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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Killing the Story

Finding the Next Cold Case — Plus an Excerpt

Isabel Long, the protagonist in my mystery series, is always on the lookout for a new case to solve. She hasn’t been at it very long. Those who have read the first book will recall she started after a bad year — her husband died and she lost her job as a paper’s editor-in-chief — and decided to use the skills from her journalism days to solve cold cases in the sticks of Western Massachusetts in the U.S.

Her first case involved discovering what happened to a woman who went missing 28 years ago from her small town. That was in Chasing the Case.

In the second, Isabel proves a junkyard dealer was murdered and not too drunk to get out of his house after it caught fire. His daughter approached her in the bar where Isabel worked part-time. That was in Redneck’s Revenge.

For the third, she was hired by a local drug dealer to find out the true circumstances around his brother’s death. He supposedly jumped off a bridge known for suicides, but maybe he was pushed. That was in Checking the Traps.

Joan and Killing the Story

Here I am holding a copy of my new novel Killing the Story after it arrived in the mail.

So what case does Isabel solve in book number four, Killing the Story, which will be out Aug. 26? This one is near and dear to her because it involves the death of a small town newspaper editor. How does she find this one? Isabel and Marie, her 93-year-old mother and her ‘Watson,’ attend the open house for the Pit Stop, a gas station and convenience store in the small hilltown of Caulfield. The new owners are cousins Annette (daughter of the junkyard dealer from case no. 2) and Marsha (alibi for a suspect in case no. 1), who celebrate with a pig roast, cheap beer, and a band called the Country Bumpkins. It’s a lively event, and a fortuitous one because that’s where Isabel finds her next case.

Here let me give you an excerpt. Isabel went to fetch food for the two of them, and when she returns she finds her mother talking with a man.

Ma looks up when she sees my approach. I hand her the plate loaded with pork. The man stands. That’s when I notice the camera hanging by a strap around his neck.

“Isabel, this is Mr. Emerson Crane,” she says. “He’d like to talk with you. He might have a case you’d be interested in pursuing.”

“Really?”

Emerson Crane grabs my free hand in a shake, warm, dry, and not too tight, which I take as a good sign.

“Isabel, I heard you’ve been successful solving a few cold cases in the hilltowns,” he says. “I was telling your mother I’m hoping you’ll take mine.”

Some guy bumps me from behind, and after a “sorry” and a splash of beer on my blouse, I glance around for another free chair.

“Why don’t you grab that chair, Mr. Crane, and we can have a talk,” I say.

“Please call me Emerson. And in case you are wondering, I am named for Ralph Waldo Emerson. My mother was a big fan.”

While the man does as I ask, I note his clothes, a button-down blue shirt with short sleeves and khakis that seem a bit worn. I’m guessing this wouldn’t be a get-rich case although I have to admit after I checked the envelope, I found Gary Beaumont paid me more than I expected, so I’m set for a while. But as Jack often reminds me, I probably make more money tending his bar one night a week than I do chasing criminals.

I wait with the plate on my lap. I’m more interested in hearing the man’s story than eating although I note my mother has already sampled the pork. The woman has a satisfied smile.

I ask my mother, “Murder or money?”

“I’ll let him tell you. I think you’ll be interested in this one. It involves a newspaper.”

Newspaper? Ma knows how to get my attention. As many of you know, I worked for the Daily Star in Hampton for a gazillion years, starting as the hilltown reporter getting paid by the inch to running the damn paper as its managing editor for fifteen years until I lost that job when the Star went corporate. I was ticked off at the time that the new owner had the nerve to say I had to reapply for the position as if I hadn’t been doing a good enough job. Okay, it wasn’t like I was singled out. Everybody had to reapply. And frankly, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. Now, I get to use the skills I had as a journalist working as a private investigator. I still get to be paid to be nosy although so far, not as much. And I sure don’t miss living by deadlines.

Emerson Crane grunts as he drops his body onto his seat. His back is to the crowd.

“Well, Emerson, I’m all ears.”

He nods.

“I own a little weekly paper called The Observer in Dillard. We cover all the towns in our county,” he says. “I actually came to take photos and do a little writeup about the opening, but then I heard you were here.”

It’s coming back to me. The Observer is one of those small-town papers that report the news the bigger papers don’t print or even care about. There aren’t any wire stories with national news. That’s not what people up here are interested in anyways. They can get those stories on the TV or internet. They want to know what’s happening locally like town meetings, game suppers, and the grand reopening of a gas station. I picked up a copy at the Pit Stop and found it admirable that in these troubled times for newspapers this one appears to be chugging along.

“I used to cover events like this when I was a reporter,” I say.

“I’m familiar with your background. I used to follow you in the Star.” His chest rises and falls in a bit of a wheeze as he takes a pause. “My case is about my mother.”

I take a peek at Ma, who has an all-knowing smile on her lips. Dang, she’s got one over on me.

“Your mother,” I say. “Please, tell me more.”

“She died nine years ago. My mother, her name’s Estelle Crane, owned The Observer. Actually, she and her sister, my Aunt Alice, inherited it from their father when they were in their twenties. Aunt Alice took care of the business side. Mom was all about the news. She wanted people to know what was going on in their communities. She used to say the goal of a newspaper is to inform people, so they can make good decisions about their towns.”

I start smiling.

“That was my philosophy when I was in the business.”

Now, Emerson is smiling.

“I started reporting for her when I was a kid in middle school,” he says. “She drilled that into my head.”

“Tell me more.”

“One night after she put the paper to bed, she was walking home. We didn’t live that far from The Observer’s office. It was mid-winter. She was supposed to have slipped on some ice and hit her head on the pavement so hard she died.” His voice cracks. “I was the one who found her. I went to look for her after she didn’t come home.”

Ah, I hear that telling word “supposed.”

“I take it you don’t believe it was an accident.”

His smile is gone. His head bobs in long arcs.

“I did at the time,” he says quietly. “But not anymore.”

I glance behind Emerson. This conversation deserves privacy. Too many people are within earshot, and now, those Country Bumpkins are blasting Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places,” and fans are hollering their heads off, so it’d be hard to follow what Emerson has to say.

“Why do you think that?”

“I believe it had to do with a story she was chasing.”

I glance at Ma. Her brows flick upward once. I can read what’s on her mind.

“Emerson, I am interested in hearing the details, but this obviously isn’t the place for it. I can barely hear myself talk. How about we meet at your office instead? Name a day that fits your deadlines.”

“How about tomorrow?”

This guy wants to jump on this opportunity. I like that.

“That works. How about eleven?”

We exchange phone numbers, and then Emerson Crane is gone. He removes the reporter’s notebook from his back pocket and takes the pen from behind his ear. He’s back at work.

Ma and I dig into our food.

“I figured the newspaper part would get you,” she says after she swallows.

“As usual, you figured correctly.”

You can order Killing the Story, in Kindle and paperback, on Amazon. Here’s the link: Killing the Story on Amazon

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Vibrant coleus plants I found on my walk around our village.

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Killing the Story

They All Add Up

Adding up? I’d say that’s true for words and berries.

First, the words, which in my case totals 78,000 for my new novel, Killing the Story, which will be published Aug. 26, a month from when I am writing this blog. The book is No. 4 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series.

In Killing the Story, I started with the first word, in this case, “we,” and then moved onto the rest of the sentence “buried the old chief today.” I kept it going, one word at a time, until the end.

Of course, nobody writes a perfect book in one fell swoop. I certainly haven’t. So, I went back, saw what I was missing, just like today when I was picking berries.

But before I blog about berries, here’s a trailer I created about Killing the Story. Check it out.

 

Now, about those berries. Today, Hank and I made two harvests: blueberries at a pick-your-own farm near our village and raspberries at our neighbors’ across the street. That’s him in the photo above. (Yes, masks on even there.)

At the farm, we’d choose a row, look for the bushes that had ripened berries and get to work. Sometimes I picked just one blueberry, sometimes a few at a time. And, funny, just like writing, I wasn’t thinking of doing anything else. At the end, we had enough for a pie I baked later, some toIMG_0499 freeze, and some to keep for fresh eating.

Then, we headed across the street. Our neighbors, who already had their fill of their raspberry crop, invited us to take whatever was left. It was obvious the bulk of the crop was gone, but there was certainly enough for Hank and I to collect a generous amount of berries in our colanders.

Here’s what I noticed this time. I would pick between the overgrown rows, thinking I got all of the ripened berries along the way, but when I turned around, I saw more I had missed on the very same row.

Another perspective for certain, sort of like the editing process.

As I wrote before, my editor, Miriam helped me see the things I missed while writing Killing the Story. Yes, there were typos to fix, but I’m thinking about her questions about the plot and characters.

The same thing happened when my publisher sent me a pdf of the book he had laid out. A different format for sure, and, yes, when I looked, I saw small things for him to change.

So, the fruits of our labor, at least at the pick-your-own-farm, were baked into a pie. I also froze a bunch IMG_0506 and kept some for fresh eating.

And in a month, fans of the Isabel Long Mystery Series will get to see the end result when Killing the Story is published on Amazon. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

Here’s the link to pre-order: Killing the Story on Amazon

 

 

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Killing the Story

Back and Forth with My Editor

Another important step for my next book, Killing the Story: My editor has emailed the final draft to the publisher.

Miriam Drori edited the first three books in the Isabel Long Mystery Series. So, I was glad when Laurence Patterson, from Darkstroke Books, said she would be handling the fourth, since she is so familiar with the characters, setting, and my style of writing.

Let me tell you a little bit about Miriam. She’s originally from the UK, but has lived in Israel for many years and does a lot of traveling. Besides being an editor, Miriam is also an author. (See the links to her books below.)

Laurence sent Miriam the draft I submitted to him and she got to work. She read the ms carefully twice, tracking questions, comments, and suggestions in the document. I responded. She did another round. So did I. That went on for a few weeks.

What I especially like about working with Miriam: she keeps my writer’s voice, but she finds the loose ends and knots I left behind.

Some of her suggested edits involve the misuse of a word, a missing article, a weird use of a preposition, plot problems … oh the list goes on. Several times her questions led me to discover an error I made in the story line or a character — like mixing up in one scene the Old Farts, a group of gossipy old men who station themselves in the back of the town’s general store.

I also enjoy her humor and comments about who she thinks “dunnit.”

Frankly, I am amazed at what she found because I read this manuscript oh so many times before I handed it off and thought I caught it all. Shows you how wrong I was.

Here are some of her comments tracked in the first round of edits.

After the first chapter called Farewell to the Chief:

Miriam: You’re so good at recapping while beginning again.

Me: Thanks. I try to reward those who read the others without giving it way for those who haven’t.

From the chapter where Isabel and her mother go to an open house at the Pit Stop gas station/convenience store: Bobby Collins forks slices of pork onto Ma’s plate. I wave him off mine and stick with the potato salad, coleslaw, and a roll. Then, with the plates raised high, I make my way through the crowd.

Miriam: I’m trying to imagine Isabel holding a plate in each hand and waving him off! Maybe you didn’t mean it literally?

Me: Ha good point! Yeah, that would make a mess.

Here’s a scene between Jack, owner of the Rooster Bar, and Isabel: “Oh, that. Well, get yourself ready. The Truck Stoppers are taking a request. I suggested ‘Honky Tonk Man.’ I recall how much you like Dwight Yoakam.”

“And you think he’s singing about you?”

Miriam: What does that mean when it refers to a person?

Me: A fun-loving guy who hangs around bars typically low-end having a good ol’ time. Besides Isabel likes to tease Jack. You gotta hear the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hT2sdgBtAW8

Of course, sometimes an Americanism catches her eye like this one: Fred makes that shave-and-a-haircut knock and then he’s working the handle. “Hey, Billy, how you doin’?” he asks the man sitting on a recliner.

Miriam: Wow! Never heard the term, although the tune/rhythm is familiar.

My response: American I suppose. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWbjP_ahuB4

We went several rounds on the book. Just before the last, I reread it, and made my last suggested changes. I also found two troublesome scenes that needed more work. A couple of errors. Miriam patiently accommodated me.

Monday she sent the final draft to the publisher and me. Killing the Story will be available Aug. 26 in paperback and Kindle: https://mybook.to/KillingtheStory. I honestly feel it’s the best one so far, and I thank Miriam for her part in it.

Here are links to Miriam Drori’s books: https://www.amazon.com/Miriam-Drori/e/B00L11J6D4/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1 and https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/social-anxiety-revealed-miriam-drori/1126948726?ean=2940164083809

ABOUT THE PHOTO: My neighbor’s hydrangea bush. Acid pellets helped to turn the flowers blue.

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Killing the Story

Real Characters Part One

Well, at least they are real to me. In each book I’ve written, including the Isabel Long Mystery Series, they have popped inside my brain and then I had my way with them.

Some characters have lasted one book. Others have lingered through more than one and in several instances stayed through the series. By the way, Killing the Story, no. 4, will be officially released Aug. 26.

For this post, I will write about the one-off characters. Stay tuned for a post on those that last.

First off, though, let me tell you about the series. Isabel Long is a former longtime journalist turned amateur P.I. A recent widow — yeah, she’s no kid — she lives with her 93-year-old mystery-loving mother, Maria, who is her “Watson.” Isabel is rather sassy and savvy, and reinventing herself, which includes a relationship with Jack, the owner of the Rooster Bar, where she works part-time. Oh, they live in a small town in the sticks of Western Massachusetts.

The characters who made an appearance in one book served a purpose for its plot. In fact, in each book they were dead by time Isabel Long took on their case. (I should add there are lesser characters, perhaps relatives, sources, and even persons of interest that are one-book only characters. But they serve a purpose as well for Isabel in each case.)

And as she tries to figure out who might have murdered each one, Isabel gets a really good idea — and I hope my readers — of who they were when they were living.

In these cases, the other characters give their impressions of the victims as Isabel quizzes them, calling on the interview skills she used as a reporter. In the process, she gets to know their strengths and weaknesses, what they liked and didn’t like, oh the list goes on.

So far, I’ve created these victims: a woman with secrets who worked in her parents’ general store and went missing 28 years earlier — Chasing the Case; a crusty so-and-so of a junkyard dealer who died when his shack caught fire — Redneck’s Revenge; and a sensitive, poetry-writing highway worker who may have committed suicide jumping off a bridge known for it — Checking the Traps.

In Killing the Story, Isabel’s investigation revolves around Estelle Crane, who ran a small town weekly newspaper with her sister. She supposedly died walking home from the newsroom when she slipped on ice and smashed her head against pavement. But later, her son, who took over the paper, finds evidence it might not have been an accident.

So what was Estelle Crane like? Here’s what Isabel found when she and her mother, Maria, her sidekick, went to The Observer newsroom as she considers whether to take the case. Isabel is the narrator here.

My attention is drawn toward the framed portrait of a middle-aged woman high on one wall. Her chin is up. Her eyes are partially closed. Her lips curl in a wry smile. A sign below the photo says: Tell the whole damn world. Estelle Crane.

 I gesture.

 “Great quote,” I say.

 “It was one of her favorites,” Emerson says. “We may be a small community paper, but in her day, Mom was rather fearless.”

 My mother gives me a knowing smile. I can read her mind. Isabel, you may have found a kindred spirit. Too bad this woman’s dead although perhaps being fearless is why she is.

 By the way, Killing the Story is available for pre-order, in Kindle only right now. The paperback version will be ready soon. Here’s the link: Killing the Story on Amazon

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: One of four Adirondack chairs Hank made for us. I am lucky to have a husband who creates beautiful furniture for our home.

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Darkstroke Books, Isabel Long Mystery Series, Killing the Story

Killing the Story: Ready for Pre-Order

Today’s a big day for this author. My latest novel, Killing the Story, number four in the Isabel Long Mystery Series, is available for pre-order for Kindle readers.

The official release date is Aug. 26. Yeah, yeah, that’s a ways off. But you can order the Kindle version of book now and forget about it until that day arrives when it will mysteriously appear in your device. Or if you can buy the hard copy, when it’s ready soon, and it will be making its way in the mail on that date.

The last several days have been busy for Laurence Patterson, of Darkstroke Books, and I. We worked hard to to find just the right image for the cover. It was important that the fourth match the other three in its theme, color and composition. There were other design parameters. But in the end I found the right image and then Laurence worked his magic.

What else? I came up with a new bio, dedication, acknowledgment, and the all-important blurb for the back cover. Here it is:

An accidental death that was no accident…

For the record, Estelle Crane, the gutsy editor of The Observer newspaper, died after a hard fall on ice. But years later, her son discovers a cryptic note hinting her death might not have been an accident after all.

Was Estelle pursuing a big story that put her life in danger?

That’s what Isabel Long — along with her 93-year-old mother, Maria, her ‘Watson’ — agrees to investigate in Dillard, a town whose best days are in the past.

A former journalist, Isabel follows leads and interviews sources, new and familiar. She quickly finds a formidable threat in Police Chief James Hawthorne, who makes it clear Isabel is not welcome in his town — and who warns her against poking her nose into Estelle’s death.

Of course, that’s after Isabel has discovered the chief’s questionable policing and a troubled history with Estelle that goes way back.

Killing the story means dropping it because there aren’t enough facts to back it up. But Isabel won’t make that mistake. She’ll see this one through to the very end.

Can she uncover the plot that led to Estelle’s murder?

Killing the Story is the fourth in the popular Isabel Long Mystery Series.

Of course there is more work to be done like edits. I am collecting endorsements from fellow authors. And I am planning on how to celebrate and promote release day. For something new, I may do a Google Hangout or a Zoom session. Would you be interested in participating?

So here’s the link to place your pre-order: Killing the Story on Amazon

And thank you if you do!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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