Wednesday, September 24, 2008


By Roberta Isleib

When I did my GCC tour for THE SMART ONE a few weeks ago, one of my favorite questions came from author Roberta Isleib, who put my character on the analyst's couch. I loved that!

It was a natural for Roberta, who's a clinical psychologist herself. I'm happy to say that the protagonist in her new mystery, ASKING FOR MURDER, is also a therapist, which gives this book the kind of delicious layers I love.

Check out what Roberta has to say about it ...

Hi, Roberta. Please tell us about the genesis of the idea for ASKING OR MURDER.

When I wrote the first book in the advice column mysteries, I gave Dr. Rebecca Butterman, my protagonist, a friend who conducts sandplay therapy. I can't remember why--I knew virtually nothing about interpreting sand trays! So when Rebecca's friend, Annabelle Hart, became a main focus of ASKING FOR MURDER, I had to do some research. I found a wonderful therapist in New Hampshire who walked me through the theory and practice of sandplay--it's fascinating! And so much fun to try to figure out how clues to the mystery might have been placed in the sand...

Do you have a favorite character in this book? If so, why?

I love my main character Dr.Butterman. Because I was a therapist for many years, I really understand her work and the way she thinks about the people she tries to help. And I enjoy thinking about her history and personal life and how that will wind through the story. By focusing on Dr. Butterman, I can highlight my background in psychology and write about folks in that field who are competent and caring, rather than the idiotic and downright hurtful professionals you often see in movies and on TV. And it’s so much fun to write the scenes where she’s cooking some fabulous meal—my husband’s very pleased about the recipe testing I’ve had to do, too!

Is there a story behind the title of this book?

Ow, ow, you've hit a sore point! My working title for this book was LINE IN THE SAND. It related to my sandplay therapy theme and resonated like crazy with a couple of the characters and their issues.

But the editorial and marketing folks at Berkley thought it didn't sound enough like a mystery. I bet we brainstormed 40 more titles (some of them true duds) before agreeing on ASKING FOR MURDER. We all liked that one--it had a connection to my character's second career as an advice columnist and sounds mysterious.

Did you have any input on the cover, and are you happy with the finished product?

No input, but I think it’s gorgeous. The purple makes it “pop” and people love the little Zen sand tray on the cover. And the cat next door, my muse, is pleased that he made the cut again. My agent thinks I have a cover fairy—they just keep getting better, thanks to good folks at Berkley.

Can you share some particularly memorable fan mail you received about this or previous books?

One of the best parts of being an author has to be hearing from fans. How can you beat this: “WOW! Preaching to the Corpse was absolutely Wonderful! Dr. Rebecca Butterman was at her finest. I loved your writing, from the beginning to the end of the book and I really got a kick at the end when Mrs. Dunbarton got her Secret Santa Gift . What an ending! Congratulations on yet, another Great Book!”

Do you pay attention to book reviews? If so, has there been any particular review that made your heart do a little dance?

I KNOW I’m not supposed to worry about book reviews—but that’s just too hard! After I’ve spent a year, more or less, puzzling out the story, building the characters, and writing the book, I want to know what people think. I was particularly pleased that Marilyn Dahl posted a review of ASKING FOR MURDER on Shelf Awareness, an e-newsletter that goes out to a big list of bookstores. Here’s her shelf talker: “Asking for Murder is good escapist reading, a charming and sometimes gritty mystery with an appealing protagonist who sleuths, cooks and psychoanalyzes.”

What are you reading now?

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?" I just finished Dennis Lehane’s new book, ANY GIVEN DAY, which is an intense historical saga set in 1920’s Boston—not crime fiction like his other books. He is a fabulous writer. And now I’m plugging through THE TEA ROSE, by Jennifer Donnelly—another whopper of a historical saga. This was chosen by my book club and I’m enjoying it a lot more than I expected! And then I’ll go to the upcoming thriller by my favorite crime fiction writers, C.J. Box—THREE WEEKS TO SAY GOODBYE. Can’t wait for that one!

Thanks so much for answering my questions, Roberta!

To buy ASKING FOR MURDER, visit your local chain or independent bookstore. Or, to buy online, visit,, or any cyber bookseller. For more information, visit Roberta's website at

Sunday, September 14, 2008


by Joanne Rendell

I'm excited about this blog entry, and not just because I'm introducing a new interview format for my Girlfriends Cyber Ciruit posts, but because I get to tell you about a book I'm dying to read, THE PROFESSORS' WIVES' CLUB by Joanne Rendell.

To me, this looks like the kind of smart novel that's marketed as commercial women's fiction, but goes deep into the issues I love to read about. And from what I already know about the author, Joanne Rendell, I can tell it's going to capture me with its warmth and heart. Check out what she has to say ...

Joanne, how would you describe the genre of your latest book, and what pulled you toward it?

My book is considered commercial women’s fiction by the publishing industry and although commercial women’s fiction is rarely a subject of academic study, I’d say it was my PhD in English Literature which got me writing in the genre.

In grad school, I read literary fiction and poetry by day, and at night – or on flights to conferences and vacations – I’d always read books by writers such as Jennifer Weiner, Helen Fielding, and Emily Giffin. These books weren’t just escapism. I also loved that they were by women, for women, and contained within them wonderful stories about female characters eventually finding self-worth, independence, and happiness. Thanks to my graduate training in literary theory and feminism, I also understood the sexism and elitism of those book reviewers who too often dismiss today’s popular women’s fiction as “trash” or “fluff.” I also understood that books by women, for women, and about women have always been demeaned in this way (even Austen was in her time) and its something we have to fight against!

It was only when I finished my graduate studies and moved to the US to be with my husband and to have my son that I realized I could try writing one of these books – as well as just reading them and ardently defending them!

What can you tell us about the genesis of the idea for this book?

I found my inspiration for my book at the bottom of a large glass of wine! I was out with one of my girlfriends who, like me, is a professor’s wife, and after our usual catch-up, the cabernet began to flow and we found ourselves gossiping about other faculty wives. We talked about a wife planning a boob job; another pregnant with her fifth child. The best piece of gossip came last, however: a professor’s wife who’d just run off with one of her husband’s grad students. The very next morning I started to hammer out my first ideas for the novel. As I typed, the more I realized what intriguing characters professors’ wives would make. Even if they aren’t professors themselves (which many are), most professors’ wives are deeply connected and invested in the university where their husband or partner works. Like my friend and me, they live in faculty housing, they go to the campus gym, often their kids go to the same daycare. Yet these women often have little power when it comes to
university decisions.

I liked the idea of pitting these seemingly powerless women against a dean who in his little kingdom of the university has so much power.

What do you love most about THE PROFESSORS' WIVES' CLUB?

The underlying theme of the book is about standing up for what your believe in, and the power of friendship to help you stand up for those things. The women in The Professors' Wives' Club stand up for a garden they love and, in their fight with the dean and through the friendship that forms between them, they also find the courage to stand up for their lives and their dreams. I love a good tale about the strength and power of women - women who are friends and comrades and who can take on the world if needs be!

Is there a story behind the title?

I actually came up with the title for the book that night I was out with my friend. Just a few weeks later, I mentioned the title to my agent, almost as an aside, and she looked me dead in the eye and said “Write it, it will sell!” So I abandoned the project I had been working on (and the project which got me the agent in the first place) and started writing the book. My lovely agent read drafts and advised me along the way. Then, when it was done she sent it out to editors. Two publishers were interested in the book and there was an auction, which was all very exciting (especially because I was visiting family in Europe at the time and was therefore getting flurries of phone calls in the middle of the night!) The Professors’ Wives' Club sold to New American Library/Penguin in the end.

Did you have any input on the cover, and are you happy with the finished product?

I had no input whatsoever and I adore the cover!

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Karen White’s The Memory of Water and on my ipod I’m listening to Diana Appleyard’s Too Beautiful to Dance. I’m loving them both. Your own book is next in the pile! I can't wait to get stuck into it.

Thanks so much, Joanne! It was a pleasure.

To buy THE PROFESSORS' WIVES' CLUB, visit your local chain or independent bookstore. To purchase online, visit,, or any cyber bookseller. For more information, visit Joanne's website at

The New SiteMeter: Chimps at the helm?

SiteMeter heralds the re-launch of their site with the words, "We’ve done it!" And indeed they have. Alas, what they've done is obliterate everything that was good and useful about their service.

Who's running this company? Chimpanzees? This has got to be the most ill-conceived re-launch since the New Coke.

I predict they'll lose at least seventy-five percent of their paying customers. Idiots.

I'm looking for an alternative, and signed up with StatCounter, which is not quite as good as the old SiterMeter (but superior to the new one). Does anyone have another company to recommend? seems good, but their terms and conditions look fishy and I'm afraid to sign up. Can't find any real info about them online, which makes me even more suspicious. Appreciate any info ...

Friday, September 12, 2008


My eyes are red. They itch. They hurt. I'm an allergic mess. Even my eye doctor said to me, "God, you look terrible." But instead of ranting about the fight I'm having with my insurance company to get my antihistamine eye-drops covered, I've decided to write that I imagine took place in the corporate conference room of ANTHEM BLUE CROSS BLUE SHIELD that put me in his jam ...

CEO: Jenkins here has a proposal for us on how we can increase profits this year.

OVERPAID SYCOPHANT: Why do we need to increase profits? We're already up fifty percent from last year.

CFO: Last week we voted to increase our bonuses by seventy-five percent, so we're actually in the hole.

OP: I see. Then it makes sense.

CEO: Jenkins?

JENKINS: A careful review of claims paid on prescription medications last year shows that several hundred people got approved for antihistamine eye-drops, which cost about a hundred dollars a bottle and last roughly three months.

OP: So it's about $33 a month?

JENKINS: That's right.

OP: And how much does the average claimant pay us every month?

JENKINS: The family plans are about $1,800 a month.

OP: So we're making a ton.

CFO: Pay attention, boy.

JENKINS: As I was saying, if we deny all these claims, our revenue increases substantially.

OP: I'm sorry. I'm not getting this. How can we justify denying the claims?

JENKINS: We issue a statement that we strongly recommend the use of over-the-counter eye drops for this condition. Of course, since we don't cover any over-the-counter meds, it costs us nothing.

OP: Do the over-the-counter drops work?

JENKINS: Mm ... no.

OP: Not at all?

JENKINS: Well, they work at least as well as plain water, so that's a plus.

OP: How can we get away with that?

CEO: Actually we can't, but we can create such massive obstacles almost no one will be able to figure out how to file. Is that right, Jenkins?

JENKINS: On the nose, boss. Here's how it works. When a pharmacy calls to find out if the eye-drops are covered, we don't say yes or no. We simply say, "Anthem recommends the use of over-the-counter medication for this condition." About fifty percent of all pharmacists will take this at face value and break the news to the customer, who will either buy the over-the-counter drops ...

OP: Which don't work?

JENKINS: (continues) Or decide to pay the full price for the prescription with their own money.

CFO: And the other fifty percent?

JENKINS: The other fifty percent will call us.

OP: And then we'll approve?

(Laughter all around the table.)

JENKINS: Hardly. Our operators will be instructed to tell the pharmacist that the claimant has to phone us directly to get an override.

(More laughter.)

OP: What's so funny?

CEO: There is no such thing as an override!

JENKINS: That's right. But again, about fifty percent of the claimants who call will hang up in disgust before finding that out, because we'll keep them on hold for twenty-five minutes.

CFO: Is that long enough?

JENKINS: Usually. Those who hang on for the full time will be told their doctor has to call.

CEO: Brilliant!

JENKINS: But wait. It gets better. The doctor has to call a special division at Anthem called the Prior Authorization Unit.

CFO: Prior Authorization Unit? I don't know, Jenkins. How much would it cost to set up something like that?

JENKINS: That's the beauty part. All calls to the Prior Authorization Unit will be routed to Tina in accounting.

OP: Who's Tina?

CFO: She's the redhead who works for the brunette who works for Bob, Jack Greed's assistant.

CEO: No she's not. She's the blonde who sits behind the redhead.

JENKINS: Actually, she's the girl who sits next to the blonde who sits behind the redhead who works for the brunette who works for Jack Greed's assistant, Bob.

OP: And what will Tina say when she fields these calls from the eye doctors?

JENKINS: We doubt anyone will ever get that far.

OP: But if they do?

JENKINS: They'll be put on hold.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Big Announcement

Since the article appears in the current issue of Publishers Weekly, I guess it's time to let the cat out of the bag ...

My third book was sold at auction to a wonderful editor at Putnam. This is huge for me and I couldn't be more thrilled!

Here's the text as it appears in the above article:

by Matthew Thornton -- Publishers Weekly, 9/8/2008

Meister to Putnam

Putnam's Rachel Kahan won North American rights to a new novel by Ellen Meister in an auction conducted by Andrea Cirillo at Jane Rotrosen. The book, The Silver Line, tells the story of a suburban mom expecting her second child who discovers that she might be able to slip through a wrinkle in time and return to her single life. When a routine sonogram reveals unexpected problems, her grief lures her to escape to the life that might have been—in which she discovers that she's stayed with her neurotic ex-boyfriend, and that her mother, who committed suicide several years before, is very much alive. Meister's previous books, The Smart One and Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA, were published by Morrow; Putnam will publish the new book in 2010, with a Berkley paperback to follow.

Just to clarify, the book was sold based on a proposal, which means I now have to write the darned thing. Back to work ...

Monday, September 01, 2008

Tuesday Roundup

The original title of this post was Monday Roundup, which shows you how long it took me to get my act together. But okay, here are some odds and ends ...

* Blogger Dawn is giving away a fab gift bag in honor of THE SMART ONE over at her book review site, SheIsTooFondOfBooks. To enter, you just have to leave a comment. Check it out!

* I wrapped up my tour with Blog Stop Book Tours with a Q&A with readers. Click here to see.

* All summer long I've been meaning to blog about N.M. Kelby's MURDER AT THE BAD GIRL'S BAR AND GRILL, because I loved it and want everyone to know about this smart funny book. Now that the kids are back at school and things are settling down with publicity for THE SMART ONE, I hope I can stop stomping out fires long enough to actually do it.

* Today is the first day of the school year for us. My boys are less than thrilled, but my daughter ran to the bus stop singing, and then did a little involuntary jump for joy when the bus pulled up.

* So glad Gustav lost some of its fury and New Orleans was spared another Katrina. But thoughts and prayers to everyone in the destructive path of this beast.

* Speaking of Gustav, we took the family to the beach yesterday and there was enough residual storm power even here on the East Coast to effectively shut down the beach. We tried to wait it out, but the biting green flies were picnicking on our ankles and drove us away. Ouch.

* I recently finished reading Sara Gruen's WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (very arresting) and Michael Palmer's FATAL (astounding). Right now I'm reading Louise Erdrich's THE MASTER BUTCHER'S SINGING CLUB, which has me in its grips. The only thing these books have in common is that none of them is brand new. Though the next one in my reading pile, Bonnie Glover's GOING DOWN SOUTH, came out this summer.

* In addition to the failed beach excursion, our holiday weekend included a wonderful barbecue at a friend's house, and a fun family barbecue at our house. (I'm one of those lucky wives who actually enjoys spending time with her husband's family.) What did you do for the weekend?