Tuesday, September 30, 2008

GCC Presents: Roberta Islieb

Today my guest on the GCC is novelist Roberta Islieb, who is blog-touring to promote her newest release, Asking for Murder, out now from Berkley Books.

About ASKING FOR MURDER: When psychologist/advice columnist/sleuth Dr. Rebecca Butterman'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.

Praise for the Book: “Asking for Murder is a charming and sometimes gritty mystery with an appealing protagonist who sleuths, cooks and psychoanalyzes.” --Marilyn Dahl, Shelf-Awareness

“Dr. Rebecca Butterman, the quirky, flawed, eccentric, funny psychologist and advice columnist...is my kind of protagonist.” --Rebecca Rule, Nashua Telegraph

"Isleib's series debut shines with wit and suspense, thanks in part to an affable and intelligent heroine. Succinct plotting and expert pacing also help this well-crafted cozy shine." --Romantic Times Magazine

About Roberta: Isleib 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. 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 was kind enough to participate in my interrogation; by now, you know the drill, so let's begin the waterboarding! I mean questioning!

1) Now that you are published, what (if anything) have you changed about your writing routine?

Writing is not optional any more! Since this is my eighth book, it's a little hard to remember when it was optional...All that means I have a page count goal that I set each week in order to meet my publisher's deadline.And since missing a deadline seems unprofessional, I'm pretty good at keeping up. Another way to say it: Writing is still my passion, but now it's my profession too!

2) Do you listen to music while you write?

Can't listen to anything! Right now we have some builders working on finding a leak--bang, bang, yak, yak, and rock music. I may have to repair to the town library...

3) Have you found that as you've developed your writing and story telling skills, you watch movies or read books 'differently?'

I love to read, and read every night to my hub's dismay as he'd like me to watch movies with him :). I read for story and character, not the puzzle or the "how did she do that?" So if I want to figure something out, I have to go back and read it a second time. But I definitely notice subpar writing...

4) What vacation would be most inspiring to you as a writer?

Paris, Paris, and Paris! I'd love to live there for a month and explore every nook and cranny. In fact, I did have a month there during my junior year in college, but I was too darned homesick to enjoy it!

5) What is one of your strangest / most quirky author experiences?

I was in the Domincan Republic, doing research for a book that was never published. (I know, I know, hard life...) I convinced my husband to take photos of the police station in La Romana. A uniformed man with a big gun came running toward us yelling in Spanish. We hightailed it out of there, let me tell you. I'd never make it as a detective in real life! A big chicken...

Thanks, Roberta! Best of luck with Asking for Murder. I'll be back later in the week, plus a return to the Debs on Friday to celebrate Gail Konop-Baker's amazing debut, Cancer is a Bitch.

Monday, September 29, 2008

One Week 'til Work

Another crazy-busy weekend! Thank you to Terri for hosting a fantastic book group meeting on Friday night (y'all are lovely and such fun), thank you to my Pretty Aunt Julia for hosting our visit on Saturday (great family, great food), and thank you to my folks for taking us to lunch yesterday (Free lunch AND I get to see my nephew? Swoon!)

Alright, now that my Weekend Oscar Speech is over, let's move on to business. First, we rented the Sex & The City movie, and I was tickled when Samantha adopted a small terrier who enjoys making sweet, sweet love to inanimate objects, because my dog DOES THE SAME THING.

A few summers ago, my devout grandma and godmother came to visit, and during the tour, as we stood in a circle upstairs, Daisy dragged her dog bed into the middle of our human circle and began vigorously humping it. Nobody said a word; instead, we all looked up at my flaking ceiling as if it held the answers to every riddle that had ever stumped us while Daisy did things to her dog bed that are quite possibly illegal in several states.

Call me twisted, but I enjoy those uncomfortable moments that juxtapose the mundane (or serious) with the slightly warped, offensive, or inappropriate. This means that I got a raging case of the church giggles at least once a month when I was growing up.

PS: the line from my previous post? ("Go do it, and be successful with it!") Is from an old SNL skit.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

But How Did They Get Here?

It's Wednesday for another thirty minutes or so, but I thought I'd celebrate with a new list of random Google searches that lead unsuspecting Internet users to my little blog. Let us begin!

1) "Will earwigs ever leave the home?"

No. But you can encourage them to leave by no longer purchasing their favorite breakfast cereals, folding their laundry, paying their cell phone and insurance bills, or continuing to subscribe to gourmet cable.

2) "Bodyworlds exhibit large penis"

Well, I'm sorry to say you won't find any at the exhibit I visited. But you will find a few gray Brillo pads, new tattoo ideas, and renewed interest in eating right and exercising.

3) "heat meister and jack frost theme song"

Great. Now I want to Google this so I remember what the lyrics are.

4) "the secret to clear iced tea," "advanage the wonder cleaner," and the "well you know my name is simon song"

These are perennial search favorites that lead people to my blog. Mostly because I actually wrote posts about all three, back in 2006 when I was trying really hard to be funny (and failing spectacularly). I also wrote a great post that year about Ric Ocasek's creepy dry lips in "You Might Think," but nobody's looked for that yet.

5) "childless thirtysomethings" and "making friends after college"

Oooh! We need to hook up, people using these search strings. Seriously.

6) "funny synonyms for anus"

Ahem. How about Food Exit Portal? Brown star? Play-Doh Spaghetti Factory? Cracker compactor? Corn car tunnel? Cheese squeezer? Dakota Fanning's Hoodie?

7) "value of humiliation"

My, have you come to the right place!!

Or, you could go to Betty Confidential, because the always awesome Manic interviewed me and we're giving away a couple of signed 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or maybe even 4th editions of Driving Sideways! You don't know WHAT you're getting! Except my book, and it will be signed, and I might draw a penguin in it. Or an old lady with glasses and three chins. (Those were my two 'signature' cartoons in high school.) I think you have through the weekend to enter. "Go do it, and be successful with it." (In an Eastern European accent.)

If you can name the show that line is from, I will send you a special prize.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Post #255!

Hey, wow, I actually wrote that many blog entries?! Who knew I had that much to say. And boy am I glad I decided not to celebrate this milestone by writing about the idea I had last week: a restaurant called "Extremes." People would say, "Hey, let's go to Extremes!" and when they get there, the healthy people sit on one side and eat mangos and drink green tea and those less interested in eating right (i.e. "the husbands") sit on the other side and eat hamburgers that weigh more than a Honda Civic and drink beer in frosted lard mugs, maybe start off with an app of egg-battered deep fried salt balls. They'll have yoga mats and massage on one side, defibrillators and 'nap cots' on the other.

Feel free to steal that idea.

So I spent the day filthy and unkempt, because I had four events this weekend, and all that emphasis on not looking or smelling like a troll really takes it out of you. Right now my hair is so filthy it's kind of standing at attention, saluting all of you in its greasy glory. (But those of you reading this on Wednesday, don't worry, I'll totally have showered by then. That or J will take me in the yard and turn the hose on me.)

Anyway, I kicked things off on Saturday with a reading at the lovely Oshkosh Public Library (thank you Lisa and Ruth!), and I'm pleased to report that only one person nodded off briefly during my presentation. Later that day I hawked my wares at the Dragon Boat Races (thank you Mary!), sponsored by the UW bookstore. On Sunday I attended the PKD walk in Milwaukee for more ware-hawking (thank you Kara and Jason!)--this time for a good cause, as all proceeds were donated to the foundation. I wrapped it all up in Cedarburg yesterday afternoon for Wine and Harvest Fest (thank you Glen!), and am thrilled to report we sold out of every copy of Driving Sideways in Creekside Books!

I did get to see my family and cute lil' nephew yesterday at the Harvest Fest, which was delightful as always. The kid was trying to drink wine with a plastic fork--such a beautiful milestone, no matter how old a child is when he achieves it. I didn't have the heart to tell him you get drunk way faster when you use a plastic spoon.* My mother said some hilarious things she's forbidden me to blog about, and there was a very attractive man singing and playing guitar for the Harvest Fest crowd near a coffee shop. I leaned in and whispered to my sister, "Look at that guy. I bet he gets a ton of action." And then I saw he was wearing those plastic 'croc' shoes that look like ice cream tubs with holes punched in them and added, "Nevermind."

Also, I rented a movie on Friday that totally made me cry because I am PMSing and also because I drank three pumpkin beers before and during the film. The movie is Then She Found Me, starring Helen Hunt, Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick, and Colin Firth. It's based on an Elinor Lipman novel and is terribly charming. I oversold it to my husband who kindly watched it with me the next night, adding, "It wasn't nearly as good as you made it sound."

The next time I want someone to really watch a particular movie, I'm just going to say, "Meh, maybe you'll like it. I mean, it's a movie for intelligent people with a good sense of humor, really smart and hip, so you might not like it. I mean, the dialogue is much more clever and quick than you're used to, and nothing blows up except an awesome story line, right there on the screen. Give it a look, see what you think. But you probably won't like it."

Okay, I have to go prepare for a work meeting tomorrow. Whee!

*I'm totally kidding about all of this. Most of it, anyway.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Backyard Drama

I only have two weeks 'til I have to return to work, so yesterday I decided to capitalize on my waning opportunities to relax by reading in the backyard. I brought Daisy out to keep me company and hauled out a lawn chair before discovering that a house sparrow had gotten stuck in our birdhouse. More specifically, just its HEAD was stuck in the hole, and every so often it would beat its wings frantically in a futile bid to extract itself.

This disturbed me deeply, though I despise house sparrows. I specifically chose this nestbox because it had a 1.25 inch entrance, designed just for wrens and chickadees. Since house sparrows are a very populous non-native species that are particularly vicious to other cavity-nesting birds, I didn't want to give them an opportunity to spawn in my yard. Thus, the smaller hole on the birdhouse. And thus, the bird with its head stuck in the hole.

Human intervention appeared necessary. So I called Jason at work. "Can you come home?"


"There's a house sparrow stuck in the birdhouse. Will you come home and pull it out?"

"I can't! I'm totally busy. You're just going to have to put on some leather gloves and rescue it."

"I don't want to."

"Well, you're going to have to."

I sighed deeply. "Fine!"

I didn't want to see it suffer, even though I didn't really like the thing. So I fetched a step stool, put on some thick gloves, and marched over to the birdhouse to attempt my rescue.

"Hey there little birdie," I whispered. I stood on the stool and gently wrapped a gloved hand around the bird's body. I pulled just a bit, but nothing. No give at all.

"Rats." I opened the side hatch on the nest box and peered inside. The bird's beak appeared stuck somehow, so I fetched a stick and kind of tried to loosen him a bit.

I don't think the bird liked that very much, because a stream of fear pee trickled from its bum. The poor little thing was panting like mad, his eyes glazing with that glassy panic-stare. This wasn't going well.

"Hang on, sorry, okay, just one more minute," I said, reaching over to try and pull again. The bird beat its wings, aimed its rear at me, and jettisoned a ribbon of bird shit straight at my face. I screamed and fell off the step stool.

"Well, screw you bird, you're on your own!" I tossed the gloves onto the lawn. "You got your head in, you'll just have to figure out a way to pull it out again." I indignantly settled down on my lawn chair and read Rolling Stone for a bit. After another ten minutes or so, the bird popped out on his own and flew away. That or I dozed off and a hawk swooped in and gobbled him up. Either way, it was a happy ending, in my eyes.

The scene of the crime. Ominous shadows and everything...

A happier picture.

And the happiest picture of all. Look at this lovely book club that invited me to meet with them!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Donde Esta la Biblioteca?

I'm pleased to present some of my favorite lines from the weekend:

"So there was this photo of me at a party with dip on the dildo, and I'm holding it up by my face all-smiling like--" ... "Yeah, and you could see just her husband's arms in the picture, grabbing her, like, 'No000oo!!'"

"They really need better ventilation in there. It smelled like Sunday Morning Dad Bathroom."

"While you were in there changing I was just kind of looking at this Ralph Lauren ad of a guy hugging a Golden Retriever, and it really made me want to call home and talk to the dog. I mean, I really wish I could call home and talk to Daisy."

"You mean we parked at the other end of the mall? Can't you just get the car and come pick me up? Just drive it through the mall? I don't care if you hit anyone."

"I still think Sai Ram is better. That whole thing with putting the napkins on your lap? And then with the steaming washcloths after we ate? I didn't like when they got all up in my bidniss."

"Yeah, there was this one guy who had sex with her, and later he held up his hands like he was measuring a fish and said, 'And her vagina was THIS. BIG!'"

"She's a VIRGIN, not a LESBIAN!"

"No, now hear me out. You need to go to Paris when he's not there. Because if he's there, it'll all be about him. You need to just go alone and enjoy Paris."

"I don't know, I guess you just don't really want to see your old high school teacher Mr. Hopkins in fishnets and heels, right?"

"So we brought him into the bathroom of the Mexican restaurant, and wouldn't you know? He really DID have one giant ball!"

"Basically, it was photos of smiling, innocent-looking faces next to photos of those same people lifting their poop up from the toilet with chopsticks."


And this is the story of how my novels end up with so much potty language. I merely reflect my own reality. Thanks to the two lovely book clubs I met with on Thursday and Friday, thanks to the Chinese and Malaysian seamstresses who so nimbly sewed all of the new shirts I bought on Saturday, thanks to our friends W & B for their hospitality on Sunday, and thanks to our waiter at Tapas on Saturday evening, who didn't laugh when we butchered the pronunciation of everything we ordered despite the fact that I had four semesters of Spanish in college.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

More Books, and Presenting Joanne Rendell

Egads! Where did the summer go!? The bumblebees are already sluggish and there are sweaters exploding from stores at the Outlet Mall. (Yes, I finally mustered up the ambition to cross the highway to go there. But only so I could blog about it in passing.)

Since I don't have to return to work for a few weeks, I have been blissfully lost in some fabulous late-summer books. A few recent reads: The Wishbones by Tom Perrotta (a tightly-written, insightful, and damn funny book about a wedding band), inside out girl by Tish Cohen (Deb from the class of 2007, and a Target Break-Out book...an adorable, heart-warming story about a special young girl), and The Godmother by Carrie Adams (another Target pick). I'm only halfway through this one, but I love Ms. Adams' British wit and will be hunkering down with the rest of it this rainy afternoon. And because I love to plan ahead, my next batch of reading material just arrived in the mail: All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown, and The Professors' Wives Club, by Joanne Rendell.

After months of emailing back and forth ("My cover has feet on it, too!" "I'm working with that web developer, too!" "I'm kind of freaking out, too!"), I was thrilled to finally meet Jo Rendell face-to-face in San Francisco this July, and she is just as gorgeous as her photo. And she's such a sweetheart, with the loveliest British accent! I'm thinking of asking her to record my outgoing voicemail message. Or I may just adopt her. So I'm delighted that the newest GCC tour is for her debut novel, The Professors' Wives Club (NAL/Penguin; 2nd September 2008), which features four professors’ wives who risk everything to save a beloved faculty garden.

Kate Jacobs, New York Times-bestselling author of The Friday Night Knitting Club, had this to say about the book: "As an NYU alum, I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes escapades at the fictional Manhattan U. in THE PROFESSORS’ WIVES’ CLUB. Joanne Rendell has created a quick, fun read about a wonderful group of friends."

And Christina Baker Cline, author of The Way Life Should Be, said: "The four women in THE PROFESSORS’ WIVES' CLUB who risk it all in pursuit of life, love, and green space in New York City are smart, funny and real -- friends you'd want for life. Rendell doesn't shy away from tough issues, but her light touch and readable prose make this charming first novel a delight."

And by now, you know the drill. Commence with the interrogation!

1) Now that you are published, what (if anything) have you changed about your writing routine?

Procrastination features much more heavily in my writing routine these days, unfortunately. You would think that once you become a published writer you would be spurred on to keep writing and to keep on task. Alas, no. At least, not in my case. In the current climate, with book sales on the demise and author’s being expected to do the lion’s share of book promotion, authors must spend a lot of time networking online, blogging, guest blogging etc etc. Which means it’s so easy – at least for someone weak-willed like me – to get sucked into the vortex of the internet while precious writing time goes swirling down the toilet.

2) Do you listen to music while you write?

No. I’m one of those people who find it distracting. Ironically, I don’t find the honking Manhattan traffic right outside my window distracting at all. I’ve come to consider the wail of fire trucks, the blare of cab horns, and the vibrations of passing buses almost melodic.

3) Have you found that as you've developed your writing and story telling skills, you watch movies or read books 'differently?'

I’ve gone through a couple of transitions as a reader. As a kid and a teenager, I read books purely for their content; in other words, for the stories they told. Then I went on to study English Literature at college – eventually getting myself a PhD in the subject – and as a reader I came fascinated in more philosophical and critical questions about the books I read. Why have certain stories come to be told and published? How does a novel reflect or rethink the culture in which it was written? How do certain novels speak in conversation with other works of literature? I’m still interested in these questions, just as I still read for the sheer joy of the story. But now I also read as writer too. I love looking out for tricks I can steal! For example, I watch how authors transition from scene to scene, or how they use dialogue to shift pace and tone, or how they use flashback and exposition. When I am writing, I have to be in the middle of a novel too. I believe being a big reader is the only way to being a big writer.

4) What vacation would be most inspiring to you as a writer?

My family and I own a tiny ramshackle cabin in upstate New York. We can only use it in the summer months because it isn’t winterized and even then, if there’s a storm, you can often feel raindrops on your head in the bathroom! It’s kind of like camping out in a leaky wooden tent. In spite of its “rustic charms,” however, the place had been wonderful for my writing and concentration. There are trees and birds and flowers – all things I don’t see much in Manhattan and which all seem good for a writer’s soul. Most importantly, though, there’s no phone and no internet and thus I can’t slip into “I-must-snoop-at-friends-photo-albums-on-Facebook” mode whenever I’m at a tricky point in my writing. I wrote half of my second book (which comes out next summer) while at the cabin. So, in answer to your question, a trip to our little shack would probably the most inspiring vacation I could ask for.

5) What is one of your strangest / most quirky author experiences?

Making a whole bunch of friends that I have never met face-to-face. I am a member of various online writers groups and, I have to say, I have never experienced the isolated-writer syndrome that so many people speak of. The exact opposite, in fact. Since I started writing fiction, I’ve never felt like I have so many like minded and supportive friends. I’ve never met many of these people in person, but it doesn’t matter. If I’m struggling with a scene, I can shoot an email off to a friend and say, “Argh, don’t you hate it when…?” And usually, because they're a writer who constantly checks email like I do, they’ll email right back and say, “Yeah, I hate that too.”


A writer who constantly checks email...hmmm, I can't relate to that at all! Thanks so much Jo...best of luck with the release, and I can't wait to read it!!!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Sometimes I Doubt Your Commitment to Sparkle Motion!

Recently I re-watched some favorite movies: Dazed and Confused, and the film featuring the line that comprises the title to this post. (Anyone know what movie it’s from?) Also, for the first time ever, I saw High Anxiety, directed by and starring Mel Brooks. Only Christopher Guest comes close to making these kinds of movies today. And wasn’t Madeline Kahn just gorgeous and amazingly talented? So sad she’s gone.

Other tidbits from the weekend:

I visited my grandmother at her assisted living facility on Sunday. It was family day, so Sunshine the Clown was there, tying balloon animals for the kiddies who ran around leaping and shouting and collectively inspiring me to think on the ride home, “I am never doing something like this hungover EVER. AGAIN.”

At the nursing home, we noticed an omnipresent dinging doorbell. It was soft—very nearly background music—and it was endless. We ultimately concluded that it was either a) designed to notify staff if any of the residents attempt an escape through one of the official entrances or exits; or, b) the signal that someone had fallen and needed help getting off their bathroom floor. In fact, that’s exactly what my mom said as we surveyed the buffet table: “Oh, it’s probably just someone who fell down or something.”

Now let’s eat!

Speaking of eating, I had a lovely conversation with a dear friend tonight, and the subject of “mucoid plaque” came up. Go ahead, Google it! What a fantastic diet aid. Why, I don’t think I’ll be feeling hungry for days, after the photos I just saw.

PS: the real names from my previous post? Nosmo King (an inmate), and Terri Herre.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

What's in a Name?

I'm feeling a bit melancholy today. I finished my novel-in-progress last night, typing "The End" around 11:30 p.m. All of my cute little caterpillars are gone for the season, and I only have three Monarch chrysalides left. It's raining, thirty degrees colder today than it was just 48 hours ago. Officially, there are just two weeks of summer left, and then I go back to work, and the view from my office window changes from squirrels scampering amidst nodding flowers to neon signage for Slim & Chubby's bar and the Electric Beach tanning salon.

To cheer myself up, I made a list of funny names:

Cruella Stallone
Nipples McGinty (this is a variant on the old favorite, “Tits McGee”)
Pants Walton
Bob McScrotey
Aeryola Huntingdon
Jimothy O’Neil
Terri Herre
Norm Finklestein
Buela Green
Nosmo King

At least two of these are real names--care to guess which ones?

Here are some other more cheerful things to check out:

Fellow Deb (Class of '07) Mia King's follow-up to Good Things, Sweet Life, is now in bookstores everywhere. It has been chosen as a featured alternate for the Doubleday, Literary Guild, and Book of the Month Club book clubs, and I can't wait to read it. To celebrate the launch, Mia is offering readers a chance to win one of 25 “Life is Sweet” chocolate, cookie and signed books gift baskets valued at over $80 each! Just visit her website to enter.

Also, my blogging buddy Manic just told me about a contest being held over at Betty Confidential; enter to win the same flatiron styling tool Jennifer Aniston uses, or some Starbucks gift cards. You have 'til September 15 to enter. And tell 'em Jess sent you.