How much of it’s true? That’s the number one question I get about my books. It’s an honest one, and I will give an honest answer, especially since most of my fiction is set in the hilltowns of rural Western Massachusetts, where I’ve spent a good deal of my life. That includes my latest mystery, Working the Beat.
Yes, I have been inspired by the people and places I know, in particular Worthington, Massachusetts, where my family and I lived for twenty-five years. (After that I moved to New Mexico for eleven years and returned four years ago to another town.)
Isabel lives in a town called Conwell, a name that has a connection to Worthington. But is it really Worthington? No.
I will admit there is a lot of me in the protagonist Isabel Long. The mystery is written in the first person, so I couldn’t help myself there. We’re both nosy, sassy women. But she’s a widow and I’m not. She has three kids and I have six. She got canned when her newspaper went corporate. I didn’t. On Feb. 4, I will be leaving the newspaper biz for good, but I won’t become an amateur P.I. as she did. Frankly, I am not that brave.
As for the other characters, I do model Isabel’s 93-year-old mother, her “Watson,” after my own mystery-loving mom. (She was amused.) But my mother doesn’t live with me. Isabel’s three kids are inspired by a few of my own. Yeah, there’s a lot of my own spouse in Isabel’s late husband, Sam. A funny aside, people will joke that they’re surprised Hank is really alive. I joke back I only bumped him off in my book.
But the rest of the characters — including the gossipy men in the general store’s back room to the clients at the bar where Isabel works part-time, to Jack, the bar’s owner — are made up. I repeat they are made up.
As a humorous aside, I’ve had people who know me personally try to guess who could be who in this series. Sorry, no.
I once had a New York agent who wanted me to write a tell-all nonfiction book about my life Worthington — something on the order of Peyton Place. He read the first couple of chapters and wanted a whole lot more dirt. But I couldn’t do it. I loved the people and the town too much.
So instead I write fiction. I use what I’ve experienced, as I’ve said many times before, and have my way with it. I believe this is true of many or most fiction writers.
But I’d like to think I write with enough authenticity that one could believe it happened. The same goes for Working the Beat.
WORKING THE BEAT: You can read Working the Beat in Kindle or paperback. Here’s the link: mybook.to/workingthebeat Thank you very much if you do.