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?
LUCY BURDETTE: I know I’ve mentioned my supper club on this blog here in the past–we are six couples who try to get together 3 to 5 times a year for dinner and chatter. The hostess (and host) are responsible for the main course and the table setting, and each of the other couples brings a dish. The hostess can assign certain recipes or leave it open-ended. For various reasons, this year got away from us so we wanted to throw together an easy summer supper. We ended up with a mixed grill, potato salad, salad, grilled vegetables, and a lemon and orange-glazed angel food cake from 4 and 20 Blackbirds bakery in Guilford CT for dessert. Everyone loved our shrimp and the peaches so I’ll share those recipes with you!
Ingredients for the the shrimp
Three large shrimp per person (33 for my event), shelled and deveined
1/2 cup good olive oil
One large lemon
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 to 2 large cloves of garlic, choppedMix the ingredients, olive oil to brown sugar, and taste to see if you need more lemon. Stir in the chopped garlic. Let the shrimp sit in the marinade in a glass dish for 2 to 4 hours, stirring from time to time. Meanwhile, soak bamboo skewers in water. I had the 8 inch kind, which fits three large shrimp.
Thread three shrimp crossways onto each skewer so they will lie flat on the grill. Grill on medium high heat for three minutes each side. The brown sugar should result in a nice glaze.
For the peaches: Pit six peaches and slice them lengthwise. (We all agreed there was no need to peel them!) Brush the peach flesh with lemon juice and then a bit of olive oil. Sprinkle with fresh rosemary. Grill for 6-8 minutes in a grill pan, flipping once.
I served the shrimp with grilled sausages and grilled peach halves–A very very mixed grill!
Lucy Burdette writes the Key West food critic mysteries. Are you all caught up? This easy dinner will leave you plenty of time to read… and then for all the latest news, follow Lucy on:
We’ve had a zucchini extravaganza in our garden this summer. As my friend Gina says, tis the season where people lock their garage doors and car doors to prevent gardeners from leaving baseball bat-sized zukes on the premises…
But in case this happens to you, here’s a yummy recipe for zucchini/blueberry bread.
3 large eggs
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
½ cup butter
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
½ cups granulated white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups shredded zucchini, squeezed with a paper towel
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp no sodium baking powder
1/2 tsp no sodium baking soda
2 cups fresh blueberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil two 8×4 inch loaf pans.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, applesauce, vanilla, sugar and zucchini.
In a food processor, whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda. Cut in the butter.
Mix a tablespoon of the flour mixture into the blueberries.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir gently. Carefully stir in the floured blueberries.
Divide the batter between the two prepared pans. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for at least 20 minutes, then turn out bread onto wire racks until it has cooled completely.
I’m looking forward to participating in Mysterium, a one-day conference at Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT) focused on mystery writing (October 8.) The conference is organized by Amy Bloom and is awash in big names like Laura Lippmann, Stephen Carter, and Ann Hood, and includes several of my cozy-writing friends, Barbara Ross and Liz Mugavero, and fellow Jungle Red Writer, Susan Elia MacNeal. Hope to see you there!
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I don’t think it has much to do with either the quality of the books or the sales. Lots of mass-market cozy folks are ending up in the refugee boat with me—it’s a mysterious corporate decision over which we have no control.
It’s happened before and I’ve survived and thrived.
I will most likely continue the series in another form in the future.
The support and enthusiasm of readers has been a huge comfort!
But I thought it might be interesting to look back on my reaction to the news that the golf lovers’ mystery series was not getting renewed. (Hint: devastated.) I called this essay “Character Assassination.”
Losing a special friend hurts, even if you’re mourning a figment of your own imagination.
I’ve been getting to know my protagonist, professional golfer Cassie Burdette, since scratching out the opening paragraphs of my first mystery in January 1998. As with most fictional detectives, Cassie wrestled with skeletons in her closet: her father’s desertion, a melancholy, alcoholic mother, a fog of self-doubt. Ambivalence infused her relationships with men and she tended to defer soul-searching in favor of the anesthetic effects of Budweiser. Notwithstanding these conflicts, I imagined Cassie eventually thriving on the professional golf circuit through a combination of talent, spunk, and the right friends.
With five golf mysteries in print by March 2006, Cassie and I have spent the better part of eight years together. I finally talked her into starting psychotherapy (with the help of a couple of other characters) to address her low self-esteem and self-destructive tendencies. She began to play better golf, choose kinder men, drink less, and reconnect with her dad.
Meanwhile, researching Cassie’s world took me on some amazing adventures. I spent most of my first (modest) advance paying to compete in a real professional-amateur LPGA tournament so I could absorb the correct ambience for book two.
And I played golf at Pinehurst, Palm Springs, and in the Dominican Republic—all tax-deductible without stretching the IRS code. I met and corresponded with professional golfers, and many fans—mystery fans, golf fans, and best of all, fans of both. These people worried about Cassie: how can she drink that much before a tournament? How can she eat like that and stay in shape? Lose the boyfriend—he’s a bum! Over coffee, my friends were more likely to ask what was new with Cassie, than with me. And reviewers hailed Cassie as “a character readers can root for.”
I’d begun plotting the skeleton for the sixth installment, involving a golf reality show, a hunky cop, and murder, of course.
Then the word came from my editor: “We’d rather see a new idea—the numbers just haven’t been that good…”
Surprised or not, I was flooded with sadness and disappointment. No more Cassie Burdette mysteries? Like the end of a souring romance, I wished I’d been the one to call it quits.
Days later, waiting to sign books at the Malice Domestic mystery convention, I sat next to an older man with a soft voice and a full beard. He introduced himself as H.R.F. Keating—the Malice honoree for lifetime achievement, including twenty-five novels in his Inspector Ghote series. In response to his kind interest, I spilled the news that Cassie’s series was being killed. I’m quite certain that I cried. He assured me that he’d often thought his series went on too long, that perhaps years ago he’d said all he really had to say, and that seven books might be the optimum length for a series. Then the doors opened and a crush of fans queued up to have him sign books that spanned forty years.
Twenty-five novels, each one nudging back a little further the curtain obscuring Inspector Ghote’s personality: I realized there are many things I’ll never know about Cassie. Will she win a tournament? Have a relationship with golf psychologist Joe Lancaster? Get married? Overcome her fear of kids? Hey, I’ll never know if I’m a grandmother.
But life in the publishing business lumbers on: I’ve signed a contract for my next writing adventure. The new series will feature psychologist and advice columnist, Dr. Rebecca Butterman, a woman who made cameo appearances in several of the golf mysteries.
Cassie wasn’t crazy about her—I can hear her voice now: “You’re writing about a psychologist? Rebecca Butterman? Bor-ing.”
And PS, back to me in the present, wasn’t I so lucky to be seated next to that sweet man at the exact moment I needed his calm? And ps, Cassie did make a brief appearance in ASKING FOR MURDER and DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS. I am a fictional grandmother.
Meanwhile, I am working madly on several projects, but I’m feeling very superstitious. So I decided not to say much about them…I’m not being a tease, I swear, just nauseously nervously anxiously cautious.
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LUCY BURDETTE: One of the disadvantages of writing a daily group blog like JUNGLE RED WRITERS is that perfectly good posts mostly disappear into the ether after the day (or week) they are posted. And last I checked, our blog had posted 2724 blogs on the site–kind of mind-boggling, right? So I thought you might enjoy a round-up of some of our most popular posts about writing—feel free to share! Remember that there is often some great info in the comments section, too. The Agony of Writing by the Jungle Red Writers: The reds admit to their panic mid-book and offer tips about how to keep going.
Are You Branded? By Chris Tieri, who explains the importance of understanding your reading audience–and your books. And PS, Chris will be the Friday keynote speaker at the New England Crimebake this year.
LUCY BURDETTE: My hub and I are mad for cherries when they are in season, and trust me we’ve eaten pounds and pounds of them this summer. But we’ve never done anything except eat them from the bowl. I couldn’t imagine pitting all those little guys. But then I got the image of a cherry cobbler in my head, and it would not be denied. (Sadly, I went to the grocery store yesterday and the cherries were GONE FOR THE SEASON! I’m quite certain you can use this same recipe for blueberries or peaches. Back to the story…)
So I went in search of a cherry pitter and found this one on Amazon, which handles 6 pieces at a time. So it still takes a while (maybe half an hour) to pit enough for the cobbler, but this time it’s worth it. Be careful because one diner did find a pit in her portion. You don’t want your guests cracking their molars on your dessert! (Recipe has been adapted for low-sodium diets.)
For the cherry filling:
Six cups pitted cherries
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
Half a lemon, squeezed
Place the cherries in an 8 by 8 Pyrex pan, ungreased. Mix in the cornstarch and sugar, and squeeze the lemon over the top.
For the crust:
6 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon no sodium baking powder
1 cup flour
1/2 cup cream or milk
1/2 cup sugar
Combine the dry ingredients and then cut in the chilled butter, using a pastry cutter. When the lumps are pea-sized, stir in the cream or milk. Do not over mix. With a large spoon place blobs of the crust over the prepared cherries. Do not worry about smoothing the crust or covering every square inch.
Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes. The cherries should be bubbling and the crust a light brown. Let the cobbler cool a bit and serve with almond-scented whipped cream.
For the cream:
1 cup organic whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon almond flavoring
1 tablespoon sugar
Whip the cream with the almond flavoring until thick. And the sugar and stir that in. Serve with the cobbler and swoon. (This is very rich–serves 6-8.)
It’s perfect for celebrations, like the publication of a new book! Or simply reading a great book.