Monday, January 31, 2011


Many of you may think of Lambertville, if you think of it at all, as the home of the Shad Fest, the annual brouhaha loved by the tourists and detested by the locals for its disruption of our normal town life. But there's more than one festival a year in our little burg. Last weekend was Winterfest, a celebration of winter. Yes! It's still possible to celebrate winter, even though most folks in New Jersey are so tired of snow right about now that they wouldn't care if they never saw another flake.

But what's not to like about Winterfest? Ice sculptures pop up all over town. The Marshall House is open in the afternoon. We had a parade on Saturday! The South Hunterdon Regional High School Marching Band was in it, causing me a tug of nostalgia for the years when our son John played a trumpet in that band.

Mummers mummed. Mummers are a Philadelphia tradition, string bands in gaudy costumes to rival a Mardi Gras krewe, marching and strutting. Sometimes the locals get out there and strut with them. Veteran's organizations handed out flags to the children, who merrily waved them. Girls on floats threw candy. I ate some. I'm not sure it was a good idea.

I watched the parade and then opened up the Marshall House for tourists. It was warm in there, and many visitors came in. When the snow started to fall a great rush of people thronged into the warmth, maybe twenty souls, with pink cheeks and snow in their hair, a crowd in the front hall. Would the old floor hold them? I told them all about James Marshall, finder of the first gold in California, and all about the house where he grew up until they warmed up and went out again.

And so it goes, life on the surface of our little town, glistening and lovely. The dark underbelly is another matter. I'm at work on a new series, by the way. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Staggering toward Self-Promotion

Okay, folks, I now have in my hands the tools for successfully launching The Brink of Fame, this book of mine that will come out in the middle of August: two advance reader copies (ARCs, to insiders in the know) and a killer trailer. The trailer is cool. You see it above. The ARCs are also very nice. My problem is twofold: how to get people to look at the trailer, and who to give the ARCs to.

You can see for yourself that the trailer is fun. The book is also fun. Here's what you can do for me: you can send a link to this page to all your friends. Or all the friends you have who might enjoy seeing the trailer. Unlike the book, the trailer is free. Free entertainment. What could be nicer?

The problem of the ARCs is more difficult.

The thing is, what I like to do with free books--and at this stage of the game I only have two of them--is give them to my relatives. Or give them to my friends. Or give them to someone who likes my work. But if I'm ever going to get anywhere in this business I'm going to have to spend all my resources promoting myself, and that includes my two poor little ARCs. No longer can I make presents of these things to my sisters-in-law. No longer can I give them to Annie and Lesley. I have to get these puppies into the hands of Important People Who Will Buzz About Them.

This is where I pull out the business cards of all those folks I talked to at the conferences who expressed interest, the ones who run huge bookstores with widely circulating newsletters, or who blog about books online and have way more followers than I do. They were so kind, they promised to review the book, I can see their faces as clearly as my own. I just can't remember their names. The cards, where are the cards?

Ohgodohgodohgod I'm going to have to clean my office.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Jury Duty

Okay, gang, here it is the second week of the new year, and here I sit in the jury room, waiting to be called in front of a judge and presented with some hideous criminal case that will destroy what is left of my faith in human nature. In Hunterdon County.

I expected this sort of thing when I lived in Trenton, and I got it, too, serving on a grand jury once a week for something like six months in the year after the riots. That would have been 1969, I think. the most horrifying specimens were paraded in front of us that year, child molesters, arsonists, murderers, and we had to indict or not indict. We let all the marijuana cases go, as I recall, partly because the laws had been greatly liberalized that year but our defendants were to be prosecuted under the old laws, and partly because when we got home most of us planned to toke up.

My faith in humanity was not shaken by this experience, silly twit that I was. I had no idea what was going on. I dressed myself in a gray flannel suit and a white blouse with a high ruffled collar, and I looked so wise and cool that I was elected deputy foreman, even though I was dumb as a box of rocks. One thing I could always do was dress. Newspaper friends of my then husband used to try to pump me for information about the cases, but I was useless to them, not because it was unethical to discuss these things outside of the court, but because I hadn't the faintest clue.

Now here I am again, a petit juror this time, waiting to be called for a case. Or not. I hear there's an alleged child molester coming up for trial, and a young woman who allegedly murdered a beloved old man of the town. Ugh. With any luck at all the lawyers will settle, and the bailiffs will send us home.

Later that day--

I'm home now. My fears were not realized, I'm happy to say; we were not faced with a nasty criminal case. (I guess this means I get to keep my faith in the human race, although, of course, the bad guys are still out there.) What happened was, we were herded into the courtroom and gently briefed on a civil case involving a motorcycle accident. Many jurors were chosen and subsequently rejected, probably because they themselves had been involved in accidents at one time or another. Or for other reasons. We didn't know, because they all approached the bench to explain themselves privately to the judge and the lawyers while the white noise machine blocked our hearing.

So how did I get to go home, you ask? Simple matter. I approached the bench when my turn came and revealed that my eldest had been involved in a motorcycle accident some years ago.

"Do you feel that this might affect your judgment in this case?"

"Well, I've had a thing about motorcycles ever since."

"A thing?" the judge said.

I shugged. "I hate 'em." Tell the truth and shame the devil. They all smiled and showed me the door.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Return with us now to Yesteryear

The stars being in conjunction, the rights in hand, and the hardware and software up and running, I have chosen this auspicious time to put my first two published books, the first two books in the Nick Magaracz series, up on Kindle.

The mechanics of the process are tedious but not difficult: Scan in two pages as tiff files, convert from tiff files to RTF files, repeat until end-of-book. Put RTF files together in word processor as book-length work. Comb through for glitches. Format paragraphs.

Publish on Kindle per Amazon instructions. Be pleased with the results.

This description of the process leaves out the emotional impact of revisiting Trenton, New Jersey, as it was in the early 1980s. Things change. These two books--Unbalanced Accounts and The Death Tape--have become historical novels while my back was turned.

Down-at-heel P.I. Nick Magaracz himself must be eighty years old by now, bouncing his grandchildren on his knee in his house in Hamilton Township, thinking about writing his memoirs, maybe, missing his wife, Ethel, who died of cancer in 2005. The clerks of Unbalanced Accounts are all retired as well. So long ago. As for The Death Tape, it takes place in the ancient world of large mainframe COBOL-driven data processing, as remote today as the lost world of Atlantis.

And yet these books are still worth reading, though a whole generation has grown up since I wrote them, and my writing style is different now. The characters still come alive for me. The plots are as strange and compelling as ever.

Got a Kindle? Give them a try. They're cheap! They're entertaining!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Long Week's Journey Into New Year

I know that plenty of people had trouble getting back home from the South last week, when the snowstorm closed a slew of airports and stranded a number of pilots in cities far from the planes they were supposed to pilot. So I want you to understand that I didn't come here to whine at you. Lots of folks were worse off. Nevertheless, I burn to tell you my story.

Family Reunion
First of all, the plan was to have a family reunion-type Christmas in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, with Harold's sister 'n'em. This entailed gathering our boy John from the West Coast, and ourselves from the East, without re-mortgaging the house to pay for plane tickets. So I spent the better part of an afternoon a couple of months ago getting the very cheapest fares available to us all, on several different airlines. I assured my friends that we would be home in time to host the annual New Year's Eve party.

Harold and I planned to fly round-trip to New Orleans on US Airways and rent a car. John was to fly Delta to Atlanta and then to Gulfport, where we would pick him up. After a week's jolly visiting we would all return to Lambertville, which is to say, Philadelphia International Airport, Harold and I nonstop on US Airways and John on Airtran with a stop in Atlanta. But on Sunday the snowstorm came.

Snowy Airport
The snow was so deep in Philadelphia that they cancelled a football game in the stadium, a stone's throw from the airport. Things looked bad. Monday morning a robot called from US Airways and expressed regret that our flight was cancelled. Airtran was still set to go, so we piled into the rental car and drove sixty miles to the airport in New Orleans to put John on his plane and then try to find some way to get ourselves home.

Fleur de Paris Hat
US Airways rescheduled us on a flight leaving the following day. "View haloo," we said. "We'll party in New Orleans tonight." So we booked a room at the Drury (excellent hotel), strolled the French Quarter, browsed the Fleur de Paris (divine couturier and milliner), and dined at the Bon Ton (superb restaurant). Next morning the robot called again. Again our flight was cancelled.

We rescheduled for a flight leaving at three o'clock on Wednesday and went back to Ocean Springs.

It was nice to see the folks again. Being polite souls they stifled their cries of, "Not you again," and smilingly let us into the house. Next day we climbed back into the rental car and set out for New Orleans in plenty of time to catch the three o'clock flight.

Bridge over Ponchartrain
Or so we thought. But the Louisiana Highway Department had other ideas. Halfway across Lake Ponchartrain on the I-10 bridge the traffic suddenly slowed to three miles an hour, and if you know that bridge you know it's way longer than three miles.

The construction work and consequent slowdown had been announced that morning in the Times-Picayune, but we hadn't read it. By the time we reached the gate it was twenty after three. Our plane had left on time. (Unheard of, someone said.)

The sympathetic airline clerk found us two seats on a plane leaving on Thursday. Another night in New Orleans. Off to an airport hotel this time, in a shuttle packed with stranded stewardesses. It was comfortable enough, but I wanted to be home. The party was to be on Friday. At dawn on Thursday morning I sprang out of bed and wrote down the menu and a shopping list. Ham, gumbo, green salad, pecan pie. Simple matter. We watched the Burn Notice marathon until it was time to go back to the airport.

By suppertime on Thursday we were home at last. No sign of John; he was hanging out with old friends. More Burn Notice, and then to bed.

Me and my chopping knife
Friday, the day of the party, I took my shopping list to the Giant. There wasn't any frozen okra for the gumbo, but in the produce section I found the last two packages of fresh okra in the Western Hemisphere. It came from Nicaragua. Saved. I went home, made the pies, scrubbed the bathroom, changed the bag on the vacuum sweeper, chopped vegetables until blue in the face, made the gumbo, roasted the ham (recipes on request), shoveled the clutter out of the dining room while Harold ran the sweeper, thought about a shower (too late), sprayed perfume on myself (Burberry), changed my clothes, and let the first guest in.

The party was a success. People like gumbo and pecan pie, and friends brought other stuff as well. It was great. The only thing was...

Dark scary highway
The only thing was, I had to take John to the Philadelphia airport before dawn the next morning. Why me? Well, I don't drink alcohol. I figured that while everyone else was hung over I would be fresh and bright. The way it actually went down I was kind of tired. In fact only my terror of falling asleep kept me awake. I-95 is scary in the dark with no traffic.

Anyway, happy new year. I'm all recovered now, after two solid days of sleep. I don't think I'll be flying again anytime soon.