Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Roberta Isleib on Berkeley Heights and Asking for Murder

Roberta Isleib, a Berkeley Heights native and the author of the Golf Lover’s mystery series and the Advice Column mystery series, has stopped by the blog today for questioning! Her latest book, Asking for Murder, is the third to feature Rebecca Butterman, a divorced 30-something psychologist and advice columnist.

Can you tell us about your experience growing up in Berkeley Heights? Did you ever suspect that you would become an author back then?

Berkeley Heights was a wonderful place to grow up! I moved there just before first grade and my family stayed until I was in my early twenties (minus a few years outside Detroit, which we hardly count!) I lived on Sutton Drive, a brand-new neighborhood packed with kids. The parents threw block parties and Halloween parties and coffee klatches and bridge sessions, and the kids tore around the streets on bikes and built forts in the woods. As a fanatic reader, I also spent a lot of time in the library. My sister and I would come home from school and go directly to our rooms with books. Of course I read every Nancy Drew installment, along with Hardy Boys, Cherry Ames, the Bobbsey Twins, and lots of mainstream novels. But I never imagined I'd grow up to be a writer, especially not fiction. The only fiction I ever wrote during those years was a saccharine short story involving a romance with Mickey Dolenz (one of the Monkees.) Let's just say I'm glad that's been permanently lost:)

I was always picking up interesting snippets of psychology as I read your books (one tip from Deadly Advice: don’t sit between your patient and the door!). Your background as a psychologist is perfect for writing mysteries, isn’t it?

From the very beginning, I wanted to use my training in clinical psychology by including reasonable psychologists in my novels. The challenge was to dream up characters who could use the principles of psychology to help solve mysteries without imploding with self-importance, stumbling over personal issues, or crossing ethical boundaries. Most of the time, shrinks in the media end up looking very foolish! It's been a lot of fun to write about Rebecca Butterman's world--her psychotherapy practice is very similar to the one I had (though of course I wouldn't use my own clients in the mysteries.)

A psychologist has to think like a detective in many ways: start with the patient's problem (the so-called "crime"), look for clues in their history, and follow these trails to find a solution.

Do you ever get to do any real-life research for any of your books? I hope you tasted all of the meals in Asking for Murder to make sure you described them properly!

When I was writing the golf mystery series, the research was a huge bonus! Who else but a writer gets to play on amazing golf courses and write it off on her taxes? Rebecca Butterman's books are set close to home--the town next to mine--but I've still had some fascinating experiences. ASKING FOR MURDER features a sandplay therapist, which I knew nothing about when I started. Based on the principles of Carl Jung, this kind of therapy invites the patient to choose from shelves and shelves of figurines and place them in a large sand box. After the arrangement is "complete," the patient and therapist look it over together and try to understand the meaning--or make the unconscious meaning conscious.

As for food, my character loves to cook and eat (as do I--though she's a more dedicated cook.) I watch my most talented friends for recipe ideas. Rebecca throws a dinner party in ASKING FOR MURDER that includes spaghetti carbonara and red velvet cake. Yum, yum. My previous character, Cassie Burdette, was a junk food addict, so I enjoy trying Rebecca's concoctions. One friend asked if she was on a diet in this book--no, never!

Do you have any favorite advice columnists or one that inspired the character of Rebecca?

I am an advice column junkie. Probably my favorite of all time is "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" published monthly in the Ladies Home Journal. This column is deeper than most because each month it features a real therapist working with a troubled couple. And marriage therapy is hard--the magazine articles make it seem so easy. I also loved Ann Landers, and her daughter Margo Howard, who wrote Dear Prudence. Margo agreed to read and comment on DEADLY ADVICE before it was published. I was so nervous! But she loved it and was very gracious with a quote for the cover.

Cassie the pro golfer and Joe the sports psychologist from your first series have been mentioned in Rebecca's books and vice versa. Do you think Cassie and Rebecca could ever team up to solve a crime?

Rebecca made cameo appearances in the second and third golf mysteries, A BURIED LIE and PUTT TO DEATH. I added the cameo about Cassie to DEADLY ADVICE because I got the news about the series ending before I had the chance to wrap it up in a way that would satisfy her fans.

Unfortunately, both Rebecca and Cassie were interested in Joe the golf psychologist, which got them off on a bad foot. Cassie thought Rebecca was a prig, and Rebecca thought Cassie was reckless. It would be great fun to get them all together, because I'm sure the tension would still be there--but they'd have to work together somehow...

Thank you so much for hosting my return visit to the Berkeley Heights library! Please stop by and visit me at my website and blogs--if your book group is interested in discussion questions--or recipes--you'll find them there! Roberta


Maryannwrites said...

Roberts, I enjoyed getting to know a little more about you and your books. Where did you live outside Detroit? I still count my years there in Centerline and Warren. :-)

Anonymous said...

Roberta, I enjoyed your clarification that "shrinks" aren't all like those on tv and in movies. As a newspaper writer (reporter?) for years, I see the same problem with their representation in movies and on tv, though some are regrettably true.
Good interview. It's fun to get to know authors and their books in this way.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Hi Maryann, we lived in Birmingham, MI for 3 years and then moved back to BH. Michigan's a lovely state, just a little chilly and too far from the ocean. thanks for stopping in!

Unknown said...

I love Can This Marriage Be Saved? They all start out so grim, and you just want to yell get out of there while you still can! But then the therapist comes in and somehow everything makes sense. And Dear Prudence is definitely a guilty pleasure - I have to read it every week.

John said...

"Wecome home," Roberta! Another great (and informative) stop on the blog tour...

If all goes well, we'll see you tomorrow night!

Maryannwrites said...

Oops, obviously I meant to write Roberta, not Roberts. Little bit of dyslexia kicking in. Sorry about that. :-(

Helen Ginger said...

I love the idea of wrapping up a series in a book from another series.

Ah, how could I forget the Bobbsey Twins. Those were my favorite, even over Nancy Drew. And the Monkees -- although Peter Tork was my favorite.

You may not know your Monkees, but you're a great writer.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Roberta,
Speaking of Detroit ... I am a New Jersey book blogger and on my site have just reviewed a good new picture book for 4-to-8-year olds that may interest a lot of your patrons: "President Pennybaker" (Simon & Schuster, Aug. 2008), illustrated by the Caldecott Honor artist Diane Goode of Watchung.

This is a book about a boy named Luke who runs for president of the US. And apart from having a local illustrator, it has a full-page picture of Luke campaigning "on the beach at the Jersey shore" (specifically, at what looks like Asbury Park in the old days). He also campaigns in Detroit (another full-page picture).

This is the most prominent play I have seen given to NJ in a children's picture book by a nationally known artist since the scenes of Long Beach Island in "Flotsam." You can read more about "President Pennybaker" on One-Minute Book Reviews www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/09/12/