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The cover of “The Paper Route” by Jacqueline Cayer Nelson McDonald.
The cover of “The Paper Route” by Jacqueline Cayer Nelson McDonald.

LOWELL — Avid readers may recognize some local landmarks in Jacqueline Cayer Nelson McDonald’s debut novel, “The Paper Route.”

The book is set in Lowell and heavily features local history, the geography of Centralville and even the Lowell Sun itself.

“‘The Paper Route’ is a tribute to my faith, family and to Lowell, my hometown,” McDonald said. ”The city itself is a strong supporting character as are the quirky residents of Centralville, the Acre and Pawtucketville.”

The book is a murder mystery starring Jackie, a schoolgirl from a French-Canadian family working as a paper delivery girl for the Sun. As she goes through her paper route, she uncovers clues to an open murder investigation, and goes to Detective Dennis Dahm to help him solve the case.

Together, Jackie and Detective Dahm seek the murder victim’s missing dragon ring, solve two murders and inadvertently trigger a third, traveling around Lowell and to Lawrence and Greenwich Village, N.Y., in the process.

McDonald described the book as “one-fifth biographical and four-fifths fanciful.” Much of the protagonist’s experiences were based on McDonald’s own upbringing, including her childhood paper route for the Sun that she shared with her brother.

She said that she was also inspired by Lowell native and renowned author Jack Kerouac.

“Having grown up a block away from ‘Sad Beaulieu’ (Kerouac’s home) as Jack Kerouac dubbed it, I was always enamored of Ti Jean despite his time being a bit before mine,” she said. “We share a French-Canadian heritage and upbringing in Centralville, Lowell. Jack’s world-renowned writing and, of course, his prominence in the Beat Generation are inspiring.”

McDonald attended St. Louis-de-France elementary school and St. Louis Academy for high school, much like her protagonist Jackie receives a Catholic education. During high school, she worked as a reporter for the Sun and spent a summer as its television reporter, further cementing her love for the newspaper.

Her first full-time job was at the Lowell Courier-Citizen newspaper, a job that she almost didn’t get. During her interview, she was asked to type a test paragraph, and being too eager to show her typing skills, didn’t look at the typewriter while working on it.

When she handed over her work to the interviewer, he was completely unable to read it.

“I recognized that I had placed the digits of my right hand one key over from their proper placement,” McDonald said. “I looked at him and confidently declared that I could duplicate the paragraph character for character if given the chance. He hired me.”

After her time at the Courier-Citizen, McDonald served as the director of marketing at an international telecommunications company for 15 years.

She said that after writing “The Paper Route,” she had a discouraging experience finding a publishing company to work with.

“I was told my problem was that I didn’t have enough rejections; that finding the agent with a particular need and interest in my book was a numbers game,” she said. “Being 69 years old at the time, I worried that I would run out of time before running out of rejections.”

Eventually, she made the decision to go the self-publishing route through Amazon. It turned out to be the right choice, as “The Paper Route” was a finalist for the 2021 American Fiction Awards in the Mystery/Suspense: Multicultural and Diverse category.

It has also been popular with readers online. McDonald ran a poll among her fans on social media about who should play Detective Dahm in a hypothetical movie adaptation of her movie. The top choices were Mark Wahlberg, Matt Damon and Ryan Reynolds.

McDonald, who now lives in Casa Grande, Ariz., with her husband, Grant, said that her biggest achievement in life has been her family. The couple have six children and nine grandchildren.

She is currently working on the sequel to “The Paper Route.”

“It has always been my dream to write the next great American novel,” she said. “Although I’ve yet to hit that lofty mark, circumstances flattened my dream into writing for a living. I’m grateful for having had a successful career.”

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