free, Isabel Long Mystery Series

Following the Lead: Two Days Free

Good news for Kindle readers: Following the Lead is free two days — Saturday, March 18 and Sunday, March 19. This book is no. 6 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. I will cut to the chase and give you the link:

So why in the heck am I giving my book away? Let me tell you.

First, I want to express my gratitude to those who bought the Kindle version at the $3.99 price. I appreciate your support. But as I’ve said before, there is writing, and then there is the business of writing. We authors have a lot of competition when you consider the books being pushed by big and little houses, plus oh-so-many people who are publishing themselves. How do you get your book to stand out? Good question. 

One way is to lure writers with a freebie promotion. Hopefully, if a reader likes Following the Lead, they will want to read the others. By the way, while it is part of a series, each book can be read on their own. And yes, the seventh, Missing the Deadline, is way past the half-way mark. 

I am pleased, as I was Thursday, meeting in person a fan who has read the entire series — especially when I totally fooled him about whodunnit on Following the Lead. But since most of my sales are digital aka Kindle, it is rare I will get that kind of experience, except in ratings on Amazon (thank you if you do) and post on social media (ditto).

I love writing my books. I want people to love reading them. But first they have to know about my books.

The Isabel Long Mystery Series is published by darkstroke books, but as a small indie publisher, authors must actively promote their books. I’ve learned to pay for promotions — not a lot — but that has made a big difference on these freebie weekends. My social media presence doesn’t have their reach, which is in the many thousands.

It’s also a lot of fun watching a book rise in the listings on Amazon.

Enough from me on the whys or wise of a freebie giveaway. Here is a brief synopsis for Following the Lead.

Isabel Long moves quickly onto the next case when a former boss entrusts her with a mystery that has haunted him since he was child. Lin Pierce, then only 11, was supposed to be minding his sister while his mother gave a piano lesson inside their home. But the sleeping baby was stolen from her carriage after he was lured away in a well-executed kidnapping that devastated the family. 

Forty-nine years later, Lin is convinced he met his long-lost sister by chance. Afterall, the woman not only resembled his mother but she had a distinctive family trait — different colored eyes. 

As she works her sixth case, Isabel believes the student taking the piano lesson that day, later a well-known musician, is key to solving it. But meeting him in person proves to be nearly impossible. 

As she did when she was a journalist, Isabel use her resources — including her mother Maria — to follow that lead until the end.

ALL OF THE SERIES: Here’s the link for that —

Isabel Long Series

She’s One Tough Cookie

I am, of course, referring to Annette Waters, who has had a continuing role in my Isabel Long Mystery Series since the second book, Redneck’s Revenge. That’s when she hired Isabel to investigate the death of her father, Chet, who died when his shack of a house burned to the ground. She didn’t believe it was an accident.

Right off the bat, Isabel gave Annette the nickname the “Tough Cookie,” although not to her face. After all, the woman runs a garage and junkyard she inherited from her father. Plus, Annette is one woman you don’t mess around with. She’s a single mother who got pregnant in high school and raised her son by herself via a regimen of so-called tough love. (The father is a local drug dealer who wouldn’t be the ideal role model in her mind.) She was married oh-so-briefly to another local guy and since then, enjoys the full company of any man she likes. And being an attractive woman in her late 30s, she has plenty of men interested in her.

Annette’s what I would call a hot ticket. She doesn’t take crap from anybody and isn’t afraid to dish it out, with humor, of course. She and her cousin, Marsha, aka the Floozy, (Isabel is fond of giving people secret nicknames) own the Pit Stop, a small convenience store with gas pumps in the hill town of Caulfield. Her son, Abe, lives in the back. He also works with his mother in the garage and at the store. She’s trying to teach him to be a responsible adult, in her own way.

And in case you’re wondering, Annette is not based on anyone I know. She comes totally from my imagination although I will admit knowing women who have as much spunk as her.

Both Isabel and her mother are fond of Annette. She is also a great source of information for Isabel’s cases. Frequently, she will contact her to find out the local dirt. She’s been helpful as the series goes on. I am currently writing no. 7 and, of course, she’s in this one. I like her too much to let her go.

Oh, by the way, Annette paid Isabel with free mechanical service for life. Her former boss got the same deal.

Annette’s new pastime is being the lead singer in a band she appropriately called the Junkyard Dogs. Her son, Abe plays drums and the guitarists are mechanics from another garage. The band plays at the Rooster on Fridays nights when Isabel is tending bar, and at Baxter’s another local watering hole. 

Here’s I’ll give you an excerpt from Following the Lead, no. 6 in the series, that features the Tough Cookie. Isabel’s mother, Maria, her partner in solving crime, has decided she no longer wants to drive, so she is selling her car to Annette’s son, Abe.

Annette and Abe walk up the front path. This is a first for Abe, but Annette has been here before, when she hired me for my second case, plus another time with Marsha for my mother’s birthday party, which shocked my daughter Ruth a bit but their appearance made for a lively event. 

But this time it’s for business. Annette nods at Abe and growls something under her breath I don’t catch before he hands my mother a fat envelope filled presumably with cash, a figure the two of them arranged without my input. Ma bought the car from Annette after I totaled the one she brought here. Hey, it wasn’t my fault. I had an alleged murderer trying to run me off the road.

“Do you want to count it, Mrs. Ferreira?” Abe’s face reddens. “It’s the amount we agreed to over the phone.”

My mother and Abe had a telephone conversation? This is news to me. Ma has the car’s title, plus a bill of sale I created on my computer ready. 

“Here you go Abe,” my mother says. “It’s all yours.”

Annette gives her son the evil eye. She’s been working hard to train him to be a good adult in her own way, giving him a job and a place to live in the apartment behind the Pit Stop, the convenience store she co-owns. And now, he’s the drummer in the Junkyard Dogs. I half expect her to slap his arm and grumble, “What do you say?” But Abe beats her to it with a genuine thanks to my mother as he takes the paperwork, gives my mother an awkward hug that startles my non-hugging mother, and with a quick bow of his head, he’s out the door to get to work.

The Tough Cookie takes a seat.

“How’s your new case goin’?” she asks.

“I’m just getting started. This one’s gonna be tough.”

She shakes her head after I tell her about my new case.

“Don’t know anythin’ about that one. Almost fifty years ago? Really?”

I’m not surprised Annette hasn’t heard about the kidnapping. Given she’s in Caulfield, a few towns north and west of where I live, she has access to a different set of locals. Caulfield and Jefferson have few if any connections. No one from one town would go to the other unless they had kin living there. And I would wager Caulfield has more natives percentage wise than Jefferson, which has become a semi-suburb of Hampton, the county seat.

But then again, Caulfield and the towns around it would be a great place for a man or woman with a past to hide out. Plus, she and her cousin, Marsha own the Pit Stop, the only gas station and convenience store for miles. She’s lived there all of her life, and like a lot of the natives, she keeps tabs on the newcomers.

 “You ever hear of a man named Tim Todd or Robert Todd? He is or was a musician. Plays the piano.”

“There’s a guy named Robert Todd who comes into Baxter’s. Sometimes he plays the piano. He’ll come in on a Sunday or sometime when there’s not a lot of people. He seems rather harmless, quiet and kind of a loner.”  She stops and laughs when she realizes she just used a description for people who are often guilty as hell. “Anyway Dave lets him play. You should talk with him about the guy.”

My mother chuckles. I can read her mind. I can’t escape talking with Dave Baxter about a case it seems.

“What’s he look like?”

“He’s kinda old. White hair, lots of it. Not bad lookin’ for his age.” She shakes her finger. “And he has the longest damn fingers I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t play the kind of music the regulars like. It’s that highbrow stuff. You look excited there, Isabel. You, too, Maria.”

I nod.

“He definitely sounds like the guy I’m looking for. Any idea where he might live?”

“No, I don’t. You could ask Marsha if he comes into the Pit Stop for gas. She’s there more than me. I bet Dave Baxter will know.” She gives me a sly laugh. “He won’t mind you askin’.” 

Annette is clearly alluding to the obvious crush Dave has on me. 

“That might be a good time to tell him we’re going to live with Jack,” my mother says. “Fred’s moving out.”

“You two?” She snorts a laugh. “How come I don’t know about this?”

I try to conceal my surprise. I don’t want my mother to feel badly about blurting out the news, but some damage control is needed here.

“Uh, because it just happened and we haven’t told anybody. There’s stuff to work out. If you don’t mind, Annette, could you keep it to yourself please? But when people start talking about it, you can tell them you already knew. Okay?”

Annette leans back in her seat as she focuses on the living room window.

“Will do. Abe’s got the car hitched up. I gotta check to make sure he did it right. I don’t wanna lose the car on the way.” She stands and knocks the table top with a fist. “Nice to see you both, and I’ll make sure Abe takes real good care of your car, Maria. Gotta get back to the junkyard. Somebody’s droppin’ off a Crown Vic. I’m keepin’ that one for myself for next year’s demolition derby.” She laughs. “This time I’m gonna make sure I win. Gary Beaumont better watch out.”

“See you around,” I tell her, and then I remember something I want to ask her. “When’s your next gig at the Rooster? My mother wants to hear you play.”

Annette smiles at Ma.

“You do, do you? Jack’s kinda booked, so I hope soon. We’re playing at Baxter’s two  Saturdays from now. Why don’t you come, Isabel?” She makes a chuckle that contains a large amount of mischief. “I’m sure Dave would love it.”

“I’m sure he would.”

LINK: Here’s the link to buy Following the Lead, no. 6 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, now available in Kindle and paperback — You can find the paperback at Barnes and Noble:

And thank you if you do. That’s the cover above by the way.

SPECIAL THANKS: I am grateful for the services of Travis Johnston, owner and web architect at Creo Coding — Web Design and Development for rescuing my website. I couldn’t log in for days and Travis not only figured out the problem, he upgraded every part that needed to be done. He lives in my village but, eh, the internet is international. Here’s his website:

Isabel Long Mystery Series

Who’s New in the Series

I mean the characters in Following the Lead, next in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. As those who have read my books know, I have many who appear in every or nearly every book: Jack, the owner of the Rooster and Isabel’s love interest, of course.; the Old Farts; Annette aka Tough Cookie; the Beaumont brothers. Even ex-police chief Jim Hawthorne aka Thorny, an appropriate name because he’s a thorn in Isabel’s side, lingers in this series.

But fresh blood is welcome. And that’s what happens in each book, including this one, which had a Nov. 3 release.

First, a refresher of Following the Lead’s plot: Isabel’s old boss, Lin Pierce was a boy when his baby sister was abducted from the front yard and never found. He was supposed to be watching her but he got distracted. Lin hopes Isabel can bring closure and perhaps find his sister.

So who’s and what’s new? We do get see a different side to Lin, who hired Isabel in the second book at the ridiculous rate of a buck a day. But it was an arrangement that was OK because Isabel had to work for a licensed P.I. for three years before she could strike out on her own. In Following the Lead, we meet Lin, the distraught and hopeful brother.

We also get to know his parents, Ben and Jessica Pierce. Ben we know under his alias, the Bald Old Fart. The abduction of their daughter severed that marriage. Ben also had issues with his son, blaming him and his ex-wife for the baby’s abduction. But he goes along with Isabel taking on this case because he knows her from her visits to the backroom of the general store where the Old Farts gather.

Jessica is less enthused. A musician, at the time she was giving a lesson to a student who would later go onto to be a well-known pianist. She is a bit uneasy about Isabel’s line of questioning, actually more than that, but I won’t spoil what happens there.

Then, there is the well-known musician, Tim Robert Todd. He’s retired now and happens to live in Caulfield near Gary and Larry Beaumont. Isabel believes he’s key to the investigation but has a hard time meeting him. For much of the book, his reputation precedes him, but that changes dramatically.

Then, there’s the person responsible for stealing Baby Elizabeth, as she became to be known. Like the musician Tim Todd, they are part of this mystery’s unfolding. Of course, there are sources Isabel meets like two former neighbors.

Here’s an excerpt. Isabel and her mother, her partner in solving crimes, are meeting with Lin Pierce at his home. He reveals his father is Ben Pierce, aka the Bald Old Fart and the strife his sister’s abduction created for the family.

And now that Lin has shared that information, I see the family resemblance in the facial features between the two men although Lin still has some hair and the Bald Old Fart, one of the older members of the group, is heavier. I wonder if he has an inkling his son wants me to pursue this case because he was oddly quiet during my last visit to the store’s backroom. I don’t go every week, just when I need their help with a case or for a little local levity. 

“I do know your father. Is he aware you want to solve this case about your sister?”

“Let’s say my father and I aren’t very close, but I told him. I felt I had to. Besides, he may have useful info he hasn’t shared with me. At first, Dad wasn’t happy about it, but he changed his mind when I told him it would be you. He said he was impressed how you handled your other cases.”

“That’s nice of him.”

“Oh, and just so you know, I paid for one of the services where they use your DNA to tell you about your ancestors.” He frowns. “That didn’t turn up any long lost family members or even the ones I have. But it was worth a shot.”

“Glad you told us that,” I say. “Ma?”

As planned, I let my mother ask a few questions. She reminds him we would need a list of other persons of interest. It gives me the opportunity to think about the Bald Old Fart and how I should handle him. Certainly, the other Old Farts must know his back story since they all grew up in the hilltowns. The Bald Old Fart is married to a local gal, his second wife it seems. He taught math at a local high school and is retired like his backroom pals. If my memory serves me better, I believe my son, Alex, the engineer had him in class. Maybe even my daughter, Ruth. Matt, the heavy equipment operator, didn’t as he went to a vocational high school. I will have to quiz them the next time we are together although Ruth won’t like it that I took another case. She worries about my safety too much. Alex and Matt? They actually think it’s cool their mother is a P.I. Thank you, boys.

“That must have been hard on you as a young boy,” I hear my mother say. “I take it your parents didn’t have another child.”

“No, they didn’t. My father didn’t when he got remarried. My mother never married again. Once was enough. And, yes, it was hard on me as a kid. Really hard.” He clears his throat. “I heard it over and over from my father. Why did I have to leave my sister to go chase a stupid dog? Why didn’t I check with my mother to make sure she had her? Why did I make a big fuss when she asked me to watch her? The list goes on. I tell myself I was only eleven. Just a boy. Dad has tried to make it up to me in his way. Sometimes it helps.” He looks at me directly. “Here’s why I am hiring you. I want to know for sure what happened to my sister. If she’s alive, I want to meet her, to tell her about her real family. If she isn’t, I want to grieve for her like a brother would.”

“You mention in your notes about meeting a woman you thought could be your sister. I saw the photo you took of the woman at Luella’s. But I couldn’t make out her face very well.”

“Unfortunately, that was the best I could do under the circumstances. Plus, it was a piece of crap phone.”

My mother speaks, “What features did she share with your mother?”

“The eyes definitely. One was blue and the other brown, a trait on my mother’s side that unfortunately I didn’t inherit. And the long nose. She had what I would call an elegant face. When you meet my mother, you will understand.” 

As I jot down that detail, I have to ask the all-important question.

“Does your mother know that you want to hire me to investigate this case?”

“Yes, we’ve talked it over. She’s fine with it.” He pauses. “But she wants to meet you and your mother alone the first time without me. I understand. I believe she’ll be more comfortable talking with you than me. Maybe there are things she doesn’t want me to know. I’ve tried in the past but she pushed me aside. Too much pain, I believe. I was surprised she didn’t resist when I brought it up recently. She, of course, knew of your success. That won her over.”

“When can we meet her?”

“She mentioned Wednesday. I’ll give you her number before you leave, so you can set up a time.”

I glance at my mother, who gives me a nod. A day of surprises for certain.

“Yes, that would work for us.”

“I will let her know.” He finishes his glass of water. “So, how would you two like to go for a ride? I’d like to show you my old neighborhood.”

“Please do,” I say. “I did bring a copy of that map you gave me.”

Lin nods.

“Too bad someone with your brains wasn’t investigating this case when it happened.”

My mother speaks up.

“Yes, it is.”

LINK: Thank you for those readers who have already downloaded Following the Lead. Here is the link to buy it on Amazon: Paperbacks will be out soon.

PHOTO ABOVE: Saw this birdhouse on a recent walk. The hole wasn’t big enough for whatever bird wanted to nest there so it did a renovation.

Isabel Long Mystery Series, Uncategorized

Staying in Character

Great actors are famous for it. We the viewers forget the actor and only see the person they are playing on stage or screen. Some even take it a step further and stay in that role off camera.

But writers like myself have more than one character to consider. We get into their skin, so what they say and do are authentic to the stories we write.

My Isabel Long Mystery Series is written as a first-person present-tense narrative. Isabel is a smart, mature woman who is a bit of a wise ass. As a former journalist, she developed the ability to see through people and any bull they try to dish her. Just like reporting a new story, she’s methodical about her cases. I will admit there is a lot of me in Isabel although I am not a widow and I never worked as a private investigator. I don’t like that much danger.

It’s rather easy for me to figure out what Isabel will do in any given scene or situation whether it’s solving a mystery, pouring beer at the Rooster, being with its owner Jack or dealing with her family, including her mother, Maria, her partner in solving crime. 

In Following the Lead, she’s given a tough case. Her old boss, Lin was just a boy when his baby sister was stolen from the front yard and never found. That was nearly 50 years ago. So how should Isabel approach such a case? I channel Isabel and we figure it out together.

But, of course, Isabel isn’t the only character in this series. Some are one and done in a book. Many others have stuck around. As each one appears on a page, I channel that character so know how they should react to any situation I throw at them. 

Take Annette Waters aka the Tough Cookie. She wouldn’t be shy about anything. If someone dared to give her a hard time, she’d dish it back and twice as hard. But then again she runs a garage and junkyard. There’s her cousin, Marsha aka the Floozie who co-owns the Pit Stop convenience store. She’s another one who doesn’t take crap from anyone. Both are locals but they’ve grown fond of Isabel and her mother even though they are newcomers. 

It doesn’t matter the character’s gender. I know what will come out of Jack Smith’s mouth before he says it. Jack’s cousin Fred Lewis aka el Creepo typically says the wrong thing. He’s a bit of an idiot as demonstrated by what he does in Following the Lead

I believe the best training I received — like Isabel — was as a journalist. I had to listen carefully to what people said and observe how they behaved. It was a great experience that I believe has paid off with authentic characters. I hope my readers feel the same way.

LINK: Nov. 3, release date is getting oh so close. Here’s the link for Following the Lead:

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Saw this along State Street in Shelburne Falls near Floodwater Brewing. Isabel Long would find it amusing.

Isabel Long Mystery Series

Making a Pit Stop

FIRST THINGS FIRST: My website was out of order for over two days when I foolishly “hit all” when updating its plugins. As a result, viewers would see that accursed white screen of death and I couldn’t log on to my website to fix it. I read countless articles and watched videos etc. No luck there. But thanks to Shivam, with tech support for GoDaddy who likely lives halfway around the world, and step-by-step emailed instructions from Travis Johnston of Creo Coding who lives in my village, I finally figured it out. A big relief for sure. Now onto the content I had hoped to file Friday.

I can’t think of a better name for a convenience store in the middle of nowhere than the Pit Stop. It came to me in an inspiring moment when I was writing Redneck’s Revenge, no. 2 in the Isabel Long Mystery Series. That’s before the previous owner got himself into a heap of trouble, and in the next book, it got sold to cousins Annette Waters and Marsha Dunlop with Marsha’s guy sort of a silent partner. 

This is what I imagine when I think of the Pit Stop. It’s kind of a shack with pumps out front and a parking lot large enough to hold a pig roast, which is what happens for an open house in book no. 4, Killing the Story. Annette’s son, Abe lives in a small apartment in the back. The store offers the usual assortment of staples, such as milk, cigarettes, and beer.

The décor is what I would call country chic. Besides the usual beer signs in the window — like the one above that I photographed on a local convenience store — and on the walls, it has a mounted deer head and pheasant inside instead of the NASCAR paraphernalia the previous owner displayed. The Pit Stop prefers cash and you gotta pay before you pump. Gas prices are a little higher here, but it’s convenient having pumps in town for those who forgot to fuel up in the city.

Annette aka the Tough Cookie and Marsha aka the Floozy are women you don’t want to mess with. Neither holds back what they say. Plus they are a source of info and amusement for Isabel. Often, she and her mother, Maria, her partner in crime, will visit. Typically, Marsha works the counter. Annette, who runs a junkyard and garage, will stop by. As natives, they have a handle on who lives here and what they do. Isabel will ask if either of them has info about somebody they want to meet and get some gas. Besides, you never know who you might find there. Sometimes that can be an unpleasant encounter as Isabel and her mother experience in Following the Lead.

But here’s another scene from Following the Lead. Isabel is looking for info about man who is a person interest in her missing person’s case.

Next we go to the Pit Stop, which isn’t that far from Baxter’s, not because I need gas although I will get some anyway but to quiz Marsha aka the Floozie. Marsha and her cousin Annette took over the place earlier this year, but being co-owner and the person most frequently behind the counter, she might know something about Robert Todd. It’s likely he even gasses up there since the Pit Stop has the only pumps in this part of the hilltowns. Otherwise you have to pray you make it to a station near the closest city or plan way ahead before you go home. 

Marsha is on the phone behind the counter, but she says, “I’ll catch you later,” to whoever is on the line and hangs up. She comes around to give my mother a hug, which surprises both of us since Marsha isn’t the hugging kind and you know how my mother feels about it, and a slap to my arm, which is the Floozy’s usual form of endearment to me.

“You two look like you’re up to somethin’. Am I right?”

“Besides getting some gas, we could use a little info for my new case.”

Now recovered from her hug, my mother says, “You were so helpful Marsha in the last one. Isabel is trying to track down a person of interest we believe lives around here.”

Person of interest? Both Marsha and I smile at my mother using that phrase. I believe Marsha enjoys our visits although I make sure to spend some money. After all, she’s manning or make that womaning a store in the middle of nowhere. I am very aware a customer could show up any time to buy gas, beer, or cigarettes, or all three, which will require her attention, so I plan to get right to it.

“Do you know a man named Tim Todd?” That draws a blank expression. “No? How about Robert Todd?”

I pull out that photo again. Marsha’s lips scrunch up a smile as she nods.

“Yeah, I know the guy. Comes in for gas. Smokes, but only that American Spirit brand. The beer we carry ain’t good enough. He laughed at that California wine we carry. I like to call him Bobby just to tick him off.” She uses the tip of a finger to push up the end of her nose, a sign my own kids used to brand someone a snob. “And why in the hell are you interested in him?”

Yes, why indeed.

LINK: Following the Lead is ready for pre-order. Do it today and the Kindle version will magically pop into your device Nov. 3. You can find it on Amazon with my other books:

Thank you if you do.

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: I have fallen in love with hydrangeas. I have planted four in my yard. And everywhere I go I see bushes.