A Q&A with Cathy Lubenski, Author of Trashy Chic

If you’re a fan of fast-paced mysteries, colorful characters and whip-smart humor, look no further than Cathy Lubenski’s fabulous new Bertie Mallowan mystery series! In her debut novel “Trashy Chic,” Bertie, a disgruntled lifestyle reporter,  is thrust into a tangled web of murder and mayhem when the man she interviewed for a fluff piece is found dead in the foyer of his family mansion.

Chock full of thrills, chills and a whole lot of sass – this is a whodunit like no other! Read the post below for the full review.

This talented new author was kind to “sit down” with Chick Lit Café to talk about her literary alter ego, the transition from reporter to author, her writing process, and what’s up next! 

Welcome Cathy! What made you want to write a mystery series about a crime-solving reporter? 

Hi! Honestly? My mother was ill and I knew I might have to quit working and help take care of her. I’d need some income and a book seemed like the best way to go! 

Unfortunately, she died, but then I faced layoff as the newspaper industry took a backseat to the Internet and, again, a book seemed like the best way to generate some income, especially since I already had one started. They say write about what you know, and since I’d been a journalist for over 25 years, that was the way I went.

Back when you were a reporter, did you ever find yourself in the middle of a mystery?

The only mystery I can recall was how I could find a way to eat more doughnuts off the snack table without anyone knowing it was me gobbling them down. 

I got a big kick out of Bertie’s antics, like the pranks she played on her editor, and the creative lies she concocted. Were some of her misdeeds inspired by your own behavior? 

Bertie is mostly me, especially the part about walking miles a day to avoid management types – so true. Because I went out of my way (literally) so I wouldn’t have to talk to them I never needed to make up creative lies. However, that part of the book represents what I WANTED to do. 

What is the writing process like for you? Can you sit down anywhere and write? 

Oh, lord: I’m terrible about writing. I have to force myself to do it. After 25 years of doing it as a living it’s hard for me to look at it as other than drudgery. I keep searching for hints about getting motivated and setting up a schedule, but none of them work. I work best on a deadline and there aren’t any daily deadlines for a book. 

What’s the best piece of advice you could give an aspiring novelist? 

Just get it down on paper (or computer) and don’t worry about you’re writing. It’s a first draft and you’re going to have to go back and rewrite anyway. The important thing is getting it DONE. I tried to write romance novels about 20 years ago but I never got past the first chapter because I wanted that chapter to be perfect before I went on to the next. No, no, no, it doesn’t work that way – you’ll never finish.

Can you give me a sneek peek into what lies in store for Bertie in the next installment of your mystery series? 

In “Snarky Park” (due out this fall), a man falls dead at Bertie’s feet at a high-society party and that leads her to an environmental group, “The End Justifies the Green,” where she shovels compost and sticks her nose into matters that don’t concern her, as usual. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

Although my books are published the traditional way, I really encourage anyone out there who’s having problems getting published to go the e-publishing route – it’s definitely the future of our industry. 

About the author: Cathy Lubenski Phillips spent more than 25 years in the newspaper industry and has plenty of scars from dueling with pesky editors to show for it. She survived with her sanity relatively intact and has continued writing for pleasure. This is her first book featuring reporter Bertie Mallowan, but not her last. She lives with her husband, Ed Phillips, aka Phil, and her Jack Russell terrier, Pica, in Carlsbad, California. Her son, Michael Lubenski, and brother, Bill Mora, live in Ellwood City, Pa., her hometown.

She says: “Moving to California after a life spent mostly in a small town in the Rust Belt rocked my sensibilities. I mean, who wears shorts and flip-flops to a wedding, for God’s sake? And why are they called swap meets, not flea markets? After 15 years here, I’m still in culture shock. Fortunately, I was able to use my wobbly grasp on my marbles for good: ‘Trashy Chic’ is the result. “

Trashy Chic by Cathy Lubenski

There’s no doubt investigative reporters make the best detectives. They’re nosey, they’re ballsy, and they’ll stop at nothing to chase down a lead. But sadly, in this digital age, the Woodwards and Bernsteins are falling to the wayside as more and more readers are turning to short online blurbs for their daily news.

Cathy Lubenski, a veteran reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune, is all too familiar with the sad state of journalism. Her main character, Bertie Mallowan also happens to be a journalist for a Southern California daily, and is struggling to stay afloat in a rapidly shrinking industry.

Much like Lacey Smithsonian (the crackerjack fashion reporter in the Crimes of Fashions mysteries), Bertie has a passion for hard news, but she’s stuck writing fluff. But just when she couldn’t bear to write one more piece about overpriced home décor, she stumbles upon a mystery that could put her back on the front page.

It all begins when Bertie interviews Robert Bellingham, the CEO of a multimillion-dollar luxury items empire,  just days before his murder.  With inside information about Bellingham’s twisted family, she’s thrust into the middle of a big story.

Things get complicated when Bertie encounters a slew suspects with ample motives to knock off the king of unnecessary high-end crap. Who stood the most to gain from Bellingham’s death? Let’s take a look at some of our suspects:

Robert “R2” Bellingham II: A pudgy little man with serious anxiety and resentment issues. Did he knock off his own father to take control of the empire? Why was he hauling a big bag filled with hair into his father’s corporate office?

Gardener: Living up to his name, this suspicious character tends the Bellingham mansion’s gardens. With his smoldering good looks, he can have any woman he wants, even Bellingham Jr.’s trophy wife. What’s the story behind his anger management problem? And why were his shoes splattered with blood at the scene of the crime?

Lester Lomax: Gardener’s lawyer. After a scary encounter at a bar, Bertie finds out the hard way that this sleazeball is more than capable of cold-blooded murder. Did he help his client orchestrate the perfect crime? And is he the dark shadow lurking outside Bertie’s window at night?

Delia Bellingham: R2’s philandering trophy wife. This little tart has a twisted agenda for sleeping around with the mansion’s gardener. Did she railroad her boy-toy to get her hands on the family fortune?

Bella Bellingham: The black sheep of the Bellingham family. Shunned from the family mansion, she spends her days locked up in her shabby apartment cooking weird luxury-item concoctions. She seems obsessed with her inventions…perhaps a little too obsessed.  

Gigi Bellingham: Bellingham’s wife. Obsessed with money, Botox and social status, she’s used to living the good life. It’s no secret her husband would rather hop into bed with a bimbo du jour than have sex with his own wife.  But did his womanizing ways finally set her off on a murderous rampage?

The tightly-plotted mystery is great, but what I really love most about this book is the humor. There were some scenes that had me laughing out loud, like when Bertie hid a cricket in her editor’s office just to mess with her. I also enjoyed the part when her boss reprimanded her for making rude faces. To make him go away, she told him that the grimacing was a result of a chronic flatulence disorder – LOL! 

Overall, this is one fine mystery laced with humor, romance and fabulous characters. I instantly liked Bertie, probably because she’s obsessed with chocolate moon pies, hates her alarm clock, and makes terrible mistakes in the love department. I’m also a big fan of Bertie’s best friend, a former zookeeper who runs a high-class dog obedience school and kennel. Much like my own best friend, she won’t hesitate to come to Bertie’s rescue – even if it means putting herself in mortal danger.

This talented new author can really tell a story that gets you to know and love the characters. I will be watching and waiting for the next installment in this fabulous new series! Keep ‘em coming Cathy!