Isabel Long Mystery Series, Writing

Story Behind the Story: Isabel Long Mystery Series

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.

But it made sense to try this genre as I love a great mystery, especially one that fools me until the end.

So, I sat down, and the pieces came together fast. Extremely fast. That’s how it works for me. Not to sound like a nut job, but ideas come from somewhere. The same goes for the characters and what they do.

Anyway, 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 are in the middle of the action, also in present tense.

Isabel’s back story: she has just come off a bad year when this series starts with Chasing the Case. Her husband died and she lost her job as a newspaper’s top editor. 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 admit there is quite a lot of me in her.

After a year of proper 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. She plans to use the tools she relied on as a journalist to solve this case. And Isabel has a ‘Watson’ — her 92-year-old mystery-loving mother who’s come to live with her. My own mother, who is 97, 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 cases, but a love interest in its owner, Jack.

Then I found I couldn’t let go of Isabel Long. I gave her more cases to solve in Redneck’s Revenge, Checking the Traps and Killing the Story. On Jan. 27, Working the Beat will be released by my publisher darkstroke books.

I hadn’t expected to write a series, but here I am.

And to get you interested in Working the Beat, here’s an excerpt from an early chapter. Here Isabel and her mother happen to be at the Titus Country Fair when they are approached by Shirley Dawes.

Shirley stays sitting when she sees us approach. I make our introductions, and then we take the seats opposite her at the picnic table. I make sure I’m in Shirley’s direct line of vision in case she reads lips.

“So, what did you want to talk about?” I ask.

Shirley works her mouth a bit.

“It’s about my grandson, Lucas. Lucas Page is his full name. He was killed here four years ago and whoever did it didn’t get caught.”

“Here in Titus?”

She gives her head a shake.

“I mean here at the fair. It was after the demolition derby, the first one they had. They found Lucas’s body the next morning behind where everybody watches, in the woods up there. They said he must’ve been drunk and fell down in the rocks. His head was hit real bad I was told.”

“What was he doing on the hill afterward? Was he alone?”

“That’s what I want you to find out.”

This story’s coming back to me now. I was the editor of the Daily Star then. We reported on an unattended death at the fair in a story that made the front page, and then like Shirley said, it was ruled an accident because of a brain injury, although she protested that in a story we ran, too.

“Now, I remember you, Shirley. You came to see me in the newsroom. You said you were frustrated the police didn’t seem to be looking that hard into your grandson’s case and you wanted us to do that.”

I think back and hope I treated this woman nicely.

“Yeah, I did. You said newspapers don’t do that kind of work.”

“No, not the one I worked for.”

“But I heard about what you’ve been doin’ now as a private investigator. Your last case was a doozy. Read about it in the paper.” She crooks a thumb toward Annette and her son, still talking with his admirers. “Course, there was Chet Waters. Maybe you can do what the cops couldn’t or wouldn’t do.”

“You mean find out what happened that night with your grandson.”

“Yeah. I heard you get paid for doin’ this. I wanna hear how much. I ain’t got a lot. But this is important to me. I loved my grandson. I’m the one who brought him up after his mother gave him to me. He was hangin’ around with a rough crowd in those days. Tryin’ to fit in. Here. Let me show you his picture.”

Shirley reaches for the purse on the seat beside her. The purse is vintage style, off white with a smart clasp on the top, no zippers, something my mother would use. I am guessing Shirley holds onto things. She removes a photo from her wallet and hands it to me.

“I took it at Christmas, the last one we had,” she says.

Lucas Page’s face smiles at me. He’s young, blue-eyed, and with the kind of features that would label him a good-looking guy. His most distinctive is the red hair that’s short on the sides and long enough on the top so it has a bit of curl. But back to that smile. He was happy to pose for his grandmother.

“He was a handsome young man,” I tell Shirley.

She swipes away a tear.

“Yeah, he was.”

I glance at my mother. She’s interested, of course. The questions are forming in my brain, but this isn’t the time to ask them. Already a parade of people I know have passed by with a wave, a hello, and a curious expression on their faces as they wonder why in the heck my mother and I are talking with this woman. They’re just being nosy New Englanders as usual.

“Shirley, we’re interested, but this isn’t the best place to talk. We need some privacy. How about my mother and I come to your home to talk this over?”

“What’d you say? My house?”

“Yes, your house. Well, you could come to ours if you prefer. We live in Conwell. But it would help us if we could see where you and your grandson lived. I should also tell you that if I’m interested in taking your case, I have to clear it with my boss. Do you know Lin Pierce?” I pause as she nods. “He gets a small cut of whatever I make. So, he has a say.” I register the concern in Shirley’s narrowed eyes. “Don’t worry. He hasn’t turned me down yet.”

“I understand,” she says. “Can’t do it tomorrow. I’m helpin’ out in the kitchen here. Monday mornin’ work for you?”

Ma and I exchange glances.

“How about ten?” I say.

Shirley nods.

“Ten, it is. Do you mind if I make a copy of your grandson’s photo with my phone?”

“Go right ahead if it helps.”

I place the photo on the table and remove my cell phone from my bag to take a shot before I hand the photo back to Shirley.

“Here you go.”

Shirley leaves us after she gives me directions to her house in West Titus. She lives on one of those dead-end dirt roads, hers is the last house, that’s also likely one of the last to be plowed in the winter and impassable at times in the spring because of the mud. But she’s probably one of those people who doesn’t mind because she wants to live out of the way of everybody. I don’t have to worry about road conditions this time of year. The road’s been graded recently she told me.

I wait until Shirley is out of earshot as she moves inside the crowd that’s wandering the fairgrounds. She stops first at the pumpkin display, where Annette and Abe are still hanging out.

“What’s your opinion, Ma?”

“I like her. She’s a little rough around the edges like a lot of the people we meet here,” she says. “But it’s about time we found a new case. It was getting a little boring.”

I smile. My 93-year-old mother is game for a new mystery to solve.

“Boring?”

She nods.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Working the Beat has a Jan. 27 release. But if you are a Kindle user, you can download No. 4 Killing the Story for free for two days only.

Here’s the link for Killing the Story: https://mybook.to/killingthestory

Here’s he link for Working the Beat: mybook.to/workingthebeat

 

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Killing the Story, Mystery, New release

A Healthy Obsession

I’m talking about writing fiction. I just can’t help myself and hopefully, there is no cure for it.

In college and a few years afterward, I was a poet. When I read the poems I’ve kept, I still like what I wrote. But I kicked that habit when I started having kids, lots of kids, six in all, now all adults. By then, I was more interested in prose although I couldn’t manage more than a few paragraphs and letters to friends. I read what other people wrote and thought one day I would do the same.

I honestly believe each kid I had is the equivalent of one or two books each.

Then, I got a job as a correspondent for the hilltown where I lived for a daily newspaper. Over the years, I covered more hilltowns, and then it became a full-time job. It wasn’t fiction, but I was writing and better yet, immersing myself in rural Western Massachusetts, which is the setting for most of my  books. And I was learning how to sustain prose.

It wasn’t until I became an editor for the same newspaper, that I started writing fiction. I didn’t write down the date, too bad, but from that day on, I couldn’t go without writing. Yes, I was hooked and pretty darn fast.

I estimate I overcame a 25-year writer’s block.

My fixation has led to completed books, published and unpublished, for adults and young readers.

Killing the Story is the fourth book in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, which started when I decided to try writing a mystery. All of my other books, save the ones for young readers, are what I would call literary fiction. But after I finished the first, Chasing the Case, I was fixated on the characters, the setting, and coming up with a story that would have twists and turns that would fool readers about who might have dunnit. (I will admit I don’t know either as I solve the cold case along with my protagonist, Isabel Long and her sidekick, her mother.)

In Killing the Story, Isabel is investigating the death of a small town newspaper editor. Was it an accident or murder? She’s determined to find out despite obstacles thrown her way by the local police chief. But then again, he and the victim have a dark history.

The book, which was officially released Aug. 26, just completed a blog tour that garnered some great reviews. Now NewInBooks is giving it a push.

And so, I am onto the next mystery. This one is called Working the Beat. I started this week, getting up at 5 a.m. to write before I head to work. (I am the editor-in-chief of a daily newspaper.) As of this morning, I hit the 3,700-word mark. Isabel is just about to find her next case. Damn, I’m excited.

Interested in reading Killing the Story? Thank you very much. Hopefully, you, too, will get hooked on my series. Here’s the link on Amazon: Killing the Story

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Lobsters awaiting their doom in a tank during a recent visit to Cape Cod.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Checking the Traps, Isabel Long Mystery Series

When You Gotta Write Poetry

For the next few weeks, I will be running posts that appeared in blogs by my fellow authors and others. Here is one about writing poems for my latest mystery, Checking the Traps. Not my typical form of expression, but my victim and a suspect write poetry. So, I had to. This post appeared in author Angela Wren’s blog: http://www.angelawren.co.uk/

Like what you read? Here’s how to buy the book on Amazon: https://mybook.to/checkingthetraps

I wrote poetry before I could write prose. I began in college, where I fancied myself a poet, and a few years afterward until real life, including having six kids and a 25-year writer’s block, took over. When I did resume writing, I turned to prose, that is, novels and short stories. I no longer wrote poetry. Ah, but that changed when I wrote the third book in my Isabel Long Mystery Series.

In Checking the Traps, Isabel is hired by a local bad boy drug dealer, Gary Beaumont, to find out how his half-brother died. Did Cary Moore jump from a bridge known for suicides or was he pushed? But what fires up Isabel’s interest in this case is that Cary drove heavy equipment by day and wrote poetry at night.

Gary lends Isabel the notebooks in which his half-brother transcribed all of his poems. As Isabel discovers, Cary’s poetry in the early books are really juvenile. But he gets better, well, enough that a famous poet uses the poems for his own in what turns out to be an award-winning book. (Yes, the poet is a suspect in the man’s death.)

Isabel also finds poetry that Cary wrote as gifts for other people.

So, that meant I had to write poetry, too, for this book.

Actually I found writing poetry wasn’t hard at all. I was able to channel that inner poet to come up with several complete poems plus lines from others. I tried to imagine what a man who had never gone farther than 100 miles from his country home would write about and how he would write it. I figured on a plain but sturdy style of writing. There would have lots of imagery from nature. The poems would not be long.

Poetry, including a reading where Isabel corners the famous poet, figures big in this book.

Did the experience inspire me to write more poetry? I will be honest and say no. But I enjoyed letting one of my characters do it instead.

Here’s an excerpt from Checking the Traps. Jack is the owner of the Rooster Bar, where Isabel works part-time. He’s also her love interest in this series.

Jack motions me to come behind the counter.

“I’ve got somethin’ to show you,” he says. “I forgot all about it. Here you go.”

Jack hands me a paper. I immediately recognize Cary Moore’s handwriting. It’s a poem he called “The Barman.” It’s a lot more sophisticated than his second book of poetry, aptly named Book Deuce, which I read this afternoon after Ma and I returned from our field trip and before I got myself ready for work. Cary got heavy into rhyming with Book Deuce. Sometimes it works, a lot of the time it doesn’t. They remind me of the poems I read when I was a kid in elementary school. It appears Cary read them, too.

But here’s “The Barman.”

What’ll it be tonight, boys?

The barman asks each one.

Give me some hope in a bottle.

Give me courage.

Give me love.

The barman laughs.

Sorry, boys, it’s only beer.

He even signed the bottom.

“I like it a lot,” I tell Jack. “You should frame it and hang it behind the bar. Want me to do that for you?”

Jack’s face squeezes into an amused squint.

“Really, Isabel?”

“Yeah, really, Jack. Let me put it in my bag.”

 

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Isabel Long Series, Redneck's Revenge

Meet Isabel Long P.I.

Isabel Long is the star of my mystery series set in the sticks of Western Massachusetts. Actually, I name the series, which includes Chasing the Case and Redneck’s Revenge, after her. She’s a long-time journalist who tries her hand at being a private investigator and does well by it. But who the heck is she?

First off, when I decided to write a mystery, I wanted a protagonist who is a woman. She wasn’t going to be a sweet, young thing. She was going to be a woman with some good miles on her — what the French call une femme d’un certain age. Isabel has three grown kids and a granddaughter. She’s also a recent widow. As for looks, she’s attractive enough to gain the attention of older men.

And Isabel had a long career as a journalist — starting as a reporter covering the dinky hilltown where she lives to being the managing editor of a newspaper until that ended when it went corporate. When the new owner said everybody had to reapply for their job. Isabel said, “To hell with that.”

Yeah, Isabel is a bit on the sassy side. She doesn’t take crap from anybody. She’s also savvy, which made her a good journalist. Now it will come in handy as a private investigator.

Isabel lives in a hilltown in rural Western Massachusetts. She and her late husband, Sam moved there from the city to make a better life for their children. Conwell, population a thousand, is the kind of place where most people know each other for better or worse. Isabel probably knows them even better because her first job as reporter was covering it. In fact her first case, featured in Chasing the Case, was also her first big story as a rookie reporter. That involved the disappearance of Adela Collins 28 years earlier.

Other occupational benefits: Keeping an open mind and being able to talk with just about anybody. Oh, yeah, being relentless until she gets her story — or the culprit.

Isabel is also of Portuguese heritage, or as she says, “Yes, Long is my married name. Ferreira is the name I got at birth. I’m a hundred percent Portuguese and proud that I’ve invaded a Yankee stronghold in the hilltowns.”

Isabel’s also ready to reinvent herself — as a private investigator and as a single woman. The second part means after a year of properly grieving her late husband whom she loved, she’s ready for relationship with another man — and she finds it. Her relationship with Jack, owner of the Rooster Bar, has its ups and a big down. But I’m not going to spoil what happens for readers.

So, how much of me is in Isabel? I’d like to say the sassy and savvy part, especially since I wrote these books in first person. I, too, was a journalist who started in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, where I’ve lived twice. But unlike Isabel, I didn’t become a P.I. Instead I write about one, and that’s fine with me.

Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter in Redneck’s Revenge. Isabel is meeting a licensed P.I. to see if he will take her on as an associate. The cops told her she had to work for one for three years before she could go solo.

I smile and extend my hand to Franklin Pierce. I feel a bit self-conscious my skin is colder and rougher than his. I’m curious why someone would name their kid after one of the worst presidents so far although I can think of a few other contenders. But now isn’t the time to bring up that observation. I need to win this man over. So, what will it be: Franklin or Frank although I seriously doubt Frankie. I play it safe.

“Mr. Pierce, hello.”

“Please call me Lin. And you? Is it Isabel or Izzie? Which do you prefer?”

I shake my head.

“Never Izzie,” I say.

“I’ll remember that.”

“Okay, Lin. How do you spell that?”

“L-I-N.”

Gotcha. I follow him inside. For a man who makes money investigating private cases, this office is a bit of a joke, or maybe he doesn’t make much. Someone could easily move in one of the cheapo dollar stores or a salon where they fix blue hair for old ladies. A cracked vinyl couch is set near the entrance along with a coffee table stacked with magazines I bet aren’t current. The only art on the walls are a print of Norman Rockwell’s “Runaway,” the one in which a cop talks to a boy inside what looks like a diner, and framed newspaper pages that are yellow and faded. We’re moving too fast toward the back of the office for me to read what they say. A desk piled high with papers but no booze bottles or ashtrays, I’m relieved not to see, is semi-hidden by a partition along with two chairs for guests, a file cabinet, and beyond them a door I presume leads to a bathroom. I smell pizza through the walls from the joint next door.

Lin places his cowboy hat on the desktop and throws his long canvas coat over the back of his chair before he sits. He wears a dark suit, a bit frayed in the cuffs. His striped tie has a stain, perhaps coffee or a drop of grease. He shaved this morning. And he’s almost due for a haircut. Yes, my observation skills are getting sharper. I will need them if I continue to investigate cases.

I take Lin’s cue and choose one of the chairs opposite him. He studies me as I unbutton my coat and slide it away. I came dressed for this interview in a blouse and skirt. I pulled my silver hair back into a twist, now that it’s long enough. I haven’t dressed this fancy since I got canned from my job as the managing editor of the Daily Star. Now that I’m not sitting at a desk all day, I’ve lost some weight, a welcome development. My cheekbones are even more pronounced.

“Nice work on the Adela Collins case,” Lin says. “I was impressed. It’s tough to solve a missing person’s case after so many years. How many was it?”

“Twenty-eight.”

He repeats the number.

“Yup, that’s a long time.”

REDNECK’S REVENGE: The second in the Isabel Long mystery series has a formal launch Sept. 26. You can buy paperbacks now and pre-order the Kindle version, which will pop into your device that day. Here’s the link: mybook.to/rednecksrevenge

By the way both versions are available for its predecessor Chasing the Case: mybook.to/chasingthecase

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6Ws, Author Interview, Crooked Cat Books

6Ws with Author Jo Fenton

Jo Fenton is the latest Crooked Cat Books author to participate in the 6Ws series. Her psychological thriller, The Brotherhood, has an official launch July 25 although you can pre-order the Kindle version now and buy a paperback outright.

Jo was inspired to begin writing The Brotherhood by NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month although she says it actually took her six years and ten drafts. Book coverNow, that’s persistence.

Here are Jo’s responses to my 6Ws — who, what, when, where, how, and why. (How does end with a W.)

Who is author Jo Fenton?

Clinical researcher by day, writer by night (or whenever time allows), I am a short, friendly soul who loves chatting to people, running very slowly, and being helpful whenever needed. I live in Manchester, UK, with my nearly grown up sons, husband, a beautiful Corgi and two fish tanks.

What does she write?

Psychological thrillers with a strong emphasis on relationships, belief and power.

When did she begin writing?

I began writing at 41, when my kids reached an age where full time attention was no longer required, and my husband suggested it might be a good time. This was triggered by publicity for NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. The novel, an early version of The Brotherhood, didn’t quite get completed in a month. Six years and 10 drafts later, it was submitted to Crooked Cat, who fortunately loved it.

How does she write?

The Brotherhood started as a vague premise with some notes, and character descriptions. Plot changed significantly over the first few drafts, but there was not much planning done at any point. It just developed. The current work in progress, a sequel to The Brotherhood, is being subjected to much more planning, but every now and again, the muse takes over, and adds an unexpected twist or two.

Writing is facilitated by music – certain scenes require specific soundtracks, but generally any favourite music will serve as good background. Coffee or wine can also help depending on time of day.

Where does she write?

As I work from home a lot, I have an office (very untidy), which is the scene of most of my writing. However, I’m very flexible, and can write just as easily in a hotel room (when travelling for the day job), on a plane, or on holiday (sea-view balconies and cruise ship bars are definitely favourite writing spots!)

Why does she write?

For many years, I played out stories in my head, retreating into a virtual universe for days at a time. It was only when I began to write my first novel, that I realized how important it was to have that outlet. Writing became an escape from everyday life; a safe way to explore fears, dreams and the wildest corners of my imagination. Due to demands on time, it’s not always possible to write, but I return to my novels whenever I can, with a huge sense of relief.

More on The Brotherhood:

The Brotherhood will be released by Crooked Cat books on 25thJuly. The Brotherhood is a psychological thriller set in a religious sect and is available for pre-order on Amazon http://mybook.to/fentonthebrotherhood.

Other works:

None yet, but I’m working on it.

Jo Fenton on social media:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jl_fenton

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Jo-Fenton-Author

Blog: https://www.jofenton137.com

 

 

 

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