author, New release

Val Penny’s Latest: Hunter’s Force

Val Penny and I haven’t met in real life, but I feel I know her well from her crime novels, plus our exchanges on social media and Zoom. My hope is to some day meet with her in person in Scotland where she lives. We’d have a wonderful time talking about writing. In the meantime, I have her DI Hunter Wilson Thrillers that are set in Edinburgh — including no. 3 Hunter’s Force, which was released Jan. 25 by Spellbound Books. I am quite fond of the characters she has created, especially DI Hunter Wilson.

​First a little more about Val: She is an American author living in Scotland with her husband and their cat. She has two adult daughters.

Val has an Llb degree from the University of Edinburgh and her MSc from Napier University. She has had many jobs including hairdresser, waitress, banker, azalea farmer, and lecturer. She writes poetry, short stories, nonfiction, and of course, novels. Read more about Hunter’s Force below.


Hunter by name – Hunter by nature. Can DI Hunter Wilson keep Edinburgh safe when he is the hunted?

Detective Inspector Hunter Wilson is woken in the early hours of the morning by a call from his son. Cameron’s flatmate was murdered. Why would anybody want to kill a young woman recently arrived in the city?

Hunter must call in the new Major Incident Team (MIT) to lead the investigation due to the reorganisation of police services. Hunter’s ability to be involved, however, is put in severe doubt when someone from his past decides to take revenge on him. He goes missing, and his team have no idea where to look for him. Who would want to stop Hunter in his tracks?

Meanwhile, Hunter’s team must work closely with the MIT and with or without him, solve the murder in this taut crime thriller.

Edinburgh, Scotland


DI Hunter Wilson looked at the time on his phone before he answered the call. 4.03am. If this was some comedian from the sub-continent calling to tell him about putting in a claim for the accident he hadn’t had… Then he noticed it was Cameron calling him.

“What’s the matter, son? This is a hell of a time to phone.” Hunter whispered.

“I didn’t know who else to call.”

“What’s the matter? And it had better be good.”

“It’s far from good.” Cameron told his father of the scene that had met him and his new friends when they got back to his flat.

“She’s had what cut off? Bloody hell!”

“I know, Dad, I know. And her head has been bashed in too. What do I do?”

“Well, now we have Police Scotland in place there is a Major Incidents Team, imaginatively know as MIT, that deals with cases like this.”

“Oh, Dad no! The other girls’ll go mental. You come. Please? At least at first. I need your help.”

Hunter thought back to the days when Cameron used to ask for his help regularly: tying his shoelaces, drying him after swimming, learning to ride a bike. Those had been the golden years. It had been a long, long time since his son had sounded so desperate and pleaded for his help. It made Hunter feel good. He could help Cameron again. Brilliant! 

“You’re not back on the cocaine are you, Cameron? You’re not hallucinating?” Hunter said suddenly.

“No, I’m bloody not! But thanks for the vote of confidence. Believe me, I will be if you don’t get your arse over here pronto!”

“And that’s how you ask for help from your dad? A favour? Stuff you!” Hunter shouted back.

“What is it?” a bleary voice beside Hunter said.

“Please, Dad. Just come. I need you.” Cameron sounded like a little boy about to burst into tears. “Another person’s in my flat too. I’ve never seen her before. Just come, quickly, please Dad! I can’t tell you how awful it all is here.”

Hunter got out of bed and patted Meera’ s arm. “Go back to sleep, pet. I’ve got to go and see Cameron. It’s an emergency.”

“At four o’clock in the morning? What’s wrong? Is he using again?”

“No. But he was out for the evening and got back to his home to find his flat mate dead on the floor”

“Why does he need you? Shouldn’t he call an ambulance?” Meera asked.

“It’s a bit late for that. She’s been mutilated; her head has been bashed in and the tops of her fingers cut off.”

“I’d guess she’s probably dead, right enough. But doesn’t Cameron need me more than he needs you? I’m coming with you,” Meera said in a determined voice that brooked no contradiction.

LINK: Kindle readers, here’s the link to buy Val Penny’s Hunter’s Force : DI Hunter Wilson Series: Book 3 : 

Hypnotism, Memory

Confessions of a Teenage Hypnotist

I will admit I was a socially awkward teenager. My solution to becoming a popular one was to learn hypnotism, and while the end result didn’t make that happen, it was an interesting experience. Plus, it had an unexpected benefit in college. Read on.

To backtrack, I lived a very sheltered life as a kid, which looking back meant I read a lot, used my imagination, and got good grades in school. But I never had a boyfriend although I did have my crushes. I was never part of the so-called in-crowd or even invited to a party. I had to wrangle a date for the junior and senior proms. (Yes, that’s me dolled up for my Junior Prom. I got to go thanks to one of my best friends’ brother.) I did have close friends I remember fondly, but truthfully, they were outsiders like me.

At our town’s Millicent Library, I discovered a book that instructed the reader how to perform hypnosis. Don’t ask me the title. It was a long time ago. But my hope was that it would improve my standing in high school. 

I needed a willing subject to practice hypnotism. So I enlisted my kid sister, who was seven years younger and a willing participant.

Upstairs in our bedroom, I swung a shiny, golden pendant in front of her face. I spoke those oh-familiar commands in a sotto voce, willing her to go to sleep, a deep sleep. Her eyes indeed got heavy. 

Yes, it worked. My sister did go under.

I even tested my sister to see if she was faking, but she wasn’t. We went through the usual tricks you see on stage, like making her believe she was drinking water when she wasn’t or that she felt hot or cold. Remarkable.

A couple of times, I took the experiment further. I was inspired by the story of the Irish woman, Bridey Murphy, who delved into her past lives when she was hypnotized. So, I asked my sister to tell me about previous life experiences. We went back a few. My sister wasn’t rich or famous in any of them, but she told me enough details so I believed she was being genuine.

I hypnotized her a few times and dropped the experiment. Frankly, our parents wouldn’t have been happy if they knew what I was doing.

Ah, but the story isn’t over. Years later, when I was a sophomore in college, I got stuck taking philosophy 101 because it was general requirement. Ugh, I quickly realized I didn’t have a head for that kind of thinking. I felt I was in big trouble.

But then one day in class, the professor started talking about the possibility of reincarnation. Finally, here was something I got. I raised my hand.

I told the prof about hypnotizing my sister and taking her to past lives. He was not only interested, he stopped me after class. He told me if I gave a lecture about my experience to his classes, I could skip all of the exams and papers. I would get an A for the course.

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse and certainly the easiest A that I ever earned.

There have been a few times when friends heard about this story that they wanted me to hypnotize them. Each was a failed attempt, however. Perhaps the willing subjects didn’t believe I could do it or unlike my kid sister, they didn’t trust me.

And now that I have your attention, I want to note this bookish girl became a bookish woman. During the past several months my publisher darkstroke books has released two: Following the Lead, no. 6 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, and The Sacred Dog, a dark thriller set in my favorite setting, rural New England. Here are the links: and

Russell Banks, The Sweet Hereafter

Remembering Russell Banks

Russell Banks, who died Jan. 7 at age 82, is one of the authors who inspired me to read most of what he had written as well as write my own books. He is also the only famous author I’ve actually met thus far, certainly a more memorable experience for me than him I’m sure.

First, let me tell you some about Banks. He was the author of 14 novels, plus works of nonfiction, books of poetry and short stories. His writing typically reflects the working-class upbringing he had in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Often they involved tragedies and difficulties people face. Two novels were made into feature films, The Sweet Hereafter and Affliction. Two novels, Continental Drift and Cloudsplitter were nominated for Pulitzers. I have four in my possession, including my personal favorite, The Sweet Hereafter. And that book has a connection to meeting Banks.

Russell Banks’ photo on the back of The Sweet Hereafter.

In 2004, Banks was at the Brattleboro Literary Festival in Vermont to promote his latest, The Darling with a reading. I went specifically to hear him read. We were living in Worthington, Mass. then. I had an agent and two books written that he couldn’t sell. 

At last minute, I grabbed my copy of The Sweet Hereafter in case I could get him to sign it.

The Sweet Hereafter is a grim book about a school bus accident in which fourteen children die and how those living in a small town in Upstate New York respond. Banks was inspired by a similar accident in South Texas. 

The story is told by four characters: Dolores Driscoll, the woman who drove the bus and survived; Billy Ansel, who lost his two children in the accident; Mitchell Stephens, an ambulance-chasing lawyer; and Nichole Burnell, a teen who survives but can no longer walk. Banks did an expert job capturing small-town life complete with its dark secrets. Didn’t I say he inspired me?

That Saturday, Banks was on stage in an auditorium as he spoke and read from The Darling in an engaging way. The main character is a woman, a ’60s radical who flees to Africa.

After he was done, Banks left the stage and was immediately surrounded by people clutching books for him to sign. I held the first edition hard cover of The Sweet Hereafter I bought for ten bucks as I joined them.

I waited patiently, trying not to groan when one woman presented him with a stack of dog-eared paperbacks. Banks smiled and signed each book without complaint.

I was up next when an eager festival worker rushed down the auditorium’s aisle to inform Banks he was needed right away in the lobby to sign books. Well, there goes my chance I thought. Banks told the woman he would be right there but that I would accompany him. He gestured toward me, “She comes with me.” 

Touched by the moment, I followed Banks to the head of the line, where he crossed out his printed name on the title page of The Sweet Hereafter and signed below it. (You can see it in the photo above.)  I told him how much I loved the book and thanked him. 

I read that novel at least twice more after that, and during each one, I recall the brief moment I connected with the author. Thank you, Russell Banks.


TikTok Goes Tick Tock

Yes, I have gone over to TikTok. But it’s all for a good cause — to win over readers.  I will admit it has been a bit of a learning curve but I’m game for new challenges. Here’s how to find me: @joanlivingston_author. Are you on TikTok? Let me know.

But now, I’m going to back up a bit about connecting with the internet. I can recall when I knew only two people who had email — my daughter, Sarah, and a friend from college, Fred. In those days I got internet that came over my phone line and I paid the local university $25 a year. Even the newspaper I worked for then didn’t have a website. But that whole scene certainly has changed.

My first social media efforts: I signed up for  Facebook and LinkedIn. I’ve kept the first and recently dropped the second since I’m not looking for a job. Next was Twitter and more recently, Instagram. After a fellow author did a zoom class this fall on TikTok, specifically the benefits of BookTok, I joined but didn’t do much.

But fortunately our son, Ezra, who was visiting one the holidays from California, knows a lot about Instagram and TikTok, specifically how to make livelier posts via videos. As an artist and a Burner — as in Burning Man — he is far more skilled. It was time for the son to teach the mother the ins and outs, which he did patiently over the course of a few days. So thank you, Ezra.

Since signing on with darkstroke books five years ago, I’ve learned about promotion. Some of it I pay for, like Fussy Librarian and Written Word Media. On Jan. 10, BookBub will be spreading the word about my new release The Sacred Dog

Then there is the free stuff like posts on the above-mentioned social media plus what I write on my website. I try not to bore people with the “buy my book” mantra. Yes, there is some of that but I want readers to enjoy my observations about life. It’s part of my writing day.

My latest posts? Videos about a secret door in my childhood home, my talking about The Sacred Dog on release day, plus Little Libraries, trains, and waterfalls in my village. By the way, the trains and waterfalls sure has a lot of fans. I just found out the video I posted about the mini-fridge turned into a Little Library had over a thousand views and over a hundred likes. (That’s a photo of it above.) A good start, I would say.

LINKS TO BOOKS: During the past four months, I have had two book releases: Following the Lead, no. 6 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, and The Sacred Dog, which is an independent novel although I am thinking of a sequel.

Following the Lead:

The Sacred Dog:

New Year

Smoke and a Derailed Train for a New Year

Ours was a quiet, stay-at-home end of 2022 although I was charmed to be awakened at midnight, I presume, when somebody in the neighborhood shot off some kind of fireworks. Awoken, Hank and I wished each other, “Happy New Year.”

Other years, we’ve celebrated New Year’s Eve at friends’ parties, First Nights, and bars.

I recall one New Year’s Eve in a small town’s only bar when it seemed everyone in the joint was planning to quit smoking at the stroke of midnight. So naturally, they were all smoking their brains out that night. 

That was before Massachusetts officially banned smoking in bars and nightclubs. But that night the cigarette smoke hung in a thick cloud over our heads. The man in the next table chain-smoked. “Quitting for the new year?” I asked. Yup, he said, although he ended up sticking with the habit.

Here’s another memorable New Year’s Eve: getting stuck on a train from Boston to Philly to meet my future in-laws because another train had derailed. Most of the passengers were headed to Times Square in New York and keenly disappointed they weren’t going to make it. People got drunk. A fight broke out and the cops had to come on board.

Resolutions? I make them year round so why bother tonight? I do hope Hank and I are able to travel.

Reflections? It was a productive year. I retired from journalism for good. I published three novels, thanks to darkstroke books, and started another. (I am a third of the way into no. 7 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series.) I’m glad to see our children and grandchildren doing well. We live in an interesting house, well maintained thanks to Hank, in an interesting village. There have, of course, been challenges, but I will spare you those.

For the past few days, I’ve been saying “Happy New Year” to strangers such as grocery store cashiers and post office clerks. Everyone has been receptive. I wish the same for you. To a Happy New Year. I like the sound of it myself.

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: Our cat, Stella, sits on the front porch table, telling me it’s time for her to come inside.