Fifteen years ago, Roberta Isleib ’75 was a practicing clinical psychologist, an avid mystery reader, and a recent convert to the game of golf. Then a friend suggested that she combine her interests and try her hand at writing a golf novel. Two years later, Isleib produced the first draft of Six Strokes Under, a murder mystery starring a female golfer who must overcome psychological setbacks to achieve her dream of playing on the LPGA tour. Today, Isleib is full-time novelist publishing her 13th mystery, Death with All the Trimmings, under her pen name, Lucy Burdette.
The transition from psychologist to full-time writer was surprisingly easy, she says: “In my work as a therapist, I helped people understand themselves by looking for patterns in their family history, and tracing how these might lead to feeling stuck in the present. A detective story is similar: you start with a problem, and then look for clues so you can figure out the solution.” With a nine-month timeline for producing each book, Isleib is a disciplined writer. “I write a thousand words a day. I learned in my psychology training to set small goals and stick to them, rather than feel overwhelmed by the big picture,” she says.
With Isleib’s most recent series, about a food critic in Key West, she changed her style to “cozy” fiction and began publishing under her grandmother’s name, Lucy Burdette. Research has taken Isleib into the world of Key West foodies. She interviews chefs, attends food critics’ conferences, and pours over recipe books. The research, she points out, has had a side benefit: “As my husband says, I’ve become a much better cook.”
The new mystery, Death with All the Trimmings, follows Key Zest’sfood critic Hayley Snow as she investigates a case of sabotage in the kitchen that quickly turns ugly. Amid Christmas festivities and a parade of visiting relatives, Hayley must track down an arsonist and killer who is targeting the hottest new restaurant in town. Readers who know Key West should look for tastes of home, Isleib says: “All the restaurants in the series are real Key West restaurants — unless someone is poisoned there. Then I make it up.”