Following the Lead, Isabel Long Mystery Series

Killing off a Character

This is a true story although I can’t divulge names because that would give away too much of the plot for Following the Lead, no. 6 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. But even so, it’s one worth telling.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that our son, Zack owns Floodwater Brewing in our village of Shelburne Falls. And this where I met, oh, let’s call him Mr. X, one of the regulars.

Mr. X, who lives within walking distance of the brewery, loves to play cribbage. So does Hank. And they will often coax one or two people to join them playing a game I don’t understand that involves moving pegs around a board depending on what cards you and the others are holding. Floodwater has a cribbage board that resembles a small table so the players gather around on chairs.

Originally from Canada, Mr. X has lived in Western Massachusetts for many years. He’s got a great sense of humor that sometimes borders on him being a wise guy. He also reads all of my books, including the Isabel Long Mystery Series

Mr. X likes to dish out the wisecracks, especially when I was the editor-in-chief of the local daily newspaper. One day, I decided to dish it back. I told him, “I’m gonna put you in one of my books and kill you off,” or something close to that. He laughed.

Then, I forgot I said it.

But I guess others didn’t. I was reminded one day by Mr. X’s pal and fellow cribbage player that I threatened to bump him off in one of my books and how much he loved that idea. That was when I was about a third of the way through Following the Lead. I checked in with Mr. X, who said he would be delighted if that happened.

Oh, dear, how was I going to pull that off?

In the past, I have used the names of real people in my books as a prize for a virtual launch party on Facebook. But I specifically created characters I thought they would like. One was a ranger, another a mail deliver. I even used the names of people’s pets.

Yes, I use Mr. X’s real name in Following the Lead. Let’s say he is what I would call a person of interest in a case involving a baby’s abduction from her front yard 49 years earlier. Isabel feels he may have useful information, but she is having the darndest time trying to meet him in person. So for a good part of the book all she knows about this person of interest comes from other people. 

While writing the book, I would tease Mr. X about his character but reveal nothing when I would see him at the brewery. I didn’t even let him see a draft. But I know he’s looking forward to reading it when the Kindle version comes out Nov. 3 since he’s told me so.

And, that’s all I’m going to say right now abut Mr. X and his doppelganger.

BOOK LINK: Following the Lead will have a Nov. 3 release for Kindle and soon after for paperback. It is now in pre-order mode and I am grateful to those who do that. It helps with ratings. Thank you. Here is the link: https://mybook.to/followingthelead

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s the wooden sign above Floodwater our son, Zack hand-carved and painted. There’s one more piece to go. Here’s the link to the website: http://floodwaterbrewing.com/index.html


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Isabel Long Mystery Series

Making a Pit Stop

FIRST THINGS FIRST: My website was out of order for over two days when I foolishly “hit all” when updating its plugins. As a result, viewers would see that accursed white screen of death and I couldn’t log on to my website to fix it. I read countless articles and watched videos etc. No luck there. But thanks to Shivam, with tech support for GoDaddy who likely lives halfway around the world, and step-by-step emailed instructions from Travis Johnston of Creo Coding who lives in my village, I finally figured it out. A big relief for sure. Now onto the content I had hoped to file Friday.

I can’t think of a better name for a convenience store in the middle of nowhere than the Pit Stop. It came to me in an inspiring moment when I was writing Redneck’s Revenge, no. 2 in the Isabel Long Mystery Series. That’s before the previous owner got himself into a heap of trouble, and in the next book, it got sold to cousins Annette Waters and Marsha Dunlop with Marsha’s guy sort of a silent partner. 

This is what I imagine when I think of the Pit Stop. It’s kind of a shack with pumps out front and a parking lot large enough to hold a pig roast, which is what happens for an open house in book no. 4, Killing the Story. Annette’s son, Abe lives in a small apartment in the back. The store offers the usual assortment of staples, such as milk, cigarettes, and beer.

The décor is what I would call country chic. Besides the usual beer signs in the window — like the one above that I photographed on a local convenience store — and on the walls, it has a mounted deer head and pheasant inside instead of the NASCAR paraphernalia the previous owner displayed. The Pit Stop prefers cash and you gotta pay before you pump. Gas prices are a little higher here, but it’s convenient having pumps in town for those who forgot to fuel up in the city.

Annette aka the Tough Cookie and Marsha aka the Floozy are women you don’t want to mess with. Neither holds back what they say. Plus they are a source of info and amusement for Isabel. Often, she and her mother, Maria, her partner in crime, will visit. Typically, Marsha works the counter. Annette, who runs a junkyard and garage, will stop by. As natives, they have a handle on who lives here and what they do. Isabel will ask if either of them has info about somebody they want to meet and get some gas. Besides, you never know who you might find there. Sometimes that can be an unpleasant encounter as Isabel and her mother experience in Following the Lead.

But here’s another scene from Following the Lead. Isabel is looking for info about man who is a person interest in her missing person’s case.

Next we go to the Pit Stop, which isn’t that far from Baxter’s, not because I need gas although I will get some anyway but to quiz Marsha aka the Floozie. Marsha and her cousin Annette took over the place earlier this year, but being co-owner and the person most frequently behind the counter, she might know something about Robert Todd. It’s likely he even gasses up there since the Pit Stop has the only pumps in this part of the hilltowns. Otherwise you have to pray you make it to a station near the closest city or plan way ahead before you go home. 

Marsha is on the phone behind the counter, but she says, “I’ll catch you later,” to whoever is on the line and hangs up. She comes around to give my mother a hug, which surprises both of us since Marsha isn’t the hugging kind and you know how my mother feels about it, and a slap to my arm, which is the Floozy’s usual form of endearment to me.

“You two look like you’re up to somethin’. Am I right?”

“Besides getting some gas, we could use a little info for my new case.”

Now recovered from her hug, my mother says, “You were so helpful Marsha in the last one. Isabel is trying to track down a person of interest we believe lives around here.”

Person of interest? Both Marsha and I smile at my mother using that phrase. I believe Marsha enjoys our visits although I make sure to spend some money. After all, she’s manning or make that womaning a store in the middle of nowhere. I am very aware a customer could show up any time to buy gas, beer, or cigarettes, or all three, which will require her attention, so I plan to get right to it.

“Do you know a man named Tim Todd?” That draws a blank expression. “No? How about Robert Todd?”

I pull out that photo again. Marsha’s lips scrunch up a smile as she nods.

“Yeah, I know the guy. Comes in for gas. Smokes, but only that American Spirit brand. The beer we carry ain’t good enough. He laughed at that California wine we carry. I like to call him Bobby just to tick him off.” She uses the tip of a finger to push up the end of her nose, a sign my own kids used to brand someone a snob. “And why in the hell are you interested in him?”

Yes, why indeed.

LINK: Following the Lead is ready for pre-order. Do it today and the Kindle version will magically pop into your device Nov. 3. You can find it on Amazon with my other books: https://www.amazon.com/Joan-Livingston/e/B01E1HKIDG

Thank you if you do.

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: I have fallen in love with hydrangeas. I have planted four in my yard. And everywhere I go I see bushes.

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Isabel Long Mystery Series

Good Hearted Readers

I am fortunate to have a son who owns a microbrewery — Floodwater Brewing. Besides brewing great beer, Zack has created a community space in our Shelburne Falls Village for locals and visitors along with musical entertainment, games, and comedy. And I joke as his mother, I get free beer for life. Besides that perk, paperbacks of my Isabel Long Mystery Series are on sale. They even have their own shelf built by Hank.

Admittedly, the vast majority of my book sales are through Kindle as digital is the preferred way to read for so many people. I am also grateful that digital enables my books to be available to readers around the world. But then, there are those who prefer a book in hand, whether they’re old school readers or people who already spend a lot of time staring at a computer screen. So, for paperback readers, I offer them the books in my series at what I call the Floodwater Discount. I can do that since my son doesn’t take a cut, nice kid that he is. (He also named one of the beers and a tank for me.)

Sometimes it’s an impulse buy for a visitor to Floodwater. Sacha, one of the bartenders, recently sent me a text about a woman who came in on a Sunday afternoon and bought all five books. The woman hugged them — Sacha sent me a photo — and jumped up and down, excited to have the series. I am sorry I wasn’t there to thank her. 

There have been times when someone bought a book off the shelf, and then discovered I was sitting at the bar across from them. I went over to talk.

I have also done two readings at Floodwater and will likely do more.

Other times, people have bought the first, got hooked and continue through the series. That’s what’s happening with musician Scott Cadwallader, who performs at open-mic nights at Floodwater. On Sept. 2, he did a solo show. Scott plays the originals he has skillfully composed, no covers, but that night as a tribute to my series, he started his set with “Good Hearted Woman.” I believe Scott is onto book no. 3.

That’s Scott playing the tune in the photo above. 

“Good Hearted Woman” is a Waylon Jennings song about a woman who will put up with her man’s rowdy habits. The song is on the playlist for the bands that play at the Rooster Bar, where Isabel Long tends bar on Friday nights. It is the first song she and Jack dance to in Chasing the Case, the first in the series. It eventually becomes their song.

Here’s the first mention.

On the other side of the room, the Slim Jims gulp down beers before their next song. One of the Jims leans into the mike. “This is for all you bad hombres lucky enough to have a woman like this.” Then the crowd goes a bit nuts when the Slim Jims play the familiar opening to Waylon Jennings’ “Good Hearted Woman.” Yeah, I bet all the bad hombres in this room would like one of those gals.

Jack drops a full tray on the counter and before I take anything, he grabs my wrist. He tips his head toward the direction of the band.

“Come on, Isabel, let’s dance,” he says, and then he announces loudly, “The bar’s closed. No beer until this song’s over.”

I let him drag me onto the floor. I haven’t danced in well over a year. Jack’s a bigger man than Sam, but I’m surprised by his moves. I can’t recall seeing him dance before, but then I might have just been having too good a night out with Sam that I didn’t pay attention. I let him have the lead, and he’s got me twisting and twirling on the dance floor. I hear myself laugh. Jack laughs, too. The other dancers move aside for us. He’s got that big Jack Smith grin going. He’s spinning me this way and that, and even ends the tune with a corny, little dip. We get a cheer from the customers when he pulls me upright at the end.

I’m a little breathless, but I manage, “Thanks. That was really fun, Jack.”

He chuckles.

“We’ll have to do it again soon,” he says, and then he jokes, giving me a loud but friendly, “Now, woman, git back behind the bar.”

So thanks Scott for playing that song and for everyone who stops by Floodwater and buys one of my books. Stay tuned, Following the Lead will be out Nov. 3. Here’s the link to preorder and magically it will appear in your device that day: https://mybook.to/followingthelead

Alas paperback readers will have to wait a little bit longer.

FLOODWATER: The brewery, owned and created by Zack Livingston, is within a short walk from the noted Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. Here’s the link to learn more http://floodwaterbrewing.com

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Writing

Keeping a Series Going

Following the Lead, no. 6 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, is in the works for a Nov. 3 release and available for pre-order. But before I started no. 7, I was inspired to take a pause and reread each book. I had the time and motivation to maintain the series’ consistency.

So, as I sat on the front porch, my alternate office these warm weather days, I went through each one, as a reader and not as the writer. Chasing the Case. Redneck’s Revenge. Checking the Traps. Killing the Story. Working the Beat.

Frankly, key to this series is Isabel Long who makes it easy for me to create and continue a series since she tells the story. A widow a year. A former long-time journalist who plans to put that profession’s transferable skills to good use investigating cold cases in the sticks where she lives. A part-time bartender. She’s not some sweet young thing. Smart, savvy, and a bit of a wise-ass, especially about her observations of hilltown life. I admit there’s a lot of me in this character, save the widow part.

As I have mentioned before there are characters I love too much to let go. Annette Waters aka Tough Cookie is one. She runs a junkyard, garage, and co-owner of a convenience store in the middle of nowhere called the Pit Stop. The Old Farts, those nosy geezers who meet in the backroom of the Conwell General Store, are others. Of course, there’s Maria, Isabel’s mother and sidekick, plus Jack, her love interest that owns the Rooster Bar. Bad boys Gary and Larry Beaumont. Marsha. Annette’s son, Abe. Isabel’s old boss, Lin Pierce. Dancin’ Dave Baxter. And Jim Hawthorne aka Thorny.

Some characters I create don’t appear in every book. Others are one and done.

But as I move onto the seventh, I’ve decided to draw up a chart of who’s who for each character, so I keep them and details about their backgrounds straight — also key moments for them.

The same will go for each town. Isabel lives in Conwell, which has one store, one bar, one school, one school and one stoplight. Dillard, from book four, is the only one with a railroad passing through it. Titus has a country fair. Caulfield has the Pit Stop and Baxter’s, a biker bar on the lake. There are rivers and landmarks.

I have to say rereading the books has been an enjoyable pastime. I even found myself laughing out loud at some of the parts. I liked the flow and interaction of characters. I am happy I wrote them. I am glad I worked with editor, Miriam Drori.

And since I had an idea for no. 7, I marked pages with pieces of paper for info I will want to include.

Okay, full disclosure: I also found a few errors, which in this digital age and print on demand can be changed — certainly part of my inspiration for the chart. A couple of readers mentioned after reading Checking the Traps, I had Isabel giggle too much. I believe I used that form of laughter to show Isabel was a little unsure as she finds later in life a new love in Jack and situation as a P.I. But I see what they mean. Isabel is tougher than that, and I stopped her giggling from book four on. 

But with only the fifth book to go, I couldn’t help myself. I’ve started no. 7, tentatively called Making a Deadline. On Friday, I sat down with my computer, and the story just began itself. Remember Cary Moore, the highway worker who wrote poetry good enough for a famous poet to steal? Well, thanks to that remorseful poet, Cyrus Nilsson aka the Big Shot Poet, his collection, “Country Boy,” is having a release party at the Penfield Town Hall. It’s standing room only for local folks. And that’s where Isabel — and her mother — find the next case. My lips are sealed for now.

PHOTO ABOVE: That’s the stack of books for the Isabel Long Mystery Series.

LINKS TO MY BOOKS: If you are reader, thank you very much. If you are tempted to be one, here’s the link to the series: https://www.amazon.com/Joan-Livingston/e/B01E1HKIDG

And if you are interested in pre-ordering Following the Lead — againthank you — here’s that link: https://mybook.to/followingthelead That’s for Kindle orders. Paperback will be released a little later.

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, New release, Pre-order

Big News: Following the Lead Ready for Pre-Order

Well, it’s big news to me, and I hope the readers of my Isabel Long Mystery Series, that Following the Lead, No. 6 has a Nov. 3 release date. 

Starting now, Kindle readers can pre-order their copy and it will magically appear in their device on that date. More below on the logistics, but here is a link to get you started: https://amzn.to/3cs6FCh

So, what is Following the Lead about? Isabel has moved from one case to the next rather fast. If you read No. 5 to the end, you understand. No worries if you haven’t or are new to the series. Each book can stand alone. 

Lin Pierce, Isabel’s former boss, wants her to go way back into the past to solve a family mystery. When he was a boy, his baby sister was abducted from their family’s front yard. Lin was supposed to be minding his sister while their mother was giving a piano lesson inside their home, but he was distracted in a carefully orchestrated kidnapping. That was 49 years ago and the family has never gotten over it.

Lin is convinced he met his sister when they were adults. After all, the woman looked a lot like his mother at that age, and she had a distinguishing family trait — different colored eyes. 

As Isabel pursues this case, she zeros in on the student, now a well-known musician, who was being given a lesson that day. She’s having a difficult time getting to speak with him, but, of course, that’s not going to stop her.

Besides Lin, Following the Lead has many of the characters, good and bad, I love too much to let go. The might be yours as well, like Annette, Marsha, Gary and Larry Beaumont, the Old Farts, and, of course, Isabel’s sidekick, her mother Maria, and Jack. But a new case means new characters. Over the next weeks, I will be writing posts to hopefully inspire you to get my book. 

Now about those logistics … pre-orders on Amazon help to bring the book attention via ratings. So thank you if you do. As for paperback, that version won’t be ready for a little while after the Kindle launch — the policy of my publisher.

And in case you’re wondering, I’m already thinking about the No. 7. I’m having too much fun to let this series go.

IMAGE ABOVE: Check out the great cover Laurence Patterson of darkstroke books, my publisher, created. Yes, that’s Isabel Long following a trail as she solves a very old mystery.

LINKS TO MY OTHER BOOKS: While you are waiting for No. 6, you might like to catch up with the other books if you haven’t already done that. Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/Joan-Livingston/e/B01E1HKIDG

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