Tag Archives: Robin Barefield

FBI Special Agent Nick Morgan

FBI Special Agent Nick Morgan first appeared in my novel, Murder Over Kodiak, when he traveled to Kodiak, Alaska to investigate an explosion on a floatplane that killed, among others, a U.S. Senator. Nick, and my protagonist, Jane Marcus, spent time together solving the mystery, and just when it looked as if sparks might ignite, Nick made the decision to try to reunite with his estranged wife. Now, a year and a half later, Agent Morgan returns to Kodiak to aid the local police in their investigation of a string of murders. This next excerpt from my upcoming novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter, describes Nick’s arrival in Kodiak on a typical, stormy, winter day.

Morgan barely could see the runway as the Dash 8 descended through the thick clouds and heavy snow toward Kodiak. Wind buffeted the plane from side to side, and he wondered how the pilot would manage to control the plane and hit the runway with this poor visibility and turbulence. It seemed like only seconds between the time they popped out under the clouds and the plane touched down on the runway, bounced once, and then screeched to a stop in front of the small terminal.
Morgan grabbed his bag and briefcase and headed down the stairs of the plane. With all the traveling he did, he had learned to pack light. Snow and wind pummeled him as soon as he stepped out of the plane; he pulled the hood of his parka over his head and rushed toward the door of the airport. When he stepped inside the terminal, an Alaska State Trooper walked toward him and held out his hand.
“Agent Morgan, I’m Dan Patterson. It’s nice to meet you.”
Morgan shook Patterson’s hand. “Please, call me Nick.”
Patterson nodded. Do you have luggage?”
“No, this is it,” Morgan said. “I probably should get a rental car, though.”
“Why don’t you wait on that. You won’t want to drive a rental car on these roads. We can chauffeur you around until the weather improves.”
The men left the airport and hurried to the trooper SUV. As they pulled out onto the highway, Morgan said, “I’m sure this weather isn’t making your investigation any easier.”
“Forget forensic evidence,” Patterson said. If you want to murder someone, winter in Kodiak is the time and place to do it. “We’ve got zip for footprints or tire tracks.”
“What about for the Ayers girl. It wasn’t snowing then, was it?”
“For that one, we had heavy rain to wash away any evidence.”
“The M.E. thinks the last victim was sexually assaulted, but he has no semen?” Morgan asked.
“Right. He found residue from a condom in the last victim, but no residue in the Ayers girl. He suspects the first victim was also sexually assaulted, but he couldn’t be certain, and of course, there is no way to know what happened to Deanna Kerr.”
“Her family still doesn’t know she was murdered?” Morgan asked.
“No, we thought you would want to be there when we break the news.”
“Do you think anyone in her family is capable of committing these crimes?” Morgan asked.
“Not really, but you said we should concentrate on individuals who spent the summer in Uyak Bay, or at least were on a boat in Uyak Bay around the Fourth of July and spent the remainder of the year in or around town. No one fits that picture any better than the Kerr family.”
Morgan liked the way Patterson thought. He was already forming an opinion of the trooper as a sharp investigator. He was impressed Patterson had called the FBI so early in the investigation. Too many cops hated to ask for help, especially from the FBI; they wanted the glory of solving the case by themselves. Patterson, though, seemed more interested in catching the perpetrator before more women were killed. He wasn’t thinking about his career or his pride; he wanted only to utilize the best resources he could find to catch the killer.
“I already have you registered at the Baranof Inn. Do you want to drop off anything there or go straight to our headquarters? I have a task force meeting planned to begin in half an hour. I wasn’t sure your plane would be able to land in this weather, so I should call the other task force members and let them know you’re here and the meeting is a go.”
“I don’t need to stop at the hotel,” Morgan said. “Let’s go to your headquarters, and I’ll get organized.”
Agent Morgan joins Patterson and the Alaska State Troopers and the Kodiak Police Department in investigating the murders of four women. Will more women die before they find the killer, or will the murderer leave the island before they apprehend him? I’ll release more excerpts from my novel when my publication date nears; I promise!

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Park Ranger Liz Kelley

Park Ranger Liz Kelley discovers the body of a young woman while making her rounds in Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park on a snowy, November night. This excerpt from my upcoming novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter, is told from Liz’s viewpoint.

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Park Ranger Liz Kelley was alone on patrol at Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park, but since she was the only ranger who worked at the 182-acre park, this was business as usual for her. Fort Abercrombie is a beautiful park, rich in history and nestled in a Sitka spruce forest. The park is bordered on its front edge by steep cliffs that plunge into the heavy surf of the ocean. The park has a small lake containing trout, and in the summer, meadows teem with wildflowers of every hue. There are numerous campsites designed primarily for tent campers, and in the summer, the park is full of tourists.

It was not summer, though. It was a snowy, blustery November evening. Liz sometimes patrolled the main area of the park on foot when the weather was nice, but when it wasn’t, she made her rounds in the beat-up pickup with the state park insignia on the door. In the summer, she spent most of the day out on the park grounds, answering visitor’s questions and making sure they obeyed the park’s rules. This time of the year, she spent most of her time huddled in the ranger’s station with her computer, a small t. v., and most importantly, a coffee maker. Liz had last driven the main roads of the park at 5:00 pm, and she hadn’t seen a living soul.   She had seen several deer huddled under the protection of the spruce trees, but she saw no trucks, cars, nor tents. When she got back to the ranger’s station, however, she noticed headlights pulling into the park. It was too dark to determine the make or model of the vehicle, let alone see who the driver was, but it had to be teenagers. Who else would be out in the park on a snowy, November night? She hadn’t seen the vehicle leave the park, but she assumed it had driven past while she was deep in concentration, working on her computer.

At 7:00 pm, Liz locked the ranger’s station and climbed into the truck to make her final rounds for the evening. She was anxious to get home to her husband and dog, so this would be a quick trip down the main road. She wanted to make sure that the vehicle she’d seen entering the park earlier hadn’t slid off the slick roads. She hoped the driver had enough sense not to drive down one of the side roads in this weather, and she wasn’t willing to drive down every small road looking for a phantom vehicle.

Liz drove slowly in the blizzard conditions. Four inches of snow covered the ground, and the large, heavy, wet flakes were quickly adding to the amount. She estimated the wind was blowing 35 knots or more, causing the snow to whiz horizontally past her windshield. For a moment, she considered abandoning her last rounds and heading home, but she continued at a snail’s pace, stopping every few feet to look left and right into the forest. Only an idiot or an overzealous park ranger would be out here on a night like this, she thought.

She reached the end and the concrete barrier where people could stand and look out over Spruce Cape and was happy to see there were no vehicles parked there. She did a U-turn and was starting back toward the park entrance when her headlights illuminated something bright pink a few feet off the road. At first, she thought it was a plastic bag, but it was too big. Should she stop and check it or pretend she didn’t see it and keep driving? She exhaled a deep sigh, shifted into park, grabbed a flashlight from the glove compartment, and crawled out of the truck. She cinched her hood tight and slogged through the snow toward the pink object. After only a few steps, she realized she was looking at a pink, down coat. After several more steps, she saw there was someone in the coat. She hurried toward the fallen form, all thoughts of her husband and dog and their cozy family room vanished from her mind, and she began running through first aid protocols in her head. Would she have to perform CPR? Did she have her rescue-breathing mask in her pocket? Should she put on her rubber gloves before she even touched the victim?

“Ma’am,” she called, “can you hear me?”

Liz slowed her pace as she neared the victim. “Ma’am?” The woman was on her side facing away from Liz. Liz touched her arm and called to her again, and when the woman didn’t reply, Liz rolled her onto her back. She took one look at her and stepped away from the body. She switched the flashlight to her left hand, and her right hand instinctually unsnapped her holster. She put her right hand on the butt of her gun while she swung the flashlight in a wide arc. She had seen a vehicle enter the park around 5:00, but she had not seen it leave. Was the murderer still in the park? Was he watching her? She felt the sweat run down her back, and she fought to control her emotions. It was no time to panic. She had to think clearly and act professionally.

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Next week, I will re-introduce you to FBI Special Agent Nick Morgan when he is asked to fly to Kodiak to help investigate the string of murders.

My May Mystery Newsletter is a shocking, true story of murder from Craig, Alaska. If you would like to read it, you can sign up below.

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Sergeant Patterson

This excerpt from my upcoming novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter is told from the viewpoint of Sergeant Dan Patterson with the Alaska State Troopers.

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Alaska State Trooper Sergeant Patterson knew his night was about to take a turn for the worse. He had just finished his shift and walked into his house when his phone chirped. His wife was dishing up a plate of spaghetti for him, but when the phone rang, she stopped, knowing she would be reheating his meal in several hours.

“I’m on my way.” He said into the phone. He looked at his wife. “Sorry hon, this sounds like a bad one. Don’t wait up for me; I have to drive to Chiniak.”

He hurried to his car in the driving rain, fastened his seat belt and began the 42-mile drive down the Chiniak Highway. On a sunny day in July, this drive rivaled any in the world for its scenic beauty, but this was not a sunny day in July; it was a rainy night in October. The road was dark and curvy, and Patterson gripped the steering wheel as he concentrated on the pavement in front of him. Staying on the road was not his only concern. He had to watch for deer and possibly even bears running across the highway. The trooper who had called him said to park at the post office in Chiniak, and they would cover the final mile of their trek on four wheelers. All Patterson had been told was that a body had been discovered in the woods. He didn’t know whether the victim was male or female or whether it had been there a day or a year. If he’d understood Trooper Ben Johnstone correctly, the trooper himself had found the body while deer hunting on his day off. The usually calm and organized Johnstone, however, had sounded rattled, so Patterson may have misunderstood him. He’d get the details soon enough.

Patterson had only been stationed on Kodiak for six months, and he had only been to Chiniak once before, but it was a town with a population of 50 people, so finding the post office was not difficult. By the time he parked the car, sheets of blinding rain pelted the windshield. Patterson pulled on his raincoat, stepped out of his vehicle, and shook hands with Trooper Ben Johnstone.

“I see the weather isn’t going to be our friend tonight,” Patterson said.

“No, sir. If there were tracks near the body, they won’t be there now.”

“So the body is fresh?”

“Yes, sir. No more than a day or two old. She was murdered.”

Patterson felt a headache coming on. This would be a very long night. “You’re sure it wasn’t a hunting accident.”

“This was no hunting accident, sir. I’m certain of that. It’s pretty hard to cut someone’s throat by accident.”

The headache spread into Patterson’s neck. “You are the one who found the body?”

“Yes sir, I was walking through the woods. I’d been hunting about two hours and was heading back to my cabin because it was starting to rain hard. I caught a glimpse of something strange on the ground, and after a few more steps, I realized it was a body. I took some photos and checked around the area for footprints or four-wheeler tracks, but I didn’t see anything. She must have been murdered before the rain started.”

“How are you doing?” Patterson asked. “This must have been quite a shock.”

“Yes sir, it was. I’m fine, though. It’s just that you don’t expect to find a dead girl in the woods when you’re deer hunting.”

“A girl?” Now his stomach was beginning to hurt.

“A teenager, sir.”

“Okay, let’s go take a closer look.”

Patterson followed Johnstone through the woods, each man riding a four wheeler that Johnstone had somehow managed to procure. They had to travel slowly through the Sitka spruce rainforest to avoid smashing into a tree, but at least the large trees shielded them from some of the rain.

Fifteen minutes later, Patterson spotted the red beam of the light Johnstone had left to mark the location of the body. They parked their four wheelers several yards away and approached the body on foot.

The naked body sprawled on the ground, arms out to the side and legs spread wide. It had been posed for maximum effect. Her throat had been slashed so deeply she nearly had been decapitated. Her brown eyes stared sightlessly up at the trees. Patterson noted what looked like bite marks on her breasts, but otherwise, her slim, pale body appeared unmarred.

“We need to get a tarp over the scene right away,” Patterson said.

“Yes, sir. I brought one with me. I’ll get on that. Are the crime scene people on their way?”

“I’ll send them tomorrow when it’s light, but I don’t think they’ll find much. If there ever was any evidence here, it has been washed away by now. I don’t see much blood, so I think this is only where the body was dumped, not where she was killed. Once you get the tarp set up, go back to town and see if you can borrow a trailer or a sled or something we can use to transport the body back to my vehicle. After I take photos, I think we should get her packaged and transported back to Kodiak. The only hope we have of preserving any evidence on her body will be to get her out of this weather.”

It was 3:00 am by the time Patterson finally returned home and ate his spaghetti dinner. He and Johnstone had packaged the body, and it was ready to ship to Anchorage to the state medical examiner’s office on the morning Ravn flight. This was the second female on the island in the past six months who had been found with her throat slashed. Patterson had a bad feeling about these crimes. On an island where few murders occurred, two women killed in the same manner in the span of six months suggested to him they were killed by the same perpetrator or perpetrators. Was a serial killer hunting women on the island?

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I will have another excerpt for you next week. If you haven’t already signed up for my free mystery newsletter, you will want to do it before my May newsletter about a shocking murder in Craig, Alaska.

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Jane

For those of you who read one or both of my previous novels, Big Game and Murder Over Kodiak, you probably remember my protagonist, Dr. Jane Marcus. Jane is only a supporting character in my latest novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter, which I hope to publish in a few months. She makes her appearance early in the novel, though. The following excerpt is taken from chapter one, where we find Jane elbow-deep in a rotting whale carcass.

I struggled to maintain my grip on the ten-inch-thick slab of blubber while my colleague stripped it from the fin whale carcass. I cursed myself for the umpteenth time for not thinking quickly enough to get out of this project, but here I was, elbow deep in decaying whale blubber, and yes, the smell was worse than anything you can imagine. I had been offered my position on this necropsy team by marine mammal biologist Leslie Sinclair, and I’m sure she thought I should feel honored to be included on her team, but my scientific enthusiasm tended to wane when I was fighting the urge to vomit. As soon as I got home, I vowed to write a list of excuses for the next time Leslie tried to invite me on a necropsy.

It could have been worse. This whale had been dead for around two weeks, but it was only moderately decomposed. The tongue extended from the mouth of the bloated carcass, but the skin had not started to slough, and it was only slightly sunburned. Unfortunately, the external condition is not a good indicator of the internal condition of a dead whale because whales decompose from the inside out. Due to the large volume of tissue wrapped in insulating blubber, the inside cooks before the outside decays. I learned the necropsy team must be very careful when making the first cut on the fifty-ton carcass because it can explode if all those built-up gasses are expelled at once, and yes, when the gasses do escape, the horrific smell just keeps getting worse. I wore a rubber rain suit, the legs duct taped to my boots and the arms duct taped to my gloves. This covering allowed me to wade into the project without getting biological fluid on my skin. A face shield protected my eyes, nose, and mouth, and I’d pulled back my hair and stuffed it under a rubber cap. A persistent drizzle rounded out the perfect day, but at least I was wearing rain gear.

It made sense for me to be part of this necropsy team since I was one of several biologists trying to discover why more than fifty whales had died near Kodiak Island during the past two years. The affected whales included fin whales, sei whales, humpbacks, and gray whales, all species that had baleen instead of teeth and fed on small fish and zooplankton. These huge animals feed at the bottom of the food chain, making them susceptible to pollutants, toxic algae, and changes in their food concentrations due to a variety of reasons, including warming ocean temperatures. Any one or a combination of these factors could be responsible for the whale deaths, or the cause could be something we hadn’t suspected yet. The team was also considering underwater noise pollution from military sonar and other sources. Since I had been studying toxic algae at the Kodiak Braxton Marine Biology and Fisheries Research Center, Dr. Sinclair asked me to come at the problem from the toxic algae angle. Even though the algae I suspected might be the culprit in the deaths of the whales was a different species from what I had been studying, I was happy to do what I could to shed light on this disturbing problem. It seemed as if dead whales were being sighted nearly every week, but most were floating several miles from shore. This carcass was one of the few that had conveniently washed up on shore where a necropsy could be performed. I wanted to do what I could to help, but I’d try to do my work from my lab in the future.

“Jane, can you hear me?”

“Sorry, Leslie. I was lost in thought.”

“The smell is amazing, isn’t it?”

“Oh yes.”

“Since you’re looking at toxic algae, why don’t you be in charge of taking the stomach and intestinal samples as well as collecting feces, if you can find some.”

Oh boy! My day just kept getting better.

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While Jane’s role in this novel is not big, it is important, and we all want to find out what happens when she and FBI Agent Nick Morgan reconnect. Next week, I’ll introduce you to some more characters from my novel.

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The Daughter

Last week, I wrote about my next novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter, and I promised some excerpts from the book over the next few weeks. This excerpt is a portion of the Prologue. A 17-year-old girl is running an aluminum fishing boat from a Fourth of July party at a cannery on Kodiak Island back to her family’s commercial fishing site. It is getting windy; she is plowing through large waves and begins to have engine problems.

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Deanna pushed the throttle forward too fast and plowed into a wave, taking a shower of spray over the bow. The cold salt water smacked her in the face, and she gasped for air. The engine quit again.

“No!” She slammed the clutch into neutral and twisted the key – nothing. She tried again, but no luck. She turned the key several more times in rapid succession. The boat turned sideways in the heavy seas, waves rocking it violently from side to side. Deanna’s heart hammered in her chest.

“Calm down, calm down, calm down! You’ve got this, Deanna Kerr. You are seventeen years old, not a little kid. Think!” She unhinged the hood from the outboard, her hands shaking so badly she could barely hang onto it. She set the hood on the deck and stared at the shiny metal cowling. Panic started to overtake her. She had no idea how to fix this type of engine.

“Think!” She commanded herself. The engine isn’t getting fuel. It must be a fuel filter problem. A wave poured over the side of the boat, filling it with several inches of water. She fumbled for the bailer and started scooping water out of the boat, but then another wave hit and more water poured over the side. She had to get the engine started and get out of the trough of the waves; the boat would fill with water if she sat here very long. She realized for the first time that her father had forgotten to give her a handheld VHF radio to carry in the skiff. She should have remembered to ask for one. If she had a radio, she could call for help.

Another wave crashed over the side of the skiff, and Deanna reached for the bulb on the gas line and pumped furiously. She turned the key. The engine coughed and died. “Please God, make it work!” She tried again but no luck. A wave struck her broadside and nearly knocked her out of the boat. She fell on her knees in the water in the bottom of the skiff. She looked for water in the fuel filter, but she didn’t see any. Maybe the filter was plugged by something. She opened the tool box secured to the inside of the hull. Her hands shook as she grabbed the filter wrench and fought to loosen the filter from the fuel line. Maybe she could bypass the filter. She tried to think. What would her dad do? She wasn’t sure how to bypass the filter. She pulled out the old filter and looked at it, but it looked fine. She had no time to think; she grabbed another filter and secured the housing. As she stood, another wave hit her and knocked her back into the bottom of the skiff. She chanced a glance at the angry ocean. Conditions were worsening at an alarming rate. Around her, whitecaps piled one on top another, but even more ominous was the black ocean toward the north, toward her home.

Deanna pumped the bulb on the fuel line again. She said a quick prayer and turned the key. Nothing. She heard herself sob before she even realized she was crying. She didn’t know what else to do. There were oars in the skiff, but she would never be able to row against these waves. She would just have to hope the storm blew her back to shore before the skiff filled with water or capsized. She took several deep breaths and thought about home. When she got back to the fish site, her mother would make her change out of her wet clothes while she made Deanna a cup of hot chocolate. Then, mom would wrap her in a quilt and stroke her head until she fell asleep. Of course, Dad would never let her take the skiff out alone again, but right now, Deanna didn’t care about that. She would be happy never to get on another boat in her life.

Over the roaring wind and pounding waves, Deanna thought she heard an engine. She stood, but her legs were trembling so badly she sat again, and then she saw it, approaching from the north. She rubbed her eyes, hoping she wasn’t hallucinating, but no, it was real, and it was coming straight for her. She was sure the driver of the other boat could see her, even with the swell and high waves, but just to be certain, she stood, waved her arms, and yelled at the top of her voice. She wiped her eyes and nose. Now that it looked as if she was going to be rescued, she didn’t want anyone to know she had been frightened and crying.

The other boat pulled alongside. “Are you okay?” The captain called.

“Thank God! What are you doing here?”

“I’ll toss you a line. Tie a bridle at the bow.”

“Okay. I can do that.” Deanna stood, but her legs were shaking so much she had to brace herself against the gunnel and pull herself to the bow of the boat. The skipper of the other boat tossed her a line, but with her trembling fingers, she couldn’t hang onto it. His next toss was harder than the first, and the heavy line slapped her in the face. She grabbed the line and pulled it into the boat. She knew how to tie a bridle because her father had taught her. Her hands shook as she threaded the line through a hole on the port side of the skiff, across the bow, and through a hole on the starboard side of the skiff. She nearly dropped the line as she brought it back to the center of the boat, but she paused, took a deep breath, and focused on the line and what she was doing. The rabbit comes out of the hole, around the tree, and back in the hole. She pulled the line tight. She had it, a perfect bowline.

The skipper nodded and pushed the throttle forward. Deanna’s boat swung into line behind the other boat. She slumped onto the forward seat, shut her eyes, and allowed herself to dream about a cup of hot chocolate and her mother’s embrace.

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Deanna only thought she was being rescued, and the situation was about to get much worse for her. Next week, I will reintroduce you to Jane Marcus, the protagonist in my first two novels. Please share any comments good or bad you have on my excerpts.

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The Title

The working title for my next novel is The Fisherman’s Daughter. Like my other two novels, it is a murder mystery. A friend suggested that a more descriptive title would be Who Murdered the Fisherman’s Daughter? What do you think? The cover of the book will picture a teenage girl in an aluminum fishing boat looking terrified as huge wave crests over the bow of her skiff. I think the cover image by itself will suggest the young girl is in peril. Is the title “Who Murdered the Fisherman’s Daughter?” necessary to let potential readers know this book is a murder mystery, or would the cover be enough to signal this is a suspense/mystery novel? Please let me know your opinion. I haven’t had much luck getting folks to leave comments on my blog posts, so if you’d rather e-mail me, you can send an e-mail to robin@robinbarefield.com. I would be grateful to hear what you think!

This novel, like my previous novel, Murder Over Kodiak, is set on Kodiak Island, Alaska. It begins on the Fourth of July weekend, but most of the action happens during November and December when the crazy Kodiak weather bounces from rain and wind to ice to snow and back to rain again. I like to say there is no such thing as good weather in the winter on Kodiak. It is either clear and very cold, or it’s stormy and warm, and I’ve used our wild winter weather as a backdrop for this novel.

The story I tell in this book is about a serial killer preying on women and girls on the island. A serial killer on an island of only 14,000 people should be easy to apprehend, but this killer is smart and resourceful and doesn’t leave evidence at the scenes. One woman’s body is tossed in the ocean, washing away any trace evidence. A girl’s body is found in a heavy rain storm, any forensic evidence destroyed by the downpour. Another woman’s body is found in a park during a heavy snowstorm, the tracks leading to the body dump covered by the falling snow. Another body is tossed into a public garbage dumpster, contaminated with fingerprints and debris. What about the fisherman’s daughter? By the time she is found, she has been reduced to skeletal remains.

My first two novels were told by Jane, the protagonist in those stories. Jane will also be in this novel, but she is not the main character, and in this novel, I have several viewpoint characters. Sergeant Dan Patterson with the Alaska State Troopers and FBI Special Agent Nick Morgan are the two main characters in the book, but Kodiak Police Detective Maureen Horner also plays an important role. A few of the scenes are told from the viewpoint of a victim, and toward the end of the book, we get a look inside the killer’s head. I have read that writing a story from multiple viewpoints is not easy, but I’ve enjoyed many books told from the viewpoints of two or more characters, and it seemed to me as if it would be easier to tell a story through the eyes of multiple characters instead of through the eyes of just one character. I now know writing multiple viewpoints is not easy, or at least it was not easy tackling my first multiple-viewpoint story. I will be curious to hear how my editor thinks I handled the challenge, and I know there will be some rewrites.

Over the next few weeks, I will post some excerpts from my novel. Don’t hesitate to let me know what you think or to ask me questions. I would love your input!

A couple of weeks ago, I offered a free coupon for an e-book of Murder Over Kodiak, and not many people took me up on the offer. If you are interested in a coupon, drop me an e-mail. The offer will be ending soon. To take advantage of the offer, you will be asked to register for a website run by my publisher. There is no catch; sign up and get your free novel!

Speaking of free, if you haven’t already signed up for my free Mystery Newsletter, now is the time to do it. This month’s newsletter is about a bizarre missing person’s story and a tragic mix-up by the Alaska State Troopers.

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Welcome 2017!

Happy New Year, and welcome 2017! I’ll admit I am sad another year has flown by so quickly. Not everything about 2016 was great, but as I reflect on the year, the good times outweighed the bad. For me, the saddest events of 2016 were the sudden death of my oldest brother and the deaths of three friends. I loved the time I spent with my family in in Kansas in May, though, and I enjoyed seeing high school classmates at my reunion. We had great summer and fall seasons at our lodge, and our yard has been full of deer the past several weeks.

A few years ago, I began making New Year’s resolutions. I had always considered resolutions a joke, like a diet that only lasts two days. I never thought I’d feel bound to a resolution, but to my surprise, I have taken my resolutions seriously, and they are in the back of my mind all year as I struggle to fulfill them. I am not great at following through with resolutions to embrace healthier habits, but I do now exercise an hour a day, and I wear a Fitbit to keep myself honest. I never make a resolution to go on a diet because just the thought of a diet makes me hungry. The resolutions that have worked best for me are those related to writing.

At the start of 2016, I resolved to finish the rough draft of my next novel and the rough draft of my wildlife book by the end of 2016. I remember announcing this resolution and then laughing because I doubted I would come close to achieving either one of those goals. I am proud and amazed, though, to say I almost did it!! I’m not quite done with the wildlife book, but I will finish it in a week or two. I finished the rough draft of my novel in October and am now busy editing it. I know I would never have pushed myself so hard on either manuscript if I hadn’t made that crazy New Year’s resolution on January 1st, 2016.

I’ve given this year’s resolution a great deal of thought. I have several projects in the works, but I don’t want to set impossible goals for myself. I think goals should be lofty but within reach. Here’s what I came up with for a resolution. I want to finish editing the manuscript of my next novel and send it out to an editor by June. I don’t believe I can have the wildlife book ready to send to an editor before the end of 2017, but I want to send it out sometime next winter. I also want to finish the manuscript of my fourth novel by the end of 2017, and since I haven’t even written an outline for this novel yet, this may be a tough goal to reach. I would also like to work with Marcia on the cookbook we are writing and have the rough draft of it done sometime next winter. Finally, I hope to compile my Mystery Newsletters into a book and self-publish that. The e-book of my Mystery Newsletters will be available for free for my newsletter subscribers.

Whew! All those goals sound like a great deal of work, and I’ll let you know next year what I accomplished and what I didn’t. Writing a weekly blog post and a monthly newsletter plus doing my day job takes most of my time, but I’m becoming a faster writer and am getting better at multi-tasking, so I am hopeful and excited. At least I won’t be bored!

None of us can see what the future holds for us, but I wish you all a happy, healthy, successful 2017. Take a minute to tell me some of your resolutions!

If you haven’t signed up for my Mystery Newsletter yet, you can check out my latest edition here. If you want to sign up, you can either click on the sign-up button in the upper left-hand corner of the newsletter or sign up at http://robinbarefield.com.

The next few weeks, I will again concentrate on wildlife profiles, beginning with the fascinating, beautiful, fierce Arctic Tern.

Launch Party

It is party time! I want to invite all of you to the Launch Party for the re-release of my novel, Murder Over Kodiak! As I posted a few weeks ago, I self-published this novel last year, and then it was picked up in November by Publication Consultants, a publishing company in Anchorage. If you have already read a copy from my first release of Murder Over Kodiak, the story has not changed. It does have a new, glossy cover, and we’ve done some minor interior editing. More importantly, the novel now has the force of a publisher behind it.

My publisher, Evan Swensen, wanted me to have a release party, but I live in the middle of the wilderness, and I doubted even my cats would show up for my party. My husband would be there, but he doesn’t have a choice, so I studied my options and decided to do an online launch party.

This party is a Facebook party, and I know and understand that many people do not like Facebook and do not want to go anywhere near it. That’s okay! For those of you who hate Facebook, please go to my Launch Party page on my website and sign my guestbook. You can stop by my website anytime to sign my guestbook, and while you are there, sign up for the Rafflecopter drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card. Between my Facebook party and my website, I am giving away over $500 in prizes to celebrate the launch of my novel

I hope all of you will attend my party, and please invite your friends to come with you. I especially want to invite those of you who have already read one or both of my novels. You have no idea how much I appreciate you and your support, and this is my chance to show you how I feel!

Here are the details:

What: Facebook Launch Party for Murder Over Kodiak

Where: Facebook (click on this link)

When: June 20th from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm EDT (6:00 pm to 8:00 pm CDT, 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm PDT, 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm ADT)

Why: It will be fun!!!

You will have to provide your drinks and snacks, but there is no dress code. Wear whatever you have on or nothing at all!

See you at the party! Don’t forget to sign my guestbook on my website. You can sign it any time; just click on the guestbook link.

A doe and her three fawns stopped by this morning to say hi and to wish me luck.

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The Fisherman’s Daughter

The Fisherman’s Daughter is the working title for my latest novel. I’ve plotted the story, but I still have some questions and issues to work out along the way. Authors debate over whether or not to use an outline for a novel. Some write outlines that are hundreds of pages long while others just start writing with only a whisper of a story idea in their minds. I fall somewhere in between those two extremes. If I don’t have an outline, I get sidetracked and lose sight of where I’m headed. I think a mystery novel needs to be tightly written, and the reader will not be happy if the author leads him down too many blind alleys. On the other hand, an in-depth outline can lead to a plot that is rigid, making it appear contrived. It is a cliché for an author to say that the characters take on lives of their own, but there is some truth to that statement. I’ll often be in the middle of writing a prepared scene when it occurs to me that a character would never do what I’m about to have her do. At those times, a different but usually much better action occurs to me, and that action sometimes sends the story in an unexpected direction. I don’t want to plot my books so rigidly that I miss those “Aha!” moments because they always make my story better.

Writing a mystery is a challenge because the murderer cannot be the obvious choice, but when he is revealed, he must be the logical choice. I want the reader to say, “Of course, why didn’t I consider him? I should have known.” That’s not an easy trick to pull off since I know who the killer is from the very beginning of the book. The highest compliment a reader can pay me is when he says, “I was so shocked she was the killer. I never suspected her.” The twists and turns that keep the reader guessing are the meat of the novel, and I try not to outline those areas too tightly because the best plot twists often happen when I write myself into a corner.

The Fisherman’s Daughter takes place on Kodiak Island and starts out with a teenage girl in an aluminum fishing boat (a skiff) heading back to her family’s commercial fishing site after she attends a Fourth of July party. Here is an excerpt from the prologue.

 “No!” She slammed the shifter into neutral and twisted the key – nothing. She tried again, but no luck. She turned the key several more times in rapid succession. The boat turned sideways in the heavy seas, waves rocking it violently from side to side. Deanna’s heart hammered in her chest.

 “Calm down, calm down, calm down! You’ve got this, Deanna Kerr. You are seventeen years old, not a little kid. Think!” She unhinged the hood from the outboard, her hands shaking so badly she could barely hang onto it. She set the hood on the deck and stared at the shiny metal cowling. Panic started to overtake her. She had no idea how to fix this type of engine.

 “Think!” She commanded herself. The engine isn’t getting fuel. It must be a fuel filter problem. A wave poured over the side of the boat, filling it with several inches of water. She fumbled for the bailer and started scooping water out of the boat, but then another wave hit and more water poured into it. She had to get the engine started and get out of the trough of the waves. She realized that her parents had forgotten to give her a handheld VHF radio to carry in the skiff. She should have remembered to ask for one. If she had a radio, she could call for help.

 Another wave crashed over the side of the skiff, and Deanna reached for the bulb on the gas line and pumped furiously. She turned the key. The engine coughed and died. “Please God, make it work!” She tried again but no luck. A wave struck her broadside and nearly knocked her out of the boat. She fell on her knees in the water in the bottom of the skiff. She looked for water in the fuel filter, but she didn’t see any. Maybe the filter was plugged by something else. She opened the tool box that was secured to the inside of the hull. Her hands trembled as she grabbed the filter wrench and fought to loosen the filter from the fuel line. Maybe she could just bypass the filter. She tried to think. What would her dad do? She wasn’t sure how to bypass the filter. She pulled out the old filter and studied it, but it looked fine. She had no time to think. She grabbed another filter and secured the housing. As she stood, a wave hit and knocked her back into the bottom of the skiff. She chanced a glance at the angry ocean. Conditions were worsening at an alarming rate. Around her, whitecaps piled one on top another, but even more ominous was the black ocean toward the north, toward her home.

Did I have to use my imagination to write this scene? Not really. Unfortunately, I’ve been there and done that. It was not at all difficult to imagine how terrified Deanna would be in that situation, but this is nothing compared to what happens to her next! I’ll post more excerpts as the novel progresses.

Don’t forget to sign up for my Mystery Newsletter. I’ll send you a copy of the latest edition about Alaska’s most notorious serial killer.

 

 

 

Murder Over Kodiak

NewCoverAs I mentioned last week, my novel, Murder Over Kodiak, will be re-released soon. I self-published this novel a year ago, and then I signed with a publisher this past fall, and he is now in the process of distributing the new edition. Before I published the book, I edited it numerous times and then had it professionally edited. It has now been re-edited; although, not much was changed this time. The biggest change in this edition is the cover, which I think is a huge improvement and will hopefully result in more sales. I have Publication Consultants, the publishing house I am now working with, to thank for the eye-catching design.

These are tumultuous times in the publishing business. Self-publishing a book has become easier and easier to do, and if an author works with Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing or an e-book publisher such as Smashwords, it costs nothing to self-publish an e-book. The booksellers make their money by retaining a percentage of the book’s sales. Print copies are also fairly easy for an author to produce. Companies such as Create Space allow an author to design and upload the cover and text of a book for no charge. Once the author correctly formats the book to the website’s specifications, the book can then be listed for sale at any online bookseller. The book is printed on demand and shipped to the buyer within hours. Of course, a physical book is much more expensive than an e-book to produce, so the list price must be higher to pay for this service.

The wonderful thing about self-publishing is the author has control over her creation. Of course, I have learned that it is wise to get help with the cover design and to have the text edited at least once by a professional editor. It’s a good idea to have it proofread by as many volunteers as you can find, and unless you are a computer whiz, formatting can be a headache. In my opinion, though, the real downside to self-publishing is that you also must self-promote, and that is not easy! Following the boom in the self-publishing industry are numerous legitimate businesses as well as scammers with their hands out promising you they will help you sell your book. These businesses include everything from high-end publicity companies who will manage your writing career for you to individuals who, for five dollars, will tell everyone they know about your book on Twitter. I couldn’t afford a publicity company, but I did sign up for several publicity opportunities, mostly newsletters that promoted my novel to their readers. It’s depressing to remember how many I tried, but only a very few produced results. I read every book, blog post, and newsletter I could find on promotion, and I tried most of the suggestions that didn’t cost me anything and too many that did. I have an author Facebook page, and I even tackled Twitter and am now taking an online course on how to better use Twitter. It is overwhelming, but I have learned a great deal in the last year about what works and what doesn’t.

Last September I attended the Alaska Writer’s Guild Workshop in Anchorage, and that is where I met Evan Swensen from Publication Consultants. He was interested in publishing my book, and I was thrilled. Rightfully or not, I felt validated as an author, because someone in the business thought I was worthy of publication. Evan told me right away, though, that I would still be the one primarily responsible for advertising and selling my book. That’s just the way it works anymore. Publishing houses can’t afford to spend time and money promoting an author unless that author has already proven himself, and the publisher knows he will be worth the investment. “So why am I doing this?” I asked myself. I’m giving up control of my creation – my baby – for what? I will get a lower percentage of the profits, and I can’t really expect to sell more books. Of course, Evan and the folks at Publication Consultants will help me, and with their resources, hopefully, I will be more successful. Probably the most frustrating part of working with a publisher is that things happen on his schedule instead of on mine, and I must exercise patience and trust his expertise. While I wait for my novel to be released, I keep busy working on other projects, such as my next novel. The best advice I’ve heard is that to be a successful author, you must keep writing books, and that is something I enjoy doing.

I noticed last night that the new edition of Murder Over Kodiak is now available on amazon.com for presale, and that is an exciting step forward. I’ll invite you all to my online book release party once my book is released. I plan to give away some copies of my book, as well as other prizes, including gift certificates. The best part is that you don’t have to dress up for this party. I don’t care if you arrive in your underwear!

Next week, I’ll tell you about some of my other writing projects. Don’t forget to sign up for my mystery newsletter if you haven’t already done so. This month’s letter will be about the most infamous serial killer in Alaska’s history.