MATTAPOISETT SKY
Darkstroke Books, Isabel Long Mystery Series, Isabel Long Series

Moving Over to the Dark Side

I am happy to announce that my Isabel Long Mystery Series is now in the hands of Darkstroke Books. Darkstroke is an imprint of Crooked Cat Books, which is the series’ original publisher.

While Crooked Cat published mystery, romance and other genres, Darkstroke, as its name implies, focuses on the darker things in life: crime fiction, mysteries, thrillers and dystopian, sci-fi and horror.

Yes, welcome to the dark side.chasing the case full size

I am grateful to Laurence and Stephanie Patterson for taking on the first Isabel Long book — Chasing the Case — and for sticking with the series. I can’t tell you how many publishing houses and agents I approached, sometimes getting a nice rejection, most of the times just a cold shoulder. I still laugh about the publishing house that rejected my first book, Chasing the Case, in part because I broke a supposed rule by killing off a pet. Actually, Isabel Long, my protagonist, was digging a grave for her cat.

Thank you, Laurence and Steph.

I knew when I signed on in late 2017 that Crooked Cat Books, which is based in France, was going to end in four years. The Pattersons were upfront about it. But I decided I would see where this would lead. And so I wrote two more books — Rednecks Revenge full sizeRedneck’s Revenge and Checking the Traps — that Crooked Cats published.

Three is a good number for a series. But, frankly, I can’t let go of Isabel and the rest of my characters. I love them too much, even the bad guys. And not to sound like a complete nut, they are very real to me.

And so I am working on the fourth, Killing the Story — yes, another journalistic term. As I’ve posted before, this one’s taking a bit longer because of my full-time job as editor-in-chief of a daily newspaper. But I’m more than two-thirds of the way done. Most weekdays I am up at 5:30 a.m. to write before I head to the newsroom. I have more time on the weekends.

For the past several months, I’ve been wondering what will happen to this series. Would another publisher be interested in picking up my new book when the rest of the series is under contract? Would it be willing to buy out my contract? Should I self-publish again? Ah, the business of writing.

And then Laurence emailed me an invitation last week asking if I wanted to join Darkstroke. When I thought it over that night, it made sense to move the series there. I can concentrate on the books I Checking the Traps full sizewant to write and promote them . Yes, I have ideas for two more books after I finish Killing the Story.

Plus, I admire the other authors from Crooked Cat Books who have moved over to Darkstroke. One of the pluses of being part of an international house is getting to know authors on the other side of the pond. I suggest you check out their books. Find them on darkstroke.com.

If you haven’t read my books, head to Amazon for a copy either in paperback or kindle. I have a few others that I self-published there. Here’s the link: Joan Livingston on Amazon

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s the harbor in Mattapoisett, Mass. in December.

 

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Western Massachusetts, Writing

Two Books at Once

Well, here’s something new for me — working on two books at the same time. One is a work in progress and the other is a novel I wrote a long time ago. There’s a good reason for it, and I don’t mind saying it’s fun to be plunked into two different worlds.

The first book is Killing the Story, the fourth in the Isabel Long Mystery Series. Isabel Long, my protagonist and the rather sassy narrator of this series, has been hired to solve the death of the editor and co-owner of a small town newspaper.

Years ago, Estelle Crane slipped on some ice walking home one night from the newsroom and died from the fall. Everyone thought it was an accident. But then her son, who took over the paper, recently found a briefcase with papers that makes him feel otherwise.

I will share a secret: I solve the mystery along with Isabel. No outlines for me. That’s what happened with my other books. And although two-thirds of the way through, I am still figuring it out.

Could it be the town’s crooked police chief that has a history with Estelle’s family? How about his son, who’s on the force, or the nosy newcomer who was after Estelle to dig up some dirt via anonymous letters? Maybe it’s somebody else that Isabel — and me — have overlooked.

With my job as editor-in-chief of a daily newspaper, this book is taking me longer to write. To catch up on the gaps in writing, I print out a hard copy and get out the red pen.

But I have set myself a deadline of April 1, so full speed ahead.

Now, to the second book, Northern Comfort, which I wrote in 2007. My agent then came really close to getting it published. Sigh.

Northern Comfort, which I would call a literary novel, is about the dark side of a rural “New England town, holding onto its traditions of making maple, playing old-time music, and keeping family secrets.” That’s from the query letter I wrote.

It’s a heavy book that begins when a child dies in a sledding accident. His death brings together three people: his mother, the man whose sled killed him, and the father who had abandoned him.

When I picked up Northern Comfort recently, I found myself moved by the story. Yes, it is my work, but it had been a long time since I had read it, and I had forgotten my characters and the weight of the words I used. Although it is set in Western Massachusettes, it is nothing like the Isabel Long books. I have a printed copy and am going over it with a red pen. Actually I found just small things here and there to change.

My aim is to pitch Northern Comfort to publishing houses that focus on literary fiction and don’t require an agent. I have a top choice, that requires a query letter describing the book and the first 50 pages, which I’ve been editing. I showed it to two friends and I am almost ready to mail it out — the company only does snail mail.

So, here goes. Wish me luck.

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: The exterior wall at Satchel’s Pizza in Gainesville, Florida, which we recently visited.

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Cats

Good-bye Two

Two is the name of the cat who lived with us for 12 years, and sadly, our time together ended Christmas Day. She was too ill and weak, and so we chose to do the humane thing. Yes, we are so sad. Let me tell you about our cat, and you will understand why.

We found Two in a shelter in Northern New Mexico called Taos Feral Feline Friends, where its director had cats live in rooms in her house, except for the feral ones who had a separate building. Leanne brought us to the so-called old and obese room, and this black cat came up to me immediately. She started talking. I told Hank, “this is the one.” He wanted to look around, a fact I reminded the cat several times.

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Two on my lap from NM to Massachusetts.

We usually give our animals human names. She came with the name Dusty, but that didn’t suit us. So, we named her Two, in honor of the two best cats we owned, also black. Actually, her full name was Dusty Two Cats. (I believe she was named Dusty by her previous owners, whoever they were, because she loved to roll in dust.)

We discovered that Two, who we suspect was Burmese, was a chatterbox who tried her best to communicate with us verbally. I swear she said “no” and “I don’t wanna.” We tried but failed to get her to say “yes,” however.

She also understood when we said “eat” or “out.” I am not making this up.

Unfortunately, her previous owner had her front paws declawed — something we would never do to an animal — so we had to keep that in mind. If she wanted to go outside, we were with her, especially in Taos where coyotes are opportunity feeders.

Not having front claws also hampered her hunting abilities, but lizards were catchable. As for birds, she waited patiently until one hit the large front glass of our house and dropped to the ground.

She drove Hank nuts when she escaped inside the culvert on our driveway.

We solved that situation when he and our son, Zack, on a visit, built a secure fenced-in yard. She liked to sit beneath the tall covered gate — that’s a picture of her above  — and even once ventured onto our 36404_1503605437102_4658278_nhouse’s roof. Hank climbed a ladder to coax her down, but typically she did it when she was ready.

What else can I tell you about Two?

When Hank had hernia surgery she sat on his lap, pressed gently against the incision, earning her the name Nurse Two-Two.

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Ab anxious moment for Hank watching Two on the roof of our home in Taos.

Probably because of that experience and the fact he was home more than me, she clearly favored Hank. Two and I had our relationship although it was clear I was second banana. I wasn’t hurt.

During the winter she would sleep between us, under the covers with her head on the pillow.

She loved baking in the sunlight or beside the wood stove. Another of her favorite spots was the ironing board, especially when we were trying to iron. She didn’t play with toys and typically, wanted to be in the highest spots of the house.

During our cross-country move from New Mexico to Western Mass., she spent almost all of the 2,400-mile trip on my lap after she complained vehemently about being in a carrier.

To get out attention she sat on a newspaper or book that we tried to read, or in my case, walk across the keyboard.

Two would sit on Hank’s lap, his legs extended for more than an hour while he watched TV. I was impressed. Ten minutes was my max.

She had her favorite napping spots. Last night, I looked at the chair in our front living room and 10550038_10204551590536752_4851730321312986156_oimagined her there, curled and relaxed.

The list goes on. Two was a member of our family and so much a part of our life. She trusted us. We trusted her.

This year she had two bouts of a urinary tract infection that required antibiotics. But her decline began in late fall. She was, by her records, 17 or 18 years old. She still ate and drank water but toward the end, she began distancing herself until we decided we needed to let her go.

During the past week, I think about feeding her when I get up or that she’ll be watching in the living room window when we come home. The list goes on.

As I’ve said before, the hardest part about loving an animal is losing one.

Will we get another cat? Yes, someday. But this cat will have a tough act to follow.

Good-bye, Two. We loved ya.

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audio, books, reading

Reading While Driving

Nah, I’m not that stupid. So, I do the next best thing. I listen to someone read the book to me while I drive to and from work.

I love to read, and frankly, all those years when I couldn’t write, that’s how I learned when I finally got over that 25-year writer’s block. I was a regular at the public library wherever we lived, hauling home an armful of books. (I did this when I was a kid, too.)

Then, I got into collecting first editions. As I’ve written before, I typically buy these books at places that don’t value them, so I get great deals like the first edition but not first printing of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man for a buck. I shop online and go to fundraiser book sales. My most recent score was at a local library’s sale, where it appeared someone dumped their collection of Dennis Lehane’s first editions, including a signed Mystic River. My cost? A buck a piece.

But I digress.

My job as editor-in-chief at a daily newspaper — the Greenfield Recorder — takes up a lot of my time. I won’t bore you with the hours I work, but suffice it to say my reduced free time makes me choose between writing books, specifically the fourth in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, or reading them. Then, I thought, why not listen to books?

I used to listen to audio books when I had a 45-minute commute to a newsroom years back. My current commute, at eight miles, is a lot less than that, but it’s enough time. Besides, I’m tired of listening to depressing news on NPR, and the local stations don’t interest me.

So, I went to my local library, did the paperwork for my card, and checked out Stewart O’Nan’s The Odds, about a couple in financial and marital trouble who go to a casino at Niagara Falls. It took me a bit to get used to the narrator’s voice, but he kept me entertained, even doing a woman’s voice, during my commute. I’d say it was a successful experiment.

The next audiobook, Tony Hillerman’s The Sinister Pig, was a disappointment that I returned before I even finished the first disc. I couldn’t get into the marble-mouthed narrator. So, I traded it in for something else — Isabel Allende’s The Japanese Lover.

Our local library has a limited collection, but I can order books through the inter-library system. I am also going to try the much larger library at the city where I work.

I believe listening to someone reading a book is as good as my reading it myself. So, mission accomplished. I can use my free time to write instead.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A scene at Acadia National Park on a recent camping trip.

MY BOOKS: No, I don’t have audio books. (My attempt to do it on my own failed despite by best efforts.) But I do have books in print and digital form, including the first three books in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. Get thee to Amazon. Here’s the link: Joan Livingston books

 

 

 

 

 

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books, friends

Books I’ve Kept All These Years

I moved around a lot —more so when we were younger and restless. Six months or a year or two in one place and we were ready to find somewhere else to live.

That changed when our children maxed out at six. We were settled in Worthington, a hilltown in Western Massachusetts, and stayed put for 25 years although we thankfully did move from a cheap, funky rental to finally our very own home we built. Then it was Taos, New Mexico for 11 years, and two years ago we returned to Western Mass., first in a rental and then the home we bought in Shelburne Falls and renovated while living in that apartment.

Nothing like moving, especially 2,400 miles — twice — to keep your belongings pared down. But in all those years, I have held onto certain books. I thought about this today when I was surveying my bookcases, which contain mostly first editions of authors I love and for the most part got super cheap. It’s a hobby of mine.

But here are the ones I’ve kept for oh-so-many years.

FUNDAMENTALS OF POETRY: I bought this slim book, almost a pamphlet really, in fifth grade through my grammar school for a buck and it has every part of speech a wanna be poet would want to know. This is the oldest.

THE YALE SHAKESPEARE/MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: The book, dated 1923, actually belonged to my seventh-grade English teacher, Mrs. Lima. She held the book while she recited the play from memory, a remarkable performance. I gained possession of the book when my mother found it in a yard sale and mailed it to me, unaware of its significance. Susan Lima’s name is written in perfect cursive inside.

ROOTS AND WINGS/CONCEIT: These were the literary magazines from my college, now called Bridgewater State University. They contain my poetry, from when I was a fledgling poet, and later when I was the editor. My sister, Christine, mailed them to me. I had long ago passed them on, and am grateful she held onto them for me. One of them even has a clipping from the college’s newspaper that has my column: Hot Schmaltz by Ethel Schwartz. I did a sarcastic review of Rod McKuen’s poetry — in poetic form. Funny story there. A bunch of my hippie guy friends were hanging around outside the administration building. They decided the next woman who turned the corner would be named Ethel Schwartz. Yes, it turned out to be me.

KORA IN HELL: I ran into a dear college friend years later in Boston. He gave me this as a gift, one of The Pocket Poets Series. The story of Persephone has always resonated with me.

SOME STAY HOME: Poems published in 1977 by a poet/singer Jim Palana. My favorite is about a woman, Miss Ann Gately and her bike.

ENGLISH AS SHE IS SPOKE OR A JEST IN SOBER EARNEST (ORIGINALLY PLUBLISHED 1883): Another gift from a writing friend, Fred, supposedly one of the funniest books about the English language. Here’s a sample.

Of the Man.

The brain

The brains

The fat of the leg

The ham

The inferior lip

The superior lip

The marrow

The reins.

ARROYO: A slim collection of poetry by three friends I knew in college, Bob Sullivan, Jim Palana, James G.H. Moore and myself (when I had a different last name), plus art by Julie Conway. I see a lot of poetry in these books. I stopped writing that way and eventually found prose. But for my last mystery, Checking the Traps, the victim and one of the suspects wrote poetry, which meant I had to do it, too. To tell you the truth it was fun.

TROPIC OF CANCER/TROPIC OF CAPRICORN/BLACK SPRING: I bought these hard-cover books in Seattle and have brought them along on each move since, a bit of a miracle really.

SPEAKING OF BOOKS: Here’s the link to the ones I wrote … on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Joan-Livingston/e/B01E1HKIDG

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