Leonard Cohen

Hallelujah: Listening to Leonard Cohen Again

I first found Leonard Cohen’s music when I was a girl trying to figure out what life meant to me. First he was a poet and novelist, and those creative pursuits carried through the songs he wrote and sang. Naturally, I enjoyed his earlier works like Suzanne, The Partisan, and Bird on a Wire. He was one of the people who provided my musical soundtrack with that ever-so-recognizable voice, one that was unadorned and to some, too even-toned.

Then, I stopped seeking out Cohen. After all, there are so many more people producing interesting music. The one exception was his song, Hallelujah, which has been sung as well by others although I believe Cohen does it best, which is not surprising since he felt what he intended when he wrote it.

But my interest returned big time when I recently watched the documentary, “Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song” on Netflix. Here’s a trailer to get you interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63t3ah4XB0c

The documentary focuses on that powerful song, certainly, but it also explores the complexities of Cohen, who died in 2016 at age 82. He was a man who explored the many aspects of life — love, loss, spirituality, sex etc. He was even betrayed by a trusted manager who stole from him, forcing him later in life to go on the road.

So, I started listening to Leonard Cohen again. Luckily, it was easy to do on Spotify. I began with the early albums. Okay, I remember many of those. They’re okay. Ah, there’s Hallelujah. But it wasn’t until I got to his later albums that his music resonated deeply in me once again. (Plus he has those amazing backup singers and musicians.)

So late in the afternoon, while I do a little more writing, this time at the kitchen table instead of at my desk, and while dinner is cooking, I listen to Leonard Cohen, the later Leonard Cohen. I begin with Tower of Song, a song he wrote in 1988 for the album I’m Your Man, with its opening line ” Well, my friends are gone and my hair is grey/ I ache in the places where I used to play/ And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on” and just let his music roll through the years as he sings in that golden voice of his about what he’s learned from his experiences and observations. I’ve been doing this for weeks now, a few days each, but I haven’t gotten tired of listening to Cohen sing.

This is the mature Leonard Cohen, and these days, his music largely forms the soundtrack of my life.

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: That’s the cover to Leonard Cohen’s album, I’m Your Man.

LINK TO A BLOG POST: Miriam Drori invited me onto her website to share my thoughts on writing and working with an international publisher. You can read it here:  https://miriamdrori.com/2023/03/03/an-interview-with-joan-livingston/

The Sacred Dog

The Real Sacred Dog

Although those who know me might feel differently, nobody in my next novel, The Sacred Dog is based on a real person. The one exception is the dog, Louise, who belongs to Frank Hooker, a main character in the book. At some point Frank decided to rename his bar The Sacred Dog in honor of her. Louise also has a pivotal role later in the book. 

The real inspiration for Louise is a dog named Sheena. We didn’t call her that but she knew the name, so we were stuck. Hank and I were living with our parcel of six kids in a small town in the sticks of Western Massachusetts when she found us.

Her owners, who lived down the road, left her tied up when they moved to the other side of town until she broke loose and found our compost heap. Her owner said we would keep her after I called. When the man came to drop off her bowl and chain, the dog lay on the deck and didn’t even acknowledge his presence. Sheena knew better.

Sheena, who was a black Labrador retriever, came with habits. She liked to wander the neighborhood, which was heavily wooded, visiting every dog and home. She knew where there were handouts from the neighbors. She was the alpha dog and all the dogs bowed to her as if she was indeed a queen. She enjoyed rolling in cow manure at a farm up the road. She enjoyed manure, period. Sheena also was pregnant, we found out later, and after the litter was born, we had her spayed. 

Sheena took to our family and sat regally amidst the hubbub of six kids playing inside. That’s when I dubbed her “the sacred dog” since she would put up with any amount of noise and activity.

At the time I worked as a reporter at home for a local newspaper. When I wrote at my desk, Sheena slept beneath my legs. As soon as I turned off the computer, she got up and found something else to do. Her job was done.

When Sheena died, I grieved longer for her than I did relatives I loved. And then she became a character in the book I began before the turn of the new century. (More on that another time.) Now, I am glad the book is being published thanks to darkstroke books. 

By the way, The Sacred Dog is a tale about a feud between two men — Frank Hooker and Al Kitchen. And I can honestly say nothing good is going to come from this feud.

Here’s a scene from The Sacred Dog involving Louise. Frank is at a river with Crystal, his 9-year-old daughter who has just returned to town with her mother, and his dog.

“Is it true your bar used to be named for Mommy, but you began calling it after your pet dog because you were mad we moved to Florida?” She looked directly at him. “Am I right, Daddy?”

Frank sat upright. “Well, honey, that isn’t the real story. I’d never do somethin’ like that,” he lied. “The new name just seemed like a fine idea at the time. The Sacred Dog. It has a certain ring to it. Don’t you think?”

His daughter’s head shook energetically. “Oh, yeah,” she said.

“Besides, Louise is an awfully good dog.”

Crystal knew Louise’s story. Frank wrote her after he found the dog hanging around his trashcans one afternoon when he took a break from writing up the monthly liquor order. He called Monk Stevens, in his capacity as Holden’s dog officer, and he told Frank she was probably dumped there because she was bone-skinny and had no collar. “She’s yours if you want her,” he told Frank. “You know what’ll happen if you don’t.”

Frank decided on the spot to save her. It’d been a while since he had a dog, and he took to calling the dog Louise after a girl he once knew who bore the same mournful expression. He fed her as much food as she wanted and within a few weeks, she became eternally grateful. One slow night, when Frank and Early played cribbage, Louise nudged the topside of her head beneath Frank’s hand. After a while, he told her to “git,” and though the dog was clearly disappointed, she left him alone while he played and talked with Early.

“You know Early. That dog is a saint, a pure saint. She never complains, even when those kids come in Sunday night to bother her. Look at ’er. The way she sets there, you’d think she was somethin’ sacred.” He paused while he studied the fan of cards in his hand. “Yeah, that’s what she is. Louise is the sacred dog.”

“Oh shit, Frank. You’ve gone off your rocker. Dogs aren’t sacred. They shit where you go. They eat shit and roll in shit.”

“Louise is different, I tell you.”

“Why don’t you shut the heck up and get me another beer?”

What had been a pet owner’s moment of tenderness now became an inspiration for Frank. A few weeks later, he decided to officially change the name of his bar, which was still Ronnie’s, to The Sacred Dog. Truthfully, he was thinking about getting a new name after it dawned on him it was rather foolish to have a bar named for his ex-wife. He discounted using his own or anything with the word Holden in it. The town had enough buildings named after John Holden, the town’s founder. Early suggested the Bowtie, but Frank said no one ever wore one in his bar and he expected no one ever would.

“A John Deere cap or torn T-shirt would be more like it,” Frank said, and Early laughed as if he had a tickle in his throat.

The Sacred Dog suited Frank fine, so he asked a lawyer in town to draw up the papers to make it legal. Then he asked Early to make the sign. The regulars thought Frank was joking, but when he told them the story, they agreed it was a good name for a bar. Some stiffs in the back room of the general store did grumble to Frank about it. The pastor of the Holden Congregational Church called to complain, but Frank, who had only been to church as an adult for funerals and his own wedding, told the men he didn’t see the connection.

LINK: The Sacred Dog is available for Kindle readers to pre-order. I am grateful if you do as it helps with ratings. The official release is Dec. 27 and paperback will follow. Here’s the link: https://mybook.to/thesacreddog

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s Sheena and me, when I had dark hair.

Creative Writing, Teachers

Three Inspiring Teachers

First a brief note: I was thrilled yesterday to hear from my publisher darkstroke books that about 1.2 million pages have been read from my Isabel Long Mystery Series since the start of 2022. Thanks Kindle readers for your interest and support.

I was a kid who loved learning. I still can remember the delight I felt when I discovered I could combine letters to make words and words to make sentences as I learned to read. But that feeling was magnified when I learned I could create what others could read. Writing was magic.

I have to give credit to three teachers — one’s actually a professor — who truly inspired me to take writing to another level, that it would become my form of creative expression. Let me tell you about Irma Darwin, Donald Graves, and Robert Rose. Mrs. Darwin and Mr. Graves have passed on; I am unaware what happened to Prof. Rose after he left Bridgewater State College, as it was called then. I note them in my acknowledgments for Following the Lead, no. 6 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series.

Mrs. Darwin was my fourth-grade teacher at Oxford School in North Fairhaven, where I grew up. We students worked hard at making perfectly round letters in cursive — although journalism ruined that objective. She read aloud A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh series and taught us about world explorers.

And Mrs. Darwin gave me the freedom to write on my own, making up short stories and one-act plays. I assigned parts to my classmates and we practiced at recess. Later, Mrs. Darwin let us perform in front of the classroom. I don’t remember what I wrote, but I do the feeling of using words to tell a story.

In fifth grade, I was able to take my writing to another level when I had Mr. Graves as a teacher. That year, a few students from each of our town’s several elementary schools attended an enrichment program on Wednesday afternoons. I, luckily, was one of them.

We were taught advanced science and creative writing. I bet you can guess which class inspired me. Mr. Graves used prompts to teach us about similes, metaphors and other figures of speech. Here was a deeper way to express myself in writing. He compiled what my classmates and I wrote in a mimeographed pamphlet, which I still have.  Here is a piece I wrote called The Tornado. It’s a little over the top, but keep in mind, I was in fifth grade. I recall Mr. Graves called my parents to tell them about it.

The winds of torment strike the grey sky with evil destructive movements. Its path tears the world apart with its wind. The sun struggles to set the sky afire with its golden sunshine, but is shoved aside to hide with the clouds. Trees sweep the winds hoping for mercy. The sea of grass bows at the sight of this evil destruction. Fields of corn are whipped and left to die for they would not bow and worship him. Mountain tops are bitten off piece by pieces until it too will follow with the others and bow to worship, but the proud mountains stand tall as ever in trying to hold back the winds. The winds of evil torment goes on to finish his evil scheme.

Mr. Graves continued his work teaching children about writing at the Writing Process Library at UNH. He wrote 26 books, nearly all about teaching writing. Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/Donald-H-Graves/e/B001IODHK2? I feel fortunate that we connected many years ago via email so I could thank him personally.

After fifth grade, I had to wait until I went to college to find inspiration again. As a freshman at Bridgewater, I had Robert A. Rose as an instructor for English 101 and then the next year for Creative Writing. Besides exposing us to the counterculture, he gave me a piece of advice that has become my mantra: “Write like no one else has ever written it before.” To me that meant being original and authentic, and I thank him for instilling that in me.

Here’s a poem I wrote then called cause and effect. It was obviously written after one of my failed love affairs.

this winter fugue

has moved me to a self-hate

certain to experience

its artist,

crack-jawed by his affections

completed the night 

like a jeweler’s velvet 

a moon-starred paradox

for the days of headless queens

groomed desperate

by their lovers.

Certainly, I have had other memorable teachers and professors but these are the top three in my book. Thank you.

LINKS: Here’s the link to my books on Amazon, including Following the Lead, which will be released Nov. 3. Pre-orders are available. Thank you if you do. https://www.amazon.com/Joan-Livingston/e/B01E1HKIDG

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Yes, that’s a photo of me, likely in fifth or sixth grade.

Friendship, Mystery

Meet My Mystery Writer Friend

Death of a Telenovela Star is the title of Teresa Dovalpage’s latest mystery. This novella, set on a cruise to the Caribbean, features a former Havana detective who now runs a bakery inIMG_0711 Miami. But Marlene Martínez can’t help figuring out whodunnit when a murder happens onboard. Yes, the telenovela star has an untimely death. This book is short, fast and fun read.

Full disclosure: Teresa, or la Te, as I call her is my friend, actually one of my closest friends. And while I want you to read her book, I want to tell you about her.

I met Teresa when I lived in Taos and took the Spanish 101 course she taught at the local branch of the University of New Mexico. She made the class fun. When I found out she was also an author, I bought her first novel, A Girl Like Che Guevara, which is set in Cuba, where she grew up.

Then she started reporting on a freelance basis for The Taos News — I was the editor-in-chief then — for our Spanish page, plus writing features in English. She had no journalism experience but caught on right away.

We became friends. I enjoyed her energy, humor, and Cuban coffee. We even collaborated on a project — a bilingual series for kids. I did the English, she translated. Only one — The Cousins and the Magic Fish/Los primos y el pez mágico has been published so far, but I plan to change that. The first book, which was second runner-up for the Zia Book Award in 2018, deserves a new layout and to be continued.

Teresa has had success with the publishing world. Check out her books on Amazon: Teresa Dovalpage Books on Amazon

I was frustrated by my lack of it. After many years of effort, including two agents who failed me, I ended up self-publishing two of my novels: Peace, Love and You Know What and The Sweet Spot.

Teresa always encouraged me and gave me good advice.

And then, she inspired me to write mysteries. This was a different genre for me. I like to think my adult books are literary fiction, but I am a huge fan of mystery shows, especially those from the UK.

Teresa wrote a mystery, Death Comes in Through the Kitchen, and sold it to a publishing house. I read a draft and thought why not try my own. Like Teresa, who set that book in her native Cuba, I chose to set Chasing the Case in rural Western Mass., where I have lived twice. (As I’ve said before, it’s a case of taking what you know and having your way with it.)

I so enjoyed writing that first book, I completed three more, all published by Darkstroke Books. And I’m onto my fifth.

When Hank and I left Taos to return to Western Mass. three years ago, Teresa and her husband moved to Hobbs, NM, where she is a professor at the university there. We keep in touch via social media, email, and the occasional phone call. I hope our paths cross again.

But back to Death of a Telenovela Star, it’s a good escape from this strange world we have now. Check it out.

PHOTO ABOVE: Teresa and I at the New Mexico Press Women’s conference in 2018.

KILLING THE STORY: No. 4 in the Isabel Long Mystery Series launched Aug. 26. Here’s the link: Killing the Story. And thanks for your support.