IMG_6324
Isabel Long Mystery Series

Writing about Strong Women

When I decided to write a mystery series, I wanted strong women characters. They wouldn’t be damsels in distress but women who knew what they wanted and went after it. Topping the list, of course, is Isabel Long, the protagonist of the series, which began with Chasing the Case. The sequels are Redneck’s Revenge, plus Checking the Traps, which will be out early next year.

Isabel is a former journalist turned amateur sleuth when she lost her job as managing editor of a newspaper. Isabel is not a sweet, young thing. She’s got some miles on her. She’s smart, sassy and doesn’t doesn’t take crap from anyone. She’s also a good listener with a big heart, which makes it easy to connect with people, especially since she encounters a rather rough crowd in Redneck’s Revenge and Checking the Traps.

A recent widow, Isabel is also done grieving and ready for a relationship with a man.

Then there’s her 92-year-old mother, Maria Ferreira, who lives with her. Ma is a big reader. Mysteries and spicy romance novels are her big thing. She’s also a great ‘Watson’ for Isabel, giving her ideas to ponder and even going on interviews.

Redneck’s Revenge has two other characters who don’t take crap from anybody. Isabel hits it off with them despite their different backgrounds.

Marsha, who Isabel and her mother nicknamed the Floozy, is a character in the first book. She was an alibi for one of the suspects. In the second book, she introduces Isabel to her cousin, Annette, who hires her.

Annette, aka the Tough Cookie, runs a garage and junkyard that used to belong to her SOB of a father. She wants Isabel to find out how her father died. The cops say he was passed-out drunk when his house burned down. Annette says he was murdered.

By the way, I so enjoyed writing about Marsha and Annette, they appear in Checking the Traps.

Other women in Redneck’s Revenge: a woman police chief and the co-owner of a gas station, who eventually finds her inner strength.

Here’s an excerpt. Isabel goes to Baxter’s, a biker bar with the cousins for her case. By the way, the Rooster is the bar in Isabel’s town where the band played the previous night.

As we head toward the front entrance, I hear music, something by the group Alabama, bouncing through the walls. Beer signs flash through the windows. Ahead of me, Marsha marches inside as if she owns the damn place. She stops short of the dance floor, nods, and then points toward the far end. Annette already has a table. Some guy is talking in her ear while he stares at the cleavage rising about her low-cut sweater. She paws at him as she laughs.

Marsha turns toward me.

“My cousin’s a slut, what can I tell ya?”

“She looks like she’s just having a good time.”

“Same difference.” Marsha slaps my arm and points at the band. “Well, well, look who’s playin’. It’s the Country Plowboys. You didn’t miss ’em after all.”

When the song ends, Marsha and I make our way across the thinning dance floor. Annette, aka the Tough Cookie, gives the guy she’s with a friendly push and says, “You gotta get lost now. Maybe later.”

The guy, in the usual country attire of flannel, canvas, and denim, checks us out, but he clearly isn’t interested. We take our seats. Marsha whistles sharply through her teeth to get the waitress’s attention.

I lean forward.

“I’ll get this round,” I say.

“All right,” the Floozy says.

I glance around the barroom. It’s three times the size of the Rooster, with a long bar on one side and an actual stage. Tables border the dance floor on three sides. It’s dark inside except for the wide-screen TVs lit over the three shelves of booze behind the bar. The clientele is on the rustic side, which I expect and enjoy. Frankly, as a reporter and a denizen of the hilltowns, I found the natives often more interesting than the white-collar folks who commuted to the city.

That’s when I notice the beer cans. Everybody who doesn’t have a mixed drink has a can of Bud or whatever. The woman who took our order is carrying a tray of them.

“No beer in bottles here?” I ask my companions.

“Nah, it’s safer with cans,” the Floozy says. “Even the glasses are plastic. I’d say that was being real smart with this crowd.”

I hand the bills to the waitress.

“Keep the change,” I say, remembering the buck-a-round-rule at the Rooster.

The cousins are gabbing about the men, which ones are decent looking and who’s available for a roll in the sack. They appear to like men with hair and a steady job, which is a sound idea, or as Annette puts it, “I don’t want some guy spongin’ off of me. Did that. Won’t do it again.” They also don’t like guys with big beer bellies or steady girlfriends and wives. No sloppy seconds, the Tough Cookie says.

“What about you?” Annette asks with a grin. “See anybody here you might be interested in?”

MORE: This piece appeared in author Susan Barnard’s blog earlier this fall, but I believe it was worth a spot here. Here is a link to her blog.

WHERE TO GET MY BOOKS IN KINDLE AND PAPERBACK ON AMAZON: Chasing the Case and Redneck’s Revenge

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: On the bridge over the Deerfield River in Shelburne Falls village in Western Mass., where I live. Yes, winter will be sticking around for a while.

Standard
IMG_6203
Isabel Long Series, Redneck's Revenge

When One Book Isn’t Enough

Sometimes I love my characters too much for them to have only one book. That’s the case of Isabel Long and many of the characters in my mystery series. The first, Chasing the Case, was released this past spring. The official launch for Redneck’s Revenge, the second, was Sept. 26. And the third, Checking the Traps, will be ready for readers next year.

And I plan to continue this series.

Actually, this isn’t the only series I’ve written. My first is a middle-grade series featuring a family of jinn (genies). In the first, they hide out in a traveling carnival’s show, where they put their magical powers to good use. They live in a small town next, then on a ranch in the Southwest. I am halfway through the fourth, where they live in a town with retired circus performers.

Alas, as of this writing none of the books have been published.

But I loved the Jinn family — the last name they use — and the mischievous twins, Jute and Fina, so much that I wanted to plunk them into different situations. I should backtrack here a bit and say they managed to escape from their evil master, so they are supposed to keep a low profile. Tell that to the kids.

My other is the Los Primos/The Cousins series. This bilingual series for kids features two cousins, their grandfather, and magical realism. The first, The Cousins and the Magic Fish/Los Primos y el Pez Mágico, was self-published. I am planning to release the next two, which have been completed, very soon.

Funny, I was at a reading Saturday, when a reader strongly suggested I write a sequel to my novel, The Sweet Spot. She wanted to know what happened to the characters after that ended. So do I.

But back to the Isabel Long series… mysteries lend themselves well to it. Each book features a cold case Isabel takes. So far, a family member approaches Isabel to find out what happened to a loved one.

I carry some of the characters over from one book to the other. Others I leave behind. I create new ones.

I also use different settings for the crimes she is supposed to solve.

The trick is to give continuity while not giving away too much of the previous book or books.

In Redneck’s Revenge, I catch readers up in the first chapter when she meets Franklin “Lin” Pierce, a private investigator. She has found out that legally she needs to work for a licensed P.I. for three years before going solo. Lin, whose best days as a P.I. behind him, is more interested in Isabel’s first case.

Here’s an excerpt.

Isabel Long. The man’s greeting was more of a statement than a question, but then again, Franklin Pierce is expecting me. He’s a private investigator and I need his services. It’s not what you think. I don’t have a case for him to solve. I want him to hire me for three years, so I can be a bona fide P.I. We are meeting at his office, which is just a narrow storefront between a Cumby’s – that’s Cumberland Farms to those who don’t live in New England – and a pizza joint. The sign on the window says:

FRANKLIN PIERCE

LICENSED P.I.

FRAUD, DIVORCES, LOST PEOPLE.

Franklin Pierce is on the pudgy side, pushing seventy or more, maybe, with glasses and a double chin that hangs loose like a turkey’s wattle. He’s got to be about five-foot-two or shorter because I tower over him. Get this. He’s wearing a cowboy hat and a long canvas coat as if he’s a cattleman out West. But when he opens his mouth, he’s pure Yankee with those missing Rs and added Rs, plus a twang that says his folks have lived in this part of the world, that is, Western Massachusetts, since the white folks found it and the people who lived here before them.

He clutches a set of keys as I make my approach to the front door. Naturally, I was ten minutes early, my M.O., and waited in the car with my mother before he arrived. Yes, Maria Ferreira, my ninety-two-year-old mother, soon to be my ninety-three-year-old mother April 2, is with me. But when Ma saw Cumby’s, she hightailed it out of my car. She says she’ll go to the pizza joint afterward to get something to drink. She could have stayed home, but it’s February, and like the rest of us, she’s got a bit of cabin fever from the seemingly endless winter that began in October.

I smile and extend my hand to Franklin Pierce. I feel a bit self-conscious my skin is colder and rougher than his. I’m curious why someone would name their kid after one of the worst presidents so far although I can think of a few other contenders. But now isn’t the time to bring up that observation. I need to win this man over. So, what will it be: Franklin or Frank although I seriously doubt Frankie. I play it safe.

“Mr. Pierce, hello.”

“Please call me Lin. And you? Is it Isabel or Izzie? Which do you prefer?”

I shake my head.

“Never Izzie,” I say.

“I’ll remember that.”

“Okay, Lin. How do you spell that?”

“L-I-N.”

Gotcha.

HOW TO BUY IT: Well, if you want to read more, you are going to have to buy it either in Kindle or paperback form. Here’s the link: mybook.to/rednecksrevenge

And if you haven’t read the first, I strongly recommend you do: mybook.to/chasingthecase

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s the interior of the Field Memorial Library in tiny Conway, Mass., population 1,900. Marshal Field, founder of the department store, had it built as a memorial to his parents.

ONE LAST THING: Thanks to Nancy Jardine for hosting this post originally on her blog https://nancyjardine.blogspot.com/

Standard
sunflowers
books, Peace Love and You Know What, Professor Groovy, Writing

I Say Uncle

I am not a quitter. One of my favorite quotes is “Perseverance furthers” from the I Ching. But I finally found a fight no longer worth my time: creating an audio book.

For this project, I chose Professor Groovy and Other Stories, a collection of four short pieces. These stories predate my novel Peace, Love, and You Know What. Prof Groovy has only 10,000 words. Peace etc. has eight times that amount. A piece of cake, right? Uh, no.

I enjoyed a bit of pride learning the Garage Band program on my Mac and getting the settings down. I turned my office into a humble studio using every darn piece of foam in the house. I learned to breathe and read in a pleasant narrative. I figured out how to edit the tracks.

But, alas, no matter my effort, I felt strongly the audio tracks weren’t good enough to sell. I am not a professional, and it showed.

And, worse, I was spending too much time fixing audio tracks and not writing. I don’t even want to guess at the amount of hours spent on this project.

But I will make myself feel better and say I didn’t give up easily. I tried, I really did.

I haven’t given up on the idea that my published books, now and in the future, will also be audio books. But my new cosmic plan is to attract enough bread so I can hire someone who knows what the heck they are doing.

So what have I been doing besides feeling relieved? Writing-wise, I’ve started a new novel, this one a mystery set in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, where I once lived. I like where it’s going.

Also, I’ve started the last copyediting go-through for The Sweet Spot, the next novel I will be publishing later this fall. That one is set in Western Massachusetts, too, but in 1978. A lot more on that in the near future.

Finally, another new project: a bilingual novel for adult students taking ESL. I had a wonderful experience visiting the class of Teresa, my friend and collaborator. That experience deserves a separate post.

So I’m an audio book failure. No regrets, however, as I have other creative things to do.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Summer hangs on a bit.

Standard
Education, reading, Writing

A Love of Learning

“Learn something new” has been my personal mantra since I officially left the news biz in May. As I tell people who ask, I am reinventing myself.

I’ve shared some of those inventions on this website, such as putting more of an emphasis on my fiction. That includes learning a new method of copyediting — reading a manuscript backwards — plus learning the Garage Band program and attempting to create an audio book of my recently released Professor Groovy and Other Stories. (That’s a work in progress still, but I’m oh so closer to getting it done.) I also launched a book review column, The Write Stuff.

And, ta-da, I am starting a new novel, a mystery this time. I’m into the first chapter. The main character is a woman. Actually she tells the story. She was the long-time managing editor of a newspaper that got sold to a corporation and she declined to re-apply for her job. (Uh, that’s not what happened to me.)

The mystery? She can’t let go of the case of a missing woman that was bungled from the get-go. This novel, like four others, is set in the hill towns of Western Massachusetts, where I once lived.

I will share one more new gig — teaching writing and reading for a career path at the Adult Learning Center at UNM-Taos. It’s very part-time, only 3 ½ hours a week, but this job allows me to reuse the tools I relied on as an editor. My class is one of the many offered by the center, including ESL. All are free by the way.

Here’s the link Adult Learning Center at UNM-Taos

My class has about 16 students, including teenagers and 20-somethings. Some have been home-schooled. Some left high school a while ago. They are here to pass the test for their high school degree and for many, prepare for college entrance exams and advance their education. Their fields of interest range from architecture to medicine to the arts etc.

My students are an extremely likable group. I feel the same way about my dedicated colleagues at the center.

Each student has an interesting story to tell, but I will respect their privacy. I will say, however, I admire their motivation to learn. I believe it’s something we have in common.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: The door is open at the Adult Learning Center at UNM-Taos.

Standard
purple sage
books, Rewriting, The Sweet Spot, Writing

Reading Backwards

I pulled the manuscript for The Sweet Spot from its envelope to read yet again. This time I am doing it backwards.

I read about this technique on the internet, where else, and once I realized it meant reading backwards paragraph by paragraph, and not word by word, I thought it was worth the try.

No matter how much I edit and proof copy, especially an 80,000-word novel, I find stuff I should have caught. I might feel a tiny bit reassured when I read other books — including those published by university presses — that have typos. But that’s not reassurance enough for me.

Plus, I hate making more work for Michelle, who designs my books. The Sweet Spot, one of my hill town books, is the next on her list.

Amazingly I found reading backwards a rather easy and useful process. Instead of focusing on the story line and characters, I concentrate simply on one paragraph at the time. It’s a manageable approach, and in the process, I’ve found a missing article or two, and other stuff. Here’s one: Edie stops to buy food on the way to one of the book’s most crucial scenes — when she goes to reason with a distraught Walker, her ex-lover. It’s important she stops to buy food because she learns an important piece of info from the clerk. But I don’t mention the food again. Did Edie bring the food to Walker’s cabin? Did she leave it in the car? Maybe she should only stop at the store for directions and maybe a drink for herself. It’s a matter of a dropped detail.

I’ve written before that I read my manuscripts aloud, more than once. This round of copyediting, I am reading The Sweet Spot backwards and out loud. It is a slower process than reading the usual way so I only do several pages at a time. And, yes, I have my red pen handy.

AN UPDATE ON THE AUDIO BOOK: I am a bit frustrated by my efforts to record Professor Groovy and Other Stories. It has consumed many of my waking hours and I am unhappy still. So, I decided to put it aside until the weekend and take a good hard listen then. I’m not giving up, but a break is in order.

THANK YOU: I appreciate all who have bought and read my books. Here are the links to them on Amazon: Peace, Love, and You Know What and Professor Groovy and Other Stories

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Blooming Russian sage is a hotspot for bees on our little piece of the earth.

Standard