Well, you have to start somewhere. That certainly includes writing a book. When I began Chasing the Case in fall 2016, I did what I always do: I started writing and kept at it.
Isabel Long, the mystery’s main character, tells the story, so the novel is written in first person. She introduces herself while she buries a dead cat in her back yard. And as it so often happens with a chore, her mind wanders toward her recent bad year — the death of her husband and losing her job running a newspaper. She goes over her last day at the paper and how she swiped some folders of cold cases. At the time, she wasn’t sure what she was going to do with the info they contain. Now that she’s decided to investigate a 28-year-old missing person’s case, it will come in handy.
I tried to give the reader a first good look at Isabel. She’s smart and sassy. She won’t take crap from anybody. But she also cares. This helps her become a good private investigator — along with the transferable skills she had as a longtime journalist.
Before I continue, let me share a story. After I finished Chasing the Case in spring 2017, I pitched the novel to various agents and publishers. An editor at one small indie house that specializes in mysteries wrote back that I broke some cardinal rule by killing off a beloved pet — the cat Isabel is burying — never mind starting the book that way. I responded that writers are meant to break rules. No, I didn’t hear back. (And thanks to my publisher, Crooked Cat Books, for taking me on.)
Today I looked at a document with the barest of notes: “Set the scene. Isabel gets a part-time job at the Red Rooster. She is working one night or day when an old coot comes in. His daughter disappeared years ago. Cops flubbed the case, treating her as a missing person and not a criminal case. It is one of the cases Isabel stole from the newsroom.”
While it got me going, it’s not what I wrote a month later. The opener in that early draft is close to what appears in the book. I believe it’s a good start.
Below you will find a teaser to Chasing the Case. Here is a bit of the opening chapter called Dead Cat.
My name is Isabel Long. You may know of me, at least if you live in these parts. I was the managing editor of the local paper, the Daily Star, for almost fifteen years until the bastard who owned it sold out to a big chain. I shouldn’t really call him a bastard. He’s a decent enough guy. But he walked away from the newspaper that had been in his family for three generations with a couple of million bucks in his bank account, lucky him, and abandoned us to a corporation.
I remember the morning he called everyone into the pressroom to give the news. He claimed nothing would change. We had nothing to worry about. I turned to my assistant editor and muttered, “Open wide. You won’t feel a thing.”
I was right. He was wrong.
A month in, we were told by the publisher, who still had his job then, we all had to reapply for ours. He pulled us into his office one by one. Of course, these things are always done on a Friday. They don’t like ugly scenes in the middle of the workweek.
I sat across from George at his desk. I looked him in the eye. He had a hard time doing the same.
“Isabel, I hate to do this to you,” he said.
“I know it’s been a bad year for you.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Please, Isabel, you’re not making this easy.”
“Why should I? I worked my tail off for this paper for thirty-one years, as a reporter then an editor. I ran the newsroom for the last fifteen. Now I’m getting the heave-ho.”
“No, you’re not. You just have to reapply.”
“So, what are the odds they’ll hire me back at what I get paid now?”
“Do you want me to be honest or lie?”
“What do you think?”
His head moved in a slow sideways roll.
“God’s honest truth, I haven’t a clue.”
“Be straight with me, George. What’ll happen if I don’t reapply?”
“You can kiss this job good-bye.”
That’s what I liked about George. Being an old Yankee, he never tried to make bad news sound good. I’m the same way although I grew up in the eastern part of the state, and unlike George, I may be a New Englander, but I’m not a Yankee. My grandparents came over on the boat from the Azores and Madeira islands. My last name before I got married was Ferreira. George’s folks were on the Mayflower or some other Yankee vessel. My folks fished and worked in sweatshops. His bled blue when they got a paper cut.
“What does that mean?” I said.
“You can collect unemployment for a while.”
“Any severance pay?”
He cleared his throat.
“I believe there’d be a, uh, modest payment considering your length of service here.”
“Enough to buy new shoes?”
“Depends on where you buy them.”
“I am guessing more like Payless than Versace.”
George’s head was rolling still. He knew my humor by now.
“No, not Versace but a lot better than Payless.”
I thought it over. If Sam, my husband, were still alive, we would’ve talked it over that night. But he’s part of my bad year, the start of it really. He died in his favorite chair while watching a basketball game on TV. That was November 8, twelve days from today. No one suspected the skinny guy would go from a heart attack. I couldn’t do anything to get him back when I found him. Too bad. He’s one of the good ones. I miss him like hell.
I was too ticked off to accept the deal.
“Tell them I said no.”
“Have you ever known me not to be sure?”
He smiled one of those smiles that leak sadness from inside.
“Okay, go see the ladies in the office. Consider this your last day.”
“So soon, eh? I get it. They don’t want me poisoning the pool. Let me get my stuff, and I’ll be out of your hair.”
“What is it now?”
“I have to go with you to your office when you do it.”
“They’re afraid I’ll take some pencils and a pica pole? Jesus, I’m glad I’m not gonna work here anymore.”
George frowned. “I know.”
Later, George tried not to make me look too criminal when he accompanied me to my office. He sat in my chair while I went through the drawers and shelves. I already had a box I snagged from the pressroom when the HR director thought I went to the women’s room. As I took what belonged to me, I kept getting interrupted by my staff, who said nice things and even hugged me, all for the first time. I liked things to be at a professional distance. No drinks after work with the underlings or anything like that. But I was touched they wanted to say good-bye. I was a decent boss. I treated my staff fairly, and they knew I had their back. I was the mother wolf of the newsroom. No one touched my pups.
I wasn’t about to ask any of them if they would be reapplying for their jobs. I bet the ones with young families and college debt would, but I didn’t want to know. And I didn’t want them to think I’m the only one with convictions.
I made cleaning out my desk seem as boring as possible. I wanted George to lose interest in what I was doing. I already stashed the photos of Sam, our daughter and two sons, and our granddaughter who was born in May, the only happy thing that happened so far this year. I had some desk art, silly stuff like pinecones, shells, and a jar of sea glass. I’m nuts about stuff like that. There wasn’t much in the drawers I wanted to take home: my lunch bag, thermos, and purse. I’m not a hoarder. I opened each drawer, gave their contents a quick assessment, and then let them slide shut. I didn’t even take a pencil or pad although I should’ve out of spite.
George woke up a little when I removed a couple of manila folders from the bottom drawer.
“Clippings. I’m gonna have to get a new job sometime.”
He nodded. I was pleased he believed me. He wouldn’t want what was in those folders to leave the newsroom. They were for cold cases like the one that happened twenty-eight years ago in Conwell, the hilltown in Western Massachusetts where I live. A woman, Adela Collins, disappeared, and the cops were too incompetent to figure out what happened to her. I shoved the folders in the box.
That happened four months ago. I can’t even read the Star and what the new owners have done with it. At least, I don’t think about the paper all the time or get pissed off about it, just some of the time, like right now while I bury this cat.
NOTE: If you like what you’ve read, here is the universal link to Amazon: http://mybook.to/chasingthecase
You can pre-order the Kindle version, which will pop into your computer, tablet etc. on May 18. For those who prefer a copy in hand, the paperback is available.
I appreciate those who have ordered a copy. Thanks for your support. I hope you enjoy what you read.
ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls opened a few days ago. The first blossoms are crocuses and such. I couldn’t help walking the bridge. That, too, was another start.
3 thoughts on “How It Starts”
I love this, and can’t wait to read it. It hits CLOSE to home!
About the dead cat… I have an entire short story- or chapter- about one. How funny that it’s breaking a cardinal rule!
What a great start to a novel! I’m hooked. Will be toddling off to Amazon to buy it 🙂
Love it – I’ve preordered and am looking forward to reading the rest!