Archive for December, 2015


Posted on December 30, 2015 - by

Advice Can Be Deadly


I’m so pleased because the third book in my advice column mystery series (written as Roberta Isleib) is finally out as an ebook! Dr. Butterman (AKA Dr. Aster), the main character in this series, including ASKING FOR MURDER, is an advice columnist. Even though I’m a psychologist and an advice column junkie, I found that writing her columns was not so easy. After cranking out three of her books, I figured out how she would describe her approach: “Most people have a pretty good idea of where they’re already headed when they ask for advice. A wise friend simply shines a flashlight on the path.”

But it didn’t come naturally to me, and I realize that other advice-giving professionals struggle too.

Dr. Phil, for example, is not one to stand by on the sidelines holding a flashlight. In 2006 while visiting Los Angeles for the “Sisters in Crime Goes to Hollywood” conference, I attended the filming of one of the shows in the doctor’s live studio audience. A pair of sisters who’d been estranged by boyfriend/husband issues fought like cats and dogs for the better part of their fifteen-minute segment. Even Dr. Phil, an expert on handling catfights, looked defeated by the end of the show. These women had come to Dr. Phil for help as a last resort, but darned if they were going to let him get a word in edgewise. After several attempts to expose the bones of the problem and redirect the sisters, he slumped on his barstool, chin in hand, and rolled his eyes at the audience—as if asking the question “where did I go wrong?”
And Dr. Butterman (aka Dr. Aster) has a very young editor who always wants the columns a little more chipper than feels right to Rebecca. Here’s a little excerpt from ASKING FOR MURDER, showing how she sometimes struggled to hit the right note too:

I used the remaining minutes of my aborted lunch hour to choose a question for my advice column and rough out an answer. I’m a clinical psychologist by day, but in the off hours, I whisk on my advice columnist cloak and write the Ask Dr. Aster column for Bloom! ezine. Sometimes the column feels downright silly; other times, profound. I love it most when it evolves into a Greek chorus of my life, that I didn’t consciously intend. 

This month, my twelve-year-old (a slight exaggeration) editor, Jillian, had asked for columns that fit the category “Bloom! In spring!” In other words, no downers, no freaking stages of grief, no miserable housewives in housecoats abandoned by their freshly-vital, chemically-driven husbands. The advice should be uplifting, encouraging, bursting with new life and new possibilities. Sigh again.

“Happy people don’t ask for advice,” I told her.


“You’ll come up with something!” she chirped back. “I’ll check in with you later in the week.” (Scroll all the way to the bottom to read the column she came up with.)

LUCY AGAIN: I read every advice column I come across, but my favorite is Philip Galanes, who writes “Social Q’s” for the New York Times Style section every Sunday. He’s funny and sensible and pulls no punches. Dr. Aster could definitely learn from him!

ASKING FOR MURDER is now available for Kindle. You can download it right here.

PS My favorite advice column fangirl moment? Our friend Pat Kennedy introduced me to Margo Howard, Ann Landers’s daughter, and a stellar columnist herself. She kept writing as she was reading DEADLY ADVICE, wondering if she’d sussed out the murderer: “I think it’s XXX. No it must be YYY.” And so on. And here was her blurb:

A really plummy mystery, flawlessly plotted, that I especially loved because the heroine is an advice columnist – and a good one! Margo Howard
“Dear Margo” on Yahoo! News and in 200 newspapers.
(Formerly “Dear Prudence”)

Dear Dr. Aster:

I volunteer at a local charity that fights mental illness.  I got involved because I believe in the cause, but I also hoped it might be a way to meet a nice guy with similar interests. (Isn’t that what you always recommend to your readers?)  The people on my committee are smart, caring, dedicated–and all married, except for one widower who’s slightly older than me though smart and attractive. Lately the married folks take every opportunity to push us together.  There’s a lot of winking and elbowing going on, and it’s very embarrassing.  He’s a nice guy, but there’s no chemistry between us—certainly not on my side!  What can I do to stop the matchmaking?  I’d hate to ditch the committee to escape the man.
Yenta’s Volunteer Victim in Vermont

Dear Yenta’s Victim:

Gold stars are in order—I do recommend exactly the path you’ve taken. But oh dear, I had not anticipated this particular roadblock. One question: does Mr. Wonderful seem to feel the same lack of chemistry that you do? If so, it might be easy enough to enlist his help in shrugging off the well-meaning nudges. However, if he appears to have feelings for you, you’ll need another tactic. How about dropping a few not-so-subtle hints about the recent social whirl your new BOYFRIEND has swept you up in?
And here’s one more thought: Since you signed your letter “Volunteer Victim,” don’t overlook your possible contribution to the drama that’s unfolded. Your fellow workers might be reacting to your subtly-sawing violin strings. Check to be sure you haven’t been moaning about your single status without being aware of it! If that’s the case, dost thou protest too much?
Keep up the good works and Happy Spring!


Posted on December 20, 2015 - by

Yummy Vegetable Gratin

This recipe was tweaked from one filed by Martha Rose Shulman in the New York Times. I made her version and then revised for my second attempt, which we modestly judged delicious. The recipe is quite flexible and can absorb about any vegetables you have lying around. You’ll notice that I added no salt, though of course some of the ingredients have sodium naturally occurring. We did not miss it! And I’m very, very fussy! I’ll list the approximate sodium content at the end for those interested. (And I have to watch sodium these days…)

For this version I used the following ingredients:

Two ears corn, kernels stripped off the cob, or frozen, 1 cup
2 to 3 cups fresh spinach
Half a green pepper diced
One small onion diced
4 to 5 okra pods, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh dill
1 tablespoon fresh basil
3 eggs
Half cup milk
2 to 3 ounces lower salt Swiss cheese
1 ounce Parmesan, grated

Preheat the oven to 350 and grease an 8 x 8″ pan well.
Sauté the onions, peppers, okra, and chopped spinach until the vegetables are tender but not overcooked. Mix in corn, dill, and basil.

In a bowl, beat the eggs and milk together. Then stir in the vegetables and the grated Swiss cheese. Scrape this mixture into the prepared pan and top with Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until sides and top are starting to brown. Let the dish sit for 10 minutes before serving with a green vegetable and salad.

(Now for the sodium count: Eggs, 62 mg per one medium egg. Spinach, 24 mg per one cup. Low sodium Swiss cheese, 4 mg per ounce. Shredded Parmesan, 85 mg per one Tbsp. Fresh okra, 411 mg per one cup-wow! One ear of corn, 262 mg. Half cup 1% milk, 53 mg.)

KILLER TAKEOUT is coming next April, but available for pre-order today!

And you can follow Lucy on Facebook,

Twitter,

Pinterest,

and Instagram!

 


Posted on December 16, 2015 - by

Key Lime Parfaits

People look at me with suspicion if I show up somewhere with a key lime dessert (and that’s with some good reason–I did off someone with a key lime pie in AN APPETITE FOR MURDER). But there’s no reason you shouldn’t have this delicious recipe, perfect for a holiday party. They will never suspect a thing…

Beep! Beep! Beep! There’s a calorie alert associated with this recipe. You should not go in with the idea (as I did) that a Key Lime Parfait would be a light dessert because  of the citrus…

With that warning out of the way, here’s the story behind the recipe. The fifth Key West mystery (DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS) features a New York chef who’s just opened a restaurant in Key West. She wants her new menu to reflect some of the tastes and history of the island, and this key lime parfait is one of the desserts she offers. So of course I had to try making one, and this is the result.

Key limes are smaller than regular limes–and here I have to tell the truth–kind of a pain to juice. John helped me and it took all the limes in a pound bag to end up with 1/2 cup of juice. (Next time, I might try the recipe with regular limes.)

INGREDIENTS

5 whole graham crackers, crushed, to make about one cup
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup key lime juice

key lime zest
2 cups whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Crush the graham crackers. (Easy way–place the graham crackers in a ziplock bag, seal the bag, and roll them to crumbs with a rolling pin.)

Mix the crumbs with the melted butter and brown sugar. Spread this on a foil-covered baking sheet and bake for ten minutes or until golden. Let this cool, then break into crumbs again.

Meanwhile, whip the cream with the powdered sugar and vanilla. (I used my food processor, which was a snap.) Set half of this aside for the topping.

Mix the condensed milk with the lime juice. The citrus will cause the milk to thicken. Gently stir in one cup of whipped cream.


Now comes the fun part, in which you layer the parts you’ve prepared. I chose wine snifters–next time I would try something taller and thinner, as these servings were BIG.

Layer in some of the baked crumbs, then some of the key lime mixture, and repeat. When you have distributed all the ingredients, top with dollops of whipped cream and sprinkle with more crumbs and some zested lime if you want a stronger flavor.

And then lean back and enjoy the compliments!  (and by way, DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS makes a Perfect Stocking Stuffer!)


Posted on December 9, 2015 - by

Killer Takeout–Coming this Spring!

 

You’ve probably heard me say on Facebook that I was working on KILLER TAKEOUT, the seventh Key West food critic mystery, coming out April 5, 2016. This book takes place during Fantasy Fest, a giant, crazy costume party running over the week leading up to Halloween.

I’ve just turned the copyedits into my brand new editor, now comes the nail-biting wait for publication. (Here’s my other editor, Yoda. He says: You’re going to make this pile of notes into a book?)

Jennifer paints John’s base coat

While I was doing the research for this, John and I participated in one of my favorite Key West events, the zombie bike ride. And where I go, of course, Hayley goes. We went to get our faces painted by a professional face painter—Hayley does too.

This is a very crazy scene—10,000 people on bikes, most of them dressed up and made up like zombies. I made the decision early in the draft that the crime should occur during the bike ride. I had no problem setting this up. The questions came later, when I was trying to figure out what kind of murderer would attempt such a thing in an enormous crowd—and how! And why?

You might think it ridiculous that someone would begin writing without those answers, but I assure you that I do it every time. And interesting to me that Nathan Bransford (former literary agent, now novelist, and yes, the namesake for Hayley’s detective heartthrob) addressed this very question in his recent blog. His advice (which thank goodness I was already stumbling through) is first to identify what you’re trying to solve, and then create some structure around it. What needs to happen before you can reach that solution? Break it all down into manageable steps and it starts to feel possible.

zombies have brains too

And here’s a bit from that scene in KILLER TAKEOUT:

We got onto our bikes and began to pedal. The crowd pressed in on either side. I dodged a wobbly elder zombie on a three-wheel bike to my left and three tricycles loaded with the Andrews sisters zombies on my right. A radio in one of their baskets played a tinny version of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. I snapped photos to the left and the right, and held my phone up to take a short video of the crowd following behind me. Two very drunk zombie girls in black dresses whose hems fluttered dangerously close to their bike spokes approached from either side of me ringing their warning bells. 

“Zombie on the left!” cried one.


“Zombie on the right!” said the other.


“Zombie down!” came another call from behind. 

Scary zombies!


“These people are having too much fun. They have to learn to pace themselves over the week,” I muttered to Connie. “You go on ahead, I think it’s safer to ride single file.” Not that I hadn’t done my share of partying back in the day, but I’d learned my lesson. There was a good reason that one of the liquor stores in town was called The Lost Weekend.


I spurted ahead of the others, staying to the right of the pack, concentrating on not getting run into the curb.


“Zombie down!” echoed a call through the crowd.


This time, the “zombie down” was not a cry of wolf. I stopped riding and spun around to see what was wrong. A zombie was splayed out on the pavement. The two tipsy girls swerved past, barely missing the figure in the road.


“Zombie down!” the shouts grew louder and more shrill as the costumed revelers passed their call up the slow-moving bicycle cavalcade to the front of the parade, like a twisted version of telephone. 


As none of the zombies around me were stopping to help, I got off my bike and crouched beside the person on the ground. Her face was painted mostly white, with patches of black and red almost the opposite of my pattern. She was dressed in a flowing white gown that made the most of her buxom figure, streaked with the requisite blood stains and red glitter. Her headdress, which looked like a Cinderella tiara, zombie-style, had been knocked off her head and scattered a foot away. I snatched up the crown so it wouldn’t get trampled and shouted over the noise around us.


“Are you all right?” I asked. “Can you get up, or should I call for help?”


She answered with a low groan. My gaze flicked over her body, her arms splayed out, her legs akimbo. So much fake blood had been painted on the costume that it was hard to tell if she was really in trouble. I took her hand, which was cool, bordering on icy. Her pulse was racing.


And then I noticed a froth of red in the corner of her mouth. This problem was no fake. 


Killer Takeout will be out on April 5, 2016, but you can pre-order it now!


Posted on December 5, 2015 - by

Anatomy of a Short Story: Last Mango in Paradise

Every once in a great while, an idea for a short story pops into my head. I don’t find these easy to write, and of course the idea has to be a perfect jewel—something that can draw the readers in quickly, not overwhelm them with characters and backstory, and get wrapped up in a short time. Ha, nothing to it! But I do have one that came out in November in the Level Best Books’ anthology, RED DAWN.

Here’s a little about how it came to be…

A couple of years ago, a friend Jack Getze, had an idea about a cat in a story. He said I could have it, as it was cozy by nature, something he would never use. I filed this away. (I know, I’m being coy but I don’t want to spoil the ending.)

And then I saw a group of women in Key West playing mah-jongg by the pool. This was already an activity that Miss Gloria loved. I could imagine that in between hands, the women would gossip about unusual events on the island. I joined the real players one morning to watch them play, to learn a bit about the game, and to take notes on the exchanges between the ladies, and the setting. Into the file went those pages.

Next, John and I went to Utah for a wedding a year and a half ago, and returned via Las Vegas. The fellow sitting next to John on the plane turned out to be a professional gambler. It was so interesting to hear him describe how he studied his competition—what he noticed and then how he used these observations in his betting. I took furious notes. And then filed them away.

And then the wonderful editors of LEVEL BEST BOOKS, who publish an anthology of crime fiction by New England writers every year, announced that this November’s issue would be their swan song. I sure wanted to get a story in that collection!

I thought of a title that I’d pitched more than once for one of the Key West mysteries: LAST MANGO IN PARADISE. Neither my editor nor the rest of the staff liked it. So now I had motive, characters, action, setting, and a title. All I had to do was write and submit. Ha!

I’m thrilled that the story was accepted and published. It features Hayley Snow, my series protagonist, and her senior citizen roommate, Miss Gloria. And here’s how it begins:

Last Mango in Paradise by Lucy Burdette

Even after Mrs. Silpat was poisoned to death in her Key West conch cottage, the mah-jongg players would not eschew refreshments. Or so insisted my geriatric houseboat-mate, Miss Gloria. If anything, she added, the shock was likely to render the ladies ravenous.

The tragedy had unfolded the week before when Miss Gloria went to pick up her friend for their regular game. Mrs. Silpat had not been her favorite friend–she wasn’t loyal. She put herself first in any situation. And anything she baked ended up tasting like sawdust or old chicken fat. All that aside, years of clacking tiles together, chatting about families scattered to the winds, and exchanging recipes, meant something important in Miss Gloria’s book.

Miss Gloria had knocked loudly several times on Mrs. Silpat’s door and finally went in without an invitation. When she found the woman collapsed in her kitchen, by all appearances dead, her first call was to me–a food critic, not a cop.

“I’m too shook up to think,” she’d said.

“Hang up and call 911 right away. I’m not in the police department, remember?” I told her gently. “I’ll take a cab over ASAP so I can drive you home.”

By the time the pink cab dropped me off in the narrow one-way street in front of Mrs. Silpat’s eyebrow-style house with gingerbread trim, two police cars with their lights flashing flanked Miss Gloria’s old Buick. A fire department EMT van had nosed into her driveway. I hurried onto the porch but was instantly repelled by a cop in polyester blue.

“My roommate’s inside,” I said. “She found her friend–”

He held up a paw the size of an oven mitt. “You need to wait out here.”

As I settled into a wood rocker, an enormous fluffy cat the color of salted caramel leaped onto the porch and wound in figure eights around my legs. Miss Gloria burst out of the house; the screen door slammed behind her.

“I’m sprung, at least for the time being. Let’s scram before they change their minds.”

The words sounded tough from an old lady who’d just lost a friend, but I could see the tremble in her lower lip. The big cat approached Miss Gloria and meowed.

“Oh, Mango,” said Miss Gloria, tears filling her eyes. She leaned over to ruffle the tufts of fur behind his ears. “I’ll have to let Miriam know he’s here. She lives nearby and she loves cats and I bet she’ll want to take him in, poor guy. And oh lordy, the other girls will be wondering if I up and croaked. Anytime I’m a little late, they think I’ve been called to the great Beyond.” She whipped out her cell phone and began texting the news of the cancellation of the game and more importantly, Mrs. Silpat’s death.

And you can buy this fabulous collection of stories on Amazon or at the Level Best Books website.



Previous
Next