The lovely folks at Kensington Publishing gave me the green light to include an excerpt from my upcoming suspense novel, The Last Time She Saw Him, the first in a new series,  that officially comes out on June 28 (not that I’m counting the days or anything, but holy cow, people, I’m excited!). Here’s a look:

THE LAST TIME SHE SAW HIM

Prologue

All around us, they descended for one last brilliant summer hurrah.

The Detroit summer refugees invaded our beaches like the Allies swarming Normandy on D-Day and claimed the best our town of Sparrow had to offer during its shining season. My older brother, Ben, and I had watched them all summer long from the top step of the bandstand at the end of Grand Haven Avenue or perched along one of the white wooden boardwalk benches if we were lucky enough to nab an empty seat on what was considered prime Lake Huron real estate.

Our parents couldn’t afford a TV, let alone the rent most months, so Ben and I depended on the out-of-towners for our entertainment. Ben and I would share a skinny carton of Dolle’s caramel corn and look on with rapt curiosity as men in hideous Hawaiian shirts scanned the beach with metal detectors for lost treasure while their wives padded up and down the shore in high-waisted two-piece bathing suits. They occasionally glanced over with detached interest at their sunburned-crisp children, who dug furiously for mole crabs in the damp sand. The teenage crowd always set up camp near the jetty. Maybe it felt more dangerous there. They smoked cigarettes and drank Tab from a can as their boom boxes belted Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band’s “Night Moves.”. And the days of summer along the eastern Michigan shore slowly slipped by.

On Labor Day weekend, the final surge of tourists arrived en mass, but Ben and I didn’t need them anymore. We were ready to reclaim our town. With twenty whole dollars in our pockets, guilt money Daddy had given us, Ben and I wove through the crowd, which was fifty people deep, our feet slapping against the wooden planks of the boardwalk in the cheap sneakers Mom had bought us at the A&P. I watched Ben’s suntanned lean arms and legs fly in front of me as seagulls screeched overhead, the scavengers searching to pluck a stray, plump French fry from a careless hand, and the cloying aroma of suntan lotion clung to the sticky September air. A patina of sweat glistened on my skin and made my thin jumper feel tacky against my reed-thin frame. My long, dark hair, flecked with strands of red from the sun, was caught in a ponytail and thumped against my back as I tried to keep up with Ben.

Even though I had just turned seven the week before, I already wondered whether, if I could will something hard enough, the universe would budge ever so slightly and things would shift in my favor. On that afternoon, I truly believed my desperation did just that.

In that one perfect moment, Sparrow was ours again. We didn’t care about the start of another school year come morning or recent memories of last spring, when Ben, our older sister, Sarah, and I were forced to jockey for a comfortable spot to sleep in the backseat of my Dad’s rusted-out Chrysler, the one he would simultaneously swear and pray would “son of a bitch, dear God, please catch!”

Ben and I silently ached for something good to finally happen, and there it was, shimmering in the heat just a block away: Funland, the Holy Grail of all that was wonderful in our fragile, young lives. The amusement park was housed in a modest wooden building on the beach block of Great Lakes Avenue. Funland didn’t look like much on the outside, but as soon as Ben and I heard its welcoming chorus of tinny carousel music, we knew pure spun magic awaited us inside.

Ben raced into Funland ahead of me and flashed me his trademark crooked grin. He held a string of tickets so long it curled to the cement floor.

“Julia, here are five tickets for the carousel,” Ben said as he snapped off five paper tokens.

“You won’t come with me?”

“Nah, the carousel is for little kids. You have fun though,” Ben answered and began to make his way over to the bumper cars. Ben was nine, and I wasn’t yet old or tall enough to reach the marker needed for admittance to the big-kid cool rides.

I watched Ben disappear behind the skee-ball booth and reluctantly climbed onto my favorite brown pony with the white star saddle. I stood up in the stirrups and peered over the crowded heads for Ben. When I couldn’t spot him, I could feel the sting of tears begin to start.

As the panic grew inside me, there was my brother, a streak of jet-black hair and his favorite red shirt flashing through the crowd. Right before the ticket taker closed the gate, Ben leapt onto the carousel platform.

“No crying, kid. I’ll be on the carousel bench where the grown-ups sit,” Ben said. “Don’t worry. I won’t let you fall off. You’ll be fine.”

“You promise?”

“You’ve got to stop being a scared baby all the time.”

“I’m not a baby. And I’m not scared when you’re around.”

Ben leaned toward me and brushed away a tear that had started to slip down my cheek. “I promise I won’t ever let anything bad happen to you. Not ever.”

“Swear to God?” I asked.

“Cross my heart and hope to die. Now stop crying already. We’re supposed to be having fun for once, remember?”

The music of the carousel started, and I eased my steel grip around the pony’s neck. I looked out at the crowd as it began to slowly spin around me. The tourists waved madly as their children passed and a line of kids began to snake back toward the spin paint booth for the next ride. As the carousel turned faster, I spotted a blur of a man who popped up from behind the ticket booth. He wore a black baseball cap and pointed his Polaroid camera in my direction. A flash of light blinded me for a second. When the ride circled the crowd again, the man with the Polaroid camera was gone.

I thought of telling Ben about the man with the camera on our walk home from Funland and later, before we went to sleep that night. But I didn’t want Ben to think I was a scared baby. My decision would later haunt my every day, leaving me to desperately wonder whether, if I had told Ben about the stranger, it could have saved him.

#

“911, what is the nature of your call?”

“My brother. He’s gone! Someone took him. Please, you’ve got to come here quick!”

“What is your brother’s name?” the female 911 dispatcher asked.

“Ben. Ben Gooden. Please hurry!”

“Okay. It’s going to be all right. What’s your name?”

“Julia. Julia Gooden. I live on 18 Snug Harbor Road.”

“Is your mother or father there? Can you put them on the phone?”

“My dad’s not here, and my mom won’t get up.”

“Is your mother hurt?”

“No. She’s just drunk.”

“Okay, Julia. Is there anyone else at home with you?”

“My sister, Sarah. She’s fourteen. She doesn’t believe me. Sarah said I was an idiot baby and told me to get out of her room.”

“Did you check the house for your brother?” the dispatcher asked.

“I looked all over. I swear. Ben was in his bed when I fell asleep. I woke up in my mom’s room. I don’t know how I got there. When I went back to our room, Ben was gone. Please, you need to help me!”

“Does it look like someone broke in?”

“The courtyard door to our bedroom is open. I wanted to make sure it was locked before we went to sleep, but I didn’t want Ben to think I was scared.”

“Okay. We’re sending an officer over right now. Do you think your brother wandered outside?”

“No. I looked in the courtyard and the driveway too. Ben wasn’t there. I found his baseball on the sidewalk. It’s his favorite New York Yankees ball. Ben sleeps with it every night. He’d never leave it behind.”

“Okay. You stay on the phone with me, Julia, until the officer gets there. I’m sure everything is going to be just fine. You’ll see.”

“You’re right. Ben would never leave me. He promised.”

Chapter 1

I became a reporter because I never found out the ending to my own story. Thirty years after Ben’s abduction, the only answers I could find were for others, the victims, or those they left behind. The crime beat is a natural for me. The people I write about are the most fragile, the most broken, and they need the most answers. I piece together the frayed strands of their lives. I have to tell their stories. I feel like I owe the victims at least that.

Five p.m. in the newsroom, and I am in the zone. I stare at my half-written follow-up story on the Boyner boy until a blast of static crackles from the scanner above my desk. “Shots fired on the two-hundred block of Rosa Parks Boulevard,” the female 911 dispatcher calls out in a staccato monotone.

I turn back to my story and listen with trained detachment to hear whether there’s anything more I need to chase on deadline. More likely, it’s a drug deal gone bad or a gang-related drive-by. Just another rush hour in inner-city Detroit.

The scanner goes silent for thirty seconds. Nothing further. No follow-up required, for now anyway. I go back to my article on Donny Boyner when my e-mail chimes and the new message alert flashes across the right side of my computer screen. It’s from Bob Primo, the metro desk editor. Primo has been my middleman boss for the past ten years, and he’s been consistent, a certified Grade-A solid prick throughout. Primo thinks I owe him for successfully pitching my story for the front page during the big bosses’ three o’clock editorial meeting. But it wasn’t Primo’s pitch. It was the story that sold it, an eight-year-old boy who disappeared on the way to the bus stop. With no new news on day two of the story, it’s my job to make the little boy real to the readers. And Primo and his bosses know I will deliver.

I ignore Primo’s interruption and glance down at my reporter’s notebook. It’s filled with quotes I got two hours prior while sitting in the living room of the tidy row house Donny Boyner shared with his grandma, Laveeta, a seventy-year-old whisper of a woman who stared intently at the velvet picture of a black Jesus that hugged the entirety of her living room wall as she recounted stories about her grandson. When I asked about the last time she saw Donny, Laveeta tore her gaze away from Jesus and cast her eyes downward to the scuffed gold vinyl floor. Ever since he started kindergarten, Laveeta said she walked Donny to the bus stop, just one block away. But yesterday she caught a cold—more than a cold, she said, a flu bug that made her body sweat and burn through the night. By morning, she was worse. Donny wanted to stay home so he could take care of his grandma, but Laveeta insisted he couldn’t miss school. His grandma knew school was Donny’s only ticket out of the projects. So Donny grabbed his backpack, promised Laveeta he’d take care of her when he got home, and kissed her on the forehead before he headed out on his journey: one short block alone to the bus that would safely deliver him to his third-grade class at Gardner Elementary School.

Just one short block.

I throw my reporter’s notebook into the top right drawer of my desk and write from memory. The city editor at my first paper told me the best reporters write from both the head and the heart.

I stare at the third-grade class picture of Donny on his missing-persons flyer. I pinned it to my desk when the Amber Alert first went out after Donny didn’t get off the bus at the end of the school day. In the photo, Donny wears a short-sleeved blue and white striped shirt buttoned all the way up to his collar. He peers hesitantly through his thick glasses at the camera as though he is uncomfortable being the center of attention even on school picture day.

My eyes flick to the other photo on my desk. It’s a framed picture of my sons, Logan and Will, taken down by the lake last summer. Logan is eight, just like Donny.

I turn my concentration back on the article about the missing boy, but I already know how this story will ultimately end. There will be bad news, the kind that decimates the living. Or no news at all. Not ever. Good news in child abduction cases is a bona fide miracle. And I stopped believing in miracles when Ben never came home. Miracles are like Santa Claus, just stuff kids believe.

#

Hey readers, it’s Jane here. Sorry to stop abruptly and not include the rest of Chapter 1. But, hopefully, you’ve liked what you’ve read so far. I personally am a massive mystery/thriller/suspense book junkie, and I know there are so many great books in this genre, but I hope, now that you’ve had a sampling of The Last Time She Saw Him, you’ll want to read more.

Thanks for coming by!

The Last Time She Saw Him comes out on June 28, 2016. You can order the book here: Barnes & NobleAmazon , Books A Million , Indie BoundHudson Booksellers

The first album I ever bought was Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band’s Nine Tonight when I was fourteen years old. I used the money I earned from my first check as a chambermaid, the only job I could land that summer because I wasn’t sixteen yet and my friend’s dad owned the little seasonal motel where I lived in Gloucester, Massachusetts, so I had an in.

I sang every song on that Bob Seger album from memory as I rode my bike five miles to the chambermaid job. After my first shift, I promised myself I’d somehow earn enough scholarship money to go to college so I could maybe one day become a writer and never have to clean another stranger’s toilet again.

My route home from my summer job took me past Gorton’s of Gloucester, the frozen fish stick company, and a place I swore I’d never end up. I’d pedal my old red Schwinn by the assembly line workers, some still wearing their hairnets, as they got off their swing shift. When our paths crossed, Bob Seger’s Feel Like a Number would play in my head like an anthem. I knew the workers were making an honest living and likely had families and bills to pay. But I had dreams that were going to hopefully take me far away.

I have no idea what ever happened to that Bob Seger album. I can’t remember if I took it with me to Syracuse University four years later when I somehow scared up enough scholarship money to go to college where I’d eventually graduate with high hopes for the future and a degree in journalism.

Those songs from that album, like so many memories from that part of my past, got shelved away as my life moved on. I became a journalist. I got married to a good Michigan boy who I met at a newspaper in California where I was covering the cop beat. And two little boys later, I found myself in Michigan after my husband received a job transfer from his company.

I’d always liked Michigan and Detroit, unpretentious places with hard working people. For me, Detroit was an underdog, battling its way back from a series of hardscrabble knocks, like my lead character, Julia Gooden, in the book I started writing after we landed in Michigan.

Fifty pages into the book, Bob Seger’s Michigan had found me again. I began to recall his music from my past, filled with stories of love, lust, and bittersweet reflections of youthful dreams never realized, sung with Bob Seger’s signature Heartland grit. To me, the Michigan icon’s songwriting is honest and raw to the bone, but more than that, always so, so good.

Before I finished the book, I bought Nine Tonight again, not as a vinyl record this time, but on iTunes. The songs sounded like old friends, bringing me back to a time when I knew I’d have to hustle for anything good to happen in my life against a blue-collar soundtrack that seemed to understand me.

Come back, baby
Rock n roll never forgets.

Thanks for the inspiration, Mr. Seger.

(My personal playlist of songs that inspired me as I wrote “The Last Time She Saw Him”)

Eminem:
Lose Yourself

Kid Rock
Cowboy

Bob Seger
Songs from Nine Tonight

Pink:
Try
F’in Perfect

Jason Mraz
I Won’t Give Up

Police
Synchronicity (the first title of the manuscript)

Electric Light Orchestra
Telephone Line

Allison Kraus and Robert Plant
Killing the Blues

Rihanna
We Found Love

That was my playlist. What’s on yours?

I completely stink at sales, which is probably one of the reasons I never tried getting a summer job in retail when I was a teenager. This complete aversion to selling anything started when I was eight and joined Girl Scouts. I was so horrified at the idea of having to sell Girl Scout Cookies when the annual campaign rolled around, that I made up a bunch of fake names and addresses on the cookie order sheet, which was obviously pretty unscrupulous, but I was desperate and young enough to think I wouldn’t be caught.

So much for my reasoning. When the boxes upon boxes of cookies arrived, I begged my mother to buy them all. My mother, who was lovely but certainly not a pushover, pulled out my little red wagon from the garage, loaded the boxes of cookies inside it, and walked the neighborhood with me, standing on the sidewalk as I rang doorbells and delivered my sales pitch in a quaking eight-year-old voice.

As authors, I realize we can’t be shrinking violets unless we are wickedly talented like the reclusive J.D. Salinger. For me, the writing is the easy part. Now that my suspense novel is coming out in July (gulp), I’ve got to get out of my comfort zone and start marketing my book in conjunction with my publishing house. I know communications and PR, so it’s not completely foreign territory, but the idea of self-promotion makes me feel like a sleazy used car salesman in an orange polyester suit with a bad comb over.

Okay, still with me? Sorry for the shameless pitch, but I’ve got to snap out of it. So here goes:

My publisher, Kensington Publishing, will be running an Advanced Reader Copy giveaway of my suspense novel, THE LAST TIME SHE SAW HIM, during the month of January on Goodreads.

Enter for a chance to win one of four advanced reader copies that Kensington will be giving away. THE LAST TIME SHE SAW HIM is a hardcover book, the first in a series, which will be officially released in July 2016.

Here’s a short synopsis:

A crime reporter’s young son is kidnapped on the 30th anniversary of her brother’s disappearance, leaving her just twenty-four hours to piece together childhood memories of her final day with her brother, who vowed he would always protect her, and decipher whether sudden reminders of him are clues, leading to her son’s abductor, or merely coincidence.

To enter, click here.

Happy New Year, thanks for bearing with me, and hope you read some great books (and maybe even enjoy a couple of boxes of thin mint Girl Scout cookies) in 2016!

Jane Haseldine

 

P.S. Here’s the book cover. The last time she saw him revise comp#1

I always considered myself a blue-collar writer. I am a scrappy journalist, a former crime reporter who never took a creative writing class, and I certainly don’t have an MFA under my belt, just a J degree from Syracuse University and a lifelong love of books (thanks to my mom who took my siblings and me to the public library every Saturday growing up, like it or not). During the period when I was trying to land a literary agent, and later, when my book went out on submission to publishers, I often let my own insecurities as a writer become my own worst enemy.

In other words, when I got rejected early on, I had to fight that nagging voice in my head that whispered, “You can’t write worth a damn, Haseldine. Give it up.”

Most writers I know are wrought with insecurities. On one hand, we believe we’ve got a hell of a story to tell, and we’re just the ones to tell it. On the other hand, we wonder if we are just kidding ourselves. I used to picture literary agents and bigwig editors in New York keeling over from laughter after they read my manuscript and saying something like, “Hey Harry, you gotta’ see this story. It’s the worst piece of crap I’ve ever read.”

At one of my old newspapers, we reporters had a rotating assignment, which we collectively hated. It was called “Everybody Has a Story.” It boiled down to when it was your turn, you’d have to randomly pick a name from the phone book (yes, this was the early 2000’s when phone books weren’t almost obsolete). Then you’d have to call the stranger, convince them you weren’t trying to sell them anything, and more importantly, that you weren’t a nut job. If you could get them over that insurmountable hurdle, then you had to beg, borrow, and steal and whatever other tactics you had up your reporting sleeve, to get the person on the other end of the phone to actually agree to the interview.

I find that most people are okay talking about themselves if you give them a nudge. Even though I never loved the “Everybody Has a Story” assignment, I discovered it was true. Everyone has a unique story to tell.

And the same is true with writers. We may not all have MFA’s, we may not all be journalists, and some of us may never have had anything previously published. But you know what? Who cares? You are the exact right person to write your story. Your unique experiences, imagination, style, personal humor, and struggles you survived make you an original.

Last week, I got a box of advanced reader copies of my book, THE LAST TIME SHE SAW HIM, from my editor. I looked on at them with wonder and awe and big old dose of humility, and felt a warm pull inside me that I pushed forward and didn’t let my own insecurities cripple me before I even tried.

If you’re writing a book, or just dreaming of it, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. Everybody has a story. And if your own voice starts whispering that you aren’t good enough, do me a favor? Tell it to shut up.

Keep on writing, friends.

 

Today I hesitated whether to send my kids to school. Not because of the recent stomach flu that has spread like wildfire through my boys’ elementary school, including one poor girl who threw up on stage in the middle of the holiday chorus concert, but because our neighboring school district, Los Angeles Unified, closed this morning due to a bomb threat.

In a world that seems to have been turned upside down with acts of violence, from the recent Paris attacks, to the three-year anniversary of the innocents who lost their lives in Sandy Hook, to the horrible killing of fourteen people, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons, in San Bernardino, a city that is only one hour away from my family’s home, I find myself more and more struggling as a parent on how to keep my own children safe without succumbing to irrational, full-fledged paranoia.

I recently flashed to the horrible shootings in movie theaters in both Louisiana and Colorado as I stood in line to buy tickets to the Goosebumps movie during a mother/son outing to celebrate my older boy’s tenth birthday, and reminded myself there’s nothing wrong with being cautious. As a parent, we are the protectors, the soothers, the role models. We need to be aware of our surroundings. But as a parent, I also have to trust that we live in a great country, made up mainly of good, decent people, who work hard, love their families, go to work, and generally try to do the right thing.

In other words, despite all the senseless violence that has disrupted and destroyed lives, somehow, just somehow, the good has to win. We can’t live in fear, but in hope, going about our daily routines and teaching our children to make good decisions and to be kind to one another.

This morning, I watched my little boys as they still slept, said a silent prayer for peace and tolerance, and told my sons that it was time to get up for school.