pottery shards
hilltowns, Western Massachusetts, Writing

Finding the Sweet Spot

The Sweet Spot is the next novel I will be publishing. I like the title very much, and I’ve stuck with it from the start because it has many layers.

This is the first of what I call my hilltown novels. They are set in Western Massachusetts, where my family and I once lived for many years. I call the novel’s town Conwell. It doesn’t exist, but if it did, it would be located in the hills west of the Connecticut River and to the east of the Berkshires.

But not only did I live in one of those hilltowns, Worthington to be specific, I reported on them for the local newspaper. I sat in numerous meetings, interviewed countless people, and covered whatever news happened in them. I got schooled on how people talk and act. I am grateful.

So like other authors, I take what I know and, as I’ve said before, have my way with it.

Yes, in my mind, the hilltowns are indeed a sweet spot even though this is not that kind of a book.

Here is a brief synopsis: 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.

(For the record, that didn’t happen.)

Other Sweet references. Edie’s last name was Sweet before she married. The family, notably her crusty Pop, who runs the town dump, and her outspoken aunt, like to say, “We Sweets stick together.”

She also plays on the Conwell Woman’s Softball Team, and naturally batters try to hit the ball where it will create the most velocity aka the sweet spot.

Then, there is this quote from Walker St. Claire, the aforementioned married brother-in-law, as he describes Edie:

“Gil’s the only one who’d understand how I feel about her,” Walker said. “My parents sure as hell don’t.” His voice faded as he lit the butt. “She always dressed up nice for me. Her hair shined and smelled good. When she laughed, the sound bubbled up from a sweet spot inside her.” He took a drag. “You ever see the way she talks with the people in the store? I’ve seen her give an old barfly at the Do her ear for an hour. She lights up everything and everybody, including me. That’s why my brother loved her. That’s why. Jesus, the last time he was home, he didn’t want to leave her for a minute. I had to shame him to get him up here with me.”

(For the record, absolutely no characters in this novel are based on real people.)

Right now, I am still giving The Sweet Spot extremely close reads. I am compiling parts for the back of the book, my bio, acknowledgements etc. for Michelle, its designer, when she is ready.

Expect to read more posts about the novel, like how I typed the first draft with one hand while recuperating from being hit by a car. I will write about the novel’s characters — Edie’s family is a colorful group — and other topics.

For those posts, I will be pitching The Sweet Spot.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Those are ancient pottery shards spotted on a hike above the hot springs at Ojo Caliente in New Mexico, not too far from where we live. There are many shards scattered on the ground, and I am pleased my fellow hikers let them be, as we did.

 

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sunflowers
books, Peace Love and You Know What, Professor Groovy, Writing

I Say Uncle

I am not a quitter. One of my favorite quotes is “Perseverance furthers” from the I Ching. But I finally found a fight no longer worth my time: creating an audio book.

For this project, I chose Professor Groovy and Other Stories, a collection of four short pieces. These stories predate my novel Peace, Love, and You Know What. Prof Groovy has only 10,000 words. Peace etc. has eight times that amount. A piece of cake, right? Uh, no.

I enjoyed a bit of pride learning the Garage Band program on my Mac and getting the settings down. I turned my office into a humble studio using every darn piece of foam in the house. I learned to breathe and read in a pleasant narrative. I figured out how to edit the tracks.

But, alas, no matter my effort, I felt strongly the audio tracks weren’t good enough to sell. I am not a professional, and it showed.

And, worse, I was spending too much time fixing audio tracks and not writing. I don’t even want to guess at the amount of hours spent on this project.

But I will make myself feel better and say I didn’t give up easily. I tried, I really did.

I haven’t given up on the idea that my published books, now and in the future, will also be audio books. But my new cosmic plan is to attract enough bread so I can hire someone who knows what the heck they are doing.

So what have I been doing besides feeling relieved? Writing-wise, I’ve started a new novel, this one a mystery set in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, where I once lived. I like where it’s going.

Also, I’ve started the last copyediting go-through for The Sweet Spot, the next novel I will be publishing later this fall. That one is set in Western Massachusetts, too, but in 1978. A lot more on that in the near future.

Finally, another new project: a bilingual novel for adult students taking ESL. I had a wonderful experience visiting the class of Teresa, my friend and collaborator. That experience deserves a separate post.

So I’m an audio book failure. No regrets, however, as I have other creative things to do.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Summer hangs on a bit.

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Education, reading, Writing

A Love of Learning

“Learn something new” has been my personal mantra since I officially left the news biz in May. As I tell people who ask, I am reinventing myself.

I’ve shared some of those inventions on this website, such as putting more of an emphasis on my fiction. That includes learning a new method of copyediting — reading a manuscript backwards — plus learning the Garage Band program and attempting to create an audio book of my recently released Professor Groovy and Other Stories. (That’s a work in progress still, but I’m oh so closer to getting it done.) I also launched a book review column, The Write Stuff.

And, ta-da, I am starting a new novel, a mystery this time. I’m into the first chapter. The main character is a woman. Actually she tells the story. She was the long-time managing editor of a newspaper that got sold to a corporation and she declined to re-apply for her job. (Uh, that’s not what happened to me.)

The mystery? She can’t let go of the case of a missing woman that was bungled from the get-go. This novel, like four others, is set in the hill towns of Western Massachusetts, where I once lived.

I will share one more new gig — teaching writing and reading for a career path at the Adult Learning Center at UNM-Taos. It’s very part-time, only 3 ½ hours a week, but this job allows me to reuse the tools I relied on as an editor. My class is one of the many offered by the center, including ESL. All are free by the way.

Here’s the link Adult Learning Center at UNM-Taos

My class has about 16 students, including teenagers and 20-somethings. Some have been home-schooled. Some left high school a while ago. They are here to pass the test for their high school degree and for many, prepare for college entrance exams and advance their education. Their fields of interest range from architecture to medicine to the arts etc.

My students are an extremely likable group. I feel the same way about my dedicated colleagues at the center.

Each student has an interesting story to tell, but I will respect their privacy. I will say, however, I admire their motivation to learn. I believe it’s something we have in common.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: The door is open at the Adult Learning Center at UNM-Taos.

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mexican hat
audio, books, Professor Groovy, Writing

If At First

Heck, you can fill in the rest of that quote. I am also a big fan of ‘perseverance furthers” from the I Ching. Yes, I will stick with something until I get it done, whether it is digging a ditch, writing or publishing. My aim is for a successful conclusion. That is especially true these days.

I wrote a little while back about trying to record an audio book for Professor Groovy and Other Stories. The editing was a killer. Even so, I didn’t like the end result. So, I pulled apart my office-turned-studio and took a weeklong break. In the meantime, I did more research about breathing (yeah, you gotta breathe, but just do it naturally) and other related stuff like drinking Throat Coat Tea beforehand. It’s amazing what is available on blogs and YouTube.

As for GarageBand, I found the settings I need via the very helpful Rob Dircks, who wrote Where the Heck is Tesla. I’ve never met the guy, but he’s very generous with his help. Find info in the blog section of his website Gold Finch Publishing

Then, Friday night, I brought every piece of foam (like the seats from the couch), pillows and blankets we have into the office. Now, it looks like the bedroom some of my kids had when they were teenagers. Ah, but there’s no echo.

Saturday morning I was ready to roll. I set up tracks with the right settings. I did a few practice runs. I did better on the breathing so I didn’t sound like I was gasping at the start of each sentence. A couple of the tracks came out great, the others, not so great. I checked and found the problems in the settings.

So, on Sunday — I told you I’m persistent — I did new recordings and redid the unsatisfactory ones from the day before. I haven’t started the editing yet, but I can tell after listening, this will be a breeze compared to the first time I tried this.

And this round, I not only found I could read longer, I had done this so many times, I could recite parts of the short stories by heart, especially the start of Professor Groovy. “The sixties came just in time for Professor Edward Burke, who was meandering through middle age while everyone around him was fresh and young… ”

What else is a do-over these days? A Kindle Countdown. I tried one in May for Peace, Love, and You Know What, but got the dates mixed up so I wasn’t doing promotion until the end. Well, that was a waste, but a lesson learned.

But guess what? Another Kindle Countdown starts Wednesday, Aug. 24. The digital form of my 80,000-word novel goes on sale for 99 cents for two days — the same price as the Kindle version of Professor Groovy and Other Stories. Then, the price bumps up a buck in increments until it’s back to its normal price of $4.99 on Aug. 31. Here’s the link: Peace, Love, and You Know What

No, I don’t make a lot of money on this. But my goal is to attract readers.

Thirdly, an update on another do-over: reading my novel The Sweet Spot backwards. It is slower-going than reading it forwards, but I highly recommend it. I find that I concentrate simply on the words in that paragraph and not the plot. I am pleased at what I’ve found so far, not a lot of changes, but significant ones.

Lastly, another reading of Peace, Love, and You Know What is in the works for Sept. 17 at Brodsky Bookshop in Taos. My friend Andrew is playing The Beatles on his bassoon and, yes, there will be brownies. More later …

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: I snapped this shot of Mexican hat flowers growing in the front yard. They grow wild here.

 

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purple sage
books, Rewriting, The Sweet Spot, Writing

Reading Backwards

I pulled the manuscript for The Sweet Spot from its envelope to read yet again. This time I am doing it backwards.

I read about this technique on the internet, where else, and once I realized it meant reading backwards paragraph by paragraph, and not word by word, I thought it was worth the try.

No matter how much I edit and proof copy, especially an 80,000-word novel, I find stuff I should have caught. I might feel a tiny bit reassured when I read other books — including those published by university presses — that have typos. But that’s not reassurance enough for me.

Plus, I hate making more work for Michelle, who designs my books. The Sweet Spot, one of my hill town books, is the next on her list.

Amazingly I found reading backwards a rather easy and useful process. Instead of focusing on the story line and characters, I concentrate simply on one paragraph at the time. It’s a manageable approach, and in the process, I’ve found a missing article or two, and other stuff. Here’s one: Edie stops to buy food on the way to one of the book’s most crucial scenes — when she goes to reason with a distraught Walker, her ex-lover. It’s important she stops to buy food because she learns an important piece of info from the clerk. But I don’t mention the food again. Did Edie bring the food to Walker’s cabin? Did she leave it in the car? Maybe she should only stop at the store for directions and maybe a drink for herself. It’s a matter of a dropped detail.

I’ve written before that I read my manuscripts aloud, more than once. This round of copyediting, I am reading The Sweet Spot backwards and out loud. It is a slower process than reading the usual way so I only do several pages at a time. And, yes, I have my red pen handy.

AN UPDATE ON THE AUDIO BOOK: I am a bit frustrated by my efforts to record Professor Groovy and Other Stories. It has consumed many of my waking hours and I am unhappy still. So, I decided to put it aside until the weekend and take a good hard listen then. I’m not giving up, but a break is in order.

THANK YOU: I appreciate all who have bought and read my books. Here are the links to them on Amazon: Peace, Love, and You Know What and Professor Groovy and Other Stories

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Blooming Russian sage is a hotspot for bees on our little piece of the earth.

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