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.”


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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 Audible.com).

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.”







Amazon: http://goo.gl/hVQIII

Kobo: https://goo.gl/bgLH6v

NOOK: http://goo.gl/WnQjtr





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


“Do you remember the first time we came here?” Martha asked as she picked another rose, this one freshly petaled, and inhaled its soft scent. Then she offered it to him, and he buried his nose in the flower before kissing her hand.

“It was seventh grade, after you played Juliet, opposite, what was his name?”

“Bennie Garza,” she smiled. “Bennie, Bennie, where for art thou, Bennie? He was always trying to tongue me when we kissed. But I had braces, and he’d jam his tongue against them. I almost laughed in the death scene.”

She threw an arm across her breasts. “I pointed at you in the front row when I said, ‘Where for art thou, Romeo.’”

“I remember. I felt there wasn’t anyone else in that auditorium but you and me.”

He leaned over to kiss her, but stopped and pulled down her lower lip. “Nope. No braces.”

 She smiled and bit his finger. “And then you were mad at me the entire time we were here because you had just wanted to make out in the bushes and all I had wanted to do was recite Shakespeare, I loved the language so much,” she laughed, then rolled sideways to kiss him.  “I was still high from the performance. Even with Bennie Garza as Romeo, it was such fun.”

She held up the rose.

“What is this rose, dear one, what are its charms…”

“Oh, here we go.”

Martha just smiled, and then comically cleared her throat.

“Does it not blush, as do I, at the mention of your name, at the touch of your hand?” She brushed the flower across his cheek and he smiled deeply at her performance.  “Does it not pulse with life when brushed with pollen, drink in the dew?”  She pulled off a petal. “And is it not so frail?”  She pulled off another petal and let it drop gently from her fingers to Nagler’s chest. Her voice softened and trembled. “Its time is so brief, its beauty so rare.” She jerked off the remaining petals, leaving a bald stalk. Her voice harsh and firm. “It is time that I want, time with you, sweet rose, before the petals fade; time I do not have. Time no one can give me.”

She threw the rose stalk away and rolled into Nagler’s arms, closed her eyes and signed deeply.

 “How was that?” she whispered. “I liked acting a lot. I wish I hadn’t gotten sick when I did. I would have loved the chance to act in college.”

Nagler laid down on his back beside her. That had been the shock and the great test, he knew. Leukemia at nineteen. And two years of treatment, then two more of recovering her strength and watching her parents’ worried faces sag, the voices crack; the distant stares.

“I would have been a better Juliet in college, you know, in case you were wondering,” Martha said to the sky after she had rolled onto her back. “By then it was more than words. I knew about the loss, the pain, facing death and had already experienced the great love” – she touched his face – “and felt the poetry flow through me, the words of a soul’s awakening coursing in my blood, bursting through the brain’s barrier, throwing open the world.” A soft, teasing laugh.

She rolled to her side and faced Nagler, gently touching his face with a single finger and kissing his eyes, cheeks, and mouth.

“That’s what that … that damned disease nearly took from me, Frank,” her voice now hard. “That chance. You were my Romeo, dear Frank. And for a moment I thought I would lose you.”


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Physical therapy with peanut butter

All of this made me wonder how we deal with  pain, because we all do.

Our responses to that pain  vary: We stew in it, carry it around and use it as a weapon, deny it, put on the bold face, pass blame, accept blame, deny blame.

But mostly we live with it, burrowed inside. It takes but one uncertain glance – Is that you? — a sound, the mention of a place or person, and then the memories wake, the mind works, the heart churns and it all begins again.


I’ve been living  with  a bad left shoulder for five or six months now.
I strained it somehow, and then while cleaning the refrigerator, I slammed it into the frame and dislocated it. (I know).

That would make it the second housekeeping accident I have had in about 10 years. The last was when I strained my lower back cleaning the bathroom floor and was laid up  five days.

With my shoulder, after feeling miserable for several weeks, I went to the doctor, who was sympathetic and put me on prednisone for six days.

The pain came back after six days.

The next time I saw him, he called for physical therapy, and so for the past month Becky at Hunterdon Medical Center’s Clinton physical therapy shop has been having me pull and stretch and lean and grimace in  order to heal the shoulder.

Which is where the peanut butter comes in: My home assignment is to perform a variety of lifting exercises with a 2-pound weight, and the closest thing I have to that description is a large jar of peanut butter.

Sometimes it seems to be working.

And sometimes, like after I mowed the lawn, it felt like someone cut open my arm with a large knife, or last night when I rolled over and someone shived my shoulder with an ice pick.

Today, just sitting and typing hurts.

All of this made me wonder how we deal with  pain, because we all do.

Physical pain, broken hearts, loss of family or loved ones, pets, loneliness – however it is expressed or manifests itself.

Our responses to that pain also vary: We stew in it, carry it around and use it as a weapon, deny it, put on the bold face, pass blame, accept blame, deny blame.

There are a million online memes to tell us how to move past it and if they work for you, great.

But mostly we live with it, burrowed inside. It takes but one uncertain glance – Is that you? — a sound, the mention of a place or person, and then the memories wake, the mind works, the heart churns and it all begins again.

I also thought about how as a writer I use pain on the stories I write.

If  you have read any of the Frank Nagler mysteries, you know that Detective Frank Nagler is a man in pain, mostly stemming from the loss,  early in his adult life, of his wife Martha. His loneliness defines his life and his police work, no matter any amount of tugging at him done by other characters like Lauren Fox or Leonard, his blind book-selling friend.

Nagler does not fall into self-pity, but dwells in a simmering anger/frustration  that his wife died so young and that his city,  Ironton, N.J. is in such sad shape.

Frank Nagler is not me, but I understand him, especially his loss and periodic emptiness. That makes him, me, and all of you who have experienced the same things, human.

I recently wrote two scenes that most likely will close out the current Nagler book, a prequel to the other three. It covers the years of the Charlie Adams serial killings, the beginning of his police career and the death of Martha (It’s not a secret).

I wrote them while my shoulder was screaming in pain, and the frustration that it would not stop hurting was ever-present. (Here is one: https://wp.me/p1mc2c-Ab)

In those scenes, Nagler is angry, in pain and seeking an outlet.

My shoulder pain is not the existential, soul-deep pain Nagler expresses, but the frustration is real.

Writers use the real and imaginary parts of their lives and others craft works. So why not a sore shoulder?



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Is this how the new Frank Nagler story ends?

This is another piece for the new Frank Nagler story, a work in progress.

This might be the end of the book, but then again it might not be.

The thing about a work in progress is that things change.

IMG_7092For example,  I thought I knew how the third book in the series, “The Weight of Living,” would end.  I knew the last line. It would said by Detective Frank Nagler.

And then it wasn’t.

That shift changed the ending of the story, and added weight (no pun intended)

to create what Kirkus Reviews called, “a satisfying but melancholy ending.”


So, here is a new piece. The question is how much will it change?


“The fall brought rain.

The closed cauldron that had for months been Ironton cracked; a communal sigh like steam escaping, rose.

The Charlie Adams killing spree had ended. He sat snarling  and smirking in a jail cell.

As he walked the streets again filled with shoppers and citizens, Detective Frank Nagler saw a  few more smiles,  a few more friendly greetings, clusters of people on sidewalks talking, testing the air for the acid that for months had been present.

They nodded to him, reached to shake his hand, to thank him for his role in ending the madness.

He would smile back, then dip his head and walk on.

Not all had been cleansed.

The mayor’s financial schemes lurked, hidden under layers of paper that Nagler suspected would take years to unraveled and expose, and whatever actions taken by officials including cops to perpetuate the killings and the financings were being buried even while the celebrations were on-going. New narratives were being crafted, polish applied to lies.

He sought solitude.

So he walked.

The dark back alleys provided cover for his grief, the light leaking from behind curtained windows signals to the paths to avoid as he sought silence and darkness.

The homeless had again been moved from the old stoveworks; he prowled the empty spaces, kicked over piles of junk, stared sorrowfully at the torn pants, and shirts, broken whiskey bottles, needles and burned tin foil, as if the sad detritus  of that life would offer him a place to bury his pain.

Not even  the Locust Street Cemetery, where he ended many of his walks, offered peace. He spoke kind words to Martha, and brushed away stray leaves, pulled weeds and left fresh flowers each time.

What can I give you now? he would ask her. How did my love fail you?

Then returning home, he would draw from her pillow the faint scent of lavender. He had sat on the end of their bed for several nights after she had died, wrapped the pillow to his chest and absorbing what life of her it contained.

He would sleep on the couch, the emptiness of their bed more than he could bear.

Finally Leonard would stumble across the room and take Nagler’s hand.

“Walk with me, Frank. I once sat as you do now, wallowing in self pity because I had lost my sight.”

“No, Leonard,” Nagler said. “It’s not the same.”

“Oh, my friend, it is,” Leonard said. “I lost the only thing that mattered to me, my ability to see. You lost Martha, her companionship, but you did not lose her love.   Did you not know what she was telling you at the end: Love is not something you keep, but give away. You gave it to her, and she gave hers to you. She would want you to share that.”

Nagler would smile at his friend’s entreaties, smile and walk; he wanted to feel weightless.

After Adams’ arrest, and the flurry of police activity needed to secure the evidence and present the case, Nagler brought several boxes to the office to store the piles of reports, the photographs, the maps, the drawings and all the wall decorations the case had generated.

He slipped each victim’s photo into a glassine envelope.

We couldn’t save any of you, he thought; we could only catch him and that seems inadequate.

The hands remained. Red, perfectly framed in Robbie Karpinsky’s photos. Nagler pulled them off the wall and slapped them into a manila folder, face down.

“I don’t want to look at you again,” he said aloud. “Not now.”

He paused before he pulled off the last one, a photo of the hand left on the shed across from his house. He held his own hand to the photo, his own adult hand dwarfing Adam’s smaller, teen-age fingers. Nagler wanted to crumple that photo, wad it into a ball and toss it away.

swamps audible adHe recalled the fear in Martha’s eyes when from their bedroom she spied that red hand, so bright and obvious on the shed wall, felt again the tremble in her shoulder as he embraced her, heard the wrinkle in her voice as he told her it would be alright.

The shock of that moment returned, and as it did Nagler knew that he had sidestepped the rage that red hand so close to his wife and their life had generated. He had swallowed it for the good of the investigation.  Pondered its meaning calmly with LaStrada, professionally directed Karpinsky’s photo efforts, checked a list of things that needed more information before they could draw conclusions.

“I put them first,” Nagler said to the vacant wall. “I put Martha second.”

He turned his back to the wall and dropped his chin to his chest; breath by breath he felt the anger rise. He balled his fists and  slammed them on to wall; Never again. Never again.





It only took a few sledge hammer blows to loosen the panel with the red hand from the shed.

Nagler picked it up and propped it against a rock and smashed the hammer into the dry brittle wood. He swung again, and again, breaking the panel into smaller and smaller bits until the red hand was indistinguishable from dirt.

Nagler wanted that to be satisfying.

But he ached.

He swung the sledge and broke the shed window, and again and crashed the door frame, then the wall, then the corner framing.  Three blows later the underpinning collapsed and the shed leaned. He smashed  the bracing again and the corner collapsed, the slamming of the hammer and his grunts filling the air.

Blow after blow and the shed leaned, then fell; blow after  blow his hands raw, his voice grabbing in his throat, eyes wet with tears.

He wanted to be filled with rage and power as if that would  purge his pain, as if everything in the end would be equal and that Martha’s death was not just some sad eventuality.

The shed settled into a dusty pile.

He wanted to feel whole.

He felt hollow.”


The Frank Nagler Mysteries are available at:

Amazon: http://goo.gl/hVQIII

Kobo: https://goo.gl/bgLH6v

NOOK: http://goo.gl/WnQjtr


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


and itunes, and Amazon.

Posted in BooksNJ2017, Fiction, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, Mystery Writers of America, Sally Ember, www.michaelstephendaigle.com | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The award-winning ‘Weight of Living’

“Outside, a steady rain washed away all other sounds; just the splash of water on asphalt and cement, tapping on roof tops and drumming metal car roofs; a perfect wall behind which to hide.

IMG_7092We walk through this wreckage, seeking what does not exist: wholeness.  This is the weight of what we are, he thought. The weight of living.


A few cabs and delivery trucks splashed through the streets left damaged by winter’s wrath. Walking again. I wish I could walk this all away. What did Del say the other day: You see how deep the poison goes, how strong is the wrong in what they doin’.”





Kirkus Review Pro Page : https://wp.me/p1mc2c-zY


AuthorBookings.com:  https://wp.me/p1mc2c-zY

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, Parsippany Public Library, Sally Ember, www.michaelstephendaigle.com | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

An old rose

This is an old rose, decades old. It has seemingly died more times than can be counted.

Then there is new growth, a rebirth, life again.

  We do this to ourselves don’t we?

Run, as if we can burn off the anger and pain.

Hide, craft shells and excuses, blame others for absence,

then blame ourselves because we are closer at hand.

But some things  don’t die.

They just  get  bruised.

Like love mistreated, rough handled.

Buried in sorrow, wrapped in barbs.

That is this life, is  it not?

Offering these new, fresh leaves, guarded by thorns.

Offering old clichés about roses and love

and your soft eyes and sweet mouth,

the space between dreams and darkness,

between dry, barbed stalks, and tender, fresh leaves

that are hope against a brittle past.







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More New Nagler: Frank’s own darkness

This story is the prequel for the other Frank Nagler books. There are events and aspects of Detective Frank Nagler’s life that must be  set up. This is one:

“The cemetery hollowed out, the wind and echo of  scratching road sounds faded,  footsteps on stone paths, the voices, whispers, “be wells”, “So sorry,” “Praying for you.”  even the silent random pat on the back, all gone, drifted away.

Frank Nagler had nodded, eyes wrinkled in a sadness, his face a clay mask, forehead creased, trying to cast a smile back to the well wishes, a face seeking a permanent expression between the joy of Martha’s life and the depthless pain of loneliness.

Only Sister Katherine knew.

IMG_5950 The good Catholic sister in her wanted to hold Nagler’s hands, kiss the bruised knuckles and draw him toward the peace and forgiveness of God’s love. But as his friend and observer of his life, she knew that Nagler would nod in an empty gesture, accepting the words, but reject the message; knew that he would battle against the dreads of his world in his own way. Knew that only Martha had been able to penetrate his protective shell.

“Her love will be with you always, Francis,” she had whispered. “Always.”

Nagler had nodded, but as she walked away, Sister Katherine knew the withdrawal had begun. “I will watch out for you, Frank,” she said as she walked head bent away.

In the cemetery’s silence, he tried to rise from the grave.

He had smoothed the rough, pebbly soil, breaking up small clumps between his thumb and fingers, then brushing again the surface.

He tried to rise, but felt anchored.

His hand would not pull away from the grave, his knees and legs had no strength to push him upright.

“Why did you choose me?” his cracked voice said. “You could have done so much better than me. But there you were, beautiful girl, and I could not turn away, could not say no. So we ran, and laughed and loved and told the world to get out of the way. And all that was you.” He closed his eyes while tears gathered and dropped to the dark soil. “It was all you. I could barely keep up.”

With his free hand he brushed a finger along the letters of her name carved into the red headstone; then his hand trembled. His face closed, then opened, contorted through anger, and pain, and sorrow and settled on the question.

swamps audible ad “Why?” he pleaded. Then silently, a voiceless word, drenched in pain as the weight of the day settled, said to closed fists curled at his mouth. Why?

Then he rose, and the coldness coalesced, the pain sealed.

“I will protect you by being hard,” he whispered.  “The world hurt you enough. Rest, my sweet.”




He walked.

Through the clanking, riotous rush hour streets. Walked through train whistles and shouts for cabs, walked past squealing trucks forcing left turns, past cackling crowds at street corners; stalked along Ironton’s cluttered sidewalks as if he was alone.

Walked as if the motion would grind away the pain; walked as if the pushed-aside shoulders would buff his grief to a hardened sheen.

Walked past the little troubles. Don’t care that you hurt. Don’t care what you want. I can’t fix it for you. Fix it yourself. We all have our problems and I don’t want yours.

Stumbled through the dark broken streets of the worker’s ghetto; walked past the misery that still hung on porches of sad houses, past his own life’s sad beginning, looking for that turn to sunlight and Martha.

Walked through the city’s pain of death and senseless killing, past wailing voices of families, the hollow eyes of victims, the hate filled darkness of a murderer, past the senselessness, past the killer’s mirthless laugh; walked to that point when they would meet.

Walked finally to the Old Iron Bog and breathed in the stinking hollowness of it all.

Nagler stumbled off Mount Pleasant to the narrow path that led to the flat, tree shaded landing where he and Martha first had come alone. Oh, those little tenuous kisses, dry,  then longer, lingering. The moment with a wicked grin she leaned against the car and pulled off her t-shirt, said “yes” and he touched her; then her mouth so soft, and the lavender  scent of her hair; her hands reaching into his pants, the relief.

His shriek rippled over the dark water. Loud and long, it drove nearby birds from hiding.  He turned and slammed his open hand against a small tree. Then again. He leaned his forehead against the tree and pulled out the unwilling tears.

“I’ll not cry for myself,” he whispered. “There are only tears for Martha.”

“Don’t cry for me,” she had said on one of the last days. “Rejoice for me. I’ll love in your happiness, Frank. Not your grief.”

Oh, he wanted to believe that.

But not today.

Today, he sank.

Shadows slipped across the moody black bog, hollow in its depth, a place for his trembling soul.

As he  returned to Mount Pleasant, his police radio chirped to life.

“Yeah, Nagler.”

It was dispatcher Millie Washington.

“Sorry to bother you, Frank. We have another body.”

A cold smile. The target for his rage announced.”

The Frank Nagler books are available at the following New Jersey libraries:

Brick  (Ocean County Library System) Mountainside; Morris County Library; Somerset County Library System; Bernardsville Public Library; Hunterdon County Public Library; Mount Olive Public Library;  Phillipsburg; Warren County, Franklin branch; Mount Arlington; Wharton; Dover; Hackettstown;  Clark, Parsippany and the Ramsey library, as part of the Bergen County Cooperative Library System; The Palmer (Pa.) Branch of the Easton Public Library; Deptford Free Public Library and Franklin Township Library (Gloucester Co.), New Providence Memorial Library.


The Frank Nagler mysteries are available online at:

Amazon: http://goo.gl/hVQIII

Kobo: https://goo.gl/bgLH6v

NOOK: http://goo.gl/WnQjtr

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, www.michaelstephendaigle.com | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A new review of the Frank Nagler Mysteries. Warning: contains high praise (and the author is stunned)

We writers sit our desks and bemoan what we think is an inattentive world,

and then this arrives:

Thank you, Deborah Dameika. High praise, indeed. Thank you for reading the books, and taking the time to send me your thoughts.


“I purchased a trilogy of your books at Riverwinds in West Deptford.

I loved them! Could not put them down once I started the first one!

(The Swamps of Jersey, The Weight of Living and A Game called Dead).

I know you are writing the fourth and fifth book! Can not wait to read them!

Excellent writing! It grabs your attention and holds you. You are right up there with Stephen King!  

Thank you for your writing gift. I am truly looking forward to your next books.”

The Frank Nagler Mysteries:IMG_5950

“The Swamps of Jersey” (2014) is about political corruption and murder, and I attempted to write it in real time, that is to say, reflecting some of the activities that mark our present lives that carry some universal meaning, but use them in a story that is broad and wide, and with luck, filled with the lives of characters struggling to make sense of troubled times. The central character is Frank Nagler, a cop, whose troubled heart is ever present.

Nagler is called out on stormy night to investigate the report of a dead woman in the Old Iron Bog. It is the first event in a chain of events that set the hard-luck city of Ironton, N.J. on edge. Besides the possible murder, the city was flooded when a week-long storm settled in and wrecked homes, businesses, and streets, and Nagler is trying to make sense of a series of letters that claim to expose theft of city funds, except they are so incomplete he wonders if it is really so.

Then there is Lauren Fox, a woman sent to Ironton to jump-start economic development. She and Nagler are attracted to one another and begin to become serious when she leaves town without an explanation. Nagler was an emotional recluse following the death of his wife years before. They had been childhood sweethearts, and her death crushed Nagler.

THE SWAMPS OF JERSEY is available as an audiobook on audible.com and amazon.com

The story of Frank Nagler picks up two years after “Swamps”  in “A Game Called Dead” (2016)

A GAME CALLED DEAD was named a Runner-Up in the 2016 Shelf Unbound Indie Book Contest.


Ironton, N.J., is still a city struggling with its economic and rebuilding troubles, but new heroes emerge. Meanwhile a break-in at the local college leaves two women badly beaten, and one later dies. Following a series of criminal acts in the city, including several that damage the book store owned by Leonard, Nagler’s friend, the story takes on a sinister twist.  The title comes from the students’ name for a video game that has taken on a real-world life. They call it “A Game Called Dead.”

The story is tense and propulsive.


“The Weight of Living” (2017) brings Frank Nagler face-to-face with a soulless, manipulative killer whose crimes stretch back decades.


2017: First Place in the Royal Dragonfly Book Awards

2018: Named a Notable 100 Book in the Shelf Unbound Indie Book Contest

2018: Named a Distinguished Favorite in the Independent Press Awards contest.

A young girl is found in a grocery store Dumpster on a cold March night wearing just shorts and a tank top. She does not speak to either Detective Frank Nagler, the social worker called to the scene, or later to a nun, who is an old friend of Nagler’s.

What appears to be a routine search for the girl’s family turns into a generational hell that drags Nagler into an examination of a decades old death of a young girl, and the multi-state crime enterprise of the shadow ringmaster.

The deeper Nagler looks, the more he and his companions are endangered, until the shocking climax that leaves Nagler questioning his actions to both solve the crimes and heal his damaged soul.

The story is entangled, deeply involving and holds an emotional grip.


The Frank Nagler books are available at the following New Jersey libraries:

Brick  (Ocean County Library System) Mountainside; Morris County Library; Somerset County Library System; Bernardsville Public Library; Hunterdon County Public Library; Mount Olive Public Library;  Phillipsburg; Warren County, Franklin branch; Mount Arlington; Wharton; Dover; Hackettstown;  Clark, Parsippany and the Ramsey library, as part of the Bergen County Cooperative Library System; The Palmer (Pa.) Branch of the Easton Public Library; Deptford Free Public Library and Franklin Township Library (Gloucester Co.), New Providence Memorial Library.


The Frank Nagler mysteries are available online at:

Amazon: http://goo.gl/hVQIII

Kobo: https://goo.gl/bgLH6v

NOOK: http://goo.gl/WnQjtr





Posted in BooksNJ2017, Fiction, Greater Lehigh Valley Writer's Group, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle, http://www.sallyember.com, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, Mystery Writers of America, www.michaelstephendaigle.com | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The absolute truth about why there is a Statue Of Liberty at Garland Pond

NOTE:  This is what results from a little research into composting toilet systems, recollections of summers on Garland Pond, Maine, and a dip into the pool of Maine story telling traditions. The author can not be held accountable if any part of this seems incongruous. 


Well, them buggers down to Augusta finally went too far.

They actually decided it’s up them where a man can do his business in the woods.

Heard right.

Seems there a limit as to how close to a pond that you can relieve yourself.

Seventy-five feet.

  Anything less and all the beautiful water in the State of Maine turns a shade of pee-green, all the fish will die, and all the birds and critters that eat the fish will die, and you guessed it, all the men who eat the critters and birds will die.

Won’t be nobody left to tell the tale.

So, instead of coming up to the camp that summer for some fishin’ and beer drinkin’, we all had to arrange to move our outhouses.

Now, them outhouses were perfectly fine for decades. Perched, they were over a hole in the ground that was dug without a lot of fancy engineerin’. And I more than once had to instruct my friends and family from away  that they had to move the shovels and rakes out of the way, to make sure they didn’t leave the paper on the floor cause the chipmunks would take it, and that for the sake of everybody else to make damn sure they tossed a handful of wood shavings down the hole when they were done.

Stared down a lot of visitors from  Mass. who seemed to have some cultural objection to the process. Told them there wasn’t much choice. The nearest place with running water was about five miles away at Grady’s over at the big pond, and unless you bought something bigger than a candy bar, he might not oblige.

But if they thought they could make it, we could use a case of beer and more charcoal.

So the edict from on high came down.

Not only did we have to move the outhouse, but we had to install a cement holding tank.

Struck me as odd that the only place in three counties that had a supply of them tanks was down to Rumford at George Handy’s True Value. Drove by the place and the fencing and lawn machines had been set aside for a couple stacks of  them gray, six-by-eight structures. Big enough to live in. Smelled a little, that deal did.  George’s brother-in-law is a legislator who voted for the change, so why would I be surprised that George got a monopoly on the distribution?

Truth be told, I didn’t really have an objection to moving the privy. It had been moved before, especially after one rainy spring when it sort of floated away from the hole.

So after we all got accommodated to the thumb of big government pressing down on us, we got to work.

Now the landscape around the pond is not well suited for much since everything is on a slant, the pond being dug by that old glacier which plopped a chunk of ice as a parting gift.

After you scrape away a few inches of pine needle dander, and a couple more of rooty topsoil, you hit ledge.

And after one enterprising flat-lander tried to dynamite the ledge away and ended up blowin’ up his camp and sendin’ a good slice the mountainside sliding into the pond, the county supervisors  discouraged the use of explosives when relocating the privies.

At the north end of the pond, where the glacier  left behind a lot of sand, them camp owners had a time diggin’ pits, dropping  in the tanks with all the holes for pipes and vents, and went about their business.

But the rest of us, along the narrow road scraped out years ago around a few boulders, had to face the fact that our new structures might have to be  just anchored on the  most level spot we could make.

So while all the anchoring was taking place, a completion broke out, and the summer was spent building some of the fanciest outhouses you ever seen.

Since no one wanted to have some big gray old thing sitting uphill of their camp, they set out painting ‘em. Lot of green ones, naturally, a few done in camouflage, browns and greens and a little yellow and red,  some beach scenes which  really was out of place and got some folks talking about stagin’ a midnight paint intervention to bring back order to the Maine woods.

One guy painted a Red Sox logo on his, and then when he sold the camp to a New Yorker, it was replaced with a Yankees logo. We hoped the next camp owner wasn’t a sports fan because that was just too much change for us.

All we was looking for was a quiet place to do our business while readin’ a couple pages in the yellowed and chipmunk chewed Farmer’s Almanac from 1983.

But higher they got, which ain’t hard when you start four feet off the ground.

A couple English castles, a boat cabin or two, a 1964 Mustang, which actually was a thing of beauty,  I have to admit. A couple with two stories and windows,  one with a widows walk and spyglass, and an Egyptian pyramid.

Then it got ugly.

The politics showed up.

Some Texan on the south end had already pissed us off by buying out a couple camp owners on either side and replacing  their log cabins with a three-story  mansion. We think he was the guy who poisoned the loons. Bad enough he ran that loud thirty-five footer at all hours, but we tolerated that.

We had for years listened without a loud public complaint when Jerome Anson played “Reveille” at six in the morning when the pond was dead quiet,  and for entertainment blew off a little cannon. He stopped that after he nearly sank Jake McGill’s canoe with Jake in it.

Jake was fishing that particular foggy morning and was nursing a good-sized bass into his net when that shell whistled over his head and he dropped the pole, the net and of course the fish, all the while managing not to dive headlong into the cove, which with its rocky bottom wouldn’ta  done him no good.

We all awoke that morning to Jake givin’ Jerome some holy hell, for sure.

It might have been the Confederate flag that got Eugene riled up. Not just a little, regular flag, but something ten-foot across. The Texan hung the damn fool thing on a flagpole atop off his stone outhouse.

Now Eugene was a woodsman, a modest, hardworking man, whose family had settled the region after we won it from England.

He had family in all the wars, and they left headstones decorating graveyards from Yarmouth to Greenville. Gene had an uncle who was hero at Gettysburg, repelling any number of Rebel charges.

The way it was told, Eugene politely asked the Texan to remove the Confederate flag and the Texan kind of waved his check book at him and said he’d buy out Eugene if he had a mind to.

Some teens, it was told, burned the rebel flag and the Texan forced the  county sheriff  to investigate. The sheriff decided it was lightening. There was a bad storm or two that summer and a few dry spruce did explode.

Not sure what tipped old Eugene.

Might have been the barbed wire, and the wooden gate across the road.

Eugene lived the opposite side of the Texan’s compound, just past the stone outhouse. One of the camps the Texan bought but left standing was on the lakeside of the road and he ran barbed wire around his property and installed a gate where the two camps opposed each other, just like some detention center.

Gene had to wait each time he went to his camp for someone to open the  gate.

We think it was the flags that drove the Texan out. American flags of all sizes. Hung from trees, poles, nailed to the side of camps and sheds and outhouses, just a wave of American flags, a line of them leading to his camp that he had to pass under each time he went in and out. Outnumbered that single Confederate flag by a long shot.

It might also have been the sugar in the gas of his trucks, the sand in the gas on his boat, the little knife-cuts at the water line of his vinyl kayaks.

Or it might have been the time that he came back after a week or so out of camp and found windows shot out.

But he left. Boarded up that mansion and never came back.

In celebration or something, someone rearranged that wooden mess into a tall nearly perfect replica of the Statue of Liberty, including a white light that rotated and cast a pretty glow across the lake on those deeply golden sunset nights.

It was said that the light was powered by an old  Jeep that Eugene had hauled in and stored in what might have been an improper expansion of his camp – just a foot or two at a time, painted red to match, so no one really got a good look – but we never asked.

Now all of this took place in the past  and no one kept any records and most of the camps have changed hands a couple of times, so there’s no way to accurately detail it all.

But it’s said that if you slide your canoe through the half-hidden rocks at the south end of the pond, and the light is just right, among the new growth of spruce there’s a wooden arm holding a torch that might look  familiar.

That said, if anyone tells you a tale that says it is the absolute truth about anything, you might be a fool to believe it.

Posted in BooksNJ2017, Fiction, Greater Lehigh Valley Writer's Group, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle, http://www.sallyember.com, humor, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, Mystery Writers of America, www.michaelstephendaigle.com | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment