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.

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Uncategorized

My Hilltown Books

So far I have written three novels I will call my Hilltown Books. Of course, that’s not counting my Isabel Long Mystery Series, which has the same setting. But my focus in this post is on these books: The Sacred Dog, Northern Comfort, and The Sweet Spot.

My interest in writing books set in the fictional hilltowns of Western Massachusetts was sparked when I read the works of the late Larry Brown. His books, set in the rural South, feature hard scrabble characters. I felt the same when I immersed myself in Russell Banks’ books, especially The Sweet Hereafter. I also learned a great deal living in the hilltown of Worthington, and then reporting on it and the towns around it, say a thousand people or so, for a local paper. Then, I became a newspaper editor. I was ready to try my hand at fiction.

The three Hilltown Books thus far focus on the darker parts of rural towns. I believe I’ve created authentic characters and story lines. They are all set in the late ’70s to early ’80s — pre-internet, pre-cellphone, when many of the people were trying to hold onto their town’s oldest ways. I focus, with one exception, on the natives.

Actually, The Sacred Dog was the first book I wrote although it wasn’t published until this past December. It concerns a big feud between two men in a small town. One is Frank Hooker, the owner of The Sacred Dog, a bar where the locals drink and gab. The only one not welcome is Al Kitchen, but that’s because Frank unfairly blames him for the death of his brother. Have I encountered feuds in the hilltowns? Of course. But none as dark as the one in The Sacred Dog.

I wrote The Sacred Dog in 2000. My then-agent tried his darnedest to sell it but couldn’t. So it sat, although once in a while I would dive back in to make changes. So, I am grateful for darkstroke books, who publishes my Isabel Long Mystery Series, for taking it on. Thank you Laurence and Steph Patterson.

My next hilltown book is Northern Comfort, which I finished two years later. Thanks to darkstroke books, it will be released July 19 on Kindle. (Paperback readers will have to be a little patient.) This book, set in winter, begins with the tragic death of a child. Willi Miller and her boy, who was brain-damaged at birth, are a charity case after her husband, Junior Miller abandons them. One snowy day, Cody’s sled slides into the path of Miles Potter’s truck. Until that tragedy, they are separated by their families’ places in town. Yes, it’s a story about haves and have nots.

The third hilltown novel is The Sweet Spot. I wrote it in 2004 when I was recovering from an accident — I was hit by a car when I was walking in the middle of a sidewalk. With a broken collarbone, I typed The Sweet Spot with one hand. I finished it in six weeks. My then-agent suggested I start it in the middle, so it underwent a revision. He pitched it to editors in two publishing houses — one died in surgery after rejecting it. Ten years later, I published it myself.

Here’s the story line for The Sweet Spot: Most in Conwell love Edie St. Claire, the widow of a soldier killed in Vietnam, until her affair with his married brother ends tragically. She tries to survive this small town’s biggest scandal through the help of her rough-sawn family and a badly scarred man who’s arrived for his fresh start.

Now, I take what I know about the hilltowns and use it mostly in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. For number seven, Missing the Deadline, I am oh-so-close to getting it ready to send off to darkstroke. After that, I plan to write a sequel to The Sacred Dog. No spoilers here for those who haven’t read it, but the book will be called The Unforgiving Town. And, I already have in mind the victim for the next Isabel Long book. That’s going to be a fun one to write.

The hilltowns continue to be an inspiration for me. And, thank you, readers, for joining me.

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The Sweet Spot, Western Massachusetts

Read The Sweet Spot for free

Before Isabel Long, there was Edie St. Claire, the lead character in my novel, The Sweet Spot. Edie doesn’t solve mysteries like Isabel. She’s not part of a series. But she gives readers a different take on the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts that I love to write about.

And for three days — April 24-26 — the Kindle version was free on Amazon.

Before I tell you more about The Sweet Spot, I’d like to thank those who got their copy during the free weekend promo. The book did very well: #1 in Women’s Literary Fiction, #2 in Contemporary Literary Fiction and #8 in Contemporary Women’s Fiction. Now if people had paid outright for the book and those were the rankings, I would be over the moon. But I do get paid for each page if people who have signed up for Kindle Unlimited start reading the book. We’ll see if it pays off as it did when Chasing the Case, the first in my mystery series.

But back to The Sweet Spot

Edie’s family has lived in the town of Conwell forever it seems. They’d what I call rough-sawn. Her father runs the town dump. Her aunt, who lives next door, has no brakes on her opinions or mouth. And Edie is usually in the middle of whatever fun there is in this town of about a thousand people — the Rooster Bar, the local softball team and her in-law’s general store. But still, she can’t let go of a deep sadness — the death of her husband in Vietnam. Gil was a sweetheart of a guy and together
they had a little girl he never met.

Edie tries to ease her pain via an affair with his married brother, but when that ends tragically, she attempts to survive the blame with the help of her family and a badly scarred stranger who arrived for his fresh start.

More about The Sweet Spot: The year is 1978. No cell phones or email or home computers. The Vietnam War ended officially three years earlier. The characters are locals, except for one important newcomer.

When I started writing this book years ago, I typed the first draft of The Sweet Spot with only one hand. It was summer 2004, and I was recuperating after getting hit by a car as I walked across the street. (The driver claimed he didn’t see me in the crosswalk.) The impact threw me into the air and broke my collarbone. It could have been much worse and I used that experience in the second book of the Isabel Long Mysteries Series when Isabel was banged up after a car crash.

I remember coming home and letting the words flow one after the other. I don’t know where they and this story came from, but there it was, 80,000 words later.

I also got quite good at typing with only my right hand.

Two agents tried to sell the book, and there it sat until I published it myself.

Those who have read the Isabel Long Mystery Series — thank you — will find a different tone in The Sweet Spot. Although Edie is a lively character, she’s not a smart-ass. She makes mistakes and pays dearly for them. But I sure love that woman’s determination.

Here’s the link to Amazon: The Sweet Spot

 

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Writing

When, Where, and How I Write

I’m an early morning riser, so that’s the best time for me to write, a cup of coffee by my side and zero interruptions. Yes, I quickly check email and social media, but then it’s down to business for a few hours.

scan TSS

My latest novel, The Sweet Spot.

I know people who write in coffee shops and libraries. Some go on retreats. My place is a room of my own in our home. I am fortunate to have a desk built by my husband, Hank, from black walnut boards somebody was going toss. He also built me desktop shelving units to store papers, cords and other tools. Then, there’s the view out my large window of the Taos mesa — if I squint I can pretend the sagebrush is the ocean — and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, its peaks still snow-covered in April. I keep my office area neat and uncluttered. I’d like to think my mind is the same way, ha.

When I first began writing fiction, I was an editor at a daily newspaper. I left for that job promptly at 6:10 a.m. So, I wrote at night after dinner, printed whatever I wrote, and marked up the copy at lunch. Ten years ago, after I moved to Taos and worked at a paper here, I got up very early to write before heading to the newsroom.

Of course, there were the weekends.

After leaving my post as a newspaper’s managing editor nearly a year ago, I maintain my early morning writing spree but also gleefully find time during the day when the spirit moves me. (I now have teaching, editing, and book review gigs.) I sit at my laptop whenever and let it fly.

When it comes to writing fiction, I don’t use outlines or notes. It just comes from my head and somewhere else, I often believe. I feel blessed. (Oh, yeah, there’s rewriting, lots of it.)

As I’ve gained confidence in my writing, I do less printing as I go along. I usually wait until my novel has some real heft before I print anything, maybe halfway through.

And, yes, I back it up, back it up, and back it up.

I don’t belong to writing groups. It’s not my thing. I don’t even show people what I write until I feel the novel is ready. However, I made an exception for a mystery I’ve just finished. I let my author friend Teresa read the chapters as I finished them. She gave a great deal of encouragement along the way. I finished that novel in less than five months. Hmm, I might be onto something new.

And here is the link to my latest novel, The Sweet Spot. No aliens, vampires or zombies. Just real people doing real things and getting into trouble for it. And thanks to those who are keeping my five-star streak alive. The Sweet Spot on Amazon

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: This walkway along Paseo del Pueblo Norte in Taos caught my eye the other day.

 

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characters, Western Massachusetts

The Stranger Next Door

Okay, so I’ve told you about two characters in The Sweet Spot: an old coot and one impertinent woman. Benny and Leona offer a bit of comic relief to this novel, which will be released in January. Now, let me tell you about the stranger who moves next door.

His name is Harlan Doyle. Edie, the book’s main character, notices him at the Memorial Day ceremony held at the town common. Besides being the only non-resident there, Harlan has deep scars on his face his sunglasses can’t hide. It’s obvious from the way he stands he was badly hurt one time.

So what’s Harlan doing in Conwell? He’s here for his fresh start. But he does have a connection to this hilltown. He is moving into his grandmother’s house, which is next door to Edie, her father and aunt. They live on Doyle Road, so you know the family goes way back. His grandmother died three years earlier and the house, which was left empty, needs a lot of work. Harlan is a woodworker, so he can handle it.

Harlan has had his rough times. He acted badly after a failed marriage, but as he says, he at least had the anonymity of the city. He didn’t drink, do drugs, or bother his ex-wife in a nosy little town. He had to recover from a serious accident. But the Harlan we meet has gotten over that. He’s a kind and rather shy man who is amused by his neighbors and what happens in town. He is envious of the close relationship Edie has with her crusty so-and-so of a father.

Of course, his neighbors and townspeople are curious about him as well.

He has a key role in this novel’s story.

Writing about Harlan was also a chance for me to demonstrate my knowledge of woodworking and building that I acquired via osmosis. My husband, Hank, is a master woodworker. When I showed him the book, he said I got those parts just right.

Here’s an excerpt. Edie welcomes Harlan to the neighborhood. He’s living in a tent outside because his grandmother’s house is uninhabitable.

“Hey, there,” she called to Harlan, and when she was closer, “My name’s Edie St. Claire. I’m your next-door neighbor.”

Harlan pulled himself upright. His bad leg felt dead and useless, so he punched it a bit to get it moving, feeling embarrassed. Edie kept smiling as if she didn’t notice. He was on his feet and stretching himself upright. He nodded.

“I’m Harlan. Harlan Doyle.”

She stood at the bottom of the steps. She held something wrapped in aluminum foil.

“I know who you are. Pop told me about you. So did my Aunt Leona. I hear your truck go by. I brought you something.” Her hand swung forward. “This is for you. Banana bread. I made it myself this morning. It has real walnuts.”

Feeling too tall and awkward standing on the porch above this woman, he limped down the steps. He took the bread. It was still warm.

“That was awfully nice of you,” he told her.

Edie glanced around. Harlan saw what she saw.

“You got a lot to do here.”

“I work with wood.”

“Work with wood. What’s that mean?”

“I build furniture. One-of-a-kind pieces.”

“Fancy stuff?”

“Sometimes.” He grinned. “My tools are supposed to get here soon.”

Her head tipped to one side.

“You gonna sell the house when you’re done?”

“No. I’m planning to live here for good.”

“For good? Really? People usually fix up these old places to make money.”

She came nearer. Her blue eyes opened wider. He felt himself smile.

“Not me. This house belonged to my family.”

She laughed as she gestured toward the tent.

“You’d better hurry up then. Winter always comes faster around here than we think, and your tent’s not gonna keep you very warm.”

He nodded. Edie only came up to his shoulders. She didn’t seem to mind being this close to a man she just met.

“I was going to go into town to find a roofer. I don’t have a phone yet. I thought I’d use the payphone near the store.” He slapped at his right thigh. “Bum leg. It’d be tough for me going up and down a ladder carrying bundles of shingles.”

She studied his leg and then his face.

“Were you in the war?” she asked quietly. “Is that how it happened?”

“I was in an accident.”

He glanced away for a moment. Her eyes were still on him.

“You got hurt real bad. Sorry it happened.” She paused. “I know someone who can help you. His name’s Walker St. Claire. He’s my brother-in-law. He does this kinda work, and anyone who hires him gets his money’s worth. He could help you find a plumber and electrician, too, if you need ’em. You got a paper and pencil? I can give you his number.”

“Come inside.”

Harlan stumbled forward, dragging his leg, impatient at his clumsiness, but he made it to the door first, so he could open it for her. The kitchen was a large, square room with wooden cabinets and six-over-six paned windows that would let in natural light once their glass was washed. This was the first room he cleaned. The appliances were long gone, except for an iron cook stove in one corner. The plumbing was missing beneath the sink, but its porcelain was in decent shape. He already fixed the leg on the kitchen table. That and a chair he found in the attic were the only pieces of furniture in the room. He set the bread on the table.

“I liked your grandmother an awful lot,” Edie told him. “I work at my in-laws’ store. I used to bring her groceries on Saturdays. It was the day she baked, and she always gave me something to take home.”

“I’m afraid I didn’t know her very well. I only came here a few times when I was a boy.”

“That’s a shame. Elmira was a wonderful woman, and she was awfully kind to us. I remember she made us all dinner when my mother died. I still have the pink blanket she crocheted for Amber after she was born. Amber’s my little girl.”

She laughed.

“What’s so funny?” he asked.

“Whenever your grandmother hired Pop to help around the house, she made sure he completely finished the job before she paid him. She’d give it a close inspection. She knew my father all right. She’d say, ‘Alban, don’t ever try to fool an old lady, at least not this old lady’.” Edie raised a finger. “I suggest you do the same, Harlan Doyle. I love my Pop, but he’s bit of a rascal, if you get what I mean.”

He handed her a paper and a stubby pencil from the counter. He watched her write.

“I’ll keep it in mind.”

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: One of the bonfires lit at a holiday event in Taos Saturday: Bonfires on Bent Street.

 

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