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Isabel Long Mystery Series

Smashin’ and Crashin’ in Working the Beat

It was my friend, Victor who gave me the idea to have someone die at a demotion derby in one of my books. His suggestion was that a body would be found after the event ended and the crowd cleared. He mentioned this after I had actually attended a derby at a country fair a few years ago. Me a derby fan? Hardly. But I saw it as an opportunity, like I did as a reporter a long time ago, to soak in the local color.

The idea for a death at a derby stuck with me as I went onto writing other books in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. And when it was time to start no. 5 Working the Beat, I took another approach. Unless the person died quietly of a heart attack or a drug overdose, it was unlikely that nobody TDKV4932would have noticed in that crowd of people. It had to happen another way and be tied to some sort of crime. So, that’s what I developed. Lucas Page’s body was found the next day and allegedly nobody saw how it ended up in a ravine.

His death is why his grandmother approaches Isabel Long at the Titus Country Fair. And good timing because the fair’s demolition derby is being held that night. Isabel was already planning to go with Jack, the owner of the Rooster Bar where she works parttime and her love interest. He’s even closing his bar on a Saturday night because of it.

I had fun writing about a demolition derby in a chapter called “Smashin’ and Crashin’.” For that chapter, I used my experience being at one and a little online research — plenty of videos on YouTube I might add.

Plus I throw in the rivalry between two characters in the series: Annette Waters and Gary Beaumont. Annette aka the Tough Cookie is a mechanic who runs a garage and junkyard. She hired Isabel in Redneck’s Revenge to prove her father’s death wasn’t an accident, that he was too drunk to get out of his burning shack of a home. Gary, a bad boy drug dealer who was a suspect in the same book, hired her in the third, Checking the Traps. I love these characters too much to let them go, especially since there’s a history between the two.

The demolition derby in Working the Beat is an opportunity for an interesting showdown.

So I gave Annette’s car the name Wild Woman. Gary’s is Bad Ol’ Boys because initially his brother, Larry was going to drive.

In this clip, Isabel is sitting on a blanket on a hill with Jack’s buddies, many of them customers at the Rooster, and his cousin, Fred aka el Creepo. I let them explain to Isabel, who is not a local gal, how it works like why the cars drive backwards — so their radiators don’t get hit. As it turns out, Gary wins the first heat, and Annette is in the third. Here goes:

In the third heat, I keep my eyes on Annette’s Crown Vic. Yes, Wild Woman is in action. I pick up the binoculars to check out the Tough Cookie’s face, what I can barely see beneath her helmet. She has a fierce grin as the rear of her car wallops the front end of any vehicle close by. Flags are going up on her victim’s cars. This woman wants to win, and I bet meeting Gary Beaumont in the finale must be an inspiration. Just a reminder that Gary is the father of Annette’s son, Abe, although he and most of the world don’t know that. Ma and I do. It was one of those brief high school hookups. “Could you imagine what that’d be like?” she once told me. “Having a father who’s a drug dealer? No thanks. He’s better off without him.” So, Annette in Tough Cookie fashion decided to bring him up alone.

“Damn, that woman sure can drive.” Jack gives me a squeeze. “Maybe Annette should give you some lessons, Isabel.”

“Very funny, Jack.”

But Jack is right about Annette’s driving skills, and she finishes off the last car left. Bam, its engine is still running, but that car is going nowhere. The crowd goes berserk. The True Blue Regulars are on their feet and hollering around me.

I nudge Fred, who just sits there.

“Hey, you used to be married to her. Why aren’t you cheering with the guys?”

He grins and nudges me back.

“You would say somethin’ like that, Isabel. Maybe cause I used to be married to her.”

The crowd’s noise has died down. People are up and stretching as the wrecks get towed from the field and the crew checks for broken parts on the ground. Jack’s left to use one of the porta-johns or maybe go in the woods if the line is too long. So, it’s just me and el Creepo. So far, I haven’t come up with a better nickname for Fred.

“Fred, can I ask you a question?”

“As long as it’s not about Annette.”

I shake my head.

“No, it’s about Lucas Page, the kid who died here after the demolition derby. You remember him?”

“How could I forget.” He points to a certain section of the woods behind us. “They found his body over there.”

“Did you know him?”

“Sometimes I’d see him on a job or around. Couldn’t miss him with that red hair of his. Why do you ask?”

“His grandmother wants me to look into his death.”

“Shirley? What the hell for?”

“She thinks it wasn’t an accident.”

“Tell me, Isabel. Do all your cases involve somebody’s death?”

“So far, yes. Why? You got a mystery I can solve that doesn’t?”

“Nope.”

Jack is back just in time for the three remaining cars to enter the pit: Wild Woman, Bad Ol’ Boys, and Road Hog, the winner in the second heat. Each driver gets a cheer from the crowd, who I bet is anticipating a good showdown in the finale.

“Who are you rootin’ for, Isabel,” Jack says with a chuckle.

“Annette, definitely. You?”

“Same.”

And with a blast of that airhorn, the cars start moving. It’s clear Annette and Gary plan to take out Road Hog right away as they circle the car. They want to go head to head, or in this case, rear end to rear end of their vehicles. As I expected, Road Hog is a goner about ten minutes into the heat. Now, the driver is stuck in the middle of the pit, watching as Wild Woman and Bad Ol’ Boys circle him. His car is off limits now that he’s hoisted the surrender flag, but he has the best view of anyone about what’s happening down there. Round and round the two cars go. Both are driving backwards really fast, something I could never do, Jack reminds me. Annette tries to take out a rear tire on Gary’s vehicle, but he speeds away in time.

“That was a close one,” the announcer says. “Bad Ol’ Boys better watch out for Wild Woman it they know what’s good for ’em.”

Everyone around us is laughing like crazy fools.

It was a close call, and now the two of them play cat and mouse, nicking each other’s cars although not enough to do either of them in. But then, both cars spin around and speed toward each other. Many in the crowd rise to their feet as if that would get them closer to the action.

And, then, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, Wild Woman and Bad Ol’ Boys hit each other head on, and from the impact, it’s clear that’s the end of the road for both vehicles. The crowd goes nuts. I get to my feet and join them.

“What do you think?” I ask Jack.

“Not a bad way to finish,” he says. “I wonder if they planned it that way.”

“Don’t know, but I’m going to find out.”

“I bet you will, Isabel.”

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A scene from the demolition derby I attended at the Cummington Fair a few years back.

INFO ABOUT WORKING THE BEAT: My book, no. 5 in the Isabel Long Mystery Series, will be released on Jan. 27. Kindle readers can pre-order now. I will let you know when the paperback version will be released by my publisher darkstroke books.

Here is the link on Amazon: mybook.to/workingthebeat

And as a bonus see the video I created below.

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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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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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