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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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books, Writing

Writing about Triangles

I like triangles. Yeah, the geometric ones are interesting, but I’m talking about the triangles that can get people into trouble. That’s why I use them in my novels. Yes, The Sweet Spot has a big one.

And to complicate things, one person in the triangle is dead.

So, there is Edie St. Claire, whose last name was Sweet before she married Gil St. Claire right after their high school graduation — much to the consternation of his parents. Theirs is a tender love. But Edie’s life is turned upside down when Gil dies in Vietnam.

The third part of this triangle is Walker St. Claire, Gil’s brother. Years after his brother dies, he takes up with Edie even though he is married and has kids of his own. (There’s another triangle.)

Edie can’t let go of her love for Gil, who by my accounts was a sweetheart of a guy, and finds something to care about in his brother besides the sex. Unfortunately, Walker is obsessed with Edie.

This situation is not going to end well, I will tell you that. The tone in this book is decidedly not comic as was the case in my first novel Peace, Love, and You Know What.

Here is a scene from early in The Sweet Spot. Walker has taken Edie to his lakeside cabin. By the way, Shane and Randy are his twin boys.

Edie dressed as she walked around the cabin. She kneeled on the couch to study the dusty black-and-white photos of men holding dead game and strings of fish. Walker grinned from the edge of the bed, where he pulled on his cowboy boots.

Her face spun toward him.

“It’s Gil and you,” she said.

Walker stood beside her. Two smiling boys, wearing plaid jackets and furry hats flapped over their ears, posed with rifles.

“It’s us alright. Dad used to bring me and Gil up here when we were kids.”

“Look at you two. Just like Shane and Randy.”

Edie studied the photo. Walker cleared his throat. He wanted her to look at him.

“What do ya think it would’ve been like if he lived?” he asked her.

“Well, for one, I wouldn’t be here with you.”

She smiled. But Walker felt his jaw freeze. His words came from the back of his throat.

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying we would’ve been happily married. I wouldn’t have been alone with Amber.”

“You think so, huh?”

“Course, I do.”

“Sure.”

“Walker, this is silly.”

He clasped her arm tightly and brought his face close to hers. Her smile went flat. Edie cried out, and when he let her go, she dropped the photograph to the floor.

When I think back on the characters in the book, I see other three-pointed relationships, most of which don’t involve intimacy or sex, like Edie’s relationship with her mother and father in-law. Marie is frank about her disapproval of Edie but she puts up with her. Fred has a clear fondness for Edie although his wife runs that marriage.

There is Edie’s relationship with her father and aunt, who like to spar.

And figure in Harlan Doyle, the stranger who moves into town.

Yes, I like things in threes.

The Sweet Spot’s launch, in paperback and Kindle, is expected mid-January, when we’ve all recovered a bit from the holidays.

And here’s the link to Peace, Love, and You Know What on Amazon.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: As we ponder the cover, I’ve been researching images of the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts on the internet. I found this vintage postcard of Worthington, where I once lived.

 

 

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books, Publishing

All in Good Time

It’s all in the timing: the punchline to a good joke; getting a deal on an airline ticket; and, for me, the launch of my next novel. I am writing about The Sweet Spot.

As loyal readers know, I’ve been pitching The Sweet Spot recently, saying it would come out very soon. It’s the first of my so-called hilltown novels, which take place in rural Western Massachusetts, where I once lived. Set in 1978, the novel has a big scandal, a nasty feud, and interesting country folk living in the fictional town of Conwell. As usual, I love my characters, including one very flawed man.

Now, I officially announce the launch date of The Sweet Spot will be in January, more towards the middle than the end.

There are very practical reasons for the delay. I kept reading the manuscript over and over and over, forwards and backwards, on the screen and paper. I’m doing this on my own and want to get it right.  Also, Michelle, the book’s designer, has other obligations.

We could have launched the novel in late November or early December, but that seemed like a bad idea, given the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy. Frankly, I don’t think my novel would be on anyone’s wish list, save for a few dear friends and family members.

January seemed like a smarter move. New Kindle and tablet owners will be looking for novels to read. People will be hunkering down with books because it’s winter.

Michelle and I met last week, now that she’s read the entire novel, to talk about cover ideas. I am going to read the manuscript one last time — I promise — before I hand The Sweet Spot over to her, so she can get it ready for paperback and Kindle. This time, we are releasing both versions at the same time.

During the time leading up to the launch, I will be giving updates, including a peek at the cover and snippets of copy. I will tell you about the main characters, such as Edie, Walker, and Harlan. Then there’s Edie’s old rascal of a father, who runs the town dump, and her outspoken aunt. The Sweet Spot is far more serious than my first novel, Peace, Love, and You Know What, although like real life, it has its comic moments.

When I think about it, January is not that far off.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That is a glass of Harvey’s Raw Apple Cider I bought at the Taos Farmers Market last week, the last time it will be available in Taos this season. Unpasteurized cider is illegal in New Mexico, except at farmers markets. The full-bodied cider tastes just like what I used to drink in New England. Delicious.

 

 

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books, Peace Love and You Know What, Professor Groovy, Writing

I Say Uncle

I am not a quitter. One of my favorite quotes is “Perseverance furthers” from the I Ching. But I finally found a fight no longer worth my time: creating an audio book.

For this project, I chose Professor Groovy and Other Stories, a collection of four short pieces. These stories predate my novel Peace, Love, and You Know What. Prof Groovy has only 10,000 words. Peace etc. has eight times that amount. A piece of cake, right? Uh, no.

I enjoyed a bit of pride learning the Garage Band program on my Mac and getting the settings down. I turned my office into a humble studio using every darn piece of foam in the house. I learned to breathe and read in a pleasant narrative. I figured out how to edit the tracks.

But, alas, no matter my effort, I felt strongly the audio tracks weren’t good enough to sell. I am not a professional, and it showed.

And, worse, I was spending too much time fixing audio tracks and not writing. I don’t even want to guess at the amount of hours spent on this project.

But I will make myself feel better and say I didn’t give up easily. I tried, I really did.

I haven’t given up on the idea that my published books, now and in the future, will also be audio books. But my new cosmic plan is to attract enough bread so I can hire someone who knows what the heck they are doing.

So what have I been doing besides feeling relieved? Writing-wise, I’ve started a new novel, this one a mystery set in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, where I once lived. I like where it’s going.

Also, I’ve started the last copyediting go-through for The Sweet Spot, the next novel I will be publishing later this fall. That one is set in Western Massachusetts, too, but in 1978. A lot more on that in the near future.

Finally, another new project: a bilingual novel for adult students taking ESL. I had a wonderful experience visiting the class of Teresa, my friend and collaborator. That experience deserves a separate post.

So I’m an audio book failure. No regrets, however, as I have other creative things to do.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Summer hangs on a bit.

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