Lucy Burdette/Roberta Isleib cooks up a mystery series to die for


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.

Lucy Burdette (aka our own Roberta Isleib) reveals the secret of where books come from

Ohhh, Luuuucy!

(That’s our best Desi impression, and it’s appropriate here because Lucy Burdette, who is in real life our own successful mystery writer Roberta Isleib, has written a delectable, delicious brand new book, and it’s out now–and she’s coming to R. J. Julia Booksellers on Wednesday, Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. to read from it.)
She’s here on Books New Haven to tell us the real mystery behind her mysteries: how does she think them up? That is, after all, what everybody always wants to know from authors: where do ideas come from? And Roberta/Lucy has a wonderful answer:


How a Book Might Get Written by Lucy Burdette


Though it’s hard for me to believe, my tenth book, a Key West food critic mystery called DEATH IN FOUR COURSES, has hit bookshelves this week. Lots of new writers, and people who don’t write, and even those who do but who imagine that someone must know an easier way, ask me about my writing process. Though it’s an ugly, tortured path, I did think of a couple of things that dependably move my stories forward.

The first is no revelation: Plant butt in chair and write. Remain there until I hit my predetermined word count. Lately I’ve been trying for around a thousand words a day. If it takes two hours to write those words, then YAY!, I have time to do other things that all sounded more appealing as I fended them off while writing. On the more painful days, especially when I don’t know where I’m headed with the story, it might take seven or eight hours because I’ve checked my gmail inbox every five minutes. And then remembered there must be some urgent laundry to do or the dog needs walking or I can’t go one more minute without organizing that messy kitchen drawer. But I try to stick with it and to ignore the voices in my head telling me this is the worst dreck I’ve ever written. Because I know I can always (almost) fix it later. As my good friend Hallie Ephron famously tells her students: “Hold your nose and write!”

The second important part of my process is visiting the scene of the crime, either before or while developing the story. (And I’d be the first to admit, this is no hardship when it comes to Key West.)

Could this be “Marvin” with Lucy Burdette?

A research outing might go like this: As I’m wandering through the crowds at the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square on the Key West harbor, I spot a tarot card reader set up at a card table, wearing a deep blue turban with an enormous teardrop rhinestone bisecting his forehead. My mind begins to spin. What if my protagonist, aspiring food critic Hayley Snow, is addicted to having her cards read because she’s insecure about making her own decisions? And what if her tarot reader sees a card scary enough that even he gets rattled? And what if Hayley uses what she thinks she sees in his reactions to dig herself into deeper trouble? And so Marvin the card reader is born as a character. Only then one of my pals says ‘who’d go to a psychic named Marvin?’ So I change his name to Lorenzo, but later he admits that he grew up as Marvin but who’d want their cards read by a guy with that name?

Then, 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, is born into the story. One cool night once the crowds have thinned down at the Old Town Harbor, he notices two men arguing. When there is a man 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.

And then suppose, while I’m attending the Key West Literary Seminar on food writing, that I get the idea that the keynote speaker for my fictional writing conference threatens to tell everyone’s secrets. Because secrets are caustic. Hmmm, how many people would kill to protect their interests?

So with those ideas and story fragments, I go back to my desk and apply seat to chair again.

Isn’t it a miracle that books get written as often as they do?


Lucy Burdette is the author of the Key West food critic mysteries, most recently DEATH IN FOUR COURSES. She also wrote 8 mysteries as Roberta Isleib. You are invited to follow her on twitter ( or facebook ( or check out her website (  where the artwork is gorgeous and the recipes to die for.


Luanne Rice reads from her 30th novel at R. J. Julia

Luanne Rice was once in an abusive relationship--and now in her thirtieth novel (yes, that's 3-0), Little Night, she writes about a character who needs to be saved from abuse.

Here's the starred review from Publisher's Weekly:
After bludgeoning her sister’s abusive husband with a burnt log, Clare Burke is whisked away to jail in the dramatic opening of Rice’s 30th novel (after Secrets of Paris). Based on Anne’s false testimony in defense of her husband, Clare serves two years for assault, the sisters become estranged, and the story picks up 18 years later in 2011 in New York City, where Clare is a blogger and birdwatcher. Though she’s never fully recovered from the trauma of her sister’s betrayal, Clare desperately wants to reconnect with Anne, who has since cut all ties with her family at the behest of her manipulative husband. But when Anne’s 21-year-old daughter, Grit, shows up on Clare’s doorstep seeking a family that loves her, Clare and her niece bond, though the subject of their common tie—Anne—is never far from either of their minds. The two support one another as they attempt to create a relationship and reconnect with the woman who hurt them. Poetic and stirring, Rice’s latest beautifully combines her love of nature and the power of family.

Want to meet Luanne Rice and hear her read from her book? Don't miss this chance to talk to one of Connecticut's most beloved and prolific writers.

She'll be at R. J. Julia TONIGHT (Friday, June 8) at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5, but can be put toward the purchase of the book. Call (203) 245-3959 to reserve your seat.

Beatriz Williams’ debut novel is suspenseful, romantic, sexy and even has some very plausible time travel

Debut novelist Beatriz Williams says she has been hiding her fiction writing for years.  A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz spent several years in New York and London, writing on company laptops as a corporate and communications strategy consultant. Now, as the “at-home producer of small persons,” (four, to be exact) she’s written a first novel that has gotten dazzling reviews.

She now lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore, where she divides her time between writing and laundry.

You can visit her online at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter at @bcwilliamsbooks. Or come to see her at R. J. Julia on May 24 at 7 p.m.

Library Journal gave it a starred review and wrote, “Outstanding…With a complicated romance, intriguing suspense, a dashing hero, a feisty heroine, and a fantastic but plausible time-travel explanation, this book will hit the mark for readers wanting something exceptional for their summer reading.” And Publishers Weekly also gave it a starred review and called it a “a delicious story about the ultimate romantic fantasy: love that not only triumphs over time and common sense, but, once Kate overcomes Julian’s WWI-era ideas about honor, includes mind-blowing sex.”

We at Books New Haven are delighted to welcome Beatriz to our pages.

Q: Tell us about your new book.

A: Overseas is a sweeping love story, alternating between France during the First World War and contemporary Manhattan during the financial crisis, in which a young woman unravels the mystery of a dashing British infantry officer who seems to have known – and loved – her before.


Q: Where did the germ of the story come from? How did you first know you were going to write this story?

A: I’ve been obsessed with the Downton Abbey-eque world of the First World War, and the carnage it wreaked on Western culture and psychology, for most of my adult life. At one point a few years ago, an image pepped into my head of a brilliant young man, an officer in the mold of Roland Leighton and Rupert Brooke, walking the streets of modern Manhattan. I couldn’t seem to get him out of my mind – the story kept building and evolving, until at last I knew I had to get it down on paper.


Q: Did this book come to you easily, or did you have to wrestle it to the ground once or twice? Did you ever give up on it?

A: Well, I certainly didn’t welcome that first idea! I’ve always been drawn to historical fiction and never even attempted a modern setting, but Julian Ashford was just so intriguing to me, a man of the Romantic period dealing with all the irony and cynicism of the modern world, that he won me over. I knew this had to be a love story – the setting and Julian himself seemed to beg for it – so I set about creating the most rich and compelling love story I could. Once the pieces all clicked into place, about a year and a half after the initial idea, I sat down and the words just poured out.


Q: Are you a “pantser” (writing by the seat of your pants, discovering the story as you go along), or do you have the entire plot outlined before you begin? Or something in between?

A: I used to be something of a pantser, with only a basic outline in mind, but writing Overseas really transformed my process. Not that I’ll ever have every scene worked out before I begin – so much inspiration hits in a serendipitous way, when you’re immersed in the story—but I’ve learned to let a good idea cook for a while, until I know all the major turning points, all the key moments, and then I sit down and write like a fury. It’s an incredibly exhilarating, exhausting, and rewarding experience.


Q: How do you get yourself to write when you don’t feel inspired? Is there anything that can bring that mood, or voice, back to you?

A: As a mother of four young children, I don’t have the luxury of waiting for my muse to visit! Nothing gets you out of a writing rut like hard, disciplined writing, so I go somewhere where I don’t have any distractions. I turn off the wifi, sit myself down with a cup of coffee, and make my fingers move. The first few paragraphs can be rough going, but then I’m immersed in the world and the words just flow.


Q: What’s your process of revision? Do you have readers who give you advice? At what point do you enlist their aid?

A: I’ve always been a fairly solitary writer – I think it comes from being a perfectionist, not wanting to show my work off until it’s as close to perfect as I can make it. I have enough experience now to know when something’s drastically wrong before I get too far, so the rest is just a matter of closing up plot holes, inspecting each sentence, polishing and polishing. I never stop polishing, even at the page proof stage, which drives my editor crazy! I have a wonderful collaborative relationship with my agent, who vets my ideas and helps me out when I’m stuck, and then it’s up to my editor and proofreaders to make sure I don’t publicly embarrass myself.


Q: Readers tend to think that everything authors write is autobiographical. How do you handle those sorts of questions—people assuming that everything in your book really happened to you?

A: Hoo, boy! It’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s especially true when you’re writing in the first person; I think non-writers don’t always understand how you can completely inhabit another person’s skin as you’re creating a story. Now, I’m not denying that I frequently rely on my own experiences and passions when writing; that’s part of the process of creation, that everything’s filtered through the author’s frame of reference. When I was writing Overseas, I was so absorbed in the story that I didn’t want to stop and research new industries, locations, and forms of exercise, so I placed my characters on Wall Street, made Kate a runner, and set part of the book in Lyme. But while we do share certain characteristics, I’ve always experienced Kate as her own person, as a like-minded friend or a sister who happens to be channeling her story through me. Of course, try convincing others!


Q: Have you ever written a character who’s close to someone you know, and have you worried that that person will be furious with you?

A: I know we’re all tired of authors saying that their characters are composites, but it really is true! There’s only one secondary character in Overseas who’s genuinely based on a single real-life acquaintance, and since I’ve only met that person once, I think I’m safe. I do frequently borrow bits and pieces of real-life conversations and events, though, so I’m more worried that someone will read a sentence and think, “Oh, this character’s supposed to be me!” when that’s not the case at all.


Q: Have you ever gotten up in the middle of the night to write a scene that simply will not let you rest?

A: Absolutely not! Now that my kids are a little older, nothing gets me out of bed once my head hits the pillow. But I will lie awake thinking about a scene, and so far I haven’t lost anything by morning.


Q: Do you procrastinate? What’s your favorite mode of procrastination when you’re supposed to be writing?

A: Housework. And I hate housework! But when you’re stuck on a scene, that pile of unfolded laundry can look surprisingly inviting, which is why I try to get myself out of the house for a few hours each day to write.


Q: What about being a writer has made you truly happy?

A:  I love the fact that I can get paid to do the one thing I’ve ever really wanted to do for a living. I finish a manuscript now, and I’m filled with that exuberant buzz of creativity, and I think about how lucky I am that this is my job. Best of all, it’s something I can do as a full-time, hands-on mother of four. I never have to feel guilty that I’m not giving both sides of my life my full attention.


Q: What do you tell people who want to be writers, too?

A: Persistence, persistence, and humility. Never make the mistake of thinking you know your craft perfectly, or that your book can’t be improved. Read widely and deeply, write every day if you can, and remember that good storytelling is at least as important as good writing.


Guilford couple bringing Southern Italy right to our tables! (Pizza is involved.)

Think of foods truly Italian…the freshest olive oil, the ripest tomatoes, handmade pasta.
Okay, now that you’re salivating, think of that in your very own kitchen!
Matthew Scialabba and Melissa Pellegrino, a Guilford husband-and-wife team, bring the real Southern Italy to your kitchen, with true organic Italian cuisine.

They truly know their stuff, too. They have traveled throughout Italy, taking part in over 30 agriturismi (that means working farms that provide room and board in exchange for work harvesting and cooking) in central and southern Italy, where the cuisine served has the same fresh-farm values found in the United States and beyond. They came back from their travels and wrote a book called The Italian Farmer’s Table, which was published in 2009 and contained recipes and stories from their adventures in northern Italy.

Now they have not only opened their own restaurant, Bufalina Wood Fired Pizza, in Guilford, which represents the culmination of all they’ve learned, but they’ve written a new book, The Southern Italian Farmer’s Table, a sumptuously illustrated cookbook featuring 150 authentic recipes from central and southern Italy.

This cooking and writing couple met while living in Italy. Their shared passion for Italian food and culture led them on many culinary journeys, including apprenticeships at a Roman bakery, studying winemaking at a Ligurian vineyard, graduating from professional culinary schools in Manhattan and Florence, and of course their work at the Italian agriturismi. In addition to making authentic Italian pizza, they keep their recipe and writing skills sharp with frequent contributions to Cucina Italiana and Fine Cooking Magazine.

Visit them at their website at

Read a story about them and their delicious marriage from Nov. 23, 2009, in the New Haven Register by clicking here.

And then go to meet them. They’ll be reading and talking about their new book at R. J. Julia, 768 Boston Post Road in Madison, at 7 p.m. on May 21st. This event ticket is $5.00 and can be used towards the purchase of the book.

Please call the store at 203-245-3959,or click here to reserve your seat.

Just like at their restaurant, be sure to reserve your seat now as this event is already filling up fast!

Can any of this be true? Jack Hitt celebrates the amateurs among us

You might say that Jack Hitt loves the crackpots, the people out tinkering in their garages coming up with an invention that just may someday knock the ordinary world right off its axis out of sheer amazement. And now Hitt, of New Haven, is the author of a new book, Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character. Most days, he’s a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine. He occasionally contributes to the public radio program, This American Life. His book, Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim’s Route into Spain, was made into a motion picture, “The Way,” directed by Emilio Estévez and starring Martin Sheen. He also has a one-man show, “Making Up the Truth,” which, like his other work, very nearly answers the question, “Is any of this true?”

He will be appearing at R. J. Julia Booksellers on Thursday, May 17, at 8 p.m., to read from and sign copies of his books, and tell stories that promise to make you laugh. In the meantime, here’s what he has to say about the crackpots among us:

What is it about the American spirit that inspired you to write A Bunch of Amateurs?

 I was sent to spent time with the Kansas City Space Pirates once. Their leader is a computer consultant, Brian Turner, who with a team of other garage inventors has competed in a NASA amateur contest involving power beamers.  (Imagine a plane with no fuel on board but powered by a laser beam from the ground.) This idea of power beaming, though, is really in service of dream called the space elevator—a 60,000 mile long ribbon built of carbon nanotubes, an almost sci-fi idea to get us in and out of deep space with ease. After spending a week with Turner, it became obvious that the golden age of amateurs was not some romantic time that has passed but a cycle that always comes back around.

When did you know this was going to be a book? Was there a sort of tipping point when you realized you had enough of a collection of risk-takers?  

Not really a question of “enough.” The problem came from the other direction. There was always too much. The problem was cutting it down. So I shaped the book around a number of larger concepts of amateurism. In the end, Brian Turner and the Kansas City Space Pirates–as good as they are as a story–didn’t make the cut.

As a raconteur extraordinaire, you’ve made your name writing about people with crazy passions and what some might call a loopy view of life. How did your upbringing lead you to this kind of fascination?

Actually the entire book was born when an editor in New York asked if I had ever noticed that many of the figures in my stories were self-invented cranks who actually had stumbled upon some brilliant, new or cool idea. I hadn’t, but one conversation led to another, and one day I found myself isolated, fittingly, in my own garage, writing a book about garage eccentrics. Maybe, as somebody has already said, the whole thing is a sly justification for a lifetime of freelancing.

Is there a particular amateur in this book who really seized you with amazement and delight?

So many, but I had a blast with Meredith Patterson. She’s a computer programmer whom I met in San Francisco. In between raves and visits to the tattoo parlor, she taught herself bio-engineering. Originally working with a salad spinner for a centrifuge, a portable cooker from an RV for an incubator, and a few chemicals she extracted from shampoo and sex lube, she built a lab where we spent a week fiddling with her latest project: inserting the glow in the dark gene from a jellyfish into a bacterium that we could then culture and use to make yogurt that glowed in the dark. Glo-gurt.  A number of DIY labs for amateur biologists are popping up all around the country right now. I suspect that there will lots of hand-wringing and bed-wetting from the Post-9/11 TSA types, but frankly, it all felt to me like I was witnessing the re-birth of a bunch of 4-H Clubs.

This book reads like it was lots of fun to write. But of course no book is all fun and games. Were there things you had to leave out, stories you needed to leave untold?

Fun and games? I wish the desire to write only upon my worst enemies. As to what got left out? I actually did write down all the panicky assignments I sent my several assistants off to research. Here’s a partial list: homemade gasoline distillers, DIY submariners, amateur chefs, open-source anything, local “historians,” the newest religions, and the latest version of creation science. Also, self-taught dark-matter theorists, ethnic innovators coining new races, the ongoing jetpack dream, the last 500 patent applications, high school kids building nuclear reactors in the suburbs, the latest Howard Finster, the latest Steve Jobs, the latest Lana Del Rey, and anything to which the prefix wiki- has been added. But, wait, I also needed to about this year’s MacArthur genius grant winners, amateur porn pioneers, pranksters, weekend warriors curdling into militias, storm chasers, un-credentialed archaeologists, cutting-edge agronomists in the medical marijuana field, self-appointed terrorist hunters, that whole smart mob business, competitive eaters, amateur rocketeers, micro-brewing dudes, top fan fiction writers, horticultural pioneers, latter-day radio pirates, and the surprisingly hefty crowd of people describing themselves as time travelers, some of whom, curiously, have recently disappeared. Compared to these research assistants, Don Quixote had it easy.


Sandi Shelton
12:51 PM (7 hours ago)

to Jack