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Isabel Long Series, Writing

Mystery Series: Why I Write in First Person, Present Tense

When I decided to write a mystery, I wanted it to be told from the point of view of my protagonist, Isabel Long. And now that I released the second, Redneck’s Revenge, I am glad I stuck with that format. I also used present tense because I want my readers to feel they are part of the action but more about that later.

First, let me tell you about Isabel Long. She’s a former long-time journalist who is trying her hand at solving mysteries. After all, she has a lot of time on her hands after she lost her job managing a newsroom when the paper went corporate. Besides, her first case was also her first big story as a rookie reporter — and one of the cold case files she snagged from the newsroom on her last day.

Isabel is savvy and sassy. She’s got a great sense of humor. She doesn’t take crap from anyone. But she is a great listener and can relate well with others. Basically, she takes what she knew as a reporter and applies it to being an amateur sleuth. This comes in handy because her second case takes her to a town she is unfamiliar with and also a rather rough group of folks.

For that case, a woman hires her to find out how her father died. The cops say he was drunk when his house caught fire. She says he was murdered. Could it be the work of two drug-dealing brothers, a rival junkyard owner, or an ex-husband? Isabel is going to find out.

Anyway, I wanted you to get the full picture of Isabel by letting her talk her way through my two books so far in this series — Chasing the Case and Redneck’s Revenge. The third, Checking the Traps, will be released next year.

I also wanted my readers to focus on Isabel. I know I sometimes get a little lost when there are so many POVs in a novel I’m reading. I sometimes have to remind myself who the character is.

Why present tense? It can be tricky to write. I have written only one other book, as yet unpublished, that way. But I believe it works with Isabel because sometimes she even talks directly to the reader.

Here’s an excerpt from Redneck’s Revenge, to put you in the mood. In this scene, she’s meeting with Lin Pierce, a licensed private investigator.

All right, Lin, enough with the dillydallying. Let’s get on with it.

“As I said over the phone… ”

He waves his hand.

“Yes, that. You said you want to work for me to fulfill one of your requirements to get a P.I. license.”

“That’s right.”

“So, what would make you qualified to be an associate? Have you ever worked in law enforcement?”

I shake my head.

“A cop? No. I was a journalist for over thirty years. I started as the Conwell correspondent for the Daily Star. Adela Collins’ disappearance was my first big story.” I watch his head bounce in recognition. “I knew how to chase a story. I found the pieces and put them together. I believe the skills are transferable, except I’d never carry a gun or wrestle anybody to the ground.”

He squints as he thinks.

“I recall reading your stories. Didn’t you used to run the paper?”

“Uh-huh, for fifteen years until it got bought out,” I say. “As I explained over the phone, I’m not looking to take your cases although I’d be willing to help if you need it. I’ll find my own.”

“Well, I’ve never hired anybody and frankly, I couldn’t afford you if I did.” His voice drops. “I’d say I’m semi-retired. I own this building, so it’s convenient to keep an office. It helps with taxes.”

I was prepared for this.

“How about a buck a day? Could you afford that?”

He chuckles.

“You work cheap, Isabel.”

MORE: This post appeared first in Zooloo Book Blog as part of a tour in Rachel’s Random Resources.

BOOKLINKS: Thank you if you have already read my books. If not here’s where you can find them on Amazon: mybook.to/chasingthecase and mybook.to/rednecksrevenge

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A creative use of old screwdrivers. Piece of art found outside a studio on State Street in our village of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, kale soup

A Helping of Kale Soup in My Mystery Series

Now that it is getting colder, I made kale soup for the first time this season on Saturday, with enough left over for another round Sunday. Here is a post about the remarkable Portuguese soup and its place in my mystery series. (It first appeared in author Isabella May’s blog isabellamayauthor.com, but like the soup, it’s worth reheating for a second serving.)

Growing up, kale soup or Caldo Verde was a staple in my family’s household. It’s the same for Isabel Long, the protagonist of my mystery series. She and I are of Portuguese descent, and it’s one of the dishes of our people. In fact, it is the number one food mentioned — after bar fare — in Chasing the Case and the newest, Redneck’s Revenge.

Caldo Verde is one of those stick-to-your-ribs soups— kale, potatoes, white beans if you like them, sausage if you eat them. All you need is some good hearty bread. And it can last days as long as you refrigerate it.

And now that Isabel’s 92-year-old mother — her ‘Watson’ — lives with her, she eats a lot of it at least during the cold weather months.

Here Isabel talks about it in Chasing the Case:

The kitchen smells like kale soup. Ma’s been busy. Long before kale became the foodie thing to eat, we Portagees ate the green. No kale salads for us. No kale smoothies. We cook the kale to death in soup with white beans, potatoes, chorizo pork sausage, and cubed beef. That’s the way my mother makes Caldo Verde, and we eat it three days in a row. The soup only gets better, well, as long as it’s refrigerated. Being one of those natural food nuts who prefers not to eat red meat, I skip the chunks of beef when I make the soup, and if I have to use sausage, then it’s turkey or chicken instead of pork, which horrifies my meat-loving mother. I figure if it makes my ninety-two-year-old mother happy, I can eat a soup with pork sausage and beef cooked in it.

Kale soup is not haute cuisine, but the food of working people.

Here’s an excerpt from Redneck’s Revenge:

Ma moved in with me last year because she was tired of living alone. I was alone, too, after my Sam died. Our three kids, Ruth, Matt, and Alex, are out of the house although they don’t live too far from me. It’s worked out well with Ma. She’s a fun companion. Who would have thought when I was younger and wilder? She’s a good cook, and like the fine Portuguese woman she is, she keeps me in kale soup, a staple of our people. Yes, Long is my married name. Ferreira is the name I got at birth.

Here’s a family legend: My grandmother, Angela, ate kale soup every day. If so, it may account for her longevity. She lived to be in her 90s and strong nearly to the end.

Yes, I make kale soup at home during the cold weather months. When I had a garden, I made sure I grew enough kale, and if I was lucky it lasted almost to winter. I even taught my husband, who is not Portuguese, how to make it.

There are times, when I’m not eating meat, I don’t add sausage, or I use a spicy poultry sausage. I add white beans (from the can). Other cooks don’t. I’ve even seen recipes that use chicken. I am not the kind of cook who follows recipes, except when I bake a cake. Besides, the original calls for a certain cabbage that isn’t available in the U.S. So kale — or collards, I suppose — it is.

Here’s how I make it. Because it contains white beans and potatoes, the broth gets thicker every meal it was served.

Kale Soup or Caldo Verde 

Serves 6-8 people

1 pound kale, washed carefully, chopped

2 quarts soup stock

6 ounces chourico pork, turkey or chicken sausage (any spicy sausage), thickly sliced

3 large potatoes, cut in chunks

1 can white beans

1 large onion, chopped

1 large garlic clove, minced

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Cilantro, chopped

Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until they are translucent. Add the soup stock, kale, potatoes, sausage, and the can of beans. Bring to a boil, lower, and then simmer an hour. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls and garnish with minced cilantro. Serve with chunks of good bread.

Optional: Add browned stewing beef; half pound should do it. Or a half cabbage cut into wedges.

MORE: It makes me happy to hear from readers who say how much they’ve enjoyed reading Chasing the Case and Redneck’s Revenge. Like me, they love the series’ characters. Thank you very much.

Both books are available in paperback and on Kindle. Here are the links: mybook.to/chasingthecase and mybook.to/rednecksrevenge.

By the way, the third, Checking the Traps will be out next year.

And if you feel moved, please write a review on Amazon. One line will do it. You can even make up your name. I thank you if you do.

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Isabel Long Series, Launch party, Redneck's Revenge

The Party Is Over

Thanks to those who could make it from wherever they are in the world to the Facebook launch of my new mystery, Redneck’s Revenge. Yeah, such virtual launches are a new concept for me — one that I learned from my fellow authors at Crooked Cat Books. I held mine Thursday (Sept. 26) for two active hours although I kept the discussion up for 24 hours to allow people to pop in whenever they wanted. Fortunately, no food, drink, or a clean house was necessary.

I had a great deal of fun coming up with six contests all related to characters and scenes in Redneck’s Revenge. Just a brief recap: Isabel Long, my amateur sleuth, has her second case: a daughter is convinced her father’s death wasn’t an accident. He didn’t die in a fire at his junkyard. He was murdered. The case means Isabel gets to meet a whole new group of people, many of them on the country rough side, and hang out in unfamiliar places.

Among the contests: come up with a name for a junkyard you might own and one for a country convenience store (it is the Pit Stop in Redneck’s Revenge). Give me the name of a fictional band that might play at a country bar and graffiti you might find on a bathroom wall there. How about your secret nickname? (Isabel and her mother come up with some doozies.) And finally, if you were the newly departed, what would be an appropriate toast to you?

The prizes range from having your name used as a character in the fourth Isabel Long book — yes, there will be one after the next, Checking the Traps — and signed copies of my books.

We also had a couple of discussion prompts with no prizes involved.

I am chuffed, as my UK friends say, at who showed up. Partygoers came from all parts of my life: family, people I knew in high school and college, fellow authors, and friends. It was a worldly group with people from the U.S., all over Europe, and Australia. Thank you all.

Now for the prizes: I’ve been going over the entries. I am down to the finalists in each category. It’s hard choosing the winners. Dang, people were so smart.

BUY THE BOOK: If you love mysteries, you might love mine. Here’s the link to buy it in Kindle or paperback. http://mybook.to/rednecksrevenge

And if you do, please leave a review on Amazon (and GoodReads) to help get the word out. I would be so thankful.

A REAL PARTY: I will be doing a reading in person Saturday, Sept. 29, 4 p.m. at the Worthington Library, Worthington, MA. I am planning an event for Shelburne Falls, MA, sometime in the near future. Stay tuned.

 

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6Ws, Author Interview, Isabel Long Series, Redneck's Revenge

6 Ws with Me

Today, I am turning the tables on myself and answering the questions for my 6Ws series. I’ve been inviting fellow authors to participate, so why not me? After all, Redneck’s Revenge, the second book in the Isabel Long Mystery Series, is being Rednecks Revenge smallreleased Sept. 26. Here’s the link: http://mybook.to/rednecksrevenge.

And, dammit, this is my blog.

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

Who is author Joan Livingston?

I have had many roles in my life. The first of four kids. A second-generation American of Portuguese heritage. The first to graduate from college. Wife (twice). Mother of six. Grandmother of two.

For a while, I moved around a lot. I’ve lived in big cities and very small towns, which is my preference and the setting for much of my fiction.

But when it comes to words, I was a journalist for thirty years — rising from a correspondent to managing editor of an award-winning newspaper.

So now I am an author currently immersed in my Isabel Long Mystery Series.

I have struggled with the business side of writing. I’ve gone through two agents and a countless number of rejections from publishing houses. I’ve tried self-publishing. Crooked Cat Books is the publisher for the first three books of Isabel Long Mystery Chasing the Case cover copySeries. (Yes, there will be more.)

But rejection doesn’t stop me from writing because it’s what I love to do.

What do I write?

Right now I am immersed in the Isabel Long Mystery Series. As stated above, the second has a Sept. 26 release. Chasing the Case was released in May. The third, Checking the Traps will be published by Crooked Cat Books in 2019. Last week, I found inspiration for the fourth. I am terribly excited.

But I write in other genres. A few of my books are what I would call literary fiction. I have also written a series for middle-grade readers and a bilingual series for children. A good percentage of these books have not been published.

When did I begin writing?

I began writing as a child through the encouragement of great teachers. In college, I wrote poetry because, to be honest, I could not sustain a thought in prose. Then I had a writer’s block that lasted 25 years — much of it while I was mothering six young kids. My first semi-break was when I became a reporter covering a rural area in Western Massachusetts. But I didn’t start writing fiction until I became an editor. The block broke for good and it is a rare day I don’t write fiction.

How do I write?

I just sit at the computer and let the words all come onto the screen as fast as my fingers can type them. I don’t plan ahead or use any programs. No outlines. Without sounding like a totally crazy woman, it’s a rather telepathic experience.

Sometimes ideas come to me as I am falling asleep or doing some brainless chore.

Of course, there is rewriting. Sometimes I will stop part way, print out the pages and see how I’m doing. I might decide to add a scene. Or I will note as I go along a detail that needs to be resurrected later.

I liken rewriting to taking up a daydream and making it better.

As for the time of day, I usually write very early in the morning, but if an idea hits me, I will write later in the day.

Where do I write?

I can write most anywhere. I believe I developed my powers of concentration working in busy and noisy newsrooms. But my favorite spot is a desk my husband, Hank, built for me. He was on a job site when a woman told him to throw out old IMG_6098boards that were used for shelving. It turns out they were black walnut. He’s also built me great wooden storage units for the top of the desk. Then there are the funny bits of things, rocks and figurines I’ve collected.

Why do I write?

I write because I can’t help myself. It is definitely my form of expression.

More about Redneck’s Revenge:

Her next case. She’s in it for good.

Isabel Long is in a funk months after solving her first case. Her relationship with the Rooster Bar’s owner is over. Then cops say she must work for a licensed P.I. before working solo.

Encouraged by her Watson — her 92-year-old mother  — Isabel snaps out of it by hooking up with a P.I. and finding a new case.

The official ruling is Chet Waters, an ornery so-and-so, was passed out when his house caught fire. His daughter, who inherited the junkyard, believes he was murdered. Topping the list of suspects are dangerous drug-dealing brothers, a rival junkyard owner, and an ex-husband.

Could the man’s death simply be a case of redneck’s revenge? Isabel is about to find out.

Other published works: Chasing the Case; Peace, Love and You Know What; The Sweet Spot; and  The Cousins and the Magic Fish/Los Primos y el Pez Mágico.

Find them here: Joan Livingston books on Amazon

Joan Livingston on social media:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/JoanLivingstonAuthor/

Twitter: @joanlivingston

Instagram: www.Instagram.com/JoanLivingston_Author

Goodreads: www.Goodreads.com/Joan_Livingston

One last thing: Join me for the Facebook launch part Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2 p.m. EST wherever the heck you are. I will leave it up for 24 hours so people can pop in when it’s convenient. Here’s how to connect: Redneck’s Revenge Facebook Party

 

 

 

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Isabel Long Series, New release, Redneck's Revenge

Getting Ready for Liftoff

The official launch of Redneck’s Revenge, the next book in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, is getting oh so close. It’s a week away — Wednesday, Sept. 26 — as I write this. The launch may even be closer if you are reading this another day.

And I am using this post to remind my dear readers about the launch party on Facebook.

What the heck is a Facebook launch party? To tell you the truth, I had never heard of them until I signed with Crooked Cat Books, which is based in Europe. Suddenly, I was attending virtual launch parties via Facebook for fellow authors around the world. Really, it is the only practical way to do it since they live in various parts of Europe, Australia, and the U.S.

My first was May 18 for the launch of Chasing the Case, the first in the Isabel Long Mystery Series. I prepared contests and discussion prompts. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect, and I was chuffed, as my UK friends say, when so many people from different parts of my life played along.

I am hoping for the same Sept. 26. The party starts 2 p.m. in the eastern time zone in the U.S. I will be actively partying until 4 p.m. But I will leave everything up for 24 hours for friends living in other parts of the world and those who have a boss looking over their shoulder. I will pop in as well, especially later in the day when the Aussies join the party.

This is a public event. The more the merrier. Here is the link to say you are interested or plan to go: Redneck’s Revenge Facebook launch party

About those those contests: I will be giving away signed editions of Chasing the Case and my other books, plus a couple of lucky winners will have their names used in the fourth Isabel Contest 1Long book I will start after I finish the third — Checking the Traps. (The names of few winners from May’s party appear in Checking the Traps. Paul Roberts and Sue Lehman have pivotal roles in that mystery. There’s also a little girl named Helen, plus dogs named Gus and Apples.)

Don’t worry if you are new to this. It’s not really different than commenting on regular Facebook posts, except you might win a prize and my gratitude for your support.

LINKS: Here are the links if you are inclined to buy my books. Both are available in paperback and Kindle.

mybook.to/chasingthecase

mybook.to/rednecksrevenge

 

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