Roberta Isleib is president of Sisters in Crime and author of several mystery novels. She is at present touring the blogosphere to promote the release of her latest book, Preaching to the Corpse.
Why don't you start by telling us a bit about your book, and what inspired you to write such a story?
Preaching to the Corpse is the second in my advice column mystery series published by Berkley Prime Crime. Deadly Advice came out this past March and introduced my protagonist, psychologist and advice columnist Dr. Rebecca Butterman. She becomes a reluctant amateur sleuth when her neighbor is found dead, an apparent suicide.
In Preaching to the Corpse, Dr. Butterman's minister is charged with murder. Asked to join the search committee to hire a new minister, she uncovers cutthroat church politics rather than the joys of the season. It seems that "thou shalt not kill" has been qualified: "…unless thou art eliminating the competition."
How did I come up with the idea? I was sitting in the meeting of a committee charged with hiring a new associate pastor and my mind started to wander. What if one of the committee members turned up dead? I wondered. It sounds morbid, I know, but that's how mystery writers find their stories! This book is what some folks might call a "malice domestic." In other words, the characters know each other well and the murderer will be found within this circle.
How would you describe your creative process while writing this novel? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline? How long did it take you to write it?
My publisher requires an outline in order to sign the contract and send the check. That said, no one has ever complained if the finished product strays from the original story. I'm realizing that I'm able to write faster if I know a fair amount about the story before I start. But there is also a lot I can't know until I'm into the writing.
I had about eight months to write this book–the shortest amount of time yet over eight novels. It was really faster than I would have preferred. I actually developed some tendonitis!
Have you ever suffered from writer's block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?
As I begin a book, I look ahead to the due date and figure out how many pages I will need to write each week in order to hand it in on time. I build in time for trips and family and time for my writers group to read and critique, and then time for me to rewrite. Then I have a page goal for each week. I write until I've hit the goal, sometimes even getting a little ahead. For practical purposes, I do write most days. And mostly in the morning, saving the promotion and other "easier" work for when I'm less alert!
If I really get stuck on a plot point, I find it most helpful to brainstorm — either with my husband or one of a couple of trusted writing buddies.
How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?
When I started writing and then trying to get published, I knew no one in the business. So I studied books about finding an agent and began sending out cold queries to those I thought had similar interests. It took me about 18 months to find someone to represent me. It would have been a lot easier if I'd had a network of writers in place first. These days, it's also easier and faster to be able to research agents and query them online than it was even eight years ago. I have listed a lot of advice and writing/publishing links on my website.
This year I'm serving as president of Sisters in Crime international, a wonderful organization founded by Sara Paretsky to support women mystery writers. So check it out if you write in that genre.
Other advice: hone your craft first and foremost. The business is so competitive that you shoot yourself in the foot if you're not sending out polished work. Hire an editor, join a writing group, make your book the best it can be before trying to sell it.
What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?
The biggest arrow in my quiver would have to be my website. I've had a lot of fun designing the site and adding material over the last few years. (My first book, Six Strokes Under, was published in 2002.) Besides information about my books and me, I've included articles and links about writing and getting published and many links on psychology and advice. I also have a virtual press kit with downloadable author photos, book covers, and press releases, and I post sample chapters and reviews. I participate in a number of mystery-related listserv groups that I use to spread the word when I have a new book out. I search out as many potential review sites as possible and offer them a copy of each book. And I've started the requisite blog.
What is your favorite book of all time? Why?
Probably Gone With The Wind, which is funny because I read very little historical fiction these days. But I loved the long treacherous story, the angst of the characters, the spunky heroine dressed in curtains. I would take it to school with me and hide it in my textbook. I'd love to have readers feel that way about my books — transported to another world that they are loathe to leave.
Do you have another novel on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
I have just finished and mailed off the third book in the Rebecca Butterman advice column series. The working title is Line In The Sand, though I have a feeling that will change. Rebecca's good friend, a social worker who does sand tray therapy, is found beaten and left for dead. She searches for clues in the sand trays to track a would-be killer. The book should be out next September.