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.


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.