Category: Books

New Jersey and murder, perfect together

Join me this Sunday in conversation with my good friends Jack Getze and Jane Kelly at the Ocean City NJ library.mwaoc.

 

Advertisements

Lines on the Pines

To my friends in south Jersey… tomorrow (Sunday) is Lines on the Pines, a gathering of authors, artists and artisans celebrating the Pine Barrens. Spring forward and then join me in the Grand Ballroom at the Renault Winery in Egg Harbor City where I’ll be signing books and otherwise making a fool of myself..

16904982_10208818421963972_1487682440660574018_o

16903331_10208818422843994_3342493081810381310_o

the jersey devil rampage – 108 years ago today

Folks in other parts of the country are surprised when I tell them about the Pine Barrens. After all, it’s not what people think of when they think of New Jersey. You might be surprised to find more than one million acres of pine forests and cranberry bogs less than one hundred miles from Manhattan, less than fifty miles from Philadelphia.

Towns have grown up in and amongst the forest, and some are now thriving cities, but, even today, there is vast acreage in the Pine Barrens that remains virgin pine forest. Deep in the forest, amongst the pitch pines and the cranberry bogs, the fragrant berries and the abandoned cemeteries, strange things abound.

None stranger than the Jersey Devil.

The Jersey Devil is one of the enduring legends that have come out of New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, dating back to the early 1700s. There are several accounts of the birth of the Jersey Devil, but the most common story dates back to 1735, to Mother Leeds, pregnant with her thirteenth child, saddled with a drunken, ne’er-do-well husband, and burdened with far too many responsibilities. Mother Leeds cursed her unborn child to the devil. And then she gave birth to a horrible creature, with a horse-like head and hooves, bat-wings, a forked tail and an ear-piercing shriek.

Sightings of the Jersey Devil have been reported ever since, terrorizing south Jersey (although, curiously, rarely causing any actual damage). The most extensive sightings date back to 1909, to the week of January 16-23. During that week, in 1909, the Jersey Devil was seen in more than thirty different towns, by hundreds, if not thousands of individuals. The terror was so widespread that schools and factories were closed and posses were formed in an attempt to capture the elusive Jersey Devil.

The sightings began late at night, January 16 in Woodbury, NJ and early on the morning of January 17 in Bristol, PA. The sightings in Bristol included eye-witness accounts by a police officer (later to become the Bristol Chief of Police) as well as the town’s postmaster, who described the creature as follows:

“Its head resembled that of a ram, with curled horns, and its long thick neck was thrust forward in flight. It had long thin wings and short legs, the front legs shorter than the hind. Again, it uttered its mournful and awful call – a combination of a squawk and a whistle, the beginning very high and piercing and ending very low and horse.” (from The Jersey Devil, by McCloy and Miller, published by Middle Atlantic Press).

Over the subsequent twenty-four hours, reports of the Jersey Devil, or Jersey Devil tracks were reported in Burlington City, Gloucester City, Columbus, Hedding, Kinkora and Rancocas. On Tuesday, January 19, the Jersey Devil made a well-documented appearance in Gloucester City, that resulted in the following description by Nelson Evans:

“It was about three feet and a half high, with a head like a collie dog and a face like a horse. It had a long neck, wings about two feet long, and its back legs were like those of a crane, and it had horse’s hooves.” (from The Jersey Devil)

In the ensuing days, the Jersey Devil was spotted in Haddonfield, in Moorestown and in numerous other towns in south Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. Public meetings were held to address citizens’ concerns.

On Thursday, January 21, the Jersey Devil’s rampage intensified, with an attack on a trolley car in Camden. Before the day’s end, there were sightings in Trenton and Ewing, in Roebling, Pitman, Bridgeton and Millville, in West Collingswood, Mt. Holly and Atlantic City, as well as Philadelphia, PA. Trolley cars in Trenton and New Brunswick armed the drivers in an effort to protect the trolleys from attack.

The panic was palpable. By Friday, January 22, people had locked themselves in their homes in towns all across the Delaware Valley. Businesses closed. Schools closed. Sighting continued on Friday in Camden and Woodbury. The final reported sighting of the week occurred Friday night in Salem.

And then the Devil was gone.

There have been occasional reports of the Jersey Devil since that harrowing week, but nothing comes close to the magnitude of the events that transpired 108 years ago, this week, in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens.

The Jersey Devil is a suspect in my first Cassie O’Malley Mystery, Who is Killing Doah’s Deer? originally published in 2004 and still available today in paperback and kindle editions.

I’ve got plenty of Nothing

Not lower-case nothing. Upper-case, big-N Nothing.

Stanislaw Lem explained the difference between the two in his masterpiece, The Cyberiad: Fables for a Cybernetic Age.

“Machine, do Nothing!”

The machine sat still. Klapaucius rubbed his hands in triumph, but Trurl said:

“Well, what did you expect? You asked it to do nothing, and it’s doing nothing.”

“Correction: I asked it to do Nothing, but it’s doing nothing.”

“Nothing is nothing!”

“Come, come. It was supposed to do Nothing, but it hasn’t done anything, and therefore I’ve won. For Nothing, my dear and clever colleague, is not your run-of-the-mill nothing, the result of idleness and inactivity, but dynamic, aggressive Nothingness, that is to say, perfect, unique, ubiquitous, in other words, Nonexistence, ultimate and supreme”

So anyway, since Christmas morning, I’ve been the proud owner of a NOTEBOOK OF NOTHINGS.

20151228_191214.jpg

Not a notebook of nothings. Some might look at the blank pages and see nothing. But each page is, in fact, a carefully rendered depiction of Nothing.

Turn a page and you might find a depiction of a snowman’s heart. An albino black hole. What Madonna won’t do.

It’s hard to write a novel when you start with a blank page, just a whole lot of nothing wanting to be something. But when that page is rife with Nothing, the ideas flow freely.

20151228_191633.jpg

So I’m having Nothing but fun, constructing my next novel. Set in 1970,  you could call it an historical mystery, if you’re willing to think about 1970 as history. You might consider it a literary mystery, but who the hell knows what that is. It’s probably a police procedural, minus all of the procedures developed in the last 45 years. Mostly, it’s the story of a man who’s been accused of hiring a hitman to murder his wife.  So far there have been cameo appearances by Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Willie Mays and Fudgy the Whale. In a few weeks, I expect Janis Joplin to show up.

And Nothing’s plenty for me.

Festival of Art, Books and Culture

This week, the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill NJ is holding an annual Festival of Art, Books and Culture. The lineup of guest speakers is exceptional – Alan and Arlene Alda, David Gregory, Erica Jong,Susie Essman, to name just a few. On Tuesday evening the guest speakers were “the royal family of mystery writers, Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, along with their son Jesse.” I had the pleasure and the privilege of moderating their conversation.

(photos courtesy of the Katz JCC)

jcc1 jcc2 jcc3 jcc4 jcc5 jcc6 jcc7 jcc8

(additional photos courtesy of my wife)

cjcc1 cjcc4

Many people contributed to the success of the event, most especially the Kellermans themselves and the staff of the JCC. I am pleased to know that I played a small part.