Tuesday, September 23, 2008

ASKING FOR MURDER - by Roberta Isleib

My guest today on the Girlfriend's Cyber Circuit Lit Blog Tour is Roberta Isleib, a writer who worked as a clinical psychologist for many years, and has a new book out called, Asking for Murder.

Psychologist/advice columnist/sleuth Dr. Rebecca Butterman plunges into her third mystery in ASKING FOR MURDER by Dr. Roberta Isleib (Berkley Prime Crime, September 2008.) When Rebecca’s close friend and fellow therapist Annabelle Hart is found beaten and left for dead, Rebecca is determined to help search for answers. But this time, no one wants her help. Not Detective Meigs, who thinks the crime was either a botched robbery or the result of a relationship gone sour. And not Annabelle’s sister, who makes it clear that Rebecca isn’t welcome in family affairs.

The only place where her opinion matters is the therapist’s couch. Rebecca's agreed to see Annabelle’s patients while her friend is hospitalized, but it won’t be easy. Annabelle’s area of expertise is sandplay therapy, which Rebecca knows little about. While she studies the images in the patients’ sand trays and puzzles through Annabelle’s family secrets, another victim is murdered. With a killer on the loose, she can only hope the clues in the sand are buried within easy reach.

Isleib's advice column series debuted in 2007 with DEADLY ADVICE and PREACHING TO THE CORPSE. A clinical psychologist, Isleib says the work of the detective in a mystery has quite a bit in common with long-term psychotherapy: Start with a problem, follow the threads looking for clues, and gradually fill in the big picture.

Roberta took some time out to answer a few questions. She is the president of National Sisters in Crime and the past president of the New England chapter. Her books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. Now an accomplished writer, it took a while for her to get a book deal, but she is living proof that perseverance is the name of the game.

What was the inspiration behind the writing of ASKING FOR MURDER?

Dr. Butterman, my therapist character, takes over the practice of her best friend (a sandplay therapist) after she's been attacked. The fun started as I began to think about what kinds of clues a would-be murderer might leave in an arrangement of figurines in a sand tray.

I love this character Dr. Butterman. Because I was a therapist for many years, I really understand her work and the way she thinks about the people she tries to help. I stumbled into the sandplay part of the story, but I found a wonderful therapist in New Hampshire who walked me through the process of how clients use the sand trays and the figurines and what it all means.

I love what I’m writing now. I can highlight my background in psychology and write about folks in that field who are competent and caring, rather than the idiotic and downright hurtful professionals you often see in movies and on TV. I’m very proud of the time I spent working as a clinical psychologist, but happy to be writing now.

How do you approach writing your novel? Do you outline the plot? Start with a character or...?
I'm getting better at outlining because I find it makes the story much easier to write. Not so many black moments when I have no idea what's going to happen next... As I begin a book, I look ahead to the due date and figure out how many pages I will need to write each week in order to hand it in on time. I build in time for trips and family and time for my writers group to read and critique, and then time for me to rewrite. Then I have a page goal for each week. I write until I’ve hit the goal, sometimes even getting a little ahead. For practical purposes, I do write most days. And mostly in the morning, saving the promotion and other “easier” work for when I’m less alert!

What is the elevator pitch for ASKING FOR MURDER?

When Dr. Rebecca Butterman's dear friend, a sandplay therapist, is found beaten and left for dead, Rebecca's determined to help search for answers. With a would-be killer on the loose, she can only hope the clues are buried within easy reach. Think: best friends, crazy families, and the mysteries of sandplay therapy.

Describe how you got your first book deal.
I studied Elizabeth Lyon's The Sell Your Novel Toolkit and Jeff Herman's Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents. I contacted agents who had interests like mine (mystery, sports, psychology), or who had some feature in their personal background that made me think we might connect. I hired an independent editor to give me fairly inexpensive but useful feedback on my manuscript-she directed me to several agents. I attended mystery conventions and talked with people there about the process. I attended the International Women's Writers Guild "Meet the Agents" forum in New York City. I groveled in front of everyone I even remotely knew connected with the publishing business. And I suffered through multiple rejections and shouldered gamely forward, my skin toughening by the hour. Finally an agent I'd met at IWWG called: Another agent had visited her office, seen my manuscript, and fallen in love with it. We're still working together!

What and where is your favorite restaurant and why is it your favorite?
There's a little Italian place in Old Saybrook, CT called Sal's where the ambiance is totally casual, but the food is old-fashioned to die for! Love their pasta fagiole, olive bread, bacon and onion pizza, insalata mista mmmmm, I'm getting hungry! My other favorite is the Hidden Kitchen in Guilford, CT. ditto for casual and totally delicious, only breakfast and lunch.


Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

thanks for inviting me to visit your blog Wendy--and for the great questions!

John said...

Wow, Roberta-you're everywhere! Just thought I'd drop in and say hi since you were so kind as to visit my blog.

You know who