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Character Traits

Character Traits: Meet George Tokay

J Lewis Paper Picture

Author Joseph Lewis

Joseph Lewis is the next author to contribute to my Character Traits Series. Like many of my author friends, I met Joe, as I call him, via social media. A longtime educator, he writes thriller mysteries. I’ve read and learned from all of his books, which have exposed the ugly world of  human trafficking and other badness in our lives. His books also have an interesting connection to the Navajo Nation. So, fittingly the character he shares is George Tokay from his latest novel, Betrayed. Here. I will let Joseph take over. 

George Tokay is a sixteen-year-old Navajo boy raised in the traditional way. He is a member of ‘Azee’tsoh dine’e or The Big Medicine People Clan, which is one of the oldest clans among the Dine’. His grandfather was a Haatalii, a medicine man. The Navajo elders referred to both George and his grandfather as Hosteen Tokay, a term of respect. His grandfather had been training George from an early age to follow in his footsteps, however, his family had been murdered and he was orphaned. A high school counselor, Jeremy Evans, adopted him and George now lives in Wisconsin. George still practices his heritage with reverence and appreciation, speaking his native tongue and wearing his hair long in the traditional style.

George is quiet by nature, reserved, and content to observe and then act accordingly. He is adept at riding horses, tracking, shooting- particularly with a rifle, and with a knife his grandfather gave him at a coming of age ceremony when he was twelve.

He has suffered greatly. Not only with the death of his family, but he carries the scars of killing at least nine men who had come to kill him or members of his adopted family. He is given to visions and dreams where his grandfather speaks to him. Law enforcement, his newly adopted family, and in particular, the FBI listen when he speaks and take his visions seriously.

EXCERPT FROM BETRAYED:

George and Rebecca stopped at the top of the long dirt driveway leading to the Yazzie ranch. From a distance, it looked quiet, almost sleepy. Neither George nor Rebecca knew him, but it was mid-morning and there should have been some activity.

George thought back to his own home a lifetime ago. Robert might be racing around the yard with his sister, Mary. William might be in the barn working with the horses. His mom and grandmother would be hanging laundry or cooking a meal.

However, there was no laundry hanging on the line. There were no kids playing in the yard. There was no smoke coming from the chimney, and there was no fire in the outdoor stove.

Maybe no one was home. Maybe they were in Round Rock at the trading post.

Impatient, Rebecca flapped her reigns and made a clicking noise getting her horse to move forward. George followed at first, but as they neared the ranch, he sped up next to her.

He whispered, “Rebecca, wait. Something is wrong.”

She pulled on the reigns to stop her horse. She turned, stared at him, and whispered, “What?”

George frowned and shook his head. “Stay back.”

Rebecca reached for her rifle and laid it across her lap. George’s rifle was within reach, but he kept his right hand on his knife.

“Hello, the ranch. Mr. and Mrs. Yazzie?” He and Rebecca waited, but no one responded, nor did anyone appear in the doorway.

George was at once patient and impatient. He felt he needed to give the Yazzies time to respond, but he knew something was wrong. His “Navajo thing.”  A sixth sense sort of thing. Many times, his grandfather would speak to him, sometimes appear to him. Always warning, counseling, or guiding him.

One more time George yelled, “Hello the ranch! Mr. and Mrs. Yazzie!”

Nothing.

George dismounted, handed his reigns to Rebecca, took his rifle out of the scabbard and held it like a sentry, his finger above the trigger, not on it.

The smell. He knew the smell. In three short years, he had experienced this same smell. Nothing like it. Stronger in the hot desert air, and not at all pleasant.

He held a hand up to Rebecca, though he didn’t need to. She hadn’t moved.

George knelt down, bowed his head and shut his eyes, and asked whatever chindi might be present for permission to advance. He promised to find out the truth of what he suspected had taken place, and to bring their spirits justice as well as peace.

He opened his eyes, and instinctively searched the ground. He found tire impressions in the dirt, as well as footprints in at least three different sizes. A shell casing- large caliber. Then another, and another. On the left side of the driveway, there were small caliber casings.

Hard to do in cowboy boots, but he tip-toed into the front yard avoiding any footprints he saw. He would mark and take pictures of them later. The closer he got, the pock marks caused by bullet holes became more noticeable. So were the broken windows.

And the smell. Dark, thick, and wet.

George flashed back to his own ranch home and he imagined his grandparents, his mother, his little brother and sister huddled together in the driveway. He pictured his brother William on the slope watching over the sheep. His cousin had described the two scenes to him, and as he did, George knew his cousin had purposely held things back.

He pictured Brian’s home. The mess of blood, bone and tissue that covered the desk and computer in the office. The dark wet stain in the hallway. Though he had never seen what was behind the bedroom door, he knew who was in there and he suspected- correctly, according to Graff- what had happened.

Just like he knew what had taken place inside the Yazzie home as he stood in the doorway. Wanting to go into the house, but not wanting to. Knowing what he would find, and not wanting to find it.

George turned to Rebecca who looked anxious. He shook his head. Rebecca’s response was to grip her rifle tighter.

Cautiously, George took one step inside and held his breath. His second step took him into the kitchen.

Mrs. Yazzie lay on her back on the floor. Blood had pooled on either side of her like angel wings. George touched it and found it tacky, not wet, but not dry. Her death was recent. Further back in the room towards the hallway were a teenage boy and a preteen girl. The boy lay on his stomach with his arms outstretched overhead, the back of his shirt ripped open and bloody. George counted at least four bullet holes, maybe more. A bloody trail led to the girl. Bullet holes had shredded her blouse leaving the back of her shirt bloody. It looked to George as though she had not died right away, but had tried to crawl to safety.

The only person George didn’t see was the old man.

Staying to close to the wall, George moved further down the hallway and peered into the nearest bedroom. Pock-marked walls and shattered glass blown in from a window. George surmised that the shooters moved around the house and fired indiscriminately into the ranch home.

The second and last bedroom appeared in the same condition.

The old man was not in the house, and there weren’t many other places to look for him.

George left the house, held up a hand to Rebecca to stay put. He patted his knife once to reassure himself, and then crept around the side of the house towards the barn. He stayed close to the walls, but had to cross an open area to reach the barn. He took a deep breath, hunched over, and sprinted to its side.

Staying low, George took off his cowboy hat and peered into the barn from a crack between two broken boards. He set his hat on the ground behind him and tiptoed to the doorway. He peered into the barn, first just one eye. Then he stood up and entered.

He wasn’t surprised at what he first saw. However, further back in the corner in a small corral, he saw something he didn’t expect to find.

CONNECT: Here’s Joseph Lewis on social media.

Twitter @jrlewisauthor

www.simplethoughtsfromacomplicatedmindsortof.com

https://www.facebook.com/Joseph.Lewis.Author

BOOKS: Here are the links to Joseph Lewis’ books:

Lives Trilogy: https://amzn.to/2QKpwuY

Caught in a Web: https://amzn.to/2GrU51T

Spiral Into Darkness: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07L15328K

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Working the Beat

Smashin’ and Crashin’

So far, four books have been published in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, and now I’m working on the fifth. I’m not giving away what’s going happen in Working the Beat. Actually, that would be impossible since the story comes to me as I write. Yeah, I’m one of those so-called pansters.

I’m nearly 10,000 words into the novel, so what I can tell you is that so far this book has a demolition derby because Isabel, my protagonist, is at one in the chapter I’m writing — titled Smashin’ and Crashin’. Jack, owner of the Rooster Bar and Grille and Isabel’s love interest, took herIMG_4079 to the one at the Titus Country Fair. He even shut down the bar on a Saturday night. Well, frankly, none of his customers would likely pass up the derby to drink beer and play pool at his place.

Isabel’s never been to a demotion derby, but her interest is piqued because her next case, if she takes it, involves a death that happened at one. She was approached earlier in the day by the dead man’s rather crusty grandmother. Good timing, as Isabel would say. She can go to the scene of the supposed crime and come back the next day to investigate some more.

Jack naturally puts up with her snooping and her questions about the derby cause he’s crazy about her.

Unlike Isabel, I’ve been to a demolition derby at the Cummington Fair and even truck pulls. I had hoped to go to the one at the fair this year, but this pandemic ruined that plan. So, I’ve taken to watching videos of demotion derbies to refresh my memory. There sure are a lot of them, of varying quality. It’s not my sport of choice, but it is for the characters in Working the Beat. Well, maybe not for Isabel, but now, she is more than interested.

So, what’s with the title of this book? For journalists and ex-journalists like Isabel, a beat is the territory a reporter covers. It could be geographic area, say a city or group of towns, or a topic such as cops and courts, higher education, you get the idea. When I was a reporter a long time ago, my beat was the hilltowns of Western Mass. And working one, means staying on top of things, checking in with sources, being curious and available. Isabel did that as a reporter, and now, she does it as a P.I.

Yeah, you can probably tell, I’m liking this book.

PHOTO ABOVE: That’s one I snagged at the Cummington Fair’s demolition derby.

MORE: Thanks to all who downloaded their free copies of Chasing the Case, no. 1, and Killing the Story, no. 4 and the latest, this past weekend. Great to have more readers.

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Killing the Story

Finding the Next Cold Case — Plus an Excerpt

Isabel Long, the protagonist in my mystery series, is always on the lookout for a new case to solve. She hasn’t been at it very long. Those who have read the first book will recall she started after a bad year — her husband died and she lost her job as a paper’s editor-in-chief — and decided to use the skills from her journalism days to solve cold cases in the sticks of Western Massachusetts in the U.S.

Her first case involved discovering what happened to a woman who went missing 28 years ago from her small town. That was in Chasing the Case.

In the second, Isabel proves a junkyard dealer was murdered and not too drunk to get out of his house after it caught fire. His daughter approached her in the bar where Isabel worked part-time. That was in Redneck’s Revenge.

For the third, she was hired by a local drug dealer to find out the true circumstances around his brother’s death. He supposedly jumped off a bridge known for suicides, but maybe he was pushed. That was in Checking the Traps.

Joan and Killing the Story

Here I am holding a copy of my new novel Killing the Story after it arrived in the mail.

So what case does Isabel solve in book number four, Killing the Story, which will be out Aug. 26? This one is near and dear to her because it involves the death of a small town newspaper editor. How does she find this one? Isabel and Marie, her 93-year-old mother and her ‘Watson,’ attend the open house for the Pit Stop, a gas station and convenience store in the small hilltown of Caulfield. The new owners are cousins Annette (daughter of the junkyard dealer from case no. 2) and Marsha (alibi for a suspect in case no. 1), who celebrate with a pig roast, cheap beer, and a band called the Country Bumpkins. It’s a lively event, and a fortuitous one because that’s where Isabel finds her next case.

Here let me give you an excerpt. Isabel went to fetch food for the two of them, and when she returns she finds her mother talking with a man.

Ma looks up when she sees my approach. I hand her the plate loaded with pork. The man stands. That’s when I notice the camera hanging by a strap around his neck.

“Isabel, this is Mr. Emerson Crane,” she says. “He’d like to talk with you. He might have a case you’d be interested in pursuing.”

“Really?”

Emerson Crane grabs my free hand in a shake, warm, dry, and not too tight, which I take as a good sign.

“Isabel, I heard you’ve been successful solving a few cold cases in the hilltowns,” he says. “I was telling your mother I’m hoping you’ll take mine.”

Some guy bumps me from behind, and after a “sorry” and a splash of beer on my blouse, I glance around for another free chair.

“Why don’t you grab that chair, Mr. Crane, and we can have a talk,” I say.

“Please call me Emerson. And in case you are wondering, I am named for Ralph Waldo Emerson. My mother was a big fan.”

While the man does as I ask, I note his clothes, a button-down blue shirt with short sleeves and khakis that seem a bit worn. I’m guessing this wouldn’t be a get-rich case although I have to admit after I checked the envelope, I found Gary Beaumont paid me more than I expected, so I’m set for a while. But as Jack often reminds me, I probably make more money tending his bar one night a week than I do chasing criminals.

I wait with the plate on my lap. I’m more interested in hearing the man’s story than eating although I note my mother has already sampled the pork. The woman has a satisfied smile.

I ask my mother, “Murder or money?”

“I’ll let him tell you. I think you’ll be interested in this one. It involves a newspaper.”

Newspaper? Ma knows how to get my attention. As many of you know, I worked for the Daily Star in Hampton for a gazillion years, starting as the hilltown reporter getting paid by the inch to running the damn paper as its managing editor for fifteen years until I lost that job when the Star went corporate. I was ticked off at the time that the new owner had the nerve to say I had to reapply for the position as if I hadn’t been doing a good enough job. Okay, it wasn’t like I was singled out. Everybody had to reapply. And frankly, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. Now, I get to use the skills I had as a journalist working as a private investigator. I still get to be paid to be nosy although so far, not as much. And I sure don’t miss living by deadlines.

Emerson Crane grunts as he drops his body onto his seat. His back is to the crowd.

“Well, Emerson, I’m all ears.”

He nods.

“I own a little weekly paper called The Observer in Dillard. We cover all the towns in our county,” he says. “I actually came to take photos and do a little writeup about the opening, but then I heard you were here.”

It’s coming back to me. The Observer is one of those small-town papers that report the news the bigger papers don’t print or even care about. There aren’t any wire stories with national news. That’s not what people up here are interested in anyways. They can get those stories on the TV or internet. They want to know what’s happening locally like town meetings, game suppers, and the grand reopening of a gas station. I picked up a copy at the Pit Stop and found it admirable that in these troubled times for newspapers this one appears to be chugging along.

“I used to cover events like this when I was a reporter,” I say.

“I’m familiar with your background. I used to follow you in the Star.” His chest rises and falls in a bit of a wheeze as he takes a pause. “My case is about my mother.”

I take a peek at Ma, who has an all-knowing smile on her lips. Dang, she’s got one over on me.

“Your mother,” I say. “Please, tell me more.”

“She died nine years ago. My mother, her name’s Estelle Crane, owned The Observer. Actually, she and her sister, my Aunt Alice, inherited it from their father when they were in their twenties. Aunt Alice took care of the business side. Mom was all about the news. She wanted people to know what was going on in their communities. She used to say the goal of a newspaper is to inform people, so they can make good decisions about their towns.”

I start smiling.

“That was my philosophy when I was in the business.”

Now, Emerson is smiling.

“I started reporting for her when I was a kid in middle school,” he says. “She drilled that into my head.”

“Tell me more.”

“One night after she put the paper to bed, she was walking home. We didn’t live that far from The Observer’s office. It was mid-winter. She was supposed to have slipped on some ice and hit her head on the pavement so hard she died.” His voice cracks. “I was the one who found her. I went to look for her after she didn’t come home.”

Ah, I hear that telling word “supposed.”

“I take it you don’t believe it was an accident.”

His smile is gone. His head bobs in long arcs.

“I did at the time,” he says quietly. “But not anymore.”

I glance behind Emerson. This conversation deserves privacy. Too many people are within earshot, and now, those Country Bumpkins are blasting Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places,” and fans are hollering their heads off, so it’d be hard to follow what Emerson has to say.

“Why do you think that?”

“I believe it had to do with a story she was chasing.”

I glance at Ma. Her brows flick upward once. I can read what’s on her mind.

“Emerson, I am interested in hearing the details, but this obviously isn’t the place for it. I can barely hear myself talk. How about we meet at your office instead? Name a day that fits your deadlines.”

“How about tomorrow?”

This guy wants to jump on this opportunity. I like that.

“That works. How about eleven?”

We exchange phone numbers, and then Emerson Crane is gone. He removes the reporter’s notebook from his back pocket and takes the pen from behind his ear. He’s back at work.

Ma and I dig into our food.

“I figured the newspaper part would get you,” she says after she swallows.

“As usual, you figured correctly.”

You can order Killing the Story, in Kindle and paperback, on Amazon. Here’s the link: Killing the Story on Amazon

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Vibrant coleus plants I found on my walk around our village.

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Killing the Story

They All Add Up

Adding up? I’d say that’s true for words and berries.

First, the words, which in my case totals 78,000 for my new novel, Killing the Story, which will be published Aug. 26, a month from when I am writing this blog. The book is No. 4 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series.

In Killing the Story, I started with the first word, in this case, “we,” and then moved onto the rest of the sentence “buried the old chief today.” I kept it going, one word at a time, until the end.

Of course, nobody writes a perfect book in one fell swoop. I certainly haven’t. So, I went back, saw what I was missing, just like today when I was picking berries.

But before I blog about berries, here’s a trailer I created about Killing the Story. Check it out.

 

Now, about those berries. Today, Hank and I made two harvests: blueberries at a pick-your-own farm near our village and raspberries at our neighbors’ across the street. That’s him in the photo above. (Yes, masks on even there.)

At the farm, we’d choose a row, look for the bushes that had ripened berries and get to work. Sometimes I picked just one blueberry, sometimes a few at a time. And, funny, just like writing, I wasn’t thinking of doing anything else. At the end, we had enough for a pie I baked later, some toIMG_0499 freeze, and some to keep for fresh eating.

Then, we headed across the street. Our neighbors, who already had their fill of their raspberry crop, invited us to take whatever was left. It was obvious the bulk of the crop was gone, but there was certainly enough for Hank and I to collect a generous amount of berries in our colanders.

Here’s what I noticed this time. I would pick between the overgrown rows, thinking I got all of the ripened berries along the way, but when I turned around, I saw more I had missed on the very same row.

Another perspective for certain, sort of like the editing process.

As I wrote before, my editor, Miriam helped me see the things I missed while writing Killing the Story. Yes, there were typos to fix, but I’m thinking about her questions about the plot and characters.

The same thing happened when my publisher sent me a pdf of the book he had laid out. A different format for sure, and, yes, when I looked, I saw small things for him to change.

So, the fruits of our labor, at least at the pick-your-own-farm, were baked into a pie. I also froze a bunch IMG_0506 and kept some for fresh eating.

And in a month, fans of the Isabel Long Mystery Series will get to see the end result when Killing the Story is published on Amazon. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

Here’s the link to pre-order: Killing the Story on Amazon

 

 

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Darkstroke Books, Isabel Long Mystery Series, Killing the Story

Ta-Da I’ve Reached the End

Yes, I am writing about Killing the Story, the fourth in the Isabel Long Mystery Series. I typed the last words on the last page this morning. Congratulations to me.

One would think I would be giddy about finishing. But I know full well I have editing ahead. I’ve printed all 302 pages and now I will get out my red markers, looking for weak lines, over-used words, and other pitfalls. I will read the manuscript aloud. (For one novel, I read it backwards, which made me focus on the writing and not the plot. I’ll see if I will do the same for Killing the Story.) Two author friends have volunteered to give it a read.

Of course, I will need to work with my publisher’s editor.

But I will admit I love the editing part of the creative process as well. It’s like taking up a daydream and making it better.

This book took longer than the other three. Normally, I can write a novel in six months. This one took almost a year. Chalk it up to having a full-time job as a newspaper’s editor-in-chief, which certainly means more than forty-hour workweeks. I got up insanely early to write before I left for the newsroom. Then, there were the weekends.

But enough about me.

What’s Killing the Story about? This case takes Isabel to Dillard, another small town that’s down on its luck since the railroad doesn’t stop there anymore. Instead of passengers, the trains haul freight to faraway places. It has a sad little downtown, with a corner bar, a greasy spoon of a diner, and low-end commerce in its storefronts. But it also has a weekly newspaper that covers that part of the world: The Observer.

As a former journalist, Isabel gets hooked on this case because of that newspaper. Estelle Crane, the former editor and co-owner, supposedly died when she slipped on ice and hit her head hard. But a note her son, Emerson Crane finds raises questions about Estelle’s death — and even her husband’s death two years earlier.

In the midst of her investigation, Isabel digs into small town secrets, including one involving a crooked cop who quickly becomes a suspect.

Of course, Isabel has her mother’s sage advice. And her relationship with Jack, owner of the Rooster Bar, makes a turn. Characters from the other books like the Old Farts, Annette Waters aka Tough Cookie, and the Beaumont brothers come along in this one. Of course, I’ve created new characters for this book.

I will certainly let you know when Killing the Story is ready to buy. Now, that will be exciting.

 

 

 

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