Northern Comfort

Northern Comfort: Lucky 13

Northern Comfort, which was released July 19, is my 13th book published thus far. Looking at this baker’s dozen of novels on my Amazon author page’s bookshelf makes me feel pretty darn good.

It all began February 2016 with the self-publication of my bilingual kids’ book, The Cousins and the Magic Fish/Los primos y el pez mágico, which is in paperback format only. (Thanks to my dear author friend, Teresa Dovalpage who did the Spanish translation.) This book even won a Zia Book Award the following year from the New Mexico Press Women. At the time we were both living in Taos.

The truth is I had a stack of eight completed books at that time. I started writing novels for adult and young readers around 2000 but, alas, I had no luck finding a publisher for any of them. I even had two agents. So with the encouragement of others, I self-published Peace, Love, and You Know What in April 2016. You can imagine what that book’s about — life in the early ’70s following a raucous three-day party by college friends.

Then the following February I self-published The Sweet Spot, the first one set in the fictional hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. I also self-published a Kindle-only collection of short stories, Professor Groovy and Other Stories. Sales were lousy. I didn’t know how to promote them properly. But for me, these books meant I was a published author, a good feeling for certain.

It was a fortuitous when I finally found a publisher in November 2017. Laurence and Steph Patterson of Crooked Cat Books — now called darkstroke books — read Chasing the Case, the first in the Isabel Long Mystery Series, and liked what they read. I had actually started the series when Hank and I still lived in New Mexico and by time I queried, we were again living in Western Massachusetts. I had also finished the second in the series, Redneck’s Revenge.

So far darkstroke has published four more in the series: Checking the TrapsKilling the StoryWorking the Beat, and Following the Lead.

Then I submitted two more not in the series to darkstroke: The Sacred Dog and Northern Comfort, which are not part of the series but are what I call my Hilltown Books. I am grateful for the support and interest the Pattersons have in my writing.

Northern Comfort is a dark drama. A child’s death has a powerful impact on his mother, the man involved in the accident, and the father who abandoned him. I chose the bleakest time of year — mid-winter — to tell this story. I include those New England traditions of playing old-time music, maple sugaring, and, yes, hope. 

It’s $2.99 on Amazon for Kindle. Paperback readers will need to wait a couple of months.

So what’s ahead? Well, I still have five completed books percolating in my computer. One is an adult novel. Two are part of the Twin Jinn Series (the first The Twin Jinn at Happy Jack’s Carnival of Mysteries I self-published in 2021) and two in The Cousins/Los Primos Series

As for the Isabel Long Mystery Series, I am oh-so-close to calling it a wrap. I am making the last changes before I submit Missing the Deadline to darkstroke books — no. 7. My mind is already thinking about the eighth. But before that happens I am writing a sequel for The Sacred Dog. It’s called The Unforgiving Town. No spoilers here.

A sincere thanks those who have read my books. I do enjoy sharing what I write. Your support is so important.

books, libraries

Big Free Libraries

There are Little Free Libraries and then there are the Big Free Libraries. In the first, you give and take books found in public boxes along roadsides. Our village of Shelburne Falls has eight at last count. With Big Free Libraries, the concept is that you borrow a book, in whatever form, and return it within a certain amount of time so others can do the same. Basically, these libraries act like warehouses but, oh, so many of them are beautiful buildings, often donated by someone who lived there and wanted to give their town a special gift. That’s true about my village.

My love of libraries began as a child when our mother would take us to the Millicent Rogers Library in my hometown of Fairhaven, Massachusetts. She brought us there often, especially during summer vacation when we would load up on books. Besides the books I borrowed — trying to read as many of L. Frank Baum’s 14 Oz books as possible — I marveled at the building’s beauty. I recall when I was old enough to explore the stacks in the adult section. 

I loved the library’s history, that Henry Huttleston Rogers, who grew up in our town and became vice-president of the Standard Oil Company, had it built as a memorial to his daughter, Millicent, who sadly died when she was 17. That was in 1893. (Later, when I lived in Taos, New Mexico, I would encounter another Millicent Rogers, Henry’s granddaughter, who has an art museum in her name.) The library, designed by the famous architect Charles Brigham, was built of granite in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. It was one of many buildings Rogers donated, including my magnificent high school.

Doing a little research, I found Benjamin Franklin had a hand in the development of the first lending library. In 1790, he donated a collection of books to the Massachusetts town of Franklin, which named itself after him. Townspeople voted to make those donated books freely available for town members, thus creating the nation’s first public library. Certainly, that idea has spread.

As an adult, wherever I lived, in cities or towns, I sought out the public library. I never found one that didn’t have one. What better way to discover an author and read everything that person wrote, especially since through interlibrary loan, I could get almost any book.

Some of the library buildings were modest, even located in parts of a large public building. Several have been as grand as the one in my hometown. And in each case, they were made possible because of generous benefactors. Two in neighboring towns, each with far less than 2,000 people, come to mind.

Joseph Griswold donated the Griswold Memorial Library, built in 1908, an elegant, neo-classical stone library in Colrain to honor his parents, Joseph and Louisa. His father had been the town’s biggest employer with his wood product and cotton mills. In Conway, Marshall Field, a native who built a highly successful department store in the 1800s, gave the Field Memorial Library also as memorial to his parents, John and Fidelia Nash Field. This classy building, finished in 1901, has a domed rotunda, Italian marble, and a spiral staircase.

That same generosity happened in the Shelburne Falls Village where I live. The Arms Library is named for Major Ira Arms, who got the ball rolling to establish a library. Francis and Lydia Taft donated the building, which was was dedicated in 1913. It’s a relatively short walk from my home to the library, which is open four days. Each time I enter, I marvel at its tiled floors, high ceilings, and impressive woodwork including the Corinthian columns. 

Now that I am an author, I am pleased when I find my books are available in libraries. I was especially excited that the Millicent Rogers Library carries my Isabel Long Mystery Series. I was tipped off by Facebook friends and I can’t help smile about that. I plan to stop by on my next visit to my hometown.

PHOTO ABOVE: That’s the circulation desk at the Arms Library.

READING: By the way I will be doing a reading Friday, May 12, 6:30 a.m. at the Arms Library. I will talk and read from my latest books: Following the Lead, from my mystery series, and The Sacred Dog, which is not but has a similar setting of the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. I will have books available at a discount.

barroom, Dialogue

Barroom Banter in My Books

I am not a barfly, but I’ve spent enough time in bars and taprooms to get a sense of what people talk about while consuming an alcoholic beverage. And I have used that experience to create what I hope are entertaining and accurate conversations in my books.

As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a bar in all of the adult books I’ve written, sometimes more than one. In my Isabel Long Mystery Series, the chief bar is the Rooster, where Isabel works on Friday nights. Jack, her love interest, owns the bar, the only one in that dinky hilltown. Isabel also spends a lot of time at Baxter’s meeting people of interest and just plain snooping. That biker bar, located on a lake, had a pivotal scene in no 5. Working the Beat. No. 4, Killing the Story had a seedy little joint, Red’s Corner Lounge.

Then, there is my latest, The Sacred Dog, which is not part of my mystery series. Actually, The Sacred Dog is the name of the bar owned by the protagonist, Frank Hooker. He renamed the bar after his pet, Louise. It used to be named for his ex-wife, but the dog was more loyal than her. A great deal of the book happens within its walls.

My books tend to be heavy with dialogue. I believe I’m inspired by the many, many years I was a reporter then an editor interviewing people and listening to what was said at meetings and other gatherings. Although I have left the biz, I find myself still interviewing people wherever I go. I joke that often the person doesn’t know anything about myself but I know a whole lot about them, sometimes even secrets. Yes, I missed my calling as a spy although I couldn’t manage the danger.

Now, there is a difference between my mystery series and those that stand alone, which includes Northern Comfort, a book I self-published earlier. In my mystery series, we get everything from Isabel’s point of view since it is written in first-person, present tense. What you read is what she and others talk about. Of course, Isabel is a bit of a wise ass so the conversation tends to be entertaining.

The Sacred Dog, however, was written in third person, past tense. In that situation, I create whole conversations. The Dog, as the locals call it, has its regulars. Among them are: Early Stevens, Frank’s best friend; Monk Stevens, Early’s nephew who runs the town dump among other jobs; Jerry Smith, who’s always hiding out from his wife and family; Big Mary, Frank’s cousin; Lloyd and Royal Dixon, bachelor brothers who always smell like fresh manure since they run a dairy farm.

The regulars will make jokes about each other, and banter about the news in town, who’s doing what or not doing what. They are all natives to the small town of Mercy, so they’ve known each other all of their lives. They also are aware of Frank’s disdain for Al Kitchen, who he blames, rather unfairly, for his brother’s death in a car accident. Al does come into the Rooster but only because his grandmother pleaded his case. He gets two beers and that’s it. I warn you nothing good’s gonna come from that feud.

I enjoyed immersing myself in The Sacred Dog and what was being said. I will give you a hefty sampling. Here’s a scene from the chapter called, No Kin.

A few hours later, Big Mary’s laughter carried across The Sacred Dog. She nearly lost her balance on the stool after Jerry Smith told her about the kid who got sick last year on the bus ride home. Everybody in the place was having a good time at the expense of the kid, a third grader who threw up several helpings of American chop suey from the school cafeteria.

Frank chuckled because Jerry gave his story such a big, slow windup, he could be lobbing softballs. “The kid missed the seats, thank god, but made a mess on the floor,” he said. “The route only started, Jesus, and the bus was starting to stink because of the heat. I figured it was a matter of time before the other kids got sick from the smell and started puking, too. So, I parked the bus near Wicker Brook and filled the bucket I keep up front for the lost and found.”

Jerry started laughing so hard at his story he had to set his full bottle of beer on the bar top, so it wouldn’t spill. He slapped the edge of the bar several times.

Early patted Jerry on his back. “Take it easy, boy. I hate to see a good beer go to waste.”

Beside him, Monk bent forward over the bar. “Come on, Jerry, for Christ’s sake, tell the story, won’t you?”

“Okay, okay. Hold your horses.” Jerry took a breath. “Well, I yelled to the kids to pick up their feet as I threw water over the big pile of puke.” He grinned because he was the center of attention. “Hell if I knew if it was the right thing to do, but I had feeder vans to meet.”

“You didn’t clean it up?” Monk asked.

Jerry started to laugh but caught himself. “Nah, but you should’ve seen it. Every hill the bus traveled, the puke water sloshed to the front or back of the bus. The kids squealed their heads off and raised their feet whenever it flowed their way.” He lifted the bottle near his lips. “Some of the kids were suckin’ air through the open windows. The smell was that bad. I could barely stand it myself.”

Monk chuckled. “I bet that Patty Monroe had a fit when she saw the mess,” Monk said.

Jerry raised himself off the stool. He placed his hands on his hips, gave them a little wiggle, and mimicked Patty’s voice. “I hope you don’t think for one minute, Jerry Smith, I’m gonna clean this up for you.”

Frank’s laugh barked.

Jerry was doing a decent imitation of his ex-wife’s sister. “Yeah, I can hear her sayin’ those exact words,” he said.

The Dog got lively early with the pleasant din of clinking glass, voices, and music from the juke, typical for a Friday night. Every so often, Frank checked when the front door opened to see if Verona was going to take him up on his invitation, but he was let down each time it was somebody else. He looked across the room at a friendly contest under way at the Lucky Strike pinball machine between the Dixon brothers and some other local boys. The big blonde was here without her jealous boyfriend, and Frank felt a little wary when he saw her drinking with a group of his pals at a back table. She could be trouble. Monk played King of the Road twice and led most of the crowd who was willing in a sing-along. He stood on a chair as he held an empty bottle of Bud in one hand as if it was a conductor’s wand and he clicked his fingers along with Roger Miller with the other. 

Early shook his head in disbelief. “He ain’t no kin of mine.”

It was after nine when Al Kitchen stumbled into The Dog’s front door. Frank fixed a tray of mixed drinks. His arms made little swinging motions as he filled the glasses with ice. He grabbed the bottles of hard stuff from the shelves behind him and poured without measuring. Winsome placed the drinks on a tray, and over her shoulder, Frank noticed Al falling into the seat next to the big blonde. He wrapped an arm around the back of her chair and leaned in toward the woman, talking and laughing at whatever he said. She was giggling so hard, her large breasts moved beneath her blouse as if little springs attached them to her chest.

Frank got distracted when Monk said he wanted to buy a round for his friends at the bar.

Monk gave a whistle. “Hey, there, Frankie boy, I’m lookin’ to spend some money,” he said. “You still in business or what?”

“Yeah, yeah, big mouth. I heard you loud and clear,” Frank answered.

He reached into the beer cooler, but his eyes stayed on Al and the blonde. Al lit her cigarette.

Early twisted around to see what Frank was watching, and when he turned back to face him, his tongue played along the inside of his mouth. “Looks like a problem’s brewin’ back there, I’m afraid. Hope her fella doesn’t make an appearance tonight.”

Frank waved his hand. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ve got it all under control.”

“If you say so,” Early said.

Frank was busy filling another order when he heard Monk’s high-pitched voice. “What kid did you say that was?”

When Jerry said the boy’s name, everyone sitting at the bar agreed the only one who could have handled such a public display of humiliation was this brat of a kid who was usually Jerry’s primary suspect when there was trouble on the bus. His old man was the same way when he was a boy.

“Gee, I haven’t seen that cuss in a while,” Jerry said. “Used to be a regular here.”

“Heard he’s on the wagon,” Monk said. “I bet that’s a lot easier on his wife. Liquor sure put him in a black mood.”

Big Mary tossed her head toward Al. “I’ve seen worse. Al Kitchen’s Daddy was a real piece of work. beating the crap out of that pretty girl from Wilmot that he married. He just wore her down ’til she got sick and died.”

Early shook his head.

“Eh, he was nothin’ compared to his old man,” he said. “You should’ve seen the bastard in action. I once saw him win a big hand at poker, and when one of the players accused him of cheatin’, he punched the man so hard to the head, the guy almost lost an eye.”

Frank passed the full tray to Winsome. He blew air through his closed lips. “Shit, can’t you all think of anythin’ else to talk about besides the Kitchens?” he said. “You’re givin’ me a headache.”

Early, Monk, and Big Mary gave each other small looks. 

Jerry broke into a sly grin. “I know. Mary can tell us all about her new boyfriend.” 

Mary’s face went red. “Oh, yeah, Jerry, and the next time your wife calls, I’m gonna grab the phone and tell her you’re here,” she said, so sharply, it set them all laughing, even Frank. 

LINKS TO MY BOOKS: You can find all of my books here And thank you do.

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: A glass of Cyborg Joan (yes there is a story behind that name) at my son Zack’s Floodwater Brewing in our village of Shelburne Falls, MA.


A Different Way of Writing

I believe the change began around the time I left journalism. Perhaps it’s because I no longer have the distractions of working long hours as editor-in-chief reading what other people wrote plus handling my managerial duties. Perhaps it’s because I have more time. Most likely, it’s both.

Even before I left my job, I was having too much fun writing my Isabel Long Mystery Series to let that workload stop me. I got up at 5 a.m. to put down 500 words. The words flowed. The story flowed. From one chapter to the next until the end. First five in the series were published this way. It was a bit miraculous.

But how I write has changed and I am now realizing that as I’m into no. 7. I believe it began with Working the Beat, no. 5, as I was winding down from my job, and intensified with Following the Lead, no. 6.

I still aim for 500 words a day.  But before I begin, I look back to what I wrote the previous day to add, if needed, a word, sentence or paragraph in the one before. Essentially I am expanding — and in my mind improving — what I wrote recently before I move onto the new chapter or chapters. (I still write short ones.) Basically, I am not waiting until I reach the half-way point or the end to look for holes

I am also finding that as I move through the story, I think back whether something is missing earlier.

Making the Deadline, the tentative title for no. 7, involves a shooting possibly made to look like a suicide attempt. Isabel has been approached by a possible client, Cyrus Nilsson aka the Big Shot Poet. He’s made a good pitch, but she’s not sure, so she’s doing her initial research and interviews. 

The victim, a literary agent (frustrated authors will enjoy this), is now mentally incapacitated. I realized early this morning that as Isabel begins gathering her list of contacts, she should be checking the agency’s website. An earlier online check revealed no reports of a shooting in the local papers since most do not report suicides or attempts. There was a brief in an online magazine that the agent has stepped away from the business “for health reasons” but I realized I wanted more. What about the agency’s website? Bingo. Isabel needs to find that online.

And although I never plan ahead — Isabel’s next case starts as a fragment in my brain — I am mindful I do not want to have a series that is formulaic. I liken it to what my protagonist, Isabel, does. As the series moves on, she’s taking more complicated and unusual cases. There will always be new characters but I also want to keep the old ones fresh. I feel I owe it to my readers. And to myself. I don’t want to just call it in.

THE SACRED DOG: This novel is not part of my Isabel Long Mystery Series although the setting is similar. Basically, there’s bad blood between two men. The title comes from the name of a bar one of them owns. I will be telling you a whole lot more about it from now until its launch date Dec. 27 and beyond. Here’s the link to learn more:

FOLLOWING THE LEAD: Here’s the link for no. 6 in the Isabel Long Mystery Series:

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A mural spotted in Brattleboro, Vermont.


Following the Lead

My Bad Beaumont Brothers

Of course, I am writing about Gary and Larry Beaumont, two characters in the Isabel Long Mystery Series. I’ve kept them through the most of the series because despite their feral tendencies, I’ve grown fond of them. So has Isabel Long. They are back in the next, Following the Lead, which has a Nov. 3 release.

Gary is the alpha brother. Larry, not the sharpest tool in the shed, does whatever he says. They tend to wear shirts advertising alcohol and both have mullets. They live in a dump of a house with a stash of junked metal in the front yard.

The Beaumonts make their living selling drugs and because of it, they were banned for life from the Rooster Bar and Grille, where Isabel tends bar on Friday nights. Jack, the owner, wouldn’t have them back because they were dealing in the parking lot. I can’t blame him.

The Beaumont brothers joined the series in Redneck’s Revenge, book no. 2, as unlikeable suspects who terrorize Isabel in the case involving the death of a junkyard owner. Hmm, perhaps drugs discovered in one of the vehicles had something to do with it. 

In the next, Checking the Traps, Gary hires Isabel to investigate the death of his half-brother Cary, who supposedly jumped off a bridge known for suicides. Isabel and her mother, her partner in crime, get to know the brothers up close and personal.

The brothers were not raised in the best of family situations. Isabel is also privy to a secret about Gary: in high school, he fathered Annette Waters’ son Abe. Annette aka the Tough Cookie doesn’t ever want him to know. (By the way in Working the Beat, no. 5, Gary and Annette compete against each other in a demolition derby.)

There are a few incidents when Gary and Larry actually come to Isabel’s rescue. That’s when she finally convinces Jack to let them come back to the Rooster on probation. He doesn’t like it but he loves Isabel too much to deny her.

So what are the Beaumont Brothers up to in Following the Lead? Well, they happen to live near a person of interest in this case — a famous musician who likes his privacy so much Isabel has a hard time meeting him. This case involves the abduction of a baby nearly fifty years ago. And much later in the book, one of them comes once again to her rescue.

Here’s a scene midway in the book when Isabel and her mother visit Gary and Larry.

A dog barks and paws at the front window of Gary and Larry Beaumont’s house as Ma and I make our way through the junked vehicles and plain old junk to the front door. I swear there is more stuff here than the last time we came earlier this year. That’s when Gary hired me for a case involving his late brother, Cary. On her previous visit here, my mother joked about finding the kitchen sink among this mess. No sinks but I do see an old kitchen stove and washer.

“Those boys really should take care of this mess,” my mother says with a click of her tongue. “People driving by this place would think it’s abandoned.”

“Perhaps that’s their motivation all along.”

Larry, the beta brother, comes onto the front porch, carrying his little pooch Ricky that was yapping in the window. He walks down the steps to give my mother first dibs to pet the dog, which makes happy little yips. Ricky is one of those terriers whose role here is to make Larry happy and to bark like crazy when anybody shows up. Nobody will be sneaking up at Chez Beaumont.

“Ricky, did you say? He looks like a nice little lap dog,” Ma tells a grinning Larry, who usually isn’t the center of attention. 

“He’s mine. Gary got him for me.”

Gary, definitely the alpha brother, comes through the open door. He wears a Jim Beam tee-shirt, which goes nicely with Larry’s Budweiser shirt, and I have indeed filled that order many times on a Friday night at the Rooster. Both brothers have freshly groomed mullets. They even have shaved. 

“Come on in, ladies,” Gary says. “Would you like some coffee? I made a fresh pot.”

Fresh pot? The last time Ma and I were here we were offered instant coffee, which I can’t tolerate even for a case. The boys are moving up, I’d say. And it appears, they did some cleaning in our honor or perhaps they’ve reformed. Dishes are piled in the sink, but the kitchen is nearly as clean as the one I have home. The rest of the house? I’ve never gone further than the kitchen. I didn’t even want to attempt using the bathroom no matter how badly I needed to go, so I have no clue about the conditions in there. Am I brave enough to use the bathroom this time? We’ll see.

“We’ll take a cup. Right, Ma? Milk if you have it for me. Ma likes it regular, milk and a little sugar.”

Larry chuckles.

“Course, I know what regular means. I’ll let you fix it the way you like.”

Ma nods as she sits. Our aim on these info gathering visits is to make people feel comfortable so they start blabbing without realizing it although by now, the brothers have become somewhat old chums and they know my methods. I smile as I watch Gary pour us coffee and boss his brother around to bring the milk and sugar to the table. Ricky sits in the corner away from their feet.

“You said over the phone you wanted to ask us about that guy Robert who lives near us. What’s that all about?”

I take a sip of coffee, which isn’t half bad, and compliment the boys before I clue them in about the Baby Elizabeth case and how his neighbor might have some involvement. The brothers sit forward as they pay close attention to what I say. 

“Robert appears to be a rather secretive fellow,” I say at the end. “Lucky for us, he turns out to live near you two.”

LINK TO THE BOOK: Following the Lead’s release is only days away on Nov. 3. Here is the link to get yours on Amazon: Paperback will follow soon.

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: A fall view of my village of Shelburne Falls in Western Mass.