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Isabel Long Mystery Series

Writing a Mystery Series

Writing a series means that I can hold onto the characters I love but let them do something else. Certainly, that’s the case for Isabel Long, the protagonist, and for many others in my mystery series.

So far, the Isabel Long Mystery Series has three books: Chasing the Case, Redneck’s Revenge, and Checking the Traps, all published by Crooked Cat Books. I am making my way through the fourth, called Killing the Story.

For those just tuning in, Isabel was a longtime journalist who uses her transferable skills in her new life as a private investigator in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. Each book features a cold case she decides to solve. So far, a family member has approached Isabel to find out what happened to a loved one.

I carry some of the characters from one book to the other. In the second book, two bad boy drug-dealing brothers, Gary and Larry Beaumont, terrorized Isabel although they did eventually make amends. Certainly, all is forgiven in Checking the Traps because Gary hires Isabel to find out how his half-brother — a poetry-writing guy on a local highway crew — died. Was it a suicide, as the cops say, or murder?

Now, that that case is over, the Beaumont brothers are not key characters but their path — the brothers are joined at the hip —  do cross with Isabel’s, and they will have a key role because of a favor that was promised. Hey, I’m not telling.

Among the other characters I kept are: Jack, the owner of the Rooster Bar and Isabel’s love interest; her 93-year-old mother, Maria, who’s her Watson; the Old Farts, a group of gossipy men stationed in the general store’s backroom; and Annette and Marsha, two cousins who I will say are country tough. Then, there’s Jack’s nuisance ex-wife — they were married for a minute. I also expect a brief meetup with the Big Shot Poet and Cherie, the victim’s widow from the third book.

But Killing the Story has a new people including Emerson Crane, the owner of a tiny weekly newspaper who hires Isabel to investigate his mother’s death years back. At the time, everybody, including Emerson, thought she slipped on ice and died when she hit her head. But then while cleaning the newsroom, he discovers a suitcase filled with papers that indicates his mother was working on something big. Maybe it wasn’t an accident after all.

This case takes Isabel to a new town, Dillard, and a new set of suspects and sources. Yeah, I’m having a lot of fun.

BOOKS: Interested in reading the series and my other books? I thank you in advance. Here’s the link on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Joan-Livingston/e/B01E1HKIDG

 

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Isabel Long Series, Writing

Mystery Series: Why I Write in First Person, Present Tense

When I decided to write a mystery, I wanted it to be told from the point of view of my protagonist, Isabel Long. And now that I released the second, Redneck’s Revenge, I am glad I stuck with that format. I also used present tense because I want my readers to feel they are part of the action but more about that later.

First, let me tell you about Isabel Long. She’s a former long-time journalist who is trying her hand at solving mysteries. After all, she has a lot of time on her hands after she lost her job managing a newsroom when the paper went corporate. Besides, her first case was also her first big story as a rookie reporter — and one of the cold case files she snagged from the newsroom on her last day.

Isabel is savvy and sassy. She’s got a great sense of humor. She doesn’t take crap from anyone. But she is a great listener and can relate well with others. Basically, she takes what she knew as a reporter and applies it to being an amateur sleuth. This comes in handy because her second case takes her to a town she is unfamiliar with and also a rather rough group of folks.

For that case, a woman hires her to find out how her father died. The cops say he was drunk when his house caught fire. She says he was murdered. Could it be the work of two drug-dealing brothers, a rival junkyard owner, or an ex-husband? Isabel is going to find out.

Anyway, I wanted you to get the full picture of Isabel by letting her talk her way through my two books so far in this series — Chasing the Case and Redneck’s Revenge. The third, Checking the Traps, will be released next year.

I also wanted my readers to focus on Isabel. I know I sometimes get a little lost when there are so many POVs in a novel I’m reading. I sometimes have to remind myself who the character is.

Why present tense? It can be tricky to write. I have written only one other book, as yet unpublished, that way. But I believe it works with Isabel because sometimes she even talks directly to the reader.

Here’s an excerpt from Redneck’s Revenge, to put you in the mood. In this scene, she’s meeting with Lin Pierce, a licensed private investigator.

All right, Lin, enough with the dillydallying. Let’s get on with it.

“As I said over the phone… ”

He waves his hand.

“Yes, that. You said you want to work for me to fulfill one of your requirements to get a P.I. license.”

“That’s right.”

“So, what would make you qualified to be an associate? Have you ever worked in law enforcement?”

I shake my head.

“A cop? No. I was a journalist for over thirty years. I started as the Conwell correspondent for the Daily Star. Adela Collins’ disappearance was my first big story.” I watch his head bounce in recognition. “I knew how to chase a story. I found the pieces and put them together. I believe the skills are transferable, except I’d never carry a gun or wrestle anybody to the ground.”

He squints as he thinks.

“I recall reading your stories. Didn’t you used to run the paper?”

“Uh-huh, for fifteen years until it got bought out,” I say. “As I explained over the phone, I’m not looking to take your cases although I’d be willing to help if you need it. I’ll find my own.”

“Well, I’ve never hired anybody and frankly, I couldn’t afford you if I did.” His voice drops. “I’d say I’m semi-retired. I own this building, so it’s convenient to keep an office. It helps with taxes.”

I was prepared for this.

“How about a buck a day? Could you afford that?”

He chuckles.

“You work cheap, Isabel.”

MORE: This post appeared first in Zooloo Book Blog as part of a tour in Rachel’s Random Resources.

BOOKLINKS: Thank you if you have already read my books. If not here’s where you can find them on Amazon: mybook.to/chasingthecase and mybook.to/rednecksrevenge

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A creative use of old screwdrivers. Piece of art found outside a studio on State Street in our village of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.

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Isabel Long Series, Redneck's Revenge

Who I Decide to Keep

It’s a bit of a puzzle when writing a series to decide which characters to keep and which ones to let go. That’s true for Chasing the Case and its sequel Redneck’s Revenge.

What made it easier is that Isabel Long’s next case takes her to another hilltown — Rednecks Revenge smallthe fictional Caulfield — where another set of characters lives. But I did hold onto some from the first.

Of course, Isabel Long and her mother — her Watson — are keepers. This is the Isabel Long mystery series after all. And most sleuths need a sidekick. Isabel’s is a bit unusual  — her savvy 92-year-old mother, Maria, who lives with her.

What about Jack Smith, the owner of the Rooster Bar, who was Isabel’s love interest from the first? I like Jack. So does Isabel. Let’s just say things have gotten a bit complicated. So has life for his sister, Eleanor. Those who have read the first book will understand. No spoiler alerts here.

Of course, the Old Farts, those nosy old men who gossip about everybody in the backroom of the Conwell General Store, including Isabel, stay. She’s given them endearing nicknames: the Fattest Old Fart, Serious Old Fart, Skinniest Old Fart, Bald Old Fart and Silent Old Fart. They continue to be her source of information and entertainment. The one thing they don’t know is that Isabel calls them by those names.

Fred “El Creepo” Lewis, Jack’s cousin was a figure in Isabel’s first case. Guess what? He’s in her second one.

Then there’s Marsha aka the Floozy. She’s one tough gal whose connection to Isabel’s first case was that she gave one of the suspects an alibi. Now for the second, she hooks Isabel up with her cousin Annette Waters, who hires her to look into the death of her father. The official story is her pop was drunk and passed out when his house caught fire. She doesn’t believe it for a second. Neither does Marsha.

I do keep some of the bands who play at the Rooster Bar, like the Cowlicks and the Lone Sums, which play that danceable and drinkable blend of country, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll.

Of course, Isabel’s second case has a new victim and a new list of suspects. Most are a bit rough around the edges. I had such fun creating them. I’ll be sure to tell you about them in a future post.

A LITTLE BUSINESS: The Kindle version of Redneck’s Revenge is available for pre-order on Amazon. Click on the box and on Sept. 26 it will pop into your device. The cost is $2.99.

Paperback fans can order now — for $10.99. Here’s the link to both: http://mybook.to/rednecksrevenge

And for those who haven’t read the first, both versions of Chasing the Case can be found here: http://mybook.to/chasingthecase

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: A hibiscus plant on display at the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, where I live.

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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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The Sweet Spot

What She Feels

Real people have real feelings. And since the characters of my new novel The Sweet Spot are real to me, I believe it applies to them.

Actually, the novel is filled with emotion. Love. Joy. Humor. Grief. And then there’s the ugly stuff. Jealousy. Anger. Hate. Oh, there’s more than that certainly.

But let me focus on Edie St. Claire, the novel’s main character. She’s a young widow who still grieves for her husband, Gil, who was killed in Vietnam eight years earlier. (The novel is set in 1978.) I don’t blame her. He was a sweetheart of a guy. I should know. I created him.

They were high school sweethearts who married young. Gil was taken by Edie’s fun-loving spirit. She adored his tenderness. They would have had a wonderful future together, except he pulled a low number during the 1969 lottery and had to go to war.

I’ve never been a widow. But the blessed part about being a writer and a person with a creative mind is that I can imagine it.

When The Sweet Spot starts, Edie raises their young daughter by herself. She does her best, whether it’s helping her crusty old father or her fiery aunt who live next door. Still, she knows how to have a good time, whether its playing softball — the camaraderie and banter among her teammates are a lot of fun — or hanging out at the local watering hole, the Do-Si-Do Bar. These are simply ways for her to escape her grief.

Then, there is her affair with her married brother-in-law, Walker, who could never replace his brother although he sure keeps trying.

I can’t give away the rest of the book, but things turn out badly for Edie and Walker.

Now Edie must deal with different emotions like shame, hatred and pride. How does she handle them? Let’s say I’m rooting for her.

Want your copy of The Sweet Spot? It available on Amazon as a paperback or eBook. Here’s the link: The Sweet Spot on Amazon. If you enjoy the novel, I’d love a review. Thanks for your support.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: I’ve become hooked on making sourdough bread this winter. I was inspired by Michael Pollan’s book and documentary series Cooked. I follow his recipe, which takes two days as long as you have an active starter. The bread keeps getting better and better as I learn. Sort of like writing.

 

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