hank working 1 copy
Woodworking, Writing

Gone to Pieces

Whether it’s words or wood, it comes down to putting the pieces together in an artful and lasting way. For the first, I believe I know what I’m doing. These days I am getting schooled in the second.

WORDS: It still amazes me that I can put one word in back of the other to build a sentence, then a paragraph, and finally, a story. Add characters, setting, and a conflict in a nice arc, and voila! I have a novel. Of course, it’s not as easy as that.

WOOD: Those who follow this blog are aware my husband, Hank, and I recently bought a bungalow on the Buckland side of Shelburne Falls in Western Massachusetts. It was built in 1900 — not very old to my friends inhank working 2 the United Kingdom — but old enough that it needs work given how many people have lived in it for 117 years.

We’ve started the demo. Let me rephrase that. Hank’s started the demo. I haul away the stuff that’s useless to create a neat pile outside for when a roll-off container arrives. I hand tools and do a lot of cleaning. The other day, I covered the good floors with cardboard sheeting to protect them. I handle the paperwork.

And I watch what Hank does with 2-by-4’s and plywood as the house’s interior gets rehabbed. (Actually, being married to a woodworker, I have acquired a knowledge of carpentry through osmosis  and often include a carpenter in my novels.) But as the project progresses, I am seeing firsthand IMG_4454how it all works. I am also learning new terms such as sistering, jack and king studs, and top plates. Eventually the pieces — along with nails, screws, and Hank’s skills — will come together as our new home.

By the way, Hank and I have an arrangement. I don’t touch his power tools and he does the same for my computer. It works for me. I like my fingers intact.

SOCIAL MEDIA: Lastly, one other form of piecework. Besides keeping tabs via social media about what is happening in the world and with those close to me, it’s a way of spreading info about my books. Thanks to Crooked Cat Books, my mystery, Chasing the Case, will be published in May or June.

I am already on FB, Twitter etc. but I’m upping the game in advance of the mystery’s launch. My goal is to have 500 likes by the end of December on my Facebook Author page: Facebook @JoanLivingstonAuthor. I have 150 to go.

My other goal is to have 1,000 Twitter followers: https://twitter.com/JoanLivingston. I’ve made great progress, 701, as of this writing.

Thank you to all who are likers and/or followers. If you aren’t one, I hope you will soon be. I promise not to be a pest.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Hank hard at work in what will be the kitchen.




Hank and Two

Our Cat’s Second Banana

Yup, that’s me. Our black cat named Two prefers my husband, Hank any day, any time, except when he’s not around, of course. I’ve learned to accept it.

Actually, right now as I write this post, Two is sitting on my lap. It is morning. I am drinking coffee. Usually, Hank is sitting across the table with the cat on his lap, but he’s away. So, I guess I’m good enough.

We found Two nearly ten years ago at the Taos Feral Feline Friends shelter run by Leanne Mitchell. Two wasn’t feral, but declawed by a previous owner — a cruel thing to do to a cat — and relegated to the old and fat room. (There are no cages at this shelter, just rooms in the Mitchell home.) The cat came right up to me. I told Hank this is the one. He chose to look around a bit, a fact I remind the cat from time to time to no avail.

Leanne gave us a bit of the cat’s history and also her real name, Dusty. We decided to name her Two because she reminded us of our two best cats, Amos and Lewis. Her full name is Dusty Two Cats.

Two settled in rather quickly. We discovered she is a talker. I’m not really nuts, but she can say, “no” and “I don’t wanna” — Hank can’t get her to say “yes” — and knows what “out” and “eat” means.

And she took to Hank, largely, I believe, because I was working and he was home. Also when he had surgery, she stuck to him like his little nurse.

When we are watching TV, Two will lie on Hank’s outstretched legs for an hour or more. I can only manage ten minutes, which might account for her preference. Then there’s the lap sitting at breakfast. She will do the same when he’s reading. (See the photo above.)

Two and I have our things. She will go a bit nuts on me with play biting and swats when I rub her down. When we drove 2,400 miles from New Mexico to Western Massachusetts this summer, she was glued to my lap almost the entire trip. Of course, I make sure she has enough food and fresh water all the time. And right now, she’s still on my lap.

But I’ve learned you can’t make a cat do what she doesn’t want to do. It’s strictly on her terms.

There have been times Hank has not been around because he was traveling to help one of our kids. The longest was six months last year. I was surprised how quickly she adapted to making me her one and only. I joked with Hank over the phone, “You are now dead to her.”

But, no surprise here, she dumped me as soon as he returned. I wasn’t hurt. It’s just the way things are with this cat.

ONE MORE THING: Thanks to the owners and authors of Crooked Cat Publishing for making me feel most welcome. For this who missed the last post, Crooked Cat will be publishing my mystery, Chasing the Case in May or June. Yes, given this post, I recognize the irony in the publishing house’s name.

ONE LAST THING: Here is a link for my books for sale on Amazon, including my most recent, The Sweet Spot, set in Western Mass. They’re not free, but they are for the taking. Check them out: https://www.amazon.com/Joan-Livingston/e/B01E1HKIDG

Crooked Cat Books

At Last a Publisher

I have some news, actually really great news to share. Crooked Cat Books will be publishing my next novel — my first mystery called Chasing the Case.

Those who know me also know this has been a long time coming.

I started writing fiction in earnest sixteen years ago or so. During that time, I contacted an immeasurable number of agents and indie houses with zero success in getting my novels published. (Masochist that I am, I began feeling grateful for a personal response even if it was a no. Of course, there were the “dear authors” and worse, especially after email submissions became the norm, absolute silence. You gotta have thick skin.)

I even had two agents and let go of both.

But I persevered. I kept writing. Those who follow this blog are aware that I self-published three books rather recently — Peace, Love, and You Know What; The Sweet Spot; and Los Primos y el Pez Mágico/The Cousins and the Magic Fish. I have completed other adult novels, a middle grade series, and more in the bilingual series.

Yes, I couldn’t help myself.

Earlier this year, I decided to try writing a mystery. Actually, I’ve finished two: Chasing the Case and its sequel, Redneck’s Revenge. Like a lot of my adult fiction, they are set in the hill towns of Western Massachusetts where I live. The series features Isabel Long, a former journalist turned amateur P.I. (Here’s my last post on the topic: Getting My Revenge)

I wanted an ally in the writing biz, and so I decided to go through the process yet again of finding a publishing house. I came awfully close with two.

And then, I found Crooked Cat Books, owned by Laurence and Stephanie Patterson. I followed their submission requirements and was a bit surprised when they asked to see the whole manuscript. A couple of weeks later, after a conversation with Laurence, I was offered a contract, which I signed Monday. Chasing the Case will be published in mid-2018 in Kindle and paperback.

Well, knock me over.

So, what is Crooked Cat Books? It is a publishing house founded in Scotland six years ago. Laurence and Stephanie live now in Southern France. Laurence has worked in academic publishing. Stephanie has written romantic historical fiction. They have well over 80 authors in their roster. Here’s the link: Crooked Cat Books

Crooked Cat will handle the editing, cover design, and formatting for Chasing the Case. As for promotion, I will certainly be in the thick of it on social media etc., actually taking the lead, but I will have strong allies in Laurence, Stephanie, and my fellow authors, who have given me a warm welcome — plus their guidance on how to get it done.

Am I excited? You betcha. Thanks Crooked Cat. It all feels just right.

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: That’s the logo for Crooked Cat.


deerfield river
Western Mass. mystery

Getting My Revenge

They say revenge is sweet. In my case, it’s part of the title of the mystery I finished this week, and really, that accomplishment is indeed sweet for me.  Redneck’s Revenge, its full name, is the second in my Isabel Long mystery series.

So, who is Isabel Long? She’s the main character in this series set in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, the preferred setting for most of my adult fiction. Isabel’s a former journalist who got canned after the newspaper she managed went corporate, part of a bad year in which she also lost her husband. So she uses the skills she learned as a journalist to solve a 28-year-old missing persons case in her town. (She also has a Watson — her 92-year-old mother who lives with her.) Adela Collins’ disappearance way back when was her first big story as a reporter. The mystery is written from Isabel’s rather sassy POV.

It’s taking me a while to find a publisher for Chasing the Case. Yeah, that’s a bit disappointing, but it hasn’t stopped me from writing another mystery featuring Isabel and some of other characters I created in the first, plus new ones.

In Redneck’s Revenge, a woman contacts Isabel to find out who killed her father, an ornery SOB named Chet Waters who owned a junkyard and repair shop in a nearby hilltown. Now Annette Waters, who’s a bit rough around the edges, owns it. She doesn’t believe the official ruling her father passed out from booze and died when a cigarette set his small house on fire. Isabel decides to take on the case even though Annette can only pay her through free service on her car.

Another glitch: legally Isabel needs to work for a licensed P.I. for three years before she can go on her own. She finds a P.I. who’s a bit down on his luck that agrees to take her on.

I began writing Redneck’s Revenge in May and kept at it despite a 2,400-mile move from New Mexico back to New England and all that entails. A couple of weeks ago I wrote the so-called last word. Then I went through the novel one more time, changing things here and there.

I will surely do it again, looking for little things to change here and there. But I am happy about what I wrote. I feel the novel is complete.

What do I do when I get to the end of a novel? I’m not the type to whoop it up although perhaps I should. Using 84,000 words to tell a story is, as I stated above, an accomplishment.

I will tell you what I did do. I started the next one. Isabel, who’s a bit banged up from her last case, and her mother will be asked to solve another hilltown mystery.  This one is called Checking the Traps — a phrase I used as a reporter when I would make the round with my sources. I’m a few pages in and raring to go. Damn, I’m excited.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Along the Deerfield River on a recent hike.

ONE MORE THING: Here is a link for my books for sale on Amazon, including my most recent, The Sweet Spot, set in Western Mass. They’re not free, but they are for the taking. Check them out: https://www.amazon.com/Joan-Livingston/e/B01E1HKIDG

Western Massachusetts

Our New Old House

Hank and I had a list of wants when we decided to leave Taos for Western Mass. This week we completed an important one when we bought a home on the Buckland side of Shelburne Falls Village. That’s it above.

At the top of our list was a small bungalow. We also wanted to live in the country but be within walking distance of an active village, so we could step out for cup of coffee or a beer or a meal. We wanted to be closer to family living in Massachusetts and able to visit those who are not when we vacation.

Oh, yeah, the house had to be in our price range.

Here was my request: we buy the right house in the right location for the right price.

Bingo. It happened.


The two-story garage.

We bought a two-bedroom, two-bath home with a small garage. It’s located on a quiet street — except for church bells and train whistles — and with a great view of a mountainside.

I’ve written about how we drove all over Franklin County and some of Hampshire during that search for a permanent home. We kept coming back to Shelburne Falls, where Hank worked for six months helping our son, Zack, with the brewery he will be opening there.

What we found for sale were old rambling houses that weren’t well maintained or too expensive — or newer ones that weren’t well built.

After doing some research, we decided not to build. Previously we owned two homes we had built — Hank put his creative hand and hard work in both of them. Construction has gotten more costly since those two experiences.

It was Zack who told us about the bungalow. He heard from a co-worker who had thought of buying it but didn’t. In one of those serendipitous moments, Hank and I were walking by the house when the owner came out and told us it would be going on the market.

Then, our daughter Julia, who is a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams, stepped in, contacting the agent in Shelburne Falls, who would be listing the property.

We had a short wait for the house to go on the market. The day it happened — another lucky experience — we had the first chance to get inside, and with Julia’s help, we submitted a bid that night that was accepted the next day. Yes, she’s our daughter, but I believe we wouldn’t have gotten the house if she hadn’t jumped on it right away for us. (Naturally, there was a great deal of interest when the house hit MLS.)

We had cash from selling our home in Taos, which also was going to speed up the sale. I will spare you the details. I’m just glad we had Julia to handle them.

We signed the paperwork Wednesday.

So what’s the house like? From the outside it looks like a charmer. It certainly is. We are big fans of the architecture of the arts and crafts movement. But it needs work such as a new kitchen, windows, deck, and next year, a new roof. The garage, which has studio space, needs some attention as well. Perhaps it will be Hank’s new shop.

We are considering other changes. The house was built in 1900. It’s gone through a lot of owners with mixed results. But it has great bones as they say.

As this old home’s new co-owner, Hank will put his design and woodworking talents into the place. Yeah, there’s a lot of work ahead, but we will hire out some it. I can assist with painting and other things.

But like everything else since we decided to make this move, the pieces will fall into place. Home sweet home.

ONE MORE THING: Here is a link for my books for sale on Amazon, including my most recent, The Sweet Spot, set in Western Mass. They’re not free, but they are for the taking. Check them out: https://www.amazon.com/Joan-Livingston/e/B01E1HKIDG