Welcome to Exeter...

... where visitors compare it to Jan Karon's Mitford — but with mobsters. Where the quiet of a small town hides secrets old and new. Where nobody is quite who or what they seem.

Come visit!
  • Back in the Northeast

    Back in the Northeast

  • Exeter Ledger

    Exeter Ledger

All That Is Necessary

All That Is Necessary

"Believable characters, an intricate plot, an absence of fluff, a thread of social justice, and the anticipation of more plot twists to come, All That Is Necessary will challenge you to keep up." — Phyllis Anne Duncan, author of Spy Flash, Blood Vengeance and Fences
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Rory's Story Cubes Challenge

Rory's Story Cubes Challenge

Take nine picture dice, add imagination, stir with your chosen writing implement and cook up a story that incorporates all nine images. This weekly writing prompt will challenge your creativity.
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Thrown Out: Stories From Exeter Vol. 1

Thrown Out: Stories From Exeter Vol. 1

"The title story, 'Thrown Out,' about a young man's struggles with his gay identity, is such a powerful piece." — Terri Giuliano Long, award-winning author of In Leah's Wake
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Free Exclusive: We Are Exeter

Free Exclusive: We Are Exeter

Meet twenty-six residents of fictional Exeter, Massachusetts, through these profiles from the local paper. Learn more about those you've met in other books in the series and meet some Exeter residents who haven't shown up in any of the stories — yet. Exclusively for newsletter subscribers.
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Joe O’Leary passed the glass of wine — he made sure to find those plastic ones that looked real — across the table to Annabelle. She didn’t like beer, she said. Course not, she was a good girl. Not like those sluts at the football parties, throwing themselves at everybody. Dropping their red cups full of beer and bending over so they were showing off what wasn’t under their skirts for anybody who wanted an eyeful. Or more. He’d gotten more last night, and the night before that. But Annabelle wasn’t like that. She was a good girl.

“This is nice,” she said, smiling at him. “Usually all anybody has is that cheap Boone’s sludge.”

082014Joe smiled at her, glad that sneaking the bottle from the supply in his dad’s shop storeroom was worth it. He needed a girl he could bring home, one that would get his parents off his case. The party girls didn’t count. Any girl who would spread her legs for half the football team because her sorority sisters told her to was just a sheep waiting to be fleeced. Once he had what he wanted from them, they were useless.

“Just consider it thanks for all your help tutoring,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been able to answer that questions about the signs a mountain might be a dormant volcano on the last quiz without you.” He sipped from his glass, sure that the wine was the key. “Are you going to the game Saturday?”

“My parents aren’t coming,” she said. “They don’t-” She sighed. “They aren’t coming.”

“They don’t like football?” he asked.

“They don’t like that I went away to school,” she said, straightening in her chair. “My father went to Boston State and worked nights to put himself through school. My mother went to work when she was 16 because her family needed the money. They wanted me to stay at home and go to UMass-Boston. I gambled that I could get a big enough scholarship to come here, and didn’t even apply to UMass-Boston. They think spending the money for me to come here is a waste, but I was lucky and did get that scholarship, so they couldn’t stop me.” Her voice quivered a little, her eyes bright with unshed tears.

“But they aren’t coming all the way out to Amherst to see you,” Joe said. He reached across the table and took one of her tiny hands in his big one. “My parents will be here, if you want to borrow them. I’ll be busy with the game, anyway.”

She smiled, but shook her head. “I couldn’t,” she said. “But you’re a really nice guy to suggest it.”

“Why don’t we take a break from studying for a while,” he suggested. “My brain feels like a big blob, and you sound like you could use a minute.” He reached for the wine bottle and refilled her glass. “What do you like best about living on campus?”

He kept her talking, and filled her wine glass over and over, until she was giggling and starting to tip to one side. When she slid into him, he leaned over and kissed her. She was soft and her lips tasted like the wine, and Joe wanted to keep going. But she wasn’t that kind of girl.

“I should go,” he said.

“You don’t have to,” she said.

“Yes, I do,” he said.

It wasn’t until she was in bed and he was standing outside the on-campus apartments that he realized what he needed. Sure, it was a Monday night, but there had to be a party someplace. He walked until he found a house with music pumping out the windows and the smell of pot on the air. He didn’t know whose party it was, but it didn’t matter. He was the quarterback. He could get in anywhere.

When he woke up the next morning, he was surprised to find himself in his dorm room, fuzz coating his mouth. He thumped his alarm clock until it stopped and pushed himself up, his head throbbing. He remembered being a gentleman and putting Annabelle to bed. He remembered the party, and the two girls he’d fucked in the living room. He thought he’d nailed another one in one of the bedrooms, but that was the last thing he remembered. He must have made it home to crash at some point, but he had no idea when. He looked at the clock, rubbing his eyes until they focused. Shit. He had to move or he’d miss geology class and Annabelle would be mad.

He made it to class just as the last few people were filing into the lecture hall. Annabelle was sitting further back than usual, but all the seats near her were full. When the lecture ended fifty minutes later, he hurried outside so he could catch her when she emerged.

“I hope you understood that,” he said to her when he saw her.

She nodded, and bit her lip. “I’m sorry about last night,” she said.

“Nothing to be sorry about,” Joe said. “I’m the one who brought the wine. I should be apologizing.”

“No, you were a complete gentleman,” Annabelle said. “Most guys would have tried to join me in bed, and you didn’t.”

Joe managed not to smirk. “Most guys are jerks,” he said.

“I’m glad you’re not,” she said. “Since I almost passed out on you, how about I treat you to a movie tomorrow night?”

“Sure,” Joe said.

Only after Annabelle had headed to her next class did he pump his fist in the air. She was the right girl, he was sure of it. Soon he’d have a girl worthy of his status on campus.

This is part of my novel-in-stories round of the Story Cubes Challenge, where I am writing each week’s prompt to fit together into a novel. If you want to get the stories as they publish, subscribe here. Earlier installments are in the newsletter archives.

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Back in the Northeast

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CV paddle 2

I’ve been quiet for a while, mostly because lots of things have been in flux. Several weeks ago, I moved to a group of my company’s upstate New York papers, so between packing, moving and getting settled, life’s been crazier than normal. The bad news is I’m now a Red Sox fan in the heart of Yankees territory. The good news is I’m now only a couple hours from Massachusetts, so I can get back to my hometown more often. I also have a better work situation in terms of insanity levels, mostly because it’s a bigger newsroom. And you’re wondering why you care about that.

The benefit for you is that I have more time to write, and I’m much closer to my source of inspiration. There are two Exeter works-in-progress right now: the story of when Chris came to Exeter and the second Mob Chronicles book. You’ll see the Mob Chronicles book first for a few reasons, but I’m hoping to read from both of them at an appearance in Massachusetts in early September. Details TBA.

Other news: We Are Exeter is now free for everybody who signs up for the mailing list. I don’t send a lot of emails, but you’ll find out about appearances and new books first, plus possibly get some sneak peeks. If you had already signed up and don’t have a copy of We Are Exeter, email me at jenniecoughlin28@gmail.com and let me know what email you signed up with and what ebook format you want.

(Photo taken in my local state park from a kayak. Brainstorming while paddling is one of the benefits of the move.)

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Michael Sam, Dan Reilly and the Power of Backstory

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For those who don’t know, I’m a Mizzou (University of Missouri) grad, and a proud one at that. I went there for the top-notch J-school, but I also was in Marching Mizzou and thus went to every home football game, a few away games and both bowl games while I was a student. And yes, I still know all the words to the fight songs.

So when Mizzou defensive end/NFL prospect Michael Sam announced to the world a few weeks ago that he was gay, I had more than average interest in the story for several reasons. Sam was one of several players with standout seasons for the Tigers and I had been hoping the Patriots might pick him up in the draft because he seemed like the type of person that fits well with the Pats. (Yes, yes, Jets fans, I hear you mocking.) Also, he’s a fellow Tiger. Finally, this was somebody who was taking a gutsy step to be true to himself, even though it might cost him come draft time. He’s not a top-10 pick, or even a first-day pick. He’s a mid-round or late-round pick who doesn’t fit neatly into a pro position.

One comment Sam made in his initial interviews that has stuck with me was when he said that after everything he’d been through growing up, coming out was nothing.

If you’re not familiar with his story, there are some great profiles out there of him. But the short version is that he’s one of eight kids. Three are dead, two are in jail. His parents are separated, and when he goes home to his small town in Texas, he stays with friends. He lived more with friends’ families than at home when he was in high school, too, which says a lot about his family life. He decided he didn’t want to go down the same route as his brothers and football would be his way out. He’s now the first person in his family to graduate from college. He’s never been in trouble with the law. And no matter what else people have said about him, everybody who knows him agrees he’s mature, poised, full of character and a strong leader.

That’s the backstory that makes who he is and what he’s accomplished resonate so much more. Most kids with the hurdles he’s faced would not have even made it to college, much less excelled the way he has. And it makes his comment about coming out ring true.

When I was first playing around in the Exeter universe, I knew what Dan Reilly was like as an adult, but I didn’t know how he got that way. One thing I did know was that for him to have been out as early as he was, given his age (mid-30s in present-day time) there had to be a good reason. There had to be something that explained that. As I poked around and got to know the characters better, the marsh story came up and I realized that it explained a lot. By the time Dan chose to come out, he’d already faced down something much scarier, and, as we learn in All That Is Necessary, he had seen the possible consequences of staying in the closet. His backstory is extreme, even if you’re used to the mob tales that permeate southern New England. But so is Michael Sam’s. Neither one relates to their sexual orientation, but their experiences influence them in all aspects of their life.

The whole point of backstory is that who we are and what we’ve experienced shapes us as people. From what Michael Sam has chosen to share of his backstory, and what’s been reported in the past two weeks, we can see how he got to where he is today. They’re a key part of his story. As I learned more about Dan as a character, I realized that without his past — without the mob and Uncle Billy and Liz and the rest of his family — he wouldn’t be who he is.

Dan Reilly is fictional. Michael Sam is very real. But they both show how our backstories, our past, shape us in all sorts of ways.

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Spinning Mob Tales (or, Why New Englanders Are Different)

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As is pretty obvious to anybody who’s read an Exeter book or short story, the mob was present in my small town as a kid. Or, to be completely fair, the Mafia had a presence in my town at various points in the 20th century. (I’ve seen the court records, so that’s not just town tall tales.) Their presence was just common knowledge.

At November’s open mic for the local writers’ group, another native New Englander was sitting across from me. Jeff’s a poet, and he grew up in Rhode Island, 15 minutes from Providence, though he would point out that pretty much everywhere in Rhode Island can be defined as 15 minutes from Providence. When he heard I had mobsters in my books, we were off and running.

Jeff talked about how the dad of one of his third-grade classmates arrested Patriarca and everybody in class knew that meant that kid’s dad was going to die. I had just read the Boston Mob Handbook (great read!) a few weeks earlier and found somebody from Franklin (my hometown) in the book — Larry Zannino was the top enforcer for the New England Mafia. The story about when the town took the Zannino farm to use as a school is a tale for another day, though I did tell it that night.

Jeff and I are trading stories back and forth during the social hour. One of the other two people at our table has family in Connecticut and Rhode Island, plus she’s been reading, editing and critiquing Exeter stories for two years now, so she wasn’t at all fazed. Emily, on the other hand, was having a hard time believing that it was that common.

Now, not every New England town has mob history, whether you’re talking Mafia or Irish mob, but in states that are geographically small and densely settled (at least in southern New England), it’s not uncommon for people to have these kind of stories. At least that’s been my experience. As we tried to explain that to Emily, it got me thinking about this thread of history (and reality still, in some towns). Exeter’s fictional, obviously, but I really enjoy trying to capture that particular element of New England in my stories. I’m also going to try and start telling some of the tales I’ve heard over the years — at least the ones that won’t get me sued or otherwise — on here from time to time.

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Rory’s Story Cubes Challenge IV: Week 7

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Here’s this week’s prompt. I’m thinking it’s time to go traveling again. How about you?




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Discretion: A Drabble Challenge Response

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This week’s prompt for the drabble challenge was “practice.” Again, a word that could have worked for several of the characters. I ended up going with Becca, who might be my favorite character in Exeter. This week, at least. ;)


Becca fumed as Anderson drove off, Frances in the front seat and baby Ellie in the back. Her sister looked back, her face growing smaller with distance

The next time, she bit her tongue. And the one after that.

As Ellie grew up, it got harder.

“Aunt Becca, Daddy says I shouldn’t make a mess.”

“Aunt Becca, Dad says dishes need to be done this way.”

“Aunt Becca, why doesn’t Dad like Riordan?”

Becca deflected or softened her words. After Frances died, she refrained so she wouldn’t lose contact with Ellie.

Her brother-in-law couldn’t take Ellie away. She hoped, anyway.

Like reading about Becca and Ellie? Here’s another story from when Ellie is a child: Summer Getaway 


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Unseen: A Drabble Challenge Response

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One fanfiction site I frequent recently started a weekly drabble challenge, so I stole the prompt for an Exeter story. Yes, I also did the fanfiction one, too. Four of them, in fact, one for each show I watch. If you’re not familiar with drabble, they’re 100-word pieces. Telling a story in exactly 100 words is the challenging part.

This week’s prompt is “university,” which could have applied to many of the characters since Exeter’s a college town. But there was one it seemed perfect for because it touches on a story I’m hoping to tell once I finish wrestling the story of how Chris and Dan met to the ground.


Brochures, fliers, applications: swept away. Evan dumped them in the trash can behind the house, then wheeled it around to the curb. The kitchen counter would be full again tomorrow. More wasted paper.

The senior walked inside. His father was grading papers.

“Did you finish your college applications yet?” he asked, not looking up. “The deadlines are coming up.”

“All taken care of,” Evan said. He grabbed his windbreaker, slung a backpack over one shoulder. “I’m going to study.”

Minutes later, he walked into the fire station, EMT textbook in hand. “I finished this week’s homework and next week’s, Chief.”


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Rory’s Story Cubes Challenge IV: Week 6

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Hmmm, decisions, decisions. Looks like the characters have some to make in this week’s challenge — once you choose which path to travel on your story.


Flower, alien, fire, dropping, choosing, pushing, anger, cracked egg, bubbling cauldron

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Changing Direction: Story Cubes Challenge Week 1 response

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Prompts: Lightbulb, Halloween/ghosts/ghoulies, skyscraper/office building, sleeping/alarm clock ringing, turning, rocket crashing in space, sunrise/sunset, sheriff’s badge/star, bowl of steaming something

Changing Direction

May 2008

Ellie stood at the entrance to the site and looked up at the girders rising high above the ground, the sunrise painting the steel in pinks and purples. Except the places where red and black spray paint marred the office building’s skeleton. She turned to look at the Fairfax County sheriff’s deputy.

“It looks like a Halloween prank a few days early,” she said, stuffing her hands in the pockets of her lightweight jacket. “You’re sure it’s gang-related?” She tried to remember the deputy’s name. Bettencourt, she thought. “Sgt. Bettencourt, isn’t this a little far out in the county for gangs?”

Bettencourt shrugged. “We’ve been seeing it more and more on the eastern side of the county, spilling over from DC.” He paused as the radio on his shoulder crackled. “They’ve even had a rise in gang activity in the Shenandoah Valley the past few years,” he added. “It’s not just the cities any more.”

“Why here, though?” Ellie scanned the development, sandwiched between two townhouse complexes, located off a main road in the fast-growing county. “I expect irate neighbors, not gangs.”

“If Fairfax County was a city, it would be one of the 25 largest in the country,” Bettencourt said. “All sorts of outsiders coming in these days.” His sneer made Ellie conscious of her own accent, the Boston flavor a far cry from the softer syllables commonly heard among native Virginians.

“Can the crews clean up the damage?” She looked over at Bettencourt, who had a good five inches on her, despite the modest heels that took her within an inch of six feet.

He nodded. “We took some photos after we got out here, got a few more from the neighbors who called it in.” The sergeant tipped his head to the southwest. “They have a strong Neighborhood Watch program over there. You might just have been a handy, unguarded target.”

Ellie stepped back so she wasn’t so conscious of looking up at the man. “But you don’t think so.” Read More

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Rory’s Story Cubes Challenge: Week 5

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Welcome to my site’s news home — jenniecoughlin.com — and this week’s Story Cubes Challenge prompt. Now that the site’s converted, I’ll finally be posting my Week 1 response later today.

Looks like this week’s cubes give us a chance to travel some more if we want.


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