Posts Tagged ‘advice column mysteries’


Posted on October 18, 2016 - by

Shrinks in Books and Movies

Recently I read a book of essays called “true confessions from both sides of the therapy couch”–and this got me thinking about how I started in this writing business to begin with. And part of it was my dismay at the way shrinks have been portrayed in books and movies. Often we were shown as crazier than our patients or sleeping with our patients or merely bumbling fools… You get the idea. Two movies that come to mind are “What about Bob?” (crazier shrink than patient) and “Tin Cup” (shrink nuttier than her patient and sleeping with him too!)

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. If I put shrinks in my books, I wanted them to be complicated people with possibly difficult backgrounds, but aware of keeping boundaries and the general weight of their work. I didn’t want them to scare off readers or watchers from trying psychotherapy if they needed it. I wanted to do it right.

For that reason I loved Judd Hirsch’s gentle but firm therapist in Ordinary People. Did you believe in that breakthrough moment when Timothy Hutton, the younger brother of the dead boy, finally realized what happened the night his brother died? I sure did!

And even Tony Soprano’s psychiatrist felt real to me, though I wouldn’t have chosen to take on a mobster patient LOL. I can remember so clearly the moment when she struggled with the urge to use her patient, Tony, for revenge after she was raped, but ultimately chose not to.

Stephen White’s series featuring a clinical psychologist in Colorado was another great model for me. And Hallie Ephron’s first books, written with Don Davidoff as G. H. Ephron, were wonderful examples of a decent psychologist. (And of course that’s why we met!) I hoped that my psychologist characters, like Rebecca Butterman in Deadly Advice, would spring to life like those.
Do you notice mental health professionals in the books you read or movies you see? Which are your favorites?


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 November 8, 2014 - by

Surviving the Holidaze @LucyBurdette #recipe

Blog by Dr. Rebecca Butterman from Roberta Isleib’s (aka Lucy Burdette’s) advice column mysteries

My name is Dr. Rebecca Butterman. I’m a psychologist and I also write an advice column for the brokenhearted readers of Bloom! magazine. Family dysfunction? I know about this both professionally and personally LOL.

And don’t you find that the holiday season sometimes makes problems feel worse? Hollywood movies and Norman Rockwell paintings twist us up by having us believe that everything should be perfect for Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s and Hanukkah. The holidaze, I like to call them.  You pull together full-grown members of a family and put them in close contact for days—they are going to fall back into ugly, old patterns. I promise you that!

Even my friends at our picture-perfect church on the town green aren’t exempt from problems. I found that out recently when our minister called me at midnight to talk about the death and possible murder of another church member. Whoa! And naturally, he wants me to help figure things out.

Some people wonder how I—being a professional—handle my stress. One of my favorite distractions is cooking. It doesn’t have to be fancy, as long as it’s good old-fashioned comfort food.

Here’s my easy recipe for baked apples, which will make your house smell like you’ve scored the best of Christmas. And make your stomach happy and turn your heart in that direction, too.

This recipe serves two, but it’s easy to double or triple it up.

Ingredients:

Two of your favorite apples (I like Mcintosh or Macoun)
2 tablespoons butter
2 to 3 tablespoons rolled oats
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Half a teaspoon cinnamon

Core the apples, making sure not to cut all the way through to the bottom. In a small bowl, mix the butter, oats, sugar, and cinnamon well. Divide the mixture into two parts and stuff into the apples. Bake for about 45 minutes in a 350 oven, until the filling is crispy and bubbling, and the apples soft. You can add ice cream or whipped cream if you wish, but I find these apples are perfect by themselves.

The first advice column mystery, DEADLY ADVICE, is also available as an ebook. And Lucy Burdette’s fifth Key West mystery, DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS will be in bookstores December 2. You can preorder it now!

More breaking news! If you *forgot* to buy your ebook copy of AN APPETITE FOR MURDER, it’s on sale for $1.99 through the weekend!

Here’s the Amazon link, and here’s the link for Barnes and Noble.


Posted on September 7, 2014 - by

Deadly Advice #ebook #mystery #RobertaIsleib

LUCY BURDETTE: I have often wondered whether the mystery series I wrote before the food critic mysteries might have gotten more traction if it had been published in the era of ebooks and social media. No way to tell, of course, but the happy news is that the first book in the series, DEADLY ADVICE (written as Roberta Isleib), is now available for Kindle.

The book stars Dr. Rebecca Butterman, a clinical psychologist and advice columnist living in Connecticut. She works out of an office in New Haven (in the same building where I had my private practice,) and she explores many of the places on the Connecticut shoreline that I’ve grown to know and love.

Although this series is a little edgier than the food critic mysteries, the books are close to my heart because they draw so much from my previous career as a psychologist. In a poignant coincidence, given the terrible news two weeks ago about Robin Williams, DEADLY ADVICE opens with the mysterious suicide of Dr. Butterman’s neighbor. She feels doubly troubled about this death, thinking she should have noticed something was wrong–both as a professional and as a neighbor.

In addition to my sleuth’s background, that opening scene is also rooted in my graduate school days. During my final year, newly separated, I lived in an anonymous apartment complex with only a nodding acquaintance of the other residents. Each morning, my taciturn next-door neighbor left for work at 7:30, returning by six. Some nights she’d cook one hamburger on the grill outside her door. Medium well, I’d think, considering the time it sat on the coals. How sad, I’d think. Is that me? I’d wonder next.

One evening, I came home from the library and noticed a small U-Haul parked in front of her apartment. An older couple was loading the contents of her place into the van. Over coffee the next morning, I skimmed the newspaper as usual, and noticed a small article near the bottom of an interior page. Based on this paragraph, I realized that my neighbor had shot herself several days earlier. Her body had lain in the apartment next to mine for over forty-eight hours before someone found her.

I felt shocked and sad. Isn’t this every single woman’s worst nightmare—dead two days and no one even notices you’re gone? As you can imagine, this incident has always haunted me.

Years later, that’s where DEADLY ADVICE began. When Dr. Rebecca Butterman returns home to find her neighbor an apparent suicide, she’s wracked with guilt.  As a psychologist and advice columnist, she’s an expert! She should have been able to help the young woman. But the neighbor’s mother suspects foul play, and soon persuades Rebecca to investigate the possibility of murder.

When Rebecca Butterman is troubled, she cooks. Like Hayley Snow in the Key West mysteries, she loves to cook, to eat, and to share meals with her best women friends. But she doesn’t think so much about the meaning of food the way food critic Hayley does. She’s too busy puzzling over what makes people tick…

In honor of the launch of DEADLY ADVICE as e-book, I’m happy to share one of Dr. Butterman’s favorite recipes, beef carbonnade. She would tell you to start the dish the day before you plan to eat it so it can sit in the refrigerator overnight, allowing the flavors to blend. She would also tell you that serving this meal to sad people might make their world a tiny bit brighter.

We hope you enjoy the book and the stew!


Posted on March 25, 2011 - by

The Rich and the Dead

Each year the Mystery Writers of America puts out an anthology of stories edited by a well-known author. This year Nelson DeMille is the editor of THE RICH AND THE DEAD, due out the end of April (Grand Central.)

I (that is, Lucy’s alter-ego Roberta) was delighted to have a story included. “The Itinerary” features Detective Jack Meigs from the advice column mystery series and takes place in Key West. Last year while visiting KW, we noticed a cruise ship passenger running down the gangplank with his suitcase, baring making it onboard before the ship pulled away. Bingo–inspiration! My sister and brother-in-law and husband helped me brainstorm the bones of the story.

What if staunch Yankee Detective Meigs was forced to go on vacation in tacky, tropical Key West (his words, not mine:)? And what if he witnesses a man leaving the ship with bags when everyone else has loaded? And what if the local paper runs an article the next day about a woman missing from her boat? Bored to death by his inactivity, Meigs can’t help offering an assist to the local cops.

Here’s the opening:

Detective Jack Meigs knew he’d hate Key West the moment he was greeted off the plane by a taxi driver with a parrot on his shoulder. He hadn’t wanted to take a vacation at all, and he certainly hadn’t wanted to come to Florida, which he associated with elderly people pretending they weren’t declining. But his boss insisted, and then his sister surprised him with a nonrefundable ticket: He was screwed. A psychologist had once told him that it took a year for grief to lift, and that making major life changes during this time only complicated the process. Which was why he’d gone to work directly from the funeral, and every day in the three months since. There was no vacation from the facts: His wife Alice was dead and she wasn’t coming back.

The driver packed him into a cab that smelled like a zoo and lurched away from the curb. Then the bird let loose a stream of shit that splattered off his newspapered roost and onto Meigs’s polished black leather loafers. The cabbie hooted with laughter.

“That means good luck, man,” he said, gunning the motor and grinning like a monkey in the rear view mirror. “Mango doesn’t do that for just anybody.”

I had a blast writing this story–hope you enjoy it. THE RICH AND THE DEAD can be pre-ordered from all the usual suspects, including my local independent bookstore, RJ Julia booksellers.



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