The Sweet Spot

My 25-Year Writer’s Block

People ask if I ever have a writer’s block. My answer is no although I did have one that lasted 25 years. That’s an awfully long time, but I put it to good use.

scan TSS

But to inject optimism into this post, the block did break and since then I’ve been writing like crazy and have published three books, including my latest, The Sweet Spot.

I discovered my potential as a writer in college, focusing on poetry largely because I didn’t know how to sustain a thought in prose. I am not making this up.

Then I started having babies, lots of them by modern standards. I don’t blame my six kids for my writer’s block as I happily spent my creative energy loving and caring for them.

Yes, I did make attempts at writing prose and a bit of poetry, a genre I’ve since dropped. I even attempted novels. But, alas, I got nowhere.

Funny, I still thought of myself as a writer, so instead I decided to learn how to be one.

The first thing I did was read what others wrote. I brought home piles of books from the library wherever we lived.

Then I got a job as a correspondent for a daily newspaper in Western Massachusetts. (I had only five kids then.) I reported on the town I lived, Worthington, population about 1,200. It has one store, one stoplight, one church, one school, and one bar. But the hilltown generated a bit of news as I covered government meetings, profiles of interesting country folk, and whatever news, say a house fire, happened.

Soon I was covering three hilltowns plus handling regional stories, including one that took me to the White House. (The hilltowns of Western Massachusetts are the setting for The Sweet Spot.) At first I was paid by the inch, then by the  story.

Reporting was the best thing I could have done. I listened to the way people talked and watched how they behaved. I paid attention. I wrote that all down.

I found stories wherever I went.

So when did my writer’s block end? After I became an editor. Being a reporter sucked a lot of my creative energy. Manipulating other people’s writing — I have a light touch — didn’t. One day I began writing fiction, yes, prose, and it became a part of my every day.

The writer’s block broke about 16 years ago like an ice dam in a river after a profoundly cold winter. One could say it was the winter of my discontent, with apologies to Steinbeck. Since then I’ve written five adult novels, three in a middle grade series and three in a bilingual series for young readers. Three of those have been published.

Currently, I’m in the midst of a mystery (a first solid draft completed) and the fourth in the middle grade series.

Thankfully, I won’t experience that winter again.

Speaking of The Sweet Spot, here is that novel’s quick synopsis and a link to it on Amazon.

Most in Conwell love Edie St. Claire, the widow of a soldier killed in Vietnam, until her affair with his married brother ends tragically. She tries to survive this small town’s biggest scandal through the help of her rough-sawn family and a badly scarred man who’s arrived for his fresh start.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s me in college when I was convinced I would be an author.

The Sweet Spot

Ah, the Business of Writing

As I often tell would be authors, there’s writing and then there’s the business of writing. When I began writing novels in earnest 17 years ago, I had one model in mind: I get an agent, the agent gets me a contract with a publishing house, my book is a hit.

As for that model, I made it to the first step twice and almost to the second. Yes, I expended a lot of energy trying that route and querying indie presses.

Ah, but the industry has changed with eBooks and the ability to self-publish successfully. So for the past year I’ve been doing it myself with the encouragement of a fellow author who’s been successful at it.

(By the way, my lack of success achieving that model didn’t stop me from writing even though until last year, I had full-time jobs as a journalist. Besides the three I have published, I have three other adult novels, a middle grade series, a bilingual series for young readers, plus a mystery I’m working on now.)

I’ll say up front self-publishing is a lot of work. And the big lesson I learned from the first novel is that I need help marketing the second.

Here’s what I’ve done in the past year. I published in paperback the first of a bilingual series for young readers, The Cousins and the Magic Fish/Los Primos y el Pez Mágico, with a translation by another author friend Teresa Dovalpage. It’s a bit of magical realism with characters one might find in Northern New Mexico where we live.

Next came Peace, Love, and You Know What, a fun romp inspired by my own experiences in college, in eBook and paperback.

Did I make any money on Peace, Love, and You Know What? In terms of what I dished out, I would say I broke even. Of course, I’m ignoring the reams of paper and printer ink, plus the countless hours I spent writing and rewriting the novel.

Admittedly, the writing and rewriting bring me such great pleasure, so I am still ahead.

I am grateful to those who have read the novel and even posted reviews because they enjoyed it. (It has 11 five-star reviews that were unsolicited.)

I just released The Sweet Spot, the first of my hilltown novels. (I’ve included the synopsis below.) For the paperback, I opted this time for a matte cover, paid for an image I felt represents the novel’s contents, and chose a slightly bigger font. As I’ve posted before, I read and reread that novel countless times as my own editor. Of course, my designer worked her magic. It’s a pretty book for those who like paper in their hand or on their screen.

I followed suggestions of having a great cover and posting social media leading up to the launch and after. The blog posts on my website featured characters and themes with excerpts from the novel. I scheduled a reading in Taos, where I live, for later this month. Copies of my novel are in the local stores.

So how’s the business of writing going? I’d say on the modest side. But this time, I don’t plan on being so stubborn about it.

Upon the recommendation of yet another author friend, I have turned to BooksGoSocial, to get the word out. This outfit, based in Ireland but with an office in the U.S., aims to gives an author’s book a much broader reach via social media than certainly I could ever muster at what I believe is a reasonable price. (My attempts at Kindle and Facebook ads were flops.) It also offers training in marketing via social media.

The BooksGoSocial promotion for my novel The Sweet Spot started March 10. They will be tweeting the heck out of it and giving advice on what I can do. I will let you know how it works out. My mission: more readers and income from my writing.

By the way, I am giving a presentation on publishing options at the inaugural Taos Writers Conference by SOMOS, the next day, March 11. I will be glad to pass on the lessons I’ve learned.

As promised, here’s the synopsis for The Sweet Spot:

Edie St. Claire is smack in the middle of what’s going on in Conwell: her in-law’s general store, the Do-Si-Do Bar, and this small town’s biggest scandal in years.

Her father is a crusty so-and-so who runs the town dump. Her wisecracking aunt is as fiery as her dyed red hair. Both live next to Edie and her young daughter.

Edie is a woman on the go, pretty and direct, but she holds onto an old sadness: the death of her husband in Vietnam. She tries easing her grief with his married brother, Walker.

But when the affair comes to a tragic end, Edie does her best to survive the blame with the help of her rough-sawn family and a badly scarred man who’s arrived for his fresh start.

Here’s the link on Amazon:The Sweet Spot


The Sweet Spot

What She Feels

Real people have real feelings. And since the characters of my new novel The Sweet Spot are real to me, I believe it applies to them.

Actually, the novel is filled with emotion. Love. Joy. Humor. Grief. And then there’s the ugly stuff. Jealousy. Anger. Hate. Oh, there’s more than that certainly.

But let me focus on Edie St. Claire, the novel’s main character. She’s a young widow who still grieves for her husband, Gil, who was killed in Vietnam eight years earlier. (The novel is set in 1978.) I don’t blame her. He was a sweetheart of a guy. I should know. I created him.

They were high school sweethearts who married young. Gil was taken by Edie’s fun-loving spirit. She adored his tenderness. They would have had a wonderful future together, except he pulled a low number during the 1969 lottery and had to go to war.

I’ve never been a widow. But the blessed part about being a writer and a person with a creative mind is that I can imagine it.

When The Sweet Spot starts, Edie raises their young daughter by herself. She does her best, whether it’s helping her crusty old father or her fiery aunt who live next door. Still, she knows how to have a good time, whether its playing softball — the camaraderie and banter among her teammates are 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.

Then, there is her affair with her married brother-in-law, Walker, who could never replace his brother although he sure keeps trying.

I can’t give away the rest of the book, but things turn out badly for Edie and Walker.

Now Edie must deal with different emotions like shame, hatred and pride. How does she handle them? Let’s say I’m rooting for her.

Want your copy of The Sweet Spot? It available on Amazon as a paperback or eBook. Here’s the link: The Sweet Spot on Amazon. If you enjoy the novel, I’d love a review. Thanks for your support.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: I’ve become hooked on making sourdough bread this winter. I was inspired by Michael Pollan’s book and documentary series Cooked. I follow his recipe, which takes two days as long as you have an active starter. The bread keeps getting better and better as I learn. Sort of like writing.


The Sweet Spot

A Book in Hand

The Sweet Spot went live nine days ago, and I am grateful to those who have shown interest in my new novel. My own paperbacks arrived at the post office late last week. There’s something about a book in hand, especially one you’ve written.

I’ve been visiting our local bookstores — yes, Taos still has them — to request they scan TSScarry The Sweet Spot.

Thank you to Rick Smith at Brodsky Bookshop for adding The Sweet Spot to its inventory. (He even had a check for selling Peace, Love, and You Know What. I told him I felt rich that day, much to his amusement.)

Brodsky is delightfully jammed with used books and locally written books. He had the first signed copies of John Nichols’ My Heart Belongs to Nature.

Of course, a visit to Brodsky is not complete without an exchange with its orange cat, Willy, named for the character Willy Loman. That day he was hugging the portable heater. Yes, that’s him above.

My second visit was to Op. Cit. Books at the John Dunne Shops. Besides dropping off books, I arranged to have a reading Saturday, March 25 at 2 p.m. Thank you very much, Betty.

I have a couple of more places to visit.

And in the spirit of keeping things moving, today I finished the first draft of Isabel Long, a mystery I began this fall. This is my first stab at a mystery, and I will admit I enjoy the genre. Isabel Long weighs in at 73,000 words.

Here is a very brief synopsis. Twenty-nine years ago, a  woman went missing in her little town. Newly out of work as a newspaper editor, Isabel Long decides on her own to solve the mystery. (She also gets a part-time job at the local bar called the Rooster.) Yes, the setting is the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. The characters are, well, interesting characters. It even took me a while to figure out who dunnit.

So I quietly raise my mug of tea in hurrah and then plan to get back to the novel’s beginning. I have a ways to go before I finish this mystery.

Don’t live in Taos and you want to buy my novel? Here you go on Amazon: The Sweet Spot paperback and The Sweet Spot Kindle

I am pleased that Kindle version is ranked at 1,715 in Literary Women’s Fiction.

And if you enjoy the book, I would love a review. Thank you all.


The Sweet Spot


My novel The Sweet Spot is dedicated to my mother, Algerina. I have a good reason to single her out this way My mother, who will be 93 on April 2, inspired me with her love of reading. She has always been a big supporter of my writing.

momAs soon as The Sweet Spot went live earlier this week, I ordered a paperback for her. It arrived at her home Tuesday. She called me that night to say she had already read three chapters. She complimented my writing. (Thanks, Mom.)

Naturally, she was surprised by the dedication. My mother’s also a humble person.

My mother didn’t grow up with the educational advantages I had. She loved school and wanted to be a nurse, but that was during the Great Depression. She was the daughter of immigrants from Madeira. Her father pulled her out of school to work in the textile mills of New Bedford. She never realized that goal.

When it came to reading, my mother was a great role model. She took us once or twice a week to the Millicent Rogers Library in my hometown of Fairhaven, Massachusetts to stock up on books. During the summer, a bookmobile came to the church parking lot at the bottom of our street, and she would ask me to bring back a stack of books.

She hasn’t stopped reading. She now stocks up on books she finds in yard sales and elsewhere. The eight years I was the editor of The Taos News, I signed her up for a subscription. She used to joke about my editorials, “I wonder what Joan will be mad about this week.”

When I sent her a copy of my first novel, Peace, Love, and You Know What, I did so with a bit of trepidation. While the characters and plot are made up, it is a bit raunchy in parts. (Ask my kids.)

My mother’s reaction? “I’ve read much worse in my romance novels.”

Oh, one last thing, I have made her a character in the novel I am now writing — a mystery set in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. She moves in with her daughter and helps her solve the case of a missing woman. I bet she gets a kick out of it.

Thanks, Mom, for your inspiration and your support.

And here is a link to The Sweet Spot on Amazon in paperback and Kindle

Thank you for your support as well.