Athol author writes with sense of place, people

  • “Niagara Fontaine”



For the Recorder
Published: 4/10/2019 5:12:11 PM

Judith McIntosh of Athol has taken Mark Twain’s dictum, “Write what you know,” to heart. Writing as J.A. McIntosh, she has incorporated both her hometown and her profession into the setting of her first suspense novel, “Niagara Fontaine.”

Like Athol, the fictional Meredith, Mass., is a mill town past its glory days.

“I’ve lived in Athol all my life,” McIntosh said. “I remember when it was prosperous. I remember when people would graduate from high school and go to work in the factories.”

She herself followed that path for a few years before deciding she wanted a different life. As a divorced single parent, she enrolled in law school.

“It was quite the balancing act,” she recalled. “For a while I was working at the factory during the day, I was trying to go to school at night, and I was trying to take care of my son in between. ... I was young and foolish.”

Internships and part-time jobs during law school led her into the field of legal services.

“When I got into it, something hooked me,” she said. “I thought, ‘I can make a difference. I can do something that impacts other people, and I can use my law degree.’”

She ended up working as an attorney for the state’s Department of Children and Families for almost 30 years. She retired in 2015, although she still consults part time.

“I had a five-year plan for writing,” she said of her retirement. “I’d been thinking about it a lot while I was working.”

Niagara Fontaine, her book’s heroine, is also a lawyer in the child welfare system. Niagara is drawn into a mystery at the outset of the book when she learns that a teenage girl has been stabbed and stuffed into a closet — and that a number of children in the system seem to have disappeared.

She juggles romance, danger and the stress of her job as she tries to identify the source of these crimes.

McIntosh was quick to note that the sinister happenings in her novel are not, in general, based on actual events.

“Most of the people I met were really dedicated,” she explained. “People don’t go into the child welfare system for money. But strange things kept happening. ... I asked myself lots of what ifs. ‘What if this hadn’t gone so well?’ I had 30 years’ worth of material to draw on. ...

“There was a young girl who was stabbed and put in the closet, but the rest of it I made up,” she noted. “Her stepfather was arrested.”

Her imagination filled in the rest, she added, stating that she asked herself, “What if it hadn’t been that straightforward? What if there had been something else going on?”

“Niagara Fontaine” is the first in a projected four-book series about Niagara and her colleagues and friends in Meredith.

“Each of the books is about a different character,” McIntosh said, “but (Niagara) does appear in the other books. Each is told from a different character’s viewpoint.”

Judith McIntosh has two local appearances in the offing. On Saturday, April 13, from noon to 1 p.m., she will sign books at the Easthampton Book Fest. And on Tuesday, April 16, at 6 p.m. she will talk about her book at the Greenfield Public Library.

McIntosh said she plans to give a PowerPoint presentation at the library about the origins of her fiction, which will include photographs of the factory buildings and row houses she sees every day in Athol.

She will also discuss self-publishing, read from the book, and talk about the sense of place that permeates her writing. And of course, she will sign copies of “Niagara Fontaine” for anyone who wants to buy it. It is also available on Amazon and at her website,

Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website,


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