The Sacred Dog

The Bar in My Book

As readers of my Isabel Long Mystery Series will note, country bars are an important part of each book’s setting. After all, they are among the few public gathering places for people who live in the rural hilltowns. That’s true for The Sacred Dog, the name of the bar and the title of my book that will be released Dec. 27.

Frank Hooker is the owner of The Sacred Dog. In my last post, I revealed why his bar got that name. Originally, he named it for his wife, Ronnie, but after that ended in a d-i-v-o-r-c-e, it didn’t make sense to keep it. So, instead he renamed it after the dog he adopted, a patient stray who hangs out behind the counter and puts up with the bar’s noise. 

The Sacred Dog is the kind of place where people drink, joke, and get away from their families. Occasionally, newcomers and tourists will stop by, but this is typically a watering hole for locals.

Certainly, I have spent many a Friday or Saturday night at a country bar, drinking, talking, and even dancing when there was a band. I even tended bar once. It’s a great place to people watch, a definite hobby of one. (Working the Beat, no. 5 in my mystery series, is dedicated to Steve and Diane Magargal, the former owners of Liston’s in Worthington, which Hank and I frequented when we lived in that town. No, the bars in my books are not Liston’s, but it certainly has been an inspirational place.)

Frank’s bar has its regulars. Early Stevens, a lifelong friend and most loyal customer, began delivering mail after he gave up his farm. Monk Stevens, his nephew, supports his family with an assortment of jobs, including as the town’s dump attendant. The Dixon brothers, Lloyd and Royal work the town’s only dairy farm and often smell of fresh manure no matter how clean they are. Then there is Jerry Smith who is always hiding out from his wife. Big Mary is the only woman in the group but she knows how to dish it back to the guys.

The regulars typically engage in town gossip and playful banter. I use their conversations to create a bit of levity, which I believe helps heighten the book’s dark story, which centers on a nasty feud between Frank and the one person not welcome at his bar — Al Kitchen. That’s because Frank blames him for his brother’s death in a car crash. Al wasn’t at the wheel but Frank won’t believe it. Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with Al, who grew up in a tough household. Actually, his grandmother is the only reason Al is allowed at The Sacred Dog. She begged Frank to allow him two beers.

There’s a lot more to this feud. And I will admit nothing good is gonna come from it.

Here’s an excerpt. Frank’s interest perks up when he hears the regulars talk about Al Kitchen.

“Nah. What’d he do now?” Early asked.

“Al’s truck struck the end of the garage after he dropped a load of gravel for a new septic going in at a house in West Holden,” Monk said. “What I heard is Al took the corner too fast as he was leavin’. He just kept on goin’.”

Jerry let out a long whistle. “I mean you don’t hit the side of a garage without knowin’ it,” he said. “I’d like to hear him explain that one away to his boss. You all know what a bastard he is.”

“Guess his granny will have to pay his boss a little visit.” Monk’s head reared back, proud of his joke.

Frank glanced at Early, who tipped his head. So, it was true, he thought. Al screwed up again. What else was new? Early shook his bottle. He was down to his last sip of beer.

Early gave him a wink. “Looks like this bottle’s got a hole in it, Frankie boy. See if you can get me a real cold one this time.”

Frank laughed. “You old son of a bitch,” he said, as he reached into the cooler. “Hey, where’s Mary tonight?”

The row of men in front of him shrugged or shook their heads, except for Jerry, who wore a sly smile. The others turned toward him.

“Oh, a little bird told me Mary has a date,” Jerry said. “I’m not gonna tell you with who, ’cept he lives at Wrinkle City and his wife died a few years ago.”

“Vincent Snow? Him? He must be about twenty years older than Big Mary. Only real old folks can lived in those houses.” Monk sniggered. “Guess Mary’s been doin’ more up there than takin’ out the trash.”

Frank mopped the counter top. The men sitting in front of him, his best customers and best friends, had a good beer buzz working. When he looked at Monk and his Uncle Early, they seemed like young and old versions of the same man. Jerry leaned forward.

“Well, I’ll be. Mary and that guy, Vincent Snow. But, hey, we all get lonely sometimes,” Jerry said.

Monk slid off his stool and headed toward the jukebox. Frank knew what was next. Sure enough, Monk dropped coins inside the slot and moments later King of the Road began a-twanging on the jukebox. Monk, who returned to his seat, slapped in time along the edge of the bar. Beside him, Jerry joined in. Their heads were back, and their voices squeezed high.

Someone at the tables yelled at them to shut up, but it was only in jest, and then the phone began ringing. Jerry began waving his hand when Frank picked up the receiver. Of course, it was Cindy Smith on the other end. Her voice was so shrill Frank couldn’t bear hearing it a moment longer. “Sorry, Cindy, I haven’t seen Jerry tonight. I’ll be sure to tell him you called if he stops by. Night now, darlin’.”

Jerry gave Frank a thumbs-up, and Frank responded in kind as he hung up the phone because tonight he felt all was well in the world.

LINK: The Kindle version of The Sacred Dog is available for pre-order. Dec. 27 it will magically appear in your device. Paperbacks will follow at some point. Pre-ordering helps with ratings and I am grateful if you do. Here’s the link: https://mybook.to/thesacreddog

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: I saw this amusing sign a few years back in front of a bar.

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The Sacred Dog

The Real Sacred Dog

Although those who know me might feel differently, nobody in my next novel, The Sacred Dog is based on a real person. The one exception is the dog, Louise, who belongs to Frank Hooker, a main character in the book. At some point Frank decided to rename his bar The Sacred Dog in honor of her. Louise also has a pivotal role later in the book. 

The real inspiration for Louise is a dog named Sheena. We didn’t call her that but she knew the name, so we were stuck. Hank and I were living with our parcel of six kids in a small town in the sticks of Western Massachusetts when she found us.

Her owners, who lived down the road, left her tied up when they moved to the other side of town until she broke loose and found our compost heap. Her owner said we would keep her after I called. When the man came to drop off her bowl and chain, the dog lay on the deck and didn’t even acknowledge his presence. Sheena knew better.

Sheena, who was a black Labrador retriever, came with habits. She liked to wander the neighborhood, which was heavily wooded, visiting every dog and home. She knew where there were handouts from the neighbors. She was the alpha dog and all the dogs bowed to her as if she was indeed a queen. She enjoyed rolling in cow manure at a farm up the road. She enjoyed manure, period. Sheena also was pregnant, we found out later, and after the litter was born, we had her spayed. 

Sheena took to our family and sat regally amidst the hubbub of six kids playing inside. That’s when I dubbed her “the sacred dog” since she would put up with any amount of noise and activity.

At the time I worked as a reporter at home for a local newspaper. When I wrote at my desk, Sheena slept beneath my legs. As soon as I turned off the computer, she got up and found something else to do. Her job was done.

When Sheena died, I grieved longer for her than I did relatives I loved. And then she became a character in the book I began before the turn of the new century. (More on that another time.) Now, I am glad the book is being published thanks to darkstroke books. 

By the way, The Sacred Dog is a tale about a feud between two men — Frank Hooker and Al Kitchen. And I can honestly say nothing good is going to come from this feud.

Here’s a scene from The Sacred Dog involving Louise. Frank is at a river with Crystal, his 9-year-old daughter who has just returned to town with her mother, and his dog.

“Is it true your bar used to be named for Mommy, but you began calling it after your pet dog because you were mad we moved to Florida?” She looked directly at him. “Am I right, Daddy?”

Frank sat upright. “Well, honey, that isn’t the real story. I’d never do somethin’ like that,” he lied. “The new name just seemed like a fine idea at the time. The Sacred Dog. It has a certain ring to it. Don’t you think?”

His daughter’s head shook energetically. “Oh, yeah,” she said.

“Besides, Louise is an awfully good dog.”

Crystal knew Louise’s story. Frank wrote her after he found the dog hanging around his trashcans one afternoon when he took a break from writing up the monthly liquor order. He called Monk Stevens, in his capacity as Holden’s dog officer, and he told Frank she was probably dumped there because she was bone-skinny and had no collar. “She’s yours if you want her,” he told Frank. “You know what’ll happen if you don’t.”

Frank decided on the spot to save her. It’d been a while since he had a dog, and he took to calling the dog Louise after a girl he once knew who bore the same mournful expression. He fed her as much food as she wanted and within a few weeks, she became eternally grateful. One slow night, when Frank and Early played cribbage, Louise nudged the topside of her head beneath Frank’s hand. After a while, he told her to “git,” and though the dog was clearly disappointed, she left him alone while he played and talked with Early.

“You know Early. That dog is a saint, a pure saint. She never complains, even when those kids come in Sunday night to bother her. Look at ’er. The way she sets there, you’d think she was somethin’ sacred.” He paused while he studied the fan of cards in his hand. “Yeah, that’s what she is. Louise is the sacred dog.”

“Oh shit, Frank. You’ve gone off your rocker. Dogs aren’t sacred. They shit where you go. They eat shit and roll in shit.”

“Louise is different, I tell you.”

“Why don’t you shut the heck up and get me another beer?”

What had been a pet owner’s moment of tenderness now became an inspiration for Frank. A few weeks later, he decided to officially change the name of his bar, which was still Ronnie’s, to The Sacred Dog. Truthfully, he was thinking about getting a new name after it dawned on him it was rather foolish to have a bar named for his ex-wife. He discounted using his own or anything with the word Holden in it. The town had enough buildings named after John Holden, the town’s founder. Early suggested the Bowtie, but Frank said no one ever wore one in his bar and he expected no one ever would.

“A John Deere cap or torn T-shirt would be more like it,” Frank said, and Early laughed as if he had a tickle in his throat.

The Sacred Dog suited Frank fine, so he asked a lawyer in town to draw up the papers to make it legal. Then he asked Early to make the sign. The regulars thought Frank was joking, but when he told them the story, they agreed it was a good name for a bar. Some stiffs in the back room of the general store did grumble to Frank about it. The pastor of the Holden Congregational Church called to complain, but Frank, who had only been to church as an adult for funerals and his own wedding, told the men he didn’t see the connection.

LINK: The Sacred Dog is available for Kindle readers to pre-order. I am grateful if you do as it helps with ratings. The official release is Dec. 27 and paperback will follow. Here’s the link: https://mybook.to/thesacreddog

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s Sheena and me, when I had dark hair.

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6Ws, Author Series

6Ws with Author Michelle Cook

Michelle Cook is the next darkstroke books author to feature in the 6Ws series. (With a nod to my former life as a journalist, I opted for the 6Ws of the business: who, what, when, where, why and how, which counts as it ends in W.) Michelle’s most recent release is Counterpoint, which is a sequel to Tipping Point, her debut novel. Both stand on their own, however. These eco-thriller adventures follow the story of a young woman called Essie. But I will let Michelle tell you about her writing and her books herself.

Who is Michelle Cook?

That’s a tricky question to start with!

I’m an author who lives in the UK with my husband and two children aged nine and six. By day, I work for the National Health Service, but I disappear into fiction whenever I’m left to my own devices. 

I write all sorts of tales, but they mostly turn out dark, sometimes despite my best efforts. They are usually “what if?” stories – taking something from life around me and moving it on a step or two to see what happens. I’m also interested in resilience, and how people deal with extreme situations with a wider context. I naturally lean towards thrillers and dystopia.

What is your latest book?

My recent release is called Counterpoint. It’s a follow up to my debut novel Tipping Point, but it’s a standalone story if you haven’t read the first. The books are eco-thriller adventures that follow the story of a young woman called Essie. She lost all her family in a terrorist bombing some years before the story opens and lives a meagre existence in the 2040s amongst climate breakdown and social unrest. An authoritarian government controls the population with draconian laws and propaganda and the corrupt Prime Minister, Alex Langford, lines his own pockets while society collapses around him.

Essie discovers an elite conspiracy to suppress technology that could reverse climate change and provide limitless free energy. This puts her in the middle of a dangerous power play and in mortal danger. She must decide if she’s willing to risk everything to expose the plot. 

When did you begin writing?

I loved reading and writing stories as a kid. My first real memory of creative writing success was at the age of ten, when the teacher read out my short story in class. A slapstick tale of two talking kangaroos breaking out of a zoo, the work was sadly lost to history. But something in me must have remembered the buzz of others hearing my words.

Over the years, I got distracted by life and jobs, and stopped writing though I never stopped loving stories and was an avid reader.

A few years ago I took it up again, thinking it would be an excellent release from everyday life. Stress-free it was not but having two books published now is one of the things I feel most proud of and I can’t imagine stopping now. I’m a little while from retirement but I have a vivid plan of how I will spend my days when I get there!

How do you write?

Sporadically! I have one day set aside a week where I’m not working, and the kids are at school. That’s my writing day, though when I’m in the swing I will also write at night when everyone else has gone to bed. I often plot and think about the story while driving or listening to music—I love to build a playlist for each book.  But when I get down to writing it, I need silence so I can forget the real world around me.

When it comes to novels, I’m a plotter. I always work to an outline which lays out chapter by chapter how the story will unfold. It helps me see the bigger picture and get though the inevitable ups and downs of writing a book. Any author will know it’s a marathon effort and I need the scaffolding of a plan to keep me motivated. When I was drafting Tipping Point and got blocked, I jumped ahead to write scenes I could picture clearly and that sparked my enthusiasm again. I couldn’t have done that without an outline.

Where do you write?

At home, usually on my floppy sofa. Terrible for the posture, I’m afraid. I’ve tried to do the writer thing and set up in café, but I’m too nosy and distractable. I end up people watching instead of working. I have to be quite strict with myself to get anything done.

 Why do you write?

It depends on what I’m writing. Sometimes I’m trying to pour out my brain because I would drive my family crazy if I didn’t write it down. I get passionate when I see unfairness and injustice, to a point where I can’t understand why the world keeps turning while this stuff is going on. Writing helps get it off my chest without getting a divorce. Tipping Point was born of this obsession, during the era of Trump and Brexit, because I was so frustrated at the world’s blindness and I wanted to make it listen. Whether it does or not, the story is out there now.

On the lighter side, I suppose it goes back to the kudos of being the one who amused the class with my kangaroo story. I’m not the person who’ll regale you at parties, though. I don’t like the spotlight like that. Things always come out better for me in writing than talking. I love the idea that I can sit in my little corner and make stuff up, and you could sit in your corner and read it and think, “That was a great story, I enjoyed that.” I’m shy, though, so it’s best if I’m in the next room with a glass of wine when you read it!

The best times are when I’m writing to entertain myself. Someone once said write the book you want to read, and that’s always the aim. If I’m enjoying it, I can dare to hope my readers will too.

Thank you so much for hosting me, Joan. I had tons of fun responding to your journalistic probing!

More about Michelle Cook:

You can buy Tipping Point and Counterpoint here: http://mybook.to/counterpoint

Catch up with me on social media here: Linktree

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6Ws, Author Interview

6Ws with Author Mary Kendall

Mary Kendall is the next author featured in my 6Ws series. She used her life-long interest in history to write two novels, The Spinster’s Fortune and her latest, Campbell’s Boy, which was released this week. Like many authors, Mary has been inspired by her own experiences, including growing up in haunted houses. Really. Here, I will let her take over.

Who is author Mary Kendall? 

Mary Kendall lived in old (and haunted) houses growing up which sparked a life-long interest in history and story-telling. She earned degrees in history-related fields and worked as a historian for many years. Her fiction writing is heavily influenced by the past, which she believes is never really dead and buried. Fueled by black coffee and a possible sprinkling of Celtic fairy dust, she tends to find inspiration in odd places and sometimes while kneading bread dough. The author resides in Maryland with her family (husband, three kids, barn cat and the occasional backyard hen) who put up with her mad scribbling at inconvenient hours. 

Her debut novel, The Spinster’s Fortune, is a historical mystery. Her second novel, Campbell’s Boy, a coming of age historical fiction, was released Nov. 22. She is also a contributor to Darkstroke’s anthologies for charity with short stories included in Dark Paris, Dark New Orleans and Dark Venice.

What is your latest book? 

My second novel, Campbell’s Boy, was released this month through Moonshine Cove Publishing! It is coming-of-age historical fiction that crosses over into biographical historical fiction. The novel is the result of eleven years of research into a family genealogical puzzle in my ancestral line and centers around a real-life probate court case in the small town of Colusa, California, in the late 1800s. You can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/author/mary-kendallh

Here’s a quick blurb:

After the death of his mother on the wagon train out west, young Emmet Campbell struggles to find his place in the world. Fighting off town bullies, an evil Irish stepmother and his own learning disabilities, he mostly fends for himself in the boomtown of Colusa.  While struggling to find his footing, he never loses his curiosity about the world around him and the people in it. Scuffling and skylarking along the way, Emmet eventually discovers family and identity in places he could have never imagined. With equal measures of the dark and the light, Campbell’s Boy is a tender tale about what it means to be human.

When did you begin writing? 

Define “writing”? If little stories as a child count, then from age sixish on. The teen angsty years that followed could also be termed the emo journaling years. In my 20s, I dabbled with short stories. Attempts at novel writing began in my 30s but came to a screeching halt when three kids arrived. Enter the 40s and some breathing room where I picked it all back up. Now, in the ripe and mature decade after that (ahem, we don’t need to name it), I am about to see the publication of my second novel.

How do you write? 

I need both writing in long hand and typing on the laptop. It’s a combo that works for me in different ways. For example, editing is almost exclusively laptop. If I am stuck on a plot line, it’s picking up a notebook to experience the physicality of pen to paper.

Where do you write? 

I just recently got a private little den (sad when kids leave for college but it can come with a perk or two). Prior to that, my computer was in public space in the middle of household action. I made it happen but now it is so much better to have “a room of one’s own” — with a door. I also have a lovely outdoor area that overlooks my rose garden. The writing magic happens between those two spaces.

Why do you write? 

To untie the knots. By that I mean it is how I process and digest the ways in which life happens to me.

More about Mary Kendall: Parting words and social media contacts

I reached out and connected with our hostess, Joan Livingston, a couple of years ago, prior to signing up with our mutual publisher, Darkstroke. Joan is a wise woman and gave me some sage advice that has stuck with me ever since: “there is writing and then there is the business of writing.” Truer words never spoken.

That advice led me to the successful publication of my debut historical mystery novel, The Spinster’s Fortune. It also steered me in the direction of moving forward with the writing, both aspects of it. Thanks for having me on your blog, Joan … and thanks also for your wise words.

To learn more, check out https://www.marykendallauthor.com.

Twitter @MaryLavin49

https://www.facebook.com/mary.kendall.3152

https://www.instagram.com/mary.kendall.author/

The Spinster’s Fortune is available for purchase at mybook.to/fortune and short stories at mybook.to/DarkWorlds.

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Cooking, Thanksgiving

My Mother’s Trunk Turkey

Driving with six kids 2½  hours through the woods to grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving got old. That’s when we were living in Worthington, a hilltown in Western Massachusetts. So we informed our extended family we were staying put but they were welcome to join us.

My parents took us up on our offer. They didn’t mind making the drive. But, alas, my mother didn’t trust that I could cook a proper turkey. So she volunteered to bring the turkey. I could make the rest of the meal. I wasn’t insulted.

My mother was indeed an excellent cook of anything that had feathers while it was still alive. And besides she wanted to contribute something to the meal. So I said yes even though the smell of roasting turkey is such a savory thing.

The first time, however, the kids and I were surprised when my father opened the trunk of their car and carried an aluminum pan of cut up turkey to the house. What no beautiful bird on the table?  Not this year.

One of the kids – I don’t remember which one – was the one who called it Grandma’s Trunk Turkey.

Of course, not to her face.

But the name stuck.

I should say my mother was a school cafeteria lady in those days. Serving food cut up in aluminum pans was part of the job.

Her trunk turkey, however, was delicious.

So it was Grandma’s Trunk Turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner if my parents came.

That changed when we moved to Taos, New Mexico. Sometimes I had co-workers over for the traditional dinner — by then I had learned to roast a turkey, even using brine one year — and other times we ate at friends’ or in a restaurant. We came east a couple of times.

Now that we are back living in Western Massachusetts, we will be hosting the Thanksgiving meal at our home. It will be a full house with family. Monday we picked up the turkey, which came from a local farm. It was a lot bigger than the 20 pounds I ordered by four pounds so there will be plenty of leftovers. Everyone is pitching in with side dishes — our granddaughter Ella is making biscuits — pies, and wine. 

I’ve done my research on the best way to cook this turkey. I now have a great pan and a high-tech thermometer. But part of me secretly wants me to put the cooked bird in the trunk of my car and take if for a spin before dinner. But only my mother could get away with that.

And Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate the holiday!

BOOKS: Hey, while I’ve got your attention …. THE SACRED DOG: This novel is not part of my Isabel Long Mystery Series although the setting is similar. Basically, there’s bad blood between two men. The title comes from the name of a bar one of them owns. I will be telling you a whole lot more about it from now until its launch date Dec. 27 and beyond. Here’s the link to learn more: https://mybook.to/thesacreddog 

FOLLOWING THE LEAD: Here’s the link for no. 6 in the Isabel Long Mystery Series: https://mybook.to/followingthelead

PHOTO: That’s the bird I will be roasting.

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