The Liberty High School grad who wrote obits for the Bethlehem Globe-Times has come a long way, baby. After earning a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Tufts University and a master’s in English literature from Case Western Reserve, Sarah Strohmeyer turned to journalism, even helping to put her husband through law school by working as a reporter for a small New Hampshire newspaper where she covered the crime beat, including the case of an Ethiopian ax murderer. As if that wasn’t enough fun, she wrote BARBIE UNBOUND: A PARODY OF THE BARBIE OBSESSION, putting her on the other side of the journalistic fence and giving her national press exposure.
Getting an itch to write another book, Sarah came up with the idea for a mystery while interviewing Janet Evanovich. Not long after, Bubbles Yablonsky was born in BUBBLES UNBOUND, which has been called a “wild ride” by Publisher’s Weekly and was a Top Pick in Romantic Times magazine.
Despite an attack by a computer virus that nearly paralyzed her emails, Sarah proved a real trooper and tackled my questions with the gusto of her creation, Bubbles Yablonsky.
Susan McBride: Bubbles is a hairdresser turned journalist wannabe who gets entangled in a murder investigation. What, if any, of your own experiences as a reporter did you weave into BUBBLES UNBOUND?
Sarah Strohmeyer: The first and worst experience happened while I was an intern at Newsday on Long Island. Driving home with a friend one night, we crossed a dark set of railroad tracks and felt something hit the bumper of the car. We stopped and saw it was a man in the road, dead. He had stepped in front of a car driven in the opposite direction by a woman coming home from her job at the Estee Lauder factory. She hit him and then his body hit us. Awful. No charges were filed. The cops determined he’d been a migrant worker getting off the train who stupidly—or drunkenly—walked into traffic. It has always haunted me, and I used it to describe the hit-and-run in the park.
In addition, I had a lot of fun compiling all the worst traits of some newspaper editors I’ve known and combining them to create Dix Notch, Jerk Magnificent.
SM: Is the character of Bubbles anything like Sarah Strohmeyer? What do you like best about her?
Sarah: Bubbles is nothing like Sarah Strohmeyer except that, at times, we’re both spacey. What I like about Bubbles is that she tends to roll with the punches, and she gets punched around a lot. Still, she’s no doormat. She knows when to stand up for herself. I wish I had those qualities. I also wish I had as much self-discipline and morality. Bubbles gave up smoking and is abstaining from sex—for the time being. Pretty impressive.
SM: Tell us what impact Janet Evanovich had on BUBBLES UNBOUND? Did she offer you any words of wisdom other than suggesting the title?
Sarah: Before I met Janet, I was going to write a mystery set in Vermont. She talked me out of that and encouraged me to go back to the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania where her husband once taught college. Later, I bugged her for advice on seemingly mundane but, at the time, vitally important matters such as how to get an agent, how much of the book I had to write before I got an agent, how much of an advance I should expect, query letters, etc. She was very helpful and I’m convinced this book would not have happened without her. Unfortunately—although not for her—Janet is now wildly successful. I don’t think she has as much time now to be so generous with her professional counseling.
SM: What inclined you toward the mystery genre after publication of your parody, BARBIE UNBOUND?
Sarah: Mysteries, especially funny mysteries, are my first love. As a reporter, I was always cooking up wild theories behind various homicides and crimes. Unfortunately, the truth usually was unspectacular in comparison. Husband shoots wife over divorce, that kind of thing. Fiction lets my imagination fill in the gaps and breathe life into those crazy hypotheses.
SM: How is promotion of BUBBLES different from BARBIE? Or is it much the same?
Sarah: In some ways, Barbie was easier, because she’s so visual and controversial. Even though BARBIE UNBOUND was published by a small press, we were on “CBS This Morning” and in USA Today and Entertainment Weekly. There’s a lot of simmering resentment toward that doll out there—most of it harbored by members of the media, it seems.
SM: What are you working on now? The next BUBBLES book?
Sarah: I’m supposed to be finishing BUBBLES BEFUDDLED. In it, Bubbles discovers a dead body and must chase after the runaway bride who misses her wedding to a familiar character in BUBBLES UNBOUND.
SM: What’s your schedule like? When do you find time to write between publicity and family?
Sarah: As you know, Susan, it’s HARD! In a perfect Sue Grafton kinda world, I’d be up at six taking a walk, sitting down at nine to write, blah, blah, blah. In reality, I try to write at least everyday from nine to noon and again at night. It seems like I’m always being pulled away because of doctors appointments, school holidays, Girl Scouts, you name it. I’m exhausted, although I’m not complaining. I feel so lucky that I could quit my newspaper job and do this for a living.
SM: How do you unwind?
Sarah: Hmmm. Unwind? Now that’s a concept. I do laundry, knit when I’m not on deadline, sew, crochet, read Carl Hiasson and, on weekend evenings, knock back a couple of beers with my husband.
SM: Do you have a favorite saying or philosophy that you live by or that keeps you going?
Sarah: It’s a phrase my mother kept repeating during the few weeks between her first stroke and her death. It was, “Sure, why not?” It sounds stupid but, when you apply it in life, it’s very freeing. My initial temptation is to say, “no”—to my kids, my husband and even my dreams. When I started saying, “Sure, why not?” I found that the world opened up and that the possibilities were endless.
SM: How can readers reach you?
I love to hear from readers and stay up ‘til the wee hours answering every
email. My web page has a contact button: http://www.sarahstrohmeyer.com.
Also, if readers click on the “BubblesHeads” button, I will send them
a bumper sticker that says, “We’re BubblesHeads, Not Air Heads.
There’s a Difference…We Think.”
Originally appeared in the Feb. / March 2001 Issue of Mystery News
Bubbles Unbound, worth checking out, say? Oh Yeah. Say.
Most know that besides thrillers, colorful, humorous mysteries are very popular. I am quite sure that Bubbles Unbound will be included as one of those popular amusing mysteries.
As the story starts out, the main character, Bubbles Yablonsky, a Barbie look alike, talks about her life, and how she becomes a part time reporter. Bubbles, who also explains her name, works at Sandy’s House of Beauty and ends up back at school, which leads her to a story, which leads her to a hunky photographer, who leads her to a body, which starts a dangerous conflict between the rich and the poor of Lehigh, PA. Bubbles sidekicks are her Kool-aid colored hair daughter, Jane; her mother, Lulu, who is a lulu; plus size friend Genevieve; Doris and Sandy from the beauty shop. When Bubbles takes on The Metzgers of Lehigh Steel, she stirs up enough trouble to put her home at risk, but not to worry; Her polish mama is at the ready.
“If the outside of the house looked as if it could withstand World War II, the inside looked like it should be the set for Pee Wee’s playhouse. Sandbags had been stuck against the windows…. Buckets containing a mysterious mass that looked like white Play-Doh were poised over the doorframe…. Dried peas had been layered across the linoleum…. And various implements of torture -- most of them garden tools -- were posted at the ready.”
Humor and great characters isn’t all Sara Strohmeyer has to offer. The mystery is well planned; only straying to the characters’ personal lives when it blends in with the story line, whodunit is successfully guarded held until the end, and at the conclusion of each chapter is a beauty recipe.
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