Tuesday, April 8, 2008


"On the Saturday morning when I finally got around to cleaning my apartment, I found a ton of mouse droppings, seven enormous water bugs, and a body."

Death Will Clean your Closet, Elizabeth Zelvin

Well, yuck. In our closets, there are no bodies.

Here's what we're supposed to say. All polite and ladylike.

Elizabeth Zelvin's first mystery, DEATH WILL GET YOU SOBER, is coming from St. Martin's on April 15 2008. She is a New York City psychotherapist who has directed alcohol treatment programs, including one on the Bowery, and now treats clients online at LZcybershrink.com. Liz has written and lectured widely on addictions, codependency, and online therapy and has also published two books of poetry.

Here' s what we say just to pals: Yay Liz! Her first book is out and she's a love. And she's on her blog tour, so of course we said come on over. And then we asked for--what else--free advice.

HANK: Okay, counselor. What destructive behaviors do you see in mystery writers?

LIZ: Surprisingly, very few, at least in the professional or aspiring professional mystery writer. Because as a group they are cooperative rather than competitive, they tend not to shoot themselves in the foot by backbiting or making enemies. I've seldom seen tempers lost online or face to face. Not to detract from any of the others, Guppies, Sisters in Crime's online chapter for Great UnPublished and now also emerging writers, is possibly the only e-list I've ever been on in which I've NEVER seen any flaming--and that includes e-list groups of mental health professionals.

HANK: Are we addicted to--success? Possibility?

LIZ: Oh, I don't think so. Success? Being addicted to something means you can never get enough of it--but you can usually be sure of a steady supply. The mystery writer's career today is so precarious that I doubt any but the runaway bestsellers take success for granted, no matter what stage of their career they're at. Even in the few years I've been part of this community, we've seen popular and beloved authors have their series dropped and have a hard time climbing back.

HANK: And possibility?

LIZ: The term "addiction" refers to a pathological state, where the cost exceeds the reward. It isn't meant to imply that it's bad to keep hoping and taking one action after another, writing that next chapter, sending out that next query letter, going to that next conference so you can schmooze with readers and agents and fellow writers.

HANK: Any ideas for rehabilitation?

LIZ: I don't think writers need it. But rehab might be a great place to get some writing done!

ROBERTA: How do you hang in there when things get tough? Any advice?

LIZ: One day at a time. One minute at a time. When writing, one word at a time. And one small action at a time—at the most discouraging moments, it helped a lot to be able to think of one more stone I could turn: a resource I could check, a letter I could write, a person I could network with by email. The scariest time was when I thought I had run out of publishers, even the small presses. Everybody had seen Death Will Get You Sober—except St. Martin’s, where it had been sitting unread on an editor’s desk (not Ruth Cavin, my current editor) for 2 ½ years. The next action turned out to be walking up to a St. Martin’s editor I didn’t know (Marcia Markland, bless her—I read her name tag) at the MWA Agents & Editors party during Edgars week and saying, “Can I tell you my sad story about St. Martin’s?” She got things moving, and then the luck finally came my way.Oh, and my mantra was, “Don’t quit five minutes before the miracle.” It was a looooong five minutes!

HALLIE (see below): I know one of your favorite books is Little Women. Why, especially, does that touch you?

LIZ: I think if it weren’t by a woman and read almost exclusively by girls and women, Little Women would be considered the Great American Novel. It’s so fresh and immediate—even though it’s colored by 19th century culture and the Transcendental movement that the Alcotts were steeped in, there’s nothing stilted or archaic about the language or the relationships. These are real people that readers can take home with them, as millions have. And it sure passes the re-reading test. I still cry every time Beth dies. I recently wrote about being bewildered by contradictory reviews. I quoted from the scene in Little Women when Jo goes through the same thing with her first novel, and this time, that made me cry too.

RO: What surprised you the most, so far, about your journey in the mystery writing world?

LIZ: I've had both good surprises and bad. I was amazed at how much harder it's become to get an agent in today's market than back in the Seventies, when I wrote three now outdated and unsalvageable mysteries. They didn't sell, but I had a great agent. The best surprise has been the generosity and warmth of the mystery writing--and mystery loving--community.

HANK: Wait: "they didn't sell, but I had a great agent." How can that be?

LIZ: Jean Naggar, who believed in my work and took all three of my mystery manuscripts--she didn't really sell mysteries, which may be part of why she couldn't sell mine, the rest of the reason being, of course, that I was clueless about craft compared to today. This was also before Jean became famous for selling CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR for a then astronomical sum.

HANK:And congratulations from all of us for your Agatha short story nomination! (See DWCYC above) You're in stellar company.

Now--just for fun: The Jungle Red Quiz!

Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot?

**Miss Marple

Sex or violence?

**Sex, please—I never get tired of it. Oh, you mean in my reading matter? Neither, to tell the truth. To me, sex is like conversation—not a spectator sport. I don’t watch talk shows either.

Pizza or chocolate?

**Chocolate, no contest.

Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan? (We won't even include Sean Connery because we know the answer. Don't we?)

**Daniel Craig, yeah. Him.

Katherine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn?

**Tough choice. Katherine.

First person or Third Person?

Prologue or no prologue?
**No prologue, but I’m not a fanatic about it.

Making dinner or making reservations?
**Reservations, no contest. Hey, I’m a New Yorker. My idea of a local restaurant is one you can get to without crossing the street or walking as far as the corner.

And Finally: Tell us four things about you that no one knows. Only three can be true. We'll guess.

**That’s tough, because I have great difficulty not telling everyone everything. My husband can confirm this. He wishes I wouldn’t. I used to say, “All my poems are true.” My turning to fiction was a great relief to him. Quit stalling? Oh, okay.

1. On my first day in first grade, I took a crayon and scribbled in the coloring book of the little girl sitting behind me. Her name was Laurie. I’m sorry, Laurie.

2. Men with long hair turn me on.

3. I remember watching a camel caravan making its way toward the salt mines at sunset in the desert near Timbuctoo.

4. The scariest thing I’ve ever done was fly solo in a Cessna 150.

Thanks, LIZ! Okay, JR readers...what's not true?

PS. Hallie's always asking people about their favorite books. That's because her newest, the irresistible and unputdownable 1001 Books for Every Mood, is just about ready to hit the bookstores. Check it out!


  1. I'm going to guess it's number 4.

  2. I can see Liz going for a guy with long hair....no names, I promise.
    I going with the Cessna..

  3. Rosemary and Debra got it: not that I've never flown a Cessna--I logged about 30 hours of lessons in the mid-1970s--but I never soloed. Thank God! It would have been the scariest thing I'd ever done. :)