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The Torching: New Suspense

The Torching: Olivia Callahan Suspense by Kerry Peresta

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The Torching

The TorchingMysterious fires. A haunting past. A secret file. Three years ago, Olivia Callahan endured an assault that resulted in a devastating brain injury. She survived, but she couldn’t remember anything about her life or who she was. Now, she’s determined to build a bridge between the past she lost and the life she must reclaim. When Olivia crosses paths with Private Investigator Tom Stark, she is drawn to the investigative field, and becomes his intern.

She finds a heavily redacted, forty-five-year-old file locked in his desk drawer that mentions her mother as a young woman. Why had her mentor hidden the file from her, and why had he never mentioned a case involving her mother? As Olivia moves forward with her fledgling career, a string of mysterious fires moves through the community, puzzling the Baltimore Arson Investigative Unit. One of the fires strikes Olivia’s beloved farmhouse in rural Maryland.

Now, in addition to uncovering the secrets bound within the redacted file, she becomes convinced that the fires happening around the area are disturbing calling cards…and they’re meant for her.

Book Details:

Genre: Traditional mystery or Suspense Published by: Level Best Books Publication Date: March 2023 Number of Pages: 323 ISBN: 978-1-68512-323-9 Series: The Olivia Callahan Suspense series, 3 | Each is a Stand Alone Novel

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To purchase The Torching click on the following link: Amazon

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Guest Post by Kerry Peresta


When I’m in writing mode, I usually get to my desk by 9:30 A.M. and write straight through until early afternoon. My goal is 1000-1500 words per day, and I do pretty well hitting that. At the onset, when I’m starting a new book, I spitball ideas on a notepad, write character sketches, think about the actors and actresses I’d have play those parts, and generally get an overall feel for plot. I should take longer with this stage, but I’ve tried outlining. I really have. A couple of times. I know, I know…authors LOVE outlining. I’m hopeless. I never stick to an outline, the ideas come thick and fast underneath my fingers after I have a generic idea and characters in my head. So why even go there? I do write a long synopsis…but even then, I depart from the script at the actual writing!

I’ve been asked to identify the biggest risk to my writing schedule. I’d have to say…many risks! A bad mood. Lack of reviews. Discouragement. My grandkids visiting…which ALWAYS come before writing. (Can I get an amen from all the Grammys out there?) Also, if a trip or holiday comes along, I take a deep breath and try to work triple time until the holiday comes, then I determinedly ignore writing until things settle down. I can’t write when my mind wraps around Christmas Eve or Thanksgiving festivities. I won’t even try, ha! I think the biggest risk to my writing schedule is when one of my four adult kids has some kind of crisis. If they need support, either physical presence or handholding via cell, I’ll drop everything. Writing. Housework. Husband. They all have to wait until I have my chicks settled back into their nest in some semblance of peace and resolution. The other thing that (playfully) interrupts my schedule is my cat, Felix. Or Agnes, his comrade-in-arms. They both love to walk across my keyboard or lap at the most inopportune times. Often they are so adorable I have to stop and partake of kitty-hugs for a minute. Marketing is a risk to my writing schedule. I love marketing, I come from a marketing background…but it takes time and thought and it becomes challenging to work it into my writing schedule.

Another common question is what I do when nothing is working…in other words, do I ever get ‘writer’s block’. The short answer is that I rarely experience ‘writer’s block’ but I do stumble across plot point issues, or a chapter in the wrong place, or something that begs further research. This happens around the mid-point of the book. My brain is fried by that point, and I have to take a break. Let my mind rest. Put on my Thoreau hat and marinate in nature. For instance, when one of my critique partners told me correctional officers in Maryland have to be 21, I was frustrated that I’d very carefully calculated my character’s age to be 18 and concocted the plot timeline around this number. Now, I had to carefully pick through and change all of the timeline! I did a lot of research about prisons, but the age requirement escaped my attention. It’s so cool when a writer is both creative and methodical…but I’m on the creative spectrum so details are sometimes hard for me to lasso. So I throw up my hands when that happens, step away, and bury myself in a mindless TV episode, like a re-run of Law & Order. (I’ve seen every episode three times, probably.) When I run into roadblocks that involve research or plot point correction, it’s time to take a breather. I’ll come back fresher and less frazzled.

Quite often, I’ll have someone on social media or locally ask for the best advice I would give a prospective or beginning writer. My first reaction to this question is a big, drawn-out exhale. Then my mind flashes back to all the years spent researching the publishing industry—the blood, sweat, and tears of learning to write a query and sending them out as I hold my breath in anticipation—the crushing reality of a ninety percent rejection ratio. The tiny royalty checks that beginning authors experience. All this bounces through my head. I blink. Clear my throat. Then I say, “You don’t want to do this. Trust me.”

“Oh, but I do! I really do!” one of these hapless, starry-eyed, writers-in-the-making responds.

And so it begins.

Read an excerpt from The Torching.

Chapter 1

Smoke assailed us halfway up my long, winding, driveway. A dingy, gray film coated my windshield. I jabbed the brake to slow down, but my trembling foot slipped off the brake. Lilly gave me a look that broke my heart. 

The surging, ballooning smoke hurled itself at us like angry fog. Visibility fell to near-zero the longer I drove. I slowed to a crawl. We inched along the lane until the strobing white-and-red lights cut through the smoke. I counted two fire engines and one black SUV on the lane as I approached. A couple of firefighters raced into my house. My door lay on the porch in three pieces, and an  axe was propped against the wall. Each firefighter wore oxygen tanks attached to large, anteater-shaped masks. With their cumbersome, reflective-striped protective gear and masks, they looked more suited to step on the moon than inside my beloved Maryland farmhouse. 

I brought my car to a shuddering halt. 

We stepped out. I put my arm around Lilly.

Vaporous clouds of smoke cloaked my house. A couple of firefighters worked with giant, yellow firehoses. The men had divided themselves into teams, and the muted shouts told me some of them were behind the house. Flames leapt toward the sky from the backside of the roof. I counted six firefighters working on the house that I could see—plus the ones in the back. Tears trickled down my cheeks, and a terrifying thought struck—what about my cat? 

“Lilly,” I said, my voice shaky, “Where was Riot when you last saw him?”

Lily’s face went white. “Mom…”

I grabbed her by the shoulders. “No, no…Riot’s smart. He will have found safety. I’ll find him. Stay here.”

I ran across the yard to a woman dressed in navy slacks and a white shirt with metal glinting on the front and official-looking patches on the arms. “I’m the owner,” I yelled over the whump of igniting flames, batting my way through smoke.

She shook my hand and identified herself as the public information officer. “Sorry to meet under these circumstances, but glad you were out of the home. We have it controlled. The team inside is checking to make sure it was contained. As far as we can tell, the seat of the fire is in the attic. Give us thirty minutes, okay? But ma’am, I’ll need you to stay back. Our investigator will be here soon. She’ll let you know when it’s safe to go inside.”

“My cat’s in there,” I yelled. “Can you have someone look for him?” 

She spoke into a radio. 

The smoke started to let up. Three hoses trained on the roof gushed out torrents of water. The huge flames stretching into the sky began to shrink. Radio chatter stuttered around the space. The firefighters stayed in constant contact, radios slung across their chests with a strap that held a mic. 

These guys would not know where to look for Riot. 

With an apologetic glance at Lilly, I skirted around the trucks, avoided the PIO, and dashed across the yard, up the front porch stairs, and into the house.

 “MOM,” Lilly wailed through the billowy smoke.

 Coughing, I ran inside. “Riot,” I screamed. “Riot, I’m here, buddy.”

 I looked behind the couch. Underneath the dining room table. On top of his cat tree. Underneath the wingback chair. He wasn’t in any of his favorite spots. I plowed through the murkiness and melting sheetrock.

 A bullhorn blared, “Ma’am. We need you to exit the building.” “Now!”

 My throat was closing. My eyes stung like crazy. I needed to find him and get the heck out. 

 I scrambled into the kitchen and opened the lower cupboards, then the uppers. Searched the seats of the barstools, underneath the kitchen table. My heart thrashed like a wrecking ball in my chest. “Riot? I’m here, boy. Come on out,” I begged. A timid sound reached my ears. I waited. I heard it again, louder. 

 A shaggy, orange head appeared on top of the cabinets. I climbed up, grabbed him, and raced out the back door. The backyard firefighter team made group gestures that  I interpreted as  ‘get the hell out of here and let us do our job, ma’am’. 

 I zigzagged through the first responder obstacle course to my car, blinded by the strobing lights. Lilly spurted fresh tears and held out her arms for Riot. We watched in silence as the flames soared into the sky. After a while, we heard less commotion from the firefighters and the smoke around us grew white and wispy. 

 A very red-faced PIO barreled toward me. “I need you to stay out of the house until our investigator has completed the investigation.”

 I wiped my sooty hands on my pants. “Your guys wouldn’t have found my cat. Riot would have been scared to death by the way they look. I didn’t have a choice.”

 She told me the fire investigator had arrived, and under no circumstances was I to enter the home without her permission.

 Lilly held Riot tight against her chest. 

 “Thought you hated this cat,” I joked.

 “Whatever, Mom,” she said. 

 A small, thickset, woman with short hair approached. 

 “Mrs. Callahan?” 

 “It’s Ms. I’m the owner.”

 “Good news, Ms. Callahan. The rear quadrant of the roof and attic sustained most of the damage. The firefighters are checking the ceiling of the second floor now, for hot spots. I think you got lucky.”

 “It didn’t spread?”

 She smiled her assurances. “They’re going to clean up here and have a final look around. They’ll let me know when it’s safe to go in.” She stuck out a hand. “I’m Tasha Jackson, fire investigator. I work with these goofballs.” She grinned.

 I shook her hand. 

 In the background, firefighters wrapped hoses. A couple of them worked the hydrant. Another walked the perimeter of my home. Instead of the burble of radios, most of them had ditched the headgear. A man got out of the black SUV and strode toward the PIO. After a few minutes of speaking with her, he approached me. He introduced himself as the Battalion Chief, told me he was sorry the fire had interrupted such an important occasion, and if there was anything they could do…to call the PIO. She wiggled her fingers at me, then went to talk to the camera crews and TV reporters that had crashed the scene. His expression somber, the Battalion Chief handed me his business card.

 “If you need them, Red Cross services are available for three nights at a local motel and $600 gift cards for each displaced person. Please contact your insurance company immediately, they’ll do their own investigation.”

 I gave him a blank look and took his card. 

 “Our investigator will talk about next steps, and ask you some questions to complete her report. Please remember not to go inside the area of damage alone, Ms. Callahan. Do you have somewhere to stay?” 

With a sigh, I glanced over my shoulder toward my compact, office on the corner of Worthington Avenue and my property. I could stay in the office guest bedroom, and Lilly could stay at my neighbor’s house. “Yeah. We do. Is the…do you think the bedrooms in my house are okay? Can we get some clothes?” 

He yelled a couple of names and asked them to check. They walked toward my house. The porch that stretched across the front of my house looked as if someone couldn’t decide whether to drown it or blow it up.  

The public information officer waved off the reporters as she walked in my direction. One of the firefighters stared at me so long it became uncomfortable.  I groaned. Was he one of them? A cult fan of the ‘Mercy’s Miracle’ persona? Why had I thought it was a good idea to write a book? After the publisher’s marketing department flew me all over the country for publicity events, the book hit the bestseller list and stayed there. The story of my survival and struggle to re-create my life had developed a rabid following.

I gave the firefighter a hard stare. He dropped his gaze. Reporters screamed questions at me from a distance. The PIO did her best to keep them under control.

I longed for a normal life. 

My mind flew back. I closed my eyes, remembering.

The first few days, waking up in the hospital panicked and breathless and unable to move; the second week, when I’d begun to see flickers of light, the third week, when my fingers twitched and hope sprang to life. Neurology interns stealing in and out of my room at odd hours to see the ‘miracle’ restoration. I remembered my daughters’ first visits and the terrified looks on their faces when they realized I didn’t remember them. The fourth and fifth weeks, when physical therapists did everything they could to help restore my mobility and speech.

I could still visualize the reporters closing in on me. Waving their microphones in my face before I could even form a coherent sentence. I remembered watching my mom herding my daughters to my room on the fifth floor of the hospital, and the television crews that formed a tight knot around them as they made their way to the entrance of the hospital.  

My youngest daughter had burst into my hospital room with an excited smile. “Reporters are dying to talk to you, Mom! Get ready.”

I rubbed my eyes and sighed. 

Reporters were a plague to be avoided, now.

“Olivia? Are you okay?” The PIO looked at me in concern.
I blinked. “Sorry. Yeah. I’m okay.”

She held out her cell. “Create contact info for me?”

I entered my number, and my neighbor Callie’s, for good measure. The two firefighters that had inspected the bedrooms returned with a thumbs-up. “Bedrooms look good. Stairs are intact.”

The PIO smiled at me, tilted her head toward the reporters. “I didn’t realize you were that Olivia Callahan.”

I attempted a smile. She was trying to be nice. She had no idea that I hated the notoriety.

She handed me her card. “If you need anything. I mean it.” She left.

Lilly put her hand on my shoulder. “Mom? Everybody’s leaving. Now what?”

I squeezed my eyes shut. How do I accept this new reality?

Kerry Peresta, author of The Torching

The TorchingKerry Peresta is the author of the Olivia Callahan Suspense series. “The Torching,” book three, releases March, 2023, and books four and five in 2024 and 2025. Her standalone suspense thriller, “Back Before Dawn,” releases May, 2023. Additional writing credits include a popular newspaper and e-zine humor column, “The Lighter Side,” (2009—2011); the short story “The Day the Migraine Died,” published in Rock, Roll, and Ruin: A Triangle Sisters in Crime Anthology, articles published in Local Life Magazine, The Bluffton Breeze, Lady Lowcountry, and Island Events Magazine.

She is past chapter president of the Maryland Writers’ Association and a current member and presenter of the Pat Conroy Literary Center, Hilton Head Island Writers’ Network, South Carolina Writers Association, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Kerry is the mother of four adult children, and spent thirty years in advertising as an account manager, creative director, copywriter, and editor.

When she’s not writing, you’ll find her working out, riding her bike or kayaking, enjoying the beaches of Hilton Head Island, or cuddling her two cats, Agnes and Felix. She and her husband moved to Hilton Head Island in 2015.

To learn about Kerry, click on any of the following links: Website, Goodreads, Bookbub, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter.


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Elena Taylor/Elena Hartwell

Amazon #1 bestseller

All We Buried, available now in print, e-book, and audio.

Silver Falchion Award Finalist, Best Investigator

Foreword INDIE Award Finalist, Best Mystery



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Elena Hartwell

Author and developmental editor.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Wendy B

    ” My grandkids visiting…which ALWAYS come before writing. (Can I get an amen from all the Grammys out there?)” – AMEN!!

    Great guest post!! I love knowing your “system” I always wonder this about writers. I am sure everyone is different. I always picture a writer sitting on the floor surrounded by index cards! LOL

    1. Elena Hartwell

      I have on occasion been surrounded by index cards, but lately it’s more on the computer 🙂 and I agree! Such a great guest post!

  2. Wendy B

    Thanks for this opportunity to guest post!!! And yes, grandkids come first. 🥰

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