It's time to check in with Mirror Ball Man fans. As most of you know, lately I've been putting my online energy into promoting the Essex Coastal Byway Guide. That will continue through the summer, my primo sales season. But since mid-January I've been working hard each morning for an hour or three on the third Libertyport mystery featuring one-hit wonder Baxter McLean and his neighbors in scenic, historic, gentrifying and ever so slightly wacky Libertyport.
I'm going to save the title reveal for sometime in the near future, but there are some things I can tell you.
The book is once again inspired by real-life history in Newburyport, where I live. Our town was attacked twice in the 1970s by American radicals. In 1970, one cell attacked the National Guard armory on Low Street, stole guns and ammunition and set the place on fire. This is the same bunch who robbed a bank in Brighton a few days later and shot Boston policeman Walter Schroeder. It's all on Google.
And in 1976, another, even more hapless bunch set off a bomb in the beautiful old Superior Courthouse overlooking the Frog Pond. Some of these folks went underground but most all of them ended up in prison for long stretches.
The idea for the book came from: A) it's pretty amazing that in under two miles I can walk my dog past two places where crazy radical violence happened recently, right here in Newburyport; which led me to B) the ol' what-if...
I wondered how two different radical groups decided to target our town. A small police force (then) and easy highway access are two answers that came right to my amateur criminal mind. But I wondered ... what if one of the impressionable college girls who got sucked into these groups and became hardened radicals ... what if one of them was a rebellious daughter of Libertyport? That would explain a lot, wouldn't it? Then the wheels started turning.
That was a couple of years ago, before I'd even finished Mirror Ball Man. So I've had a while to think about it before I started writing. Because of course that's a premise, not a book. What's the mystery? How do I advance the plot to the present? I think I've figured it out.
The book opens with three pages set in the wee hours of a dark, damp night just after Halloween in 1976. Something goes boom, and somebody dies.
The rest of the book (aside from very brief flashbacks) takes place in the present day - or Baxter's present day, which is 2006. It's a year after Mermaid Blues, and he's still scuffling along in his career, still dealing with the events at the end of that book. In other words, he's still in a bad mood, which is how you like him, right? And he gets drawn in to the drama of a family he grew up around, a family whose daughter was the local girl in the bomb plot. She's about to be released from prison, but then...
That's as much as I can tell you. You know all of that by the end of page 5, so it's not a wicked spoiler or anything. And while the need to get some legal stuff right has been a big drag on my production, this isn't a courtroom book or a forensics book or anything like that. Once again it focuses on a cast of idiosyncratic characters, most of whom have at least one secret. And once again Baxter bounces off them like the ball in a pinball machine, trying to solve a mystery, asking questions, stopping frequently for beers, and occasionally picking up a guitar. You'll meet some aging radicals, and a famous musician,and eventually, once again, Baxter will get too close to the truth...
Thanks to all of you who've emailed and Facebooked your enthusiasm for the next book - even those of you who've expressed it in person (!) at times. It really does help get me out of the nice warm bed in the morning and down to the computer. I am at about 35,000 words, a little less than halfway through the book, but I have a pretty good handle on the story now and expect to finish a good draft in May. That would mean the book comes out this fall.
I'll have more for you before then, including things like the title and the cover design, and maybe a teaser or two. I've been posting updates, mostly just daily word counts, on my Facebook author page, and if you haven't been over there and "liked" me, please do. But I wanted to give you a little more
Until then, thanks for your support, and please tell all your friends about Baxter and the books.