Saturday, April 14, 2007

Disturbance in the Field

Roberta Isleib (Guest Blogger)

It's been a huge month so far--nothing like the launch of a new book -- Deadly Advice (Berkley) -- to get the old adrenaline flowing. For me, it's a time for biting nails and gnashing teeth, while I wait for feedback from the world in the form of reviews, sales, or e-mail from readers. It's a time forconvincing myself that Amazon numbers are meaningless and promising I will not go back to that damn site again, and an hour later, refreshing the web
address to search for any small improvement in ranking that might be a
harbinger of success.

So it was a wonderful distraction to hear that my short story "Disturbance in the Field" in the anthology Seasmoke from Level Best Books had been nominated for a Malice Domestic Agatha Award ( I don't write many short stories--the longer form of the novel seems to come more naturally. In a short story, the characters have to be pared down and the plot has to be clear and, well, short.

The idea for "Disturbance" came to me when a good friend was describing her experience with hiring a Feng Shui consultant. My friend was emerging from an unpleasant divorce and from what I remember, had the idea that changing the energy in her home might change her life as well. So she called a guy right out of the online Yellow Pages. The consultant arrived with his wife and the three of them went through the house, room by room. "The mirror by the bed is wrong. Your spirit travels while you're sleeping and gets frightened by its reflection," the couple informed her after seeing her bedroom.

"Light blue is a sad and watery color," they said regretfully about the walls. "Human beings need forest-colored rooms." And so it went: she needed to get rid of the king-sized bed, take the tablecloth off the dining room table, change the position of her son¹s desk. I stopped my friend mid-way through her descriptions so I could get paper and pen: the seed for my story was sprouting. What if my psychologist character from Deadly Advice was asked by her detective acquaintance to "ride along" on a case? And what if she had just taken a course in Feng Shui and began to notice small details about the dead woman's home which might explain her death? As you might imagine, this was a lot of fun to write, though tricky to tuck all the ends in neatly.

This week I received a note from Chris, a fan of my golf mysteries who had read "Disturbance in the Field" after the Agatha nominations were announced. She said it reminded her of "A Jury of her Peers" written by Susan Glaspell in 1917. "What made me think of it was the sensitivity to almost subliminal clues--ones that were perhaps more visible to a female, or to a therapist!"
Of course I googled "A Jury of her Peers" right away. It's a wonderful story about a woman accused of murdering her husband while he lies asleep in their bed, told from the perspective of two of her neighbors. The website on which the story appears ( also contains essays about what makes a good short story.

Perusing all of this material kept me from hitting that Amazon refresh bar for at least an hour! So thanks to Chris for her nice email. And thanks to the gracious Daughters of Poe for letting me talk about it. Here's hoping you enjoy both Susan Glaspell's story and "Disturbance in the Field."

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Julia Buckley said...

Great post, Roberta! Now you have me wanting to read BOTH stories. What a clever idea for a plot. Did you ever feel that your FRIEND'S consultants were unsavory?

Roberta said...

Funny thing was Julia, my friend described them as completely sincere and devoted to finding the truth about her house and her life. But I couldn't get over the way she'd hired them--right off the Internet without a lick of references! And she's usually very very cautious. The vibes must have been right:)