Joan has recently appeared in my column in the UK magazine, Writers’ Forum where, as always I am pushed for space. But here, I can ask as many questions as I like without the strait-jacket of a word count.
I am thrilled to feature crime writer Joan Livingston on my blog this week. I have read and really enjoyed both books in Joan’s Isabel Long series and am eagerly looking forward to the next which she tells me is due out early in 2019.
Welcome to my blog, Joan and thank you for dropping by. So, where did you get the idea for your Isabel Long series from?
Prior to starting the Isabel Long series, I never thought about writing a mystery. My previous books were literary fiction, but I was inspired after reading one an author friend wrote. When I thought about it, my life has been immersed in mystery. Since I was a kid, I’ve read mysteries and watched suspenseful shows and movies. I enjoy figuring out whodunit and being surprised by a plot twist.
And before I was a fiction writer, I was a journalist. Often, I had to piece together a story using clues and sources. Certainly, as my protagonist, Isabel Long, learned, these are transferable skills.
So, I sat at my computer and began writing Chasing the Case. I didn’t use outlines, notes, or programs. The story came from “somewhere” and I was the conduit. As the words flowed, I learned three things: the amateur P.I. would be a woman; her cases could be related to her former career as a journalist; the setting would be rural Western Massachusetts (US).
How does a woman disappear in a town of a thousand people? That’s a 28-year-old mystery Isabel Long wants to solve
Me.What inspires you most? Characters? Settings?
Isabel is what the French call une femme d’un certain age. She’s been a widow for a year and has an adult romance. She’s a bit of a smart-ass, so I let her tell the story. (I admit there’s a bit of me in her.) Her sidekick is her 92-year-old mother who came to live with her — my 95-year-old mom is her inspiration. Strong characters I’ve created move this series along.As a writer, I take what I know and have my way with it. I use a rural setting because I’ve lived many years in small towns (a thousand people or so) and understand what they are like. As a reporter, I covered them.
Me. How did your writing journey start?
I was fortunate to have great teachers when I went to public school as a child. My fourth-grade teacher encouraged me to write short plays and have my classmates perform them. In fifth grade, I was part of a group chosen for an enrichment program — Wednesday afternoons we would gather at a school for advanced science and creative writing classes. The science was okay, but I was hooked by the creative writing, learning about metaphors and similes at such a young age. I recently found the little pieces I wrote and found them charming.
I should also say I was a big reader, thanks to my mother, who took us to the library twice a week.
I had a bit of a drought until I went to college, where I got into poetry in a heavy way, publishing and doing public readings. I fancied myself a poet.
I recall my creative writing professor telling me something that has continued to stick with me: Tell it like nobody has told it before.
Me: Have you always written?
I will confess that I had a 25-year writer’s block. It coincides with motherhood when my creativity naturally went into raising six children. I had given up on poetry. And I found to my dismay, I couldn’t sustain a thought in prose although I wanted to be a writer.
My situation began to change when I became a part-time correspondent for the local newspaper, where I was paid by the inch to cover news and features in the small hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. Besides being immersed in the hilltowns — the source of inspiration for my fiction these days — I learned to write unadorned prose. I also listened to the way people talked and behaved, which I believe has been beneficial to writing realistic fiction. I also enjoyed people’s responses to what I reported and wrote.
But the 25-year writer’s block didn’t really break until I was promoted to editor. The job had more responsibility, but it didn’t drain my creative juices. Suddenly, I found it was a rare day when I wasn’t writing fiction. It was part of who I am. That is true today. Writing is my form of expression, one that brings me great happiness.
Ah, but publishing is another thing all together. I’m sure I could swap war stories with other authors about that.
The books’ blurbs
CHASING THE CASE
New to the game. But that won’t stop her.
How does a woman disappear in a town of a thousand people? That’s a 28-year-old mystery Isabel Long wants to solve.
Isabel has the time to investigate. She just lost her husband and her job as the managing editor of a newspaper. (Yes, it’s been a bad year.) And she’s got a Watson — her 92-year-old mother who lives with her.
To help her case, Isabel takes a job at the local watering hole, so she can get up close and personal with those connected to the mystery.
As a journalist, Isabel never lost a story she chased. Now, as an amateur P.I., she’s not about to lose this case.
Her next case. She’s in it for good.
Encouraged by her Watson — her 92-year-old mother — Isabel snaps out of it by hooking up with a P.I. and finding a new case.
Isabel Long is in a funk months after solving her first case. Her relationship with the Rooster Bar’s owner is over, but no surprise there. Then cops say she must work for a licensed P.I. before working solo.
The official ruling is Chet Waters, an ornery so-and-so, was passed out when his house caught fire. His daughter, who inherited the junkyard, believes he was murdered. Topping the list of suspects are dangerous drug-dealing brothers, a rival junkyard owner, and an ex-husband.
Could the man’s death simply be a case of redneck’s revenge? Isabel is about to find out.
Me. Do you have any future plans?
Once I finished the first book, I was onto the second — Her next case. She’s in it for good. — then the third. I will stick with the series as long as I am interested in the exploits of Isabel Long and the cases she takes.
But to be clear, the plots for Chasing the Case, Redneck’s Revenge, and the 2019 release, Checking the Traps, are not based on anything that happened. The same is true for my characters. They are only real to me and I’m glad many of them can join me for more than one book.
Thank you so much for stopping by, Joan. That was brilliant. And I can’t wait to find out what Isabel and her mother are up to next so I’m really looking forward to Checking The Traps..
Chasing the Case. https://mybook.to/chasingthecase
Redneck’s Revenge. https://mybook.to/rednecksrevenge
Coming next on this blog
Next week is an important one, Friday 21st December has been written in big red letter in my calendar and on my wall chart for months now. It is DEADLINE DAY.
I think my second book, which will (probably) be called Rough and Deadly, will be ready in time for submission to my publishers. But every time I look at it I find another plot hole, another end that I haven’t sewn in!
To celebrate finally hitting the send button on it, I’ll be posting a short story on my blog. It’s one of my all time favourites because it features a Dalmatian and, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you will know I am absolutely dotty about Dalmatians. This one is called Jemima. Unlike the real Jemima the one in my story is beautifully behaved – until she comes up against a hooligan boy dog with the unlikely name of Dolly.
Daily Prompts. 16th – 31st December
Please refer to this post for advice on how to use these.
16. Things I never told my mother
17. An abandoned pet (dog, cat, your choice)
18. The mellow tones of a saxophone drifting in through the window
19. “I could murder a cup of tea,” Aunt Mildred said seconds before she died.
20. You’ve planned a quiet, romantic Christmas dinner for just the two of you. Then, you discover on Christmas Eve that your partner has invited the in-laws/the rugby team/the guy from the pub who after a couple of pints of Guiness sings Danny Boy over and over again.
21. It was Sunday morning. (Or Deadline Day!!! See above)
22. In a cemetery
23. The overnight snow had transformed everything.
24. If I could turn the clock back, I’d…. (Write about something you’d do differently)
25. A time someone lost control
26. She was the kind of woman who….
27. You’re stuck in a traffic jam, going nowhere. The road is closed and you’re late for the most important meeting of your life.
28. I have this terrible weakness for…..
29. Thousands of years ago, cats were worshipped as gods. Cats have never forgotten this.
30. Write about your special song.
31. Knocking on heaven’s door (song title)