to avoid it altogether. Sometimes I want to have a real-life story to tell, just so I have something to contribute at dinner parties.
Whenever I need to experience the real world, I force myself to take the bus— a breeding ground not only for germs (so I can keep my immune system on high alert) but also for unforeseeable conversations.
Not too long ago, I overheard a delightful conversation on the 38 Geary.
A crazy man got on board. He shouted out to no one in particular, “Did you know I was in school to be a doctor?”
Another man replied, “I got news for you: You failed.”
The crazy man came back with: “I’ve been in hot tubs with judges. I got diamond rings and everything.”
He didn’t have any diamond rings on him, I should report. The conversation deteriorated from there, culminating in a lengthy monologue about the size of women’s behinds. Particularly the behind of the crazy man’s girlfriend.
But still, it got me thinking about imagination. The man with the imaginary medical training also lives much of his life in his own constructed world. I’m not so different. He tells his stories on the street; I hide out in my apartment concocting pure fiction. Then, every once in a while, I seek out reality. More often than not it encourages me to invent bolder, wilder lies. But I’d never write a character who drinks the dregs of a coffeepot topped off with lukewarm tap water. No one would believe it if I did.