The Sacred Dog

Don’t Mess with Jenny Kitchen

It’s time to give a little love to The Sacred Dog and to Jenny Kitchen, one of my favorite characters in this novel. She is the feisty grandmother of one the main characters.

To backtrack a little, this novel centers on a feud between two men in a small town. Frank Hooker owns The Sacred Dog, a bar where the locals gather to drink and gab. The only one not welcome is Al Kitchen because Frank unfairly blames him for the death of his brother. Throw in a dark secret involving Frank’s wife. You know nothing good is going to come from this situation.

Al didn’t have it easy as a kid. His parents died when he was young, so he came to live with his grandparents. His grandfather was an abusive drunk. The only good thing he did for Al was to teach him to hit a baseball.

But Al has a strong ally in his grandmother, who had to put up with her own share of abuse. Probably the best thing that happened to Jenny is when her husband died of a heart attack in the junkyard behind their house. “Kitchen men are the meanest men. Don’t you ever be that way. Treat the people you love better,” she told Al after one such experience.

Jenny is tough. She has to be, living on social security and what Al, who continues to live with her as an adult, contributes to their household expenses.

She keeps to herself although she does have a few women friends in town. Al is the main person in her life although she can be tough on him. She wants him to do better.

She’s also Al’s biggest defender. His grandmother might not always have protected Al from Pops, but she stuck up for him when his teachers or the principal said he misbehaved in school. “Not my boy. You must be mistaken.” 

Jenny is the one who got Frank Hooker to let her grandson back inside his bar. She may be short, but she looked up at Frank with defiant eyes while she negotiated a two drink maximum. 

Then there are her cats, lots and lots of them, although like Al, she always has a favorite tom she lets inside the house.

Here’s scene from The Sacred Dog. Al is sitting in his first car in the junkyard behind the house he shares with his grandmother.

Al finished the joint when he heard the brakes on his grandmother’s car squeal as she backed it to the barn. He felt good and rubbery as he watched Ma open the trunk of her car. She bought it new after Pops died with his life insurance money. Now the car’s paint wouldn’t even hold onto a shine. Cats circled Ma’s ankles as she shuffled through the tall grass toward the barn. He laughed when she accidentally stepped on one of the cats and the thing squawked in pain. After a while, Ma walked into the barn and back outside, carrying a pail in little jerking motions toward the woods, shooing the cats away.

He lifted the bottle for another swig.

Al swore his grandmother must be made of cast iron, the way she was able to outlive that son of a bitch husband of hers. He saw photos of her when she was young, not a wrinkle on her almost pretty face. Her large, crooked mouth marred it. She used to have hair the same color as Al, a red that looked as if the strands had rusted in the rain. His eyes traced her wander into the woods. He spotted her flowered housedress between the trees, and then she returned to the barn. She was hollering for him, and Al started to laugh when he saw her try to lift the bags of cat food from the trunk of the car. He never saw Ma wear anything new, but she spent a fortune feeding her cats.

He slipped from the Mustang.

“Need somethin’, Ma?” Al said as he approached his grandmother.

“Where you’ve been, Al? I’ve been callin’ and callin’ you.”

“Just out back.”

She gave him a sniff and frowned.

“Out back where? A barroom?” She pointed to the bags. “Pour those bags into the metal barrel in the barn.”

Al hoisted a bag over each shoulder and followed his grandmother to the barn. He began teasing her about her cats, which were now in hiding. They all hated him. He didn’t blame them. They knew what would happen if he caught up with any of them. Ma lifted the top of the trashcan for him. He breathed through his mouth as he poured the contents of the bag into the barrel because the barn stunk of cat spray.

“Hey, Ma, tell me. What were you doin’ in the woods with the pail?”

His grandmother worked her mouth.

“One of my cats lost her litter, Queenie, the calico. She rolled on the three kittens and smothered them. So, I took their bodies in the pail to dump them in the woods.” Her eyes closed in a catlike squint. She scratched the back of her head. “When I looked them over, they seemed okay. But I guess cat mothers know when there’s somethin’ wrong with their young.”


You can find The Sacred Dog, in Kindle and paperback, on Amazon:

It is available in paperback at Barnes and Noble:


My Mother Is 99

On April 2, my mother, Algerina is 99 years old. That’s a very long life filled with creativity and a curiosity about the world around her. Let me tell you about her.

Her parents emigrated from the Portuguese island of Madeira. They met in New Bedford, Mass., worked in the textile mills, and bought a house and land in a nearby town, where they kept a large vegetable garden and goats. A great deal was expected of my mother and her younger sister, Ernestina. Although a good student, my mother was forced to drop out of high school to work in one of those mills. Her sister had to take care of the house.

As a young adult, Mom continued to live at home, thinking she was going to be an old maid, a term we don’t use today. She was 24 when she met my father, Antone on a blind date. They were married six weeks later. It was a very long and happy marriage that ended when our father passed at in 2015 a few months short of his 93rd birthday. Mom always says their years of marriage were the best of her life.

They had three other children besides me: my sisters, Christine and Kij; my brother, Tony. There are lots of grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren.

My father was active in their town of Fairhaven, Massachusetts, especially with sports, whether playing or coaching it. My mother would be there watching. Both were heavily involved in St. Mary’s annual shows, and my mother put her sewing talents to great use creating costumes for them both. (Her costume-making guaranteed me a starring role in my school plays. The prom gowns she sewed, including the one with the glass beads on the bodice, are in a trunk still.)

It’s unfortunate my mother had to leave school because she loved learning. She wanted to be a nurse, and seeing how she cared for our father in his last years, she would have been a caring one. She was a big reader. When we were kids, she took us to the library twice a week for an armload of books she read in bed. 

Mom took adult education classes in such subjects as millinery — I wore feathered hats with veils to church — jewelry making, cake decorating, painting, you name it.

She and Dad enjoyed traveling, especially to Hawaii, Las Vegas, Madeira, and the Azores.

I have fond memories of the long days we spent at the beach on the weekends. Mom would make clam fritters. (She and Dad dug for clams and quahogs in season.)

She loved eating lobster.

Until she had to give up her license a few years ago, Mom drove to three places to eat and shop — Wendy’s, Walmart and Market Basket, taking only right-hand turns. She had a bit of a heavy foot. Hank joked she drove like she was in the getaway car of a bank robbery.

My mother enjoyed gambling and winning, whether it was Bingo put on by one of the local churches or playing the slots at the casino. She had a head for Sudoku, a puzzle that mystifies me. A loyal newspaper reader, she still has a subscription to the New Bedford Standard Times.

My mom’s not the meddling kind of mother. She let her children find out things for themselves. I am certain there are times she was mystified by the decisions I made and the directions I took, but she kept that to herself.

Mom is also the inspiration for the mother, Maria in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. I give that character a lot of my mother’s interests and personality. She’s nosy and helpful solving crimes. My mother liked that.

On Friday, my son Zack and I paid a pre-birthday visit to Mom. She now needs special care and help, certainly understandable given her age and health. She was happy to see us, as we were happy to spend time with her. When we both sang “Happy Birthday,” she joined us. She still has her sense of humor. When she heard somebody say “Hey!” she responded with “Hay is for horses!”

There’s so much more I could write about my mother, but this post gives you an idea.

Happy 99th birthday, Algerina. Thank you for being my mother.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s a formal photo of her taken a number of years ago.

Isabel Long Mystery Series

Two-Thirds of the Way There

Ah, progress. Missing the Deadline, no. 7 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, is past the two-thirds mark. Believe me I’m smiling.

I began this book last fall and kept at it despite distractions like holidays, going back and forth with my editor/publisher, Laurence Patterson on The Sacred Dog (not part of the series), family visits, other writing projects, and personal stuff. My aim is around 75,000 for the books in this series. So, if you do the math, I am past the 50,000-word mark. 

To note this accomplishment, I printed what I’ve written so far and got out a red flare pen to mark up what I want to add, change or subtract. I also note with big red stars a bit of information that needs to be brought up later in the book, or perhaps I’ve found a repetition of a certain phrase. Then there is the big, red FIX beside a paragraph that needs work.

My plan is to finish to today and begin making the edits before I go full-steam ahead to finish the book. As I’ve stated before, I aim for 500 words a day although lately I’ve been writing more. So, it will take me maybe six or seven more weeks. That should give Isabel and me time to solve this case.

So what is Missing the Deadline about? Cyrus Nilsson, who readers of the series will recall is the Big Shot Poet, hires Isabel to investigate the shooting of his former agent. Gerald Danielson survived the shooting, which the police ruled an attempted suicide, but he is not the same man. He is now seriously impaired. After overhearing what somebody said at a party, Cyrus questions whether Gerald actually shot himself or someone else did it.

Gerald lives with his devoted sister, Wendy, who now runs the literary agency, in a village called Meadows Falls. He has an aide, Miguel. As Isabel delves into this case, she looks for people who might have a reason to want to kill Gerald Danielson, and there are definitely suspects, including an ex-wife who writes smutty romance novels.

Of course, I’ve carried over many of the characters who have become regulars, including Annette Waters and the Beaumont brothers. Yes, Isabel tends bar Friday nights at the Rooster with Jack. And her 93-year-old mother, Maria is still her helpful ‘Watson.’

I certainly will be telling you more about Missing the Deadline in the future.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t already caught up, here’s the link to my Isabel Long Mystery Series on Amazon, in Kindle and paperback:

And if you have read them all, I sincerely thank you and hope you look forward to reading the next.

Apple Watch, Exercise

My Bossy Watch

I am referring to the Apple Watch I wear, which is a bit of a nag in a helpful way.

The watch was a thoughtful gift from my daughter, Sarah, and son-in-law, John. The device measures, when requested, my heart rate, my blood’s oxygen level, EKG, sleep, activity etc. Before I walk, I click on the Workout app that will measure the distance I go, plus other aspects. Being linked to my other Apple products, it notifies me when I’ve gotten a text or call, plus whatever else I want to check, including weather, time, email etc. It even tells me how to drive home without my asking.

But back to the bossy part. The watch constantly reminds me to get moving and keep moving. If I go inside a store or the library, it questions whether I am still in my outdoor walk mode. Okay, okay, I hit pause, and try to remember to hit resume when I leave.

It advises me to meditate and then times me when I do. It bugs the heck out of me to stand and move a little every hour, which honestly can be a bit inconvenient. My reward? Encouraging statements that I’ve met certain goals and a spinning ring of light to celebrate.

Since getting the watch, I have set a daily walking goal of two miles, which most days I can achieve. I have several different routes in my village, and thankfully, all are circular. As I walk, at a pretty good clip, I note the architecture of the houses I pass. I will stop at the Free Little Libraries to check out the selection. Sometimes, a freight train will be passing through, and I will admire the artistic graffiti on the box cars. There’s the Deerfield River, whose surface and quantity of water depend on the amount of rain and snowfall, plus two bridges, including the Bridge of Flowers that will reopen next month. 

Here’s that red bra.

I pass people, often walking their dogs, or going on a village trek like me. Occasionally, I see something odd like a weird bumper sticker. The oddest? Definitely, the red bra that was hanging at the railroad crossing. What was up with that?

I am usually alone on my walks although sometimes Hank will join me. I would like to expand to other routes — there’s a very hilly one I want to try — and head to the state parks in our area, which will make that more of a hike. That should please my watch.

I don’t take sticks for village walks although each does have a significant rise in elevation, as my watch will note, but I might for those hikes I plan. I recall interviewing Doug Scott, who wrote guide books about Taos, New Mexico. (Hank and I lived there for 11 years.) Doug told me he carries a stick whenever he goes on long treks off trail, typically one he might find on the ground. Doug says he doesn’t intend the stick to be a weapon but it has a definite purpose should he encounter a wild animal. His theory is an animal can’t carry a stick so when it encounters a being who can, it commands respect. The animal knows the human is a level above. It’s an intellectual thing. A magical thing. I will keep that in mind.

Well, back to my less adventurous walks — the only animals I see are dogs on leashes, cats, and plenty of birds, including a few chickens.

Today, March 20 is the first day of spring, the Equinox, but recently we have been hit hard lately with snow, including a large storm last week that knocked out power in the region. (Towns around me got three to four feet. Our village didn’t get that much.) Yesterday, a steady wind enhanced the cold temps. Frankly, it was a bit brutal.

I dressed appropriately with long johns, but I questioned whether I had it in me to take that walk. But that little watch reminded me to keep things going. So, I bundled up — yes, that’s what I looked like in the photo above and no, that’s not real fur. I only passed two people walking. 

And midway on my walk, I was glad I pushed myself to do. Let me rephrase that. I am glad my phone did.

THANK YOU: I want to express my gratitude to everyone who downloaded my novel, Following the Lead, during this weekend’s freebie promo. At one point it was ranked 30th among Amazon’s free books, and readers were buying others in the Isabel Long Mystery Series. Here’s the link to all of my books on Amazon:

free, Isabel Long Mystery Series

Following the Lead: Two Days Free

Good news for Kindle readers: Following the Lead is free two days — Saturday, March 18 and Sunday, March 19. This book is no. 6 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. I will cut to the chase and give you the link:

So why in the heck am I giving my book away? Let me tell you.

First, I want to express my gratitude to those who bought the Kindle version at the $3.99 price. I appreciate your support. But as I’ve said before, there is writing, and then there is the business of writing. We authors have a lot of competition when you consider the books being pushed by big and little houses, plus oh-so-many people who are publishing themselves. How do you get your book to stand out? Good question. 

One way is to lure writers with a freebie promotion. Hopefully, if a reader likes Following the Lead, they will want to read the others. By the way, while it is part of a series, each book can be read on their own. And yes, the seventh, Missing the Deadline, is way past the half-way mark. 

I am pleased, as I was Thursday, meeting in person a fan who has read the entire series — especially when I totally fooled him about whodunnit on Following the Lead. But since most of my sales are digital aka Kindle, it is rare I will get that kind of experience, except in ratings on Amazon (thank you if you do) and post on social media (ditto).

I love writing my books. I want people to love reading them. But first they have to know about my books.

The Isabel Long Mystery Series is published by darkstroke books, but as a small indie publisher, authors must actively promote their books. I’ve learned to pay for promotions — not a lot — but that has made a big difference on these freebie weekends. My social media presence doesn’t have their reach, which is in the many thousands.

It’s also a lot of fun watching a book rise in the listings on Amazon.

Enough from me on the whys or wise of a freebie giveaway. Here is a brief synopsis for Following the Lead.

Isabel Long moves quickly onto the next case when a former boss entrusts her with a mystery that has haunted him since he was child. Lin Pierce, then only 11, was supposed to be minding his sister while his mother gave a piano lesson inside their home. But the sleeping baby was stolen from her carriage after he was lured away in a well-executed kidnapping that devastated the family. 

Forty-nine years later, Lin is convinced he met his long-lost sister by chance. Afterall, the woman not only resembled his mother but she had a distinctive family trait — different colored eyes. 

As she works her sixth case, Isabel believes the student taking the piano lesson that day, later a well-known musician, is key to solving it. But meeting him in person proves to be nearly impossible. 

As she did when she was a journalist, Isabel use her resources — including her mother Maria — to follow that lead until the end.

ALL OF THE SERIES: Here’s the link for that —