Stormy weather

Starting a new project is never easy. Working during a storm that threatens your entire state makes it even harder to concentrate.

Now that Hurricane Irma has swept through Florida and spared our home, I’m trying to refocus efforts on a new novel, tentatively titled Born Under a Bad Sign, although The Peaceable Kingdom might provide an ironic description of the theme.

Set in 1969 just before the historic Woodstock Music & Art Fair, the book pits the residents of eastern Pennsylvania against the government in a battle to save or dam the Delaware River. It introduces two young people, a budding photographer named Elizabeth Reed and a prodigal musician called Hayden Quinn, who struggle with their own personal conflicts as they weigh the risks and rewards of love and fame.

For Elizabeth, the peace of the Minisink Valley is a form of paradise. For Quinn, whom Rolling Stone calls the next Jimi Hendrix, Eden lies to the north, at Max Yasgur’s farm. Whether they realize their dreams is an open question.

Unlike its predecessors, the CW McCoy and Brinker novels, this work is more mainstream, an exploration of the baffling mysteries faced by a sixteen-year-old woman on her emotional journey to adulthood.

I started working on paper (hence, the image of the notecards) before graduating to Word, with its document-view feature that uses headers to provide a visual outline of the manuscript. Less onerous than outlining, it’s a system I recommend to fellow writers who want flexibility as well as organization.

 

For the love of a good woman

Brinker’s gone soft.

The man who once turned a serial killer into a national brand is ready to chuck it all for the love of a good woman. If he doesn’t get her fired . . . or worse.

By day, Carly is director of marketing at a bank in the Lehigh Valley and one of Brinker’s agency clients. By night, she’s an aspiring thespian with a nomadic troupe of actors. More than anything, she wants to give them a home and has her hopes set on buying a theater in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

But Brinker’s boss wants to expand his ad agency and won’t let anything as useless as ethics stand in his way. And Carly stands in his way.

Can Brinker kick his addictions, win Carly’s trust and neutralize his boss? Find out if the defrocked journalist can get his mojo back in Mr. Magic, available through Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, as well as bookstores everywhere.

And don’t miss Brinker’s debut in the cutthroat world of PR in Mr. Mayhem.

10-moravian-waterworks

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

The Candidate

As an antidote to the election season, I’d like to share an excerpt from my new suspense/thriller, Mr. Magic. You can read the full-tilt lunacy of the role public relations plays in elections and other marketing campaigns at Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, as well as bookstores everywhere.

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

And now, Brinker, the defrocked journalist turned PR whiz, will demonstrate how sausage is made:

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 nominating convention.

On the campaign trail she’d been called Chillbilly and Bible Spice for her passionate if uninformed 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.

palin-legs-from-backBrinker 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 the women 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.”

 

A Narrow Escape

When the owners of a dying ad agency ask Brinker to make the competition disappear, the PR whiz must choose between jail and the love of his life.

In Mr. Magic, the disgraced journalist struggles with the forces of greed, addiction and affection as he tries to rebuild the bonds he broke in last year’s debut novel, Mr. Mayhem. Can he carry out his assignment without vanishing himself? Chapter 1 sets the stage for the conflict to come.

(For more on Brinker, the CW McCoy series and news of the publishing world, be sure to sign up for the Beyond the Book newsletter, at the bottom of this website’s homepage.)

1.

BY THE TIME the first bullet struck the concrete wall, Brinker had run halfway across the parking garage. The second slug hit a car and set off its alarm. As he plunged down the metal stairs, he heard a third strike the blockhouse.

Stumbling out at ground level, Brinker hit the sidewalk at a dead run. A half-block later, he glanced behind to see Buddha gaining on him, the streetlights showing the big man breathing through his mouth. Rounding the corner, Brinker pressed his back against the plate glass window of an abandoned hair salon as a car roared out of the deck, blew through the traffic light and disappeared.

He was twenty yards from the ad agency in downtown Bethlehem and a million miles from safe.

Buddha waved him to keep going.

Chest heaving, Brinker held up a finger and tried to swallow. “She pulled a gun!”

Hands on his hips, Buddha bent forward and talked to the ground. “I am mindful of that fact.”

Brinker massaged a stitch in his side. “She could have killed us.”

“If you remember, I suggested you stay out of sight.”

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000030_00049]Close to two a.m. on a bitter day in early April and Buddha wore sunglasses, a hooded sweatshirt and camo shorts. He straightened and started hopping in his high-top sneakers, his face as round as a balloon. For a moment he looked like that Korean rapper with the bowtie, the guy with the jerky dance moves.

Brinker said, “I thought you said she was drunk.”

“That would be my guess,” Buddha said. “Why else would she open fire on a pair of outstanding citizens in a public garage?”

They started walking, tracing the route Ginger Wright had taken in her flight.

“Christ almighty,” Brinker said. “I thought women only carried Mace.”

“At this point,” Buddha said, “I am more concerned about the police than her method of self-preservation.”

They stopped on Main Street with their backs to the three-story building where Brinker worked and stared at the bulk of the Hotel Bethlehem. The street that ran past the Moravian settlement toward the Hill to Hill Bridge appeared deserted, not a flicker of taillights at this hour to show where the owner of the rival ad agency had fled.

Brinker shook, from cold or adrenalin, he couldn’t tell. He gazed past the hotel with its ancient brick façade and pinprick lights in its arching windows and remembered the last time he’d gotten himself in a jam like this, when an assassin he’d hired came gunning for him in a deserted sandpit. He’d run so hard he could have swallowed a lung.

“No more,” Brinker said as they walked past wrought-iron tables and chairs to the car they’d left in front of the Italian restaurant. “You said when we got into this there’d be no violence.”

Buddha used a remote to unlock the door of the Lincoln. “It is a little late for that, my friend.”

Atomic shuffle

When we think of vacations, we think of the beach or the mountains, Europe or Mexico, a camper or cruise or condo. But if you’re a travel agent who specializes in helping the hunted drop off the grid, you might look to a few places that, while not off the beaten path, aren’t top destinations for the leisure class.

Think Chernobyl, Fukushima and a place that will keep radiating charm for centuries, Los Alamos and the neighboring town of Alamogordo, site of the Manhattan Project and the testing of the first atomic weapons.

At least that’s what the Korean expat Benjamin Kwon thinks when helping debtors, tax dodgers and advertising agency executives elude official scrutiny. Kwon , AKA the Buddha, does his vanish tricks in Mr. Magic, the second in the series of crime novels featuring a defrocked journalist turned PR whiz named Brinker, who made his debut last year in Mr. Mayhem.

What is it about those three sites that attracts the miscreants, misfits and marketing gurus? For Brinker and Buddha, two words: exclusion zone.

Established soon after the 1986 disaster, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Zone of Alienation is an evacuation area within a 30 km radius of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Decades after the meltdown, residents have crept back into the area.

After the Tōhoku earthquake on March 11, 2011 and the ensuing tsunami, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown made that region too hot to inhabit, yet people will always want a closer look at large-scale disaster.

Alamogordo is connected with the Trinity test, the first explosion of an atomic bomb, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the secret World War II facility that housed the Manhattan Project.

Dr. Beach isn’t naming any of those sites to his top 10 list of vacation destinations, but any place that’s off limits to the casual visitor might make a good place to hide.

That premise forms the backbone of Mr. Magic, a book that asks the question: how hard must a PR counselor work to spin a visit to a nuclear graveyard as adventure travel? For Brinker, that raises another question: how hard will his new boss at the ad agency press him to exile her rivals to these places?

Brinker will have to use all of the magic he can muster to keep himself from becoming the latest to disappear. You can read all about his struggle to give up sex, drugs and dirty tricks at Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and jeffwidmer.com, as well as bookstores everywhere.

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

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

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

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.

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

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