My New Website, Oh Boy

Well, you found my new website. I am glad.

After a few years of blogging, and many more creating fiction and non-fiction, I offer a website devoted to the craft of writing, the books I’ve created, and more. The posts from my blogs — joanlivingston.blogspot.com and joanlivingstoncooks.blogspot.com — have found a second home here. Those who visit those blogs will be directed to this website since I work best doing one thing at a time.

Thanks to Andrew Oxford, my tech-savvy friend and colleague, for building this website. We aimed for a lean, clean design. I have a few details still to work out.

An untouched photo of our house captured by my neighbor Mary McPhail Gray.

An untouched photo of our house captured by our  neighbor Mary McPhail Gray.

So, why do I write? That’s simple. I love to write.

First I wrote poetry, because admittedly I couldn’t sustain a thought in prose. Working as a reporter changed that. I also listened to people talk and watched them behave. I am grateful for the experience. By the way, my day job is managing editor of a newspaper, The Taos News.

So, who do I write for? I would say adult and young readers who crave a good story. My hope is they forget they are reading when they pick up a story I’ve created — and can’t put it down.

Let me tell you about my adult books. I love strong characters and often small towns like the one where I used to live in Western Massachusetts. Here is a pitch for The Sweet Spot: Love and mis-love, secrets and discovery, rich and poor, old families and newcomers, deep roots and fresh starts, violence and peace. You can read more about The Sweet Spot, plus an excerpt, in the books section of this website.

Could this story happen where I once lived? Yes. Did it happen? Only in my novel.

The Swanson Shuffle was inspired by my experience living and working in a psychiatric halfway house. That’s a work in progress.

Then, there is my Twin Jinn series for middle-grade readers. My concept: After escaping their master, a family of genies — Elwin and Mira Jinn and their twins, Jute and Fina — goes into hiding among humans. In the first book, they perform magic in a carnival. In the second they go to public school, where they create an alchemy machine for a science fair project. For the third, they live on a horse sanctuary in New Mexico and learn about new powers. I am working a fourth.

I am fond of the twins. They are mischievous and competitive. Their patient parents set boundaries for when and how they can use their special powers, but happily for us, that doesn’t always work.

I certainly have more to write about writing. Thank you, and please come back.


You Might Want to Carry a Gun

That’s the name of a book written about what can happen when community newspapers expose big problems in small towns.

Journalists Kathy Cruz and Tommy Thomason created a slim but engaging book, in which they tell the stories of small town journalists, who risked the scorn of townspeople, and in some instances, had threats made on their lives. Why? Because they believe it is the public’s right to know what’s going on in their communities.

Yes, some of the journalist took to carrying guns. They had good reason.

I picked up the book at the National Newspaper Association’s annual conference in San Antonio this weekend. There, several of the journalists profiled participated in a panel discussion about investigative reporting. 

I’m not talking about big papers that can afford to have one of their reporters devote weeks or even months to a story. These small newspapers have a few reporters on staff who typically report on local boards, events, and people. But then, they find something in their community that needs to be uncovered. And, they do that while still reporting on local boards, events, and people

They own or work for papers many of us have never heard of such as The Timberjay in Minnesota, The Yancey County News in North Carolina; The Concordia Sentinel in Ferriday; and The Hood County News inTexas.

These journalists have taken on corrupt sheriffs and other officials, a corporate takeover of a school system, a charity, a cult, the list goes on. They did it by asking tough questions and accessing public records — and not stopping when they were told no.

I am the managing editor of a small weekly community newspaper. Previously, I was a reporter and an editor for a daily. I often hear people say we should report on “good” news instead of “bad” for a change. I say politely there isn’t good or bad news. It is simply news. I have taken phone calls and had visits from people angry with our coverage. My only regret is if we make an error, and we correct those right away. 

Probably the worst threat I’ve received was from someone in law enforcement who said “I can forgive but I can never forget.” Of course, some businesses or institutions pull their advertisement for a time or threaten to do it. My husband sometimes comments he’s surprised people haven’t come to our house. But carry a gun? Nah. 

Here’s one story from the book. Samantha Swindler and Adam Sulfridge, former managing editor and reporter, respectively, of a Kentucky paper, uncovered the illegal activities of the sheriff. He later pleaded guilty to such crimes as extortion, money laundering and allowing drug traffickers to have their way if they supplied him. Swindler and Sulfridge were threatened with bodily harm. Both took classes so they could carry concealed guns. It was a good thing they did.

These journalists have brought about change and earned awards, in a few cases even a Pulitzer. But often there was a cost. Businesses stopped advertising. People in their communities were just plain mean instead of grateful. They didn’t like to know, I suppose, their town wasn’t perfect.

But thank goodness for brave journalists. Read about several in this book.

Want your own copy? Buy if for $15 at www.kendallhunt.com/Thomason_Cruz/



Tree Falls on Man, Kills Him

Now that I have your attention, I will say that’s a horrible headline that has appeared many times in newspapers although not the ones I’ve worked for. A better headline would be “Falling tree kills man” or “Man killed by falling tree.” Either gets to the point faster with fewer words.

Headlines are important in journalism, and I am finding, blogs.

When I worked for a daily newspaper Back East my last job was a copy editor. Besides giving stories a second read, I worked with the editor who was in charge of the front page and wire stories. She’d tell me what size headline — hed in newspaper lingo — she needed for a story and I had to come up with the right combination of words that fit. I’d like a four-column one-deck, Deb would say. Or, a one-column, two-deck hed with three-deck drop-hed. One-column headlines were the hardest. It was a great exercise to get the gist of the story down to a few words while enticing readers.

So, how does it work with blogs? Clever titles seem to generate more page views.  I knew my last post, The Devil’s Machine, about my disdain for microwaves, would do well and it did because of the devil. The same happened with My Cheating Job and Sweating It Out at the MVD. So did Smoke and a Derailed Train on New Year’s Eve. The most popular so far? Finding the Invisible Man, about scoring a 1952 edition of Ralph Ellison’s book in a thrift store.

Things didn’t go so well for Big Sky, Teenage Hypnotist, and Big Feet. Too bad. I liked the posts that came with them.

So, here’s another lesson I learned about blogs.