sunflowers
books, Peace Love and You Know What, Professor Groovy, Writing

I Say Uncle

I am not a quitter. One of my favorite quotes is “Perseverance furthers” from the I Ching. But I finally found a fight no longer worth my time: creating an audio book.

For this project, I chose Professor Groovy and Other Stories, a collection of four short pieces. These stories predate my novel Peace, Love, and You Know What. Prof Groovy has only 10,000 words. Peace etc. has eight times that amount. A piece of cake, right? Uh, no.

I enjoyed a bit of pride learning the Garage Band program on my Mac and getting the settings down. I turned my office into a humble studio using every darn piece of foam in the house. I learned to breathe and read in a pleasant narrative. I figured out how to edit the tracks.

But, alas, no matter my effort, I felt strongly the audio tracks weren’t good enough to sell. I am not a professional, and it showed.

And, worse, I was spending too much time fixing audio tracks and not writing. I don’t even want to guess at the amount of hours spent on this project.

But I will make myself feel better and say I didn’t give up easily. I tried, I really did.

I haven’t given up on the idea that my published books, now and in the future, will also be audio books. But my new cosmic plan is to attract enough bread so I can hire someone who knows what the heck they are doing.

So what have I been doing besides feeling relieved? Writing-wise, I’ve started a new novel, this one a mystery set in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, where I once lived. I like where it’s going.

Also, I’ve started the last copyediting go-through for The Sweet Spot, the next novel I will be publishing later this fall. That one is set in Western Massachusetts, too, but in 1978. A lot more on that in the near future.

Finally, another new project: a bilingual novel for adult students taking ESL. I had a wonderful experience visiting the class of Teresa, my friend and collaborator. That experience deserves a separate post.

So I’m an audio book failure. No regrets, however, as I have other creative things to do.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Summer hangs on a bit.

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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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