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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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John Nichols, reading

Fishing for Words with John Nichols

On Saturday, Taos author John Nichols did a reading from his latest novel, The Annual Big Arsenic Fishing Contest! I liked the book when I read it, but I liked it even better when I heard him say it out loud.

For those who haven’t read the novel yet, it depicts a wild romp by “three idiots,” as Nichols called them, that lasts many years. Yes, it’s mostly a comedy.

Big Arsenic coverI reviewed Nichols’ novel in September, after it was released by the University of New Mexico Press, and he was set to do a reading at Brodsky Bookshop in Taos. Here’s the link to the review in my column, The Write Stuff, that appears in Tempo: The Annual Big Arsenic Fishing Contest

Nichols read Saturday at Op Cit Books in Taos, which was also celebrating its first anniversary. Needless to say, the upstairs was filled with fans. Nichols didn’t disappoint them, reading at length from three sections.

He’s an old hand at reading. After all, this novel is number 21. Likely his best known is the Milagro Beanfield War. His next book, about his connection to the natural world, should be out early next year.

Afterward, we who had copies of the novel lined up to have them signed. I’ve been to readings where the author is typically a friendly signer, but Nichols goes beyond that. He’s in no darn rush as he talks with the book’s owner and writes a rather lengthy note inside accompanied by a drawing of a rather devilish-looking angel.

When it was my turn, Nichols thanked me for the review. We talked about writing. He goes at it when most of us are sleeping aka the graveyard shift. There are no distractions then, he explains. He writes in notebooks then types the text into a computer (he’s a fast typer) and prints the pages. We talked about the publishing industry, his former agent and editor. He asked if I wrote.

It was a delightful conversation, and I would have asked him more questions — an occupational hazard from being a former longtime journalist — but there was a line behind me. We shook hands, again.

Later, I read what he wrote in my copy. Yes, he included the cartoon. It made me smile.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s John Nichols in conversation with a fan.

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books, Peace Love and You Know What, reading

Peace, Love, and The Beatles on the Bassoon

I have a reading of my novel Peace, Love, and You Know What scheduled Saturday, Sept. 17 at one of my favorite bookstores Brodsky Bookshop. If you happen to be in Taos, it starts 4 p.m. Of course, it’s free.

Besides reading about the hippies from the fictional Westbridge State College, I have invited Andrew Heinrich to play a few Beatles songs on the bassoon.

Andrew studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music and New England Conservatory. He typically plays classical music on the bassoon but agreed to add The Beatles to his repertoire for the reading. I left the choices up to him.

And, yes, there will be brownies, sans the ingredient the character Lenora used in the ones she baked in the book. After all, pot ain’t legal in New Mexico.

Copies of the book will be available to purchase.

So, what’s the novel about? Tim and his roommates, Manny, Mack and the nervous poet Joey, plan a three-day graduation bash at their slummy college apartment. At the top of their invite list is Lenora, their queen, who is graduating and splitting for Europe. (Tim, who is a few credits short, is faking his graduation.) Tim and Lenora have been tight friends for four years and he figures this party might be his last chance with her.

The three-day bash is a big hit for every hippie freak — including the rival Roach Motel Tribe — and dirty professor at Westbridge State College. You name it, they do it. Tim does get his chance with Lenora, but so do two others. And graduation manages to go off almost without a hitch.

For the next few years, Lenora lives in a commune while Tim stumbles on a path toward adulthood and perhaps that elusive happiness.

I am grateful to Rick Smith at Brodsky for the opportunity to read from my novel. Brodsky is a small store crammed with books, mostly used but some new, especially from local authors like myself.

The bookshop goes on largely because Smith makes it an experience to visit and buy books. He has a wealth of knowledge about Taos and tells good stories. Then, there is Willy, the shop cat.

Finding something good to read, whether it is old or new, is a serendipitous experience at Brodsky. Here is a story I wrote for The Taos News about the shop. Brodsky story Taos News

I am getting ready for the reading by choosing a few good sections. Oh, yeah, I gotta bake those brownies.

If you live or are visiting in Taos, I hope to see you there.

Here’s the link to Amazon for Peace, Love, and You Know What: Peace etc. on Amazon

 

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books, hippies, Taos

Keeping Up With Appearances

The publishing experiment continues with two readings, actually three, in two days. Not as racy, certainly, as Lenora, one of my main characters in Peace, Love, and You Know What, having sex with three guys in two days, but that is fiction. This is real life.

On Thursday, June 30, I was part of the lineup of 50 or so writers who read from their works as part of SOMOS of Taos’ open house in its swanky new headquarters. I was the first, reading from Los Primos y el Pez Mágico — the English part anyway — in the kids’ hour. We had a good crowd of gymnastic campers from next door and even adults.

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Reading at the SOMOS of Taos open house. Thank you Bleuzette La Feir for the photo.

Throughout the day, writers of all genres read from their work. That night I was back with the adult fiction writers. I read from a chapter in Peace, Love, and You Know What called The Hard Truth, which is the second in the book.

I had nine minutes. When I prepared, I realize a lot happens in my novel. Since the plot involves college hippie tribes and dirty professors, I wanted to keep it simple and focus on the main characters. I wanted dialogue. The Hard Truth worked.

The next morning I drove across the mesa to KNCE 93.5 FM for David and Carolyn Hinske’s radio show, You Kids Get Off My Lawn. (Don’t let the title fool you into thinking the Hinskes are curmudgeons. They are really sweet.) The station is located in an Airstream trailer, aka the Silver Twinkie, next to Taos Mesa Brewing.

As a journalist for over 30 years, I am usually the one asking questions. This was a change for me. But I was delighted the Hinskes read the novel. (Carolyn made a pitch that it would make a great movie.) And they asked great questions about the book, the writing process, and my former life as the managing editor of a newspaper. I think I gave decent answers.

And I read a bit from Peace, Love, and You Know What. Here was the challenge: as I told David and Carolyn, I not only swear like a sailor and I write like one. The FCC frowns on that. So I printed out a chapter and change a couple of the words so the radio station wouldn’t get into trouble.

That won’t be the case Friday, July 8, when I do a solo reading. Again it will be at the SOMOS office in Taos, from 6-8 p.m.

This time I am going to read sections from chapters to get those who attend through the three-day bash — and then one from a year later to show where this book heads.

My friend Teresa Dovalpage, who grew up in Cuba and knows nothing about hippies, will do a short Q&A. I will have books to sell — $12 each — and sign. And I will be serving brownies, without the magic ingredient, of course. To make it authentic to the book, however, I may even use a Betty Crocker mix.

I am hoping for a raucous good time.

Can’t make it and want your own book in Kindle or paperback? Here’s the link: Peace, Love, and You Know What

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Hank and I were sitting in our front yard after dinner when the light hit the landscape in a rather magical way for several minutes.

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Practice, Practice, Practice

I’m a nut about preparation when it comes to speaking in public. When I was the managing editor of a newspaper, I did it frequently — quizzing candidates at political forums and emceeing the paper’s yearly awards event. Then there are the Q&A’s I’ve done in Taos with visiting authors and writers-in-residence.

I do my research and plan my questions. Then I print them on paper in a large font, say 22 or 24. And I practice.

I’m doing two readings for SOMOS on Thursday, June 30. The lit group of Taos is celebrating its new headquarters aka salon with a marathon reading of about 50 authors from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The evening will end with noted author John Nichols.

In the morning, Teresa Dovalpage, my collaborator and translator, and I will read from the first book in our los Primos bilingual series — the one about the magic fish. We’ve done a few of these. Teresa will bring her large, stuffed dog and I have posters of the illustrations my son Ezra did of the cousins (los primos) and their grandfather (abuelo).

I return in the evening for the adult fiction portion of the event. I will read from Peace, Love, and You Know What. Each author will have the floor for 10 minutes.

So what to read? My novel moves awfully fast and a lot happens. So I chose a short chapter, called The Hard Truth. The three-day bash hasn’t started. The characters have pulled three all-nighters in a row for finals. One of them is a few credits shy but is figuring a way to fake his graduation so he doesn’t disappoint his mother. We meet Lenora. There’s lots of dialogue and humor.

My plan is to give the listeners a taste and hopefully entice them to return a week later, July 8, for my solo reading. (Yes, I did write a short intro with big lettering.)

I’ve practiced a few times this week, using the timer on my phone. It’s well under 10 minutes. I think it will work.

Oh, I will be on David Hinske’s radio show on KNCE 93.5 FM on Friday, July 1, at 9:30 a.m. If you’re not in the Taos area, it is live-streamed on truetaosradio.com

David’s show is called “You Kids Get Off My Lawn.” There’s some irony there since there is no lawn at KNCE. The station, located inside an Airstream, is surrounded by sagebrush and located next to a brewery.

This time the shoe will be on the other foot, as my mother used to say. I have no idea what David will ask me and that’s just fine.

Lastly, here is the link to my novel on Amazon. Thanks readers!  Peace, Love & You Know What

PHOTO ABOVE: That’s the poster for the SOMOS open house June 30.

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