What I See

What I Used to Ride

Years ago, when I lived in the Boston area, my only mode of transportation was the MBTA trolley system aka “the T.” In all, I lived in eight different apartments or shared homes. I was a restless person then, but in the process, I got to know the system well, especially the Green Line that served several of them.

And, recently I found it interesting link in the village where I now live — a trolley car that was used on the Green Line. Now in horrible shape (more about that below), it rests in the yard of the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum. Yes, I rode that car. Many, many times.

First, a little about the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum, which is located a short walk from our home. The museum is dedicated to preserving and operating the Shelburne Falls & Colrain Street Railway trolley car that ran over the Deerfield River on what is now the Bridge of Flowers for twenty years. No. 10 was built in 1896 and served both communities for thirty years. According to info from the museum, the trolley car was saved by a farmer who for 65 years used it as a chicken coop, tool shed, and playhouse. Since restored, people can ride the trolley car a short distance in the same rail yard.

But my attention during a recent walk was on the PCC Car, the last one built in Massachusetts, by the Pullman-Standard company of Worcester. After running on the Green Line from 1951 to 1985, MBTA 3321 was moved to Brooklyn, New York for a streetcar project that didn’t work out. Instead the car got badly damaged as you can see by the photo when it was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. The museum is hoping to do a cosmetic restoration.

Although the car is tragically a shell of its former self, it brings back memories of being aboard, traveling above and under ground as I headed to downtown Boston or back to where I lived. 

I remember bringing four little kids on board, the littlest one strapped to me. All of us holding hands. Or when I was pregnant with one of them. Sometimes I had a folding stroller with me. It was easier to get a seat going toward Boston then going out. I’d stand there holding onto the pole, my belly out to there and keeping the little ones close, maybe one in my arms, until typically some old lady would yell at the men for not offering me a seat. Or she would give me hers.

We did grocery shopping, visited Boston Common, Red Sox games, restaurants, museums etc. You name it, our family went to it on the T. Even now when we visit family who live in the Boston area, we take the T although that’s on the Orange Line.

I developed good balance, enjoying the slight sway of the trolley. And it was a great people-watching opportunity whether on board or waiting on the platform for the next available car. 

I can recall the T breaking down and being led through one of the tunnels. 

And now I will tell you the best thing I ever saw.

I was walking down the long stairs at the Park Street station to board the T when I noticed a man and dog getting on board when I did. The man spoke to the dog with a command to go home and then left him behind onboard. The doors shut and the trolley moved forward. The dog, some kind of mutt, wasn’t interested when anyone spoke to him. The train kept moving and stopping at various stations. The dog stayed put. And then when we reached a certain stop, Kenmore Square, I believe, the dog got off and presumably did go home.

Now that was a memorable ride.

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Chasing the Case, Isabel Long Mystery Series

Batting a Thousand

Technically, it means a ballplayer gets a hit every time they’ve been up to bat in a game. But for me as an author, it has a whole different connotation because Chasing the Case, the first in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, broke a thousand reviews Friday on Amazon. As I write this, sixteen more came in.

First, thank you to those who chose to read my book and made the effort to tell people what they thought of it. These days, many people do ratings while others give a bit of feedback. Both are welcome. The general outlook is 4½ stars, which makes me smile.

I will admit I am not obsessive about reading reviews, especially since you will get a couple of stinkers like the person who gave a one star for another book and wrote he/she doesn’t do reviews. One person complained it was obvious I wasn’t into religion because my main character isn’t and couldn’t finish the book. I am aware not everybody is going to love or even like what I write. And being a journalist for 35 years gave me the hide of a rhino when it comes to criticism.

What did captivate me was watching the reviews grow. I recall being excited when Chasing the Case broke a hundred, then two hundred. A successful promo in January with BookBub got it downloaded by 31,000 readers. It was no. 1 for free books in the U.S., U.K. and Canada. That promo threw the proverbial gasoline on the fire. (Thanks BookBub.)

Yes, the book was free but my publisher and I get royalties for pages read if the reader subscribes to Kindle Unlimited. Of course, those who aren’t subscribers got the book outright. That’s to be expected.

Here’s a sampling of the most recent reviews, all except two, which I note, gave five stars. By the way, Amazon requires reviews to come from a verified purchase.

A solid whodunnit — enjoyable read.

The author has created believable characters and a relatable community. She builds the story patiently and discloses just enough information to keep you guessing without being totally blindsided by the ending. I will be checking out more of her work!

A great read

I really enjoyed this book. I loved all the characters . They felt so real. The mystery was excellent. Very well written, even a touch sad.

Good Mystery

The author dumps the reader in the middle of Isabel’s life and it’s hard to get away from her. Isabel is a great character. Her mother is also. I liked the way Livingston plotted Isabel’s investigation and let the story lead the action. The Old Farts are a particular enjoyable part of the book. Good mystery. (This one gave four stars.)

Small Town Secrets

I loved the small town feel, the closeness and protective nature of the residents. The Old Farts are perfectly adorable. I’m glad Isabel has her mother for company and I’m happy Jack came back.

A decent read but a long way to get there  

There were so many space-filling dead ends and smoke screens plus descriptions about the town(s) and just stuff, that this could have been told in half the time. It needs more honest insights and ‘distractors’ to be a better-than-average read. (This one gave three stars.)

My hope is that if readers like the first book, they will want to buy the next four in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, actually five since I am two-thirds of the way writing number six. I typically aim for 500 words a day, a manageable and enjoyable pace. But on Friday, I surprised myself and wrote a thousand. Yes, it was a good day.

PHOTO ABOVE: On my daily walk Monday, I came across this flowering bush, so fragrant I kept inhaling its blossoms. I returned yesterday just to smell it again.

MY BOOKS: Interested in reading my series? Here’s the link to all of them on Amazon: Joan Livingston books

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author, Mystery, New release

JD Spero’s New Book: The Secret Cure

JD Spero’s new psychological thriller The Secret Cure is set to launch May 17 — although Kindle readers can pre-order now. A fellow author at darkstroke books, JD offers an intriguing pitch about her novel The Secret Curebelow plus its first chapter. I’ll cut to the chase and offer you the link to buy it on Amazon:  http://mybook.to/thesecretcure.

FIRST ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Johannah Davies (JD) Spero’s writing career took off when her first release, Catcher’s Keeper, was a finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in 2013. Her small town mystery series has won similar acclaim. Boy on Hold won 2020 IPPY Gold for Best Mystery/Thriller ebook and Boy Released was a 2021 Indies Today Finalist. Her YA fantasy series, Forte, is also a multiple award winner, and is the topic of classroom visits in schools across the country. Having lived in various cities from St. Petersburg (Russia) to Boston, she now lives with her family in the Adirondack Mountains, where she was born and raised.

NOW THE PITCH:  She’s getting better. He has no clue. That’s exactly the way she wants it.  To pull off the perfect revenge, her cure has to remain a secret

In her mid-30s, Rosalie Giordano is in the prime of her life. Long saved from the manipulative hands of her mother, she’s been married to her fairy tale hero for ten blissful years. Vincent is sweet and strong, and stunning as hell — and completely enamored of her.

Just as they begin to plan for a family, Rosalie is diagnosed with a mysterious virus that renders her temporarily paralyzed. As days stretch to weeks, then months, she learns not only is her condition chronic, but the love of her life is having an affair.

As her health improves, a slow burn of vengeance simmers in her heart. With the help of her homecare nurse, she regains full mobility. While hiding the truth from her husband, she uncovers the extent of his betrayal … and learns he is not at all who he seems. Their planned anniversary trip overseas gives her the perfect occasion for revenge.

But at the fancy Sicilian resort, Rosalie is not the only one with a score to settle with Vincent. And in the end, she’s not the only one with blood on her hands…

CHAPTER ONE  ROSALIE

Time goes by in the murk. Am I sleeping or is this real? Like weeds sprouting, images rise up to torment me.

Spotlights warm a stage. Our dance builds with an orchestra’s crescendo. A duet? But I’m alone. He spins me out and lets go – into the abyss of backstage. Feels like a black hole.

Makes me wonder. Is this a sick play on grief? Or, worse, the tug of desire? Or just some dumb dream?

What the hell, Vin? Pull me back.

Speak of the devil, Vin bursts into the guest room where Cate has me set up. “Good morning!” he calls, his mouth a bullhorn.

I blink him into focus, shaking away my dream-haze. I’m awake, then. This is real. As the pieces of my shitty reality clunk into place, my spirit plunges. Down that black hole again.

Cate blushes hard in my husband’s company. Usually chatty, she falls into a tizzy around him, like a middle schooler.

But don’t be fooled. Rumor has it she was a war nurse over in Iraq. One tough Tootsie-Roll, saving soldiers and all that.

Now she takes care of me.

“How’s our Rosalie?” Vin’s smile is constipated. He’s faking it. There’s zero reason to happy, asking that question.

But, oh, he’s such a hunk. With those dark eyebrows and olive skin, he gets hunkier with age. Not fair.

What do I look like these days? Am I still blond or all hoary now? Are my lips ghostly pale? Is it too much to ask for Cate to throw some makeup on me, drape me in some bling?

Cate fans her face. “Oh, she’s good, I think. I was about to give her some breakfast.”

Vin comes to my bedside with jarringly loud footfalls, like he’s got taps on his shoes. Strange, I’d never noticed that when I was a normal, moving person.

He’s dressed for work, a button-down and khakis. What time is it? Seems like after nine, close to ten even. What the hell do I know? I’ve given up keeping track of clocks, biological and otherwise.

“Please do,” he says to Cate, leaning in. Will he kiss me? My breath stops in anticipation of it. My smile fills my mouth and my whole head. Can he see it? Can he see my grin?

Must not. He’s frowning. “How’s the muscle tone?”

“As expected. But I did think I felt some movement in her fingers when I massaged her this morning.”

As prescribed, Cate focuses her daily massages on where the paralysis started—in my hands. In those early days, I tried to clap away the pins and needles. But when it crawled up my limbs and usurped my whole body, I was colossally screwed. Doctors were baffled. Vin was pissed. And me? I went numb. Not from the illness, but from a gripping, hollow terror.

I haven’t moved in months, despite Cate’s optimism. Her massage this morning didn’t do squat. Cate has made an absolute art of hyperbole.

Still, Vin’s eyes go wide, and he lets out a laugh. Listerine-scented. Touching. He made the effort to breathe fresh breath on me.

“No kidding.” His grin goes to his eyes, and a million starbursts behind them. Definitely not faking it now. I would melt if I weren’t already melted onto the bed. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to loop my arms around him, to pull him down to me, to feel the warm weight of his body on mine.

He rests a hand on my forehead and sweeps it over my hairline like he used to. Heavenly sensations pour through my body.

“She likes that, Mr. Giordano.”

Oh, shut up, Cate. Give me a moment with my husband, will you?

He does it again, brushes back my hair, and I nearly orgasm right there in front of everyone.

Vin has a different idea. “Maybe we could go out for ice cream tonight to celebrate.”

Ice cream? Please, no. I might be a temporary-invalid, but I’m still a sexual being with needs and desires.

Vin, honey, take me out for a Martini, and then bring me home and make mad passionate love to me, like old times.

Like old times…

Sigh. As my condition worsened, Vin’s anger turned desperate. How could he save his damsel in distress? Luckily we lived near Boston, home to the best hospitals in the country, so he took me on a proverbial white horse to Mass General. After an MRI and lumbar puncture came clean, they zapped my fingers and toes with tiny electric shocks. What’d they find? My nerves were under attack by my own immune system. My own personal ‘friendly fire’ (leave it to Cate to put it into war terms.) The disorder is officially called Guillain-Barre Syndrome. In the rarest of cases, it affects the whole body for an indefinite amount of time.

Lucky me.

At least I’m off the ventilator.

“Ice cream!” Cate shouts, and I try to flinch.

Then, as if to rub salt on my soul-sucking weakness, Cate lifts a bulky contraption into the middle of the room. With a grunt, she wrenches the thing open. Ah, it’s my special wheelchair, the reclining one with the head support Vin rented from the medical supply company.

I hate that thing.

Cate, however, seems overjoyed. “Don’t you worry, Mr. Giordano.” She pushes up her sleeves. Is she puffing her chest? “We can go wherever we want with this handy dandy wheelchair. And ice cream is just what the doctor ordered!”

I blink at her and say nothing. Can’t, really. What an asinine figure of speech. No doctor in his right mind would order me an ice cream. Swallowing has become a terrifying prospect, so forgive me for not cheering for frozen fucking dessert.

All Vin’s attention is with Cate now, his hand tucked in his pocket. My skin tingles from where he touched me. “I’ll try to be home at a reasonable time, but I do have an appointment after work.”

All those tingly vibes fall away. The black hole wants to swallow me. Rage breaks out in my pores. Because I know all too well Vin’s ‘appointment’ is with his therapist, Anastasia, whom he’s been seeing since I got sick. Their therapy sessions have become more common the longer I’m immobile. Always at the end of the day, always a good, generous hour. Who is this Anastasia? And what is she up to with my husband, really?

So, Vin likes his secrets. Well, I have my secrets too. They live in my blood and run through my veins, filling me with a bulletproof drive to get through this thing. Because I will get through. My god, I was a dancer. My body knows how to move. And it holds a muscle memory stronger than any diagnosis. I will move again. And when I do, no secret is safe.

I can feel it now, the slow, satisfying burn of a buried secret emitting steam from my ears, fire from my nose, laser beams from my eyeballs.

Cate nods, still about the ice cream, still puffing her chest, a dopey half-grin on her chubby face. Vin clomps out of the room like a brontosaurus.

I hate them both.

JD SPERO’S SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Website: www.jdspero.com

Twitter: @jdspero

Instagram: @johannahspero

Facebook.com/jdspero

 

 

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Writing

When Inspiration Hits

It turns out, for me, at least, that can happen anytime. Yes, some ideas for my books come when I’m in the shower, riding in a car, or doing some physical chore that allows my brain to drift elsewhere. Sometimes it happens while I was on a walk, which happened yesterday, and talking with somebody, ditto. Let me tell you about it.

As you’ve probably know, I’m a seat-of-your-pants kind of writer. No outlines. No notes ahead of time. I get up early, although not as early as I did — 5 a.m. — when I had a job. I toast a half-bagel and pour myself a large mug of coffee, then log on to my computer. After checking with the news, I open the manuscript on my screen and pick up where I left off. My fingers fly as the words come to me. I don’t understand how it happens, but I welcome it.

But back to those inspiring moments, those are the ones that often help to fill in the blanks that will make the story better. Currently, I am in the midst of no. 6 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series — Following the Lead. I don’t want to give away too much, but Isabel’s old boss hired her for this case. He wants to know what happened to his sister, who was taken from the family’s yard when she was a baby fifty years ago. (It’s more complicated than that.) Lin believes he might have even met a woman who could have been his sister. How would he know? She had a distinctive facial feature that is hereditary, and on my walk, it came to me what it could be. While I am not divulging what it is, I had to rush home from my walk to make that addition.

Then, last night, I was at my son Zack’s  Floodwater Brewing for Comedy Night when I was approached by two local fans. One man reminded me that I had told his friend I planned to bump him off in my next book. While I don’t remember the moment, I believe I said it. His pal is a friendly guy who’s also a likable wiseass that doesn’t mind getting it dished back to him. My understanding is that he would be more than honored to get killed off in my next book.

As I sat there, enjoying the comedians’ jokes, my mind kept going back to that conversation. And then it came to me how I could do it. I hadn’t planned on bumping anyone off in this book, but I’ve had a change of heart about a character Isabel is trying to meet. And perhaps after last night’s conversation, he won’t be long for this world.

So, this morning, I jumped right into the book, made a few changes here and there before moving on with the story. Yes, they all work.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: We happen to live not far from the tracks that freight trains take from the western part of the state to Boston. Long before we moved here, passenger trains used those tracks with a stop in our village — there are plans maybe to bring that back. The village also has the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum, which contains lots of rail paraphernalia and short tracks for its trolley. This sign, located at the end of each, is rather fitting for this post.

LINK TO MY BOOKS: Here you go — Joan Livingston books on Amazon

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Writing

Now in the Middle

Well, I am actually past the middle of my next mystery as I write this post. So, let me back up a bit and tell you what I actually did when I reached that point for Following the Lead is no. six in my Isabel Long Mystery Series.

As I did with the others, I aim for about 75,000 words, long enough I believe to tell a good story. So half of that is 37,500, which I reached several days ago. As I post this, I’ve reached 40,500.

I aim for 500 words a day, and except for a day here or there when I wasn’t home, I’ve maintained that pace since I began in earnest early in February when I retired from journalism. Somehow it works for me although once in a while I surprise myself and hit a thousand.

So, reaching mid-way, I decided it was time to print out what I had written thus far and get out the red marker. At this point, I am a little hard on myself. Gee, didn’t I use that phrase somewhere else? Hey, I would expand this part more. Oops, I need to go back to an earlier chapter to fix some loose threads or revisit one of the earlier books to see if a “fact” (this is fiction after all) is correct. Surely, there’s another way to write this part.

Besides finding the usual typos and missing words, it’s an opportunity to immerse myself in the book’s story and its characters, especially as Isabel Long moves forward with her most recent case. But first, I make the corrections and additions on the computer’s document.

What is this case about? This one involves a baby taken fifty years ago and never found although the man who hires Isabel is convinced he met her once by chance.

Now, like Isabel Long, I will keep going until I reach the end.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: This is the second year this amaryllis has bloomed. Its sister amaryllis is getting close to blooming — the fourth time including last summer.

LINKS TO MY BOOKS: Interested in the Isabel Long Mystery Series? I will make it easy for you to find it on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Joan-Livingston/e/B01E1HKIDG

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