Education, reading, Writing

A Love of Learning

“Learn something new” has been my personal mantra since I officially left the news biz in May. As I tell people who ask, I am reinventing myself.

I’ve shared some of those inventions on this website, such as putting more of an emphasis on my fiction. That includes learning a new method of copyediting — reading a manuscript backwards — plus learning the Garage Band program and attempting to create an audio book of my recently released Professor Groovy and Other Stories. (That’s a work in progress still, but I’m oh so closer to getting it done.) I also launched a book review column, The Write Stuff.

And, ta-da, I am starting a new novel, a mystery this time. I’m into the first chapter. The main character is a woman. Actually she tells the story. She was the long-time managing editor of a newspaper that got sold to a corporation and she declined to re-apply for her job. (Uh, that’s not what happened to me.)

The mystery? She can’t let go of the case of a missing woman that was bungled from the get-go. This novel, like four others, is set in the hill towns of Western Massachusetts, where I once lived.

I will share one more new gig — teaching writing and reading for a career path at the Adult Learning Center at UNM-Taos. It’s very part-time, only 3 ½ hours a week, but this job allows me to reuse the tools I relied on as an editor. My class is one of the many offered by the center, including ESL. All are free by the way.

Here’s the link Adult Learning Center at UNM-Taos

My class has about 16 students, including teenagers and 20-somethings. Some have been home-schooled. Some left high school a while ago. They are here to pass the test for their high school degree and for many, prepare for college entrance exams and advance their education. Their fields of interest range from architecture to medicine to the arts etc.

My students are an extremely likable group. I feel the same way about my dedicated colleagues at the center.

Each student has an interesting story to tell, but I will respect their privacy. I will say, however, I admire their motivation to learn. I believe it’s something we have in common.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: The door is open at the Adult Learning Center at UNM-Taos.

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purple sage
books, Rewriting, The Sweet Spot, Writing

Reading Backwards

I pulled the manuscript for The Sweet Spot from its envelope to read yet again. This time I am doing it backwards.

I read about this technique on the internet, where else, and once I realized it meant reading backwards paragraph by paragraph, and not word by word, I thought it was worth the try.

No matter how much I edit and proof copy, especially an 80,000-word novel, I find stuff I should have caught. I might feel a tiny bit reassured when I read other books — including those published by university presses — that have typos. But that’s not reassurance enough for me.

Plus, I hate making more work for Michelle, who designs my books. The Sweet Spot, one of my hill town books, is the next on her list.

Amazingly I found reading backwards a rather easy and useful process. Instead of focusing on the story line and characters, I concentrate simply on one paragraph at the time. It’s a manageable approach, and in the process, I’ve found a missing article or two, and other stuff. Here’s one: Edie stops to buy food on the way to one of the book’s most crucial scenes — when she goes to reason with a distraught Walker, her ex-lover. It’s important she stops to buy food because she learns an important piece of info from the clerk. But I don’t mention the food again. Did Edie bring the food to Walker’s cabin? Did she leave it in the car? Maybe she should only stop at the store for directions and maybe a drink for herself. It’s a matter of a dropped detail.

I’ve written before that I read my manuscripts aloud, more than once. This round of copyediting, I am reading The Sweet Spot backwards and out loud. It is a slower process than reading the usual way so I only do several pages at a time. And, yes, I have my red pen handy.

AN UPDATE ON THE AUDIO BOOK: I am a bit frustrated by my efforts to record Professor Groovy and Other Stories. It has consumed many of my waking hours and I am unhappy still. So, I decided to put it aside until the weekend and take a good hard listen then. I’m not giving up, but a break is in order.

THANK YOU: I appreciate all who have bought and read my books. Here are the links to them on Amazon: Peace, Love, and You Know What and Professor Groovy and Other Stories

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Blooming Russian sage is a hotspot for bees on our little piece of the earth.

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joansigning this one
Fiction

Friends, This Is Fiction

A few days ago I got a message from a college friend expressing displeasure with my novel, Peace, Love, and You Know What. I guess he and at least one other person didn’t believe what I’ve said all along: this book is fiction and not a memoir.

First off, I have not led a life that has been so interesting, it deserves a memoir.

I once had a New York agent who wanted me to write a tell-all non-fiction book about the town I lived in at the time in Western Massachusetts — something on the order of Peyton Place. He read the first couple of chapters and wanted a lot more dirt. Certainly there was fodder for scandal. But I couldn’t do it. I loved the people and the town too much.

So instead I write fiction. Sure, I use what I’ve experienced, as I’ve said before, and have my way with it. I am inspired by what I observe. That includes people and places. I believe this is true of many or most fiction writers.

The next novel I will launch is The Sweet Spot. It’s one of my three so-called hilltown novels. The one centers on a scandal involving the young widow of a soldier killed in Vietnam eight years and her married brother-in-law. Did it happen? No. But I’d like to think I wrote it with enough authenticity that one could believe it happened.

Of the three books, the only character based on someone real is a dog.

Back to Peace, Love, and You Know What. I understand that people, especially those who I knew way back then, will read what they want into my novel. But as I told my 92-year-old mother on the phone the other day: it didn’t happen that way.

A funny aside: I mailed my mother a copy of the book with a note inside suggesting she might want to skip some of the pages. Afterward I had doubts. Maybe I shouldn’t have sent the book. Maybe she will be offended.

But when I called my mother several days later, she told me she was half-way through the book. She thought it was very funny. I asked her if the novel was a bit racy, but she assured me she’s read a lot worse in her historical romance novels.

joan at table

I look pretty darn happy. Yup those are some of the brownies.

I told that story at my solo reading held at SOMOS of Taos on July 8. It was a good night. I read small sections to get people through the three-day bash, which never happened by the way, and as I noted that’s only about a third of the book. My friend, Teresa Dovalpage, asked questions about hippies and writing. I made brownies, without pot, of course, and signed books. Thanks to everyone who came. I hope to do it again soon.

CORRECTION: In a May 29 post, I wrote about my visit to Bridgewater State University, which I attended and was the inspiration for the fictional Westbridge State College. I noted visiting several buildings on and off campus. My friend noted the “Brown House” burned to the ground. I mistook another apartment building next door for it. I stand corrected on that fact.

LINK: My novel is available at Brodsky Bookshop and Op Cit Books, and SOMOS in Taos. Here’s the link to Amazon: Peace, Love, and You Know What on Amazon

PHOTO ABOVE: Teresa Dovalpage took that photo of me signing one of my books for my former neighbor, Marcia.

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tumbleweed
Gardening, New Mexico, Writing

Out With The Bad

I’ve been on a tear, really, about Russian thistle aka tumbleweed. First a little history: long before most of us were living in Northern New Mexico, sheep were allowed to overgraze. Prairie grass vanished. Sagebrush and invasive weeds such as tumbleweed, which has its origins in Russia, took over.

My mission is to eradicate it from our piece of property at least.

When tumbleweed is new, it is a green, spindly thing that grows into a thorny plant that is good for nothing. If allowed to grow, dry, and tumble, it spreads seeds like nobody’s business. I want to get to it before that happens.

Friends back East said they were charmed by tumbleweeds. They’ve seen pictures of them roll. Sometimes they do it in huge quantities that can clog a road. I say ugh.

For me it’s a constant battle, at least during the summer, to keep that damn plant from growing in our open spaces and along our parts of the road. So for the past few days, I’ve been out there, digging it up and chucking it in the open land across the road where it will die. It is not pleasant work. The maturing plants are scratchy. There is no way I can get all of the roots. But I do my best. Do they seem less each year? I honestly couldn’t tell you.

It’s a lot like revising fiction, although that is a more pleasurable task. I’ve set aside the next adult novel that is to be published to rest for three weeks and returned to my middle grade fiction, The Twin Jinn series. After a few years, I am taking a look at the first one, in which I introduce the family of genies hiding out in a traveling carnival. (I am planning to publish The Twin Jinn at Happy Jack’s Carnival of Mysteries this fall.)

From SOMOS Weeklies

From SOMOS Weeklies

Enough time has passed that I read it with fresh eyes. As a result, I saw parts I want to change. I wouldn’t necessarily call it bad stuff, but I found sections to expand and contract. Words to eliminate or change. Points of view. Certainly, this task is more fun than yanking tumbleweeds under the hot New Mexican sun.

Another task this week: Getting ready for my solo reading Friday, July 8. I’ve chosen the short sections I will read. I want to give those who attend a flavor of the three-day bash. For those living nearby, it’s 6-8 p.m. at SOMOS of Taos on Civic Plaza Drive. I will have books for sale: $12 gets you a magic carpet ride back to the early seventies.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A wheelbarrow filled with those damn tumbleweeds.

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Writing

Tools of the Trade

My printer died last week after a twelve-year run. Considering how machinery works these days, I thought it remarkable the printer lasted that long given it’s one of my most used tools.

I bought the HP inkjet printer at the recommendation of a techie friend. The machine only did one thing: print. I mostly used the black-and-white draft mode to save on ink. It didn’t print photos very well, but that’s not why I bought it.

Over those twelve years that machine printed countless copies of manuscripts in their various stages. It printed queries to agents and indie publishing houses, and emailed rejections from agents and indie publishing houses. Freelance writing. Letters. Tax forms. Receipts. Stuff I found useful on the Internet.

But last Friday, the printer spit out its last two pages and then no more.

The error message concerned the cartridge cable. I went online for support and tried every trick suggested several times. Nothing worked. I suspect the printer’s innards were finally worn out, but I didn’t want to spend money to have it fixed.

I ended up buying another HP. I found after twelve years, printers just don’t print. They copy, scan, and fax. (I told the store’s salesman: who faxes?) They’re wireless. Those are useful features. And I ended up spending far less on the printer than the one I was replacing.

As a writer, I don’t need many physical tools to write. There’s my computer and printer. I recently purchased a microphone so I can do audio for my books. I now own an iPad, thanks to my generous kids. Of course, I have a cell phone and a wireless getup to communicate with the outside world.

That’s it except for office supplies like paper and ink.

I disconnected the old printer and drove it to the recycling center yesterday. I placed it on top of the pile of electronics that will be recycled. I know it’s silly but I felt sad leaving it there. That printer was such a workhorse, and I hope the one that replaces it can meet the challenge.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Yup, I had to take a photo of the old printer at the recycling center.

ON PEACE, LOVE, AND YOU KNOW WHAT: Thanks to all who have bought my novel, in digital and paper. Here’s an easy link Peace, Love & You Know What on Amazon

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