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Isabel Long Mystery Series

Writing a Mystery Series

Writing a series means that I can hold onto the characters I love but let them do something else. Certainly, that’s the case for Isabel Long, the protagonist, and for many others in my mystery series.

So far, the Isabel Long Mystery Series has three books: Chasing the Case, Redneck’s Revenge, and Checking the Traps, all published by Crooked Cat Books. I am making my way through the fourth, called Killing the Story.

For those just tuning in, Isabel was a longtime journalist who uses her transferable skills in her new life as a private investigator in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. Each book features a cold case she decides to solve. So far, a family member has approached Isabel to find out what happened to a loved one.

I carry some of the characters from one book to the other. In the second book, two bad boy drug-dealing brothers, Gary and Larry Beaumont, terrorized Isabel although they did eventually make amends. Certainly, all is forgiven in Checking the Traps because Gary hires Isabel to find out how his half-brother — a poetry-writing guy on a local highway crew — died. Was it a suicide, as the cops say, or murder?

Now, that that case is over, the Beaumont brothers are not key characters but their path — the brothers are joined at the hip —  do cross with Isabel’s, and they will have a key role because of a favor that was promised. Hey, I’m not telling.

Among the other characters I kept are: Jack, the owner of the Rooster Bar and Isabel’s love interest; her 93-year-old mother, Maria, who’s her Watson; the Old Farts, a group of gossipy men stationed in the general store’s backroom; and Annette and Marsha, two cousins who I will say are country tough. Then, there’s Jack’s nuisance ex-wife — they were married for a minute. I also expect a brief meetup with the Big Shot Poet and Cherie, the victim’s widow from the third book.

But Killing the Story has a new people including Emerson Crane, the owner of a tiny weekly newspaper who hires Isabel to investigate his mother’s death years back. At the time, everybody, including Emerson, thought she slipped on ice and died when she hit her head. But then while cleaning the newsroom, he discovers a suitcase filled with papers that indicates his mother was working on something big. Maybe it wasn’t an accident after all.

This case takes Isabel to a new town, Dillard, and a new set of suspects and sources. Yeah, I’m having a lot of fun.

BOOKS: Interested in reading the series and my other books? I thank you in advance. Here’s the link on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Joan-Livingston/e/B01E1HKIDG

 

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Day Job, Newspapers

My Day Job

Well, I didn’t expect this to happen. Once I was done with my job as the managing editor of The Taos News, I figured I was finished with the news biz. No more deadlines. No more being in the thick of what was happening in the community. No more complaints about coverage. No more… oh the list goes on.

But then I found an opportunity I couldn’t let slip away: running the editorial department of the Greenfield Recorder in Western Massachusetts. And — surprise — I got hired as the editor-in-chief.

At the start of March, my life became suddenly busy as I learned the ropes and after a month, I went solo. Actually, I was extraordinarily busy as we were missing a news editor, so until we were able to fill that position, I was working two jobs. As you might guess, that didn’t leave me time for much of anything else, like my own writing. But thankfully, that has changed, and I’m back into my next book. (I will admit, however, I have cut back on my social media presence.)

So, what’s this newspaper like? The Greenfield Recorder, founded in 1792, is a daily paper covering 26 towns in Franklin County in Massachusetts. It has one town that became a city — Greenfield. The rest are towns of varying sizes. Most are very rural. I live in one of them, so I am mindful we need to give people the info they need to make good decisions about their communities — and often entertain them. Yes, we are a community newspaper.

The Recorder — that’s its logo above — is owned by Newspapers of New England, which has a total of nine papers in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, including the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where I once worked as a reporter and editor a long time ago. I like my bosses.

I feel fortunate to have inherited a great staff from my predecessor. Most are millennials who came here straight from college or their first job. Including sports, we have eight reporters (we just hired a sport reporter and are currently down one position on the news-side we’re trying to fill), two photographers, and five editors not including me. They are a hard-working and friendly group — I am often amused by the topics of their spontaneous conversations.

I’m glad I had the experience at The Taos News and can apply what I learned when I was the boss there. For instance, don’t lead by emotion. Help to bring out the best in your staff. (My question every day: What do you have for the front page?) Express appreciation for the work our staff does. I represent the paper wherever I go, so I need to be on best behavior. Oh, the list goes on.

Yes, once again, I’m in the thick of things. And I’m liking it.

THE SWEET SPOT: Hey, suddenly people are catching onto The Sweet Spot, a novel I published two years ago. Set in the hill towns of Western Mass., it’s the story of what happens when a woman is thescan TSS center of a small town’s biggest scandal. It has many of my favorite characters. Here take a look: http://myBook.to/The_Sweet_Spot

 

 

 

 

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Sue
author, friends

A Good Friend I Never Met

A few days ago I learned that author Sue Roebuck died. Sue and I never met although we got to know each other through our shared publisher, Crooked Cat Books. She was originally from the UK but lived in Portugal after marrying a man from that country.

I considered Sue a friend. She offered a great deal of support to her fellow authors, including myself. I smile when I reread what Sue posted on social media and in the messages we exchanged. I bought and read her books. She did the same for me.

I wrote twice for her blog. When I suggested I give her a post about how I write about sex, she responded: “Perfect – that should get the blog readers sitting up!” I also wrote one called Portuguese Forever, about my ancestry.

Here is one Sue wrote for me last year prior to the launch of Forest Dancer that will let you know a bit about her. It was part of my 6Ws series.

Who is author Susan Roebuck?

If you happen to be in the Lisbon area of Portugal and you take the road to Cascais, you might see me at the window of my office which overlooks the mighty Tagus River. I’ll be watching the cruise ships and tankers coming in and out of Lisbon. You might think I’m Portuguese but I’m not – I’m British born and bred. I was just exported to Portugal by my husband many moons ago.

I taught for the British Council for many years and then the Portuguese civil service, creating e-learning courses. I think the creativity that was needed for that started me writing fiction.

What does she write?

I have four books published:

1. Perfect Score, an LGBT romance suspense (hardly any sex involved) set in the USA in the 1960s and dealing with subjects such as being gay, having dyslexia, corruption in the pharmaceutical industry, and how a phoenix can indeed arise from the ashes.

2. Hewhay Hall. Dark fiction, set in contemporary UK about unsung heroes – in this case a fireman caught up in a terrorist bomb. This won the EPIC (Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition) award for Horror in 2013.

3. Rising Tide. The first in the Portuguese series. This is set in a tiny fishing village on the Alentejo coast – somewhere the world and most of the world has forgotten. The place brings together the two main characters: Piper from Norfolk, UK and Leo from Alaska, USA. Both are seeking answers that only the village can answer.

4. Forest Dancer. The second in the Portuguese series. Published by Crooked Cat Books in February 2018 and set in the magical fairytale forests just twenty miles to the west of Lisbon. A classical ballerina from London is seeking her self-worth in these forests. But does she find it?

5. Joseph Barnaby. The third in the Portuguese series. Again, published by Crooked Cat Books, this one is set on the island of Madeira. Joseph is running – but from what? And will he ever be able to join society again? This will be published in late 2018.

When did she begin writing?

A few years ago I got ill with a serious illness and had a few years when I was disabled. During that time I couldn’t work. So I found I had time to indulge much more in my favorite pastime – writing. (I’m OK now by the way, but I keep on writing!)

How does she write?

I think if I had to rely on pen and paper like Jane Austen, I wouldn’t. I do too much deleting and changing. I write quite fast but that does mean I miss, on first draft, details such as names – but not only. Characters have been known to change names, change hair colour, know things they couldn’t possibly know, make startling quick moves to a new house… It’s a good job I do four or five edits and often get a professional edit before sending my manuscripts off to publishers.

Where does she write?

(See number 1) in a spare bedroom which my husband and I use as an office. He sits at one end of the table and I the other. The TV is in here too which doesn’t help my concentration. I really envy those who can have a writing hidey-hole where they’re alone, cut off from the world. Does anyone know of a garret going cheaply?

Why does she write?

Like any other writer, I think. To give an outlet to creativity, to let that jumble of words and ideas out. I certainly don’t do it for the money! I also like to paint but, unlike writing, I’m very slow at that and can take days dabbing on paint and days taking it off again (I work in acrylics). Come to think of it, I also take days writing something and days deleting it, so maybe the two arts are closely related.

 

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Isabel Long Mystery Series

Back At It

After a three-month break, I have returned to writing my next novel. It’s the fourth in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, and I was a hundred pages into it when I was hired to run the editorial department of a daily newspaper. (More on that another time.) I gave myself permission to put the book down while, first, I learned the new position and then in reality, worked two jobs while I tried to hire a news editor. There were long, long days working in the newsroom and at home, plus weekends. I had a paper to get out, and frankly, there was nobody available to do what I was doing.

But mercifully, I knew it would go on for only a limited amount of time.

And guess what? As of Monday, time’s up. I hired a news editor, and thankfully, my workload has decreased significantly. I am back writing fiction.

To get restarted, I printed the hundred pages and am going through them, marking word changes here and there. I make notations where a paragraph might need expanding or where a piece of information needs to be resurrected later in the book. Nothing major. Frankly, I like what I wrote months ago very much.

Marking up the pages also helps me get back into the book’s flow.

After I have incorporated the edits into the manuscript, I will be ready to take off. In my mind, I am already a few chapters ahead of where I left off. Ideas come to me doing household chores or yardwork, in the shower, or just before I fall asleep.

My tendency is to get up early, say 5-5:30 a.m., fix myself coffee and toast, and get at it. I aim for 500 words. A thousand words is golden. The pages add up pretty fast.

So, what is the new book about? Isabel is onto her fourth case. So is her sidekick, Maria, her 93-year-old mother.

They find their new case while attending the open house for the Pit Stop, a gas station and convenience store now owned by cousins Marsha and Annette. The owner of a small weekly newspaper, who is covering the event, asks Isabel to look into the death of his mother years ago. At the time, everyone including the son thought Estelle Crane died when she slipped on ice while walking home from the newsroom and banged her head on something hard and sharp. But then Emerson Crane found the contents of a briefcase that indicate his mother, who was the paper’s editor, had been working on something big about the small town of Dillard. It might even involve dirty cops.

Isabel takes the case because as a former longtime journalist she still has an affinity for newspapers. Plus she feels a kinship with Estelle, who shared the same high journalist ethics and the fearless pursuit of them.

Yes, Isabel is still working at the Rooster, and so far, she and Jack, its owner, are having a great time together. But I promise to get Isabel into hot water again while she works on this case.

By the way, the title for this book is Killing the Story — a term when a news story is yanked before it goes to print, oh, for a variety of reasons. Maybe that’s what happened to Estelle Crane. I will be sure to let you know when I find out.

ISABEL LONG MYSTERY SERIES: While I am writing, you could be reading the series’ first three books, published by Crooked Cat Books. This will be the last one for the publisher as it is winding down. I will be looking for a new publisher. If you know of one, please contact me via the comments section.

If you have read my series, thank you for your support. For those who haven’t, here’s the link on Amazon: Joan Livingston books

 

 

 

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Finding Nina front cover
characters, Crooked Cat Books, Fiction

Finding Nina

UK author Sue Barnard shares a post she wrote about the main character in her new novel, Finding Nina. This is the second time Sue has used Nina as a character. As she says, Finding Nina is part-prequel, part-sequelRomance with a twist 2019.04.07 to Nice Girls Don’t.

Another character is Nina’s mom, Alice. Or as Sue says, “There are two sides to every story, and I wanted to give Alice the opportunity to tell hers.”

I thoroughly enjoyed Sue’s last novel Heathcliff, which fills in those missing years when Emily Bronte’s character disappeared. We are fellow authors at Crooked Cat Books. I like her humorous Facebook posts about public displays of typos — alas, unintentional by those who wrote them.

Read on.

WHO IS NINA?

Back in 2012, when I first started writing Nice Girls Don’t, I intended it to be a stand-alone story and I had no plans for a sequel.  Only after it was published (in 2014) did it dawn on me that a loose end had been unintentionally left dangling.  The book is set in 1982, but in one key scene, mention was made of something which had occurred almost forty years earlier – a baby girl, born in secret during World War Two, and given up for adoption.  This was not referred to again in Nice Girls Don’t, and thankfully it didn’t affect the outcome of that story, but it did leave open the possibility of another one: What could have happened to that wartime baby?

The baby was Nina, born in mid-November 1943, when World War Two was still at its height.  Her mother was seventeen and unmarried, and although the war had changed many things, the prevailing post-Victorian attitude to illegitimacy was not one of them. So one month later, just before Christmas 1943, Nina was handed over to a childless couple who formally adopted her and changed her name to Stella.

Finding Nina is part-prequel, part-sequel to Nice Girls Don’t– but it isn’t just about the eponymous Nina/Stella.  It’s also the story of Nina’s mother Alice, who is always present in the background in Nice Girls Don’t, but who (for reasons which anyone who reads the book will appreciate) never really steps out of the shadows. There are two sides to every story, and I wanted to give Alice the opportunity to tell hers.

Here is how that story begins: 

Wincanton, Somerset, England – 14thNovember 1943

“PLEASE! Help me! I can’t do this!”

Alice panted in agony as the pains increased. She had never imagined that it was possible to suffer like this. It felt as though a vicious steel band was being tightened around her stomach.

The boot-faced middle-aged midwife threw her a look which was at best unsympathetic, at worst downright hostile.

“Help? You must be joking. There’s a war on. Even if we had the stuff, we wouldn’t waste it on the likes of you. You got yourself into this mess, my girl, and you can get yourself out of it. If you’d kept your legs together nine months ago, you wouldn’t be here now!”

Alice didn’t need to be reminded that there was a war on. It was because of the war that she was now in this dreadful predicament. Without the war, she would never have left her home village to work as a Land Girl. She would never have lost her father in the freak air raid two years earlier. And she would never have met Tom, the handsome Scottish soldier who had been stationed in the nearby town, and who had captured her heart.

Closing her eyes to shut out the midwife’s glares of condemnation, Alice clenched her teeth in a vain attempt to suppress another scream. Through her pain-soaked consciousness she clung desperately to the one thought which could sustain her: the distant but already fading memory of the baby’s father.

Tom had never even known about her pregnancy. He had been posted to India eight months earlier – and his letters home had ceased before Alice had even realised she was overdue. She had no idea exactly what had happened to him, but for him to cut off all communication was so out of character that she knew she could only fear the worst. Any remaining hope of ever seeing him again was fading with each passing day.

Was it a crime to fall in love? Was it a crime to seize the moment, knowing that it might never come again? If so, she was certainly being punished for it now. Not just through the physical agony of a long and difficult labour, but also with the mental anguish which came with the knowledge that she was about to break the most damning commandment of all. The unwritten Eleventh Commandment which had been drummed into her for the whole of her short life: Thou Shalt Not Bring Shame Upon Thy Family.

“Come on, Alice. You’re doing fine.”

These words were spoken by a different voice. It was a few moments before Alice realised that the bullying midwife had been joined by a younger nurse, who was now holding a cool damp cloth against Alice’s burning forehead.

“It doesn’t…feel…like it…” Alice gasped.

“You are. It won’t be long now.”

The older midwife, who was crouching down by Alice’s feet, spoke again. “It’s breech.”

Through the fog of pain, Alice wondered if she detected a trace of malice in the woman’s tone.

“Breech? What does that mean?”

“It’s coming out feet first,” the younger midwife explained. “It means it might take a little longer.”

A little longer? How many more hours can this go on?

“I can’t…”

“Yes, you can. Come on, now. Push gently, and I’ll guide the baby out. We can do this together.”

“No! I…” Alice’s next words were lost in a piercing scream, then another, then another. Then, suddenly, it was all over. She lay back, panting and exhausted.

“Well done, Alice,” the younger nurse said, as she covered her with a rough utility blanket. “You’ve got a beautiful baby girl.”

The older midwife snatched up the baby, marched across the room and placed her on the scales. “Six pounds five,” she barked.

“Is that good?” Alice asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

“It’s not bad, considering,” the younger nurse answered. “What are you going to call her?”

“I don’t know…”

As her daughter was placed in her arms, names were the very last thing on Alice’s mind. She glanced down at the wrinkled features, and the tiny fingers which were already gripping her own.

Yes, she thought, she is beautiful. And she is going to need a name. But what’s the point? I can’t possibly keep her.

She looked up at the young nurse. “What’s your name?” she asked.

“Nina.”

Alice looked up at her through brimming eyes. “That’s a lovely name. I’ll call her Nina, after you.”

FINDING NINA is officially released June 3, but is already available for pre-order.

1943: A broken-hearted teenager gives birth in secret. Her soldier sweetheart has disappeared, and she reluctantly gives up her daughter for adoption.

1960: A girl discovers a dark family secret, but it is swiftly brushed back under the carpet. Conventions must be adhered to.

1982: A young woman learns of the existence of a secret cousin. She yearns to find her long-lost relative, but is held back by legal constraints.  Life goes on.

2004: Everything changes…

 ABOUT SUE:

Sue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet who was born in North Wales some time during the last millennium.  She speaks French like a Belgian, German like a schoolgirl, and Italian and Portuguese like an Englishwoman abroad.  She now lives in Cheshire, UK, with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.

Her mind is so warped that she has appeared on BBC TV’s Only Connect quiz show, and she has also compiled questions for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as “professionally weird.” The label has stuck.

Sue’s own family background is far stranger than any work of fiction. She would write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.

Finding Nina, which is her sixth novel, is not that book.

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ALSO BY SUE BARNARD:

The Ghostly Father  Nice Girls Don’t  The Unkindest Cut of All  Never on Saturday  Heathcliff

 

 

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