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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 As yet unpublished, the novel was inspired by my experience living and working in a psychiatric halfway house.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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Western Massachusetts, Writing

Two Books at Once

Well, here’s something new for me — working on two books at the same time. One is a work in progress and the other is a novel I wrote a long time ago. There’s a good reason for it, and I don’t mind saying it’s fun to be plunked into two different worlds.

The first book is Killing the Story, the fourth in the Isabel Long Mystery Series. Isabel Long, my protagonist and the rather sassy narrator of this series, has been hired to solve the death of the editor and co-owner of a small town newspaper.

Years ago, Estelle Crane slipped on some ice walking home one night from the newsroom and died from the fall. Everyone thought it was an accident. But then her son, who took over the paper, recently found a briefcase with papers that makes him feel otherwise.

I will share a secret: I solve the mystery along with Isabel. No outlines for me. That’s what happened with my other books. And although two-thirds of the way through, I am still figuring it out.

Could it be the town’s crooked police chief that has a history with Estelle’s family? How about his son, who’s on the force, or the nosy newcomer who was after Estelle to dig up some dirt via anonymous letters? Maybe it’s somebody else that Isabel — and me — have overlooked.

With my job as editor-in-chief of a daily newspaper, this book is taking me longer to write. To catch up on the gaps in writing, I print out a hard copy and get out the red pen.

But I have set myself a deadline of April 1, so full speed ahead.

Now, to the second book, Northern Comfort, which I wrote in 2007. My agent then came really close to getting it published. Sigh.

Northern Comfort, which I would call a literary novel, is about the dark side of a rural “New England town, holding onto its traditions of making maple, playing old-time music, and keeping family secrets.” That’s from the query letter I wrote.

It’s a heavy book that begins when a child dies in a sledding accident. His death brings together three people: his mother, the man whose sled killed him, and the father who had abandoned him.

When I picked up Northern Comfort recently, I found myself moved by the story. Yes, it is my work, but it had been a long time since I had read it, and I had forgotten my characters and the weight of the words I used. Although it is set in Western Massachusettes, it is nothing like the Isabel Long books. I have a printed copy and am going over it with a red pen. Actually I found just small things here and there to change.

My aim is to pitch Northern Comfort to publishing houses that focus on literary fiction and don’t require an agent. I have a top choice, that requires a query letter describing the book and the first 50 pages, which I’ve been editing. I showed it to two friends and I am almost ready to mail it out — the company only does snail mail.

So, here goes. Wish me luck.

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: The exterior wall at Satchel’s Pizza in Gainesville, Florida, which we recently visited.

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Life lessons, New Mexico, Western Massachusetts

In Two Years’ Time

Two years ago, Hank and I were driving somewhere in the Midwest as we made our way from Taos, New Mexico to Western Massachusetts. Hank was at the wheel. Our cat sat on my lap for almost the entire 2,400 miles.

I know for sure because Facebook reminded me. I wrote “Adios, Taos.”

We lived in Northern New Mexico for 11 years. We built a home there. I ran the editorial department of the local newspaper. Hank got into the artistic side of woodworking. We enjoyed grand views of the mesa, mountains and big skies. Great food. It was an interesting place to live.

But we had our reasons for leaving.

And a lot has happened since then. A lot of good things.

Having easier access to more of our family is an important one. Four of our six kids and our two granddaughters live in Massachusetts. (You gotta love it when your two-year-old granddaughter calls you Grandma Applesauce.) Then there is my 95-year-old mother and other kin.

We found and bought the style of home we wanted — an arts and crafts bungalow. (My wish then: we find the right house for the right price in the right location.) Youngest daughter, Julia, a real estate agent, negotiated the deal.

The home, built in 1900, has great bones. We had to fix the things the previous owners either did or didn’t do to the home. Luckily, Hank is a skilled woodworker. Me? I was the unskilled helper. The only work we hired out was the roof, floor sanding in two rooms, plumbing and electrical. But as it goes in older homes, there’s still work ahead for Hank.

We live on the Buckland side of Shelburne Falls, a charming village in a rural area. Think small shops, restaurants, and our son’s microbrewery, Floodwater Brewing, which opened last November. And for the most part, friendly people. Folks come from all over to admire the Bridge of Flowers that spans the Deerfield River. We achieved our goal of being able to walk to places from our home — only four-tenths of a mile to Floodwater.

It’s been a productive year for me writing-wise. I’ve published the first three books in my Isabel Long Mystery Series through Crooked Cat Books. I am onto the fourth.

I have a freelance gig copyediting history books for the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University in Ohio. I’ve learned a lot about our nation’s history.

If that weren’t enough, I am now the editor-in-chief of The Greenfield Recorder. I didn’t think I would go back in the biz, but here I am again running the paper’s editorial department. I am glad to say I have a hardworking and friendly staff devoted to community news.

Oh, our cat, Two, who is around 15, is just fine.

Yes, we got a lot done in two years. What will the next two bring? Bring it on.

PHOTO ABOVE: A not very flattering selfie taken somewhere on our cross-country trek with our cat Two glued to my lap. She hated the carrier.

 

 

 

 

 

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Isabel Long Series, Writing

Mystery Series: Why I Write in First Person, Present Tense

When I decided to write a mystery, I wanted it to be told from the point of view of my protagonist, Isabel Long. And now that I released the second, Redneck’s Revenge, I am glad I stuck with that format. I also used present tense because I want my readers to feel they are part of the action but more about that later.

First, let me tell you about Isabel Long. She’s a former long-time journalist who is trying her hand at solving mysteries. After all, she has a lot of time on her hands after she lost her job managing a newsroom when the paper went corporate. Besides, her first case was also her first big story as a rookie reporter — and one of the cold case files she snagged from the newsroom on her last day.

Isabel is savvy and sassy. She’s got a great sense of humor. She doesn’t take crap from anyone. But she is a great listener and can relate well with others. Basically, she takes what she knew as a reporter and applies it to being an amateur sleuth. This comes in handy because her second case takes her to a town she is unfamiliar with and also a rather rough group of folks.

For that case, a woman hires her to find out how her father died. The cops say he was drunk when his house caught fire. She says he was murdered. Could it be the work of two drug-dealing brothers, a rival junkyard owner, or an ex-husband? Isabel is going to find out.

Anyway, I wanted you to get the full picture of Isabel by letting her talk her way through my two books so far in this series — Chasing the Case and Redneck’s Revenge. The third, Checking the Traps, will be released next year.

I also wanted my readers to focus on Isabel. I know I sometimes get a little lost when there are so many POVs in a novel I’m reading. I sometimes have to remind myself who the character is.

Why present tense? It can be tricky to write. I have written only one other book, as yet unpublished, that way. But I believe it works with Isabel because sometimes she even talks directly to the reader.

Here’s an excerpt from Redneck’s Revenge, to put you in the mood. In this scene, she’s meeting with Lin Pierce, a licensed private investigator.

All right, Lin, enough with the dillydallying. Let’s get on with it.

“As I said over the phone… ”

He waves his hand.

“Yes, that. You said you want to work for me to fulfill one of your requirements to get a P.I. license.”

“That’s right.”

“So, what would make you qualified to be an associate? Have you ever worked in law enforcement?”

I shake my head.

“A cop? No. I was a journalist for over thirty years. I started as the Conwell correspondent for the Daily Star. Adela Collins’ disappearance was my first big story.” I watch his head bounce in recognition. “I knew how to chase a story. I found the pieces and put them together. I believe the skills are transferable, except I’d never carry a gun or wrestle anybody to the ground.”

He squints as he thinks.

“I recall reading your stories. Didn’t you used to run the paper?”

“Uh-huh, for fifteen years until it got bought out,” I say. “As I explained over the phone, I’m not looking to take your cases although I’d be willing to help if you need it. I’ll find my own.”

“Well, I’ve never hired anybody and frankly, I couldn’t afford you if I did.” His voice drops. “I’d say I’m semi-retired. I own this building, so it’s convenient to keep an office. It helps with taxes.”

I was prepared for this.

“How about a buck a day? Could you afford that?”

He chuckles.

“You work cheap, Isabel.”

MORE: This post appeared first in Zooloo Book Blog as part of a tour in Rachel’s Random Resources.

BOOKLINKS: Thank you if you have already read my books. If not here’s where you can find them on Amazon: mybook.to/chasingthecase and mybook.to/rednecksrevenge

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A creative use of old screwdrivers. Piece of art found outside a studio on State Street in our village of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.

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