Isabel Long Mystery Series

Meet the Big Shot Poet

As readers of my Isabel Long Mysteries know, I like to carry many characters throughout the series. Often their role changes. That’s certainly the case for Cyrus Nilsson aka the Big Shot Poet, Isabel’s secret nickname for him. He’s a key figure in my next mystery, Missing the Deadline.

Cyrus is indeed a noted poet, hence the snarky nickname the irreverent Isabel Long secretly calls him. He made it big after growing up poor with the release of his first book of poetry, Yonder. He’s done well for himself, building a swanky home in the hilltown of Penfield and driving a Mercedes. He has a slew of adoring fans, mostly women. He’s quite the charmer. And, no, I don’t know anybody like him. Cyrus is a figment of my imagination.

And he was a suspect in Checking the Traps, the series’ third book. That case involved the death of Cary Moore, a highway worker who wrote poetry good enough for Cyrus to steal. Well, he actually paid Cary for the poems, but he put his own name on them in a book that garnered big awards. Isabel, who discovered that, wonders how that bit of news would go over with his publisher and fans. 

(One of my favorite scenes in Checking the Traps is a bookstore reading Isabel and her mother attend. I tried to capture poetry readings I’ve attended, including those loud sighs from adoring fans.)

So Cyrus decides to make amends by getting some of Cary’s poems published in a book called Country Boy. If that sells well, there are many other poems in notebooks Isabel found during her investigation. 

By the way, that book allowed me to write poetry, something I haven’t done in a very long time.

And in Missing the Deadline, Cyrus also tries to make amends with his first agent, the one who discovered him. After making a name for himself, Cyrus dumped Gerald Danielson. But he wants to find justice for his first agent after he was found shot and left to die. The cops ruled it a failed attempted suicide, but Cyrus approaches Isabel because he has his doubts.

In the book’s opening scene, Cyrus is in full-charm mode at a reading he is doing for Country Boy at the Penfield Town Hall. He makes his pitch to Isabel afterwards.

Cyrus has a big role in this book, and I so enjoyed giving him that. Isabel doesn’t mind pushing his buttons, and he takes this in his Big Shot Poet way. I also give him an unlikely romance in this book. My lips are sealed on that one, but I bet readers will get a kick out of that development.

Here’s an excerpt from the second chapter. Cyrus calls Isabel over for a private talk after the reading has been completed.

“That was a wonderful event,” I tell him. “You were a big hit with the audience telling those stories about Cary. I’m glad you asked the Plowboys to play after all. Nice touch.”

“Thanks, but I didn’t call you over, so you can kiss my butt,” Cyrus says, drawing a laugh from me. “I have something important to ask you.”

“Important? Go ahead.”

“I believe I might have a case that will interest you.”

Now, this is unexpected, but then again I’ve found a few of my cases in unlikely places like a pig roast and a country fair. A poetry reading? Okay, Cyrus, I’m listening.

“Well, you do have my interest. I want to hear more.”

Cyrus glances around. The Town Hall’s custodian and a couple of helpers are folding chairs and loading them onto a cart. It appears we will be getting kicked out soon.

“This isn’t the place or time to go into detail. But it concerns my first literary agent, Gerald Danielson. He’s the one who gave me my big break,” he says. “He used to live in New York but moved to Meadows Falls.”

Meadow Falls is directly east of Caulfield. It’s actually a village made up of parts of the towns of Meadows and Granite on either side of the Ridge River. Meadows Falls is a bit of an unknown for me since it wasn’t part of The Daily Star’s coverage area. Sam and I visited it a few times, but it’s been years. I recall the village is a low-key but charming tourist spot. Think restaurants and little shops on the artsy side. The Ridge River running through it has interesting rock formations and two bridges, one for traffic and the other for fans of flowers called the Bridge of Blossoms, a big attraction when it’s open for the season. 

Frankly, I don’t know a soul who lives there. Would that scare me off from taking a case? No, of course, not.

But Cyrus wouldn’t be interested in any of that.

“Let me guess,” I say instead. “His death was ruled an accident, but you have your doubts.”

Cyrus shakes his head. 

“It’s my understanding that is a particular area of expertise for you.”

“That and a couple of others.”

“Good because Gerald isn’t dead although he came close. He was shot in the head and left to die in his backyard. But he was too tough to do that. Gerald still lives, but the man is nothing like what he used to be. I saw that for myself when I visited him and his sister.”

“Go on. And the cops didn’t catch whoever did it.”

“The official ruling was that it was an attempted suicide. Perhaps, money was an issue for his agency. I’m sure there’s more to it than that. Afterward, when he had recovered, Gerald couldn’t tell the police what happened. He has cognitive issues because of his brain injuries. And apparently, there were no witnesses.” Cyrus makes one of his charming smiles. “I’ve been following you in the news. Well done, Isabel, on that last case. You’re making a name for yourself. That case was nearly fifty years old. This one happened only three years ago.”

Oh, brother, the tables are turned and the Big Shot Poet is kissing my you-know-what. But I aim to keep an open mind. Investigate the shooting of a literary agent? My cases thus far have included a junkyard owner and newspaper editor, so why not a literary agent? I certainly would like to do a little online research on this Gerald Danielson before we meet again. Maybe the Old Farts have some info since their reach tends to extend far.

 “Cyrus, you have my attention, but I will need to hear a whole lot more before I say yes. When can we do that?”

“How about tomorrow at my house, say one?” he says. 

“You’re really serious about this.”

“I am. And please bring your mother. I want to hear what she has to say.”

“Will do.”

MORE ABOUT MISSING THE DEADLINE: This book will be released Dec. 21 on Kindle. If you pre-order now, it is most helpful, so I thank you if you do. Plus your book will magically pop into your device that day. Paperback writers will have to wait a few months. Here is the link: Missing the Deadline.

SUBSTACK: I’ve just discovered Substack, through an author friend’s recommendation. Basically, it’s “an online platform that provides publishing, payment, analytics, and design infrastructure to support subscription newsletters.” Most writers give free and paid options for subscriptions. (Yes, people make money.) Mine is free. My newsletter is called Joan Livingston Writes. (Some people use catchier names.) My subtitle is “A bookish mix of mystery and discovery in rural New England.” I’ll be posting observations, experiences and, of course, stuff about writing.

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter and if you like what you see, start your own newsletter. And I would certainly subscribe to yours. If you are already on it, please let me know.


ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s a moody photo, untouched, of the Deerfield River in our village of Shelburne Falls as it passes behind our son Zack’s Floodwater Brewing.

Isabel Long Mystery Series

My Next Victim

This time, it’s a literary agent in Missing the Deadline, my latest Isabel Long Mystery. Well, it makes sense to choose one given the past year I spent querying agents about a book I pitched.

Missing the Deadline is the seventh book in my series. In my other books, the victims included: a woman who worked in a general store; a junkyard owner; a highway worker who wrote poetry on the side; owner of a small newspaper; a beloved grandson. In Following the Lead, no. 6, that case involved the disappearance of a child many years earlier. 

So let me tell you about Gerald Danielson. He is a hotshot literary agent from New York City who moved to a small hilltown village called Meadows Falls — well, he used to be until he got shot in the head and nearly died. His sister found him on the bench behind their home. 

Due to the way the bullet traveled through his brain and its velocity, Gerald survived but he’s not the same. Police ruled it an attempted suicide, especially since Gerald couldn’t remember what happened when the bullet hit him. His sister, who has taken over the literary agency, doesn’t like for him to try recalling what happened before because it gets him so upset.

Cyrus Nilsson, the noted poet whose first agent was Gerald, has his doubts. So, he hires Isabel to investigate. (You might remember Cyrus was a suspect in the third book.)

And as Isabel — with the help of her 93-year-old mother, Maria, her ‘Watson’ — pursues this case, she finds likely suspects: a vindictive ex-wife, a jilted local writer, and even an apparently devoted sister who lives with him. There are more.

(Full disclosure: I have had two agents in the past, but we parted ways amicably when they couldn’t sell my books.)

This is also an opportunity for Isabel to dig into the publishing industry to better understand people’s motives. Frustrated writers will give this short scene a nod.

I hear the bathroom door open and Ma’s footsteps in the hallway. She gives me a nod as she heads to the counter. She pushes down the toaster’s lever. 

“Are you doing that Google thing?” she asks over her shoulder.

“Uh-huh, I’m reading the agency’s website.” I give a small snort. “I’m on the submissions page. It says authors have to email a query letter, synopsis, and the first ten pages. The response time is up to four months. It says if you don’t hear from them by then, they’re not interested.”

My mother goes to the fridge for milk and jam.

“That’s a long time to wait and get nothing.”

I nod.

“I guess that’s how it works in that business. Sounds like you’d have a better chance of winning the lottery.”

Yes, indeed.

For this case, Isabel has a few chance encounters with Gerald, who she likes. He has a constant aide, Miguel. Plus there’s his cat. One of Gerald’s favorite occupations is sitting on the bench, yes, the same one, that overlooks a deep river valley. He still helps his sister, Wendy, with queries, giving advice on whether a book is worth representing. Gerald will sometimes mix up words.

I enjoyed creating the scenes involving Isabel and Gerald, especially the crucial one toward the end — my lips are sealed on that one.

To make this character’s situation authentic, I relied on Bob Manners, a longtime paramedic who lives in my village of Shelburne Falls. We had two interesting conversations about trauma. Also, I have met two people who had similar shooting experiences.

Here’s another scene from Missing the Deadline. Isabel and her mother are having lunch with author Lyle Baxter, a person of interest, at the Loose Goose in Meadows Falls, when Gerald and his aide unexpectedly come to eat. Lyle introduces Isabel.

I automatically stretch my hand toward Gerald for a shake. I did it all the time when I was a journalist meeting somebody for the first time although hardly as a private investigator dealing mostly with country folk who might think it odd, especially coming from a woman, but it is definitely a natural reflex. Gerald’s hand swings forward to meet mine. 

“Nice to meet you, Gerald,” I tell him. “I’ve met your sister, Wendy. I was at your house the other day.”

Gerald smiles as his hand folds firmly around mine. The skin is warm and soft. The handshake seems like an automatic response for him as well. I imagine him doing it with clients and publishers when he was active in his agency. But it doesn’t appear this greeting is going to end any time soon. I wiggle my hand a little as a sign for him to let go, but Gerald continues his hold. He keeps that smile going. I have his full attention.

“You know me?” he asks.

“No, we just met,” I tell him, smiling back. “How are you today?”

“Ask Miguel. He knows.”

I am unsure what to say next, but Miguel makes a soft chuckle.

“You’re just doing fine today, Gerald,” he says. “Right?”

I note the scar near the temple area on the right side of his head, and I suppose if he turned, I would see the one for his exit wound. Gerald makes a slight grunt and continues to hold my hand. It is a firm but friendly grip, as if we could be walking together hand in hand.

“Nice baby,” he says. “I’m having pie.”

Miguel bends his head forward.

“Gerald, you can let go of the lady’s hand now.” Miguel lips are pressed as he looks at me, and then he says, “Sorry, he can’t help it. He mixes up words.” I give him an understanding nod, before he’s back with Gerald. “Yes, she’s a nice lady. Come on, Gerald. She needs to go.” His voice is kind but firm. “Look. Gloria’s bringing your pie. That’s why we came. Remember?”

Gerald’s fingers lose their grip oh so very slowly. Lyle promises a visit very soon, but Gerald keeps his eyes on me as the waitress sets the plate with a generous piece of apple pie and a scoop of vanilla ice cream in front of him. 

“You know me?” he asks again.

“I do now, Gerald. My name is Isabel Long. Maybe I can visit you some day.”

“Izzie,” Gerald says, and I decide that he is the only person I will let call me that.

“Yes, Izzie,” I say. 

In case you’re wondering about the book I pitched … The Swanson Shuffle was inspired by my experience living and working in a psychiatric halfway house during the time Massachusetts was closing down its state mental hospitals. And, no, I didn’t find an agent or publishing house interested in representing it. Too bad. I feel it’s the best book I’ve written.

Finally, Missing the Deadline will be released Dec. 21 in Kindle on Amazon. (Paperback readers will have to wait a few months.) Until then it’s in the preorder phase. The price: $3.99. I’m touched by those who have preordered since it helps with ratings. So, thank you if you do.

Isabel Long Mystery Series, Uncategorized

Next Isabel Long Mystery: Missing the Deadline

Yes, Isabel Long is once again hard at work trying to solve a case in the sticks of Western Massachusetts. Missing the Deadline, no. 7 in my series, is now ready to pre-order. The Kindle version will be released Dec. 21 — thanks to my publisher darkstroke books. (Paperback readers will have to wait a few months.) Here’s the link: Missing the Deadline.

As it has happened before, Isabel finds her next case in an unlikely place — at a poetry reading. Cyrus Nilsson, aka the Big Shot Poet, is trying to make amends to the late Cary Moore, who you might remember was a highway worker who wrote poetry good enough for him to steal. He was even a suspect in that case, Isabel’s third. But the reading is to promote Cary’s book, Country Boy, which Cyrus worked hard to get published.

Cyrus asks Isabel about taking on a case after the event, which was SRO at Penfield Town Hall. So, what’s this one about? Cyrus’s first literary agent, Gerald Danielson, was found shot in the head and near death outside his home three years ago.

Gerald survived but is not the same hotshot literary agent who moved from New York City to the village of Meadows Falls. Police ruled a failed attempt at suicide. But Cyrus has serious doubts. 

And as Isabel pursues this case, she quickly accumulates a list of possible suspects, such as a vindictive ex-wife, a jilted local writer, and even an apparently devoted sister who lives with him. 

Isabel also delves into the often frustrating world of publishing, which includes a trip to a literary conference in Vermont. She also explores a part of the hilltowns that is unfamiliar to her. 

(By the way, Maria, Isabel’s mother and “Watson,” is glad to have a case once again. She says it’s boring without one.)

Over the next several weeks, I will share more about the book. I hope you are inspired to pre-order the book. Here’s the link to Missing the Deadline again. It sure helps with ratings, something Gerald Danielson would certainly understand.

Following the Lead, Isabel Long Mystery Series

Those Old Farts Again

Many readers tell me that the Old Farts are among their favorite characters in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. Frankly, I love all of my characters even the ones with no redeeming qualities. Certainly that includes Jim Hawthorne aka Thorny the ex-police chief from Killing the Story who continues to haunt Isabel in book no. 6 Following the Lead. But the Old Farts have so much going for them.

So who are the Old Farts? They are a group of retired men who meet in the backroom of the Conwell General Store to gossip over cups of crappy coffee. I suppose lots of stores and restaurants have groups of men and women who do the same. Perhaps the coffee is even good.

Isabel has given them all secret nicknames — they don’t know she calls them the Old Farts — keyed to their salient characteristic. There’s the Fattest Old Fart (the group’s loud mouth ring leader), Silent Old Fart, Old Fart with Glasses, Bald Old Fart, Skinniest Old Fart and the Serious Old Fart. Sometimes there’s a Visiting Old Fart. And, no, readers who know me, they are not based on anyone real.

Isabel will visit the Old Farts when she has a case to solve because these guys have the intel on what’s happened in the hilltowns of Western Mass. Their reach is quite extensive although Isabel knows to back up their sometimes so-called facts with her own research. The Old Farts welcome her visits — and there is a humorous scene in Following the Lead when they seek her out because she has been too busy to visit them. And for this case one of them is actually involved. 

Following the Lead, no. 6 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, is only a couple weeks away from its Nov. 3 release. When I began writing this one I realized I wanted to try a different kind of mystery. This one required Isabel to go way back, say nearly fifty years ago, to find out what happened when a baby was snatched from a family’s front yard. Sounds a bit impossible. But our gutsy P.I. was up for the challenge.

Lin Pierce, Isabel’s boss briefly, was an 11-year-old boy, who was cleverly lured away. The loss hit his parents and him hard. But Lin believes Isabel has the wherewithal and smarts to find out what happened to Elizabeth and bring some closure to his family — or better yet, actually locate her.

Of course, Isabel starts with the family. His mother, Jessica was giving a piano lesson when the baby was stolen. His father, Ben, was at work. Ah-ha, Ben turns out to be one of the Old Farts, actually the Bald Old Fart.

Here’s a scene from Following the Lead involving the Old Farts:

Jack’s still sleeping when I duck out for my visit with the Old Farts in the backroom of the general store. This is definitely going to be tricky considering the seriousness of my case and who is involved. From the vehicles parked near the store, I assume I will have one hundred percent attendance, and as I make my way through the stockroom, I hear a chorus of laughter. Naturally, the Fattest Old Fart, the group’s lookout, announces my arrival.

“Where in the heck have you been, Isabel? We’ve been waiting to hear all about your last case.” He pats the spot beside him on the school bus seat. “Sit yourself right down, kiddo. We had to read about it in the Daily Fart.”

Laughing, I do as I’m told. I forgot that’s what this group of old men called my old newspaper just to tease me when I still worked for it. Little do they know that it inspired their secret nicknames.

The Serious Old Fart is already up getting my coffee. As expected, he jokes, “How about a cappuccino, Isabel,” which is a far cry from the crappy coffee he will serve me. But I graciously accept the cup before I proceed with a detailed narrative of my last case. Of course, they’ve read about it in the Daily Star. I imagine one of them brought in a copy and read the article aloud to the others. What they want to hear is what wasn’t in the paper, and I gladly oblige their comments and questions, except for the really personal details. While we talk, I take in the Bald Old Fart, trying my darndest not to be obvious he’s the primary reason I am here. And then I get hit with the question I’ve been expecting. It comes from the Silent Old Fart, who isn’t living up to his name this morning. 

“So, Isabel, when are you starting your next case?” he asks.

The Bald Old Fart and I exchange glances.

“I have one already,” I say quietly.

“Speak up, Isabel,” the Fattest Old Fart says. “We can’t hear you.”

I’m about to do just that when the Bald Old Fart clears his throat.

“It’s about my family,” he says. “My daughter …”

For once there are no wisecracks as the Bald Old Fart’s voice trails off. Just serious faces. The Old Farts already have the intel on his sad family history. Perhaps they’ve even discussed it as a group. I decide to let him off the hook.

“His son, Lin, has hired me. He wants closure after all these years.”

The Bald Old Fart nods and wipes away a tear.

“Closure. That’s a good way to put it,” he says. “I believe we should meet in private, Isabel. Yes? Fine.” He puts his attention on his buddies. “If you don’t mind, fellas, I’d like to find something else to talk about. If I, er, we have news to report on this case, I will let you know.”

This is an interesting turn of events. I’ve been here before when the Old Farts were gabbing about somebody’s missteps or misfortune, and even being a little free with the facts. Certainly, they have been a source of info for my cases, but like the good reporter I once was, I backed up whatever they told me with more research. As I mentioned earlier, two other Old Farts had a connection to my cases but none were as close as this one.

“All right, fellas, let’s move on,” the Fattest Old Fart says. “Before you got here, Isabel, we were talking about the town’s latest romance.”

“Oh, you mean Jack’s cousin, Fred?”

“Ha. Heard he was moving in with Amy Prentice.”

“How’d you hear … oh, was he just in here?”

“No, but thanks for confirming it.”

I check the wall clock. I bet Jack should be up by now.

“And with that I will be leaving you, fellas,” I say, drawing the typical chorus of protests, all part of the fun since they will be skedaddling it out of here soon to whatever they do back home.

I have my hand on my car’s door when I hear my name being called. You guessed it, the Bald Old Fart has followed me outside. 

“Thanks for your discretion back there,” he says. 

I throw my bag into the car and face him.

“Be honest. How do you feel about your son hiring me for this case?”

He shakes his head.

“I have mixed feelings. I’m the father, so I have a different take on what happened almost fifty years ago. He was just a boy.” He raises his hand. “But I agreed to speak with you. When would you like to do that? How about tomorrow morning, say ten?”

I check the store’s windows as we agree on a time. The rest of the Old Farts are staying put out of consideration for their friend, nice guys. I decide that I will go solo on this visit. I’m sensing there might be some sensitive adult issues involved that Lin isn’t aware happened.

“See you soon.”

LINKS: Following the Lead is available for pre-order here

Order now and it will magically appear on your Kindle device. And thank you if you do. Paperbacks will be out in a couple of months.

PHOTO ABOVE: The view to the north on a recent ride, fitting since Following the Lead takes place in the fall.