hilltowns, The Sweet Spot

The Sweet Spot: Free For The Taking

Before Isabel Long, I created Edie St. Claire, the lead character in my novel, The Sweet Spot. Edie gives readers a different take on the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts that inspire me to write — and certainly someone Isabel would have come across while solving her mysteries.

And for two days — March 12 and 13 — the Kindle version is free on Amazon. Here’s the link: The Sweet Spot

For me, writing The Sweet Spot was a labor of love since I typed the first draft with only one hand. It was summer 2004, and I was recuperating from injuries after getting hit by a car as I walked across the street. (The driver claimed he didn’t see me in the crosswalk.)

I remember coming home from work and letting the words flow one after the other. I was focused and 80,000 words later, the book was done. Two agents tried to sell it, and eventually I gave up and published it myself. I felt it was too good a book to stay in my laptop.

The year is 1978. The Vietnam War ended officially three years earlier. Edie St. Claire and her family — the Sweets — have lived in the hilltowns for generations, but they are not one of those well-heeled families. Her father, a crotchety old character, runs the town dump. Her fiery aunt, who lives next door, has no brakes on her opinions or mouth.

Edie still grieves for her husband, Gil, who was killed in Vietnam eight years earlier. I don’t blame her. Gil was a great guy. They were high school sweethearts who married young. They would have had a wonderful future together, except he pulled a low number during the 1969 lottery and had to go to war.

When The Sweet Spot starts, Edie raises the young daughter Gil never met. She does her best, working for her in-laws in the town’s only store. Still, she knows how to have a good time, whether its playing softball — the banter among her teammates is a lot of fun — or hanging out at the local watering hole, the Do-Si-Do Bar. These are simply ways for her to escape her grief.

Edie also tries to ease her pain via an affair with Gil’s married brother, Walker, 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.

Those who have read the Isabel Long Mystery Series — thank you — will find a different tone in The Sweet Spot. Edie is a lively character, but she makes mistakes and pays dearly for them. But I sure love her determination. I hope you do, too. Now go get that free book.

 

 

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hilltowns, Isabel Long Mystery Series

Having My Way With It

Actually, that title is an abbreviation of what I will be talking about March 9 at an event sponsored by the Shelburne Falls Area Women’s Club. Specifically, I will talk about how the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, where I live, have been an inspiration for my fiction.

Actually, if I were to give the whole title it would be: I Take What I Know and Have My Way With It.

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Andrew Heinrich on the bassoon at Brodksy Bookshop in Taos, NM

I will be honest in saying I love doing these events. I’ve done them at libraries, classrooms, book stores, on stage and for literary groups — in person and virtually. One memorable reading was for my novel, Peace, Love, and You Know What, at Brodsky Bookshop in Taos, NM, where my friend, Andrew Heinrich played Beatles tunes on the bassoon. It was appropriate given the book’s pitch: First a three-day bash at a college hippie pad … and then maybe adulthood. Peace, Love, and You Know What is a comedy framed by the Vietnam War and Watergate.

Now I will be talking and reading in Shelburne Falls, Mass., the village where I live. For this event, I will concentrate on my Isabel Long Mystery Series. As I’ve said before, there’s a lot of me in Isabel. Given it’s written in first-person, present tense, I can’t help it. But I have no plans to be a private investigator now that I’ve left journalism for good. I will write about one instead — plus work on my other writing projects. It’s been a month, by the way, since I left that profession.

I admit I pay homage to family members, especially my mother, in this series. But this is definitely not a memoir. The rest of the characters are made up. So are Isabel’s cases.

But I honestly believe the hilltowns are a permanent part of my DNA considering the the length of time I’ve lived in Western Mass. — 25 years the first go-round and reaching five years this one — and importantly covering it as a reporter.  It helps my books be authentic.

I’ve been to lots of readings by other authors, so I am familiar with what works and what doesn’t. For the next few days I will concentrate on what I will say and how much I will read. There will be time for questions and I will have books for sale at a discount.

If you’re in the area, here are the event’s details: Wednesday, March 9, 4 p.m. at the Shelburne Buckland Community Center at 53 Main St., on the Shelburne side of Shelburne Falls.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE:

That’s me giving a reading at SOMOS in Taos — “a place for the written and spoken word.”

HOW TO FIND MY BOOKS:

Here’s the link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Joan-Livingston/e/B01E1HKIDG

 

 

 

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Chasing the Case, hilltowns

Revealing a Mystery

As I write this piece, the official launch for my mystery, Chasing the Case, will happen in seven days on May 18. Yowza!

On that day, the book, the first in the Isabel Long series, will be available on Kindle. If you pre-ordered, your copy will pop into your electronic device. Paperbacks have been available for a while. Also, there will be a celebratory event on Facebook that Chasing the Case cover copyall can join and win prizes.

For the past few months, I’ve been sharing bits and pieces about Chasing the Case. I have had the great support of fellow authors who have hosted posts on their blogs. (Thank you so much.) That will continue into the future.

And I have two appearances. The first is May 12 at the Worthington Library, 4 p.m. if you live nearby. On May 23, I will read at Boswell’s Books, 6:30 p.m. in Shelburne Falls. Both are in Western Mass., where this mystery series is set.

At the Worthington event, I plan to read from my book and take questions. Ha. I bet a couple will ask how much of the town of Conwell in Chasing the Case is actually Worthington.

That’s only natural.

My family and I lived in Worthington for 25 years or so. It was my first beat when I became a rookie reporter. And although Chasing the Case is strictly fiction, Worthington and the other hilltowns around it, certainly have inspired most of my adult fiction.

Right now, I am pondering the passages I will read Saturday. As a friend asked, how do you share parts of a mystery without giving it away? Good question. And that’s what I will ponder today as I prepare although I know for sure I will read a portion of the chapter introducing the Old Farts, a group of gossipy old men who hold court in the backroom of a general store. I wrote about them in my last post.

Here’s an audio excerpt.

Thank you to those who have ordered or pre-ordered copies of Chasing the Case. I appreciate your support. Here’s the link for those who are interested: http://mybook.to/chasingthecase

And for old friends from the hilltowns, I hope to see you in Worthington for the reading.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: The Worthington Library by Ed Pelletier.

 

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hilltowns, Western Massachusetts

Here I Am

Yes, I have maintained a mostly silent presence on the Web lately. Then again, a lot has happened since we left Taos, New Mexico, for Charlemont, Western Massachusetts, a few weeks ago. But to get to the heart of it: I am fine and learning my way around.

First: the 2,400-mile trek. As I predicted, Hank drove it in three days, staying in Kansas one night and Ohio, the next. He could have stretched it, but he saw the finish line and just kept pushing.

Besides, we had the cat. Two (we named her that because she reminded us of our two best cats) was one unhappy passenger in her carrier. That lasted until Walsenburg, Colorado, where from thence forward she was on my lap. She perked up nicely in the hotel room — finding a cat-friendly hotel was another challenge — and was attached to me when she wasn’t.

Where did we land? We are renting the bottom floor of an old house on a busy road in a tiny town. The Deerfield River is past the large field below the house and beyond the river are train tracks. Our neighbors upstairs are very likeable, as are our landlords. We are within walking distance to a couple of restaurants, a jam-packed general store, and the post office. It’s a short drive to a swimming hole and a bit longer to Shelburne Falls, where our son, Zack, is opening his brewery.

We somehow managed to fit the contents of a small house into this apartment. Hank and I realized we have much more art and furniture, most of which he built, than when we arrived in Taos 11 years ago. A couple of framed pieces are stowed under the bed. Boxes are stacked in the corner of a bedroom. But the wooden furniture, boxes, and frames Hank built make any place look great.

By the way, my new place to write is the dining room table. I had to relinquish my Shaker-style desk to use for storage in the kitchen. It works.

What about the family? We saw three of our kids at one gathering last weekend. We visited Nate’s new home soon after its closing Tuesday. Later that day, we attended a hearing in Buckland for a pouring permit for our Zack’s brewery — one of the selectmen told us he had skied at TSV — and have stopped by when he’s working there. Hank will be helping both sons on their projects.

What about the other people living here? Gosh, they’ve been so friendly. Hank calls it Pleasantville. I have yet to meet a grouch, but as one woman advised us, “Wait until winter.”

Other amenities? Sweet corn sold everywhere, including along the roadsides. Blueberries. Really fast internet. Moisture. Trees. Greenery. Food co-ops.

One glitch: In order to have that really fast internet, we had to get a landline. Good thing since we don’t have cell-phone service at home yet.

We’ve been driving around looking for a permanent place. Friday, when we visited our former town of Worthington, we stood outside the general store and saw seven people we knew well. We toured one house in Buckland and did drive-bys of others that looked a whole lot better online than in person.

We remind ourselves we’ve only been here a short time — two weeks as I write this. We will eventually find the place that is ours. But, for now, here I am.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: I took this from the Bridge of Flowers. Zack’s Floodwater Brewing will open in the building across the river with the porch.

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hilltowns, novel, Western Massachusetts

Starting The Sweet Spot

I typed the first draft of The Sweet Spot, my next novel out, with only one hand. It was summer 2004, and I was recuperating after getting hit by a car as I walked across the street in Northampton, Massachusetts.

I was in the middle of the crosswalk on my way to get coffee before I headed to the newsroom. (The driver claimed he didn’t see me.) The impact threw me into the air and broke my collarbone. Something on the hood of the car cut the back of my head. It could have been much worse. I am grateful for that.

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That’s where it happened.

I missed work for a week. I was a copy editor then for a daily newspaper. When I returned, I got good at typing with one hand. Ice and the meds I took then helped. Plus Hank, who had a job in the valley, drove me back and forth to work until I mended enough to drive.

And that’s when I started The Sweet Spot, which has been the novel’s name all along. I set it in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, where I lived then. The small town of Conwell is pure fiction, but I feel I made it believable enough that I could plunk it in the middle of Worthington (where we lived) and its neighbors, Chesterfield and Cummington.

The year is 1978. No cell phones or email. I didn’t know anyone who had a computer at home. The Vietnam War ended officially three years earlier.

The characters are locals, except for one important newcomer.

I set the stage with softball and baseball games, a Fourth of July parade, a general store, a swimming hole, and raucous nights at the local bar.

Emotions get high. As I learned as a resident and reporter, things can get mighty personal in a small town. In this case, Edie St. Claire, one of the main characters, messes up big time. Most in Conwell won’t let her forget it.

And there are feuds. Edie’s father, who runs the town dump, has an ongoing one with the road boss. Pop keeps taking stuff that belongs to the highway department, and the road boss gets his revenge by plowing and grading their dead-end dirt road last.

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.

I sent the manuscript to my then-agent. His suggestion: start from the middle. I reworked the novel that way. He pitched it to two publishing houses: both editors took a pass. One of them died the next day in surgery. True story.

Slow forward ten years later. I reread The Sweet Spot. I loved it enough to tear it apart and rewrite it. I added much more dialogue thanks to the encouragement of my then-agent. But alas he couldn’t sell it either. My pitches to other agents and indie houses after I let him go were unsuccessful.

So I will be publishing it myself. I feel it’s too good a novel not to let people read it. Very soon.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Chile ristras hang from a vendor’s booth at the Taos Farmers Market on the Plaza.

 

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