One of the best parts of being a bookseller is meeting and getting to know authors. When you are located in a slightly off-the-beaten path area (although halfway between New York and Philadelphia), you note with envy the tweets and posts from the mystery book stores located in major cities: “Guess who just dropped in: (insert any number of names I will probably never see in Flemington)”. You love your little town, though, and are a strong believer in “Grow where you’re planted.” And so you make a special effort to support and promote authors from your home state, frequently when they are just starting out. And the reward is the opportunity to watch these writers flourish, feel a special affection for them, and rejoice in their success.
I mentioned in an earlier post that fellow Dead Guy Jeff Cohen was the first author for whom I hosted a book signing. Even if he were not the special person he is, he would have a special place in my heart for that reason alone. That early event was for the first in a series that ran only to three books; it was a great series with a funny, loveable protagonist, good plotting and lots of humor. Who truly understands the vagaries of the publishing world? Watching now, as The Haunted Guesthouse series, which Jeff writes as E. J. Copperman, takes off, I am delighted to observe customers seeking out his work (and buying the whole series, which now runs to five books with more to come). And looking forward to the new series starting later this year!
I celebrate with other New Jersey authors who found their way here early in their careers, and who always return when their newest offering is released. Brad Parks visited shortly after his first Carter Ross novel, Faces of the Gone, was released in 2009. He always makes a point of telling his publicist to book him here early in his tours, indicating that he is as fond of The Moonstone as we are of him. He knows the regulars here almost as well as we do! Wallace Stroby, like Brad an alum of the Newark Star-Ledger, has also become a regular guest as his Crissa Stone series gains new readers and accolades with each installment.
I truly rejoice with each great review I read of these authors’ works, happy that others are appreciating the wonderful work coming out of New Jersey. Next week, I have the pleasure of welcoming back another New Jersey author whose career is taking off, Jenny Milchman. Jenny may have moved to the Adirondacks, where her novels take place, but we still consider her a Jersey Girl (in the best possible way!) Her debut novel, Cover of Snow, has been nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award, and we are keeping our fingers crossed. Jenny will be here the day after the winner is announced, as she sets off on another epic tour for her second novel, Ruin Falls. (Shelf Awareness called Jenny’s first tour, “the world’s longest book tour.”) Even before her first publication, she spent her vacations visiting independent bookstores; Jenny is one of the greatest promoters of booksellers the world has seen. We were pleased to be included in her Mystery Scene Magazine tribute to mystery bookshops across the country
Ruin Falls takes place in Wedeskyull, the same fictional upstate New York town that was the setting for Cover of Snow, but is not a sequel. The female protagonists of each book do not appear in the other book. One secondary character is in both, so there is potential for a series. What the books do have in common is a lead character who does not realize her own inner strength until she is placed under extraordinary stress. In Ruin Falls, Liz Daniels, her husband, and their two young children set out on a vacation trip to visit his parents at their farm in western New York state. They stop at a hotel en route and Liz wakes to find the children gone. After the initial panic, Liz realizes that she has been betrayed by someone close, but that the children are safe. She returns to Wedeskyull determined to find them. The authorities have no interest in helping her, but she is relentless in tracking down every potential clue, sometimes at great risk to herself. Heightening the suspense is the interleaving of seemingly unrelated events in other women’s lives, enticing the reader with hints of a larger conspiracy.
Jenny’s exquisite prose creates an atmosphere that makes the reader feel she is right there with the characters. I remember when reading Cover of Snow feeling in my bones the extreme cold of an Adirondack winter as Nora Hamilton fought a conspiracy of silence to find out the truth behind her husband’s death. I was close to loosening my clothing and fanning myself as Liz Daniel’s confronts her husband’s dour parents in the heat and humidity of August in a stifling farmhouse on the flat plains of western New York. (And I read Ruin Falls during the coldest winter I can remember, so it took some good writing to generate my reaction!) Descriptions of the deep forests of New York State evoke both the beauty and the menace.
I feel very fortunate to be a small part of the careers of these outstanding writers from New Jersey. There are innumerable others, and I apologize that I don’t have space to mention them all. Most of all, I look forward to meeting the next debut author who wants to visit a little shop in the country on their way to bigger things.