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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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The Twin Jinn

Let’s pretend

I had a childhood steeped in imaginative play. This was out of necessity as I lived a rather sheltered life. My parents, the children of immigrants, didn’t get the concept that we could play at a friend’s house. That’s what family is for. And so that’s what happened.

My chief playmate was my sister, Christine, who is three years younger. One of us would think up a fantasy to play with the invitation: “Let’s pretend …” I don’t remember all of the scenarios we or our TwinJinn_book_3b copydolls acted, but it doesn’t matter. What I do remember is that during those hours we spent together, we were delightfully in another world.

Another outlet was reading. Our mother would take us to the town library once or twice a week to stock up on books. In the summer, the bookmobile came to the church parking lot at the bottom of the street. I spent hours and hours — in the summer staying up late — lost in those words.

And when I became my mother, I enjoyed watching my children do the same.

Now the words “let’s pretend” is the motivation behind my writing fiction. I sit in front of my laptop and let my imagination take over. For my Isabel Long Mystery Series, it’s let’s pretend a former newspaper editor decides to solve cold cases in the hilltowns. Isabel’s elderly mother is her “Watson.” Her first case involves the disappearance of a woman 28 years earlier in her town.

The same is true for the fiction I’ve written for adult and young readers.

My most recent release is the first in The Twin Jinn Series. For this book, I circled back to those times in the backyard when my sister and I played, or upstairs in my bedroom reading a book I couldn’t put down.

First, I’ve always been fascinated by genies. Yes, there’s that Aladdin story. But my genies or jinn, as I prefer to call them, don’t live in lamps. In the first book — The Twin Jinn at Happy Jack’s Carnival of Mysteries — they live and have a magic act in a traveling carnival. Of course, their magic is just one of their many powers such as being invisible, flying, casting spells, oh, the list goes on. The twins are Jute and Fina, brother and sister who are 11 by human age. They are sweet but mischievous and like so many siblings, competitive. Their parents, Jeffer and Mira, are protective, but that’s because they tricked their evil master into letting them go. Yes, he’s trying to find them.

Pretending with The Jinn family is so much fun that I completed two more books, and a third is halfway done. I plan to continue publishing them, because I want to inspire young readers and anyone else who loves magical realism.

So how can you get a copy? The paperback is available. Note the great illustration by Ezra Livingston, one of my sons. If you like Kindle, that will launch March 6. Here’s the link to Amazon: https://mybook.to/TwinJinnAtHappyJacks

And thank you for joining me.

 

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Character Traits

Character Traits: Meet Serenity Layne

A new year and a new character to feature on my blog. Meet Serenity Layne, created by author Melanie Robertson-King. It Happened on Dufferin Terrace, a holiday novella and a perfect escape for readers who are hunkering down during this pandemic. Plus this is the first in a planned six-book series. And check out Melanie’s impressive list of books she has published way below.

Here, I will let Melanie take over.

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Melanie Robertson-King

Thanks, Joan, for letting me introduce you to Serenity Layne, the main character from It Happened on Dufferin Terrace. The book is a Christmas novella set in beautiful old Quebec City.

Think Miracle on 34th Street meets Sleepless in Seattle. She’s married to her career, and he’s a widowed father.

I came up with the name Serenity Layne on my way home from my sister-in-law’s house in Northern Ontario. It was a street name. I added the “y” to her surname, so it sounded more like a person than a part of a city.

While not based on a “real” person, I modeled Serenity after Doris from the movie Miracle on 34th Street. She’s had a rough life, and anything she’s gotten, it’s been through her hard work and no help from her family. After the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company closed in Etobicoke, her father turned to the drink. Her mother was unable to cope and spent her days in her bedroom watching television. Her brother, Erik, got mixed up with drugs and disappeared so and the responsibility for cooking, shopping, and cleaning fell to Serenity.

She worked her way through school and is now a successful business consultant with the firm, Thacker, Price & Associates. Along the way, she had no time for intangibles and never had any relationships with men. While she’s not materialistic, she has a comfortable condo on Yorkville Avenue in Toronto, is well-dressed and perfectly manicured.

It Happened on Dufferin Terrace is book one of a six-book series featuring the Scott and Layne families. Serenity also appears in the second book, It Happened in Gastown, and will be in the third, It Happened at Percé Rock, which I’m currently writing.

An EXCERPT:

Snow, packed down from shovelling and plowing, made the boards slippery. High-heeled shoes were inappropriate for the conditions, but escaping that room was paramount.

Why did she allow that man to antagonize her? Any other time, any other meeting, and she would have let comments like his roll off her. This action was out of character.

Struggling to maintain her balance, she picked her way to the handrail. At least she had gloves in her pockets. After extracting the knitted mittens, she pulled them on her hands and tried to regain her composure so she could go back to the meeting. She would have to create an excuse for her sudden departure.

Arms resting on the railing, she took in long, slow breaths. Each time she exhaled, a puff of steam formed in front of her.

About to go back into the warmth of the hotel’s conference room, she let go and turned. A massive black dog charged at her with a man and a boy in pursuit. The ear flaps of the man’s trapper hat resembled wings. Stretched out horizontally, how he managed not to take flight astounded her.

“Tori, bad girl. Halt.” The man shouted commands to the canine, but the animal was oblivious to them.

Before she had an opportunity to react, the black Lab launched itself in the air and hit her square in the chest, knocking her to the ground. The impact sent her eyeglasses flying, and they crashed on the granite ledge beneath the handrail. The child dove for them but couldn’t get a proper grip. His fingertips brushed the frames, and her eyewear skittered away from him on the icy rock and vanished.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Melanie Robertson-King has always been a fan of the written word. She grew up an only child, and many happy hours were spent with her face tuck in books from the time she could read. Her father was one of the thousands of Home Children sent to Canada through The Orphan Homes of Scotland. Melanie has been fortunate to visit her father’s homeland many times and even met the Princess Royal (Princess Anne) at the orphanage where he was raised.

AUTHOR LINKS:

 Website: https://melanierobertson-king.com/

Celtic Connexions Blog: https://melanierobertson-king.com/wp02/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MelanieRobertsonKingAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobertsoKing

 BUY LINKS:

mybook.to/dufferin-terrace

mybook.to/it-happened-in-gastown

mybook.to/The-Secret-of-Hillcrest-House

mybook.to/yesterday-today-always

mybook.to/A_Shadow_in_the_Past

mybook.to/shadows-from-her-past

mybook.to/Tims-Magic-Christmas

mybook.to/aboard_the_Canadian

 

 

 

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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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