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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Working the Beat

An Author’s Dedication

Authors have two kinds of dedication. There’s that stick-to-it-iveness required to write a story and stay with it from inspiration to the end. Then, there are the dedications we authors choose to give our books — on the page, the third and right after the one with the copyright info. It’s our way of saying thanks to the people who have been supportive or inspirational and often both.

In the past, I’ve dedicated my published books to my husband, Hank and family members, plus friends, Teresa Dovalpage and Fred Fullerton, writers who have been big supporters.

For Working the Beat, I chose Steve and Diane Magargal, as you can see by the photo above. The Margargals are the former owners of Liston’s Bar and Grill in Worthington — a hilltown in Western IG Working the Beat copyMassachusetts where I lived 25 years before moving to New Mexico.

Liston’s was a friendly place where Hank and I used to go Friday nights to dance and imbibe. Last year, Steve and Diane sold the bar they had owned for 21 years to a group, who tore it down with the intention of rebuilding and reopening Liston’s, which first opened in 1933.

The Isabel Long Mystery Series features the Rooster Bar and Grille, along with other bars, like Baxter’s and Red’s Corner Lounge. (Actually all of my adult fiction has a bar. I’ll be doing a post about that.) But while what happens at the Rooster is strictly fiction, I recognize that going to Liston’s — as well as another now long-gone Worthington bar, the Drummer’s Club, and working as a bartender at a restaurant that replaced it for a while — was great research and a whole lot of fun. The Margagals were great hosts.

As I’ve said numerous times, I take what I know and have my way with it. Just to be clear to people I may know from Worthington who guess otherwise: everything and everybody in my books are made up, including the owner and patrons of the Rooster. Honest to you-know-what.

But in dedicating Working the Beat to Steve and Diane, I wanted to recognize all of those great nights out and for providing inspiration. Thank you very much.

AN EXCERPT FROM WORKING THE BEAT

In the book’s first chapter, Isabel and Jack, who owns the Rooster, are playing cards. It’s a dead night at the bar since most everybody is at the Titus Country Fair for truck pull night. For those unfamiliar with the series, Isabel Long is the book’s narrator.

Jack shuffles the cards.

“Ready to get beat again?” he jokes.

But before I can answer, I hear two women laughing at the front door, two voices I would recognize anywhere. Cousins Marsha Dunlop and Annette Waters, aka the Floozy and Tough Cookie, are yakking it up.

“Where in the hell is everybody?” Marsha yells.

“At the Titus Country Fair, where else.” Jack puts down the deck. “Can I get you ladies somethin’ to drink?”

Annette snorts.

“Ladies? He sure got us wrong.” She waves her hand. “We’re all set for now. We just came by to see Isabel.”

The two of them move closer, one on either side of me. Both are wearing summer country casual, that is, tank tops and jeans, although Annette’s is a lot tighter than her cousin’s. She’s obviously on the prowl tonight. My keen sense of smell detects they’ve already imbibed in a few beers or something stronger, and maybe a few tokes of weed. Marsha’s bushy mane of hair tickles my shoulder.

“Me? What for?”

“You goin’ to the fair tomorrow?”

“Yeah, I’m taking my mother in the afternoon.” I glance at Jack when he coughs. “And then, I’m going with Jack to the demolition derby. Gotta see you in action, Annette. Heard you’re quite the driver.”

The two women make snorting laughs. Annette will be driving a car she and her son, Abe, fixed up. From what I’ve been told, this is the fifth year the Titus Country Fair has held a demolition derby, which the fair’s board decided correctly would pump up attendance. As Annette told my mother and me when we were at her garage not that long ago, she’s competed in the last two years, the first year on a dare. She was the first woman to compete in the derby. Now, there are a few other like-minded females who enter, although she claims they aren’t up to her driving skills. Her team’s name? Wild Woman. It could be Wild Women since Marsha helps on the sidelines, and yeah, they certainly fit that nickname. But both liked the name Wild Woman better. Ma and I saw the car, painted black with shocking pink lettering on the trunk: “Rough Waters Garage and Junkyard” and “Dear Old Dad Chet Waters.” It definitely looks like something a wild woman would drive.

“Just be careful,” my mother told her.

“Don’t you worry about me, Maria. I’ll just smash whatever car gets in my way,” she responded with a cackle. “This is my third year. I’ve figured things out.”

Now, inside the Rooster, Annette gives my arm a playful punch.

“What’s up?” I ask her.

“Glad to hear you and your mother will be at the fair in the afternoon. Make sure you go to the exhibit hall at around two. You won’t be disappointed.”

“Did you grow something?”

She laughs.

“Sure did, but nothin’ I could show at the fair. This is somethin’ else. Just come. Okay?”

This is unlike Annette to be so coy, but I’ll go along with it. My mother and I’ve grown fond of her ever since I took on her case to prove that her father, Chet wasn’t too drunk to get out of his shack of a house when it caught fire, that someone had it in for him. It was my second, and it brought me in touch with a rather rough crowd, country style, including the Beaumont brothers, Gary and Larry, notorious drug dealers who still manage to get away with it. But like the Floozy and Tough Cookie, I grew to like the brothers when I got to know them better for my third and fourth cases.

But this isn’t the time to linger. Annette’s expecting an answer.

“My mother and I can do that. We’ll see you there. Promise.”

She nods.

“Good. Hey, we’re heading to the fair now. Horse pull night.”

“Didn’t know you were such a fan,” I say. “I thought machinery was more your style.”

“She’s too much,” Marsha says as she gives her cousin a chop to the arm.

The Tough Cookie is all grins, which is a refreshing change from her usual scowl, well, except when she’s on the hunt for a man here at the Rooster or some other drinking establishment. Annette’s got her hair pulled into a nice ponytail and she’s wearing earrings, small gold hoops. She sure smells a lot nicer than her cousin. Now, I get it. She’s hot on one of the guys at the horse pull.

“So, who’s the guy you’re rooting for tonight?” I ask.

Ouch, now it’s my turn for a slap to the arm. I’m glad I’m out of that cast.

“You sure got me all figured out, Isabel,” Annette says with a snort.

The Tough Cookie mentions the name of a Semi-Regular Rooster who has a working farm one town over in Penfield. As I recall, he has a side business installing septic systems.

“Isn’t he married?”

“Was. Anyways don’t forget about tomorrow.”

LINK TO BUY WORKING THE BEAT:

Working the Beat has a Jan. 27 release. Here’s the link: mybook.to/workingthebeat

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Isabel Long Mystery Series

Meet My Next Victim

My mysteries always have a victim. And it’s Isabel Long’s mission to find out what really happened to that person.

Isabel, a longtime journalist turned P.I., focuses on solving cold cases in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. In the first, Chasing the Case, a woman had disappeared 28 years earlier. In the second, Redneck’s Revenge,  Chet Waters, a junkyard owner, supposedly died in a fire because he IG Working the Beat copywas too drunk to get out.  In Checking the Traps, the victim is a highway worker by day and a poet by night who supposedly jumped from a bridge known for suicides. And in Killing the Story, it’s the editor and co-owner of a small town newspaper who got offed walking home one winter night.

Well, now I am onto no. 5 Working the Beat, which has a Jan. 27 release. Who is the victim this time? Lucas Page, a young man, who supposedly — there’s that word again — fell into a ravine while everybody was watching a demolition derby at a local country fair. His grandmother, Shirley Dawes doesn’t believe it was an accident but no one was convinced until Isabel Long agreed to take on the case.

Shirley took in Lucas was he was just a toddler and his drug-addicted, homeless mother — Shirley’s daughter — wisely gave him up. For Shirley, it was an opportunity to make amends. Her late husband was a no-good abuser, and unfortunately she couldn’t protect her daughter and son.

Here I will let Shirley tell you about him in this scene. By coincidence Isabel and her mother are at the Titus County Fair when she approaches them. This is an excerpt from Working the Beat.

This story’s coming back to me now. I was the editor of the Daily Star then. We reported on an unattended death at the fair in a story that made the front page, and then like Shirley said, it was ruled an accident because of a brain injury, although she protested that in a story we ran, too.

“Now, I remember you, Shirley. You came to see me in the newsroom. You said you were frustrated the police didn’t seem to be looking that hard into your grandson’s case and you wanted us to do that.”

I think back and hope I treated this woman nicely.

“Yeah, I did. You said newspapers don’t do that kind of work.”

“No, not the one I worked for.”

“But I heard about what you’ve been doin’ now as a private investigator. Your last case was a doozy. Read about it in the paper.” She crooks a thumb toward Annette and her son, still talking with his admirers. “Course, there was Chet Waters. Maybe you can do what the cops couldn’t or wouldn’t do.”

“You mean find out what happened that night with your grandson.”

“Yeah. I heard you get paid for doin’ this. I wanna hear how much. I ain’t got a lot. But this is important to me. I loved my grandson. I’m the one who brought him up after his mother gave him to me. He was hangin’ around with a rough crowd in those days. Tryin’ to fit in. Here. Let me show you his picture.”

Shirley reaches for the purse on the seat beside her. The purse is vintage style, off white with a smart clasp on the top, no zippers, something my mother would use. I am guessing Shirley holds onto things. She removes a photo from her wallet and hands it to me.

“I took it at Christmas, the last one we had,” she says.

Lucas Page’s face smiles at me. He’s young, blue-eyed, and with the kind of features that would label him a good-looking guy. His most distinctive is the red hair that’s short on the sides and long enough on the top so it has a bit of curl. But back to that smile. He was happy to pose for his grandmother.

“He was a handsome young man,” I tell Shirley.

She swipes away a tear.

“Yeah, he was.”

HOW TO GET YOURS

Here is the link to Working the Beat: mybook.to/workingthebeat

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE

That’s the snow-covered Deerfield River flowing under the Bridge of Flowers in my village of Shelburne Falls after a recent storm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Isabel Long Mystery Series

Writing About Small Town Life

One of the themes in my Isabel Long Mystery Series is small town life. I’m talking about really small towns, around a thousand people or fewer, in rural Western Massachusetts. I got to know this part of the U.S. intimately as a reporter for a local daily newspaper and, of course, from living there.

And though the books in my series are fiction, I draw from those experiences to create what I feel are accurate portrayals of how people interact there, including in Working the Beat, number 5, which launches Jan. 27.

First a brief synopsis of Working the Beat: Isabel Long finds her next case at a country fair when she is approached by a woman whose grandson’s body was found there four years ago. Shirley Dawes took in Lucas Page after his mother abandoned him, doing her best after failing to protect her own children from her late husband, a no-good abuser. The official ruling is that he slipped and fell in a ravine behind the demolition derby. On the case, Isabel finds evidence, a bag of jewelry to be specific, that Lucas might have a connection to a string of break-ins in the hilltowns — yet another unsolved mystery. Was Lucas part of the ring of thieves? Or was he trying to do the right thing and died as a result of it?

So small town life isn’t like what you see in postcards, and that’s what makes it an interesting setting for my series.

For the most part, people, at least in New England, are nosy as all heck. We can’t help it. We know who drives what vehicle, who’s getting divorced or hooking up, and what trouble our neighbors are getting themselves into. Actually, Isabel counts on that kind of behavior because these nosy folks offer her clues, especially the Old Farts, a group of gossipy men who hold court in the back room of the local general store.

These towns don’t have a lot of commerce, not even a downtown. They are lucky if they have a general store, even luckier if it has gas pumps. Maybe there’s a bar or a restaurant, a church, typically Protestant, and a school, if the town has enough kids. Worthington, where I lived for 25 years in Massachusetts, used to have one stoplight, but the state removed it last year.

Politics is personal in a small town. How can it not be when you pretty know everyone who lives around you?

Then, there’s the potential conflict between natives and newcomers. These towns have their share of families that have been there for generations, like Isabel’s significant other, Jack, who owns the Rooster Bar and Grille where she works Friday nights, and are pretty proud of it even if they don’t have a lot of money. Then there are those, who move there from the big city. Some, like Isabel, embrace the town for what it is and then there are those whose idea of country living conflicts with what is real.

Isabel Long lives in the town of Conwell. The neighboring towns are: Penfield, Titus, Caulfield, Dillard, Jefferson, Mercy, and a new one with number five, Rossville. Don’t bother looking for them on a map, however. They’re all in my head.

Here’s the link to Working the Beatmybook.to/workingthebeat

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: I will be doing a reading Jan. 19 along with other authors from Straw Dog Writers, a group in Western Mass. via Zoom. I get five minutes to read from Working the Beat. I am pleased to have this opportunity. Yup, I’ve been practicing. And you are free to join us.

 

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Writing

Story Behind the Story: Isabel Long Mystery Series

One day I got it in my head that I wanted to write a mystery. I had already written books for adult and young readers, literary fiction and magical realism, respectively. One is even bilingual.

But it made sense to try this genre as I love a great mystery, especially one that fools me until the end.

So, I sat down, and the pieces came together fast. Extremely fast. That’s how it works for me. Not to sound like a nut job, but ideas come from somewhere. The same goes for the characters and what they do.

Anyway, it made sense that my protagonist, Isabel Long, would tell the story, so I wrote it in first-person, and because I want my readers to feel they are in the middle of the action, also in present tense.

Isabel’s back story: she has just come off a bad year when this series starts with Chasing the Case. Her husband died and she lost her job as a newspaper’s top editor. She is what the French call une femme d’un certain age. Isabel’s bit of a smart ass but she has a caring heart. Yes, I admit there is quite a lot of me in her.

After a year of proper grieving, Isabel is ready for a new life. And that’s when we first meet her. She decides to solve a 28-year-old mystery of a woman who went missing in her town of a thousand people. It was Isabel’s first big story as a rookie reporter. She plans to use the tools she relied on as a journalist to solve this case. And Isabel has a ‘Watson’ — her 92-year-old mystery-loving mother who’s come to live with her. My own mother, who is 97, inspired this character. Isabel also takes a part-time job at the local watering hole, the Rooster, where not only does she find clues for her cases, but a love interest in its owner, Jack.

Then I found I couldn’t let go of Isabel Long. I gave her more cases to solve in Redneck’s Revenge, Checking the Traps and Killing the Story. On Jan. 27, Working the Beat will be released by my publisher darkstroke books.

I hadn’t expected to write a series, but here I am.

And to get you interested in Working the Beat, here’s an excerpt from an early chapter. Here Isabel and her mother happen to be at the Titus Country Fair when they are approached by Shirley Dawes.

Shirley stays sitting when she sees us approach. I make our introductions, and then we take the seats opposite her at the picnic table. I make sure I’m in Shirley’s direct line of vision in case she reads lips.

“So, what did you want to talk about?” I ask.

Shirley works her mouth a bit.

“It’s about my grandson, Lucas. Lucas Page is his full name. He was killed here four years ago and whoever did it didn’t get caught.”

“Here in Titus?”

She gives her head a shake.

“I mean here at the fair. It was after the demolition derby, the first one they had. They found Lucas’s body the next morning behind where everybody watches, in the woods up there. They said he must’ve been drunk and fell down in the rocks. His head was hit real bad I was told.”

“What was he doing on the hill afterward? Was he alone?”

“That’s what I want you to find out.”

This story’s coming back to me now. I was the editor of the Daily Star then. We reported on an unattended death at the fair in a story that made the front page, and then like Shirley said, it was ruled an accident because of a brain injury, although she protested that in a story we ran, too.

“Now, I remember you, Shirley. You came to see me in the newsroom. You said you were frustrated the police didn’t seem to be looking that hard into your grandson’s case and you wanted us to do that.”

I think back and hope I treated this woman nicely.

“Yeah, I did. You said newspapers don’t do that kind of work.”

“No, not the one I worked for.”

“But I heard about what you’ve been doin’ now as a private investigator. Your last case was a doozy. Read about it in the paper.” She crooks a thumb toward Annette and her son, still talking with his admirers. “Course, there was Chet Waters. Maybe you can do what the cops couldn’t or wouldn’t do.”

“You mean find out what happened that night with your grandson.”

“Yeah. I heard you get paid for doin’ this. I wanna hear how much. I ain’t got a lot. But this is important to me. I loved my grandson. I’m the one who brought him up after his mother gave him to me. He was hangin’ around with a rough crowd in those days. Tryin’ to fit in. Here. Let me show you his picture.”

Shirley reaches for the purse on the seat beside her. The purse is vintage style, off white with a smart clasp on the top, no zippers, something my mother would use. I am guessing Shirley holds onto things. She removes a photo from her wallet and hands it to me.

“I took it at Christmas, the last one we had,” she says.

Lucas Page’s face smiles at me. He’s young, blue-eyed, and with the kind of features that would label him a good-looking guy. His most distinctive is the red hair that’s short on the sides and long enough on the top so it has a bit of curl. But back to that smile. He was happy to pose for his grandmother.

“He was a handsome young man,” I tell Shirley.

She swipes away a tear.

“Yeah, he was.”

I glance at my mother. She’s interested, of course. The questions are forming in my brain, but this isn’t the time to ask them. Already a parade of people I know have passed by with a wave, a hello, and a curious expression on their faces as they wonder why in the heck my mother and I are talking with this woman. They’re just being nosy New Englanders as usual.

“Shirley, we’re interested, but this isn’t the best place to talk. We need some privacy. How about my mother and I come to your home to talk this over?”

“What’d you say? My house?”

“Yes, your house. Well, you could come to ours if you prefer. We live in Conwell. But it would help us if we could see where you and your grandson lived. I should also tell you that if I’m interested in taking your case, I have to clear it with my boss. Do you know Lin Pierce?” I pause as she nods. “He gets a small cut of whatever I make. So, he has a say.” I register the concern in Shirley’s narrowed eyes. “Don’t worry. He hasn’t turned me down yet.”

“I understand,” she says. “Can’t do it tomorrow. I’m helpin’ out in the kitchen here. Monday mornin’ work for you?”

Ma and I exchange glances.

“How about ten?” I say.

Shirley nods.

“Ten, it is. Do you mind if I make a copy of your grandson’s photo with my phone?”

“Go right ahead if it helps.”

I place the photo on the table and remove my cell phone from my bag to take a shot before I hand the photo back to Shirley.

“Here you go.”

Shirley leaves us after she gives me directions to her house in West Titus. She lives on one of those dead-end dirt roads, hers is the last house, that’s also likely one of the last to be plowed in the winter and impassable at times in the spring because of the mud. But she’s probably one of those people who doesn’t mind because she wants to live out of the way of everybody. I don’t have to worry about road conditions this time of year. The road’s been graded recently she told me.

I wait until Shirley is out of earshot as she moves inside the crowd that’s wandering the fairgrounds. She stops first at the pumpkin display, where Annette and Abe are still hanging out.

“What’s your opinion, Ma?”

“I like her. She’s a little rough around the edges like a lot of the people we meet here,” she says. “But it’s about time we found a new case. It was getting a little boring.”

I smile. My 93-year-old mother is game for a new mystery to solve.

“Boring?”

She nods.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Working the Beat has a Jan. 27 release. But if you are a Kindle user, you can download No. 4 Killing the Story for free for two days only.

Here’s the link for Killing the Story: https://mybook.to/killingthestory

Here’s he link for Working the Beat: mybook.to/workingthebeat

 

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Life lessons

Friday Was The Last Day

By that, I mean my last day as an editor-in-chief overseeing three daily newspapers. Yes, I am finally leaving journalism after over 35 years in the business.

Retiring? I guess I could say that. But it’s actually my second time.

The first was in 2016 as editor-in-chief of the Taos News in New Mexico. I kept my hand in it doing book reviews, but I also helped adults working to get their GED and taught creative writing to kids in fourth grade. After we resettled in Western Massachusetts, I saw a classified ad that the Greenfield Recorder was seeking an editor. A couple of months later I was leading the daily newspaper, then later that year, I picked up another. And over a year ago, I was asked to lead the company’s papers in Northampton. That’s when I became the Pioneer Valley editor-in-chief. I only intended to continue for one year and that’s what happened.

Jan. 7 was my official last day although I will stay on four more weeks to help in the transition for the person taking over my role. I want him to succeed. I want the papers to thrive. People need local journalism, these papers’ forte.

Now I will concentrate on my own writing — the novels I write — and do some freelance editing. I have other plans.

When I was a kid, I never thought I would be a journalist although I will admit a fascination with newspapers. But being a reporter, columnist, and editor taught me a great deal about writing, and frankly, being an author has always been my dream. As a reporter, I had to pay attention to what people said, how they said it, and the way they behaved. I practiced writing nearly every day. My lessons continued when I became an editor. Journalists are supposed to be fair, objective, and accurate. Fortunately, I can abandon that in my fiction.

The best part of being a journalist for that long was the people I’ve met and certainly, the ones I worked with. I have a treasure trove of experiences.

Along the way I learned how to be a boss. I recall being sent to a one-day conference. The one useful thing I learned was that when employees were asked what was most important to them, the number one response was feeling appreciated. A light went off.

Making the people that “work under me” feel appreciated has been a goal ever since. I am fiercely protective of my staff — I joke I am the mother wolf and these are my pups — but naturally a few times, I have had to deal with serious internal problems.

Then, there are the readers and sources. For the sake of objectivity, I may be friendly but they are not my friends. How have I dealt with those who are unhappy with coverage, in particular rude and/or threatening people? I will listen. If they’re right, I will admit it. If it’s a standoff, well it’s that ol’ we will have to agree to disagree. The one thing I will not tolerate is someone swearing at me. I hang up.

On Friday, I removed the last bit of personal items in my old office and moved to a desk in the newsroom. As I worked on the Saturday paper, I joked it was more fun out there. We had pie — thanks to the news editor. I was presented gifts and a card with touching comments from the staff.

Yes, it has been a great run. Thank you.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Paul Franz, photo editor for the Recorder, took that photo of me for a story.

 

 

 

 

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