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Chasing the Case

The First Read

On Saturday, I was at the Worthington Library to give the first reading of my new mystery, Chasing the Case. It’s only fitting since my family and I lived in the Western Mass. hilltown of Worthington for 25 years. That town and the ones around it inspired the setting for Chasing the Case and most of my adult fiction.

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Photo by Christine Charnosky

For me it was a bit of a homecoming. After all when I was a Worthington resident, I spent countless hours at the library with my kids.

I knew almost everybody who came Saturday. Many I hadn’t seen in 12 years or longer — before I moved to New Mexico. People bought books, including a novel I released last year, The Sweet Spot.

Yeah, it was a great feeling.

I read three excerpts: the very start of the novel;  a scene at the Rooster Bar and Grille; and a peek at the Old Farts, the gossipy men in the backroom of the general store. Then I opened it up to questions and discussion. It was an attentive audience.

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Photo by Christine Charnosky

And when I mentioned its sequel, Redneck’s Revenge is due out in September, they were happy for my return.

Can you go home again? Sure you can. I just did.

ABOUT THE PHOTOS: Thanks to Christine Charnosky, the editor of the Country Journal, for these and other photos she took at the event. In the one above, I sign a book for Ed Shanahan, who was the editor in chief of the Daily Hampshire Gazette, when I was a rookie reporter covering the town of Worthington.

FACEBOOK LAUNCH: Join me for a different launch, this one on Facebook. It’s Friday, May 18, 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Discussion will run for two hours. There will be contests with prizes. Want your name to be used for a suspect in the third sequel? I will keep everything open for 24 hours so people on the other side of the planet can join. https://www.facebook.com/events/164518200901454/

ORDER: Didn’t make to the reading? Here’s how you can get your own copy: http://mybook.to/chasingthecase

NEXT READING: I will be at Boswell’s Books on Wednesday, May 23 at 6:30 p.m. The store is in Shelburne Falls, my new home in Western Mass.

 

 

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Chasing the Case, hilltowns

Revealing a Mystery

As I write this piece, the official launch for my mystery, Chasing the Case, will happen in seven days on May 18. Yowza!

On that day, the book, the first in the Isabel Long series, will be available on Kindle. If you pre-ordered, your copy will pop into your electronic device. Paperbacks have been available for a while. Also, there will be a celebratory event on Facebook that Chasing the Case cover copyall can join and win prizes.

For the past few months, I’ve been sharing bits and pieces about Chasing the Case. I have had the great support of fellow authors who have hosted posts on their blogs. (Thank you so much.) That will continue into the future.

And I have two appearances. The first is May 12 at the Worthington Library, 4 p.m. if you live nearby. On May 23, I will read at Boswell’s Books, 6:30 p.m. in Shelburne Falls. Both are in Western Mass., where this mystery series is set.

At the Worthington event, I plan to read from my book and take questions. Ha. I bet a couple will ask how much of the town of Conwell in Chasing the Case is actually Worthington.

That’s only natural.

My family and I lived in Worthington for 25 years or so. It was my first beat when I became a rookie reporter. And although Chasing the Case is strictly fiction, Worthington and the other hilltowns around it, certainly have inspired most of my adult fiction.

Right now, I am pondering the passages I will read Saturday. As a friend asked, how do you share parts of a mystery without giving it away? Good question. And that’s what I will ponder today as I prepare although I know for sure I will read a portion of the chapter introducing the Old Farts, a group of gossipy old men who hold court in the backroom of a general store. I wrote about them in my last post.

Here’s an audio excerpt.

Thank you to those who have ordered or pre-ordered copies of Chasing the Case. I appreciate your support. Here’s the link for those who are interested: http://mybook.to/chasingthecase

And for old friends from the hilltowns, I hope to see you in Worthington for the reading.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: The Worthington Library by Ed Pelletier.

 

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Chasing the Case

The Old Farts

I call them the Old Farts. Actually, that’s what Isabel Long, the protagonist of my mystery, Chasing the Case, calls them — with a capital O and a capital F.

The Old Farts are a group of six gossipy old men who hang out early mornings in the back of the Conwell General Store. They appear to know everybody’s business Chasing the Case cover copyfor miles around, including Isabel’s.

For that reason, she finds the Old Farts useful when she takes her first case trying to find out what happened to a woman who went missing 28 years earlier in that town of a thousand people. They know all the players.

Actually, Isabel takes it one step further and gives the men nicknames. Here they are: the Fattest Old Fart, Serious Old Fart, Bald Old Fart, Silent Old Fart, Skinniest Old Fart, and the Old Fart with Glasses. You can guess how she came up with those names.

The Old Farts, of course, don’t know a thing about it. It’s likely the only one they don’t.

And once in a while, there are Visiting Old Farts, but they aren’t regulars.

Isabel starts visiting the Old Farts in the back room on a regular basis after she loses her job running a newspaper and decides to be an amateur P.I. She always sits on a bench besides the Fattest Old Fart because nobody else does.

The conversation is lively although the Silent Old Fart lives up to his reputation and rarely speaks. (When he does, it’s significant.) They like to tease Isabel about her personal life. But they do give useful tips or at least some history because unlike Isabel, they are all natives of Conwell. They’ve know each other forever. And they have no better way to start the day than to drink coffee, eat a donut, and shoot the shit.

Perhaps you have a group of Old Farts in your town. One friend who has read Chasing the Case recalled the ones he encountered in his.

For Isabel, they are her Greek chorus. The Old Farts will also appear in the two sequels for Chasing the Case: Redneck’s Revenge and Checking the Traps.

Here’s an excerpt of Chasing the Case featuring the Old Farts.

A bit of back story: Isabel is going to meet Andrew Snow, the father of the woman who went missing and the store’s former owner. She has her baby granddaughter, Sophie, with her. And one last thing: Sam is Isabel’s late husband and a carpenter.

I hear the Old Farts yakking it up when I step inside the side door and walk along the shelves holding canned goods, jars, and boxes. They go silent when they see me. I know every one of them, retirees with nothing better to do than get up early and drink coffee while they chew the fat in the store’s backroom. There are six main Old Farts: the Fattest Old Fart, the Skinniest Old Fart, the Serious Old Fart, the Old Fart with Glasses, the Bald Old Fart, and the Silent Old Fart. Of course, they don’t know that’s what I call them.

There are others who drop in, the Visiting Old Farts, but these six are the Old Fart regulars. Then there are the blue-collar workers on their way to a job site. This is only a pit stop for them. Actually, two carpenters pass me on their way out. Sam’s worked with both of them. They say their hellos and ask after me.

The Old Farts are likely the biggest gossipers in town, worse than any group of women, I wager. Sam told me they bring up a topic, say a touchy decision the board of selectmen made or a recent divorce in town, and weigh the details they know or suspect. They thrive on being the first to break the news. It’s almost embarrassing how excited they get, Sam said. As a former reporter I can relate to the thrill of breaking news, but I had to attribute every fact. I used the word “alleged,” which is unlikely in the Old Farts’ vocabulary.

There are no females back here, except Sophie and me. They show up later in the morning, the women who drive school bus, or who are married to one of the Old Farts and have come to pick something up at the store.

“Isabel, what are you doing back here?” the Fattest Old Fart asks.

“I felt like bothering somebody today,” I answer. “I don’t get to do enough of that anymore.”

The Old Farts laugh.

“No, really, why are you here?” the Bald Old Fart on the opposite bench says.

I sit on a bench beside the Fattest Old Fart. I unzip Sophie’s snowsuit, so she doesn’t get overheated.

“I wanted to see what I’ve been missing all these years,” I say. “Go ahead. Don’t let me stop you. This is my granddaughter by the way, Ruth’s little girl. Her name’s Sophie. Try not to swear in front of her. Ruth doesn’t want her picking up any bad habits.”

“Cute baby,” the Serious Old Fart says.

I look around as if it’s my first time here.

“Gee, this is awfully cozy back here. I’m an early riser, too. Might be a nice way to start the day, getting all the town news.”

They glance at each other. I’m having fun pulling their legs. Actually, I’m supposed to meet Andrew Snow. He called last night to say he found the box containing the contents of Adela’s car.

A few have guessed I’m teasing them. They snicker.

“So, what were you talking about when I came in?” I offer.

“About getting a vasectomy,” the Skinniest Old Fart says just to see my reaction, I’m certain.

“I wouldn’t think any of you would have to worry about that,” I fire back.

More laughter.

“Nah, we’re talking politics,” the Fattest Old Fart says. “But while you’re here, I’ve got a question for you. How’s your detective work going?”

MORE: Thank you to those who have bought or pre-ordered Chasing the Case. Here’s the link to Amazon: http://mybook.to/chasingthecase

Chasing the Case has an official launch May 18. If you pre-ordered a Kindle version, that’s when you will get it. Paperbacks can be purchased now.

If you are on Facebook, please join in on the May 18 launch at 2 p.m. Eastern Time Zone. https://www.facebook.com/JoanLivingstonAuthor/

The public online party will be lively for two hours or so with contests and discussion. I will leave everything up for 24 hours so people living on the other side of the planet can participate. More as the event gets closer.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A view of the two bridges across the Deerfield River linking the two sides of Shelburne Falls in Western Massachusetts. This spot is a short walk from our home.

 

 

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Chasing the Case, New release

I Killed Off the Husband

Of course, the husband in this case belongs to Isabel Long, the protagonist in my new mystery, Chasing the Case. My own is alive and well, thank you.

But when I wrote this book, I made Isabel a widow. Her husband, Sam, had died of natural causes and not by anybody’s hand. Oh, why not?

Chasing the Case is written in the first person, so I will admit there is more than a little of me in Isabel. We’re both nosy smart asses. She and I live in a small, Chasing the Case cover copyrural town. I was a longtime journalist, and so was she. But she is an amateur P.I. and I’m not. I just get to write about one.

For those who might be wondering, I didn’t start this book thinking I would have a widow as my main character. Like so many other things, it just happened.

Isabel was happily married to Sam, a skilled woodworker who was kinda deaf from power tools. He was a nice guy and a good dancer.

For those who know me, Sam sounds a little bit like Hank, my real-life spouse. Well, as I’ve said before, you take what you know and have your way with it. Most of my adult fiction has a character who is a carpenter. I joke that in this one, I bumped him off. Hank didn’t mind.

Anyway, Isabel loved and grieved for Sam when he died — it was actually the start of her bad year. (The end to her long-time career as a journalist was also a part of that year.)

She chose to mourn him properly before deciding “to do something foolish,” as she says.

And that’s where the book starts. Besides giving a go at being a private investigator, Isabel gets interested in a man. I’m not going to spoil the story by telling you who, but I like the guy. I bet you will, too.

I also believe you will find the inscription Isabel chose to put on Sam’s gravestone amusing. But that’s too far into the book. I offer instead an excerpt about Sam from the first chapter. Here, Isabel is digging a grave in the back yard for a pet cat that loved Sam. It’s late October, but the town is getting hit with an unexpected early snow.

I dip the shovel into the hole and eyeball the depth. I figure I have at least a foot to go. I’ve reached a rocky patch, but if I need to, I’ll get the crowbar from the shed. That’s the way Sam would do it, so I follow his advice. The crowbar is hanging where he left it.

Sam was a master woodworker although he was too humble to say that about himself. Anyone who hired him to build a staircase or do finish work in their house always got more than their money’s worth. He did the same when he built this house.

His workshop was in the basement. I could hear him banging around down there, building something beautiful. I haven’t had the heart to do anything with his tools. Sometimes I take my coffee down there, especially the first months after he was gone, just like I used to when he was alive. I’d bring him a cup. He’d light up a cigarette, the only place in the house he smoked, and tell me what he was doing.

Yes, I miss him like hell.

We met in Boston, got married pretty fast, and started having kids. We moved to Conwell with the first, Matthew, because we wanted to raise him in the country, and then had two more close together. After taking a break to be with the kids when they were little, I started writing for the Daily Star as a correspondent, covering my town and the ones around it. I got paid, first by the inch, and then by the story. I used to be a reporter in Boston, not the Globe or Herald but something a lot smaller and now nonexistent – a victim of the big crash in 2008 and the rise of online news. At the Star, I went from correspondent to staff reporter to editor, and as I joke, clawed my way to the top, where I liked it until the paper got sold.

Sam and I made a good life here for our kids and us. He was a trustworthy guy, a little deaf from the power equipment and used to keeping things inside. But he was kind, hardworking, and a great dancer.

Yup, it still hurts.

THE NITTY GRITTY: Like what you read? Chasing the Case is available from Amazon. Here’s the link: http://mybook.to/chasingthecase 

You can pre-order the Kindle version, which has an official launch of May 18, or buy a paperback now. Thanks for your support.

By the way, if you’re on Facebook, join me for an online launch party that day, 2 p.m. Eastern Time Zone for online discussion and contests.

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: That’s an alleyway that leads to the Shelburne Falls Candlepin Bowling Alley in Western Massachusetts.

 

 

 

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Chasing the Case, Writing

How It Starts

Well, you have to start somewhere. That certainly includes writing a book. When I began Chasing the Case in fall 2016, I did what I always do: I started writing and kept at it.

Isabel Long, the mystery’s main character, tells the story, so the novel is written in first person. She introduces herself while she buries a dead cat in her back yard. And as it so often happens with a chore, her mind wanders toward her recent bad year — the deathcover2 copy blog of her husband and losing her job running a newspaper. She goes over her last day at the paper and how she swiped some folders of cold cases. At the time, she wasn’t sure what she was going to do with the info they contain. Now that she’s decided to investigate a 28-year-old missing person’s case, it will come in handy.

I tried to give the reader a first good look at Isabel. She’s smart and sassy. She won’t take crap from anybody. But she also cares. This helps her become a good private investigator — along with the transferable skills she had as a longtime journalist.

Before I continue, let me share a story. After I finished Chasing the Case in spring 2017, I pitched the novel to various agents and publishers. An editor at one small indie house that specializes in mysteries wrote back that I broke some cardinal rule by killing off a beloved pet — the cat Isabel is burying — never mind starting the book that way. I responded that writers are meant to break rules. No, I didn’t hear back. (And thanks to my publisher, Crooked Cat Books, for taking me on.)

Today I looked at a document with the barest of notes: “Set the scene. Isabel gets a part-time job at the Red Rooster. She is working one night or day when an old coot comes in. His daughter disappeared years ago. Cops flubbed the case, treating her as a missing person and not a criminal case. It is one of the cases Isabel stole from the newsroom.”

While it got me going, it’s not what I wrote a month later. The opener in that early draft is close to what appears in the book. I believe it’s a good start.

Below you will find a teaser to Chasing the Case. Here is a bit of the opening chapter called Dead Cat.

My name is Isabel Long. You may know of me, at least if you live in these parts. I was the managing editor of the local paper, the Daily Star, for almost fifteen years until the bastard who owned it sold out to a big chain. I shouldn’t really call him a bastard. He’s a decent enough guy. But he walked away from the newspaper that had been in his family for three generations with a couple of million bucks in his bank account, lucky him, and abandoned us to a corporation.

I remember the morning he called everyone into the pressroom to give the news. He claimed nothing would change. We had nothing to worry about. I turned to my assistant editor and muttered, “Open wide. You won’t feel a thing.”

I was right. He was wrong.

A month in, we were told by the publisher, who still had his job then, we all had to reapply for ours. He pulled us into his office one by one. Of course, these things are always done on a Friday. They don’t like ugly scenes in the middle of the workweek.

I sat across from George at his desk. I looked him in the eye. He had a hard time doing the same.

“Isabel, I hate to do this to you,” he said.

“Then don’t.”

“I know it’s been a bad year for you.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Please, Isabel, you’re not making this easy.”

“Why should I? I worked my tail off for this paper for thirty-one years, as a reporter then an editor. I ran the newsroom for the last fifteen. Now I’m getting the heave-ho.”

“No, you’re not. You just have to reapply.”

“So, what are the odds they’ll hire me back at what I get paid now?”

“Do you want me to be honest or lie?”

“What do you think?”

His head moved in a slow sideways roll.

“God’s honest truth, I haven’t a clue.”

“Be straight with me, George. What’ll happen if I don’t reapply?”

“You can kiss this job good-bye.”

That’s what I liked about George. Being an old Yankee, he never tried to make bad news sound good. I’m the same way although I grew up in the eastern part of the state, and unlike George, I may be a New Englander, but I’m not a Yankee. My grandparents came over on the boat from the Azores and Madeira islands. My last name before I got married was Ferreira. George’s folks were on the Mayflower or some other Yankee vessel. My folks fished and worked in sweatshops. His bled blue when they got a paper cut.

“What does that mean?” I said.

“You can collect unemployment for a while.”

“Any severance pay?”

He cleared his throat.

“I believe there’d be a, uh, modest payment considering your length of service here.”

“Enough to buy new shoes?”

“Depends on where you buy them.”

“I am guessing more like Payless than Versace.”

George’s head was rolling still. He knew my humor by now.

“No, not Versace but a lot better than Payless.”

I thought it over. If Sam, my husband, were still alive, we would’ve talked it over that night. But he’s part of my bad year, the start of it really. He died in his favorite chair while watching a basketball game on TV. That was November 8, twelve days from today. No one suspected the skinny guy would go from a heart attack. I couldn’t do anything to get him back when I found him. Too bad. He’s one of the good ones. I miss him like hell.

I was too ticked off to accept the deal.

“Tell them I said no.”

“You sure?”

“Have you ever known me not to be sure?”

He smiled one of those smiles that leak sadness from inside.

“Okay, go see the ladies in the office. Consider this your last day.”

“So soon, eh? I get it. They don’t want me poisoning the pool. Let me get my stuff, and I’ll be out of your hair.”

“Uh.”

“What is it now?”

“I have to go with you to your office when you do it.”

“They’re afraid I’ll take some pencils and a pica pole? Jesus, I’m glad I’m not gonna work here anymore.”

George frowned. “I know.”

Later, George tried not to make me look too criminal when he accompanied me to my office. He sat in my chair while I went through the drawers and shelves. I already had a box I snagged from the pressroom when the HR director thought I went to the women’s room. As I took what belonged to me, I kept getting interrupted by my staff, who said nice things and even hugged me, all for the first time. I liked things to be at a professional distance. No drinks after work with the underlings or anything like that. But I was touched they wanted to say good-bye. I was a decent boss. I treated my staff fairly, and they knew I had their back. I was the mother wolf of the newsroom. No one touched my pups.

I wasn’t about to ask any of them if they would be reapplying for their jobs. I bet the ones with young families and college debt would, but I didn’t want to know. And I didn’t want them to think I’m the only one with convictions.

I made cleaning out my desk seem as boring as possible. I wanted George to lose interest in what I was doing. I already stashed the photos of Sam, our daughter and two sons, and our granddaughter who was born in May, the only happy thing that happened so far this year. I had some desk art, silly stuff like pinecones, shells, and a jar of sea glass. I’m nuts about stuff like that. There wasn’t much in the drawers I wanted to take home: my lunch bag, thermos, and purse. I’m not a hoarder. I opened each drawer, gave their contents a quick assessment, and then let them slide shut. I didn’t even take a pencil or pad although I should’ve out of spite.

George woke up a little when I removed a couple of manila folders from the bottom drawer.

“What’s that?”

“Clippings. I’m gonna have to get a new job sometime.”

He nodded. I was pleased he believed me. He wouldn’t want what was in those folders to leave the newsroom. They were for cold cases like the one that happened twenty-eight years ago in Conwell, the hilltown in Western Massachusetts where I live. A woman, Adela Collins, disappeared, and the cops were too incompetent to figure out what happened to her. I shoved the folders in the box.

That happened four months ago. I can’t even read the Star and what the new owners have done with it. At least, I don’t think about the paper all the time or get pissed off about it, just some of the time, like right now while I bury this cat.

NOTE: If you like what you’ve read, here is the universal link to Amazon: http://mybook.to/chasingthecase

You can pre-order the Kindle version, which will pop into your computer, tablet etc. on May 18. For those who prefer a copy in hand, the paperback is available.

I appreciate those who have ordered a copy. Thanks for your support. I hope you enjoy what you read.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls opened a few days ago. The first blossoms are crocuses and such. I couldn’t help walking the bridge. That, too, was another start.

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