Come Hell or High Water

In the luxurious resort town of Spanish Point, Florida, sea levels are rising. So is the body count. Both threaten the real estate industry, and its agents. Including a former detective who’s jumped in over her head.

In her fourth outing (after Peak Season, Tourist in Paradise and Curb Appeal), CW (Candace) McCoy relishes a fresh start—a new agency, a stellar property and a second chance at love. But opportunity turns tragic as she confronts the city elite and their web of deception and greed.

CW knows who’s guilty. She just has to prove it—before someone sends her on a permanent vacation.

Join her on a wild ride through a rising tide of crime and corruption in Permanent Vacation. The book is available from Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords, and by request from bookstores everywhere.

Riders on the storm: a scooter braves the water on Florida State Road A1A in Fort Lauderdale in 2013

Storm warning

The latest novel in my Florida crime series may read as fiction but it’s based on a very real threat—super storms and the surge they create. As residents of Virginia and the Carolinas will attest, it’s a problem that affects inland regions as well as the coast.

In Permanent Vacation, detective turned real estate agent CW (Candace) McCoy tackles the financial and mortal consequences of encouraging development in those flood-prone areas–action that will jeopardize her partners, her livelihood and her life.

In her fourth outing (after Peak Season, Tourist in Paradise and Curb Appeal), CW relishes a fresh start—a new agency, a stellar property and a second chance at love. But opportunity turns tragic as she confronts the city elite and their web of deception and greed.

While the series is set on the Gulf Coast, the novels are informed by my experience as a journalist and marketing executive in several tourism hotspots, from the Sunshine State to Philadelphia, the greater Lehigh Valley and my hometown in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. What’s more, I’ve lived through several powerful storms that battered both states, including Hurricanes Sandy and Irma.

Then came Florence and Michael. That’s enough to send anyone on a permanent vacation.

Published by Allusion Books, the novel is available from Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords, and by request from bookstores everywhere.

‘Permanent Vacation’ on sale now

Permanent Vacation, the fourth in the CW (Candace) McCoy series of crime novels, goes on sale today, a week earlier than expected. Welcome news, given the short time left before the holidays.

Published by Allusion Books, the work is available from Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords, as well as by request at bookstores everywhere.

Readers new to the series can view all of the books on the Amazon author page.

And for those who enjoy original artwork, here’s a first look at the full cover.

Global warning

Water, water everywhere and so many places to build.

Permanent Vacation, the fourth in the CW McCoy series of crime novels, may be fiction but it deals with the very real issues of super storms and coastal flooding–an issue even inland locations faced during this hurricane season.

The launch date is Dec. 12 but you can preorder the ebook from Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords.

The return of CW McCoy

Florida’s detective turned real estate agent returns to determine if you really can fight city hall.

In the tony beach-side town of Spanish Point, CW (Candace) McCoy tackles a crime waves that’s rising faster than the tide. But that’s not her biggest dilemma, as trouble comes in threes. Will she keep her job? Can she choose between Tony and Mitch? And will she ever see Walter again?

Permanent Vacation, the fourth in the crime series, launches Dec 12, but you can preorder the ebook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Kobo and Smashwords.

The Candidate

In honor of the current election cycle, an excerpt from my suspense/thriller, Mr. Magic. You can read the full-tilt lunacy of the role public relations plays in this and other marketing campaigns at Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and bookstores almost everywhere.

And now, Brinker, the defrocked journalist turned PR whiz, will show you how campaigns work their magic:

On a blustery day in early April, Mary Margaret Paulson stood in an open hanger with the snow swirling like dust devils and gazed at the adoring masses. She looked every bit the presidential candidate. Perfect cheekbones, glossy red lips and a bushel of rich brown hair. Long legs in a black pencil skirt, lacy blouse and a red power jacket with shoulders big enough to carry half the states to the convention.

On the campaign trail she’d been called Chillbilly and Bible Spice for her passionate defense of religious freedom. The media mocked her. The pundits hated her. But Brinker knew one thing that many had forgotten: the woman oozed sex from every pore, and men and women alike would sacrifice their firstborn to share the air with her.

The scene resembled a campaign rally. An American flag hung behind two corporate jets emblazoned with the cement company’s logo. Paulson stood on a wooden A-Treat box behind a lectern decorated with patriotic bunting and waved like the queen on parade. A crowd of at least a thousand swelled around her, a line of police officers in reflective vests keeping protesters and supporters on opposite sides of the concrete apron. Sitting in rows of folding chairs under space heaters were local and state dignitaries, representatives from the governor’s office, county council members and the mayors of every city within a fifty-mile radius. The rest of the rabble stood in the cold, their hats declaring allegiance to Garth Brooks, the Phillies and the NRA.

Brinker focused on Paulson’s speech. In an effort to cut costs, the cement company wanted to burn hazardous waste. Residents weren’t convinced by the company’s health studies, which showed emissions would remain below EPA thresholds. His position paper had dealt with the need to balance environmental protection with economic growth. He’d reduced it to three bullet points. Paulson hadn’t gotten through the first when she veered off-message like a bike that had lost its training wheels. She ranted about liberals and intellectuals, the elite and the effete, people who were ruining the country with their bleeding hearts and costly regulations, stifling growth and free enterprise and everything that made America great.

The crowd cheered and Brinker, the PR whiz who’d turned a serial killer into a national brand, started to worry that the stunt wouldn’t backfire, that it wouldn’t create the chaos that guaranteed national coverage. Then, from across the tarmac, he heard the sound of grinding gears and smelled the belch of diesel exhaust as an ancient blue school bus tottered around the corner of the hanger and four dozen Korean woman dressed in hot pink jumpsuits piled out, Buddha at the fore, the notes of Psy’s “Gangnam Style” throbbing from a speaker on the roof.

Buddha, AKA Benjamin Kwon, community organizer and ace travel agent who helped the pursued disappear from the grid. Handing signs to the women—he’d economized by printing both sides, “Feel the Burn” on the front and, on the back, “Burn, Baby, Burn”—he marched them through the crowd, the Koreans forming a wall between supporters and protesters. As they twirled their signs and waved to the camera, Buddha broke away and headed for the perimeter.

Brinker sidled up to him. “How’s it going?”

“’Oppa oppa Gangnam style.’”

“You should run for office.”

Realizing that reinforcements had arrived, Paulson pointed at the ground with a sharply manicured finger and shouted, “This is it! Right here in little old Allentown, PA! The front lines of the battle, the home of concrete and steel that made this nation great!”

The crowd surged, one half cheering, the other half waving signs mounted on wooden stakes the size of baseball bats. Brinker could smell the blood lust as it raced through them, flaring nostrils, pumping muscles, raking their skin until they began to howl.

The handlers must have felt the massive animal coiling for a strike because two of them flanked the lectern as Paulson finished her speech with the pump of a fist and the cry of “Burn, baby, burn!”

The audience exploded, the police line collapsed. Protesters wielded their signs like clubs. Politicians ducked behind the flag. The cement company’s security force, standing respectfully at attention during the remarks, formed a firewall while the handlers hustled Paulson through the back of the hanger.

As police rushed in with batons, Buddha pulled Brinker to the sidelines. Above the roar of sirens, he said, “We have failed you, my friend.”

Brinker smiled as video crews captured the melee. “It’s all good.”

You are where you are

Location, location, location. You hear it all the time in real estate. The tagline is just as important in fiction. And appropriate, given that the lead character in the CW McCoy series of crime novels is a woman who sells real estate. As a transplant, I’m especially aware of it.

That leads to a question I’ve asked since I began writing novels: just when does setting become a character? When does location move from background to foreground?

Readers from Pennsylvania to Florida have called out locales they recognize in both the McCoy and the Brinker novels. Even with names altered to simplify and protect, those locations seem to resonate with them.

As we near publication of the fourth McCoy novel, let’s review the importance of place in the series, which started with Peak Season and progressed to Tourist in Paradise and the latest, Curb Appeal. (You’ll have a chance to preview the new title and cover design later this year.)

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these scenes from Florida’s Gulf Coast, where the sun shines on the good and bad alike.

Jeff Widmer is the author of five novels and three books of nonfiction. You’ll find his Amazon author page here.

Condos line the skyline of Sarasota, Fl, across from the marina where Walter Bishop berths his sailboat in Peak Season

 

A Viking Sport Cruiser yacht like the one CW hijacks in Tourist in Paradise

 

Deep Hole at Myakka Park, where alligators aren’t the only predators in Curb Appeal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading, Florida style

My wonderful friend and fellow writer Jeanne Johansen sent me this photo of two members of her husband’s book club reading Peak Season on Florida’s Treasure Coast.

Peak Season marks the first of a trilogy of crime novels featuring real estate agent turned investigator CW (Candace) McCoy. You can find it and the other novels in the series at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo, with the audio version at Audible.

Thank you, readers, everywhere.

Have a photo of you or your friends reading a CW or a Brinker novel? Feel free to send the image to editor (at) allusionbooks (dot) com.

 

Gardner’s Ghosts

On a warm Tuesday in September of 1982, I received a letter from the novelist John Gardner about a collection of my short stories he’d been gracious enough to critique. That evening, as I sat in the newsroom editing copy, the city editor swiveled his computer monitor and said, “You should read this.”

Gardner had died that day, the 14th, in a motorcycle accident. The description in the story that had moved over the wire read like something from his novels. It didn’t make sense. I’d just seen him, on my first and only visit to his house in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, standing in his makeshift office, touring his home, speaking to his fiancée. He was a living legend among writers, his novel October Light a bestseller, his newest at the time, Mickelsson’s Ghosts, leading the book review section of the New York Times. Unlike many celebrities, he was approachable, hospitable to emerging writers. And now he was gone.

John Champlin Gardner Jr. was born on July 21, 1933. His death 36 years ago came as a blow. The author of 14 novels and numerous others works, he taught at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the State University of New York’s Binghamton University. All notable achievements, but a CV hardly describes his influence.

Over the course of his career, he evolved from ardent critic to mentor who embraced veterans and novitiates alike. Still, his true north was in storytelling. He eschewed labels, focusing on the ancient art, rewriting epic tales like Beowulf from the monster’s point of view and putting people at the heart of great philosophical debates. He strove to create what he called “a vivid and continuous dream” in the mind of the reader, writing novels with an intensity often reserved for short stories and poetry.

His passion overflowed in his nonfiction, too. Gardner seemed obsessed with the collision of philosophy and culture. He constantly argued against nihilism, a doctrine that claims nothing is knowable and rejects all distinctions in moral value. In his work of criticism, On Moral Fiction, he called for books with “just and compassionate behavior,” art that “establishes models of human action.” It’s likely he deeply identified with Grendel, the monster in Beowulf, who finds itself cast from heaven because it is ugly, comes from a bad family and asks too many questions—possibly a comment on the maligned state of humans, as Gardner’s father was a lay preacher.

While his characters were not always models of behavior, Gardner treated students and aspiring writers with a generosity and grace consistent with his values. I first met him in May of 1982 after he spoke, at the invitation of professor and novelist Fred Misurella, at East Stroudsburg State College, in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Gardner looked the part of the Great Writer, sporting a shock of white hair overflowing his forehead and small, wrinkled bags under his eyes. His ubiquitous pipe kept winking out as he talked. He also acted the part. After reading aloud the first page of one of my stories, he invited me to his home in Susquehanna for a longer critique.

* * *

Gardner lived across an open metal bridge on the edge of town, in a farmhouse nestled among the hills the locals call the Endless Mountains, purplish gray and draped with mist like the webs of tent caterpillars. The clapboard house resembled an old train station, with curlicues over the porch. Inside sat Gardner’s son, Joel, a photographer, and Susan Thornton. She and John were to be married that Saturday. A colleague of his handed him a few short stories and a novel for Gardner’s comments. They talked about producing plays in Susquehanna and about a literary magazine on which he was working.

Then it was my turn. Gardner retreated to his study, a spare room with big windows, to concentrate on the story I’d brought. His desk consisted of a door resting on two sawhorses, covered with pipes and stacks of papers. He hunched over the work, making quick notes in pencil. Then he and Susan had to leave, Gardner apologizing repeatedly for offering me so little time.

In the living room, I asked Joel how much of his father’s work was autobiographical. Not much, he said, but then opened the door to the dining room. With its thick beams and sparkling new plaster, it resembled something out of Mickelsson’s Ghosts.

There were other similarities. The main character in that novel, Peter Mickelsson, is a professor at SUNY Binghamton who is battling a failing national reputation and the IRS. He lives in Susquehanna and is going through a divorce. That much mirrored Gardner’s life. But Mickelsson is going mad, his mind enflamed with the ghosts of Martin Luther and Nietzsche, as well as his wife, son, two lovers and a murderous couple who used to live in the farmhouse. Joel smiled at this and said his father invented most of the book.

* * *

John Gardner was born in Batavia, in northwestern New York. His father worked as a dairy farmer, his mother as a high school literature teacher. His first novel sold about a thousand copies, but The Sunlight Dialogues became a bestseller in 1972 and October Light won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1976. He was an academic but not an elitist. Playboy paid top dollar for his short stories. (“Julius Caesar and the Werewolf” appeared in September 1984). He raced motorcycles, survived surgery for cancer of the colon and was married several times. He settled in rural Susquehanna on a 30-acre farm and continued to work.

A gifted writer with a marvelous ear for dialogue, he always wrote interesting books. But with Mickelsson’s Ghosts, he had completed his evolution, merging philosophy with a vital narrative, tempered by a humility that bordered on self-doubt. By the time he got to Susquehanna, he’d turned the ferocious critic into a man who wanted to say good things about others. People believed he was trying to find his place.

That day at his house, he seemed subdued. Seated on the couch, he spoke in a smooth and quiet voice about future projects. As an aside, I said I’d had trouble finding his work in the local bookstore. The novels weren’t filed under the category of “Fiction.” I’d asked the clerk if she carried the author and she led me to the back of the store. We found his books filed under “Literature.”

Gardner listened intently, without expression, then threw back his head and laughed.