Isabel Long Mystery Series, Writing

When Inspiration Hits

It turns out, for me, at least, that can happen anytime. Yes, some ideas for my books come when I’m in the shower, riding in a car, or doing some physical chore that allows my brain to drift elsewhere. Sometimes it happens while I was on a walk, which happened yesterday, and talking with somebody, ditto. Let me tell you about it.

As you’ve probably know, I’m a seat-of-your-pants kind of writer. No outlines. No notes ahead of time. I get up early, although not as early as I did — 5 a.m. — when I had a job. I toast a half-bagel and pour myself a large mug of coffee, then log on to my computer. After checking with the news, I open the manuscript on my screen and pick up where I left off. My fingers fly as the words come to me. I don’t understand how it happens, but I welcome it.

But back to those inspiring moments, those are the ones that often help to fill in the blanks that will make the story better. Currently, I am in the midst of no. 6 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series — Following the Lead. I don’t want to give away too much, but Isabel’s old boss hired her for this case. He wants to know what happened to his sister, who was taken from the family’s yard when she was a baby fifty years ago. (It’s more complicated than that.) Lin believes he might have even met a woman who could have been his sister. How would he know? She had a distinctive facial feature that is hereditary, and on my walk, it came to me what it could be. While I am not divulging what it is, I had to rush home from my walk to make that addition.

Then, last night, I was at my son Zack’s  Floodwater Brewing for Comedy Night when I was approached by two local fans. One man reminded me that I had told his friend I planned to bump him off in my next book. While I don’t remember the moment, I believe I said it. His pal is a friendly guy who’s also a likable wiseass that doesn’t mind getting it dished back to him. My understanding is that he would be more than honored to get killed off in my next book.

As I sat there, enjoying the comedians’ jokes, my mind kept going back to that conversation. And then it came to me how I could do it. I hadn’t planned on bumping anyone off in this book, but I’ve had a change of heart about a character Isabel is trying to meet. And perhaps after last night’s conversation, he won’t be long for this world.

So, this morning, I jumped right into the book, made a few changes here and there before moving on with the story. Yes, they all work.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: We happen to live not far from the tracks that freight trains take from the western part of the state to Boston. Long before we moved here, passenger trains used those tracks with a stop in our village — there are plans maybe to bring that back. The village also has the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum, which contains lots of rail paraphernalia and short tracks for its trolley. This sign, located at the end of each, is rather fitting for this post.

LINK TO MY BOOKS: Here you go — Joan Livingston books on Amazon

Isabel Long Mystery Series, Writing

Now in the Middle

Well, I am actually past the middle of my next mystery as I write this post. So, let me back up a bit and tell you what I actually did when I reached that point for Following the Lead is no. six in my Isabel Long Mystery Series.

As I did with the others, I aim for about 75,000 words, long enough I believe to tell a good story. So half of that is 37,500, which I reached several days ago. As I post this, I’ve reached 40,500.

I aim for 500 words a day, and except for a day here or there when I wasn’t home, I’ve maintained that pace since I began in earnest early in February when I retired from journalism. Somehow it works for me although once in a while I surprise myself and hit a thousand.

So, reaching mid-way, I decided it was time to print out what I had written thus far and get out the red marker. At this point, I am a little hard on myself. Gee, didn’t I use that phrase somewhere else? Hey, I would expand this part more. Oops, I need to go back to an earlier chapter to fix some loose threads or revisit one of the earlier books to see if a “fact” (this is fiction after all) is correct. Surely, there’s another way to write this part.

Besides finding the usual typos and missing words, it’s an opportunity to immerse myself in the book’s story and its characters, especially as Isabel Long moves forward with her most recent case. But first, I make the corrections and additions on the computer’s document.

What is this case about? This one involves a baby taken fifty years ago and never found although the man who hires Isabel is convinced he met her once by chance.

Now, like Isabel Long, I will keep going until I reach the end.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: This is the second year this amaryllis has bloomed. Its sister amaryllis is getting close to blooming — the fourth time including last summer.

LINKS TO MY BOOKS: Interested in the Isabel Long Mystery Series? I will make it easy for you to find it on Amazon:

Gardening, Writing

The First Dig

Ever since the snow melted, I’ve wanted to dig in the dirt. My flower beds will stay undisturbed until it gets much warmer, but my initial focus is on expanding my vegetable garden. So, yesterday, I got a shovel out of the garage and began. Like other things that I do, including my writing, it’s a matter of starting and keeping with it.

I had a vegetable garden I built at the other homes we owned. But the one we have now in Shelburne Falls has a very small yard largely shaded by large trees that thankfully keep the house cool during the summer but don’t permit much sunshine. Then there are the deep slopes and one large swarth of level land the previous owners unfortunately allowed to be consumed by the invasive Japanese knotweed that is so difficult to remove. The only spot for a garden is at the top of the backyard hill that abuts land owned by the Catholic Church next door.

So, I created a garden from the grassy, weedy spot. I removed what was growing and then proceeded to supplement the soil — I dug down about two feet — with compost and manure. In the end I had a 5-by-10-foot garden read to plant last year.

I didn’t expect much. After all it takes a while to build a soil’s wealth and there had never been a garden here. I was also warned not to grow anything the deer that wander in from the woods might like. That first year crop included tomatoes, three kinds of peppers, onions, beans, and squash, including a couple of volunteers that came from seeds from the compost. It was a decent first effort. (I also planted garlic in the fall for this year’s crop.)

My focus this year is expanding to the areas I covered with black plastic — I recycled the compost and manure bags — to kill what had been growing there. So itching to get started, on my first dig, I expanded the original plot by 18 inches on each side. Now, there are two deep, long trenches ready for compost and to be backfilled with the dirt I saved plus other nutritional stuff I will add. It wasn’t that warm yesterday, but the sun was strong enough that I shed my jacket.

Frankly, I don’t do much thinking in my garden. For me, digging is one of those “be here now” experiences. Yesterday, I forgot about finishing our taxes and other stuff on my to-do list. I pushed the shovel into the ground with my foot, shook out the dirt from the dead plants before tossing them into a hole I’m trying to fill, and lifted the soil on top of the existing garden for later. Today, I will work on the vertical expansion. Tomorrow we’re getting rain.

It’s one shovelful after another. I see similarities in my style of writing. I stay totally focused while enjoying the moment — digging one word after another as I work toward a bountiful end. And the more I do it, the better I get at it.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A selfie in my sunny garden.

A LINK TO MY BOOKS: Interested in my other growing project? Here is the link: Joan Livingston Books on Amazon



life, Writing

Paring Down

When we moved 2,400 miles twice, my motto regarding our possessions is that we had to absolutely need them or love them and hopefully both. But now that we’ve settled into our village life after finding, renovating, and moving into our current home, it’s time to reassess what we own — and thankfully I now have the time to do it. (Yes, I am a fan of Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy.] I am also applying this to my writing, one book in specific, but I’ll get to that later in this post.

It began with the filing cabinet. I am starting our taxes and while looking for copies of last year’s, I realized how much crap I’ve dumped into this two-drawer cabinet Hank built for me a long time ago. So, I’m going through each file. Some of it, like tax documents going back a dozen years will be shredded, while I keep what’s more recent. I’ve heard three years, I’m doing five just to be on the safe side. The rest goes into the recycling bin.

Regarding papers, I am well aware I have boxes of old drafts of my novels in manila envelopes in our attic. I sincerely doubt anyone, including myself will want to read them. I will give the ones for my current unpublished novels a look to see if they are worth saving or contain something I could use.

Next on my list is clothing. When I look in my closet I find clothing I wore only when I tried them on at the second-hand store. They don’t fit my current lifestyle or taste, but maybe they will somebody else’s. Into the bag they are going.

Then there is my book collection. About twenty-five years ago I started collecting first editions of books that I love written by authors I admire. It started with regular visits to a second-hand bookstore, sadly no longer in existence, on my lunch hour. Then there were community sales like library fundraisers. When we traveled, I hit the local used bookstore. I never paid much. I found the best deals were in the places people didn’t value books — my biggest find was a very early edition of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man in a Habitat for Humanity Store in New Mexico. Then, then there are what colleagues left on the free table where I worked. Of course, there are online bookstores, which enabled me to fill in my collections at moderate prices.

But recently I’ve decided it’s time to pare down this collection, keeping a much smaller ones of the books that are truly near and dear to me. I know better than to try selling them to a bookstore. I will do it myself online and perhaps make money.

My computer… soon I will be retiring this writing machine that I’ve had ten years and getting another. I’ve been diligently cleaning out files. Next, I will attempt that with photos.

And now that book. It’s the first one I tried to write. When I showed the opening to my first agent, he expressed more interest in another of my books. Ha. Both are still unpublished but I hope to change that. As I’ve mentioned before, The Swanson Shuffle was inspired by my experience living and working in a psychiatric halfway house, but it is definitely not a memoir. Now, I am doing the read-aloud function on my computer, finding words and paragraphs that are unnecessary, and in some cases adding a missing word. Since starting, I’ve trimmed a thousand words and I believe the novel is all the better for it.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: The five books in my Isabel Long Mystery Series are on display and for sale in our son, Zack’s Floodwater Brewing in Shelburne Falls, Mass., the village where we live. Hank built the display shelf, with shapes that allude to our village’s Bridge of Flowers. I am a lucky author.

LINKS: Curious about my books? You can get them in paperback and Kindle here:








Isabel Long Mystery Series, Writing

Putting My Daydreaming Skills to Good Use

I confess that I’m a daydreamer. Big time. For much of my life, I used those dreams to try fixing whatever was going on in my life and make them turn out the way I imagined. Admittedly, that typically didn’t happen. But all that changed when I got serious about my writing and put my daydreaming skills to much better use in the fiction I create.

Author Stephen King put it well when he said writing is telepathic. That came from his book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft,” and when I read it, I totally agreed that, at least for me, when I sit down at my computer, the words come from somewhere else. I never work by outlines. I don’t plan ahead. Frankly, I don’t even know “who dunnit” when I start one of my Isabel Long Mysteries. I’m figuring that out along Isabel.

Often times, the next chapter will pop into my head when I’m driving or doing some mindless chore. I can remember once weeding my garden when I got a revelation about the relationship between two characters that I had to leave what I was doing and run inside to write — it also changed the focus of my novel, The Sweet Spot.

Currently, I’m writing Following the Lead, number six in the Isabel Long Mystery Series. I am only 15,000 words into it so the story line and characters are still fluid. It’s too soon to give details about the book except in this one a baby was kidnapped from her front yard fifty years ago and never found. At first, the baby’s father had since died. But then a much more exciting idea popped into my head as I was taking a shower — I kid you not — that the father was indeed alive and actually one of the gossipy old men who hang out at the town’s general store. Isabel has counted on the Old Farts, as she calls them although they don’t know it, for tips and background for her cases. Naturally, she’s wary about how she will handle news that she’s pursuing this case to the group. That was a fun chapter to write.

I write because I thoroughly enjoy the experience. And it is so gratifying when I can share that enjoyment with my books’ readers.

NOTE OF THANK: I am glad so many people downloaded Chasing the Case, no. 1 in my series, during the two-day freebie promotion Feb. 27-28. Thanks to a promo with BookBub, it was no. 1 on Amazon for free Kindle books in the US, UK and Canada and in three categories. Fellow authors tell me it’s a game changer. I hope so.

ANOTHER NOTE: I originally wrote this post for Jo Fenton, a fellow darkstroke books author, in May. Here is an updated version with a new title. Here is Jo’s blog:

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: The Deerfield River running through my Shelburne Falls Village changes with the winter. Here the river has an icy, snowy texture. That’s the well-known Bridge of Flowers.