Purgatory Cover
Opening scene, Writing

Opening Scene: Purgatory Hotel

Anne-Marie Ormsby, the author of Purgatory Hotel, is the next author to be featured in the Opening Scene series. Yes, the first scene is supposed to grab readers. Anne-Marie puts it this way: “For me it was important to set the scene, what would it feel like to wake up in a frightening, dangerous place with no memory and no way of knowing how to get to somewhere safe.”

Here, Anne-Marie, a Crooked Cat Books author, shares an excerpt and her inspiration for the opener Purgatory Hotel.

First the excerpt:

 “She was about to die and she knew it, as though there was always an awareness that this was how the end felt. In that moment fear left her, and it was like when a gust of wind came and went, the stillness that followed.

Before everything stopped, her life passed before her in a random barrage of images that arrived like photographs slipping past her eyes.”

Now the inspiration:

The story begins at the end of a life, the end of Dakota Crow’s life.

And we begin with the last images that flash through her mind as she is dying – her mother, her father, her sister, and the man she was in love with.

For me, in writing this scene I was trying to think of things that I loved, things I might me 2017see in my own last moments, ‘autumn rain falling on the garden,’ was actually a memory of my own. I remember being a teenager and when it would rain I would sit beside the open back door, breathing in the scent of the wet garden and writing poems. I recall the more beautiful things even if they were insignificant to anyone else.

Dying is the loneliest thing we will ever do – no matter what happens we all know we are going to die – but what matters is what we would remember as beautiful about our lives, what memories would make our passing peaceful and happy – what things would we be most grateful for in the end, whose face would see us through that final moment?

Shortly after this she wakes up, the last images she saw in life, the wet forest, switch places with a new environment – a dirty, decaying Victorian Hotel. She finds herself in a lobby, other unfriendly faces peering at her, instantly feeling unwelcome and lost. But she knows she is dead, she just doesn’t know how or why. And for her this will be the greatest test – reliving her forgotten life in order to remember her crimes and her death in order to repent.

I chose to throw the reader in at the deep end – straight into Purgatory because I wanted the reader’s experience to mirror Dakota’s own. She has no memory of what she has done or what this awful new place is – so the reader learns along with her, travels down the rabbit hole and into the darkness with her.

For me it was important to set the scene, what would it feel like to wake up in a frightening, dangerous place with no memory and no way of knowing how to get to somewhere safe. The sad truth for Dakota is that one thing is certain – there’s one thing she can never change. She’s dead and nothing will bring her back to life.

HOW TO GET YOUR COPY:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Purgatory-Hotel-Anne-Marie-Ormsby/dp/1977649521/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1518610216&sr=8-1&keywords=purgatory+hotel

ANNE-MARIE ORMSBY ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Good reads:  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36329433-purgatory-hotel

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/annemarieormsby78/?hc_ref=PAGES_TIMELINE

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AOrmsbyAuthor

Blog: https://pirateburlesque.wordpress.com/

Website: https://www.annemarieormsby.com/

 

 

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Chasing the Case, Writing

How It Starts

Well, you have to start somewhere. That certainly includes writing a book. When I began Chasing the Case in fall 2016, I did what I always do: I started writing and kept at it.

Isabel Long, the mystery’s main character, tells the story, so the novel is written in first person. She introduces herself while she buries a dead cat in her back yard. And as it so often happens with a chore, her mind wanders toward her recent bad year — the deathcover2 copy blog of her husband and losing her job running a newspaper. She goes over her last day at the paper and how she swiped some folders of cold cases. At the time, she wasn’t sure what she was going to do with the info they contain. Now that she’s decided to investigate a 28-year-old missing person’s case, it will come in handy.

I tried to give the reader a first good look at Isabel. She’s smart and sassy. She won’t take crap from anybody. But she also cares. This helps her become a good private investigator — along with the transferable skills she had as a longtime journalist.

Before I continue, let me share a story. After I finished Chasing the Case in spring 2017, I pitched the novel to various agents and publishers. An editor at one small indie house that specializes in mysteries wrote back that I broke some cardinal rule by killing off a beloved pet — the cat Isabel is burying — never mind starting the book that way. I responded that writers are meant to break rules. No, I didn’t hear back. (And thanks to my publisher, Crooked Cat Books, for taking me on.)

Today I looked at a document with the barest of notes: “Set the scene. Isabel gets a part-time job at the Red Rooster. She is working one night or day when an old coot comes in. His daughter disappeared years ago. Cops flubbed the case, treating her as a missing person and not a criminal case. It is one of the cases Isabel stole from the newsroom.”

While it got me going, it’s not what I wrote a month later. The opener in that early draft is close to what appears in the book. I believe it’s a good start.

Below you will find a teaser to Chasing the Case. Here is a bit of the opening chapter called Dead Cat.

My name is Isabel Long. You may know of me, at least if you live in these parts. I was the managing editor of the local paper, the Daily Star, for almost fifteen years until the bastard who owned it sold out to a big chain. I shouldn’t really call him a bastard. He’s a decent enough guy. But he walked away from the newspaper that had been in his family for three generations with a couple of million bucks in his bank account, lucky him, and abandoned us to a corporation.

I remember the morning he called everyone into the pressroom to give the news. He claimed nothing would change. We had nothing to worry about. I turned to my assistant editor and muttered, “Open wide. You won’t feel a thing.”

I was right. He was wrong.

A month in, we were told by the publisher, who still had his job then, we all had to reapply for ours. He pulled us into his office one by one. Of course, these things are always done on a Friday. They don’t like ugly scenes in the middle of the workweek.

I sat across from George at his desk. I looked him in the eye. He had a hard time doing the same.

“Isabel, I hate to do this to you,” he said.

“Then don’t.”

“I know it’s been a bad year for you.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Please, Isabel, you’re not making this easy.”

“Why should I? I worked my tail off for this paper for thirty-one years, as a reporter then an editor. I ran the newsroom for the last fifteen. Now I’m getting the heave-ho.”

“No, you’re not. You just have to reapply.”

“So, what are the odds they’ll hire me back at what I get paid now?”

“Do you want me to be honest or lie?”

“What do you think?”

His head moved in a slow sideways roll.

“God’s honest truth, I haven’t a clue.”

“Be straight with me, George. What’ll happen if I don’t reapply?”

“You can kiss this job good-bye.”

That’s what I liked about George. Being an old Yankee, he never tried to make bad news sound good. I’m the same way although I grew up in the eastern part of the state, and unlike George, I may be a New Englander, but I’m not a Yankee. My grandparents came over on the boat from the Azores and Madeira islands. My last name before I got married was Ferreira. George’s folks were on the Mayflower or some other Yankee vessel. My folks fished and worked in sweatshops. His bled blue when they got a paper cut.

“What does that mean?” I said.

“You can collect unemployment for a while.”

“Any severance pay?”

He cleared his throat.

“I believe there’d be a, uh, modest payment considering your length of service here.”

“Enough to buy new shoes?”

“Depends on where you buy them.”

“I am guessing more like Payless than Versace.”

George’s head was rolling still. He knew my humor by now.

“No, not Versace but a lot better than Payless.”

I thought it over. If Sam, my husband, were still alive, we would’ve talked it over that night. But he’s part of my bad year, the start of it really. He died in his favorite chair while watching a basketball game on TV. That was November 8, twelve days from today. No one suspected the skinny guy would go from a heart attack. I couldn’t do anything to get him back when I found him. Too bad. He’s one of the good ones. I miss him like hell.

I was too ticked off to accept the deal.

“Tell them I said no.”

“You sure?”

“Have you ever known me not to be sure?”

He smiled one of those smiles that leak sadness from inside.

“Okay, go see the ladies in the office. Consider this your last day.”

“So soon, eh? I get it. They don’t want me poisoning the pool. Let me get my stuff, and I’ll be out of your hair.”

“Uh.”

“What is it now?”

“I have to go with you to your office when you do it.”

“They’re afraid I’ll take some pencils and a pica pole? Jesus, I’m glad I’m not gonna work here anymore.”

George frowned. “I know.”

Later, George tried not to make me look too criminal when he accompanied me to my office. He sat in my chair while I went through the drawers and shelves. I already had a box I snagged from the pressroom when the HR director thought I went to the women’s room. As I took what belonged to me, I kept getting interrupted by my staff, who said nice things and even hugged me, all for the first time. I liked things to be at a professional distance. No drinks after work with the underlings or anything like that. But I was touched they wanted to say good-bye. I was a decent boss. I treated my staff fairly, and they knew I had their back. I was the mother wolf of the newsroom. No one touched my pups.

I wasn’t about to ask any of them if they would be reapplying for their jobs. I bet the ones with young families and college debt would, but I didn’t want to know. And I didn’t want them to think I’m the only one with convictions.

I made cleaning out my desk seem as boring as possible. I wanted George to lose interest in what I was doing. I already stashed the photos of Sam, our daughter and two sons, and our granddaughter who was born in May, the only happy thing that happened so far this year. I had some desk art, silly stuff like pinecones, shells, and a jar of sea glass. I’m nuts about stuff like that. There wasn’t much in the drawers I wanted to take home: my lunch bag, thermos, and purse. I’m not a hoarder. I opened each drawer, gave their contents a quick assessment, and then let them slide shut. I didn’t even take a pencil or pad although I should’ve out of spite.

George woke up a little when I removed a couple of manila folders from the bottom drawer.

“What’s that?”

“Clippings. I’m gonna have to get a new job sometime.”

He nodded. I was pleased he believed me. He wouldn’t want what was in those folders to leave the newsroom. They were for cold cases like the one that happened twenty-eight years ago in Conwell, the hilltown in Western Massachusetts where I live. A woman, Adela Collins, disappeared, and the cops were too incompetent to figure out what happened to her. I shoved the folders in the box.

That happened four months ago. I can’t even read the Star and what the new owners have done with it. At least, I don’t think about the paper all the time or get pissed off about it, just some of the time, like right now while I bury this cat.

NOTE: If you like what you’ve read, here is the universal link to Amazon: http://mybook.to/chasingthecase

You can pre-order the Kindle version, which will pop into your computer, tablet etc. on May 18. For those who prefer a copy in hand, the paperback is available.

I appreciate those who have ordered a copy. Thanks for your support. I hope you enjoy what you read.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls opened a few days ago. The first blossoms are crocuses and such. I couldn’t help walking the bridge. That, too, was another start.

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Woodworking, Writing

Gone to Pieces

Whether it’s words or wood, it comes down to putting the pieces together in an artful and lasting way. For the first, I believe I know what I’m doing. These days I am getting schooled in the second.

WORDS: It still amazes me that I can put one word in back of the other to build a sentence, then a paragraph, and finally, a story. Add characters, setting, and a conflict in a nice arc, and voila! I have a novel. Of course, it’s not as easy as that.

WOOD: Those who follow this blog are aware my husband, Hank, and I recently bought a bungalow on the Buckland side of Shelburne Falls in Western Massachusetts. It was built in 1900 — not very old to my friends inhank working 2 the United Kingdom — but old enough that it needs work given how many people have lived in it for 117 years.

We’ve started the demo. Let me rephrase that. Hank’s started the demo. I haul away the stuff that’s useless to create a neat pile outside for when a roll-off container arrives. I hand tools and do a lot of cleaning. The other day, I covered the good floors with cardboard sheeting to protect them. I handle the paperwork.

And I watch what Hank does with 2-by-4’s and plywood as the house’s interior gets rehabbed. (Actually, being married to a woodworker, I have acquired a knowledge of carpentry through osmosis  and often include a carpenter in my novels.) But as the project progresses, I am seeing firsthand IMG_4454how it all works. I am also learning new terms such as sistering, jack and king studs, and top plates. Eventually the pieces — along with nails, screws, and Hank’s skills — will come together as our new home.

By the way, Hank and I have an arrangement. I don’t touch his power tools and he does the same for my computer. It works for me. I like my fingers intact.

SOCIAL MEDIA: Lastly, one other form of piecework. Besides keeping tabs via social media about what is happening in the world and with those close to me, it’s a way of spreading info about my books. Thanks to Crooked Cat Books, my mystery, Chasing the Case, will be published in May or June.

I am already on FB, Twitter etc. but I’m upping the game in advance of the mystery’s launch. My goal is to have 500 likes by the end of December on my Facebook Author page: Facebook @JoanLivingstonAuthor. I have 150 to go.

My other goal is to have 1,000 Twitter followers: https://twitter.com/JoanLivingston. I’ve made great progress, 701, as of this writing.

Thank you to all who are likers and/or followers. If you aren’t one, I hope you will soon be. I promise not to be a pest.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Hank hard at work in what will be the kitchen.

 

 

 

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Teaching, Writing

Keep Writing

Today, May 6 marks the end of one writing project: creating a book of flash fiction with my fifth-grade students. They’re not really my students. But as part of the Taos Visiting Artists Program, I began working with Kathy Serna’s class for two hours a week beginning last fall.

The photo above is the book’s cover. The students chose its name: Superstar Writers of Ranchos Elementary. And, yes, to me they are superstars. Today at a reception the public can see that, too.

My life as a writer began in earnest in fifth-grade. Students from the town’s schools gathered on Wednesday afternoons to take an advanced course in science and creative writing. Guess which one caught my imagination?

I wanted to do the same for these fifth-grade students. I came for an hour on most Tuesdays and Thursdays. I began by reading aloud, some from other people’s writing, but mostly mine, actually from The Cousins/Los Primos bilingual series. Los Primos cover(More below on that.)

Then over the months we spent together, I gave them five writing prompts: A Picture Is Worth 750 Words; Along With Paul Revere’s Ride; Three Inches Tall; My Neighbor Is a Giant; and I Have a Superpower. The students were given a word count for each.

Their teacher and I worked alongside the students, encouraging them. A few, whose first language is Spanish, wrote in English. One boy wrote in Spanish.

Hopefully, this experience was as rewarding to the students as it was for me. Their teacher said her students wouldn’t have had such opportunities to write without this program.

Yes, I believe their creativity and confidence increased over those months. One student wrote a story about living in a sink of dirty dishes. Another told Paul Revere’s ride from the perspective of his horse, Brown Beauty. One student wrote a giant stepped on her father — but a potion save him.

Here is one called “The Battle,” by Elijah.

3-5-20: Have you ever wanted to join the ant army? Well, don’t. Let me tell you why. If you’re three inches tall like me and a human, then you are unlucky. I was a mad scientist’s puppet for a long time until one day he shrunk me and I got away. Then about three days later, the ants found me. The Midway Ants found me, I meant. They raised me, fed me, all the stuff a child needs to stay alive. I was always a little bit bigger than the other ants, but they didn’t mind. Neither did I.

When I was 16, I joined the Midway Ant Army. Now in 2020, there is another ant war. Midway vs. Fullway! It’s three days until I get sent to the army. My birthday is tomorrow.

3-6-20: Today is my birthday, but I have no one to celebrate it with because everyone is freaking out about the ant war. Well, I need to go train in base camp. I’ll probably document again tomorrow.

3-7-20: It’s 6:30 p.m. and I’m going to bed, so I can be ready for the war. God bless Midway!

Day of the War: Right now as I write, my left arm is not working, so this is pretty hard for me. I got bit three times and shot once. It hurts so bad. If anyone ever gets a hold of this, please send help. We are under attack. I don’t think I’m going to survive.

Midway Loses the War: Sgt. Elijah almost won the war for Midway, but Fullway had the upper hand. Now all Midway Ants are extinct. These are the last documents Sgt. Elijah took. God bless Midway!

This week, I visited the class this week to bring each student a copy of the book, plus cookies I baked. I got a huge welcome with cries of,“We missed you so much.”

Many asked me to sign their books. This is what I wrote: “Keep writing.” And I meant it.

Zia awardABOUT LOS PRIMOS: The bilingual kids books “The Cousins and the Magic Fish/Los Primos y el Pez Mágico” got some recognition when the New Mexico Press Women named it second runner up for the Zia Award. I was the author and Teresa Dovalpage, the translator. My son, Ezra, created the illustrations. Teresa and I were at the conference in Las Cruces to accept the award and read from the book. Jessica Savage, with the NM Press Women, is behind us.

 

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Writing

When, Where, and How I Write

I’m an early morning riser, so that’s the best time for me to write, a cup of coffee by my side and zero interruptions. Yes, I quickly check email and social media, but then it’s down to business for a few hours.

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My latest novel, The Sweet Spot.

I know people who write in coffee shops and libraries. Some go on retreats. My place is a room of my own in our home. I am fortunate to have a desk built by my husband, Hank, from black walnut boards somebody was going toss. He also built me desktop shelving units to store papers, cords and other tools. Then, there’s the view out my large window of the Taos mesa — if I squint I can pretend the sagebrush is the ocean — and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, its peaks still snow-covered in April. I keep my office area neat and uncluttered. I’d like to think my mind is the same way, ha.

When I first began writing fiction, I was an editor at a daily newspaper. I left for that job promptly at 6:10 a.m. So, I wrote at night after dinner, printed whatever I wrote, and marked up the copy at lunch. Ten years ago, after I moved to Taos and worked at a paper here, I got up very early to write before heading to the newsroom.

Of course, there were the weekends.

After leaving my post as a newspaper’s managing editor nearly a year ago, I maintain my early morning writing spree but also gleefully find time during the day when the spirit moves me. (I now have teaching, editing, and book review gigs.) I sit at my laptop whenever and let it fly.

When it comes to writing fiction, I don’t use outlines or notes. It just comes from my head and somewhere else, I often believe. I feel blessed. (Oh, yeah, there’s rewriting, lots of it.)

As I’ve gained confidence in my writing, I do less printing as I go along. I usually wait until my novel has some real heft before I print anything, maybe halfway through.

And, yes, I back it up, back it up, and back it up.

I don’t belong to writing groups. It’s not my thing. I don’t even show people what I write until I feel the novel is ready. However, I made an exception for a mystery I’ve just finished. I let my author friend Teresa read the chapters as I finished them. She gave a great deal of encouragement along the way. I finished that novel in less than five months. Hmm, I might be onto something new.

And here is the link to my latest novel, The Sweet Spot. No aliens, vampires or zombies. Just real people doing real things and getting into trouble for it. And thanks to those who are keeping my five-star streak alive. The Sweet Spot on Amazon

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: This walkway along Paseo del Pueblo Norte in Taos caught my eye the other day.

 

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