New Providence (NJ) Book Festival, set for Saturday

The second New Providence Book Festival has been scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22 at the grounds of the Salt Box Museum at 1350 Springfield Avenue in New Providence. The rain date is September 29th.

Scheduled  authors include J.R. Bale, Linda Barth, Michael Stephen Daigle, Reyna Favis, Vivian Fransen, Kristina Garlick, Laura Kaighn, Bob Mayers, Brian McKinley, Ginger Pate, Bill Powers, Linda Raedisch and Amy Reade.

In addition to book sales and signings, the authors will participate in a series of discussions.

Here’s the schedule:

10 a.m.: Ginger Pate, reading from her book, Would You Invite a Skunk to Your Wedding?

10:30 a.m.: Laura Kaighn, reading from her book, Rabbit’s Tale and Other Rites of Passage.

11 a.m.: Reyna Favis

“Search & Rescue Dogs and How It Led to a Supernatural Thriller.”
(A search & rescue demonstration will be included.)

12 p.m.: Amy M. Reade
“Location, Location, Location: Setting the Stage for an Exciting Novel.”

1 p.m.: Bob Mayers

Speaking on his recent book Revolutionary New Jersey.

2 p.m.: Authors Roundtable

Vivian Fransen (Moderating), Michael Stephen Daigle and Linda Raedisch will discuss their favorite books and writing experiences.

Posted in BooksNJ2017, Fiction, Greater Lehigh Valley Writer's Group, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, Mystery Writers of America, Sally Ember, | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

9/11 memorial: The power of silence

A couple of years after 9/11, I was assigned by my Daily Record editor to write a piece for our annual Living Guide on Morris County’s 9/11 Memorial which had been built out in West Hanover Avenue, in the county complex.

It was fitting spot for the memorial. West Hanover was one of the many elevated spots in East and Central Jersey where people gathered on 9/11 to stare at the burning and empty Manhattan skyline.

It was an odd assignment, I thought, because the Living Guide was this collection of information about towns and school and events, and was a generally cheery compilation of stuff.

The 9/11 Memorial was not cheery at all, but was important enough to include.

The plan was to visit and speak with anyone who had stopped by to reflect on and remember that day.

I had a month to complete the assignment, and try as I might, in over a dozen  visits and drive-bys, I found no one to speak with; instead I wrote essentially a tone poem about  the meaning of the site.

Instead of finding people, I found their presence. Mementoes dropped and left with a small prayer. Coins, stones, memorial cards, photos, hand-written notes wrapped in plastic baggies, items that meant more to the person who left it, than to the visitor who saw the items.

The stone wall, surrounding the memorial which includes steel from the World Trade Centers, was covered by hundreds of small mementoes.

It was a clear day, that last day I visited the memorial before writing the story, the kind of day that anyone before 9/11 could have gazed eastward and seen the tops of the towers.

I wrote instead that “no one had to gaze anymore toward the horizon to see the towers because they were here.”

As powerful as the presence of the steel is, it is the small mementos that carry the greater weight.

It was, and remains, about the power of grief and silence.

Posted in Fiction | 2 Comments

A sore shoulder, surgery and Frank Nagler

Well, found I need surgery on my left shoulder that has been bugging me since spring.

The real downside, of course, that is while I have one of those magical sports injuries – a torn rotator cuff – I won’t have the surgery in time to make a World Series roster. I will be ready for spring training, though.

Oh, wait, I’m a righty. So, I’m good.  Call me.

Why now, you might ask?

First, because it takes that long to actually admit that the pain in the shoulder that kept me up at night was not a passing fancy, or the result of an ill-advised twist while gardening.

I’ve had those pains before, those “walk ‘em off” ankle sprains, the knee bruise that is tender for a couple of days, even after the swelling has gone down, and the like.

I broke the little finger on my left hand while playing touch football in college. I didn’t notice it until someone after the game asked my why the finger was twice the size of all the others on that hand. Today, decades later, it rotates in an odd way.

We will not, however, get into the metaphysical or psychological meaning of pain, the avoidance  thereof, or the healing from.

We will, however, make note that after months of constant, numbing pain, I managed to dislocate the bad shoulder while cleaning the refrigerator: Popped it out of joint when my wet hand slipped off the edge of the doorframe and it whacked my shoulder at the perfect angle.

It popped back into joint after the first physical therapy session. And pardon me if the first thought I had when I heard the pop was of Martin Riggs from “Lethal Weapon.”

The other reason it takes this long, is that we all have to play the insurance protocol game, which in this case was a few weeks of medical guessing and hit-or-miss treatment, like a month of physical therapy that only made the  shoulder hurt more because all the stretching and strengthening in the world would not heal a muscle tear or bone spurs, which is what the MRI revealed.

Ah, the MRI, taken four months after I first saw a doctor about the pain. Four months while I thought that it might be possible that someone doctor type might want to know why it actually hurt, and maybe take a look. But then, they hear “shoulder pain” and categorize it, knowing it seems that after the insurance protocol we end up here.

That’s a lot of ice and Tylenol.

There are some upsides to this.

I get to practice my right-hand typing, since my left arm will be secured to my side by, I’m guessing, industrial strength strapping.

I get to avoid cleaning the refrigerator.

But, mostly, it gives me another injury to test out on my detective hero Frank Nagler.

In “The Weight of Living,” the third Nagler mystery, Frank was dealing with plantar fasciitis, so I loaded him up with a few of the real-life encounters, I had experienced when I suffered with the condition for several months – bad sidewalks, unwitting wrong steps that shot pain up my leg, just the plain ache after a long walk, and of course sterling advice from a doctor: Stay off your feet.

So, in the current WIP, the prequel to the whole series, I have had Frank get whacked about the head and shoulders by a kid using stick.  We’ll see what entails.

So, in the meantime I wait, knowing that if I push my chair back and turn to the left, my shoulder is going to scream at me.


Posted in Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elephants, the golfer and the compound: ‘The Weight of Living’

There was some dispute about George Dickinson’s ancestral claims, but Nagler didn’t care. He had lived in the area for eighty-five years and his family settled in these hills before the Revolution, whether it was the right Dickinson family or not. Besides, Nagler thought, how could you not like a man playing golf in a lime-green shirt, red knickers, a white hat and shoes and knee-high argyle socks?

Newspapers recently had a story about  the old Ringling compound  in Jefferson being put up for sale. The mansion is owned by a Catholic order, which now wants to sell it. The place  was once home to animals used in the  Ringling Brothers Circus before they shifted the  winter base to Florida. A segment of the old complex in now part of the Morris County golf course at Berkshire Valley. A note: I changed the name of the Dickerson family to Dickinson, just ‘cus.

In “The Weight of Living,” the third Frank Nagler book, I needed a remote location for a compound  owned by the family at the heart of the mystery and the old Ringling mansion  seemed like just the place to start.


This is the scene:

“You the cop?”

“Yup. You George Dickinson?”

“Be so.”

“Then we know who we are.”

“That’s a fact.”

George Dickinson claimed to be a distant relative of the old New Jersey governor on whose family’s land iron ore was discovered, boosting a centuries-long industry that put Ironton on the map. While the forges and mills filled Ironton’s sky with black smoke, miners cracked open holes in the ground in the northern hills to drag out the ore.

The forested hills were deeper and darker than Nagler recalled, as if the sunlight skipped over the tops or was absorbed by the dense forest. Nightfall would come early here, he thought. Steep-sided valleys carved by glacial water and ancient rivers split the hard-rock hills into segments that made up a mining district that ran to eastern Pennsylvania and produced iron ore, zinc, slate, coal, and limestone. He had read somewhere that the hills he had driven through had once been clear cut of all the trees as the need for wood outstripped Nature’s ability to replace it.

The narrow river valleys left no room for roads, so old Leni Lenape Indian paths that hugged the valley floors had first become trails for settlers, then wider paths for wagons, until finally a couple rail lines were cut for the mines.

That’s all gone now, Nagler had thought as he drove through the beautiful yet unsettling landscape; overgrown, collapsed on itself, the history of industry and struggle worn down through time; it was a closed-in and moody place, perfect, he decided, for the twisted visions of Remington Garrettson.

There’s probably nothing left of the old compound, he guessed, even if Lauren spotted a powerline. But after a couple weeks of poking into every vacant fallen-down shell of a building in the city, every empty home with windows of gray, soggy plywood and even some of the addresses attached by paperwork to the Mine Hill Foundation, there had been no evidence that Tank Garrettson and his buddies had been staying in any of them.

We’ve looked nearly everywhere else, so why not here?

There was some dispute about George Dickinson’s ancestral claims, but Nagler didn’t care. He had lived in the area for eighty-five years and his family settled in these hills before the Revolution, whether it was the right Dickinson family or not. Besides, Nagler thought, how could you not like a man playing golf in a lime-green shirt, red knickers, a white hat and shoes and knee-high argyle socks?

“I play every day since they turned that chemical dump into a golf course.” Dickinson winked at Nagler. “That was a pleasant change. But I had played here as a kid. There was a little course of water and I used the old sheds as a green.”

Nagler shaded his eyes from the sunlight with one hand.  The clear blue sky rose like a dome above the green valley.   I’m never ready for this stuff, he thought with irritation.   I never bring a hat and always leave my sunglasses in the car.

“Those walls the remains of the elephant sheds?” Nagler asked.  He nodded toward a stone framework with arches in the middle of one of the golf holes. A stand of medium-tall trees grew near the sheds; Nagler imagined the tree from which Sarah Lawton was hanged would have been taller.

“That’s it.  Can you imagine? Old Ringling had about a thousand acres for himself, built that mansion down the road that’s now owned by the church, and had lions, tigers, and elephants and what-all here. They used to drive the elephants down the valley road to the train stop. What a sight!”

“Can imagine.  Were there more trees near the sheds back then?  The land’s been worked.”

“I recall a stand of oaks, maples, and ash trees back then, but the chemicals probably killed them.  Lot of dead wood and soil was taken out of here to build the golf course. Why?”

“Just wondering. Beautiful spot. Can see why folks settled here. How many people lived up here?”

Before Dickinson could answer, the echo of a distant explosion rolled off the hills and across the golf course.

Nagler flinched. “What the hell was that?”

“Ha! That’s the arsenal. They develop weapons there and once in a while blow stuff up.  It kinda announces itself without warning,” Dickinson said, winking.

“Damn it. So how many people…” Nagler asked again.

“Few hundred, scattered.  The end of the mining cleared it out pretty much. When Ringling was here in the Twenties, there was the start of a lake settlement.  When old Remington lived here, weren’t many others. He managed to find the one flat spot of land up on the mountain, worked a stand of apple trees, and then by luck after a washout, found an iron vein right near the surface. There’s two versions. One, he worked it hard for a couple of years, set aside some reserves and fixed up the house and all; and the second, that he barely made a go of it. Truthfully it’s somewhere in between. Mind if I play through here? There’s a foursome three holes behind me. They let me play as long as I don’t hold up the paying customers.”

Nagler smiled. “Swing away.”

Dickinson settled the ball on a tee and pulled out a driver with a head the size of a grapefruit. Nagler recalled a line from Jimmy Dawson, who said in other sports the players took steroids, but in golf it was the equipment that grew.

Dickinson took a smooth swing and the ball jumped out maybe a hundred and fifty yards, driven less by the power of the swing than the size of the metal clubface.

Dickinson picked up the tee and walked on.  “You play?”

“No,” Nagler said, shaking his head.  “Bad feet, no time.”

Dickinson said, “That’s good, make ya crazy.”

“So where’s the old Garrettson place from here?” Nagler asked as Dickinson lined up another shot: He topped it and the ball bounced out about thirty feet.

“Maybe a mile south.  The old mining camps, where the real money was, were about three, four miles southwest of here over the mountain. His place is at the edge of the fields. No one looking to make real money would have opened that vein.”

“Anything left there?”

“Yeah, heard hikers say there are some buildings, roofs caved in, windows shot out.  There’s a hiking trail that heads up that way. It’s generally smooth since all the rocks have been picked out.”

“I heard there was something called ‘Garrett’s Way?’”

“It’s an old creek washout. He used it as a way to his place.  Heard he blocked it off half way up with blowdowns.”

Dickinson took another swing and with an iron drove the ball cleanly down the fairway.

“All I heard about Garrettson was that he was crazy. People would see him on the valley road with a shotgun yelling at something, probably God. They had learned to stay away. I mean, Detective, they weren’t stupid. The wife dies when there were three kids. Then there’s ten kids and no new wife? Just wasn’t anybody’s business. I guess.”

“Makes sense. Anyone been seen up there recently?” Nagler asked.

“Don’t think so. Wait, heard at the gas pump the other day that some skinny red-haired woman was seen there, maybe a week ago.”

Nagler turned away and stated into the green hills. Has to be Calista. What the hell?

“Haven’t heard of anyone else, or heard that she was seen again. Might have been a hiker. Hey, watch this.”

Dickinson set his ball on a tee and turned away from the center of the fairway.  “I could do this as a kid. Let’s see.”  He struck the ball hard and it sailed in an arc into the stone frame of the elephant sheds. “Ha!” he shouted.

Nagler just laughed at the old man’s joy. He shook his hand and walked back to his car.

“Any time you want to play, call me,” Dickinson yelled.


The Frank Nagler Mysteries are available at:






An audiobook version of “The Swamps of Jersey” is available at:

and itunes, and Amazon.


Posted in Fiction, Greater Lehigh Valley Writer's Group, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, Mystery Writers of America, Sally Ember, | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Join me and other authors at events in September and October

I’ll be at some events in September and October.


Sept. 7 and 8: Belvidere (NJ) Victorian Days. This is a celebration of the Victorian Era in one of Warren County’s  delightful towns. Events include tours of local homes and cemeteries, horse and carriage rides, a farmer’s market, military  tributes, craft displays, muscle cars, music and an authors’ grove, featuring many local writers.

The festival is centered at Grant D. Wall Park, across from the Warren County Courthouse.

The authors’ grove is located along Third Street.


Event hours: Saturday, Sept. 8,  9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 9, 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Sept 22: New Providence Book Festival, at the Salt Box Museum at 1350 Springfield Avenue, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

This is the second annual festival. It will feature 12 writers in numerous genres, from local histories to children’s books, mysteries, paranormal and science fiction.

The event will feature readings and discussions, and book signings.


Oct. 13: Indie Author Day at the Margaret E. Heggen Library, 606 Delsea Drive, Sewell, NJ., from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The events will feature book sales and signings, and author panels.

I’ll be ready to discuss the award-winning Frank Nagler Mystery series, published by Imzadi Publishing, and other works.


“A Game Called Dead” was named a Runner-Up in the Shelf Unbound 2016 Best Indie Book contest.

“The Weight  of Living” was awarded First Place for mysteries  in the 2017 Royal Dragonfly Book Award contest;

Named A Notable 100 Book, Shelf Unbound 2018 Indie Book Awards;

Named a Distinguished Favorite, 2018  Independent Press Awards.

Kirkus Pro Page:


Posted in BooksNJ2017, Fiction, Greater Lehigh Valley Writer's Group, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle,, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, Mystery Writers of America, | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You dance


To only that sound you can hear,

To the finger snap of yourself.

Dance to the taste of kisses sweet,

Not their absence;

Dance to the touch of fingers on skin,

To the light in your eyes.

Dance away the walls;

Dance till the scales fall

And your skin is as a fresh as the air;

Dance until  the tears are dry.

Dance to forget because the past can not be rewritten;

Dance to dream because the future is unknown.

Dance because you love.

Dance because you are.


Posted in Fiction | Leave a comment

More new Nagler: Introducing Leonard

One of the heroes of the Frank Nagler Mystery series is Leonard, Detective Frank Nagler’s blind, bookstore owning friend. In the WIP prequel, Leonard is a street kid. After being rescued from a gang attack, Leonard comes to live at the Naglers’ home  and he becomes a companion for  Martha, Frank’s wife.

In this scene, Frank had asked Leonard for help identifying where the  gang hung out:

“Leonard insisted on walking.

“I was on the streets a long time, Frank.  I know the intersections by sound,” he said.

“But what about…”

“We’re at Bergen and Blackwell,” Leonard interrupted. “The train station is behind us to the right and the traffic light at the park is to the left.” He breathed deeply. “And if I’m right,  Marcella’s Bakery has cinnamon rolls in the oven.”

Nagler laughed, mostly at his own embarrassment. “How…?”

Leonard pointed to the left.  “They have an exhaust fan from the kitchen.” He dipped his head. “I could never stand at this corner long because of that smell, especially on the days that I had not eaten.”  He tapped the curb.  “Let’s move on.”

Leonard led Nagler nimbly down Blackwell and through several narrow alleys, stopping at broken doors that opened on musty, dark cellars, or at the back opening to empty mills. All places he had lived.

After the fourth or fifth stop, Nagler leaned on a doorframe and weakly asked, “How did you survive?”

Leonard tapped the stone steps with his cane. “We took care of each other, Frank. I’ve heard you speak of your friend Delvin and your concern for him.” He glanced up. “There’s a network, like in all societies, an underground pipeline for information.  We needed to stick together for safety and survival. But we mostly needed to protect ourselves from the gang Charlie Adams ran. Thieves and thugs.” He tapped the path and walked on. “Why do you need to find him?”

The question pulled Nagler from the sadness he felt.

“He may know something about our murder suspect,” Nagler said. “Maybe saw him somewhere.”

Leonard stopped and pointed toward a small brick  shed thirty yards away.

“That was their meeting point,” he said. “We’re behind that old car repair shop. They used to break in there.”

Nagler just shook his head and smiled. “How do you know this?”

Leonard smiled back. “I’d follow them, after they beat me up. In my mind I would charge into that shed and forcefully take my belongings back.” He laughed bitterly. “In my mind.” He sighed.  “Truth is I would trail their laughter and crude remarks. I learned they often failed to lock up the shed.  I’d wait and watch.”


“No one expects much from a blind boy, Frank. Worked to my advantage.”

“Did you get your stuff back?”

“Much of it,” Leonard replied, a hint of pride in his voice.  “What are you going to do now?”

Nagler scratched his arm, and then smiled. “Wait and watch, Leonard. Wait and watch.”

Back on Blackwell, Leonard stopped walking and turned to face Nagler.

“Martha’s dying, isn’t she, Frank, not just sick?” It was a soft question, delivered with reluctance.

Nagler felt the street spin and he leaned on a window frame for support, the strength escaping his legs.

The question. That question. Right in front of him, the whole time. Surely, Leonard was just concerned. Nagler felt his chest tighten, and he released a breathy sigh.

Leonard listened a moment. “I’m sorry, Frank. I can tell I upset you. I…I just see her at the house. I know she is in the bathroom staring at her face and pulling at her hair because she talks to it, like a friend who has betrayed her. It must have been so beautiful. Probably still is.” Then with sorrow: “I wouldn’t know. It brings me such sorrow and fear, Frank. I want to reach out to her, but what would I say?  I hear her crying and I think she gasps in pain at times. And she asks, ‘How will I tell Frank? A few more days, please?’”

Leonard heard Nagler’s coughing cry.


Nagler touched Leonard’s arm.  “Don’t apologize. You’ve been more comfort to Martha than I can be. I am grateful.” A deep breath, his voice stronger. “Yes, she’s dying. I just tell myself that it’s not true, not yet, even though I know it is. She deserves a long and wonderful life. She would open the world.”

He bowed his head and wiped his eyes.

“I’m trained as a cop to find answers. But for this, I have no answer. I don’t want it to be about me, my loss. I thought that after she got sick at nineteen and then got better, I knew how to handle it.”

His face collapsed, wet eyes closed; when they opened, he stared into the hollow future.

“But you don’t learn from it, Leonard, you can’t. We always want to be hopeful, pray for the sunny day. But, it’s a sneak attack every time. I try to imagine how the families of our murder victims handle the pain and loss, and I can’t. I can’t reach down that far.”

He released Leonard’s arm. A whisper: “I don’t know what to do.”  ”


The Frank Nagler Mysteries are available at:






An audiobook version of “The Swamps of Jersey” is available at:

and itunes, and Amazon.

Posted in BooksNJ2017, Fiction, Greater Lehigh Valley Writer's Group, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle,, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, Mystery Writers of America, | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



rising again

first knees, then to hands; pushing

then upright;

the weight of things shed.


such wreckage left;

kisses, touches, silence,

desertion, return, aching wonder;

drama, blame, wounded hearts,

cobbled love without instruction.





brushing away the ache,

hoping touch does not hurt

as it did before;

kicking off the last piece;

standing proud;


to discover your newly naked soul


Posted in Fiction | Leave a comment

WIP: Smitty and the bluesman

“What you learn, kid, is that you blame her and she blames you and you both walk away with a little tear in your heart that never heals. A place, a song, a word, opens it back up. That’s how you feel, ain’t it?”

 A piece from a WIP called (so far) THREE RIVERS

Smitty swiped the last table in the row with the damp cloth, balled it up, twirled like a basketball player, launched it toward the  bus tray and smiled as he heard the satisfactory soft thump as the cloth landed in the top bin.

He’d only made about twenty bucks.

The crowd was thin, and weren’t either drinking or eating. That put the old lady waitresses in a bad mood, which meant  they didn’t pay him their usual busboy share.

Only Wendell paid him the customary ten percent, which was still only five bucks that night.

The place, Smitty decided, was in mourning for the career of the headliner, a comedian who had made a best-selling recording of political jokes.

Cause he was dying up there. All night.

Smitty had heard the maître ‘d tell the sous chef that the first night he had tried to do his old routine and got booed off the stage. Then the second night he was seen walking  the dark parking lot waiving a pad of paper and yelling out words, that he would sometimes stop and write down, as if trying to reinvent his act in one day.

The weeklong gig had been booked when the record was topping all the charts and he was yukking it up on late night TV.

Couldn’t get enough of him.

Then one of his subjects died; the jokes weren’t so funny anymore.

Smitty had heard through the kitchen grapevine that the last five days of the gig had been bought out, and some traveling folk music showcase had been brought it to fill the weekend.

Why not? Smitty thought. It was mid-summer. The corporations that usually supplied the crowds were on vacation. Maybe the white kids would come and sing spirituals.

Smitty shrugged as he walked out the dining room. Kids drinking sodas weren’t gonna fill his pockets with dollar bills.

He depressed the eight light switches in the panel one by one and watched  as the darkness cascaded from the rear of the hollow room, swallowing table sets ten at a time till finally only dim reader lights at the curtain’s edge  backstage glowed.

The air hummed softly with hidden machines – ice makers, refrigerators, air conditioners – and the place felt as empty as a warehouse.

As he walked past the darkened bar, someone called out.

“Hey, Kid. What are you doing here?”

Smitty peered in to the gloomy room see the headliner sitting at the old upright piano, his face lighted only by a thin florescent bulb in a slim shade.

“Closing up,” Smitty said. “What are you doin’ here?”

The guy laughed and emptied a glass of something down his throat.

“Killing off my career. Trying a new one.” He splashed a few notes from the piano, a chord or two. The piano was out of tune so the notes had a warbling, sad tone.

“Hardest thing, kid? Knowing it’s dying. Right there in front of you, joke by joke, and there ain’t a damn thing you can do about it. You want to be able to reach out and pull back the words, toss them around and try them again in a different order.”

He rolled out a few deep chords.

“It’s like everything, kid. It all slips away and you have to find something to replace it.” He played two chords, pressed a foot pedal and let the notes filter into the still air. “Ya ever lost someone, kid?”

Smitty stared at the floor. Danny. Katina. Maybe even himself. All lost.

“Yeah… a couple friends.”

The guy poured himself another drink and swallowed half of it.

“How old are you?”

“And you’re working here underage in this dump of a nightclub?”

Smitty shrugged. The guy’s words stung.

“Hey, sorry, kid. We all start someplace.  When I was twelve, I was playing piano in a dive bar in Akron. Snuck in, and the old blues player used to let me bang on the box for a while.” He scratched his neck and punched at a couple keys, sending out warbling notes. “You play?”

Smitty shrugged. “Played drums in a band. Katina, my, used to be my girlfriend, played classical piano.”

The guy growled out a laugh. “You’re too young to have a used-to girlfriend. Where’d she go?”

Smitty dropped his head to the bar, resting it on his arms. “Paris. Music school.”

“Paris? Fuck, man. Coming back?”
Smitty felt his insides hollow out. “Don’t…”

The guy swirled on the piano stool and  touched Smitty’s arms.

“Let’s try this. It’s what old Cedric taught me in Akron. What the blues mean. I’ll bang out some shit, and when you feel it, play on the bar.”

Smitty smiled and shook his head. Things ached a little less.

A chord or two.

“It’s like this.  Ya start the blues way down here, a low C. That’s as a low as it gets.” He punched a key and the low, slippery note leaked from the piano. “Now, if she went away, say to Paris, you go up to this,  D flat, and you kind of riffle it.” And he riffled it, a C and D flat, one then the other, then changed the rhythm, and then added a different note. “Then  you go up to this G flat, then back to the C. Feel it, Up and down; up and down. That’s her walking out. It kinda guts ya, because, kid, you don’t think you did anything wrong, but know what, you did everything wrong. You both did. She don’t feel no better. Wouldn’t be no blues if no one did anything wrong. There’s a line in a song that says, ‘I’m you friend till I get used. Then I’m gone, gone, gone.’ You’re thinking it’s about you, but it’s really about her.”

The guy played a long series of notes, rising and falling, in a slow mournful riff. Smitty picked up the beat and began to rap out a sound; he picked up a bar spoon and lightly tapped the side of a bar glass – one, then two; one, then two —  the sound ringing in the darkness. He caught up to the piano player’s syncopation.

“Good, good,” the guy said. “You stay down here. If you get into the notes above Middle C it sounds like pop song.” He pounded out a simple progression and sang. “Oh, my baby walked away, gave me back my ring, then   she ran off with Bobby and they drove into a train…” He laughed.

“What you learn, kid, is that you blame her and she blames you and you both walk away with a little tear in your heart that never heals. A place, a song, a word, opens it back up. That’s how you feel, ain’t it?”

Smitty frowned and shook his head.

“Yeah. She was so special. Amazing.” He wiped a sudden tear.  “It’s not her fault she’s in Paris. She just is. I used to walk past her house and it was still empty.”

“That’s how it is kid. And she’s sitting on there in a little bistro  and every time she hears an American accent, she turns her head, and thinks of you.”

He turned back to the piano and began to play. Smitty arranged a couple more bar glasses and piled up a few napkins to deaden the wooden bar sound, found a spoon or two, and played along.

The guy rolled through the notes, fingered some lightly, others he pounded, crashing, drawing out the pain of his soul, passing through the keys and into the air. His face closed and opened, eyes shut, head back; his shoulders bunched and sagged, then swung side to side and the rhythm lightened. A slight smile.

The guy turned his head toward Smitty, who was intently creating patterns of thumps and rings, to keep up with the piano.

“Here’s where she’s coming back,” and he lit up the room with  a jumping stream of chords that could have lifted the gloom in a club, the patrons clapping and  stamping their feet in celebration. “And here’s when she ain’t,” and he backed down the keyboard, the notes all flats and dark, deeper with every keystroke, slower, more space between, a little more soft echo, more mournful, until he punched the bottom C three times, then a couple of minors, maybe and A or a G. Then back to the C and held it. 

The notes rang,  then faded; the room silent.

“And that’s when she’s gone, my friend.”

“What’s it’s all mean?” Smitty asked.

“That it hurts,” the guy said. “Because hope never dies.”


Posted in BooksNJ2017, Fiction, Greater Lehigh Valley Writer's Group, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Mystery Writers of America | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Howard Newton on how corruption works (The Swamps of Jersey)

“They make rule after rule to shut that door of opportunity for the little guy. Get their hands around the throats of the middle class and squeeze.  They make deals that only benefit themselves and their money men.”  — Howard Newton


One of my favorite scenes in the first Frank Nagler Mystery, 2014’s THE SWAMPS OF JERSEY,  is this one with reporter Jimmy Dawson and the Ironton former mayor Howard Newton.

Newton’s speech sets a tone for all the books in which the criminals justify their actions. But is also  a tone familiar  to our current political discussion.

Did Howard Newton anticipate the Trump era. Or did he just reflect on the work he had done himself?


I was thinking of this because I was listening again to Lee Alan’s wonderful audiobook reading of THE SWAMPS OF JERSEY. (Which has received 5-star ratings on

In Lee’s reading, the characters come to life, but one that stands out is Howard Newton.

If you read the short section below, take a second and add the sounds of a deep, gravelly  voice to the Newton lines. It is the voice of time, the voice of self-satisfaction, the voice of Methuselah, which Lee Alan brilliantly captures.



THE SCENE: (Former Ironton Mayor Howard) Newton was probably eighty-five, Dawson figured.  He never told his age to anyone.  His face had settled into a mass of splotches and moles that might have been cancerous.  That probably accounted for the oversized Panama he always wore, that and the shades.  Always shades, even indoors.  The scars on his nose traced back to his boxing days when Newton was a small middleweight with an up-yours chip on his shoulder that got him into more trouble inside the ring than he ever faced outside it.

He fought on guts, not skill, and after a round of being pounded by a whirlwind of punches, his opponents inevitably sized the kid up and leveled him with a combination or two.

He had shrunken inside his clothes like a punching bag that leaked stuffing, and when sitting in a chair silently as he was now, he was scarily corpselike.

Dawson always noticed Newton’s hands.  The leathery brown skin was wrinkled and bulged with veins.  The knuckles were broken and bent, but his nails were perfectly manicured.  The index finger of his right hand curled around a fat Cuban cigar like it was a wad of hundreds.




“I know you think I’m a crook,” he said.  “Go back and look what I’ve done. I helped people. Their sons needed jobs, the daughters needed to get into the county college but their grades weren’t so hot. So I helped.”

The old man was silent for several minutes; his fingers rolled slowly over the smooth edges of the chair’s arm.

“It’s what we learned, Jimmy.”  The voice came from a smoky distance.  “What our grandfathers learned to survive.”




He slowly lifted the cigar. The tip glowed red as he drew air though the tobacco. The air filled with the dense aroma as a slim stream of smoke leaked from the side Newton’s mouth.

“So they set up an alternative way of doing business, because, hell, they had no money, but mostly they knew they could not trust the mill owners or the bosses or the bankers, the landlords or anyone who had control over their lives. So we all did favors, and some of the favors got big.  It was how we fought back against a system that was killing us, one in which if we played by the rules, we had no chance to succeed.”

The old man placed the cigar on an ashtray, stood up and put his hands in his pants pockets.

“Did that make us corrupt?  Don’t think so.  Made us traders.  Trade something, get a little extra for it when you trade it again. It was all so small time.  But you know what?  People didn’t lose their homes to the banks.  If they got behind somehow it was made right.  And when they got hurt on the job and the factory boss threw them out, their kids got fed, and the house got fixed.  Then they did a little work for you.”


Dawson stood and walked to the edge of the patio.  “The crooks are wearing the suits, Jimmy, sitting on city councils,” Newton said.  “Seems so innocuous.  They write an ordinance to tear down a building so only their friend’s company could qualify, look the other way when their brother’s kid wants to be a cop or stack the land-use board with their golf partners. They twist the law into knots to justify anything they want.  That’s who the Attorney General caught.  For them it’s like breathing. They don’t think anyone notices.  Then there’s the guys with three cell phones and nine hundred dollar suits.  Listen to them.  They sell so much bullshit, they forget who they sold it to.”
“But when that something you traded wasn’t really yours, isn’t that corrupt?”  Dawson asked.

The old man turned, his mouth working.
“You tell me, Jimmy.  You tell me.”  The raspy voice had an edge, the lips drawn tight.  “What’s it mean when a lobbyist for the oil business sits in a committee room and helps a Congressman write a bill about oil regulations?  Or when the bankers cook the books in a way that even other bankers can’t figure it out? The U.S. Supreme Court gave human rights to corporations and said that money is free speech; said big companies can cheat women out of equal pay. The big stores pay so little or schedule employees so they work a little less than full time so they have to get health insurance from the government.”
Newton pointed a finger at Dawson.

“That’s corruption, Jimmy.  Big time, in your face, stop us if you can corruption and they have the money, the lawyers and the rules to make it stand up.”


“They make rule after rule to shut that door of opportunity for the little guy. Get their hands around the throats of the middle class and squeeze.  They make deals that only benefit themselves and their money men.  The cut taxes for the rich and screw the poor.  Remember that congressman who wanted to get rid of Medicare and let the insurance companies run it?  That would put old folks out of their homes, take food from their mouths.  These assholes act like the Great Depression happened to somebody else.

“They won’t be happy till they grind everyone else under their wheels, the grinning bastards.  Eisenhower said fear the military-industrial complex.  These guys make the military-industrial complex look like a carnival, such is their immeasurable greed.”









Posted in BooksNJ2017, Fiction, Greater Lehigh Valley Writer's Group, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, Sally Ember, | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment