Northern Comfort

Sisters Willi and Lorna in Northern Comfort

Willi Miller has a difficult time after her young son dies when his sled slips away from her and into the path of a truck. But fortunately she has her rough-and-tumble younger sister, Lorna, to help her pull through. Willi and Lorna are characters in my new hilltown release, Northern Comfort.

Life hasn’t been easy for Willi. Her childhood was marred by the death of her father, then being raised by her insensitive mother and the abusive man she married. She made a bad choice marrying Junior Miller, who left her and their disabled child. Willi got a break when her kind grandfather took them in and left her his cabin. She did her best by Cody, cutting hair in a country beauty shop.

Then tragedy struck. 

Fortunately, Willi has a tough-as-nails ally in Lorna, who still lives at home and works in a bakery. “Lorna took after Daddy’s side of the family, the Merritts, tall and husky. Willi felt childlike when she stood beside her.” Her relationship with their stepfather, Joe, is vastly different than the one Willi has.

When her sister needs help, Lorna, is there, like a protective guard dog. She accompanies Willi to see her boy’s body for the last time and stands beside Willi at his funeral.. Lorna is the one to call Junior to tell him about his son’s death, tracking him down at a bar. Lorna stays with Willi until she says she can be on her own and even after she is there to help. There are later scenes in the book that show them even having sisterly fun.

I so enjoyed creating Lorna’s character. She reminds me a little of Annette Waters in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. The two of them would have a great time together.

Here’s a scene that shows Lorna’s mettle. The chapter is called No Better Than Us. 

Lorna parked her beat-up Ford near the general store. Willi had stayed home since the funeral five days ago, and now she didn’t want to leave the car. Her clunker didn’t start, the battery drained from sitting so long in the cold. Lorna volunteered to take her. 

Her sister made puffing noises as she leaned inside the car.

“Willi, there’s nothin’ to eat in your house. You can’t just live on the stuff I bring you from the bakery. Come on, get your butt out here.”

Willi peered up at her sister.

“I think it’s time you went back home, Lorna. I can manage now. Really.”

“Yeah, yeah, sure. It’s cause of what I said last night about packin’ up Cody’s things. How I said it was too depressin’ to see all of his stuff all over the house. I’m sorry I said it and the other stuff, too.”

Willi winced.

“I know he’s gone, Lorna. I just can’t do it now.” She blinked back tears. “Please, Lorna, I just wanna be left alone.”

Lorna gave her sister a square, hard look.

“I was gettin’ tired of that lumpy bed of yours anyways. And you snore.” She paused. “Now get your ass in the store. We’re here already.”

“Okay, okay, I’m comin’.”

Willi reached into her jacket pocket for a white handkerchief to wipe her eyes. She opened the car door and slowly followed her sister inside.

The store was filled with customers. Some stopped to offer their condolences, but a few stayed away, suspicion playing on their faces.

Lorna saw it, too.

She spun toward a woman, wife to one of the town’s selectmen.

“Did you say somethin’? No? Could’ve sworn you did. My mistake.”

Willi was embarrassed and grateful when the woman went to another aisle. She stood in front of the shelves of canned foods, trying to decide what soup to buy. It was too hard. Lorna dumped one of each kind in her handbasket until Willi got tearful.

“Please, Lorna, that’s enough, please.”

Lorna took the basket from her sister’s hand.

“Shush, I’m only tryin’ to help. Let’s get some milk and cold cuts. Do you need food for that mutt of yours?”

Willi couldn’t keep up with Lorna. The woman had ticked off her sister, and now she was walking and talking fast. Then Lorna was out the door, with three grocery bags in her arms. Willi ran from the store to get to the car before her sister.

“That snotty bitch. Who does she think she is?” Lorna muttered as she dropped the bags on the back seat. “You should see how she is when she comes into the bakery. Talkin’ about that precious son of hers. The architect.” Lorna sneered. “She’s no better than us. Don’t you ever forget it.”

“Oh, Lorna.”

Link: You can find Northern Comfort on Amazon in Kindle version. It’s only $2.99. Paperback readers will have to be a little patient.

Country Living

A Good Name for Worthington

With this post, I start a new series called Hilltown Postcards. I happened to be going through old files in my computer when I found a doc with short stories I had written a long time ago about our life in the hilltowns in Western Massachusetts. My agent at the time wanted me to write a tell-all book with lots of dirt, but I didn’t have it in me. Some are long, like this one, some are short. Rereading them has inspired me to try writing more. In some instances I will change the names of certain people. That’s true of this story about our move.

It was a little dump of a house, once owned by the landlord’s grandparents in Worthington, a cluster of modest homes on the curve of Route 112, which is a good country road. The house’s clapboards had long lost their coat of white paint. The inside was dirty and filled with trash left behind after the old man died and the old woman, his second wife, moved. It would take a lot before our kids, we had four then, could live here, but the rent was right, $150, and we could work that off fixing the place. This was 1981.

We were living then in a two-bedroom apartment in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston, a nice dead-end street with friendly neighbors, but only blocks away from some tough sections of that city. Our oldest daughter went to third grade in Roxbury, one of the few white kids, and I had to take two city buses then walk through a bombed-out looking neighborhood to visit the school. A guard unlocked the door to let me in. The day I brought her brother to register him for kindergarten, a little boy tossed a Hostess cake onto a table and announced to the teacher he had brought his “mother-fucking snack.” I took one look at my son, a sweet boy who cried easily and loved to draw, and knew he’d have an awfully hard time here.

Then, one winter night I was coming home from the movies, waiting at a trolley stop on Huntington Ave., when a man tried to force me into his van. I had our youngest, just a baby, strapped to my front. The man claimed he worked for the transit system and knew the next trolley wouldn’t be here for an hour. He drove the van onto the sidewalk. I kept talking my way out of it, so shook I didn’t even think to go inside the corner bar for help or use the payphone to call Hank. I was lucky a stranger, a longhaired guy in a puffy down jacket, arrived to intercede. He told me, “I’m not a violent man, but I’d have killed him if he touched you and the baby.” He said the man had blood on his hands. Didn’t I see?

Hank and I decided our kids would live in a place with clean air and clear skies and where people looked out for each other in a good way: A small town with trees and fields and wildlife. The city had gotten too expensive. We were living paycheck-to-paycheck, Hank doing his best to support us as a carpenter, but it seemed easier to do that in the country than in the city.

A friend of a friend mentioned a friend had work in Worthington, a town in Western Massachusetts I’d never heard of although I’ve lived in this state most of my life. Hank made the two-hour drive to meet Win Donovan. Win was ten years older, from that rock ’n’ roll generation, but he and Hank hit it off, two carpenters, deep thinkers, which often comes with the occupation. Then for a summer weekend we visited Win and his wife, Joan, to get a closer look. Win was building a cabin for a customer, and Hank was part of the crew raising its timber frame. We camped in the Donovans’ field, and that night after we had put the kids to sleep in our tent, the sky was awash with streaking gobs of color. Northern Lights. Hank and I stood there, watching the display. Surely this was a sign.

Now, in this house’s yard, I held our baby on my hip as the other kids played. Hank and I listened to the man, who I will call Frank although that wasn’t his name, talk about his family. Frank spoke in a heavy Yankee twang, his loud voice coming from high in his chest, calling Hank “chief” and me “young lady” although he was ten years younger. He had a face that belonged on a cartoon character: thick glasses, rubbery features, and ears that stuck out like jug handles, a family trait I was told later. He’d been in a bad accident so he was having a hard time getting around. He may have been using crutches.

He told us his grandfather had been an upstanding citizen in Worthington, one of its constables. His father, also dead, had been a war hero. The family was a part of the town’s history. We listened politely. As I said, we wanted the house. It’s a small town, just over a thousand people then, and places to rent were scarce. We had found out about this one from the Donovans. 

After we moved in and the neighbors learned we were renters and not friends of Frank, they told us he showed up when his grandfather was near his end and got him to sign over the house. One woman was embarrassed she had agreed to be a witness when the new will was signed. Frank’s version was that no one was taking care of the old folks and they were grateful for his attention. At any rate, none of this sat well with his aunt who lived in a nearby town. Later, when she took him to court, the judge gave Frank a choice: flip a coin for the house or give his aunt half its value. He gave her half.

Everything we owned fit into a small U-Haul and the VW microbus we had taken across Canada from Seattle to Boston. We stacked the boxes in the first space we could clear in the house, because the Donovans had generously invited us to stay with them until the place was livable. We’d have to let our big city cat to temporarily fend for himself in the yard. Frank showed up, unembarrassed that the place was filled with trash and filthy. He wanted to talk business and get his first month’s rent. He did agree that given the circumstances a security deposit for damages would be unreasonable.

It was September and yellow sun choke flowers growing along the foundation were taller than the windows in the dining room, the sunniest space in the house. The old couple used to keep a dog barricaded in the dining room by a makeshift plywood gate, its surface clawed, one of the first things to go. They also had cats, lots of them, and after the house was empty, a neighbor brought them bags of dried food. Eventually, the cats ran off or died. Later, when Hank replaced the back porch, he found cat skulls and empty booze bottles beneath the rotted planks.

The house was situated on a small bluff overlooking Route 112, a state-numbered route, with enough of a yard for the kids to play before it rose steeply into a two-acre wooded lot. This was the Ringville section, named for the Ring family, including Johnny Ring, a Civil War hero. The trees on the lot were not remarkable or large. Like much of the settled part of town, the forest began reclaiming its turf when most people stopped burning wood for heat.

The one interesting tree in the backyard lot had grown around a scythe. Some careless member of the family left the tool leaning against the trunk long ago and the tree consumed its blade so the rusted metal stuck out like a thorn. The wooden handle had long rotted away.

It appeared the people who lived here never went to the dump either. They stuffed their garbage in bread bags, and then buried them on the hill. I tried yanking the bags. Their contents now were disintegrated to colorful dust, but I gave up when I realized how many were there.

I have a photo of Hank, wearing patched jeans, as he stood in debris on the living room floor of that house. His arms are spread akimbo and he’s looking upward toward the blackened ceiling as if this situation was hopeless. But he was joking because he knew we were capable of scrubbing and clearing and painting, that we could make any place livable.

At least the house was structurally sound, with more room than it appeared from the outside, with two bedrooms on both floors and a large living room. The bathroom was tiny, but clean enough. The kitchen wasn’t. The counters beside the sink were old unfinished planks, and we poured straight bleach to disinfect the wood and vowed never to put food or a utensil on them. We used our apartment washer, because there was no hookup, attaching hoses to the faucet and drain, but I couldn’t forget when it was filling or it’d overflow onto the floor.

 In all the places we lived, we never locked the door. Mostly it was because we lived in a safe neighborhood or we had an extraordinary faith no one would want to rob or harm us. We wouldn’t be locking this house either since it appeared on the outside that nothing inside would be worth stealing. That was correct. No stereo, just a black and white TV someone gave us. I had a few pieces of jewelry, valuable to me, like the amber earrings that had been a birthday present from Hank, and of course, his tools.

If someone sunk some money into the house, gutted it, upgraded the mechanicals and poured a cement floor in the cellar, it could have been a very nice home. But the man who owned this house wasn’t planning to do that. He wanted something on the cheap, so for the next several days Hank and I hauled trash, shoveled dirt into barrels, and removed the broken furniture. We scrubbed the ceilings, walls, and wooden floors, their finish long worn away. Hank washed the windows, and one of the neighbors, who stopped to say hello, told him he had never seen them clean.

One day while we were working, two women from the Board of Health arrived unannounced to inspect the place. Lois Ashe Brown explained they were making sure the place was habitable. She said it was one thing for people to live in squalor when they owned a home, but another to rent it out. They heard how the old couple had lived. The other woman rolled her eyes as she talked about what she expected of our landlord. They weren’t unfriendly but were businesslike. It got me worried. Our belongings were still packed in boxes. We didn’t have enough money to return to Boston, and we had no other prospects.

So Hank and I showed the women around, trying to convince them we were getting the place in shape. The trash was gone and most of the walls had been washed of soot. We had a lead on a woodstove for heat. The plumbing worked fine, and the phone was hooked up. The town was so small and the lines old, we only had to dial four digits to call another person living in town. Our number was 5989, and the ring was something quaint and tinny.

Yes, the two women could see we were making progress. They were satisfied, and in parting, Lois remarked brightly, “Livingston. Now that’s a good name for Worthington.” 

Still thinking about that backhanded welcome, I didn’t have the heart to tell her Hank and I were not married, even with four kids, and that my last name then was really Medeiros. We had been a couple for six years but were part of that generation who had disinherited just about everything our parents did like marrying and staying in one place all your life.

So I smiled and said thank you.

FICTION: The fictional hilltowns is the inspired setting for most of my adult novels, including the Isabel Long Mystery SeriesThe Sweet SpotThe Sacred Dog, and my most recent, Northern Comfort

Northern Comfort

Meet Miles and Junior of Northern Comfort

My new book, Northern Comfort, starts with a tragedy — a child’s sled sends him into the path of a truck despite his mother’s attempts to stop him. For this post, I wanted to write about the two men most impacted by this tragedy. One is Miles Potter, who was driving the truck. The other is Junior Miller, who abandoned little Cody and his mother, Willi Miller.

Both men are natives in the hilltown of Hayward, but their backgrounds are so different. The same is true for the lives they lead. Let me explain.

Miles Potter could be described as a man of means and opportunity. His educated parents had high hopes for him, but college didn’t work out. When he returned home, he found work with a carpenter, Linwood Staples, who became his mentor. Working with his hands was more to his liking. Now on his own, he usually works on high-end homes. He and Willi may have been in the same class in school, but until this accident she was just another person living in the same town.

Junior Miller’s divorced parents had no ambitions for him. He loved Willi enough to marry her, but after their boy was born brain-damaged, he didn’t put any effort into their homelife. Then after he left Willi, he didn’t bother paying any child support after the first year or even be a part of his child’s life. When the book starts, Junior has a rather aimless life, driving truck for a lumberyard and crashing at his current girlfriend’s mobile home in New Hampshire.

But all of this changes that wintry day.

At the start, Miles does the right thing, leaving money for Willi and going to Cody’s funeral. But after Linwood advised him to think deeper, Miles tries to give more meaningful support. Eventually, he finds he and Willi have more in common than just this tragic accident.

Junior has a bigger challenge because of the longtime neglect of his responsibilities. His ideas of reparation at the start have little meaning to Willi, not surprising given the lousy role model his own father provided. It takes him longer to face his failings and make amends that have meaning to Willi.

These are two of the characters in Northern Comfort. As I do for all my novels, I create characters that feel real to me. I hope that’s true for you.

In this scene, Miles and Junior have a confrontation at the Bull’s Eye, the local watering hole. Junior is there with his brother, Mike.

Miles lurched forward as a hand slapped him on the back so hard his chest hit the edge of the Pine Tree’s bar.

A man’s voice said, “Hey, there, buddy, how you doin’?”

He looked into the face of Junior, who took the stool beside his. Junior’s brother Mike sat on the other side, grinning like he’d won big at cards and couldn’t wait to tell somebody. Both were high or drunk or both.

Now was the reckoning, and Miles was unsure how to proceed. It didn’t matter what he said or did, he was going to get it. Mike was heavier than Miles. He carried the weight of someone who liked booze and greasy food. Junior was short and always trying to make up for it.

Miles put down his bottle. He ran his tongue around the inside of his mouth. He wasn’t fooled. 

Mike’s friendly comment was definitely fake. But Junior? Yeah, he, too, but he’d cut him a break. 

“I’m sorry, Junior, about what happened to Cody.”

Junior fingered the front of Miles’s shirt. “You mean hitting him with your truck?”

“That’s not the way it happened. I tried to save him.”

Junior glanced toward Mike. “That so?”

Miles nodded solemnly, but Junior snorted. “I know what you’re thinkin’, Miles. I’ve got brass balls pickin’ on you ’cause I didn’t give more to that boy or Willi. He was my blood, and I loved his mother when he was born.” Junior brought his face closer and gave Miles’s shirt a tight twist. “And another thing. I don’t want you bothering Willi no more. She’s been through enough.”

“Get your hands off me, Junior.” His voice stayed calm, although his heart had a steady pound. “If you wanna keep this going, let’s take it outside. What’s it gonna be? The both of you?”

Junior loosened his fingers.

Miles stared at one brother, then the other. When Mike made a snorting laugh, Miles gave him a quick, light shot on the shoulder. Both brothers got to their feet. He stood, too.

“I’m gonna say it again, asshole,” Junior said. “Stay away from Willi.”

Miles drew his eyes tight. “Don’t tell me what to do.”

“You’ll listen to me if you know what’s good for you,” Junior said before he and his brother moved to another part of the bar.

Miles drank face forward. He focused on the mirror behind the three shelves of booze. Junior and Mike sat far from the mirror’s reach, but by now he didn’t care. The two brothers wouldn’t be back. They had made their point.

He finished the beer, and although he would have liked another, he fished for a buck in the front pocket of his jeans and flattened it on the bar’s top. He made a slow but straight path to the door.

Curious? Here’s the link for Northern Comfort.

Character Traits

Meet Alice Tomlinson of Autumn Paths and More

Angela Wren is the next and last author in this Character Traits series, well, at least for now. Known for her Jacques Forêt Mysteries, Angela writes about Alice Tomlinson, who appears in an anthology series. Next this character will be part of a new series she is launching — exciting news for us fans of her writing. Here. I will let her tell you about it.

Hello, Joan, and thank you very much for hosting me on your blog and letting me run riot about my stories, books and, my newest character.

An introduction to your character, including which book she appears.

Meet Alice Tomlinson.  She’s my crime-busting singleton who is helped by her dad.  More accurately, mostly hindered by her father.  She’s also an interloper because she lives in London but all the crimes occur in the fictional village of Beauregard which is situated a few kilometres south of the fabulous city of Blois with its medieval château and a long history full of kings and dukes, war and rebellion.

Alice first appeared in the short story The Bookseller’s Secret Octavo which was included in the anthology Autumn Paths and published in 2021.  The story examines the relationship between Alice and her dad, Peter Tomlinson, whilst also solving a mystery.  It’s Alice’s experience as a valuer and auctioneer that has brought her to Beauregard, at the request of Peter, for the weekend.  Through the story the reader discovers that perhaps not everything in Alice’s life is as good as it could be – much to the disapproval of her father!

How did you come up with the character and his/her name?

I’m an actor and I’ve been working on stage since I was six years old.  Whether it’s for stage or the page, I build my characters in the same way.  I always start with the shoes.  Once I’ve got that right I know I have the gait and with that, the posture.  Knowing the posture enables me to make decisions about the vocal qualities of the character.  Other details, for example, name, age/date of birth, height, weight, colouring, I just pick and choose until I have what seems to me to be the right combination.  So, Alice is average height, slim, in her late twenties, fair-skinned, and has unruly, dark-red hair.  All the other attributes that makes us the people we are, such as attitudes, beliefs, aptitudes, feelings, etc., I decide on as I create the backstory for each individual.  For Alice, that meant she lost her mum when she was still a child, has a passion for music, and can play the violin.  She’s quite feisty, she challenges her father, and she keeps him, a man who is a bit of a chancer, on the straight and narrow.  And, if I tell you too much more, your readers probably won’t want to discover her for themselves, Joan.  But, I like her and some readers and reviewers do too!

Tell us more about Autumn Paths.

Autumn Paths is a multi-genre anthology and I collaborated with eight Canadian authors during it’s creation.  My story is a cosy crime mystery that sits with other tales about family, loss, adventure, sci fi and a good old-fashioned murder!  The book is the first of four. Winter Paths was published last year and my story in that one related to a French character in the village of Beauregard.  The third book, Spring Paths, is in the making now and will be out later this year.  My story in Spring Paths features Alice and her dad and a mystery that has to be solved.  But there are some surprising consequences.  The fourth book is yet to be planned.

Short stories are not the only instances when Alice and her dad appear on the page.  I’m currently working on the first in a new series of novels, The Beauregard Mysteries, which will put Alice at the heart of crime solving in the sleepy little village.  I’m hoping to get my current work in progress finalised in the next couple of months or so.  So, I hope your readers will check out my website and social media in the autumn for news of the new books.

 Author’s Bio

Angela Wren

Angela Wren has worked as an actor and director at a small theatre a few miles from where she lives in the county of Yorkshire in the UK.  She has also worked as a project and business change manager – very pressured and very demanding – but managed to escape, and now she writes books.

Stories and story-telling are things that Angela has always loved.  Her first published story was in an anthology put together by the magazine ‘Ireland’s Own’ in 2011.  She now works with eight other northern writers to create the Miss Moonshine anthologies alongside her collaboration with the Canadian for the Seasonal Paths collections.  Angela has written some darker fiction for the Dark World charity anthologies created by her publisher Darktroke Books.

Her six full-length Jacques Forêt Mysteries are all set in the Cévennes in south-central France.  And France is where Angela likes to spend as much time as possible each year.

Links to books and social media

Amazon : AngelaWren

Website :

Blog :

Facebook: AngelaWren




Northern Comfort

Northern Comfort: Lucky 13

Northern Comfort, which was released July 19, is my 13th book published thus far. Looking at this baker’s dozen of novels on my Amazon author page’s bookshelf makes me feel pretty darn good.

It all began February 2016 with the self-publication of my bilingual kids’ book, The Cousins and the Magic Fish/Los primos y el pez mágico, which is in paperback format only. (Thanks to my dear author friend, Teresa Dovalpage who did the Spanish translation.) This book even won a Zia Book Award the following year from the New Mexico Press Women. At the time we were both living in Taos.

The truth is I had a stack of eight completed books at that time. I started writing novels for adult and young readers around 2000 but, alas, I had no luck finding a publisher for any of them. I even had two agents. So with the encouragement of others, I self-published Peace, Love, and You Know What in April 2016. You can imagine what that book’s about — life in the early ’70s following a raucous three-day party by college friends.

Then the following February I self-published The Sweet Spot, the first one set in the fictional hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. I also self-published a Kindle-only collection of short stories, Professor Groovy and Other Stories. Sales were lousy. I didn’t know how to promote them properly. But for me, these books meant I was a published author, a good feeling for certain.

It was a fortuitous when I finally found a publisher in November 2017. Laurence and Steph Patterson of Crooked Cat Books — now called darkstroke books — read Chasing the Case, the first in the Isabel Long Mystery Series, and liked what they read. I had actually started the series when Hank and I still lived in New Mexico and by time I queried, we were again living in Western Massachusetts. I had also finished the second in the series, Redneck’s Revenge.

So far darkstroke has published four more in the series: Checking the TrapsKilling the StoryWorking the Beat, and Following the Lead.

Then I submitted two more not in the series to darkstroke: The Sacred Dog and Northern Comfort, which are not part of the series but are what I call my Hilltown Books. I am grateful for the support and interest the Pattersons have in my writing.

Northern Comfort is a dark drama. A child’s death has a powerful impact on his mother, the man involved in the accident, and the father who abandoned him. I chose the bleakest time of year — mid-winter — to tell this story. I include those New England traditions of playing old-time music, maple sugaring, and, yes, hope. 

It’s $2.99 on Amazon for Kindle. Paperback readers will need to wait a couple of months.

So what’s ahead? Well, I still have five completed books percolating in my computer. One is an adult novel. Two are part of the Twin Jinn Series (the first The Twin Jinn at Happy Jack’s Carnival of Mysteries I self-published in 2021) and two in The Cousins/Los Primos Series

As for the Isabel Long Mystery Series, I am oh-so-close to calling it a wrap. I am making the last changes before I submit Missing the Deadline to darkstroke books — no. 7. My mind is already thinking about the eighth. But before that happens I am writing a sequel for The Sacred Dog. It’s called The Unforgiving Town. No spoilers here.

A sincere thanks those who have read my books. I do enjoy sharing what I write. Your support is so important.