Rewriting, Work in Progress, Writing

Two Books at Once

Well, I finally have the time now that I don’t work nine to ten hours a day for a newspaper. What I used to do for an hour or so at 5 a.m. if I was lucky, now can fill as many hours as I want. It’s an adjustment for sure and a blessing. So, as this blog’s title suggests, I have started a new novel and am heavily rewriting another.

First: the new novel — No. 6 in the Isabel Long Mystery Series, tentatively called Following the Lead. This one starts immediately after no. 5. If you’ve read Working the Beat — thank you very much — you will know what I mean. My goal is a minimum of 500 words a day, a very manageable pace, and at this point I am 14,000 words into it. I like where this book is going. The goal is about 75,000 by the way.

Without giving away too much, here’s a hint from the opening paragraphs:

The manila envelope’s contents have been on my mind since he handed it to me in his office and said, “It’s your next case.” And there it sits on the back seat of my car, bugging the heck out of me to stop and rip it open.

“Do you think it’s another unsolved murder?” my mother asks after she gives the fat envelope another glance.

“No clue,” I answer.

Second: the old novel. Actually, it is the first one I attempted. When I showed it to the person who became my first agent, he was far more interested in another, one of my hilltown novels that has yet to be published. It is inspired by my experience working and living in a psychiatric half-way house. I did that when the state was in the process of shutting down its mental hospitals, as they were called, and putting the ex-patients in half-way houses.

Here is the synopsis:

Bia Fernandes leaves a dead-end job to work and live at Swanson, a psychiatric halfway house, where she learns more than she expects from its ex-patients. Meanwhile, it is 1974. The Watergate scandal, a craziness of national proportions, is coming to a head.

Swanson House is an old mansion that will be torn down for a highway coming through a dying mill town in Massachusetts. Among the ex-patients living there are: Lane, who compiles his observations in small notebooks with titles like Twisted People; his silent sidekick, Kevin; Angie, who claims to have been a groupie to rock stars; Jerry, the ultra-hip ex-carnie; and Carole, who says doctors stole her baby. They work factory jobs, take their meds, and interact like a family. The three other staff members at Swanson have their own problems.

Although the Swanson Shuffle is fiction, it was inspired by my experience as a live-in staff at a psychiatric halfway house. But Bia has her own story to tell, and she handles the situation much better and with far more humor than I did.

Anyway, as I reread the manuscript, I’ve found simple editing — changing, adding or deleting a word here and there — and complex editing — a scene that should be eliminated, added or drastically changed. I am on my second round since I restarted, printing out 50 pages at a time so I can go at it.

I am glad to have the time to do both.

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: Yes, my novel for middle-grade readers is free Saturday, Feb. 26 and Sunday, Feb. 27 for Kindle readers on Amazon. Looking for a fun fantasy with genies, magic powers and a little bit of danger? Give The Twin Jinn at Happy Jack’s Carnival of Mysteries a try. here is the link for that: https://mybook.to/TwinJinnAtHappyJacks

FIND MY OTHER BOOKS ON AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/Joan-Livingston/e/B01E1HKIDG

 

 

 

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Writing

Yes, Sir, I Am Indeed a Wordsmith

A lawyer once said, “Joan Livingston is a wordsmith, she knows how to use words.” It was during a deposition, and he said “wordsmith” in such an insinuating voice it sounded as if he was calling me a liar.

He clearly was trying to discredit me for a legal case, that maybe I was fabricating how I got hit from behind by a car while I was walking in a crosswalk. He was representing the insurance company that didn’t want to pay for my injuries.

Well, it didn’t work.

I laugh still how that lawyer tried to use my writing against me. I can hear his voice, pronouncing “wordsmith” like “arsonist” or “murderer.”

But truthfully, I was flattered to be called a wordsmith. It means I use words to create, like an artist or artisan who works in metal, wood, paint etc..

As a child, I learned to put one word after another, so people would understand what I was saying. Then, I learned what happens when I did that on paper. Here was something more lasting. In college I found a creative outlet with poetry, fancied myself a poet or poetess.

Later, as a journalist, I used words to write news and feature stories. Then, I forsake non-fiction for fiction and wrote novels instead. Without sounding like a total nut, my fingers are on the keyboard and the words just keep appearing on the screen one after the other until I reach the end.

Yes, I’m a wordsmith and darn proud of it. So there.

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE:

I snapped that photo of those two posters in the window of Nancy L. Dole Books in my village of Shelburne Falls.

LINKS:

Curious about my books? Here’s the link to Amazon: Joan Livingston Books

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Writing

Story Behind the Story: Isabel Long Mystery Series

One day I got it in my head that I wanted to write a mystery. I had already written books for adult and young readers, literary fiction and magical realism, respectively. One is even bilingual.

But it made sense to try this genre as I love a great mystery, especially one that fools me until the end.

So, I sat down, and the pieces came together fast. Extremely fast. That’s how it works for me. Not to sound like a nut job, but ideas come from somewhere. The same goes for the characters and what they do.

Anyway, it made sense that my protagonist, Isabel Long, would tell the story, so I wrote it in first-person, and because I want my readers to feel they are in the middle of the action, also in present tense.

Isabel’s back story: she has just come off a bad year when this series starts with Chasing the Case. Her husband died and she lost her job as a newspaper’s top editor. She is what the French call une femme d’un certain age. Isabel’s bit of a smart ass but she has a caring heart. Yes, I admit there is quite a lot of me in her.

After a year of proper grieving, Isabel is ready for a new life. And that’s when we first meet her. She decides to solve a 28-year-old mystery of a woman who went missing in her town of a thousand people. It was Isabel’s first big story as a rookie reporter. She plans to use the tools she relied on as a journalist to solve this case. And Isabel has a ‘Watson’ — her 92-year-old mystery-loving mother who’s come to live with her. My own mother, who is 97, inspired this character. Isabel also takes a part-time job at the local watering hole, the Rooster, where not only does she find clues for her cases, but a love interest in its owner, Jack.

Then I found I couldn’t let go of Isabel Long. I gave her more cases to solve in Redneck’s Revenge, Checking the Traps and Killing the Story. On Jan. 27, Working the Beat will be released by my publisher darkstroke books.

I hadn’t expected to write a series, but here I am.

And to get you interested in Working the Beat, here’s an excerpt from an early chapter. Here Isabel and her mother happen to be at the Titus Country Fair when they are approached by Shirley Dawes.

Shirley stays sitting when she sees us approach. I make our introductions, and then we take the seats opposite her at the picnic table. I make sure I’m in Shirley’s direct line of vision in case she reads lips.

“So, what did you want to talk about?” I ask.

Shirley works her mouth a bit.

“It’s about my grandson, Lucas. Lucas Page is his full name. He was killed here four years ago and whoever did it didn’t get caught.”

“Here in Titus?”

She gives her head a shake.

“I mean here at the fair. It was after the demolition derby, the first one they had. They found Lucas’s body the next morning behind where everybody watches, in the woods up there. They said he must’ve been drunk and fell down in the rocks. His head was hit real bad I was told.”

“What was he doing on the hill afterward? Was he alone?”

“That’s what I want you to find out.”

This story’s coming back to me now. I was the editor of the Daily Star then. We reported on an unattended death at the fair in a story that made the front page, and then like Shirley said, it was ruled an accident because of a brain injury, although she protested that in a story we ran, too.

“Now, I remember you, Shirley. You came to see me in the newsroom. You said you were frustrated the police didn’t seem to be looking that hard into your grandson’s case and you wanted us to do that.”

I think back and hope I treated this woman nicely.

“Yeah, I did. You said newspapers don’t do that kind of work.”

“No, not the one I worked for.”

“But I heard about what you’ve been doin’ now as a private investigator. Your last case was a doozy. Read about it in the paper.” She crooks a thumb toward Annette and her son, still talking with his admirers. “Course, there was Chet Waters. Maybe you can do what the cops couldn’t or wouldn’t do.”

“You mean find out what happened that night with your grandson.”

“Yeah. I heard you get paid for doin’ this. I wanna hear how much. I ain’t got a lot. But this is important to me. I loved my grandson. I’m the one who brought him up after his mother gave him to me. He was hangin’ around with a rough crowd in those days. Tryin’ to fit in. Here. Let me show you his picture.”

Shirley reaches for the purse on the seat beside her. The purse is vintage style, off white with a smart clasp on the top, no zippers, something my mother would use. I am guessing Shirley holds onto things. She removes a photo from her wallet and hands it to me.

“I took it at Christmas, the last one we had,” she says.

Lucas Page’s face smiles at me. He’s young, blue-eyed, and with the kind of features that would label him a good-looking guy. His most distinctive is the red hair that’s short on the sides and long enough on the top so it has a bit of curl. But back to that smile. He was happy to pose for his grandmother.

“He was a handsome young man,” I tell Shirley.

She swipes away a tear.

“Yeah, he was.”

I glance at my mother. She’s interested, of course. The questions are forming in my brain, but this isn’t the time to ask them. Already a parade of people I know have passed by with a wave, a hello, and a curious expression on their faces as they wonder why in the heck my mother and I are talking with this woman. They’re just being nosy New Englanders as usual.

“Shirley, we’re interested, but this isn’t the best place to talk. We need some privacy. How about my mother and I come to your home to talk this over?”

“What’d you say? My house?”

“Yes, your house. Well, you could come to ours if you prefer. We live in Conwell. But it would help us if we could see where you and your grandson lived. I should also tell you that if I’m interested in taking your case, I have to clear it with my boss. Do you know Lin Pierce?” I pause as she nods. “He gets a small cut of whatever I make. So, he has a say.” I register the concern in Shirley’s narrowed eyes. “Don’t worry. He hasn’t turned me down yet.”

“I understand,” she says. “Can’t do it tomorrow. I’m helpin’ out in the kitchen here. Monday mornin’ work for you?”

Ma and I exchange glances.

“How about ten?” I say.

Shirley nods.

“Ten, it is. Do you mind if I make a copy of your grandson’s photo with my phone?”

“Go right ahead if it helps.”

I place the photo on the table and remove my cell phone from my bag to take a shot before I hand the photo back to Shirley.

“Here you go.”

Shirley leaves us after she gives me directions to her house in West Titus. She lives on one of those dead-end dirt roads, hers is the last house, that’s also likely one of the last to be plowed in the winter and impassable at times in the spring because of the mud. But she’s probably one of those people who doesn’t mind because she wants to live out of the way of everybody. I don’t have to worry about road conditions this time of year. The road’s been graded recently she told me.

I wait until Shirley is out of earshot as she moves inside the crowd that’s wandering the fairgrounds. She stops first at the pumpkin display, where Annette and Abe are still hanging out.

“What’s your opinion, Ma?”

“I like her. She’s a little rough around the edges like a lot of the people we meet here,” she says. “But it’s about time we found a new case. It was getting a little boring.”

I smile. My 93-year-old mother is game for a new mystery to solve.

“Boring?”

She nods.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Working the Beat has a Jan. 27 release. But if you are a Kindle user, you can download No. 4 Killing the Story for free for two days only.

Here’s the link for Killing the Story: https://mybook.to/killingthestory

Here’s he link for Working the Beat: mybook.to/workingthebeat

 

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Rewriting, Writing

Hey, Look What I Found

I was rearranging stuff in the attic, when I discovered another version of my novel The Swanson Shuffle. As yet unpublished, the novel was inspired by my experience living and working in a psychiatric halfway house. I have envelopes containing manuscripts of my other works, but what made this one especially interesting is that it’s bound with plastic cover and rings. I believe it was a requirement for one of the contests I entered a long time ago, and I had a copy made for me as well. Although a bit yellowed on the bottom, it has survived two 2,400-mile moves across the country.

I wrote Walking in Place, which is the book’s original name, in 1999. I failed to lure an agent or a publisher for it. Actually, the agent I did get passed on the book and instead agreed to represent one of my hilltowns novels, which alas, he couldn’t get published. Yes, it’s been a long, strange trip.

Then in early 2014, I rewrote Walking in Place and renamed it The Swanson Shuffle. Both titles refer to the side-effect of one drug a few of the residents of Swanson House take. I have had a hard time finding a publisher for that one as well, so I’ve decided to read the original and see if there is anything in there I could use to make the novel better.

The two versions have many of the same characters. The protagonist is named Rose in the first book and Bia in second. The first is written in first-person past tense, and the second, first-person present tense.

Walking in Place begins when one of the residents, Jerry, has been arrested. The Swanson Shuffle starts with Bia coming for a weekend as part of the interview process. She meets Jerry outside while he’s working on his car.

The first version has hardly any chapter breaks. The second, as is typical of my current writing style, has lots.

In the first book, a lot of the plot revolves around Rose’s relations with the staff, including a bit of romance. The second focuses on Bia’s relationships with the residents, who, frankly, are far more interesting than the staff.

I finished reading Walking in Place when I awoke this morning at 2 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep. In the end, I decided I made the right move rewriting Walking in Place. I was pleased at the progress my writing made during those fifteen years. The Swanson Shuffle is tighter, livelier and certainly better written. It’s also a better story.

But I acknowledge there might be some passages and ideas I could take from the first.

I am also weighing which title to use — and whether to change the novel to past tense or even third-person. I may experiment with a couple of chapters. Such fun.IMG_0904

By the way, that was my second discovery last week. The other was a copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover, circa 1928, that I scored in a free book box in downtown Greenfield. It originally belonged to a local library, and considering its controversy, I am a bit surprised.

I will go through my collection and see what I can spare in return.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: My copy of Walking in Place.

 

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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Writing

Giving It My Undivided Attention

I can write anywhere. I’ve proven that to myself numerous times. Perhaps, it comes from when I was a kid doing my homework in front of the TV and getting good enough grades to be on the honor roll. I am well past schoolwork, and these days my focus outside of my job is writing fiction, to be specific finishing the fourth in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. This one is called Killing the Story by the way.

As I write this, I have about 15,000 words to go and a self-imposed deadline of April 1 to finish this draft. (I also mentioned to my publisher, Laurence Patterson of Darkstroke Books, I am hoping to launch this book by early summer.)

It’s taken quite an effort for me to find the time to write this book, given I work 9-10 hours a day at the newsroom. As I’ve posted before, I try to get up very early, hoping to reach 500 words before I have to head out. Ah, but often real life gets in the way.

I’ve decided I need to shake things up to reach those goals .

So, Wednesday I tried something different. I had an hour before the newsroom opened at 8 after I dropped off Hank for a very early appointment. It didn’t make sense to go back home, so I headed to a coffee shop around the corner.

At 7 a.m. the only people there were the woman behind the counter and me, likely because the baked goods hadn’t arrived yet. I ordered a black tea, found a table and went to work. It was the most productive hour I’ve had in a long time.

Perhaps it’s the change of scenery or the fact I couldn’t get up to load or unload the dishwasher, take a shower, make my lunch, or whatever. I had already done that before I left the house. And I could easily ignore the few customers who came.

When it turned 8 a.m., I collected my things and walked halfway around the block to the newsroom — feeling pretty damn good about myself.

I did the same Thursday, then Friday, with the same results, so I plan to continue until I finish this novel. (On weekends, I will use my office at home or maybe find another writing spot in the village where I live.) I love writing fiction. I just want to give this novel the undivided attention it deserves.

Sounds like a plan to me.

LINK: Here’s how to find my books:  Joan Livingston on Amazon

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