When we last left Jan Melnik…she was an Amazon quarter-finalist

 
We’re catching up with Jan Melnik, who let us in on the backstage thoughts and fears of an author entering Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award contest. When we last saw her, she had made it (along with 99 others) into the quarter-finals, meaning that she had triumphed over 9,900 other would-be winners, and was awaiting (sadly, with the flu) the final results.
Click here for part one of her story.
Would she win?
Here she is, to wrap up the story:

The five weeks stretching from Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award contest quarter-finalists’ announcement to the much-anticipated release of those advancing to the semi-finals seemed far longer than just 35 days. As most quarter-finalists in the running admitted on the increasingly active discussion boards, the closer it got to the announcement date of April 16, the more difficult it was to concentrate on any meaningful work. Being a first-time participant in the process, I naively figured nothing would be known until Tuesday at noon. The two previous notifications from Amazon had occurred between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Eastern. While I thought I might have a little difficulty sleeping Monday night, I wasn’t prepared to also lose sleep on Sunday night. 

But early into Sunday evening, the discussion board started popping with posts from writers: “PWs are in!” Most everyone remaining in the contest at this point (me and some 99 other happy campers who’d advanced this far) had pre-consoled ourselves with the idea that “no matter what the outcome of the contest is, we’re thrilled to be getting reviews from Publishers Weekly.” That was the prize offered by Amazon to all quarter-finalists.

So the refresh buttons on probably 100 laptops around the globe (many participants were from countries other than the United States) were nearly worn out as we eagerly watched for our individual Publishers Weekly reviews to be uploaded. And that exercise continued into Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday… Thursday! Whether a glitch or just somewhat sloppy administration, Publishers Weekly reviews appeared without any logical pattern to populate writers’ accounts intermittently and incredibly slowly over the next four days. Meanwhile, Amazon promptly announced the five semi-finalists, as promised, on April 16. Disappointingly (for me), “Telling Tales: On Merlin’s Island” did not make this cut.

I wasn’t to receive my review, though, until Thursday, which–at that point–was certainly anticlimactic. The majority of the 95 authors not advancing in the semi-finals shared their misery on the discussion boards, many of us slightly jaundiced in our belief that the attention given to the writing of our individual reviews might, in some way, be lacking–given the absence of any incentive to make it glowing (we authors learned that PW had paid its ad hoc reviewers a total of $400 to read ten book-length manuscripts in less than 30 days… some of the skeptical among us questioned the impetus a reviewer might have to write a great review knowing that the manuscript being judged had already ‘lost’ the contest). 

That skepticism was rewarded for many of us. When my own review finally posted on Thursday, I’d prepared myself (I thought) not to hope for too much–“just a pull quote or two” I could use in agent-shopping and publisher-marketing. That was not to be (as one of my kids would write here: sad face). Unless I decide to take the novel in a really different direction, the only possibly language I could extract from the review that read remotely positively was: “The sex scenes are thoroughly and competently written and Nicole’s character comes to life.” As a fellow writer penned about her own negative review, “Ouch.”

Alas, this was an incredible journey for this fledgling novelist and all is certainly not lost. I did receive many positive reviews on Amazon’s site those five weeks my novel excerpt was posted for the world to see. Amazon’s own Vine critics gave my book outstanding reviews. And interspersed among some of the more painful PW feedback were actionable clauses that I’ll heed seriously as I bring out my red pen (and X-ACTO knife) in a pursuit to polish “Telling Tales” for its next journey.
There’s editing work to be done, networking activities to begin in a quest for an agent, and a new novel ready to spill forth on my laptop. And if next January finds me with “Telling Tales: On Merlin’s Island” still without a publishing berth, I’ll happily resubmit the by-then new-and-improved manuscript to the 2014 ABNAs, a wiser, more savvy contestant. Stay tuned…
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Lucy Burdette/Roberta Isleib cooks up a mystery series to die for

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We here at Books New Haven LOVE the work of Roberta Isleib, a mystery writer who’s given us several intriguing series–along with some midnights when we simply could not turn out the light and go to sleep, for fear of not knowing what was going to happen next.

And we’re delighted that she’s launching her new book, TOPPED CHEF, at R. J. Julia Booksellers at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 8.

Isleib’s first mystery series included 5 books featuring Cassie Burdette, an aspiring golf professional. Then, her Advice Column series featured Rebecca Butterman, a fictional psychologist who lived in Guilford with a private practice in New Haven. And now, writing as Lucy Burdette, she’s writing the Key West food critic mystery series. (Being a food critic can be dangerous work, you know!)

Isleib’s books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She is a past-president of Sisters in Crime, a national organization founded to support women crime fiction writers. The Florida Book Review has said “in a crowded cozy market, Lucy Burdette’s Key West Food Critic series stands out among its peers.”

roberta isleib

Tell us about your new book:

TOPPED CHEF (written as Lucy Burdette) is the third installment in my Key West food critic mystery series. The books feature Hayley Snow, an aspiring food critic and amateur sleuth living in America’s southernmost island paradise.

In TOPPED CHEF, Hayley is tapped as a judge on a reality TV cooking show. Stakes are high because the winner is slated to become the next cooking superstar. When another judge turns up murdered, Hayley must figure out who’s taking the contest too seriously before she becomes the next victim.

What kinds of research do you have to do for this series?

I have to do a lot of eating, of course. 🙂

Besides that, writing without actually seeing the scene of the crime has gotten harder. An important part of my process is visiting the setting, either before or while developing the story. When I see what’s there, the ideas start to flood in.

For example, as I’m walking and biking around Key West, I notice that homeless people are everywhere, including perched on the stone walls around Mallory Square watching the performers and the tourists. After all, if you had to spend your nights outdoors, you might choose the tropics too. And I think about how they blend into the scenery, but probably notice all kinds of things that visitors wouldn’t see. And so Turtle, the homeless guy, becomes a character. One cool night, after the crowds have thinned down at the Old Town Harbor, he notices two men arguing. When a man is found hung in a sailboat’s rigging later, he doesn’t connect the dots. Or maybe he does, but he would never voluntarily go to the police with this information. But Hayley might worm it out of him. Or a bad guy might realize he knows more than he should and bad things ensue.

And then there are names and characters given to me that I can’t refuse. For instance, last year I offered an auction item to benefit the Waterfront Playhouse–naming rights to a character in TOPPED CHEF. The man who won the auction sent me a photo and bio of the character he wanted me to include–Randy Thompson, an actual drag queen who performs at the Aqua bar on Duval Street as Victoria. I didn’t have the heart to explain that I’d offered naming rights, not character development rights. So I took the real Randy to lunch to chat about the psychology of drag queens and watched him (her) perform a few times, and expanded the character from those points. And then I decided what the heck, and threw Peter Shapiro, the man who’d bought the character, into the mix too.

What’s next for you and Lucy?
I’ve just signed a contract for the next two books in the Key West series; MURDER WITH GANACHE is scheduled for a February 2014 release. I’m delighted because I love writing these books!

Don’t forget: Isleib/Burdette will appear at RJ Julia’s Booksellers on May 8 at 7 pm to launch TOPPED CHEF. Call 203-245-3959 to reserve a seat.