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Isabel Long Mystery Series

Writing About Small Town Life

One of the themes in my Isabel Long Mystery Series is small town life. I’m talking about really small towns, around a thousand people or fewer, in rural Western Massachusetts. I got to know this part of the U.S. intimately as a reporter for a local daily newspaper and, of course, from living there.

And though the books in my series are fiction, I draw from those experiences to create what I feel are accurate portrayals of how people interact there, including in Working the Beat, number 5, which launches Jan. 27.

First a brief synopsis of Working the Beat: Isabel Long finds her next case at a country fair when she is approached by a woman whose grandson’s body was found there four years ago. Shirley Dawes took in Lucas Page after his mother abandoned him, doing her best after failing to protect her own children from her late husband, a no-good abuser. The official ruling is that he slipped and fell in a ravine behind the demolition derby. On the case, Isabel finds evidence, a bag of jewelry to be specific, that Lucas might have a connection to a string of break-ins in the hilltowns — yet another unsolved mystery. Was Lucas part of the ring of thieves? Or was he trying to do the right thing and died as a result of it?

So small town life isn’t like what you see in postcards, and that’s what makes it an interesting setting for my series.

For the most part, people, at least in New England, are nosy as all heck. We can’t help it. We know who drives what vehicle, who’s getting divorced or hooking up, and what trouble our neighbors are getting themselves into. Actually, Isabel counts on that kind of behavior because these nosy folks offer her clues, especially the Old Farts, a group of gossipy men who hold court in the back room of the local general store.

These towns don’t have a lot of commerce, not even a downtown. They are lucky if they have a general store, even luckier if it has gas pumps. Maybe there’s a bar or a restaurant, a church, typically Protestant, and a school, if the town has enough kids. Worthington, where I lived for 25 years in Massachusetts, used to have one stoplight, but the state removed it last year.

Politics is personal in a small town. How can it not be when you pretty know everyone who lives around you?

Then, there’s the potential conflict between natives and newcomers. These towns have their share of families that have been there for generations, like Isabel’s significant other, Jack, who owns the Rooster Bar and Grille where she works Friday nights, and are pretty proud of it even if they don’t have a lot of money. Then there are those, who move there from the big city. Some, like Isabel, embrace the town for what it is and then there are those whose idea of country living conflicts with what is real.

Isabel Long lives in the town of Conwell. The neighboring towns are: Penfield, Titus, Caulfield, Dillard, Jefferson, Mercy, and a new one with number five, Rossville. Don’t bother looking for them on a map, however. They’re all in my head.

Here’s the link to Working the Beatmybook.to/workingthebeat

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: I will be doing a reading Jan. 19 along with other authors from Straw Dog Writers, a group in Western Mass. via Zoom. I get five minutes to read from Working the Beat. I am pleased to have this opportunity. Yup, I’ve been practicing. And you are free to join us.

 

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Author Interview, Character Traits

Meet Violet Whitehouse of A Caterer’s Guide to Holidays and Homicide

Jessica Thompson’s novels are an interesting mix of murder and cooking. A fellow darkstroke books author, she has released two: A Caterer’s Guide to Love and Murder and A Caterer’s Guide to Holidays and Homicide. And key to her culinary cozy mysteries is the character Violet Whitehouse. Here, I will let Jessica tell you about her in what I call my Character Traits series.

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JESSICA THOMPSONViolet Whitehouse. Here I will let Jessica tell you about her — and her books — in what I call my Character Traits series.

Who is your character?

Violet Whitehouse, newish bride, struggling caterer, and neat freak that hates being called a neat freak.

What does she look like?

Like a younger Jennifer Connelly. Think of her at about 25 years old or in the movie Inventing the Abbotts.

What is your character’s back story?

It hasn’t come up in a book yet, but she used to be that little kid that was always dirty. She didn’t avoid dirt because she didn’t care, until she got a staph infection at about ten years old. For the week or so that Violet was in the hospital, she learned to appreciate good food (and not the hospital food) and clean conditions. She has been learning to cook and avoiding dirt and chaos ever since.

What is your character’s role in your novel?

Violet is the main character. In this book she is acting as a personal chef for a group of ladies on a pre-holiday retreat, but usually she is a caterer for events big and small. She is also recruited to investigate the murder that happens because they are snowed in and the police won’t be able to get to them for days.

Why should readers care about this character?

I think I care about her because she cares about things so much. She wants things to be clean and she wants to make it a perfect retreat for her clients. She loves her husband and so wants to become a mom. She puts so much care into the food, into cleaning, and into this murder investigation.

Here’s an excerpt featuring.

“Watch the knives!” Jake winced and lunged forward, but he was too late.

Violet’s whole body was already tense from the cold weather and the long trip, but her muscles clenched into paralysis as she heard her bag of tools tip and clatter to the ground.

She shifted the box she had just taken out of the back of their rental van and swept aside her curtain of chestnut hair with her free hand. She forced her green eyes open, steeling herself to look down. The kitchen tools she had brought with her on this trip, the ones she couldn’t live without, lay scattered over the packed and soiled snow of the lodge’s parking area.

Violet’s skin crawled and her scalp tingled as she thought of the dirt, engine oil, and even traces of animal poop that were probably on her tools now.

As Jake, her husband and fellow caterer, took the box from her arms, Violet attempted a return to sanity with a deep breath and a look around at the glittering scenery. Other than the parking lot, clean, fresh snow covered the landscape and swept all the way up to the frozen pond and brightly lit windows of Summerhaven Lodge. The mounded snow shone coral in the waning evening light and eased her jangled nerves. She noticed tiny hopping footprints from a rabbit near the tree line and got close to smiling. The air was still and biting and she wrapped her favorite white scarf more tightly under her chin to keep it out. The scarf was a thick wool and didn’t get enough use back home in Austin, Texas.

This week would be a welcome break for all of them. Violet and Jake had been so tense the last few months that they had eagerly accepted the request to travel to another state and cook the entire week before Christmas for Carina Moretti, the mother of their friend Laurel. Laurel had spoken so highly of Violet’s cooking, and maybe a bit about her sleuthing, during her wedding last year that most of Violet’s clients these days wanted to hear the story while they tasted her creations.

Jessica Thompson’s bio

When Jessica discovered mystery novels with recipes, she knew she had found her niche.

Now Jessica is the author of the Amazon best-selling culinary cozy mysteries “A Caterer’s Guide to Love and Murder” and “A Caterer’s Guide to Holidays and Homicide.” She is active in her local writing community and is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas and the Storymakers Guild. She received a bachelor’s degree in Horticulture from Brigham Young University but has always enjoyed writing and reading mysteries.

As an avid home chef and food science geek, Jessica has won cooking competitions and been featured in the online Taste of Home recipe collection.  She also tends to be the go-to source for recipes, taste-testing, and food advice among her peers.

Jessica is originally from California, but now has adopted the Austin, Texas lifestyle. She enjoys living in the suburbs with her husband and young children, but also enjoys helping her parents with their nearby longhorn cattle ranch.

A Caterer’s Guide to Holidays and Homicide synopsis

While acting as personal chef for a friend’s mountain retreat, Violet and her husband, Jake, must set aside their stress over infertility and create a magical and delicious holiday – until tragedy crashes the party.

Being snowed in and unreachable from town, Violet and Jake end up hired for a different kind of job – finding out which of the guests committed murder and why they’re trying to frame their hostess.

Violet must find a balance between following her gut and keeping it all under control until the police can reach them, while still managing the kitchen. But can she sniff out the killer before anyone else bites the big one?

A Caterer’s Guide to Holidays and Homicide will give you a culinary holiday you won’t forget!

Another excerpt

Violet was furious with herself for not seeing it before. Her gut had led her in all the wrong directions. Mercedes had been the one to rebelliously go outside, and apparently it had not been an isolated incident.

It made Violet fume. How many times has Mercedes come outside? she thought. She was angry with Mercedes, but mostly she was kicking herself. Why had she thought that trusting her instincts would be a good idea? Her gut had definitely not done her any favors last time she had investigated a murder. She was mad at herself for not seeing it all, mad for ignoring Mercedes’ trips outside, and mad for looking past the woman just because she had made hot chocolate and been kind to her. All of that must have been an act. She must have been doing it to manipulate people. Perhaps the real Mercedes was the one that had erupted out during her argument with Carina.

The rage and the glowing fury that had shown in Mercedes’ face during that argument should have been a dead giveaway.

Violet followed the smell of cigarette smoke that lingered in the chilled air and mingled with the clouds of her breath. Cigarettes usually made Violet’s skin crawl, but she was too indignant to care now.

Violet caught a glimpse of a cloud of breath coming from behind the tool shed that formed one wall of the carport and crunched over the refrozen snow of the parking lot.

“Yes, sir. I’ll put you on speakerphone so you can hear, but it’s usually best to let Violet talk. She really has a way of getting these ladies to talk.”

Violet didn’t hear any of it. The blood was rushing through her ears as she whipped around the corner of the shed to find Mercedes huddled behind it.

Mercedes had been bent over, but now rose with terror in her eyes as Violet felt her face contort with disgust.

“It was you!”

Book links

http://mybook.to/catererholiday

http://mybook.to/caterersguide

Social media:

http://Jessicathompsonauthor.com

https://instagram.com/jessicathauthor/

https://facebook.com/jessicathauthor/

https://twitter.com/jessicathauthor/

https://pinterest.com/jessicathauthor/

http://goodreads.com/jessicathauthor/

https://www.bookbub.com/profile/jessica-thompson-ede71ffc-5762-4778-a116-3c3a048cb45f

http://amazon.com/author/jessicathompsonmystery

https://tiktok.com/@jessicathauthor

 

http://amazon.com/author/jessicathompsonmystery

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Checking The Traps Full Tour Banner
blog tour, Checking the Traps, launch

Taking this Baby on the Road

My new mystery, Checking the Traps officially launches Friday, March 22. Wow. Yes, the book has been available in paperback for weeks now, but this is the day those who ordered the Kindle version will see them pop into their device. Procrastinators and those who are just finding my book can get the eBook version right away.

Checking the Traps is the third book in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. No. 4 is in the works.

Unfortunately, with my new job (more another time) I can’t have a Facebook launch that day. I had a lot of fun engaging with family and friends, including running contests. Ah, but duty calls.

So what I will be doing is spreading the word via social media that day … and Checking the Traps will be going on an official blog tour via Rachel’s Random Resources. Rachel Gilbey has drawn together 30 bloggers for this tour — three a day for ten days, ending on March 31.

You can see the tour in the image above. Many of the bloggers will be doing reviews. Others will be posting blogs I wrote for them. Each one is on a different subject. Yes, I’ve been busy.

Plus, my fellow authors at Crooked Cat Books have been kind enough to give me space to post on their blogs. (Yes, they are the best friends I’ve never met.)

My intention is to cast a wide net to snare readers, who will read Checking the Traps, hopefully enjoy and recommend it.

I will be posting links to each one.

So, what’s Checking the Traps about? Here’s a brief synopsis:

Isabel Long is a bit banged up from her last case with a broken collarbone and her arm in a sling. But that doesn’t stop her from pouring beer at the Rooster Bar or taking her third case with Gary Beaumont, a local drug dealer who once terrorized her. Gary is convinced his brother didn’t jump off a bridge known for suicides. Somebody pushed him.

Gary’s brother was a boozer who drove for a highway crew. But what interests Isabel and her ‘Watson’ — her 93-year-old mother who lives with her — is that the man wrote poetry.

The chief suspects are one of Gary’s business associates and a famous poet who plagiarized his brother’s poetry for an award-winning book. Yes, he was that good.

As a journalist, Isabel did regular meetups with her sources for stories. She called it checking the traps. She does the same as a private investigator, and this time, she’ll make sure she doesn’t get caught in one.

I do have two readings scheduled in Western Massachusetts: April 13, 4 p.m. at the Worthington Library in Worthington and April 14, 2 p.m. at Floodwater Brewing in Shelburne Falls. Yes, beer and books. My son, Zack makes the beer and I write the books.

One last thing. If you read my book(s), I would love it if you wrote a review on Amazon. A one-liner will do it … “Joan Livingston kept me guessing until the end” or “Darn, I liked this book.”  Hey, even a two-word review would make me happy and give me more status on Amazon.

Review or not, I am grateful for those who have shown their support. Thank you so much!

 

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Checking the Traps, Isabel Long Series

Up Next: Checking the Traps

I have news for fans of my Isabel Long mysteries series. The launch of the third book — Checking the Traps — is getting closer. My publisher and I haven’t set a date yet, but expect an announcement in the next few weeks. Right now, I’m working with my editor on the final edits. A cover is in the works.

With two cases under her belt, Isabel Long is ready for her third. So, is her ‘Watson’ — her mother, Maria, who turns 93 in this book. Isabel is a bit banged up from her last case. I won’t reveal how it happened for those who haven’t caught up with the second, Redneck’s Revenge, but I will say her souvenir from that case is a broken collarbone. Isabel spends the entire third book with her arm bound up in a sling. Fortunately, she only needs one to pour beer at the Rooster Bar.

Then she gets an intriguing call from an unlikely person — Gary Beaumont. As you may recall from the second book, Gary and his brother, Larry, are drug dealers who terrorized Isabel. The brothers live in a dump of a house and have the manners of feral dogs. But for reasons I won’t divulge here, Isabel has grown fond of them.

Anyway, Gary wants Isabel to find out what happened to their half-brother, Cary. He doesn’t believe for a second that Cary jumped off a bridge in a neighboring town that is known for suicides. He is sure somebody murdered him.

Cary was a bit of a boozer who worked on a local highway crew. But what clinches it for Isabel is that he was a sensitive soul who wrote poetry in his spare time. The chief suspects are one of Gary’s business associates and a famous poet who plagiarized his brother’s poetry for an award-winning book. Yes, Cary was that good.

One of the reasons I so enjoy writing this series is that it gives me a great excuse to hold onto the characters I love. They have become dear to me even the bad guys. That certainly includes Gary and Larry.

So who else is back? Jack, the owner of the Rooster and Isabel’s guy, of course. So are Annette aka the Tough Cookie and Marsha aka the Floozy, plus the Old Farts, those snoopy old guys in the backroom of the general store. There are a few more.

Who’s new? The people Isabel interviews for this case, including the plagiarizing famous poet.

Over the next few months, I will be posting stories here and elsewhere about Checking the Traps. It’s all part of my concerted effort to get you all interested in Isabel Long’s next adventure.

P.S. I am currently working on the fourth. Isabel sure likes to get herself in trouble.

FIRST TWO BOOKS: Need to catch up with the series? Here are the links:

http://mybook.to/chasingthecase

http://mybook.to/rednecksrevenge

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Lake Fitzgerald in Northampton, Mass., where were took a recent hike.

 

 

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