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.