Saturday, October 29, 2011

Talking To Jon Stone

                                                                                    (Painting: Eric G. Thompson)

There is nothing incidental about an interview with Jon Stone, songwriter and performer. Even the room where I get to meet him seems carefully set up, the chairs placed in just the right angle to catch the light, allow my illustrious guest to stay in command. His manager enters before him. Sal Rosenberg has been working with Mr. Stone for more than twenty-five years now, from the beginnings of his career here in New York all the way to world fame. He greets me with a friendly shake of his hand, offers coffee, and then stands aside to make way for the star.

Surprisingly, Jon Stone does not look diminished close up like so many others. There is less glamor, it's true, but he still seems larger than life, imposing, in control, and he is one handsome man. At forty-six, he is one of those guys who would make you turn your head and bump into doors if you met them somewhere on the street, tall, dark, and with a smile to fry your brain.
He also makes it very easy to start a conversation by chatting about the weather and the coffee, about the restaurant he and his band visited the night before.

"Our last thing together for a while," Jon says. "The tour is over, now we get to relax."
Very neatly, with one statement, he has completely unraveled my well-laid interview plans. His legs stretched out, coffee cup balanced on his knee, he waits for me to speak. There's an amused twinkle in his dark eyes, and I swear  I can see the corners of his mouth twitching.

"There is a rumor that this was your last tour."

A moment's thought, then a nod. "Yes, I think that's so. It has been a fun ride, but it's time to move on. I want to do something totally different, find out if I can do more than just write songs and perform them. Last year my wife and I wrote a movie soundtrack, and now we're going to stage the musical we created. Right here in New York, too. The auditions start in two months."

"You will do the auditions yourself?"

Again, that mischievous grin. "Oh yes, I'd not want to miss that for the world. My wife, she can't wait. She's really excited about working on the show."
He watches while I take my notes, patiently sipping his coffee. Sal is visibly bored, he's pushing sugar cubes around on the saucer of his cup.

"You have reached nearly every pinnacle in the music world," I begin, and stop again.
That man has the audacity to SMIRK at me!
"Yes?" Drawled out, full of laughter, as if he knows exactly that I'm about to wilt.
"And now you're going to stage your own musical, too. What is it that is driving you? You could well stop working and enjoy your success and wealth and lead a pleasant life."

Very suddenly, every trace of humor is gone.
"Driving me, " Jon repeats softly, "Driving me. There is something driving me, it's true." He sits up straight and puts down his coffee cup. "When I signed my first record deal I was delirious with joy. I couldn't believe my luck. For two days, I walked on clouds. And then..." A glance passes between him and Sal. "And then I felt it was not enough. I hired a vocal coach, a fitness trainer. Sal and I started looking for a band, and I wanted people who would be good to work with for a long time, who would walk this path with me. Friends, a musical family. But it was not enough."
This is startling.
"Not enough?" I ask.
"No." Jon stretches out his hand, and Sal puts a pack of cigarettes and a lighter in it. "It was a step in the right direction, but it was not where I wanted to stop." The smoke drifts between us, bluish and obscuring.
"I got my first gold record, my first platinum, and still there was this drive to prove something, to prove to myself that I was worthy of something." He pauses. "I've often wondered if this is something all creative people feel, the need to be more than just a normal human, leave a mark on this world, do something that makes a difference."
His gaze wanders toward the door and he falls silent.
"So this new project..." I prompt him, and he shakes himself out of his reverie. Again I get one of these dazzling smiles. No wonder he has so many female fans all over the world.
"Yeah, I can't wait! Working with my wife is the best thing that's ever happened to me. She's writing a book now, a novel, would you believe it." His voice grows soft talking about her, dark and velvety like molten chocolate. Listening to him gives me shivers. He isn't Jon Stone for nothing.
"She is so talented, a real artist, a wonderful poet."
Oh, now that makes me want to snicker. Here is the famous rock star, and he's raving about his wife like a teenager. Not sure his fans would like that.
Sal taps his watch, and Jon nods. "Time for me to go. My wife is waiting, I promised to take her out for lunch today. One more question."
"Your wife." Uh oh, this may be the wrong  direction. His brows draw together. "She is the heiress to the Carlsson Hotel emporium, right?"
His hand comes up to stop me. "Yes, yes, but she has decided not to work in the family business." With a sigh, Jon rises from the couch. "She is my wife, and she's my writer. There's no time for all that, and I'd hate for her to be away that much." The chin comes up. "We have many plans, and they don't include the Carlsson estate. We'll end this now."
Suddenly, the air in the room seems a lot cooler. I know I've hit a wall, and the interview is over. They leave, Sal and Jon, talking to each other, their minds already somewhere else, somewhere in their own world, and I'm left behind with cold coffee and an untouched plate of cake.

Friday, October 21, 2011

In Other Words...

(This is how my Tweetdeck looked on April 22, this year. Champagne corks were flying, the book deal was finalized!)

Last night I got a mail from my publisher ( Buddhapuss Ink LLC, you know, the black cat on twitter), saying this: 
"Before the layout is put to bed, would you like to add any acknowledgements?"
My instant reply was, "Good grief, no! This is a novel, not a dissertation!" And I sent it off.
That publisher's mailbox must be brimming with mails like this one from me, sent out on an impulse, without really thinking about what I'm saying, because almost immediately they get another one, and this one then goes: "Well, actually, after mulling it over for a while..." Note the "well". I appears often in my emails.

So last night, after first saying "No!" and brushing the suggestion off I sat here, and I started to wonder: Who do I want to thank, now that this first novel is really finished, edited, copyedited and whatever else, now that it's going into print?

Yes, yes, my family, my husband, my cat, my sons, my friends who encouraged, read, applauded, asked for more – all those. Of course. They had the patience, the trust, the love, to help me write "The Distant Shore". They gave me the space and the time to retreat and finish a novel.
Thank you for all that, my loved ones!


In the book, on the last page, where the acknowledgements are, I want to see something else.
It's easy to write a novel. All you have to do is sit down and do it. It's also easy to send it out and offer it to a publisher, there's no risk involved. The worst that can happen is that it will be returned, or ignored.
The fulcrum here is the moment when a publisher actually decides to ACCEPT the novel, and accept it from a total novice. There's an enormous risk involved. Will the author be good to work with? Will the editing, the entire publishing process, go smoothly, will she work fast enough, do what she is told to do, help with the marketing, be willing to step out, do active promoting?
A publisher sinks money into a book when they decide to sign it. A whole lot. They expect a return.

Now here's where my "thank you" comes in.
I'm that total novice. I'm the author this publisher risked signing. My book is ready to go into print. We worked our way through it, most of the time without struggles (I hope; it didn't feel like struggling), and the sequel is well on the way. 

So I wrote that second mail, the one that began with "well", and here is what it said:

Well… if I WERE to add an acknowledgment… it would be this:

The fact that you, as my reader, are able to hold this book in your hand now proves that serendipity really exists. To me, it came in the shape of a black cat following me on twitter one day. It turned out to be my future publisher, who, with patience, a great sense of humor and a good dose of friendship gave me the time and space to shape this story into something you would want to read.
My thanks go out to MaryChris Bradley of Buddhapuss Ink who edited The Distant Shore, and taught me to be an author along the way.

And this is what you will read on the last page of my book. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Jane And The Daily Dinner

There is a universal, desperate plea every Mom knows: 
"What shall I cook today? Help!!!" 
Usually this happens when you stand in front of your open fridge and stare at what you have inside and could easily be turned into a meal, or when you sit down to write a grocery list (weekly nightmare stuff!), while the young ones are clinging to your leg and howling for food, and you, the frazzled cook, slap something together, anything, to stop the noise.
One day though, when exactly this happened to Jane Travers, serendipity took pity on her and guided her fingers to the computer, and instead of torturing her own brain for a recipe she had a stellar idea: ask twitter.
Within moments she had so many recipes for the chicken legs sitting in her fridge that she had the fabulous idea of putting together a cook book. Of course (OF COURSE!!!) it was immediately picked up by a publisher.

I'm happy and quite a bit proud to be included in Jane's blog hop to present her book "Tweet Treats". Here is the interview I did with her.

Congrats to you, Jane, and now sit down and write that novel you want to write, we are waiting for it!

1. What gave you the idea for this book?
It was a real lightbulb moment! I was standing in my kitchen on a miserable Thursday night in April 2010, staring at a packet of chicken thighs. It was already 6.30pm, everyone was starving and I couldn’t for the life of me think of what to cook with the chicken. In desperation I tweeted: 
“Any suggestions for what to do with a packet of chicken thighs? No dirty ones, please!”
Within a minute I had received 5 perfect little tweet-length recipes, and an idea struck me. I wondered how many twitter recipes I could collect; could I get enough to fill a book, and donate the royalties to charity? Within a couple of days I had a website up and running ( and was well on my way. 

2. Who was the first celebrity you approached, and why?
Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl With A Pearl Earring and others. She was fairly new to Twitter and hadn’t been mobbed with followers, so I thought there was a good chance that she might see me in her timeline – and she did. 

3. What was the recipe he/she gave you?
It’s a really nice recipe actually, for Pasta Puttanesca. I’ve tried it, it was lovely. 

4. Do you try out the recipes you get before you put them in the book?
Not all of them! It would be impossible, there are 1,000 recipes in the book. I’ve tried a good few though, and I’m pleased to report that there’s not a dud amongst them. In fact, quite a few of them have become new firm favourites in our house. 

5. Which is your favorite recipe?
Ooh, tough question! There are some that I think are great, because they come from people I really esteem (like Neil Gaiman!), then there are others that I’ve started making quite frequently. I really like feta, watermelon and mint salad by @SanyaV, golden syrup cookies by @Chiddle84 and banana bread by @mduffywriter

6. What is your personal favorite dish? And your favorite cake?
Probably Chicken a la King, but only when my mother makes it! I can never get it quite right myself. If I was on death row, it’d be my final meal. My favourite cake would be a really light Victoria Sponge with strawberries and cream, or else carrot cake. With cream cheese frosting. Oh god, I’m getting hungry now!

7. If you could go to any restaurant in the world for a romantic dinner, which one would it be? Who would you take?
It’s probably a bit twee, but I love the restaurant at the top of the Space Needle in Seattle. My husband and I first went there as a bit of a joke when we were on our honeymoon, and were surprised to really love it. If you book a table at dusk you can watch the whole city lighting up around you as the sun sets over Puget Sound. We’ve been there several times since, and our daughter loves it too. She spends her time passing notes to other diners around the outside of the revolving area. So, I suppose, I’d have to take my husband... But if he wasn’t available, maybe Neil Gaiman!

8. Coffee or tea?
Coffee! In the morning, anyway. It has to be black, and very strong – I’m a purist. For the rest of the day I drink tea, Earl Grey, also black. I’m really not keen on milk. 

9. What do you cook for Christmas dinner?
It depends. In my family we take turns to host dinner, between my mother, my sisters and I. If it’s my turn I roast a turkey with stuffing and all the trimmings, and the others will bring a dish each. If one of the others is hosting, I’ll usually make the trifle. 

10. Last question: Which food do you like least? 
Shellfish. No, beetroot. No, wasabi. No, marmite. No, probably shellfish actually... Ew, imagine shellfish with a marmite and wasabi dressing, over a salad of shredded beetroot? That’d be like a perfect storm of bad food!

Monday, October 10, 2011


                                                                                                                                             Photo: Marousia

Today I’m honored to present two twitter friends to you, Marousia and PeterWilkin1. 
They met on twitter, made friends on twitter, and decided to collaborate on a novel. We could watch them develop the story, talk about it, and finish it, and we celebrated with them. It’ my pleasure to be the first to host them. Here is what they have to say about their book!
                                                                             Photo: Peter Wilkin

Synchronicity: A Novel Collaboration between Peter Wilkin and Marousia Berry
We thought about how to write about our collaboration. Peter suggested using a conversation format so here is a reflective conversation about how we wrote Crystal Space: Releasing the Dragons
Can you remember how all this began?
M: When I think about how our collaboration began, I recollect that we noticed our poetry posts were synching in terms of themes and feelings, and this really struck us both. There were also the ‘parties’ with Pierre and Missy - those started when I was in Vietnam on business in late November last year, you three kept me company when I was eating dinner alone in restaurants. I feel we became friends and fellow travellers then. 
P: Yes, the parties were the precursors of our poetry collaborations, where we spontaneously created several, themed, haiku-based rengas ‘live’ on twitter. I remember we talked about ‘dancing together’ as the two of us wrote Flames of Creation, a dragon-themed renga in January of this year. We both wrote up the experience on our respective blogs and one of the comments prompted me to reply that there seemed to be ‘so much synchronicity (between us) as if we were unconsciously plugged into each other’s thoughts.’ 
M: I agree that when we wrote Flames of Creation we were tapping into each others thoughts, in my blog I described the process of writing the renga as a ‘seamless waltzing’.
How did we decide on a theme? What came first, the theme of the form/genre? 
P: You know, I seem to recall that the theme and the genre emerged hand in hand. Was it my wife, Ally’s decision to open a crystal shop that fuelled our fantasies about a similarly themed novel together? That, perhaps, and our shared passion for all things dragonish? 
M: Yes, we both went through a phase where all our micro-poems were about dragons. It was like we were finding the dragon characters for the book. Then I remember you telling me about Ally’s crystal shop and we decided to put the dragons in the shop; we had inklings of the dragon characters and crystal shop setting.
Why dragons? 
M: I feel we share an obsession for dragons. Maybe deep down I still believe dragons exist and  I could fly with them if I just say the right words...  How about you?
P: Oh, most definitely. Like you, I believe we are separated from a dimension where dragons do exist by a small piece of knowing that, for now, eludes us. Perhaps our dragon writing is bringing us ever-closer to those magical words?
Can you remember how we decided it should be a children’s novel? 
M: I seem to recollect we discovered we shared a love of children’s literature - poetry and books. I remember thinking Flames of Creation had the stuff of a story children would like. Did you feel the same?
P: I did indeed. Looking back, it is as if Crystal Space arose out of the ashes of our renga. In actual fact I’ve just taken a peek at Flames of Creation and it gave me the shivers as I read it through. There are so many raw ideas in our collaborative poem that we have picked out and developed whilst writing Crystal Space.
How did we write the outline and what part did it play in the writing? 
P: Whilst we had a very basic idea of a story in our heads, I remember writing out the ‘hero stages’ of a possible storyline and, shortly afterwards, creating a chapter-plan and synopsis from those initial notes. I think our pre-planning has been invaluable: keeping us on track (apart from my inability to stop at a predetermined word count) whilst still allowing us the freedom to roam wherever we wished.
M: I agree, the chapter outline was the key to keep the plot moves on track. I think it freed us to really develop the characters of the humans and the dragons as well as the settings where the events unfolded.
What’s the book about?
M: I guess our premise for the book is that optimism and imagination win through, and mistakes are essential to the process of growing up to be a grounded resilient person. The story follows a classic fairy tale plot line. The protagonist is a girl called Briannca on the cusp of adolescence. She goes to work in a crystal shop where she meets Ruby, the keeper of the dragon crystals. Over to you, Peter.
P: For the very first time in her life, Briannca experiences some major losses as she joins Ruby and the dragons in their quest to save the moon and defeat the incredibly evil Candleman. And she is faced with some big decisions as she and her nerdy brother, Enjee, embark upon a fabulous journey as they weave in and out of various dimensions.
M: Yes, Enjee’s ability with computer games turns out to be be very handy to solve some wicked situations. The dragons as characters are quite tricky but then again they are not human. 
P: And I think it’s fair to say that this is no ordinary story. The main characters find themselves in some weird and wonderful places and encounter some incredibly bizarre creatures.
How did you create the characters?
M: We decided on the sister and brother and shopkeeper, and then I recollect that we looked at crystal lore, do you remember how we settled on seven dragons?
P: Yes - the seven dragons are roughly based upon the seven alchemical metals that Carl Jung refers to in his theory of spiritual transformation. And, of course, the stages of individuation that he identifies surface regularly in our book as Briannca makes the transition from childhood to adolescence. 
M: I had the chapter where Rose dragon was first drawn out as a character by Briannca. Her crystal is rose quartz which heals and promotes unconditional love. She is incredibly playful but very grounded at the same time. You developed the Golden dragon, Peter, how do you see him?
P: He is the burning sun: a huge force of energy and leader of the dragons. Yet, deep down beneath his pragmatic exterior, there is a warmth and sensitivity in him that surfaces when Briannca is feeling upset or distressed. Just like his crystal, amber, he is both invigorating and calming.
How did we feel sending each other chapters? How did we feel reading each other’s chapters?
M: I was always so excited when I received the chapters from you. I remember waiting for you to write the first chapter and then it arrived. It was a magic moment I will never forget! I read it and it was perfect, so beautifully expressed. And then I had to write the second. Oh, I was so nervous sending it off and I tried to leave threads for you to pick up. I wondered which one would appeal to you. For me it was like an extended drama improvisation... over to you...
P: And I was amazed when you sent over chapter 2 - the distance between us and the fact that we had never physically met seemed irrelevant as your chapter took up the story seamlessly from chapter 1. Well - I say ‘amazed’ but, on reflection, I believe we somehow knew that our imaginations would meld together and the chapters would flow.
What about editing?
P: The editing has been fun, though I must confess to a degree of anxiety when first editing ‘your’ chapters. I remember tentatively apologizing to you in advance should I suggest any changes and you responded with, ‘Hey! Go for it! If I don’t agree I will say so!’ Your comment really freed me up to edit with impunity. For me, editing the book together enabled me to relinquish any kind of ownership of the chapters that I’d written. Now, it truly is ‘our’ book - there feels to be no ‘you and me’ about it any longer ~ only ‘us’. Was it a similar kind of process for you?
M: Yes it was, I feel that editing together worked really well because we did start to think about the book as a whole instead of chapter to chapter - it stopped being a dance and became a threaded unified work. I enjoyed the editing process very much and it very much is ‘our’ book now. 
What are our next steps?
M: We need to find publishers interested in children’s books and young adult fantasy to approach. I feel we have a series in the Crystal Space …
P: Definitely! And the prospect of writing a sequel with you thrills me.
M: I have the distinct sensation the sequel is sitting in a dragon’s egg somewhere hatching as we speak. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Donna Carrick on Writing

This week's guest blogger is no other than Donna Carrick, successful Canadian author and dear friend. I'm honored to host her! Here is her list of advice to all aspiring writers. Take it, she knows what she's saying. (And once you've listened to her, to what your heart tells you.)

Turning The Page – 10 tips for maintaining reader interest

As writers, we know it’s vital to keep the reader interested. This is true whether we’re constructing a thriller, a poem or a technical document.

Without the reader, there is no transaction. There are only words on a page.

Given the subjectivity of our art, how can we ensure our work is compelling to our target audience? It isn’t important to reach every potential reader, but we do want to connect with those who have a natural interest in our genre or subject.

Each author must find his or her own voice. There is no certain road to stellar writing. However, there are a few key tips that can help keep the reader “on-line” with your story. Keep in mind, each time a reader is “stopped” by something that clunks, there is one more opportunity for him to put your book down…for good.

The following is a checklist of things to watch for. The occasional occurrence of these “sticky” factors is not usually a deal-breaker. However, if these problems arise in your work with any frequency, you may need to drag your manuscript back to the old drawing board:

1- Poor spelling or grammar. Most independently published work, and even a good deal of the traditionally published work these days, will contain the occasional ‘typo’. These rare slips are easily forgiven by modern readers.

However, repeated errors in grammar and spelling will indicate to a reader that the writer is not skilled. If this problem occurs with any regularity, a course in basic writing is recommended.

If a writer believes his story is strong but is aware of a problem in this area, a copy editor can help. In that case, it is recommended that the author get professional assistance.

2- Pet words or phrases. We writers are human. Naturally, we’ll be tempted to slip colloquialisms into our work.

It’s ok to repeat a phrase when it lends voice to a specific character. However, it’s not ok when the writer shows an obvious attachment to a word or phrase. The reader will be turned off by repetition of this kind.

I keep a checklist of words that I have a particular fondness for. As soon as my first draft is complete, I “go hunting” for those words using the “find” function in my word processor.

3- Lengthy descriptions that interrupt the story. I call this the “explainy” stuff. We all do it, to some degree. As writers, we’re often describing the environment (either internal or external) to ourselves, as much as to the reader.

Most readers will lose interest if they are confronted with huge blocks of description or lengthy narrative. Of course, there will be some exceptions. For the most part, though, it’s best to give the reader sufficient foreground and enough artistry that he can fill in the background using his own imagination. 

4- Cardboard characters. We hear this all the time. But how will we know if our characters are one-dimensional? And what does that really mean?

A fully developed character will seem real to the reader. He/she won’t preach, won’t be 100% good or evil (unless that character is a saint or a sociopath!), and won’t be entirely predictable.

A strong character has room for growth. There may be flaws, but there is also the potential for redemption.

5- Take care with dialogue tags. Use “he said/she said” sparingly, but make sure the reader always knows who is speaking. Avoid replacements for the word “said”. They are intrusive to the dialogue. Also, avoid adverbs for “said”, like “he said breathlessly”.

6- Get comfortable with dialogue. Strong dialogue is a clear indicator of writer confidence. Listen to people speaking. Practice injecting your character’s voice into the dialogue. Read it out loud to yourself. Better yet, record yourself reading it.

7- Cut anything that is not related to your story/purpose. You may come up with a brilliant idea, but unless you can work it seamlessly into your current project, put it aside. If it’s really great, you’ll be able to use it down the road.

A red pen can be your best friend.

8- Know your characters like you know the real people in your world. You don’t have to offer this intimate insight constantly to the reader, but you should have it in the back of your mind when you bring your characters onto the page. Each time a character steps into your story, he/she should arrive as a complete person, with likes/dislikes/views/habits/dress intact.

Author infusion of self into characters is a common problem. Remember that your characters are not you. They should be free to act and think in ways that may be completely alien to you as a person.

9- Respect your readers. They don’t want to be talked down to. Each reader will have his or her own views on life. It isn’t necessary (or even desirable) for a writer to suppress his own natural ideas. However, it’s important to present those ideas within a foundation of respect, knowing that not everyone will agree.

10- Finally, the most important tip I can offer to writers of all skill levels is simply: READ, READ, AND READ SOME MORE. The more we read, the better we write. There is no substitute for exposing ourselves to literature of every genre.

An open mind facilitates excellence in writing.

Find Donna on Facebook:

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Sweetness Of The Dark

This is a blog post I wrote for the #amwriting fridayflash a few weeks back. Thought you might enjoy it. It's my first try at crime. Of course it would be a serial killer, what else.

He had yet, Mario decided, to get on a flight inside the US that left on time. 
In Seattle, waiting for the boarding, he had felt like a sheep, or even better, a refugee from some war zone, sweaty, thirsty, tired, confused and utterly lonely, watching as the herd of arriving travelers left the gate and evacuated the plane for another one.
He had never seen anything like it in Europe. There, air travel still seemed to hold the crisp excitement of an adventure, something out of the ordinary and not to be attempted light-heartedly, but here, it was nothing more than getting on a bus, a sad, dispirited routine.
The First Class passengers were called, another unheard-off thing back home. They shuffled past, and finally, at long last, it was his turn.
He was a wise traveler by now; no window seat for him, the gawking days were over. Aisle, and easy access to the restroom, that was the thing. 
The middle seat was empty, which was an unexpected bonus.
Mario was exhausted. 
The readings on the West Coast had gone well enough, he had met lovely people and eaten great food, enjoyed the landscape and the rugged shoreline, listened to his hosts’ enthusiastic declarations of love for their home, but he had felt oddly displaced, disconnected from where he felt the real world was, too far from anything that mattered. The West Coast felt like a different planet, like a continent dropped off the edge of the world, and the many time zones between it and Europe did not help either.
The air had not smelled right. The ocean was on the wrong side of town, and the vegetation was so different he could not recognize most of the trees. In Vancouver, he had been down on the beach and drawn back from the water in a moment of panic, shocked by the idea of the Pacific vastness and the strange shores on its other side. 
So now, at long last, he was heading back East, back toward home and places he felt he knew.
Newark greeted him with early morning heat.
In fact, it was not only heat but  a slap with a wet sheet right out of a hot washing machine. 
Mario stood on the curb, waiting for the car that was supposed to pick him up, and tried to take a breath. It felt like inhaling water, and pretty foul-tasting water too. The sky, low and grey, hung over the landscape like dirty dish rags, the tepid breeze touched his face as if the fingers of a middle-aged mermaid were trying to caress him. From the distance, he could hear sirens, police cars howling by on one of the convoluted highways, the echo dropping onto the street in a dead faint.
A black SUV pulled up right in front of him.
Stewart got out, a friendly grin on his face, and he looked just the way he had always done when they had Skyped, a little too round, a little too bald, and just on the verge of  elderliness, the memory of youthful middle-age still in the way he carried himself.
“I wanted,” he said, “To get you a coffee and donuts to give you the proper New Jersey welcome, but there was a long line outside Dunkin Donuts, so you’ll have to settle for breakfast at the office. It’s good to finally see you in person.”
He helped Mario put his luggage in the trunk. “The boys are really curious about you. They think we don’t need a European profiler, not even for a visit, and they can’t wait to see what’s so special about you.”
“I’m not a profiler,” Mario mumbled. Already his shirt was sticking to his back, and he had hardly moved. This was worse than North Carolina, and that had been pretty ugly. But there, it had just been heat. Here, it was like being inside a Finnish sauna, and on the highest tier too.
“Yeah, you are.” Without looking into the rearview mirror Stewart drove off and entered a maelstrom of roads, loops upon loops, completely messing up Mario’s sense of direction within seconds.
“I’m going to take you,” he announced cheerfully, “Along the Pulaski Skyway so you get a good impression of where you are right away. This is New Jersey, my friend, and you’ve never seen anything like it, I bet.”
Which was true.
Mario, looking out of the car window, had never seen anything like it.
He stared down at scarred, dismal landscape spreading away in every direction, at rusty towers and high chimneys, at desolate wasteland of decrepit industrial yards, inlets of water, their limpid, oily waves sucking at dead, marshy earth, and highways bridges in the distance, their iron girders whale skeletons stranded in a  world of refuse. Incredibly, there were houses, islands of life, sprinkled into this apocalyptic area, fingers of suburbia, undaunted by their surroundings. He wondered how children grew up there, in the midst of this nightmare, if there were parks he could not see, some pockets of green, some semblance of a garden, trees, flowers. All he recognized from here was grey, brown, black, and dead.
“There,” Stewart pointed into the distance.
Hovering, like a space ship, the skyline of Manhattan rose above the nightmare of New Jersey. Mario could name the buildings, he had been there before. They called to him, beacons of a happier place, one that he remembered fondly, and one that he could hardly wait to see again.
But for now, it would be Jersey City, and work.
Overpasses, they called the dark, filthy and spooky tunnels under the highways. He had no idea why they looked the way they did. But they certainly were the best place to deposit a dead body, and if a killer set his mind to it, like just now, he could make an art of placing his victims there.
So far, there had been fifteen, in Jersey City alone. And it would be his job to find the artist.