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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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Life lessons, New Mexico, Western Massachusetts

In Two Years’ Time

Two years ago, Hank and I were driving somewhere in the Midwest as we made our way from Taos, New Mexico to Western Massachusetts. Hank was at the wheel. Our cat sat on my lap for almost the entire 2,400 miles.

I know for sure because Facebook reminded me. I wrote “Adios, Taos.”

We lived in Northern New Mexico for 11 years. We built a home there. I ran the editorial department of the local newspaper. Hank got into the artistic side of woodworking. We enjoyed grand views of the mesa, mountains and big skies. Great food. It was an interesting place to live.

But we had our reasons for leaving.

And a lot has happened since then. A lot of good things.

Having easier access to more of our family is an important one. Four of our six kids and our two granddaughters live in Massachusetts. (You gotta love it when your two-year-old granddaughter calls you Grandma Applesauce.) Then there is my 95-year-old mother and other kin.

We found and bought the style of home we wanted — an arts and crafts bungalow. (My wish then: we find the right house for the right price in the right location.) Youngest daughter, Julia, a real estate agent, negotiated the deal.

The home, built in 1900, has great bones. We had to fix the things the previous owners either did or didn’t do to the home. Luckily, Hank is a skilled woodworker. Me? I was the unskilled helper. The only work we hired out was the roof, floor sanding in two rooms, plumbing and electrical. But as it goes in older homes, there’s still work ahead for Hank.

We live on the Buckland side of Shelburne Falls, a charming village in a rural area. Think small shops, restaurants, and our son’s microbrewery, Floodwater Brewing, which opened last November. And for the most part, friendly people. Folks come from all over to admire the Bridge of Flowers that spans the Deerfield River. We achieved our goal of being able to walk to places from our home — only four-tenths of a mile to Floodwater.

It’s been a productive year for me writing-wise. I’ve published the first three books in my Isabel Long Mystery Series through Crooked Cat Books. I am onto the fourth.

I have a freelance gig copyediting history books for the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University in Ohio. I’ve learned a lot about our nation’s history.

If that weren’t enough, I am now the editor-in-chief of The Greenfield Recorder. I didn’t think I would go back in the biz, but here I am again running the paper’s editorial department. I am glad to say I have a hardworking and friendly staff devoted to community news.

Oh, our cat, Two, who is around 15, is just fine.

Yes, we got a lot done in two years. What will the next two bring? Bring it on.

PHOTO ABOVE: A not very flattering selfie taken somewhere on our cross-country trek with our cat Two glued to my lap. She hated the carrier.

 

 

 

 

 

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Checking the Traps, Isabel Long Mystery Series

Spreading the Word

I’ve just completed a marathon session writing blog posts about Checking the Traps, the third book in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. The posts will appear on other people’s blogs — all part of a plan to spread the net wide for readers. In all I wrote 20 posts, each on a different topic. Yeah, that’s a lot.

The first batch was for a 10-day blog tour I’ve booked on Rachel’s Random Resources that begins March 22, the day Checking the Traps is officially released. Many of the blogs will have reviews. Others will feature excerpts, with an intro I wrote. The rest of the bloggers wanted original posts, including one Q&A.

The second batch I wrote for authors. Most are with my publisher, Crooked Cat Books. I have yet to meet any of them in person since the publishing house is an international one. But I am chuffed, as my UK friends say, at the support they’ve offered through social media and our occasional Skype meetups.

So, how did I come up with 20 topics? First, I made a list. Then I started writing. I aimed for 300-400 words with an excerpt from Checking the Traps to illustrate my point.

The topics range from “my next victim” to “when a bad boy becomes a good guy” to “what’s with the title Checking the Traps?” The victim in this book wrote poetry, so I had to write poetry. I tell readers about that. I write about the characters and their relationships. One blogger wanted something history-related, and amazingly, I was able to do that.

Admittedly, it was a bit tricky since Checking the Traps is book three in a series. I didn’t want to spoil anything plot-wise for those who haven’t caught up with the other two books. I also didn’t want to give away anything crucial about the current one. So, I had to be a bit coy about details. I chose excerpts toward the start of the book.

I got into a rhythm, and wrote two or three a day. It was actually fun, especially now that they are done.

The posts will begin in mid-March. When one appears on a blog, I will let you know. I will also post it on my website. Yes, its all about spreading the word.

ORDERING: Kindle fans can pre-order Checking the Traps on Amazon now for $2.99 and it will pop into your device on March 22. Paperback fans can get their copy now for $10.99. Here’s the link: mybook.to/checkingthetraps

Thank you for your support!

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Checking the Traps, Isabel Long Mystery Series

Checking the Traps: Full Speed Ahead

As mentioned in a post last week, things are moving faster toward the release of my next mystery, Checking the Traps. We now have a release date, a cover, and I am working with my editor to get the novel in the best shape possible. Read on for the details.

For those new to my blog or just need a gentle reminder, Checking the Traps is the third book in my Isabel Long Mystery Series set in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. Isabel is a longtime journalist turned P.I., who is handling cold cases in her neck of the woods. Her clients tend to be on the country gritty side. Her 93-year-old mystery-loving mother is her sidekick.

First: March 22 is the official launch date of Checking the Traps. That’s when the Kindle version will be released. (The paperback version will be earlier.) I will let you know when pre-orders begin.

Second: Above is the cover created by Laurence Patterson, co-publisher at Crooked Cat Books. The other two book covers feature the back view of a woman outside in black and white. This cover matches that theme well while capturing an important element of the book: a bridge.

Third: My editor, Miriam Drori, and I are going over the manuscript very carefully. It’s great having someone who has fresh eyes — and mind — give my book a close read. Certainly, I’ve read it a gazillion times. We are on round two.

However, for this book, I have a not-so-secret weapon: the “read aloud” mechanism of my newly purchased Word program. Alas, my old version stopped working, so I was forced to upgrade, and I’m glad I did. I click on “read aloud” and a man reads my book aloud. It’s slow and I can only take listening for so long. (I am amused at some of “his” pronunciations.) But in the process I have found missing words, typos, and overused words. Dang, I wish I had used this for my other books.

Finally: I want to say congrats to anyone who picked up the Kindle version of Chasing the Case, the first book in the Isabel Long Mystery Series, which was free this past weekend. By my standards, it did well, including reaching #7 in the popular Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Crime Fiction > Murder category in Amazon US.

Of course, this is for free books. But as I explained in my last post, I’m hunting for readers who will get hooked by this series. It’s all part of the publishing game.

 

 

 

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