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The Write Stuff

A Year of Books

A year ago, I launched my biweekly book review column, The Write Stuff, in Tempo. Since then, I estimate I’ve read and wrote about more than 52 books for my column — a couple of weeks I reviewed three books instead of the usual two. If you throw in the books that I’ve read for my own pleasure or education, plus working on my own writing, that’s a heckuva lot words.

First off, I want to reiterate that I’m a book reviewer rather than a critic. I let readers know what’s in a book, so they can decide if it’s something they want to buy. I do make suggestions at times to the author and will offer points for improvement. But an outright bashing? It’s not good for my soul. Besides, for the authors, especially those who have published their books themselves, this is likely a labor of love.

The sources for the books I’ve reviewed have run the gamut from self-publishing authors to publishing houses of all sizes including university presses. Novels are in the majority. The rest are non-fiction, including some fabulous art and photography books. I’ve even tackled a few volumes of poetry.

Here’s my system. I read each book cover to cover usually in 50-page increments. Along the way, I use thin sticky paper to mark pages that might be useful to revisit or has a quote worth repeating in my column.

I write the review for the first book soon after I am done reading. I’ve done it enough times that it pretty much flows onto the screen. I use far more playful language than I ever would for a feature or news story. Then, I read the second book, rinse and repeat. I clean up the column, cutting words to reach my limit, plus come up with a headline. I work way ahead of my deadline to make things easier for Tempo Editor, Rick Romancito, and myself.

Sometimes a book’s review has coincided nicely with a reading by the author.

Have I read every book submitted for a review? No. There have been a few that I just couldn’t get past the first several pages. They were badly in need of a good editor or were of a genre, deep sci-fi, I couldn’t get my head around. I just received a book that is nearly 700 pages long I doubt I will have the time to read.

One bonus has been the books that were submitted. (I only review hard copies and not eBooks.) Most I have given away to people I know would love them or to the school for adult learners where I teach part-time. A few I’ve kept.

Do I have any favorites? Without naming names, I am grateful to those authors who made me think, laugh, and admire their way with words. I was glad to spread the word.

MY BOOKS: Okay, here’s a pitch for my two novels: The Sweet Spot and Peace, Love, and You Know What. Find them in two forms on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Joan-Livingston/e/B01E1HKIDG

And if you read them, I’d be grateful for a review.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Pine cones bud on this evergreen on a neighbor’s land.

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The Sweet Spot

Something Ever After

My characters live with me long after a book is finished. And it appears that’s true for some of my readers, in particular, those who finished my recently released The Sweet Spot. They want to know if I will write another novel about Edie.

Edie St. Claire is the main character of the novel, set in a fictional town in Western Massachusetts. She’s the young widow of a soldier killed in Vietnam and a caring mother to their daughter, Amber. Most people love Edie, who knows how to have fun, whether it’s working at scan TSSher in-laws’ general store, playing softball or kicking back at the Do-Si-Do Bar. She is good to her father, a cantankerous old coot who runs the town dump, and her aunt, a woman with no brake on her mouth.

But all is not rosy for Edie, who still grieves for Gil, who by my accounts was a sweetheart of a guy. And then, there is her secret affair with his baddish brother, Walker, which ends tragically. We learn about Edie’s strength when that damn little town blames her. She also has the support of her family and Harlan, the stranger who moved next door.

I admire Edie’s spunk. So have my readers. They ask if there will be a sequel. Funny, I mentioned that possibility to my former agent one time, but he didn’t get it. I had a vision of Edie bringing Amber to the Vietnam Memorial Wall to find her father’s name. I wondered if the townspeople ever forgave her. Did she and Harlan make it?

Does Edie live happily ever after or is it something else?

I am considering it, but I am in the midst of another sequel — to the mystery Chasing the Case that I completed in March. Right now, it’s in the hands of a few publishing house editors. But I am so taken by the characters, including journalist-turned-sleuth Isabel Long, and her 92-year-old mother, who’s her Watson.  They solve a 28-year-old case of woman who went missing in her town. It was Isabel’s first big story as a rookie reporter. Yes, the mystery is set in Western Massachusetts.

Among my other books, I have turned two into series. I am two-thirds of the way through the fourth book in The Twin Jinn series, as yet unpublished. I have two more books for the Los Primos/The Cousins bilingual series.

As for Edie, I definitely can see spending time with her again, her rough-and-tough family, and the other characters. I had such a good time with them.

Want to get your own copy of The Sweet Spot in paperback or Kindle? Here’s the link:The Sweet Spot on Amazon

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s a mural at Bowlin’s Mesilla Book Center in Mesilla, New Mexico, where we attended the New Mexico Press Women’s conference. “The Cousins and the Magic Fish/Los Primos y el Pez Magíco” was the second-runnerup for the Zia Award.

 

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Teaching, Writing

Keep Writing

Today, May 6 marks the end of one writing project: creating a book of flash fiction with my fifth-grade students. They’re not really my students. But as part of the Taos Visiting Artists Program, I began working with Kathy Serna’s class for two hours a week beginning last fall.

The photo above is the book’s cover. The students chose its name: Superstar Writers of Ranchos Elementary. And, yes, to me they are superstars. Today at a reception the public can see that, too.

My life as a writer began in earnest in fifth-grade. Students from the town’s schools gathered on Wednesday afternoons to take an advanced course in science and creative writing. Guess which one caught my imagination?

I wanted to do the same for these fifth-grade students. I came for an hour on most Tuesdays and Thursdays. I began by reading aloud, some from other people’s writing, but mostly mine, actually from The Cousins/Los Primos bilingual series. Los Primos cover(More below on that.)

Then over the months we spent together, I gave them five writing prompts: A Picture Is Worth 750 Words; Along With Paul Revere’s Ride; Three Inches Tall; My Neighbor Is a Giant; and I Have a Superpower. The students were given a word count for each.

Their teacher and I worked alongside the students, encouraging them. A few, whose first language is Spanish, wrote in English. One boy wrote in Spanish.

Hopefully, this experience was as rewarding to the students as it was for me. Their teacher said her students wouldn’t have had such opportunities to write without this program.

Yes, I believe their creativity and confidence increased over those months. One student wrote a story about living in a sink of dirty dishes. Another told Paul Revere’s ride from the perspective of his horse, Brown Beauty. One student wrote a giant stepped on her father — but a potion save him.

Here is one called “The Battle,” by Elijah.

3-5-20: Have you ever wanted to join the ant army? Well, don’t. Let me tell you why. If you’re three inches tall like me and a human, then you are unlucky. I was a mad scientist’s puppet for a long time until one day he shrunk me and I got away. Then about three days later, the ants found me. The Midway Ants found me, I meant. They raised me, fed me, all the stuff a child needs to stay alive. I was always a little bit bigger than the other ants, but they didn’t mind. Neither did I.

When I was 16, I joined the Midway Ant Army. Now in 2020, there is another ant war. Midway vs. Fullway! It’s three days until I get sent to the army. My birthday is tomorrow.

3-6-20: Today is my birthday, but I have no one to celebrate it with because everyone is freaking out about the ant war. Well, I need to go train in base camp. I’ll probably document again tomorrow.

3-7-20: It’s 6:30 p.m. and I’m going to bed, so I can be ready for the war. God bless Midway!

Day of the War: Right now as I write, my left arm is not working, so this is pretty hard for me. I got bit three times and shot once. It hurts so bad. If anyone ever gets a hold of this, please send help. We are under attack. I don’t think I’m going to survive.

Midway Loses the War: Sgt. Elijah almost won the war for Midway, but Fullway had the upper hand. Now all Midway Ants are extinct. These are the last documents Sgt. Elijah took. God bless Midway!

This week, I visited the class this week to bring each student a copy of the book, plus cookies I baked. I got a huge welcome with cries of,“We missed you so much.”

Many asked me to sign their books. This is what I wrote: “Keep writing.” And I meant it.

Zia awardABOUT LOS PRIMOS: The bilingual kids books “The Cousins and the Magic Fish/Los Primos y el Pez Mágico” got some recognition when the New Mexico Press Women named it second runner up for the Zia Award. I was the author and Teresa Dovalpage, the translator. My son, Ezra, created the illustrations. Teresa and I were at the conference in Las Cruces to accept the award and read from the book. Jessica Savage, with the NM Press Women, is behind us.

 

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Author Interview

6Ws with Author Bob Lampkin

Bob Lampkin, a member of my BooksGoSocial Team, has published his first novel, “American Legends: Memento Mori.”

Bob is a linguist and business professional, who has worked for two Wall Street firms, in international marketing communications and as an educator. As he describes it, “his creative and professional exploits belie his humble beginnings as American-Legends-Cvr-Comps-2the son of a construction worker in a poor neighborhood on the West Side of Detroit.”

Here are Bob’s responses to my 6Ws — who, what, when, where, how, and why. (Yes, how does end with a W.)

Who is author Bob Lampkin? 

Why is this part so challenging? I’m a lost soul trying to find my way? I’m a purpose driven obsessive? I bring light to hidden subjects? I really would like someone else to answer this.

What does he write? 

I prefer to write fiction. Within that broad brush, I lean towards topics of interest in real life like: science, nature, dysfunctional relationships, psychopathy, languages, culture, and social constructs.

When does he write? (Alternative question: When did he begin writing fiction?) 

I’ve been trying to write off and on for a long time, since childhood. I was never satisfied with my work until recently though and actually lost or destroyed several false starts. I just finished my first novel.

How does he write? 

So, my process totally comes from my training in music composition. If I tried it any other way, I don’t know that I would finish. Traditional Music is structured linearly and vertically. Linearly from beginning to end there is a thematic development and a melodic contour. Vertically, multiple melodies are stacked creating depth using harmony and contrast. I write literature with intersecting story lines with multiple characters like a symphony might have a melody, counter melody, bass and so on. So translating the components: Melody is a story line, Bass would be the undertow (an under current either stated or implied), inner voices would be minor supporting story lines to help driving the momentum and complete the worldview within the story.

I make a strong departure from the Western Music composition analogy in having knowledge of structure but completely using a jazz musicians approach to following the inner spirit.

In practice, I find a piece of music I like, set it to loop and enter an almost meditative state and just write. Later, in editing and refining I make it conform to structure as noted above.

Why does he write?

I write to understand, to vent or explore and maintain permanence.

In seeking understanding, I ask questions that puzzle me and then keep digging to try to get to some universal value that rings true. In venting, it’s me processing some injustice I’ve seen or personally experienced. In exploring, I try to challenge suppositions held by me, or others I have met, or even society. In maintaining permanence, I try to capture the essence of some people I have known and have cared about. When I reread my material, it’s like they live forever.

Where does he write?

At home, when it’s quiet and the music is not disturbed.

More about “American Legends: Memento Mori”

Bob offers this description: “A dramatic thrill ride from the very start. In the wake of the most important election in a century, political and economic forces have torn the fabric of the country apart. Families are separated by an ideological war that threatens the existence of the nation, as the United States finds itself in the throes of travail. On one side is the CCL, a band of Modern Day Patriots struggling against oppressive encroachments to freedom. On the other side are The People, Modernist Progressives hell-bent on upending the status quo. In the middle, are Broderick and several families who manage to survive the chaos until the unthinkable happens and all hell breaks loose. How will these families survive? How could anyone escape an impending collapse? Read to find out! If you like ‘1984’ or James Rickards’ The Death of Money, you will love this book.”

Where to buy “American Legends: Memento Mori” in Kindle and paperback versions

American Legends on Amazon

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Writing

When, Where, and How I Write

I’m an early morning riser, so that’s the best time for me to write, a cup of coffee by my side and zero interruptions. Yes, I quickly check email and social media, but then it’s down to business for a few hours.

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My latest novel, The Sweet Spot.

I know people who write in coffee shops and libraries. Some go on retreats. My place is a room of my own in our home. I am fortunate to have a desk built by my husband, Hank, from black walnut boards somebody was going toss. He also built me desktop shelving units to store papers, cords and other tools. Then, there’s the view out my large window of the Taos mesa — if I squint I can pretend the sagebrush is the ocean — and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, its peaks still snow-covered in April. I keep my office area neat and uncluttered. I’d like to think my mind is the same way, ha.

When I first began writing fiction, I was an editor at a daily newspaper. I left for that job promptly at 6:10 a.m. So, I wrote at night after dinner, printed whatever I wrote, and marked up the copy at lunch. Ten years ago, after I moved to Taos and worked at a paper here, I got up very early to write before heading to the newsroom.

Of course, there were the weekends.

After leaving my post as a newspaper’s managing editor nearly a year ago, I maintain my early morning writing spree but also gleefully find time during the day when the spirit moves me. (I now have teaching, editing, and book review gigs.) I sit at my laptop whenever and let it fly.

When it comes to writing fiction, I don’t use outlines or notes. It just comes from my head and somewhere else, I often believe. I feel blessed. (Oh, yeah, there’s rewriting, lots of it.)

As I’ve gained confidence in my writing, I do less printing as I go along. I usually wait until my novel has some real heft before I print anything, maybe halfway through.

And, yes, I back it up, back it up, and back it up.

I don’t belong to writing groups. It’s not my thing. I don’t even show people what I write until I feel the novel is ready. However, I made an exception for a mystery I’ve just finished. I let my author friend Teresa read the chapters as I finished them. She gave a great deal of encouragement along the way. I finished that novel in less than five months. Hmm, I might be onto something new.

And here is the link to my latest novel, The Sweet Spot. No aliens, vampires or zombies. Just real people doing real things and getting into trouble for it. And thanks to those who are keeping my five-star streak alive. The Sweet Spot on Amazon

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: This walkway along Paseo del Pueblo Norte in Taos caught my eye the other day.

 

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