When One Mother Inspires Another

Many sleuths have a sidekick. When I chose one for Isabel Long, the protagonist in my mystery series, I went for someone unusual — her 93-year-old mother, Maria Ferreira. Yeah, she’s Isabel’s “Watson.” And though nearly all of the characters I create are purely fictional, when I write about Maria, I’m inspired by my own mother.

Well, it being Mother’s Day, why not give some shine on this important character in my Isabel Long Mystery Series — and a real person in my life.

Interestingly, I have heard numerous readers say they don’t want me to ever lose Isabel’s mother. I am not planning on it, I say to their relief. I can see why they like Maria. She is smart and spunky at age 93.

So is the person who inspired her — my own mother, Algerina Medeiros, who left us last September at age 99. I can think of many adjectives to describe Mom although being curious, involved, and creative come quickly to mind. She had a long and enjoyable marriage with my father, who she met on a blind date. Being a big reader and a fan of my books, my mother gave her approval when I started the series.

Using her as an inspiration for Isabel’s mother came easy.

And now that my own mother is no longer with us, I feel I keep her going if only through my imagination and the words I write.

In my mystery series, both Isabel and her mother are widows. Maria came to live with her in the fictional hilltown of Conwell in Western Massachusetts after both were tired of living alone. Also, Isabel has the most space of her siblings. (My own mother preferred living by herself.)

It’s been a bit of an adjustment for Maria living with her daughter and moving to the sticks, as she calls it, from the state’s seacoast. But the town has a library that supplies her with those mysteries and smutty romances she likes. And she’s found a whole different culture in country living. She’s also a big fan of Isabel’s guy, Jack, who owns the town’s only bar.

Maria likes to stay up late reading, doing puzzles in the newspaper, and watching TV. Being Portuguese, she makes family favorites like kale soup. So did my mother.

She’s also got a lead foot when she’s driving, or as Isabel says, it’s like her mother is driving the getaway car in a bank robbery. Actually, I stole that line from my husband, Hank, when he commented about my mother’s driving after she gave us a ride. Once when I was with her, I told her she was driving a little too fast. She laughed and said it was the car. Of course, I used that in a book. I believe she drove until she was 95 or so.

Isabel often takes her mother when she interviews potential clients and even persons of interest, if there’s no danger involved. She counts on Ma’s observations. I bet my own mother would have been great at that.

And Ma encourages Isabel to continue being a private investigator. Actually, she is just as excited as Isabel about finding new cases to solve. She says it is boring without one. I could hear my mother saying that.

Here is an excerpt from Missing the Deadline, no. 7, in which Isabel and her mother are at the home of Cyrus Nilsson, a noted poet who wants her to investigate the shooting of his first literary agent. They meet outside the home of the Big Shot Poet, Isabel’s secret nickname for him, and then shoo him inside so they can weigh the merits of the case. It’s a typical conversation between the two.

“What do you think, Ma? Should we take this case?”

“This would be more different than your others. This Gerald is alive, but we don’t know how bad off he is. He might not be very helpful at all. Or maybe he would be.” She pauses. “I would just insist on the usual list of people to interview. At the top should be this sister, Wendy. Without her, we won’t have much to go on.”

“I agree. And that guy Cole. Plus anyone Gerald might have crossed.” I think about my conversation with Cyrus and what I read online. “I wonder how long that list would be.”

“You’re the one who does the heavy lifting on these cases. What’s your gut feeling?”

“My gut feeling? How different is this to my other cases? I didn’t have a lot to go on at first, but I worked it out. The last one was nearly fifty years old. This one is a lot more recent, only three.”

“Plus, there are no guarantees you will find the culprit. You should remind Cyrus that. This man could have indeed tried to off himself.”

I smile hearing my mystery-loving mother use the words “culprit” and “off.” Yes, there are no guarantees I will be successful although I’d like to keep my winning streak going.

“Okay, let’s do it.”

My mother laughs. “Oh, boy, a new case. This will be good practice for the big one.”

“Yes, it would be nice to finally give Patsy some justice,” I say.

For those of you wondering, Patsy was my cousin who was kidnapped in my hometown when I was a kid. Her body was found buried years later when a wooded area was being cleared for a subdivision. Her killer was never found. It is a tragedy that still haunts our family. Do I have the P.I. smarts to solve it? I’m working on it.

I glance toward the house, where Cyrus hovers behind that window.

“Shall we keep him waiting longer?” I joke.

“Isabel,” my mother says in a voice I remember from my childhood that I may be pushing it.

“Oh, alright.”

Yes, that’s a photo of my mother above. And here’s the link to Missing the Deadline in case you are interested.

Isabel Long Mystery Series

A New Book at the Solstice

Today is the Solstice, in which winter takes its turn on the shortest day of the year. It also means the launch of my next book, Missing the Deadline, no. 7 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series.

I began this series with Chasing the Case when we still lived in Taos, New Mexico. That was in late 2016. One day I got it in my head that I wanted to write a mystery. I had already written books for adult and young readers, literary fiction and magical realism, respectively. One is even bilingual.

So, I sat down at my computer and the pieces came together fast for Chasing the Case. Extremely fast. That’s how it works for me.

It made sense that my protagonist, Isabel Long, would tell the story, so I wrote it in first-person, and because I want my readers to feel they’re in the middle of the action, in present tense as well

Here’s Isabel’s back story: she’s just come off a bad year after her husband died and she lost her job as a newspaper’s top editor when it went corporate. She is what the French call une femme d’un certain age. Isabel’s bit of a smart ass but she has a caring heart. Yes, I’ll admit there is quite a lot of me in her.

After a year of properly grieving, Isabel is ready for a new life. And that’s when we first meet her. She decides to solve a 28-year-old mystery of a woman who went missing in her town of a thousand people. It was Isabel’s first big story as a rookie reporter.

Isabel uses the tools she relied on as a journalist to solve this case. And she has a ‘Watson’ — her 92-year-old mystery-loving mother who’s come to live with her. (My late mother inspired this character.) Isabel also takes a part-time job at the local watering hole, the Rooster, where not only does she find clues for her case, but a love interest in its owner, Jack, a local guy.

I had such fun writing Chasing the Case, I quickly went onto the next, Redneck’s Revenge. Hey, I thought, maybe I’ll turn this into a series.

I struck out querying agents and publishers until I found Crooked Cat Books. Here was the message I got from Laurence and Steph Patterson in Fall 2017: “Thank you very much indeed for reaching out to Crooked Cat with your submission recently. We loved what we’ve read so far of Chasing the Case, and would therefore welcome the remainder of the story for our further consideration. Do please be in touch.”

And now Crooked Cat through its imprint darkstroke books has stuck with me through this series as well as publishing two of my hilltown books, The Sacred Dog and Northern Comfort.

Writing a series means I can hold onto the characters I love but let them do something else. That’s what happens in Missing the Deadline. Cyrus Nilsson, the noted poet who was once a suspect in a previous case, becomes a client wanting her to investigate the shooting of his first literary agent.

Gerald Danielson was found shot in the head at his home in Meadows Falls. He survived but isn’t the same successful agent who moved there from New York City. The police ruled it an attempted suicide, but Cyrus has his doubts. Certainly there are people, including a vindictive ex-wife, a jilted local writer, and even an apparently devoted sister, who might have motive. 

I will be telling you more about the characters, themes and settings for Missing the Deadline in future posts.

But for now I want you to know Missing the Deadline is live on Kindle. Paperback readers will have to wait a few months. Thank you to those who continue to read my books. 

Oh, one another announcement: I am well into writing no. 8, Following the Source. Wait ‘til you read what Isabel is up to next.

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.

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.

Northern Comfort

Only Days to Go for Northern Comfort

Northern Comfort, which has a July 19 release, is my next book set in the fictional hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. That’s only days away. Perhaps you’re wondering why I continue to choose that setting. Frankly, it’s because I have had a long fascination with the real ones. Let me explain.

After living in a number of cities, Hank and I decided a better place to raise our family would be in the country. And with the encouragement of new friends, we found ourselves moving to the town of Worthington, population around 1,200. Before the move, we checked out the town, camping in our friends’ yard. That night the sky was alive with Northern Lights, which I took as a positive sign.

We rented a funky, little house for $150 a month. Actually it was less than that for several months since we helped clean and fix up this house, which had belonged to the owner’s grandfather. Just like those Northern Lights, we got a welcome from the people who lived in town, in particular one of its largest families, the Donovans. Hank and I immersed ourselves in the town. Two of our six kids were born here. They all went to the local schools. Hank established himself as a skilled woodworker.

Eventually, we were able to buy a small piece of land and build a house, thanks to the generosity of so many people in the local construction industry who gave us great deals and even worked for free.

I got a job as a freelance reporter, a correspondent, actually, who reported on Worthington for the local newspaper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette. I covered selectboard meetings, fires, storms, accidents and other emergencies, basically anything I thought readers would want to read about. I wrote features about people and the things they did like truck pulls, hunting, farming, maple sugaring, etc. I was paid by the word.

Eventually I expanded my coverage area to two more hilltowns. 

Hank and I also enjoyed the nightlife, which meant drinking and dancing at the town’s watering hole, Liston’s. (Before that, it was the Drummer’s Club.)

As a reporter, I listened to the way people talked and how they behaved. I heard so many stories, some of which weren’t printable, but they gave me insight and inspiration. I am also grateful for the experience because it broke a 25-year writer’s block. But it wasn’t until I was hired by the same paper as an editor, that I turned my newfound writing skills into fiction. Among those is my new book, Northern Comfort.

So what’s Northern Comfort about? Willi Miller and her son are a charity case in a NE town that holds dear to the traditions of making maple syrup, playing old-time music, and keeping family secrets. They live in a cabin left to them by their grandfather, who took them in after Junior Miller abandoned them. Then, on a snowy day, Cody’s sled sends him into the path of a truck driven by Miles Potter, a man of means. Willi and Miles have known each other since they were kids, but until the moment her son dies, they are separated by their families’ places in town. 

This is a story about the haves and have nots in a small town. Over the next couple of weeks I will share more posts about the book in my attempt to entice you to buy it. As of July 19, it will be available in Kindle for $2.99. (Paperback readers will have to be patient.) My thanks if you do.

Here’s the link: