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Five other local authors (Terri Brisbin, Traci Dunham, Patti Sheey, Carol Comegno, Janice Wilson Stridick) and I are being featured at the first Meet the Author fundraiser hosted by the Merchantville Women’s Club, 212 Somerset Avenue, Merchantville, NJ, at 7:00-9:00 pm on Thursday, November 19. (We will be on the lower level of the Community Center. The entrance is on side of building by the parking lot.)

Each of us will have the opportunity to talk about our work, sell and sign books, socialize with the attendees, and have a fun night, which includes refreshments and door prizes.

The entry fee of $10 will be donated to the charities and scholarships supported by the Women’s Club. The program is open to the public.

Please join us! Consider it a pre-Black Friday gift buying opportunity, as well as a night out in support of worthy causes. (Charities and scholarships, not starving authors.)

“If sales were what mattered to me most, I would have written under my own name from the start, and with the greatest fanfare.” – J. K. Rowling on her decision to publish her crime novels under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

When asked why she hid her identity when submitting The Cuckoo’s Calling to publishers, J. K. Rowling, internationally acclaimed author of the Harry Potter series, explained she chose to write under a pseudonym because she was “yearning to go back to the beginning of a writing career in this new genre, to work without hype or expectation and to receive totally unvarnished feedback.”

The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first of the Cormoran Strike dectective series, sold 17,662 copies in the week following the news that it was written by Rowling. Compare that with the 1,500 print copies that were sold in the U.K. during the three months between its publication and the revelation of its author’s identity. It went from an Amazon sales rank of #4,000+ to #1 during that same week.

When Rowling published her first non-Potter book, The Casual Vacancy, she was quoted as saying that she had thought about using a pseudonym, but “I think it’s braver to do it like this.” The book sold well, but received mixed reviews. Some reviewers had difficulty getting around the idea that the creator of a series of children’s books could write an adult book about adultery, drugs, poverty, and prejudice.

Rowling had proved her point: an unknown author would have difficulty making sales, receiving unbiased reviews (or, for that matter, any reviews), or even being published (at least one publishing house turned down the manuscript of The Cuckoo’s Calling). A known author, however, especially one as accomplished and successful as the author of the Harry Potter series, would suffer only from unrealistic expectations by readers and reviewers.

[In the interest of full disclosure, I have read all four of her post-Potter books. I enjoyed The Casual Vacancy more than the naysayers, but not as much as the cheerleaders. The book began as a sharp, satirical dissection of small town class distinctions, but devolved into a melodrama. And the ending felt rushed, as though she weren’t quite sure how to develop the plot further, so she just stopped writing.

The Cormorant Strike books, on the other hand, are in my opinion, terrific. And each one is better than the previous. I had preordered the latest of the three, Career of Evil, on Kindle, and finished reading all 500+ pages within three days. I literally could not put it down, reading it while at physical therapy, in front of the TV, instead of sleeping.]

Many reviewers may have been prejudiced against Rowling – the “Don’t hate me because I’m a successful author and you’re a wannabe who writes reviews for obscure publications” syndrome – but I wonder if the opposite can be true. During the past few years, I have read several novels by authors previously on my “preorder” and “must read” lists. I wrote “previously” because, after reading these latest books, the authors are now on my “don’t bother” list.

No, I won’t name names in public. It will make me seem petty and vindictive because they are bestsellers and I’m not. But in my opinion, had they not been major authors, these books would never have made it out of the slush pile.

In the past, I’ve written about whether entry-level, poorly paid, just-out-of-college copyeditors are afraid to correct errors made by famous authors. But the problems with the books I’m referring to go far beyond typos or inconsistencies or repeated phrases. The books are poorly plotted, the characters are uninteresting, the incidents are implausible. The authors often make all the “errors” new authors are warned to avoid: prologues which could have just as easily been labeled “chapter one;” reliance on coincidence; too much back story interrupting the narrative flow; introduction of extraneous characters; subplots which have no connection to the main plot. If the manuscripts had been submitted by unknown authors, they would have been rejected without a comment. Instead, they are published and shoot to the top of the bestseller lists.

In fairness, I have to mention that even though these books garner quite a few reviews, the reviewers are often critical. So I am not the only one who has noticed the decline in quality. But the lack of positive reviews does not seem to affect sales. (So maybe I am being a bit petty and vindictive.)

So, my question is: Do we allow established authors to get away with shoddy work, while being overly critical of new ones?

While writing this blog entry, I realized the ultimate irony: J. K. Rowling was an obscure, unknown, unproven, unpublished author when she sold a manuscript, which had been rejected by eight other publishers, about an orphan who discovers he is a wizard to Bloomsbury, an independent publisher in the U.K. The book was then picked up by U.S. educational publisher Scholastic, and the rest, as they say, is the stuff that (authors’) dreams are made of.


I just received an early release of the October/November issue of Suspense Magazine, with my short story “Peanut Butter and Glitter” on page 13. I describe it as a black humor revenge fantasy. I wrote it originally to cheer up a friend going through a messy divorce. It worked.

The issue will be “live” online later today.


It’s traditional not to offer a eulogy at a graveside funeral, but my mother was anything but traditional.

We all – including my mother – knew this day was coming, but that knowledge doesn’t make the reality any easier.

All of us will miss her greatly, especially my father. They began to date when my mother was 15, and her mother first allowed her to date. When a boy asked her out before she was 15, and my grandmother refused to allow her to go, my mother threatened to jump out the window. According to my mother, her mother said, “Go ahead; we live on the first floor.” My mother’s version of her first date with my father is that she had also been asked out by another boy, but my father was going to take her to a Chinese restaurant. Coming from an Orthodox family, this would be my mother’s first taste of tref. She accepted my father’s offer.

They knew each other well before, however, as they lived diagonally across the street from each other on Devon Street in Roxbury. My father’s family lived in a large two-family, plus attic apartment, Queen Ann Victorian. His aunt and uncle and their son Barry lived on the first floor. He and his parents and sister and grandparents lived on the second floor. My mother used to babysit for Barry.

They married almost 69 years ago, still in their teens, as soon as my father was discharged from the Navy after World War II. They moved into the attic apartment over his parents, across from her parents. My mother learned to cook from her mother-in-law; my mother’s mother was not known as a good cook. Almost everything I know about cooking, I learned from my mother, although she did tend to rely on cake mixes and, until I taught her better, would boil frozen vegetables. And it was from both my parents that I learned how to get along with in-laws.

Not that her relationship with her mother-in-law was without its conflicts. The other day, my father said my mother always said she wanted to be buried next to Grandma Gertrude so she could continue to argue with her.

My parents were able to stay together so long for two reasons: they shared the same moral values; and they complemented each other. My father is a pack rat. “You never know when you might need something or can adapt it for another use, so don’t throw it away.” My mother’s approach was, “We aren’t using it; get rid of it, preferably, by donating it. The compromise was to keep it, but store it in a logical place, usually the basement or garage where my mother wouldn’t have to see it.

That mentality fit in with her mania for cleanliness and neatness. She complained to her doctor once that her back hurt when she got on her knees to scrub the kitchen floor. I think she was in her 70s at the time. The doctor told her there was a wonderful invention called a mop and she should consider buying one. She was the type who would clean before the cleaning woman came, check afterwards, and clean again.

But my mother was not the typical stay-at-home mom who had milk and cookies waiting for me after school. As soon as I was old enough to start Hebrew school and walk there and home alone after public school, she went to work outside the home full time.

My mother was an extremely intelligent woman. When she was in high school in the 1940s, it wasn’t considered important for women to attend college, so she switched from the academic to the commercial track, and her first job after graduation was with the Grove Hall Savings Bank. She stayed there, with only a hiatus when I was young, following the bank first to Morton Street; later she worked at Newton Savings Bank in Newton Centre. For years, wherever we would go, someone would come up to her and ask, “Aren’t you Esther-from-the-bank?”

I always encouraged her to go to college, especially after she retired from the bank, but for some reason she was reluctant. She never stopped learning, however, through books, lectures, and travel.

She had a phenomenal memory for names, faces, and events. She could look at a picture of her kindergarten class and name almost everyone. She was the go-to person for family history and anecdotes, from all branches of all sides of the families, hers and my father’s.

She and my father loved to travel. But in addition to the usual cruise and resort vacations, they did things like live for several months in both India and Sri Lanka, where they searched out and befriended members of the Jewish communities in both countries. They also volunteered on a military base in Israel, where my father had fun fixing tanks while my mother used her extraordinary organizational skills in the office.

My mother never learned to drive. Her excuse was that she was traumatized when her father was severely injured when a teen driver leaped a curb and pinned him against a building. I suspect, though, that she was a Luddite. She resisted switching from a manual to an electric typewriter, and later never wanted to learn how to use a personal computer. She hated when the bank switched to computers, as she was convinced there were more errors than when everything was done by hand.

Yet, without the use of databases and spreadsheets and word processing, she managed to keep all the household records, handle their investments, and even leave me a hand-written list of what to do after her death about life insurance, pension plans, etc. Everything was planned in detail in advance.

Even after she became weakened by years of chemo and radiation treatments for lymphoma – both Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s – she fortunately retained her mental acuity, and continued with her interest in the news (and outrage at non-liberal – and some liberal – politicians), love of books and classic movies, and deep commitment to Judaism.

My parents were not very observant when I was younger, although they belonged to an Orthodox synagogue in Mattapan and were active in its social activities. It was only after they moved to Newton and joined a Conservative synagogue that they became more observant, keeping Kashrut, for example, and my mother became a bat mitzvah. They were active in many areas of the Massachusetts Jewish community, from Soviet Jewry to the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts to their affiliation with and involvement with Temple Reyim in Newton and Congregation Aschei Chesed on the Cape, which they helped found. And their Jewish commitments didn’t wane in Florida, with their activities on behalf of Temple Torah.

Both my parents have been long-time liberals. Their response to the Bush win over Gore was to become active in the Florida Democratic Committee. My mother loved to engage people in political debates. My father told me one of their neighbors, a right-wing Republican, lamented he’d have no one to argue with now.

Many people didn’t realize it, but my mother had a very subtle sense of humor. My favorite story happened when I was a baby. My cousin Peter, Barry’s brother, who lived in the same house, was born five weeks before me. He also had red hair. My mother would take both of us out on walks, and people would stop and say, “Oh, how cute. Are they twins?” To which my mother would reply, “No, they’re five weeks apart,” and then walk on without looking back.

And, of course, there’s family. As I said before, she never considered her in-laws to be anything but parents, and my husband Gary as her son. One of her biggest regrets was that she was unable to travel to Boston for her brother Barney’s funeral.

And there was her adoration of her grandsons, Natan and Ari. When we called my parents to tell them that they were grandparents after Natan’s arrival, they were preparing to go the Cape for the weekend. They switched directions, drove to NJ, and only afterwards realized they hadn’t packed things they kept at the Cape, like nightwear and toothbrushes. Ari’s bar mitzvah was the last time they traveled. There was no way my mother was going to miss the occasion. No phone call – and there were a lot of them – was complete without my giving a full rundown on all the boys’ activities.

I had planned to speak briefly, but once I began writing, I realized I couldn’t say everything important about her 87 years in just a few words. And I’m still not sure I’ve done her justice. Her passing has left a big hole in the lives of all who knew and loved her.


Today, a friend – an actual one, not just a virtual one – posted a picture on Facebook of some ducks in a pond near her home in CA. The pictures weren’t too clear, as often happens when taking photos of distant objects with a cell phone. (And I have the blurry Facebook posts I’ve added to prove it.) I tried to identify the species, thinking at first they were mallards. But their heads weren’t green, but were white with a black stripe from crown to nape. I spent all too much time checking images and descriptions of various ducks, teals, and other water birds, and finally posted, “I’m stumped. The pix aren’t clear enough for me to ID them. They’re not mallards – no solid dark or green head on the one on the left – but the rufous breast indicates it may be. I was thinking it could be a hybrid mallard X black duck or mottled duck, but neither species is in CA.”

To which another friend replied, “Shucks, Ilene – ‘duck’ will do!”

To which I replied, “Not for a birder!”

After which I realized (and posted) the observation that I enjoy bird watching and both writing and reading mystery books for the same reason: to find a solution.

When reading mysteries, I try to outguess the author (and, sometimes, the protagonist) by finding out whodunit before the end of the book. If the author has played fair and seeded enough hints throughout the book, I’ll sometimes succeed. But even if I’m surprised at the end, I’ll have the fun of the “ah hah!” moment when I realize what I had overlooked. On the other hand, if there are facts the author has withheld, then not only won’t I succeed, but I’ll be frustrated and annoyed at the end of the book.

When writing mysteries, I have two problems: 1. Confounding the reader without cheating them, while not being so simplistic that there’s no real suspense. 2. Constructing a complex mystery without writing myself into a corner I can’t write myself out of. It happens. Often. Which is why the delete button was invented.

In birding, there’s also the experience of solving a puzzle. (I’m referring now to identifying a bird, rather than recognizing it without any conscious thought.) Both birding and reading and/or writing mysteries involve the same kind of attention to minutiae, plus the unraveling and organizing of details that seem inconsequential at first: when and where and circumstances and shape and environment and the process of elimination and, ultimately, logic.

And in both cases, there’s an enormous sense of accomplishment at having arrived at the answer.

As for the mystery ducks, I used the same set of steps mentioned above, “when and where and circumstances and shape and environment and the process of elimination and, ultimately, logic,” to arrive at the solution that they are immature red-necked phalaropes.

Unless they’re not. In which case, they’re Miss Scarlet in the dining room with a rope.

NJ is the punchline of many mean-spirited jokes. Find out what residents of South Jersey know and why they disagree with the rest of the US – and North Jersey.  Check out my guest blog on Annette Snyder’s site “Fifty Authors from Fifty States” at http://annettesnyder.blogspot.com.

And if any of what I wrote sounds familiar, it’s because I cribbed from my own previous blogs on the topic!

Small but interested audience last night at the Moorestown Library. But my next appearance promises to be a crowded one – if the weather cooperates better than it did last night.

I’ll be exhibiting (and, I hope, selling) my books at BooksNJ 2015, Sunday, June 14, 1:00-5:00 PM, on the grounds of the Paramus Public Library.

And speaking of panels, I’ve been asked to be on one there (time TBA):
Killing in New Jersey:  Murder in the Garden State
Michael Stephen Daigle
Ilene Schneider
Dave White
Maureen Wlodarczyk
Panel Leader: Lori-Ann Quinn

The BooksNJ website (http://www.booksnj.org/) promises:


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