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The Sweet Spot, Western Massachusetts

Read The Sweet Spot for free

Before Isabel Long, there was Edie St. Claire, the lead character in my novel, The Sweet Spot. Edie doesn’t solve mysteries like Isabel. She’s not part of a series. But she gives readers a different take on the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts that I love to write about.

And for three days — April 24-26 — the Kindle version was free on Amazon.

Before I tell you more about The Sweet Spot, I’d like to thank those who got their copy during the free weekend promo. The book did very well: #1 in Women’s Literary Fiction, #2 in Contemporary Literary Fiction and #8 in Contemporary Women’s Fiction. Now if people had paid outright for the book and those were the rankings, I would be over the moon. But I do get paid for each page if people who have signed up for Kindle Unlimited start reading the book. We’ll see if it pays off as it did when Chasing the Case, the first in my mystery series.

But back to The Sweet Spot

Edie’s family has lived in the town of Conwell forever it seems. They’d what I call rough-sawn. Her father runs the town dump. Her aunt, who lives next door, has no brakes on her opinions or mouth. And Edie is usually in the middle of whatever fun there is in this town of about a thousand people — the Rooster Bar, the local softball team and her in-law’s general store. But still, she can’t let go of a deep sadness — the death of her husband in Vietnam. Gil was a sweetheart of a guy and together
they had a little girl he never met.

Edie tries to ease her pain via an affair with his married brother, but when that ends tragically, she attempts to survive the blame with the help of her family and a badly scarred stranger who arrived for his fresh start.

More about The Sweet Spot: The year is 1978. No cell phones or email or home computers. The Vietnam War ended officially three years earlier. The characters are locals, except for one important newcomer.

When I started writing this book years ago, I typed the first draft of The Sweet Spot with only one hand. It was summer 2004, and I was recuperating after getting hit by a car as I walked across the street. (The driver claimed he didn’t see me in the crosswalk.) The impact threw me into the air and broke my collarbone. It could have been much worse and I used that experience in the second book of the Isabel Long Mysteries Series when Isabel was banged up after a car crash.

I remember coming home and letting the words flow one after the other. I don’t know where they and this story came from, but there it was, 80,000 words later.

I also got quite good at typing with only my right hand.

Two agents tried to sell the book, and there it sat until I published it myself.

Those who have read the Isabel Long Mystery Series — thank you — will find a different tone in The Sweet Spot. Although Edie is a lively character, she’s not a smart-ass. She makes mistakes and pays dearly for them. But I sure love that woman’s determination.

Here’s the link to Amazon: The Sweet Spot

 

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COVID-19, Shelburne Falls

My Very Quiet Village

When Hank and I returned to New England, we wanted to live in the country but be able to walk to things. That’s what we got when we moved to Shelburne Falls in Western Mass. We live on the Buckland side and it’s a short walk, oh, less than a half-mile, to a coffee shop, restaurants, small shops, a candlepin bowling alley, and our son, Zack’s Floodwater Brewing. You get to know the people living here very easily. And then there is the bustle of visitors who want to take in the quaint village, and in season, our famous Bridge of Flowers, and the potholes on the Deerfield River.

Ah, but all of that is on hold while we get through this COVID-19 health crisis.

Hank and I walked down to the village Saturday. Businesses had signs on their doors explaining why they were closed. The governor issued an order last week that only allows restaurants to do takeout; bars were closed. The village’s two markets, McCusker’s (part of the Franklin Community Co-op) and Keystone (owned by a family) were open, as well as the liquor store. So was Mocha Maya’s coffee shop, for takeout only.

And then our clever son, Zack was set up at the door of his brewery. He had scored bottles that he filled with the beer he makes. People could place an order on their phones and he would have the bottles, the outside sanitized, ready for them to take. By the way, he was donating $2 from each bottle sold to a local education foundation.

Zack said his experiment turned out very well. (I believe sometime this week his order of growlers should be in.) We were there when a woman said she was driving by and saw his setup and had to stop. She place her order standing on the sidewalk. Another man pulled in as we were leaving. While these sales can’t make up for a bustling, music-filled weekend at the brewery, I admire our son’s ingenuity.

Sunday I stuck to home. It was just too cold to venture into the woods, my hope that morning. So, I got back into my new book. I now know whodunnit and it’s up to Isabel to find out. But first I have to put her in some danger.

Today I am back in the newsroom. We are an essential business, providing news, which we are even making available for free on our website: https://www.recorder.com/

We are quite isolated there, as no one has been allowed in the building for a week now. It’s just a small crew; the rest are working from home. That is an option for all of us, but for now this works.

FREE WEEKEND: Thanks to all who got a free copy of Chasing the Case this past weekend. It was a hugely successful experiment. Not only were people getting a free copy, they were buying the two other books in the series … and a book I self-published.

 

 

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free, Isabel Long Mystery Series

Free for the Taking

Well, you’ve got to start somewhere, and that includes writing a series although frankly, it was not my original intention. One day I decided to write a mystery, fell so in love with the characters, the plot twists, the setting etc. I couldn’t let them go, and now I am closing in on the end of book number four in the Isabel Long Mystery Series.

So my gift to Kindle readers: you can have the first book, Chasing the Case, for free. Plain and simple, I want you to get hooked on my series. Here’s your chance, but only for three days: March 20-22, so hurry.

I have had wonderful support from family, friends, acquaintances, who have bought my books. I express my deep appreciation to them, so I am reaching out to more recent acquaintances, many of whom are authors themselves. And if you don’t mind, let your mystery-loving friends know as well.

So what is Chasing the Case about?

Isabel Long has just come off a bad year. Her husband, Sam, died and she lost her job running a newspaper when it went corporate. So she decides to put those transferable skills to good use as a private investigator solving cold cases in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts where she lives. Besides, she has a perfect “Watson,” her 92-year-old mystery-loving mother who’s come to live with her.

Isabel’s first case was also her first big story as a rookie reporter: the disappearance of a woman 28 years earlier in her small town of a thousand people.

To help her case, she takes a job at the local watering hole, the Rooster, so she can get up close and personal with those connected to the mystery.

That’s the bare bones to that story. When I decided to attempt a mystery, I wanted my protagonist to be a woman. She wasn’t going to be a sweet, young thing. She was going to be a woman with some good miles on her — what the French call une femme d’un certain age. Isabel has three grown kids and a granddaughter. She’s also a recent widow. As for looks, she’s attractive enough to gain the attention of older men.

And Isabel had a long career as a journalist — starting as a reporter covering the dinky hilltown where she lives to being the managing editor of a newspaper. When the new owner said everybody had to reapply for their job. Isabel said, “To hell with that.”

Yeah, Isabel is a bit on the sassy side. She doesn’t take crap from anybody. She’s also savvy, which made her a good journalist. Now, it will come in handy as a private investigator.

Isabel’s also ready to reinvent herself — as a private investigator and as a single woman. The second part means after a year of properly grieving her late husband whom she loved, she’s ready for relationship with another man — and she finds it. Her relationship with Jack, owner of the Rooster Bar, is complicated. But I’m not going to spoil what happens for readers.

So, how much of me is in Isabel? I’d like to say the sassy and savvy part, especially since I wrote these books in first person. I, too, was a journalist who started in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, where I’ve lived twice. But unlike Isabel, I didn’t become a P.I. Instead I write about one, and that’s fine with me.

Here’s the link to Chasing the Case: Chasing the Case on Amazon

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Writing

Giving It My Undivided Attention

I can write anywhere. I’ve proven that to myself numerous times. Perhaps, it comes from when I was a kid doing my homework in front of the TV and getting good enough grades to be on the honor roll. I am well past schoolwork, and these days my focus outside of my job is writing fiction, to be specific finishing the fourth in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. This one is called Killing the Story by the way.

As I write this, I have about 15,000 words to go and a self-imposed deadline of April 1 to finish this draft. (I also mentioned to my publisher, Laurence Patterson of Darkstroke Books, I am hoping to launch this book by early summer.)

It’s taken quite an effort for me to find the time to write this book, given I work 9-10 hours a day at the newsroom. As I’ve posted before, I try to get up very early, hoping to reach 500 words before I have to head out. Ah, but often real life gets in the way.

I’ve decided I need to shake things up to reach those goals .

So, Wednesday I tried something different. I had an hour before the newsroom opened at 8 after I dropped off Hank for a very early appointment. It didn’t make sense to go back home, so I headed to a coffee shop around the corner.

At 7 a.m. the only people there were the woman behind the counter and me, likely because the baked goods hadn’t arrived yet. I ordered a black tea, found a table and went to work. It was the most productive hour I’ve had in a long time.

Perhaps it’s the change of scenery or the fact I couldn’t get up to load or unload the dishwasher, take a shower, make my lunch, or whatever. I had already done that before I left the house. And I could easily ignore the few customers who came.

When it turned 8 a.m., I collected my things and walked halfway around the block to the newsroom — feeling pretty damn good about myself.

I did the same Thursday, then Friday, with the same results, so I plan to continue until I finish this novel. (On weekends, I will use my office at home or maybe find another writing spot in the village where I live.) I love writing fiction. I just want to give this novel the undivided attention it deserves.

Sounds like a plan to me.

LINK: Here’s how to find my books:  Joan Livingston on Amazon

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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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