Meow! My guest today is author Lucy Burdette!
Lucy Burdette (aka Roberta Isleib) is the author of 12 mysteries, including the latest in the Key West series featuring food critic Hayley Snow. Her books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She's a past president of Sisters in Crime.
R: Good morning, Lucy, and welcome to the blog! Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became interested in writing.
Thank you, ROCCO. Well, I started out my career as a clinical psychologist and consider writing novels to be my midlife crisis. In 1992, I married a great guy who happened to love golf. I got sucked into trying to learn and found it very, very challenging. (Ask the eight teaching professionals who tried to help…) As I spent a ton of time and money trying to master the art of golf, I wondered how else I might use the experience—writing was the answer! My first mystery series featured an aspiring lady pro golfer carrying lots of family baggage that kept her from playing at the level she should have been able to. I was able to use both the golf obsession and my training in clinical psychology as I wrote these books—I had so much fun!
R: You have written mysteries featuring an avid golfer and now a food critic, diversified to say the least. Where did the inspiration for these characters come from?
And don’t forget the series in between the golf and the food, which starred a clinical psychologist! As for inspiration, I know that part of each of those characters is drawn from my own life. And of course, I borrow bits and pieces from the people and stories around me--and the rest I make up. If there's one thing I've learned over the past fourteen years, it's that I'm quite capable of starting over with a new idea. And i've also learned that before long, I fall just as hard for the new characters and story as I did for the previous books. And that's how I feel now about my new heroine, aspiring food critic Hayley Snow. I hope I have the opportunity to write many more of her adventures in Key West.
R: What writers in your genre would you say have made the greatest influence on your writing?
I read a lot, and there are many, many writers I admire, so it’s hard to narrow this down. But Diane Mott Davidson was one of the first writers in the culinary mystery genre--I read her series about a caterer in Colorado long before it ever occurred to me that I should try to write myself. John D. Macdonald’s series character lived on a boat in Florida--I’m sure that’s had an impact. (Hayley Snow, the main character in the food critic mysteries, lives on a houseboat in Key West.)
R: How did you make the leap from clinical psychologist to mystery writer?
Believe it or not, the work of the detective in a mystery has quite a bit in common with long-term psychotherapy. You start with a problem, then follow the threads, looking for clues, and gradually fill in the big picture. So this career move turned out to be a natural progression!
By the way, most shrinks are appalled by the way we are portrayed in the popular media--usually these characters are bumbling fools, lacking in scruples, or crazy themselves. But in writing fiction, I have the chance to dream up psychologist characters who can help solve mysteries without stumbling too hard over their own personal issues, crossing ethical boundaries, or imploding with self-importance.
R: Do you have an “how I got my agent” story you’d like to share? How did you feel when you got the call your first novel had sold?
I don't have a magic formula for this subject.
However, I did find an agent and she did sell my book, though none of this came easily or quickly. 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 forward.
My advice? First, write the best book you can. Take classes, join a critique group, and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. And second, be persistent and flexible.
How did I feel? Absolutely astonished and delighted!
R: What’s a must have for you when you are writing? What aids the creative process?
Coffee. And a certain amount of peace and quiet. And I have a small writers’ group--two friends who are priceless with brainstorming and reading early drafts.
R: If you had access to a time machine, which historical moment would you travel to and why?
Even though I lived through all the changes in the 1960’s as a kid, I wasn’t able to appreciate them--the women’s movement, the peace movement, the music. I’d like to go back there from my current perspective and savor the revolution:).
R: What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?
I don't think I'd like to be a food critic in real life--when I go out to eat, I like to choose what I feel like eating, not what I think other folks want to hear about. And there are places where I'd draw lines that my character Hayley Snow, cannot. For instance, tentacles. Raw fish and meat. Slimy things. Like that:). All the restaurants in my books really exist in Key West--except for the ones where the characters have bad meals.
R: What is the craziest thing you've ever done?
This was probably the moment where I spent the advance from my second mystery, A BURIED LIE, to play in a golf tournament with two professional golfers. This became an important part of the story--and it was a total blast!
R: What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?
The food critic series has really tweaked my interest in the meaning of food and cooking because I have to think the way that my character, Hayley Snow, thinks. She uses food as a way to connect with people, and to calm herself down, and to seduce the folks she’s trying to get information from that may solve the mysteries. I've become a better cook--and eater too!--as a result.
I like what Hayley wrote for Key Zest at the end of DEATH IN FOUR COURSES: “I’d summed up by saying how important it was to remember that while food did mean life and death in its most elemental form, most often we in the food writing industry were talking about food as the pleasure of connections. When we wrote about simmering a stew or a sauce for hours or days, we were really talking about how much we owed to the folks who came before us and the importance of cherishing their memory. And how much we yearned to give to the people in our present who’d be gathered around our table. We were writing about food as family history, and love, and hope, and sometimes a little splash of guilt.”
I think the message in TOPPED CHEF might be that food doesn’t have to be fancy to be good. And a grandmother’s recipe for chocolate cake scratched out on a notecard can hold its own with a fancy chef’s menu.
As for MURDER WITH GANACHE, I'll leave you with a bit of conversation from Hayley and her mother:
"Why is it that cooking always makes things feel a little less hopeless?” my mother mused as the vegetables softened.
“At least we’re doing something,” I said, as she whipped the eggs with a splash of water and stirred them into the pan.
“We feel like we’re taking care of people when there’s really nothing to be done.” I grinned. “That’s what you taught me anyway.”
R: What are you working on at the moment / next?
I’m working on the fifth Key West foodie mystery, called DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS. It will be on bookshelves in December 2014.
R: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I used to be a careful plotter, but I do a lot less of that now. I have a vague idea of where the story will go, and I know a lot about the characters--then I write until I get stuck, then plot a little more. This method is a little stressful, but fun!
R: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? :)
No tricks, but I love cooking, eating, reading, bike riding, and still an occasional round of golf.
R: Where can we find out more about you and your work?
I LOVE hearing from readers--it’s the best thing about the job. I’m no doubt online more that I should be, but you can find me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/lucyburdette) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/lucyburdette), and blogging with the fabulous writers at Mystery Lovers Kitchen (www.mysteryloverskitchen.com) and Jungle Red Writers (www.jungleredwriters.com). I also enjoy Pinterest. In fact, here’s my storyboard for MURDER WITH GANACHE: http://www.pinterest.com/robertaisleib/murder-with-ganache/ and another for Key West: http://www.pinterest.com/robertaisleib/key-west-the-character/
And last but not least, here’s my website: www.lucyburdette.com.
Just for Fun:
Night or Day? Day
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) One of each! But of course Yoda the cat is in charge
Beach or Pool? Beach
Steak or salad? Salad
Favorite Drink? coffee
Favorite Book? Gone with the Wind
Favorite TV Series? Nashville
Favorite Movie? When Harry Met Sally
Favorite Actor: Robert Redford
Favorite Actress: Meryl Streep
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? Pina Colada
Hawaii or Alaska? Hawaii
Finish this sentence: If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be ____Julia Child_______________
If I had just one wish, it would be_____the end of world hunger and war____________________________________
If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be ____No one!___
Thanks for a great interview, Lucy!
Folks, here’s all the places you can find Lucy!
Mystery Lovers Kitchen: www.mysteryloverskitchen.com
Jungle Red Writers: www.jungleredwriters.com
Lucy will be giving away a copy of MURDER WITH GANACHE to one lucky commenter!
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Winner will be chosen at random using random.org. Don’t forget to mention all you’ve done in your comment. Good luck!
Up next: Heather Graham and Brenda Novak! Meow!
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