Northern Comfort, Uncategorized

Northern Comfort: Junior Miller tries to do right

I will admit Junior Miller is a hard character to like — at first. In my latest novel, Northern Comfort, he’s the ultimate deadbeat dad, abandoning his wife, Willi, and their disabled son to a life of poverty in the hilltowns without a second thought. But when Cody dies in a tragic accident, Junior is forced to face his shortcomings. 

Junior can’t even remember how old his son was or the last time he saw him. He hadn’t paid a dime and was relieved Willi had stopped begging him for money. At the boy’s funeral, he ducks out early from the receiving line.

But as this story unfolds, Junior attempts to do the right thing although it’s a significant struggle finding one that matters. 

Junior did love Willi when he married her. But his idea of married life fell apart when he realized his son, who was brain-damaged at birth, would not be the boy he wanted. All he wanted was a boy to play ball and do the things normal kids do. He wanted a wife who loved him first. He gripped the steering wheel and rattled it hard. That wasn’t asking too much, was it?

I created a little complication in that Willi is the daughter of the widowed woman Junior’s father married, so technically Junior is her stepbrother although they were adults when their parents got together. That scenario creates another dimension in this family scenario.

After he deserts his family, Junior spends most of his free time in a bar with the women he meets there. He lives in New Hampshire with a woman who’s the bartender at the local watering hole although that relationship is destined for a short life.

As Junior spends more time back home, his guilt inspires him to find a way to make it up to Willi. He comes up with a scheme to get money — suing the man who was driving the truck that Cody’s sled hit. Willi won’t have anything to do with it or him.

Of course, Junior has a lousy role model in his father, Joe, a despicable character with no redeeming qualities. That’s what makes Junior Miller’s transformation, although imperfect, gratifying.

Is he based on anyone? No, Junior Miller is a product of my imagination.

In this scene, Junior shows up at Willi’s house on his snowmobile. Willi, who is outside with her dog, Foxy, has been ignoring his phone calls.

Junior waited beside his snowmobile. Willi recalled the few times he came here to see Cody when Pa was still alive. Her grandfather sat in his recliner, giving Junior a close watch while Cody hid behind the chair. She and Junior quickly ran out of things to talk about. He rubbed his face and yawned before he left a half-hour later.

Willi stopped in front of her ex-husband. She crossed her arms. “What was it you wanted to tell me?” 

Junior cleared his throat.

“When I saw that picture of our boy, I realized how much he looked like me.” He stopped. “I was a real lousy father to him. I know it now.” He lowered his head briefly. “Do you remember how happy I was when he was born? Believe me, I was. When we found out about him not being right, I just couldn’t handle it.” His voice trailed off. “I stopped thinking about him and you. I was wrong, all wrong.”

Willi wrapped her coat, so it closed around her. She was chilled now that she wasn’t moving. “You’re a little late, aren’t you?”

Junior shifted from one boot to another. “Shit, Willi, I just wanna make it up to you.”

“Is that so?”

She glared at Junior. She remembered how she and Cody used to eat spaghetti with margarine for supper while he was out chasing women. If it hadn’t been for Pa, she didn’t know what she would’ve done.

“I wanna show you somethin’,” she told Junior.

Willi marched around the side shed and toward the backyard. The snow reached her boot tops, but she kept going until she got to the clothesline. Junior was behind her.

“Stop right here,” she said.

Willi used her hand to guide Junior’s line of vision over the hill’s steep edge. It snowed since the accident, but she still could make out where her feet sank as she tried to catch her boy. Her prints formed a dotted seam, which made it seem as if the earth could split easily along that line. 

“See that?”

Junior squinted at her pointed finger. “What am I lookin’ at?”

“That’s where it happened. That’s where Cody died. How do you think you’re gonna make that up to me?”

Willi sobbed loudly, and she didn’t care if Junior saw or heard her. His hands were stretched out, palms up, as if he were surrendering. Junior said her name as he came closer, but Willi took a swing, catching him on his face in one solid shot that made him grunt. She collapsed, sobbing and pounding the snow with her fists. Junior came close again, but this time she didn’t resist. She let him help her to her feet and use his arm to guide her into the house. 

The dog charged the door, threatening to bite Junior. Willi told the animal to stay as she walked toward the couch.

“Here, let me get your coat,” Junior said, and she stood passively as he slipped the bulky black cloth off her and threw it on a chair. “You gonna be okay?”

She didn’t answer, but lay back on the couch. Her eyes fluttered. 

“I think so.” Her voice was barely above a whisper. “I feel so tired. Just leave.”

“Right, I have to get somewhere.”

“Then, go.”

Junior got up to feed wood into Willi’s stove. He brought more from the shed, stacking the logs near the stove, now hot enough to turn down. He stood in the living room. His eyes traveled the room. She knew he was staring at Cody’s things.

“Willi, listen to me. I wanna pay the money I owe you. Just tell me how much.”

She watched him with sleepy eyes. 

“It was never just the money. We needed you.”

Junior exhaled deeply and mumbled, “yeah,” as he went for the door. 

LINK: Here’s the link for Kindle readers to buy Northern Comfort. Only $2.99. Paperback readers will have to be a little patient but that version is coming soon.

My Books, Northern Comfort

New Book: Northern Comfort

I am excited to announce that my next book, Northern Comfort, will be released July 19 for Kindle readers. But starting today, this novel is available to pre-order. Here I’ll make it easy for you:

So what is Northern Comfort about? This book is not part of my Isabel Long Mystery Series, but it has an oh-so-familiar setting — the fictional hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. It is not a mystery but a story about the harsh realities of rural life that takes place in winter, as the great cover created by Laurence Patterson, darkstroke book’s co-publisher, illustrates.

Willi Miller and her young son are a charity case in a New England town that holds dear to the traditions of making maple syrup, playing old-time music, and keeping family secrets. It’s a tough life although she does her best by Cody, who was brain-damaged at birth. Their home is a cabin left by the 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. 

Cody’s death has a powerful effect on the people involved. Miles discovers he and Willi have more in common than the tragedy that brought them together. Junior tries to face his failings as a father and make amends that matter to his child’s mother. And Willi, a slight woman with a powerful resolve, must confront her past to find some measure of peace.

So, what’s with the title, Northern Comfort? I am referring to the tradition of maple sugaring, which has a role in this book. It also has a meaningful connection to the characters in this book. Count on more posts concerning the characters I’ve created and elements of the plot.

I hope this post will entice you to pre-order Northern Comfort. The cost is $2.99, but for Kindle Unlimited subscribers it is free. Pre-ordering helps authors get attention from Amazon for their books. So I am grateful if you do. Here’s the link:

Regarding paperback, that version won’t be available for a little while. I certainly will let you know when that happen.

Pre-order, The Sacred Dog

And Now The Sacred Dog

Okay, it’s official: Pre-ordering begins for my next novel, The Sacred Dog. Its release is Dec. 27 for Kindle — paperback will follow.

This is my third book published this year. First, Working the Beat, no. 5 in the Isabel Long Mystery Series, was released in late January. No. 6, Following the Lead, has a Nov. 3 release by my publisher darkstroke books.

The Sacred Dog is not part of that mystery series although it takes place in my favorite setting: the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. Yes, there is a bar and a slew of country characters that came out of my head. This is a story about an ugly feud between two men that leads to a dramatic climax. I also throw a big secret that involves both men into that personal conflict.

I will be sharing a whole lot more in future posts. So, I’ll start with the book’s title.

The Sacred Dog is the name of a bar owned by one of the lead characters, Frank Hooker, and where a great deal of the book’s action takes place. The bar’s name was inspired by a black Labrador retriever Frank, who lives alone in a trailer beside the bar, found wandering around its trashcans. The dog was probably dumped because she was bone-skinny and had no collar. So, Frank decides to keep her. Her spot is typically behind the counter when the bar is open.

Here’s a scene in which Frank plays cards with his best buddy, Early Stevens that reveals more.

Frank decided on the spot to save her. It’d been a while since he had a dog, and he took to calling her Louise after a girl he once knew who bore the same mournful expression. He fed her as much as she wanted and within a few weeks, she became eternally grateful. One slow night, when Frank and Early played cribbage, Louise nudged the topside of her head beneath Frank’s hand. After a while, he told her to “git,” and although the dog was clearly disappointed, she left him alone while he played and talked with Early.

“You know, Early. That dog is a saint, a pure saint. She never complains, even when those kids come in Sunday night to bother her. Look at ’er. The way she sets there, you’d think she was something sacred.” He paused while he studied the fan of cards in his hand. “Yeah, that’s what she is. Louise is the sacred dog.”

“Oh, shit, Frank, you’ve gone off your rocker. Dogs aren’t sacred. They shit where you go. They eat shit and roll in shit.”

“Louise is different, I tell you.”

“Frank, why don’t you shut the heck up and git me another beer.”

What had been a pet owner’s moment of tenderness became an inspiration for Frank. A few weeks later, he decided to officially change the name of his bar, which was still Ronnie’s, to The Sacred Dog. Truthfully, he was thinking about getting a new name when it dawned on him it was rather foolish to have a bar named for his ex-wife. He discounted using his own name or anything with the word Holden in it. The town had enough buildings named after Holden, the town’s founder. Early suggested the Bowtie, but Frank said no one ever wore one in his bar and he expected no one ever would.

“A John Deere cap or torn T-shirt would be more like it,” Frank said, and Early laughed as if he had a tickle in his throat.

The Sacred Dog suited Frank fine, so he asked a lawyer in town to draw up the papers to make it legal. Then, he asked Early to make the sign. The regulars thought Frank was joking, but then he told them the story and they agreed it was a good name for a bar. Some stiffs in the back room of the general store did grumble to Frank about it. The pastor of the Holden Congregational Church called to complain, but Frank, who had only been to church as an adult for funerals and his own wedding, said he didn’t see the connection.

But Louise is more than a beloved pet. She plays a key role much later in this book.

Actually, my inspiration for the bar’s name came from a real dog, a black Labrador retriever who came with the name Sheena. One day, she showed up in our yard. Her owners, neighbors, had moved and left her tied. I called the man to see if they still wanted the dog, but he said no. When he brought her dish and leash, Sheena didn’t even give the man a glance. I don’t blame her.

Sheena knew her name, and though it was never one we would have chosen, we let her keep it. She came at a time when our home was lively with lots of young kids. Even at their noisiest moments, she would lie there, watching the action and looking regal. That’s when I called her The Sacred Dog. I remember fondly at the years she spent with us.

LINKS: Here’s the link to order your copy: I am appreciative if you do because it helps with ratings.

And here’s a link for a previous post introducing this book:

Western Mass. mystery

Getting My Revenge

They say revenge is sweet. In my case, it’s part of the title of the mystery I finished this week, and really, that accomplishment is indeed sweet for me.  Redneck’s Revenge, its full name, is the second in my Isabel Long mystery series.

So, who is Isabel Long? She’s the main character in this series set in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, the preferred setting for most of my adult fiction. Isabel’s a former journalist who got canned after the newspaper she managed went corporate, part of a bad year in which she also lost her husband. So she uses the skills she learned as a journalist to solve a 28-year-old missing persons case in her town. (She also has a Watson — her 92-year-old mother who lives with her.) Adela Collins’ disappearance way back when was her first big story as a reporter. The mystery is written from Isabel’s rather sassy POV.

It’s taking me a while to find a publisher for Chasing the Case. Yeah, that’s a bit disappointing, but it hasn’t stopped me from writing another mystery featuring Isabel and some of other characters I created in the first, plus new ones.

In Redneck’s Revenge, a woman contacts Isabel to find out who killed her father, an ornery SOB named Chet Waters who owned a junkyard and repair shop in a nearby hilltown. Now Annette Waters, who’s a bit rough around the edges, owns it. She doesn’t believe the official ruling her father passed out from booze and died when a cigarette set his small house on fire. Isabel decides to take on the case even though Annette can only pay her through free service on her car.

Another glitch: legally Isabel needs to work for a licensed P.I. for three years before she can go on her own. She finds a P.I. who’s a bit down on his luck that agrees to take her on.

I began writing Redneck’s Revenge in May and kept at it despite a 2,400-mile move from New Mexico back to New England and all that entails. A couple of weeks ago I wrote the so-called last word. Then I went through the novel one more time, changing things here and there.

I will surely do it again, looking for little things to change here and there. But I am happy about what I wrote. I feel the novel is complete.

What do I do when I get to the end of a novel? I’m not the type to whoop it up although perhaps I should. Using 84,000 words to tell a story is, as I stated above, an accomplishment.

I will tell you what I did do. I started the next one. Isabel, who’s a bit banged up from her last case, and her mother will be asked to solve another hilltown mystery.  This one is called Checking the Traps — a phrase I used as a reporter when I would make the round with my sources. I’m a few pages in and raring to go. Damn, I’m excited.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Along the Deerfield River on a recent hike.

ONE MORE THING: Here is a link for my books for sale on Amazon, including my most recent, The Sweet Spot, set in Western Mass. They’re not free, but they are for the taking. Check them out:

The Sweet Spot

The Sweet Spot Is Here

As of today, my new novel The Sweet Spot is available in paperback and Kindle. I hope you will read the first of my hilltown novels set in Western Massachusetts. Of course, that means I hope you will buy my novel in whatever format you prefer. Thank you if you do.

To get the business out of the way, here is the link to my author page on Amazon where you can find my novel: The Sweet Spot on Amazon

Just like Edie St. Claire offers her new neighbor, Harlan Doyle, I toast the novel’s launch with a glass of well water that I’ve let run until it’s as cold as it is deep in the ground. Well, it is morning. Maybe later I’ll have a beer straight from the bottle.

To set the mood, I choose Country and Western music, preferably pre-eight track with the likes of Patsy Cline and Hank Williams.

For those new to my novel, here is a brief synopsis. It is set in 1978 by the way. Most in Conwell love Edie St. Claire, the widow of a soldier killed in Vietnam, until her affair with his married brother ends badly. She tries to survive this small town’s biggest scandal through the help of her rough-sawn family and a badly scarred man who’s arrived for his fresh start.

It’s been a bit of a process bringing The Sweet Spot to readers. I wrote the first draft in 2004 while I was recuperating from being hit by a car. I was a pedestrian in a crosswalk. The guy claimed he didn’t see me. It took me less than two months to finish the draft. I was living in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, where the novel takes place.

My then-agent wanted me to start the book in the middle, which I did, but he couldn’t sell it after all. The Sweet Spot remained unpublished for years. Once in a while I would give it a read until finally I decided to return to its original and rightful plot.

Eventually, after I had moved to Northern New Mexico, I showed The Sweet Spot to my second agent, who gave me some solid advice about upping the dialogue, which is one of my strengths. There were other changes. The novel got better. Alas, he didn’t sell it either.

So here I am doing it on my own, except for Michelle Guiterrez, the novel’s skilled designer. She came up with the cover and font after she read the novel. I believe it’s a classy-looking book. Thanks, Michelle.

I have also had the encouragement of writer friends like Teresa Dovalpage and Fred Fullerton.

Doing it on your own is tough. I should have kept track of how many times I read The Sweet Spot — forwards, out loud, and even backwards a few times. But it makes me feel good that I still enjoy reading the book. I love its characters, even its so-called bad guy. Edie. Walker. Gil. Harlan. Benny. Leona. Amber. The whole damn town of Conwell. They all came from my imagination but they are very real to me. I hope you feel the same. And if you do, I’d love a review.

The Sweet Spot on Kindle

The Sweet Spot in Paperback

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Hank shot that photo of me holding The Sweet Spot in our front yard. Yeah, I’m really that happy about it.