I am sitting in somebody's car while wearing big, pink sunglasses.
books, friends, hippies

From One Who Was There

At first, my friend Fred Fullerton was going to hold off reading my novel Peace, Love, and You Know What until it came out in paperback. But then he couldn’t resist. After all, he makes a cameo appearance.

Fred is one of the party-goers at the three-day graduation bash held at a slummy, college apartment. Joey, a brainy but nervous guy who loves poetry, is one of the roommates. It’s the first night of the bash. Here is the excerpt:

Joey sat several feet away, talking it up with another heavy thinker, a guy who returned to Westbridge on the GI Bill after being stationed in Europe. He was into that expat thing, wearing a beret and smoking a pipe. The two were deep into William Carlos William’s Kora in Hell Improvisations. Joey rushed to the attic to get his copy, dog-eared and filled with his notes. The two passed a joint and read the best passages aloud while the expat’s foxy German wife chain-smoked unfiltered Gauloises.

“Read that line again. I think I heard something new there,” Joey told the expat.

Fred attended Bridgewater State College, now a university, in the sixties. He went into the service and was stationed in Germany before returning to finish his degree. He moved back to Germany after he graduated, but now lives in the U.S.


Fred shortly after he moved back to German in 1974.

I met Fred during his second go-round at the college. We have remained very good friends since, keeping in contact via letters, emails, and visits when I am back East. Yeah, he’s a heavy thinker with a great sense of humor. He’s also a reader and writer. And, he’s also one of the few people I used directly as inspiration for this comedy from the seventies.

So, although Fred read earlier drafts of the novel, he downloaded the Kindle app to his computer April 18. Then, the emails began.  I am going to quote from the less personal messages.

Here’s the first: I downloaded the Kindle edition of Love, Peace & You Know What and want to read the final version since the last time I read it was while you were still editing it. I chuckled at the party scene where Joey and the expat are discussing and read William Carlos Williams Kora in Hell: Improvisations. I guess I’ll have to read it so I can discuss it with “Joey.”

Yup, Joey is another of my characters inspired by a real person. But this is fiction, not a memoir.

Then, I asked Fred to check the acknowledgements at the end of the novel. He’s in there.

The back and forth began. Fred would read a little. I would find a question in my email, several times a day.

Curious …who was the gay prof at the 3-day party at 221 Winter St.?

He asks about other characters. He recalls dear friends from our tribe who died. I let him know which characters are total fabrications, which are most of them.

I’m having a ball reading this book. Even though I read earlier drafts, this is much improved and really funny! It’s also bringing back lots of memories … the coffee shop (I lived in the boarding house above it my freshman year), and other places. I spent many, many evenings at Westbridge Apartments, which you accurately rename the Roach Motel!

Yes, it was an apt description of the row of apartments that resembled more of a motel than student housing. It’s no longer there. Also, 221 Winter Street is a variation of an actual address. The layouts of the campus and town were as I remember it then. (I haven’t been back since I graduated but I am planning a field trip soon.)

I’m reading your book as if I were drinking a fine wine or whiskey in small sips. At this rate, I might have a review for you by this weekend.

The emails sped up.

I also like how the music at Ned’s [Professor Ned Burke AKA Professor Groovy] memorial service is Edith Piaff’s “Non, je ne regrette rien.” It’s as apropos as his dying “in the saddle,” so to speak.

I listened to her sing that song a few times while I wrote the scene.

On April 22: I love the part where Joey teaches Beowulf to Mack’s class. Yes, Beowulf is a terrific tale. I can’t remember when I first read it, perhaps in high school, but I’ve read it a few times since.

I tell Fred I had to teach Beowulf to high school freshmen when I was a student teacher. I don’t think I was very successful. I only got a B.

You rascal! You put your dad in there as Coach Tony Madrid! 😀

Yes, I used my father for the character of the man who was retiring after coaching generations of high school students. Tim, one of the main characters, is covering his retirement sendoff for a newspaper.

I’m almost done. Your book is laugh-out-loud funny. I especially cracked up when Manny said, “I feel like I’m in somebody’s acid trip.” You’ve got so much going on in the book. It’s not only a roman à clef but also a Bildungsroman with a good dose of Sturm und Drang!

I tell Fred I still find the book funny after reading it a zillion times.

And on April 23: The review is “alive” on Amazon. It was fun to do!

Yes, you can go to Amazon and see it for yourself. Fred gave the novel five stars. Thank you dear friend.

Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/Peace-Love-You-Know-What-ebook/dp/B01E03WMQC/ref=la_B01E1HKIDG_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461508808&sr=1-1

Peace, Love, and You Know What will be out in paperback hopefully soon. I am going to attempt audio, even with my New England accent.

PHOTO ABOVE: I used this photo once before for my piece about my obsession with Bob Dylan’s music. My sister sent me this photo. I am sitting in somebody’s car while I am wearing big, pink sunglasses. I don’t remember who took it or the occasion. But I like the stray curl.


Joan SF smaller
books, hippies, Writing

So Darn Close

Yup, the launch of my novel Peace, Love, and You Know What is imminent, likely this week. And, yes, you will be among the first to know.

Michelle is tweaking the draft’s design. Perfectionist that she is, she isn’t happy about the big first letter at the start of each chapter. I did take a look at the draft online and found a couple of small things to change: two chapter headlines that weren’t in the right format, a line from a poem (quoted by the nervous nut Joey, one of the characters) that wasn’t in italics. Nothing big really, but important to me because they would be a distraction to readers.

I did panic when I accidently hit “save” on the pricing page, which apparently means publish. There is no one to talk with in person, but an email to support stopped the process and put me at ease. Peace, Love, and You Know What is in draft form again, unless we click otherwise. (I did send a nice note to support that they might want to add “and publish” to that button. I am certain I am not the only author to do that by mistake.)

I’ve filled out the necessary publishing info and created my author page. amazon.com/author/joanlivingston

I am excited and nervous about the next step in this grand experiment.

So in the meantime, here is an excerpt from early in the book. The chapter is called The Hard Truth. Four of the main characters are in it: roommates Tim, Manny, and Mack, who have just taken a geology final after pulling yet another all-nighter. Of course, it helped that Mack had managed to get a copy of last year’s exam. And then there is the entrance of Lenora, a key person in their lives.

Heads down, Tim and Manny staggered through the campus of Westbridge State College. They were semi-sure they’d get a decent grade on their geology final, thanks to Mack. But this being their third all-nighter in a row, and with another ahead, they were out of it.

“I think you’re right. It was quartzite. I put that down, too,” Tim said.

“How about five? Pre-Cambrian shield?”

“Think so.”

Manny gave him a scared smile.

“Shit, maybe we did okay.”

The two bumped shoulders, drunk with fatigue, swapping answers, as they jaywalked the quadrangle’s grassy square toward the administration building. They ducked through the auditorium door, propped open because the weather was warm, and hit a left to the newspaper office. The office, if it could be called one, used to be the ticket booth for the auditorium. It was all the college spared for The Hard Truth.

Mack, the editor-in-chief, was already there, moving and stacking bundles of newspapers printed specially for graduation. He was the second person to finish the geology final, and he had a smug smile when he handed the bluebook to the professor, telling him, “Thanks, I got a lot outta your class,” which made the man nod and grunt. Then Mack gave Tim and Manny two thumbs up before he split.

Mack tossed copies of the newspaper to Tim and Manny. The headline across the top of the front page said: “Hello cruel world!” It was Tim’s idea. He was one of the paper’s reporters, actually assistant editor, but as usual, Mack took his idea and ran with it. The paper was chock full of anti-war, anti-Nixon, and anti-establishment stories.

Lenora wrote her farewell column, called “Who the heck is that?” Her last was about the janitor who’s been cleaning up after students for over twenty years, watching as one class leaves and another takes its place. Tim murmured. He recognized the guy. He had a profound limp because of a clubfoot, and Lenora wrote he took off his shoe so she could see it. She got him right as she did the other people she wrote about, like the retarded guy who rode his bike around campus. Then there was the cook behind the counter of Jimmy’s Coffee Shop. His name wasn’t Jimmy, it was Ralph, and he named the joint for his older brother, who got killed in Korea.

Manny opened his copy to the centerfold where the names of the Class of 1972 were printed. His fingertip pressed the paper.

“Tim, your name’s here. See? Timothy Patrick Devlin. It’s above Lenora’s name. It says you’re graduating Sunday.”

Tim peered over Manny’s shoulder.

“My mother will like that a lot.”

“Huh? I thought you needed two more courses to graduate,” Manny said.

Tim grunted as he fell onto a chair beside the wooden table they lifted from a classroom. Manny sat beside him.

“You’re right. I don’t have enough credits, but I can’t tell my mother that. You met her. I’m supposed to be outta here and getting a job. She works the nightshift at the bread plant back home. You think she’d understand the five-year plan?”

Air came out of Manny’s mouth in one big “ha.”

“Tim, right now I can’t think of a damn thing.”

“That makes two of us.”

Tim’s elbow was on the table as he pushed his jaw into his hand. He shut his eyes and felt himself slip away until a girl’s laughter jerked him awake. He blinked. Lenora came through the door, wearing one of her costumes, a black skirt hanging to her sandals and a gauzy top with strands of beads. Hair so brown it could be black fell halfway down her back. She swirled around with her hands in the air and stomped her sandals.

“Alleluia, I’m done. Can you believe it? No more papers. No more finals. I finished my last shift at the dining hall.” She spun again. “Guys, I’m a free woman.”

Mack came toward her with his arms out.

“Jesus, Lenora, I’m gonna miss you.”

Mack hugged Lenora tightly and tried to nail her with a kiss. He thought it was cool to stick his tongue in the mouth of any girl he met. But Lenora told Manny and Tim he wasn’t very good at it. Too much spit. And his breath smelled like cooked meat.

She held her hand against Mack’s chest.

“Knock it off, Mack. I don’t want a kiss from you.”

Mack moved against her hand. His face came closer.

“Aw, Lenora, you don’t mean it.”

“Yes, I do. I’m not your girlfriend, and I don’t want to be. I don’t mind you giving me a hug, but keep your tongue to yourself. Or next time I’ll bite it off.”

Mack stepped back.

“Whoa, I guess she told me off good.”

Manny glanced up from the open newspaper.

“You mean well, don’t you Mack?”

“Shut up, Manny. I don’t need a fuckin’ grammar lesson, especially from a history major.”

“Hey, don’t insult me. You’re the one who’s supposed to be the English major.”

Mack shuffled to his desk, muttering, but Tim was positive he’d get over it. Lenora was too important to all of them. The girl had been with them during good trips and bad trips, protests and parties. Once, she talked a cop out of giving Mack a ticket after he got caught driving through a stop sign. The way she worked the pig was pure magic. By time they drove off, the man had lost his blank cop face and started smiling.

Tim couldn’t forget how she held his hand as they watched the draft lottery on TV, and then cried when he pulled an eight, which meant he was heading to Vietnam for sure. Lenora found a friendly doctor to write a note that Tim had a chronic skin rash, so he wouldn’t have to go. She went with Tim to the induction physical, and when he came outside, she hugged him and said, “They’re not taking you from me.”

Why did she have to leave?

Lenora sat on the table.

“How’d you guys do on your geology final?”

Tim glanced at Manny.

“We made out okay. I mean the answers came to me almost like magic.” Tim paused. “Hey, Lenora, what are you doing Friday, Saturday, and Sunday?”

Her legs swung beneath her long skirt.

“Except for graduating? I’ll be packing. Why? What’d you have in mind?

Tim eyed Mack, who had his back to him.

“See, we’re having a little party at the house, and we wanted you to come.”

“Three days? A little party? You’re putting me on.”

“No, I’m not. Right, Manny?”

“It’s true, Lenora. So, are you coming?”

“Of course, I will. It’s my last weekend in Westbridge.”

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s me in San Francisco.



books, hippies, Writing

Saying It Out Loud

When it comes to publishing my novel Peace, Love, and You Know What, I am almost there. The cover by Michelle Gutierrez is done. You can see it above. I love the VW van rolling across a snowy road — a key scene in the book — the color scheme and typography. So did so many people who responded on social media. Thank you all.

Now, Michelle is working on the book’s design.

But as I’ve said before, there is writing, and then there is the business of writing. For this experiment, I am doing both.

Naturally, I’ve been doing research. The Internet is full of it. Some of it is dated. Some of it is misguided. But there is enough advice on pricing and promotion that is worth pursuing. (I can also rely on my author friend, Craig Dirgo, for info.)

I believe a biggie for me will be an author page on Amazon. Naturally, it will have my photo and a bio. But it can also have a link to blog posts, events, Twitter feed … and a video.

Weeks ago, I stood on the back porch of The Taos News, where I work, while Katharine Egli, our photographer, shot a video of me talking about Peace, Love, and You Know What. From memory.

I wrote the script and for weeks, I practiced it out loud on my drive to and from work. Luckily, for most of the commute I wasn’t driving beside another vehicle.

I posted cues on a post behind Katharine but ended up not using them. I flubbed a couple of takes. Once, we discovered she forgot to hit the record button. But we got one that worked. She sent the video to me the other day.

It’s tough watching myself talk into a camera. I am squinting a bit because of the Northern New Mexico sun. But I say my piece without a stumble. And it is only minute and seven seconds, about the right length for those used to quick stuff on the Internet. I hope it is enough to interest people into buying this novel.

I will let you know when everything goes live. Soon.

Taos Library copy
books, libraries

House of Books

I can tell a lot about a community from their public library. After all it takes a significant investment to start and maintain a house of books. And public libraries, if they have the support, offer a lot more such as access to computers, DVDs and programs.

Millicent Rogers Library Fairhaven

A postcard I own of the Millicent Rogers Library.

My first experience with a library was in my hometown, thanks to my mother, who is a voracious reader. Once or twice a week we went to the Millicent Rogers Library in my hometown of Fairhaven. (A resident who got super rich from oil long ago had the library built in memory of his young daughter.) In the summer, the bookmobile stopped at the bottom of our street.

Mom got a stack of books. I did the same. When I was a teenager, I planned to read every book in the library — going through the alphabet. The plan fell through when I encountered uninteresting books in the B section.

I did learn to hypnotize my youngest sister — fodder for another post — from a book at the library, of course.

When I was a young adult, I moved around a lot. I always looked for the public library wherever we lived. I was happy when I found one, sad when I didn’t.

worthington library

Worthington Library

Worthington, a hill town in Western Massachusetts where I lived 25 years before moving to Taos, had a great library for its population of 1,200. The library was a one-room building jammed with books. The kids went to story hour. I came for my stack of books. I recall mentioning to Julia, the librarian, I liked reading Hollywood biographies and she kept ’em coming long after I lost interest. But there was a lot more to read in that little library’s stacks.

Taos Library 2Now I live in Taos, which has a rather large library. I don’t go as often as I did in Worthington, but then again I tend to buy books instead of borrow them. I do visit, as I did the other day, to scout out new authors or books from those I like that I haven’t read.

I simply show my card at the desk and agree to bring the books back before my time is up. What a concept.

ABOUT THE TOP PHOTO: That’s the interior of the Taos Public Library taken from the fiction department.

Brattle Book Store mural
books, Writing

One Flew Over

Two flights between Santa Fe and Boston to visit family last week gave me the opportunity for uninterrupted reading. I often print a draft of a work in progress for the plane, but this time I decided to read what somebody else wrote.

At the recommendation of a friend I tried Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke but put it down after 150 pages or so. Yes, it won him the National Book Award but it wasn’t for me.

Mural outside Brattle Book Shop

Mural outside Brattle Book Shop

Luckily, I brought along Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which I hadn’t read since I bought the book in 2001. This was my third reading actually and I wasn’t disappointed. Kesey created great characters like Randal Patrick McMurphy, who announces during his grand entrance: “Damn, what a sorry-looking outfit. You boys don’t look so crazy to me. Which one of you claims to be the craziest? Which one is the biggest loony? … Who’s the bull goose loony here?”

Then, there is Nurse Ratched, who can’t tolerate McMurphy’s boisterous and conniving ways, and Chief Bromden, who tells this story, plus the cast of characters who live and work on this ward. I rank One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest high in my top 25.

This visit continued its book theme with a visit to a public library in a Boston suburb. While in Boston proper, I stopped at three used book stores, including the Brattle Book Shop, with its mural of literary heavy-hitters overlooking its sale lot. I could have spent hours in each store but I didn’t have enough time this visit. Instead I walked the aisles and marveled at the stacks of books, like the good one by Ken Kesey I read on the plane.