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.









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: