Off the Grid

Brinker has lost his magic. The agency’s CEO wants him to ace the competition. His former girlfriend wants him in detox. And as rival advertising executives disappear, an ambitious state trooper wants him in jail.

If this keeps up, the PR whiz who turned a serial killer into a national brand may have to vanish himself.

Throw in toxic waste, a nude car wash and a gun-toting presidential candidate and the czar of PR will have to spin some potent magic to escape the snare of sex, lies and greed that threatens to destroy his job, his sanity and the love of his life.

Brinker does so in Mr. Magic, the second in the series of crime novels starring the defrocked journalist. Mr. Magic plays out in the post-industrial snowbelt of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, an area I know well after working there in marketing for a decade. While Brinker vows to give up drugs and violence, he’s pulled into the netherworld of forced disappearances by a self-styled travel agent who helps clients vanish in places like Fukushima, Chernobyl and the deserts of the American Southwest.

Published by Allusion Books, the novel is the sequel to Mr. Mayhem. Both books are available through Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and jeffwidmer.com, as well as bookstores everywhere. They join the the novels in the CW McCoy series, Peak Season and Tourist in Paradise, that play out in the tony beach towns of Southwest Florida.

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The nuclear reactors at Fukushima

The nuclear reactors at Fukushima

Return of the antihero

Brinker’s back. Can the advertising world survive?

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000030_00049]The antihero of last year’s Mr. Mayhem has lost his magic. The agency’s CEO wants him to ace the competition. His former girlfriend wants him in detox. And as rival advertising executives disappear, an ambitious state trooper wants him in jail.

If this keeps up, the PR whiz who turned a serial killer into a national brand may have to vanish himself.

Throw in toxic waste, a nude car wash and a gun-toting presidential candidate and the czar of PR will have to spin some potent magic to escape the snare of sex, lies and greed that threatens to destroy his job, his sanity and the love of his life.

In Mr. Magic, the ad world struggles to cope with the defrocked journalist famous for sex, satire and PR events that push the boundaries of legality and taste.

Published by Allusion Books, Mr. Magic is available through Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and jeffwidmer.com, as well as bookstores everywhere. It is the sequel to Brinker’s debut novel Mr. Mayhem, a book Kirkus Reviews calls “eccentricity at its finest in a detective story, and proof that a flawed protagonist can still earn sympathy.”

And be sure to sign up for the Beyond the Book newsletter, at the bottom of this website’s homepage.

Month of Magic

J.G. Ballard once said that the dystopian landscapes in his books reflect the character’s inner world as much as the outer one.

We’re more familiar with the opposite. Places affect how people feel and act. Think New York in the decade when the city cleaned up graffiti-defaced buildings, repaired windows and installed lighting as part of its crime-fighting strategy.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000030_00049]I’m interested in the collision of those two ideas. In writing fiction, I look for places that both create and reflect a mood. The post-industrial cities of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley provide a wealth of locations that meet that criteria—the ruins of Bethlehem Steel, the abandoned quarries of the Slate Belt, the cement plants near Nazareth.

As you might expect if you read Mr. Mayhem, the novel’s main character, a disgraced journalist called Brinker, thrives in this dystopian world. In Brinker’s second outing, Mr. Magic, the PR whiz who turned a serial killer into a national brand has gone to work for the advertising agency from hell, where the owners have hired him to make the competition disappear.

The Lehigh Valley is the perfect backdrop for the ensuing struggle. From Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Allentown to the historic Moravian settlement in Bethlehem to Route 22 at rush hour, the Lehigh Valley provides both a canvas and a mirror for a character tormented by addiction and failure. (Alert readers will note that while Chernobyl is not a tourist stop in the Lehigh Valley, the location plays a role in the novel.)

Each day next month, I’ll post on social media images of those seminal locations, places that may have become part of your own inner landscape. How many do you recognize?

 

Corner of Walnut and Main streets in Bethlehem inspired offices of DAR Advertising & PR in MR. MAGIC

Corner of Walnut and Main streets in Bethlehem inspired offices of DAR Advertising & PR in MR. MAGIC

 

Interior of Crocodile Rock inspired underage pickup scene at Gator Club in MR. MAGIC

Interior of Crocodile Rock inspired underage pickup scene at Gator Club in MR. MAGIC

 

Across from DAR Advertising stands the majestic Hotel Bethlehem in MR. MAGIC

Across from DAR Advertising stands the majestic Hotel Bethlehem in MR. MAGIC

 

Carly has her heart set on converting the Moravian Waterworks to a theater in MR. MAGIC

Carly has her heart set on converting the Moravian Waterworks to a theater in MR. MAGIC

 

In MR. MAGIC, remains of Bethlehem Steel play a role in ad agency’s downfall

In MR. MAGIC, remains of Bethlehem Steel play a role in ad agency’s downfall

 

Buddha helps people disappear to places like Chernobyl in MR. MAGIC

Buddha helps people disappear to places like Chernobyl in MR. MAGIC

 

Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Allentown, site of the Hiroshima die-in

Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Allentown, site of the Hiroshima die-in

 

 

Month of Magic

J.G. Ballard once said that the dystopian landscapes in his books reflect the character’s inner world as much as the outer one.

We’re more familiar with the opposite. Places affect how people feel and act. Think New York in the decade when the city cleaned up graffiti-defaced buildings, repaired windows and installed lighting as part of its crime-fighting strategy.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000030_00049]I’m interested in the collision of those two ideas. In writing fiction, I look for places that both create and reflect a mood. The post-industrial cities of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley provide a wealth of locations that meet that criteria—the ruins of Bethlehem Steel, the abandoned quarries of the Slate Belt, the cement plants near Nazareth.

As you might expect if you read Mr. Mayhem, the novel’s main character, a disgraced journalist called Brinker, thrives in this dystopian world. In Brinker’s second outing, Mr. Magic, the PR whiz who turned a serial killer into a national brand has gone to work for the advertising agency from hell, where the owners have hired him to make the competition disappear.

The Lehigh Valley is the perfect backdrop for the ensuing struggle. From Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Allentown to the historic Moravian settlement in Bethlehem to Route 22 at rush hour, the Lehigh Valley provides both a canvas and a mirror for a character tormented by addiction and failure. (Alert readers will note that while Chernobyl is not a tourist stop in the Lehigh Valley, the location plays a role in the novel.)

Each day next month, I’ll post on social media images of those seminal locations, places that may have become part of your own inner landscape. How many do you recognize?

Corner of Walnut and Main streets in Bethlehem inspired offices of DAR Advertising & PR in MR. MAGIC

Corner of Walnut and Main streets in Bethlehem inspired offices of DAR Advertising & PR in MR. MAGIC

 

Interior of Crocodile Rock inspired underage pickup scene at Gator Club in MR. MAGIC

Interior of Crocodile Rock inspired underage pickup scene at Gator Club in MR. MAGIC

 

Across from DAR Advertising stands the majestic Hotel Bethlehem in MR. MAGIC

Across from DAR Advertising stands the majestic Hotel Bethlehem in MR. MAGIC

 

Carly has her heart set on converting the Moravian Waterworks to a theater in MR. MAGIC

Carly has her heart set on converting the Moravian Waterworks to a theater in MR. MAGIC

 

In MR. MAGIC, remains of Bethlehem Steel play a role in ad agency’s downfall

In MR. MAGIC, remains of Bethlehem Steel play a role in ad agency’s downfall

 

Buddha helps people disappear to places like Chernobyl in MR. MAGIC

Buddha helps people disappear to places like Chernobyl in MR. MAGIC

 

Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Allentown, site of the Hiroshima die-in

Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Allentown, site of the Hiroshima die-in

Phil Woods rides again

This week, jazz musicians will honor one of the greatest alto saxophone players in memory, the late Phil Woods. This year’s Celebration of the Arts, the annual outdoor music festival in Delaware Water Gap, Pa., is dedicated to Phil, and his friends and admirers will gather tonight for a benefit concert to continue his legacy.

Forty-one years ago, I sat with Phil in his home in the Pocono Mountains for an interview published on Sept. 29, 1975 in The Pocono Record. He’d already played with the greats of jazz and two years later would conquer the world of pop music with his lyric solo for Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.”

This is my contribution to his memory.

Phil WoodsPhil Woods is alive and well-known (in jazz circles) and living in your back yard.

The alto saxophonist has 30 records to his credit, a grant to compose a major work for sax and orchestra and a cool manner smoothed by years of roadwork with Count Basie and myriad jazz greats.

He lives in Delaware Water Gap in a modest white clapboard house with his lady Jill and at least five cats, composing his three-movement “Sun Suite” in front of a blackened stone fireplace in his vaulting living room.

He began writing the suite under a grant by the National Endowment for the Arts; it comes to fruition in October when Woods, his quartet and an orchestra tape it for RCA Records.

Like many musicians, artists and writing living in the Poconos, Woods’ work is known nationally and internationally, yet he camouflages himself here, lays back and enjoys the scenery for a month, then flies through Japan and Holland, touring jazz festivals or debuting a new work.

He left home (Springfield, Mass.) at 15, powered by Art Tatum and later Charlie Parker, jazz jingling in his blood, hauling a horn willed to him by his uncle. He hit the road with the Birdland All-Stars tour, petrified but hungry to learn with his heroes—Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Bud Powell—riding the band bus and playing the southern Tobacco Warehouse circuit in the late ‘50s.

Living on the road out of a bus taught him about life, he feels. “There are still some big bands out there. But there’s no place for young people to get that experience, although the colleges have tried to replace that in a sense with the stage band situation. But that doesn’t teach you too much about life. That teaches you about the music, but not the invaluable things about living.

“You just keep your mouth shut and watch what the veterans do. I think that’s ideal, don’t you? Any man who’s been doing it five times as long as you have must have something to say.”

images-coverWoods has studied at both schools, trekking from Bach to bebop, from four years at Julliard through two decades of big bands and his own quartet. With a common twine called jazz running through his career, he has turned out eclectic potions like “Charity” on his 1973 album for Testament (“This is my boogaloo period.”) and “Images,” his latest LP for RCA with Michel Legrand and his orchestra.

His phrases are lithe, never overblown or dirty. He ranges from the cool (“The Windmills of Your Mind”) to the big and brassy to the sporadic. (The experimental sounds on the Testament album Woods said didn’t go over in a nightclub in the San Fernando Valley.)

Woods’ rather eclectic life seems to give his music its dynamics.

“I used to interview American jazz artists for a French magazine, a jazz magazine,” Woods said as he lit a cigarette and settle back in a chair in his living room.

That was during his 1968-72 stay in Paris, a trip Woods feels everyone should take. “It’s one of the most magnificent cities in the world. If you’re an artist, you owe it to yourself to go see it—why it’s different—so you can relate to what you have here. You need that contrast,” he said in a gravely baritone voice.

A musician before he found an instrument, Woods stumbled into the field. “I could whistle and make up a melody. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t sit down at the piano and just make up stuff. I was totally frustrated, and it would just sound terrible.

© Garth Woods“But I remember the attraction. That’s the reason I got the saxophone, because my uncle died. And when I was evidently nine, ten or younger, I would go look at his sax. It just intrigued me, all that white—the pearl and the gold, you know. I just loved to touch it.”

He was hooked after one lesson, took a four-year crack at classical clarinet and composition (“I had dreams of perhaps playing Mozart but I found out that was not my road.”) and gravitated toward jazz.

With a photographic memory for a melody, Woods set out to imitate his heroes of the big band era. “I guess you have to imitate before you can stretch out. That’s how you learn how to play. Essentially you can’t teach jazz, but a great way to help a student learn how to play is to have him learn how to play different solos.”

That background and the awe Woods says he feels for the jazz greats who have survived the decades (“It’s easy to be a swinger when you’re 26; let me check you out when you’re 46.”) led him into his present brainchild, “Sun Suite.”

“It will be a piece that everybody will be able to play, hopefully. It is meant to be used—not just recorded once and discarded. Hopefully published and used in schools. I’m trying to construct it in such a way it can be played with almost any instrumentation.”

Lighting another cigarette, Woods described his round-the-world tour of jazz festivals, culminating with the recording of “Images” before the Concord Jazz Festival this year in California.

But can he describe in words what his music’s about?

“No. Only when I have a horn in my mouth.”

Month of Mayhem

Next week kicks off a Month of Mayhem, with a look at the places that shaped Brinker’s story in his debut crime novel Mr. Mayhem—all in preparation for the return of the defrocked journalist and PR whiz this fall in the sequel, Mr. Magic.

Brinker returns a kinder, gentler guy who draws inspiration from his girlfriend Carly, a mate he calls The Buddha and the landscapes of the Greater Lehigh Valley. But in the meantime, he’s still stalking the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.

Each day in August, visitors on social media view the scenes that inspired Brinker’s day job and his extracurricular work, as well as the ones that fueled his loves and addictions. Here’s a look at some of the sights that became models for the novel.

1959 Cadillac hearse used by Col. Mabry when the modern version breaks down.

1959 Cadillac hearse used by Col. Mabry when the modern version breaks down.

 

Stroudsburg, Pa. funeral home that inspired Brinker’s workplace, Mabry & Sons.

Stroudsburg, Pa. funeral home that inspired Brinker’s workplace, Mabry & Sons.

 

The house on Sarah Street in Stroudsburg, Pa. where Eddie Maps allegedly killed his wife and daughter plays a seminal role in Mr. Mayhem.

The house on Sarah Street in Stroudsburg, Pa. where Eddie Maps allegedly killed his wife and daughter plays a seminal role in Mr. Mayhem.

 

Corner house in Stroudsburg, Pa. served as a model for the home of the first victim.

Corner house in Stroudsburg, Pa. served as a model for the home of the first victim.

 

Brinker’s mascot, Pecan Man, haunts Mabry & Sons funeral home.

Brinker’s mascot, Pecan Man, haunts Mabry & Sons funeral home.

 

One of most famous taverns in the Burgs, Rudy’s served as model for Willy’s Tavern.

One of most famous taverns in the Burgs, Rudy’s served as model for Willy’s Tavern.

 

Infamous intersection at 7th & Main in Stroudsburg, Pa., host to politicians and fatal accidents.

The intersection at 7th & Main in Stroudsburg, Pa., plays host to politicians and other fatalities.

 

The Water Gap Trolley became the model vehicle for Brinker’s Magical Murder Tour.

The Water Gap Trolley became the model vehicle for Brinker’s Magical Murder Tour.

Lend us your friends’ ears

Audible has a new service called Clips. It works like bookmarks do in e-books and web browsers, with a feature for the sharing economy.

Here’s how.

Audible clipsFirst, you have to have the latest app for an iOS device. Then, when you hear a passage you’d like to share with others, tap the Clip icon, move the start and end points and save it the snippet, or share via email or social media.

Saving the clip allows you to return to that spot for a repeat performance. Benefit to you. Sharing the clip amplifies Audible’s marketing and might eventually put a few more pennies in the pockets of its authors and narrators. Game, set and match to Audible.

But before grow too critical, I’d like listeners to try the service on one of my audiobooks, Peak Season or Mr. Mayhem, depending on whether you like a strong female lead or a crazy disgraced journalist nattering in your ear for seven hours.

Speaking of nattering . . . let me know what you think.

A walk on the dark side with ‘Mr. Mayhem’

Sued by his publisher for libel, Brinker is reduced to promoting trolley tours of crime scenes. The tour business is dying. There aren’t enough murders to draw a crowd.

A good serial killer would help.

When his doctor asks for aid in euthanizing terminal patients, Brinker hires an assassin named Angel, who reigns chaos and fame on the sleepy resort town.

But as Angel’s demands soar with the body count, Brinker wonders whether he’ll become the latest addition to his own list.

For better or worse, Mr. Mayhem, the first in the Brinker series of crime thrillers, comes alive in this video.

[iframe id=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/uovYcBIkjME”%5D

In a small Pa. town, an unwelcome guest

In this economy, even an assassin needs an agent.

Sued by his publisher for libel, Brinker is reduced to promoting trolley tours of crime scenes. The tour business is dying. There aren’t enough murders to draw a crowd.

A good serial killer would help.

That’s the premise of my new thriller, Mr. Mayhem, a book my fellow writers have alternately called clever and demented. Here’s the first chapter. I’ll let you decide.

1.

Brinker stood beside the body with its red flannel shirt and black ski pants and two-tone duck boots and smiled. “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.”

From the end of the road, police lights flashed as two cops directed traffic. At this hour, there was next to none.

“I’d be careful,” the Colonel said. “People might think you had a hand in this.”

“You should talk,” Brinker said. “Word is, our pal Red diddles with the bodies.”

The eyes of Col. Frank Mabry, U.S. Air Force retired, darkened to the color of his three-piece suit. “No wonder you got fired for libel.” He motioned for the redheaded intern in black to help hoist the body onto the gurney. Red was nineteen going on twelve. He had more acne than a porn star’s ass.

Mr Mayhem 3d_coverThey shoved the gurney into the back of the hearse and slammed the door with the little white curtain and Red drove the hearse into the night, its tailfins glowing like hot coals from hell, which was where the publisher of the Free Press was headed . . . after a brief layover at Mabry & Sons Funeral Home.

Brinker’s feet stuck to the ground. If he stayed here much longer he’d be next in the meat wagon. He looked around the yard. The porch lamp lit an axe, a pile of split wood, a felt Stetson and a dent in the snow bank where the publisher had fallen headfirst.

Brinker asked, “What killed him?”

“Heart attack, most likely.”

“How do you know?”

“What do you mean, how do I know? I’m the coroner. If I say he died of mustard gas poisoning, that’s what killed him.”

The Colonel usually showed more patience. Maybe he needed a drink. Brinker did, and his meds. He lit an unfiltered Camel and let the warm smoke trickle through his nose.

“Those things will kill you.” The Colonel had the spine of a floorboard. He’d retired from some base in the South and returned to Pennsylvania to manage the family business and had gotten trapped here like everybody else. Coroner and undertaker. Add animal-control officer and you’d have a trifecta.

“You should know,” Brinker said and coughed up half a lung. He’d have to see Dr. Jolley tomorrow. The doc had reduced his prescription of Vicodin and Percocet for lower back pain but he’d pony up a month’s worth of Xanax or Ativan, since the meds he prescribed didn’t seem to work anymore. It didn’t matter that benzos were addictive. The doc didn’t like to see people suffer. Neither did Brinker.

The Colonel stared into the dark, as if it would part like a curtain to reveal the secret of the afterlife. The dark stared back. “I don’t need to tell you, business is bad.”

“Then don’t,” Brinker said.

“Traffic’s down at the museum and most of the seats on the ghost tour are empty.”

“Murder tour,” Brinker corrected. The cigarette bobbed in his mouth. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

“Did you talk to your mother that way?”

Brinker smiled. “Why do you think she kicked me out?”

MM1 cover 1The Colonel pointed to the dent in the snowbank. In this cold, it wouldn’t lose its shape until July. “What can we do with this?”

Brinker looked at the yard. The snow sparkled like broken glass. The axe hadn’t moved. Neither had the hat. “You said he died of natural causes. No one’s flying up from Florida in the dead of winter to watch this guy make snow angels.”

In the brittle light, Mabry’s nose looked like it could hook rugs.

“Unless,” Brinker said, “you tell the cops you have doubts.”

“That would be official misconduct.”

“It’s a living,” Brinker said.

“You’re supposed to be the PR guy. What are you going to do about this?”

Going to, not gonna. As an elected official, the Colonel took care with his speech. Brinker picked a piece of tobacco from his tongue. “I’ll think of something.”

“You had better think fast. Get on the radio. Send out a release.”

“The paper won’t print our shit anymore.”

“Why is that?” Mabry asked in his I’m-struggling-for-patience voice.

“Too self-promotional.”

“For God’s sake.” Mabry abandoning the pretense. “Then get us on social media—or didn’t they teach you that before they canned your ass?”

Brinker tried to blow a smoke ring but the wind took it. “The murder tour’s getting old.”

“Of course it’s old. The crimes are old. History’s old. That’s pretty much the definition.”

Brinker stamped his feet to drive out the cold. The cold didn’t budge. “The tourists are looking for sensation, the big hit. They want blood, guts, scandal, like they get from TV, or Congress.”

“They want their heads examined,” the Colonel said. “We offer them something they can’t get anywhere else.”

“Time travel?”

“Yes,” the Colonel said, “it is like time travel. They can relive history. They can stand in the exact spot where the murder took place and use their imaginations for a change.”

“Soak up the vibes.” Brinker dropped the butt and listened to it hiss. “So what do we do?”

“Drum up business, fill the trolley. That’s why I hired you.”

“We’re fresh out of stiffs.” Brinker nodded toward the road. “Not counting this one.”

The Colonel turned on a polished boot and waded through a foot of new snow. He popped open the door to a black Escalade the size of a dinosaur and said, “I don’t care how you do it . . . just make it happen.”

Brinker watched the car fade to black. He hated winter almost as much as he hated the job.