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characters, Isabel Long Mystery Series

Meet a New Character in Working the Beat

A new mystery for Isabel Long often means meeting a person who wants her to solve one. And for me, that means creating a new character. That happened in the second and fourth books, and now on Working the Beat, no. 5 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series.

(In the first book, Chasing the Case, Isabel decided to pursue a cold case that was her first big story TDKV4932as a rookie reporter 28 years earlier. In the third, Checking the Traps, she gets to know one character from the second better.)

Let me tell you about Shirley Dawson, who hires Isabel for her for her fifth case. As I’ve explained before, writing for me is telepathic. Yes, that sounds nuts. But I sit at my laptop and the story just comes as I type. That includes my characters, such as Shirley, who just pop inside of my brain and became very real for me, and I hope for my readers.

Before I proceed with this topic, I will say Shirley is not based on anybody. Sometimes people who know me like to guess who a character really is. Nice try, but none of what I write is true.

The first thing is to show my readers what Shirley looks like. I do that right off the bat when she approaches Isabel and her mother, Maria, who are taking in the local action at the Titus Country Fair. Shirley taps Isabel on the shoulder. 

I turn around to face a woman, actually I’m looking down because she only comes up to my shoulders. I don’t believe she’s as old as my mother, but she’s up there, with white hair cut short and lines on her tanned skin that make me believe she works outside a lot and is a heavy smoker, which I verify when I get closer. Her clothes are a standard-issue baggy flannel shirt hanging over jeans that are faded at the knees from work.

What else can I tell you about Shirley? She hasn’t had an easy life. She had a no-good husband who beat her and their two kids. He died thankfully but not before making their lives miserable. One kid took off and the other sought a better life. So raising Lucas, who was abandoned by his drug-addicted mother, brought joy in her life.

I wanted to create a character who’s a bit on the scratchy side. She drives school bus. Inherited a lot of land. She’s hard of hearing likely from getting knocked around, which Isabel figures out right away. She’s also a hoarder which Isabel and her mother learn when they visit her.

Shirley says she’s heard how Isabel helped other people. Now she wants her to do the same.

And Isabel finds out later that she met Shirley at her former newspaper office when she came seeking answers about her grandson’s death. Isabel couldn’t help her as a journalist but maybe she can as a private investigator.

Once again, Isabel — and I — are suckers for a hard-luck story. Here, I will let Shirley tell you herself.

Shirley stays sitting when she sees us approach. I make our introductions, and then we take the seats opposite her at the picnic table. I make sure I’m in Shirley’s direct line of vision in case she reads lips.

“So, what did you want to talk about?” I ask.

Shirley works her mouth a bit.

“It’s about my grandson, Lucas. Lucas Page is his full name. He was killed here four years ago and whoever did it didn’t get caught.” 

“Here in Titus?”

She gives her head a shake. 

“I mean here at the fair. It was after the demolition derby, the first one they had. They found Lucas’s body the next morning behind where everybody watches, in the woods up there. They said he must’ve been drunk and fell down in the rocks. His head was hit real bad I was told.”

“What was he doing on the hill afterward? Was he alone?” 

“That’s what I want you to find out.”

 This story’s coming back to me now. I was the editor of the Daily Star then. We reported on an unattended death at the fair in a story that made the front page, and then like Shirley said, it was ruled an accident because of a brain injury, although she protested that in a story we ran, too.

“Now, I remember you, Shirley. You came to see me in the newsroom. You said you were frustrated the police didn’t seem to be looking that hard into your grandson’s case and you wanted us to do that.”

I think back and hope I treated this woman nicely. 

“Yeah, I did. You said newspapers don’t do that kind of work.”

 “No, not the one I worked for.”

 “But I heard about what you’ve been doin’ now as a private investigator. Your last case was a doozy. Read about it in the paper.” She crooks a thumb toward Annette and her son, still talking with his admirers. “Course, there was Chet Waters. Maybe you can do what the cops couldn’t or wouldn’t do.”

 “You mean find out what happened that night with your grandson.”

 “Yeah. I heard you get paid for doin’ this. I wanna hear how much. I ain’t got a lot. But this is important to me. I loved my grandson. I’m the one who brought him up after his mother gave him to me. He was hangin’ around with a rough crowd in those days. Tryin’ to fit in. Here. Let me show you his picture.”

 Shirley reaches for the purse on the seat beside her. The purse is vintage style, off white with a smart clasp on the top, no zippers, something my mother would use. I am guessing Shirley holds onto things. She removes a photo from her wallet and hands it to me.

 “I took it at Christmas, the last one we had,” she says.

 Lucas Page’s face smiles at me. He’s young, blue-eyed, and with the kind of features that would label him a good-looking guy. His most distinctive is the red hair that’s short on the sides and long enough on the top so it has a bit of curl. But back to that smile. He was happy to pose for his grandmother.

 “He was a handsome young man,” I tell Shirley.

 She swipes away a tear.

 “Yeah, he was.”

 Want to read more? Working the Beat will officially be out Jan. 27, 2022. Kindle users can pre-order now and it will magically appear in your device on that day. Paperback readers, stay tuned.

Thanks for your support. Heres the link: mybook.to/workingthebeat

ABOUT  THE PHOTO ABOVE: Taken at the Cummington Fair, the inspiration for the fair in Working the Beat.

 

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Working the Beat

What’s Behind the Title?

Working the Beat is number five in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. Like the other books in this series, that title popped into my head. It’s a bit of a tribute to Isabel’s former career as a journalist, first as a reporter and then as an editor. And I would be remiss in not stating my long career has been in that field.

As I can attest,  a reporter has a beat, whether it’s a topic such as higher education or crime, or one that’s geographic. A good reporter will work that beat to find and report stories — staying with them until the end.

When I was a reporter, I covered a rural area in Western Massachusetts for a daily newspaper. One might think there wouldn’t be any news in a town of say a thousand people, but as I found out, there was plenty to write about‚ even crime. I developed a list of reliable sources. I kept my ears and eyes open for possible tips, finding them sometimes in unexpected places. I was friendly when I needed to be. And a good listener. Yes, I put being nosy to a good cause.

Yes, these are transferable skills. And those are what Isabel Long uses as a private investigator.

In Working the Beat, Isabel is at a country fair with her mother when she is approached by a woman who says her grandson’s body was found there four years ago. Shirley Dawes raised Lucas after he was abandoned by his drug-addicted mother. She did better by him than she did her own children, when she was married to a no-good abuser.

As Isabel learns, the  young man’s body was found in a ravine after he apparently fell during a demotion derby. Nobody saw what happened. But Shirley doesn’t believe it was an accident.

Once again, Isabel is a sucker for a sad story.

She begins this case doing a thorough interview with Shirley. She speaks to people who knew Lucas. Then there is that file of clippings she snagged the day she lost her job at the newspaper.

Isabel works the beat meeting reliable sources from her other cases like the Old Farts in the back room of the general store, cousins Annette and Marsha, even the Beaumont brothers. Her timing is spot on — the demolition derby is the night she meets Shirley. I call that reporter’s good luck or in the case of Isabel, a P.I’s good luck.

As Isabel pursues this case, she encounters new persons of interest — an unsavory group who quickly become suspects. She also uncovers a secret about Lucas and a possible connection to another mystery.

I admit I am not brave enough to be a private investigator. So, I do it vicariously through Isabel Long.

By the way Working the Beat has an official release of Jan. 27 although the Kindle version is available for pre-order. (Soon on paperback.) Thanks for your support. Here is the link: mybook.to/workingthebeat

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: The covers for the books in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, designed by Laurence Patterson, co-publisher of darkstroke books.

 

 

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Working the Beat

No. 5 Is Finished — Sort Of

Today, I reached the end of Working the Beat, no. 5 in the Isabel Long Mystery Series, which weighs in at 74,940 words. Well, I’m sort of at the end. I have printed all 279 pages and will go through them with my trusty red flare before I listen to them on my computer.

And then I will happily submit Working the Beat to my publisher, darkstroke books.

Yesterday, a son asked if this was only a first draft. My answer: I don’t work that way. I will stop at certain points in a novel’s process, basically when I feel I am ready, print out what I’ve written so far and go at it. I feel by time I’ve reached “the end” that it’s in solid shape. Of course, my editor will find things I need to fix as well.

I will admit it hasn’t been easy finding the time to write — and promote — given the increased demands of my job as editor-in-chief of three newspapers. But when I could, I found a great deal of satisfaction being with the characters and setting I created as I let Isabel Long try to solve yet another mystery.

So, what is this one about? A man’s body is found after a demotion derby at a country fair. The official story is that he was drunk and fell down a rocky ravine. His scrappy grandmother doesn’t believe it, so she hires Isabel to get to the truth. Once again Isabel encounters family secrets, unsolved crimes and the unusual suspects.

Just to get you started, here’s the opening scene to the book’s first chapter “Dead at the Rooster.” For those new to the series, Isabel and Jack, who owns the Rooster Bar and Grill, are an item, as they say. She tends bar part-time for Jack as well as being a P.I. solving cold cases in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts.

It’s a dead night at the Rooster, deader than I’ve ever seen it. There’s no band even though it’s a Friday night, but Jack was smart not to book one. A few drinkers have bellied up to the bar, but nobody lingers long. Neither did those who come for dinner. Jack’s customers have somewhere else more important to go: the Titus Country Fair in the next town over. It was the same yesterday for truck pull night. That’s when drivers, mostly guys, try to get their stripped-down and souped-up car or pickup to pull as much weight as possible over a line, and everybody in the crowd watches to see if they make or break it. Tonight, horses are pulling, a draw for the traditionalists. And tomorrow, Saturday, is demolition derby night. Jack’s not even going to bother opening his bar. Besides, he wants to go like his pals. And he wants me with him. That’s what I get for hooking up with a local boy. 

Right now, Jack and I are sitting at the bar, playing poker and listening to tunes on the jukebox to pass the time until much later when people will likely show up when the fair shuts down. No booze is allowed at the Titus Country Fair, for good reasons, so people will be mighty thirsty unless they managed to sneak in something.  

“Ready for our hot date tomorrow night, Isabel?” Jack asks. 

“Are you saying watching cars smash into each other until only one of them is left is your idea of a hot date?” 

He grins as he throws down his cards. Crap, he’s beat me again. 

“Uh-huh. What’s your idea?” He chuckles. “By the way, you’re one lousy poker player. If we was playin’ strip poker, you would’ve been naked a few hands ago.”

“Me naked at your bar?” 

Jack grins.

“Not a bad idea.”

“Sure, boss.”

Okay, that’s enough. It’s back to work for me. In the meantime, if you want to check out my other books on Amazon, here’s the link: Joan Livingston Books

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Isabel Long Mystery Series

The Suspense Is Killing Me

No, not really, but I wanted to get your attention. Besides, it’s an appropriate sentence given I’m closing in on the ending to the next book in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. This one, number five, is called Working the Beat. I believe I’m on track to have it wrapped up by the end of the month and shipped off to my publisher.

As I’ve written before, I solve my mysteries along with my protagonist Isabel Long, a long-time journalist who uses the skills she learned in that prematurely shortened career to solve cold cases in the very rural area where she lives in Western Massachusetts. Yes, you have guessed correctly I am not one of those authors who plots ahead of time. I let my imagination loose on the characters I create, several from past books plus new ones, the setting and the story line. Without sounding like a total nut, I channel Isabel as she tries to solve a case.

I’ve read and watched enough mysteries that I am disappointed when I figure out whodunnit way before the P.I., cop or whoever does. Throw me some curveballs please. But likewise I don’t want too many long leads that turn out to be obvious dead ends.

So, what’s Isabel up to this time? It’s the end of summer and the Titus Country Fair is being held. That’s where and when Isabel is approached by this crusty old gal, Shirley Dawes, who wants her to investigate the death of her grandson at the fair four years earlier. It happened during demolition derby night although his body was found the next morning. The case brings Isabel — and her mother, who is her sidekick — in contact with a new set of characters after she agrees to take it on. I’ll be sharing more on that soon.

But back to that crucial scene. It involves the people of interest in this case at a place and setting that pulls them all together — a birthday party at Baxter’s Bar. Isabel just showed up. Jack’s with her. What kind of trouble can she get herself into there?

I can’t wait to find out.

MY BOOKS: In the meantime, if you haven’t read them already see the links below to the series on Amazon. If you have, thank you very much,

http://mybook.to/chasingthecase

http://mybook.to/rednecksrevenge

https://mybook.to/checkingthetraps

https://mybook.to/killingthestory

PHOTO ABOVE: I was chuffed, as my UK friends would say, to see the Portuguese flags strung above the main drag in Provincetown on a recent trip. Isabel would like that too.

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Northern Comfort

Listening to Frank

Frank is the name I give to the mechanical voice in the Read Aloud function of Word who recites whatever document is open. Currently, Frank is reading aloud my novel, Northern Comfort, which I plan to self-publish soon. His voice has zero emotion and some of his pronunciations are a bit weird — although I love how he says “pop” — but he’s been the most helpful fellow while I proof this novel.

I wrote Northern Comfort when I lived in the Western Mass. hilltown of Worthington way over 15 years ago, and despite the efforts of an agent and my persistence, I couldn’t find a publisher willing to take it on. Too bad. It’s a really good story. (Alas, it doesn’t fit for my publisher’s genres of choice.)

So, I’m going to do it myself. I have gone over this novel countless times. I even used a program that catches grammatical errors. But I’ve found the most effective way is to hear it being read by somebody else, and that’s where Frank helps out. I read the words on my computer screen as he says them.

Here you can hear Frank read the opening chapter, Worst of Winter:

It is a time-consuming process, but now that I am nearing the end, I will admit Frank has done a great job showing me typos and missing words. There have been instances when a word or phrase didn’t work when he said it, and I made the change.

Next, I will send the book onto my son-in-law, Chris, who will bring fresh eyes to the story. Then I will turn it over to Michelle to handle its design.

So what is Northern Comfort about? Here’s the synopsis:

Willi Miller and her young son are a charity case in a New England town that holds dear to the traditions of making maple syrup, playing old-time music, and keeping family secrets. Willi does her best by Cody, who was brain-damaged at birth, supporting him by cutting hair and doing dye jobs. Their home is a cabin left by the grandfather who took them in after Junior Miller abandoned them. Then, on a snowy day, Cody’s sled sends him into the path of a truck driven by Miles Potter. Willi and Miles have known each other since they were kids, but until the moment her son dies, they are separated by their families’ place in town.

Northern Comfort is my novel about the harsh realities of rural life: A single mother raising her disabled child alone because his father doesn’t accept any responsibility; a girl abused by her stepfather, who threatens to leave the family poor if she tells; and a man of means feeling helpless after he is suddenly thrust into a tragedy.

Cody’s death has a powerful effect on the three people involved. For Miles, he discovers he and Willi have more in common than the accident that brought them together. For Junior, he faces his failings as a father and tries to make amends that matter to his child’s mother.

And Willi, a slight woman with a powerful resolve, is able to confront her dark secret and find peace after her son’s death. For the first time in her life, she feels optimism.

Northern Comfort will be the next novel I publish. I will certainly let you know when that happens. But first, I have to get back to following along with Frank.

MY BOOKS: Looking for something to read in the meantime? Here’s the link to my books on Amazon: Joan Livingston books

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