Thursday, April 29, 2010

Marathon weekend

Runners, on your mark! Get ready! It's New Jersey Marathon Weekend!

This is a bitter sweet post for me since I had to drop out of the marathon, and now it looks like I might not be able to do the Long Branch Marathon, either (the two events are held on the same course at the same time).

Why? Well, I've been having some health problems, which I don't want to go into here. I'm going to be fine, but it's made running more challenging.

I thought I'd be able to gut it through until I saw the weather forecast. It might have been chilly this morning, but the prediction for Long Branch is 87 degrees on Saturday and 81 degrees on Sunday.

Yikes. When you train in cold weather, jumping into summer heat isn't the best idea. Your body isn't used to it. I know mine's not - I'm not a hot weather runner, either.

So I might do it, I might not. Go ahead and call me a wuss. It's OK. I feel that way, too.

Whether I run or not, I'll be spending the weekend in the Ocean Grove/Asbury Park area, and I'm stoked. The more I visit, the more I want to go back, and the idea of spending two summery days there with no work agenda is borderline thrilling. You bet I've got my beach chair packed in the back of my car, ready to be planted on the beach on Saturday.

Anyone else running on Sunday? And what are you thoughts about the weather?

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Stark Reality of Freelancing

To everyone at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News:

I'm so sorry you've been put in this spot. I can't imagine what it's like to have your paper sold, to fear for your job, and wonder what to do next.

But I can imagine what it's like to ask "I wonder if I could freelance?"

I was there five years ago, and gave it a shot. I learned a lot, and I might be able to share some information to factor into your question, or at least give you an idea of what you need to make a go of it.

I write these not to scare you off, but to show you the stark reality that is freelancing. It's not easy, especially not at the start, and it's not for everyone, either. It can work, but it takes a lot of work.

Here's four things you'll need:

1. You must be an entrepreneur.
Yes, freelance writing is about writing. But 80% of my time is about getting assignments. I don't have a beat. I don't have regular assignments. And I don't have a regular paycheck, whether I write a story or not. As overheard this weekend at the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference, we're like dentists. If we're not filling and drilling, we're not billing. That's a radical change from a staff job, where you get paid based on your skills, not based on how many words you sell.

This is the part that usually pushes people out of freelancing. The uncertainly of work and pay, especially at the tail end of a recession, is maddening.

That's why you need to be an entrepreneur. You need to create a business of one. You need to create your brand. You need to market, and network, and pitch, and follow up. You need to take one idea and spin it six different ways. You need to treat publications like your clients. You need to work on client relations, because without them, you've got nothing.

You're also competing with people who will write for free, or hobbyists who think $5 an article is a great deal. Everyone thinks they can write, but not everyone can do it well. You need to show you're that person who does it well. You'll need to rise above the hobbyists or people who don't value good writing, and then prove to those clients you get who do pay well that you're worth every penny they pay you.

2. You need a cast iron stomach.
I joke that I'm a good freelancer because I'm single and used to rejection. Freelancing is all about rejection, and you need to use it to learn about yourself, and you must get past all the nos to get a yes.

You need to be able to stomach editors, too, who can be clueless, absentminded, and downright mean. You need to be able to hear them say that you suck or you're a terrible writer (I've heard both, and recently). You need to be able to hear them say they won't pay you on time. You need to stand up for yourself, of course, but you need to deal with editors who have what you don't - benefits, a steady paycheck - telling you to work harder for no additional pay. Unless they were once freelancers, they will never understand what your life is like, nor will they care. You need to prepare to do battle with a smile.

3. You must be your boss.
Sounds simple, right? But when it's a nice day out, or you're tired, or you're sick, you must get to your desk and work. Sure, freelancing can mean flexible, but you can be flexible to the point that you put yourself out of work. Go back to number 1. That's why you must be strict with yourself, even be a mean boss, and work.

You have no safety net as a freelancer - no regular pay, no company provided health insurance, no employer sponsored 401k, no sick leave, no vacation, no disability, no union. I'm single and the only person who can pay my bills -- no matter what happens -- is me. This is why you need to be your own boss. You need to work to guarantee the financial security of your company of one.

4. You must be an resilient.
People will not pay you on time. They'll assign something, have you write it, change their minds, and not want to pay you. You'll be told to write for free. You'll be asked to throw in extras for no additional fee. You'll be asked to sign away your rights, to agree that if the client is sued - even if it's because a change your editor put into the article - that you'll take the blame. People will try to walk all over you.

That's why you must be resilient. This business breaks me about once a year. I'll hit rock bottom, say I'll never do it again, and then the roller coaster will come out of the valley and it'll be the best job in the world. But you need the mental toughness to get through those rough patches when an accounts payable person is lying about having mailed a check, an editor demands a rewrite overnight, and two steady clients have folded.

Scared yet? Freelancing can be scary, especially in this financial moment, and in this time when everyone's telling you print is dead.

But it can be done. I've done it, and so have thousands of other writers. The best thing you can do is get the harsh truth first, then find out how to make it work for you if that's what you want to try.


Phew! OK, so that's my serious post about freelancing. I'm actually thinking of holding a one-day seminar on how to be a freelance writer that would show how it's done. Anyone up for that?

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Romance Race

Remember my post about Dustin Laricks, Sea Isle Realtor who I praised as having the perfect romance novel name?

Well, he does more than just sell houses and have an awesome name. He's organized the Peyton's Promise Walk/Run for CDH Research, a 5k that'll take place in Sea Isle on May 15. All proceeds benefit the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where Peyton Laricks, daughter of Debbie and Dustin Laricks, was treated for Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia when she was born.

The website has all the details, including Peyton's story (she's ADORABLE). This is a good one for your sleepy heads, too - the race starts at 11am.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

News from around the South Jersey Shore

Want to buy a casino? Or at least part of one?

Bill Clinton is coming to...the Atlantic City Hilton? I'd rather see Joan Rivers, who is there this weekend. She's salty.

Bunch of Brits stranded in the U.S. because of the volcano are welcomed into Ocean City. Not a bad place to be.

Think gambling's not addictive? Atlantic City casinos fined for letting in a guy who put himself on the self-exclusion list (meaning he asked to be barred from the casinos). I have to agree with this commentator - is it fair to fine the casinos when the guy tried out 15 IDs and they caught him 13 times?

It's so sad that there's so much struggle to get a supermarket in Atlantic City.

About time. The Dorset Avenue Bridge in Ventnor re-opens.

Hey hey, North Cape May. You're getting a Dollar Tree.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Beer Pong in the Wild Wild West

The Wild Wild West casino in Bally's is an odd one - people either loved it or hated it. It's kind of schmaltzy, but it presented a different option than just a casino floor if you do that kind of thing.

Word came out yesterday that it's getting a facelift that will improve the gaming floor and add the Wild About Wings restaurant. The Main Stage, a concert venue between Bally's and Caesars, will be expanded with - I'm not making this up - a beer pong area, beer bar, and a mechanical bull.

Well. At least it's never boring at Bally's.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Strathmere's Bride Revisited

Back from Chicago - a fun, cold city. I finally to go reading Strathmere's Bride - Strathmere having nothing to do with the shore town between Ocean City and Sea Isle, but I bought it for the title anyway. You can read that review here.

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Friday, April 16, 2010


Enough nonsense about Margate (though I'm still steaming today). I'm going to Chicago for the weekend. I plan to eat a lot of deep dish pizza, hot dogs with tons of junk on it, and see the Cubs. See ya!

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What Not to Do, Margate

After speaking at a conference in Atlantic City tonight, I drove to Margate for dinner. I parked my car, looked around for signs, saw none, so left and enjoyed a lovely meal.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I went back to my parking spot, and my car was gone. I called the police, and they said that I parked in a clearly marked "NO PARKING" zone - clearly to them means "behind trees with leaves that just bloomed," I guess. The woman on the phone was incredibly mean to me, even mocking at how stupid I could be to miss the signs - that were blocked by just bloomed trees, of course.

Congrats, Margate. You generated $115 of revenue tonight - a dead night I might add. It's not too busy in Margate on a Thursday in April. My car was one of the few I saw.

In exchange for that $115, you've made sure that I won't be visiting again any time soon, nor writing about your town in the near future, which is great timing since I'm currently revising my book and deciding who makes the cut and who doesn't. I did just write a lovely piece about Margate that will run soon. If I could, I'd take it back, but I really need that money to pay for the ticket and towing I endured tonight.

I hear people complain a lot about over zealous ticketing and towing down the shore, and how it turns them off from visiting again. I can see why now. If I didn't cover the shore, why would I come back if I knew that, after paying $6 in tolls just on the AC Expressway, I could face another hundred dollars in fines? I have no desire to go back to Margate - at least not until they put NO PARKING signs in places where visitors can see them.

P.S. Yes, I could fight the ticket - if I had nothing better to do on April 26 than drive to Margate and back and sit in court for a 1pm appointment. Disgusting, Margate. Really disgusting.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Lost State of South Jersey

I'm buried in work this week, so until I dig myself out, check out a piece I wrote for New Jersey Monthly about the lost state of South Jersey.

It's an interview with Michael J. Tricklein, author of Lost States. My favorite quote from the book:

“Admittedly, northern New Jersey is urban and asphalt covered,” he writes in Lost States. “But the south and western parts of the state are surprisingly rural and unspoiled. It’s this dichotomy that has led to 300 years of attempts to divide the state in two.”

Couldn't have said it better myself.

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

News from around the South Jersey Shore

Eye. Roll.

Cape May might do parking passes for residents.

Hey, a new play's coming to Cape May (I wrote this one! The article, not the play...)

Victory! The ugly lighthouses will be removed.

Jack Wright rambles this week about restaurant changes in Cape May. Really - thanks guys for going online. I always pick up Exit Zero while in town, so it's nice to be able to read it at home. May I suggest you guys try Twitter?

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Promoting the Collective Jersey Shore

There's this group that is calling itself the Jersey Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau. Sounds good, right? Well, it only includes Ocean and Monmouth counties. Apparently, Atlantic and Cape May counties aren't part of the Jersey Shore.

I'm sick of this. I really am. Why does everyone fight each other? The Jersey Shore - all of it, from top to bottom - is the state's greatest tourism asset. It should all be promoted as one collective whole with a lot of cool and different things in every single shore town.

Instead, we have counties and townships trying to rip the Jersey Shore Tourism crown away from each other. And, yes, I'd say the same thing if just Atlantic and Cape May Counties were behind this CVB. Actually, I have come out against the whole "Jersey Cape" nonsense.

Here's an idea: Stop fighting. Stop seeing each other as competition. Work together to promote the entire Jersey Shore. If you do that and create one unified promotional message, you'll elevate everyone. Trying to tout just your county or whatever is short sighted, and is a missed opportunity.

Of course, someone would need to bring all these parties together to do this, and I don't have much faith in NJ Tourism. They're not even on twitter. Look what Philadelphia - a CITY - is doing there, and you'll see why I don't have much hope for the state's tourism agency to come in and do something about this problem.

Why the rant? I'm speaking on a New Jersey tourism conference next week, and I'm still figuring out what to say. I love New Jersey - obviously - but I hate to see people work against improving our state and the state's image to drive tourism.

Disclaimer: Yes, this blog is regional, but I don't deny the fact that other counties exist, and I write about them, too. I have a feature coming out next month about Asbury Park, and I've written many times about Sandy Hook, Long Branch, Ocean Grove, Belmar, LBI. It's not my speciality, but I don't try to say they're not the real Jersey Shore. They're part of the whole that make up this great area of our state.

I also don't think that morons at MTV has ruined the Jersey Shore image. The show is fading. Those nit wits were kicked out of NJ, and are reportedly being banned from places in Miami, where they're filming the next season. Here's a promise: I will throw a big blow out party the day one of those people goes bankrupt and/or does porn. Because that's the only place that can go.

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New Versions of the Same Old Glorious Thing

I've been writing about a lot of old Jersey Shore motels lately. The Wingate is one of them. You won't find the Wingate today - not in its old form. It's now the Starlux. Cape May's Coachman Inn is now the Beach Shack. In Atlantic City, the old Holiday Inn and Howard Johnson are the Chelsea. And the Caribbean, bless them, is still the Caribbean.

The Jersey Shore has an amazing ability to reinvent and re-imagine itself. All of those original buildings were fading coastline stars when they were bought and rehabbed into something new and wonderful. It's something I love about the area, that ability to bounce back and start over again.

That Wingate advertisement hangs in the lobby of the Starlux. If you're in the area, pop by and take a look.

Also: I dare you to click on the Caribbean link and NOT stay to listen. I turn off all my music when I'm on that site. It's so soothing.

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Monday, April 5, 2010


Want to win a copy of my book PLUS $50 in gift certificates for downtown Ocean City? Then check out this contest that Kelly Phillips Erb - a.k.a. the Taxgirl - is running on her site.

Also - if you're thinking of skipping work to head down the shore during this freak warm streak, CHECK THE FORECAST. It was cold and foggy down the shore today. A lot of folks walking on the Atlantic City boardwalk were dressed for summer, not a cool spring day. Lots of chattering teeth.

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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Boardwalk Empire

Happy Easter! Perfect time to talk about gangsters, right?

That's HBO's second preview of Boardwalk Empire, a series they're releasing this fall that's based on prohibition era Atlantic City. It stars Steve Buscemi as Nucky Johnson, the top boss in town during that era who enjoyed all the splendors that racketeering in a town of booze, brothels and gambling.

The series (which is helmed by Martin Scorsese - yes, THAT Martin Scorsese) started as a book: Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City by Nelson Johnson, a judge of New Jersey Superior Court.

It was published in 2002, back when I first dipped my toe into freelance writing. One of my first pieces was about Plexus Publishing, a small publisher tucked into New Jersey's pine barrens. What book had they just published? Boardwalk Empire.

I finished reading it last night (and had plenty of nightmares about gangsters on Saturday night - yes, really). While the HBO series is about prohibition, the book is a longer look at Atlantic City, right up until 2002. Things have obviously changed since 2002 for AC, but it's still a good overarching view of the town and its colorful past.

I'm interviewing Johnson this week for a feature I'm writing on Atlantic City. Should be an interesting chat.

The series was not filmed on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, by the way. It's changed too much to play a 90-years-younger version of itself.

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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Here we go again

Thanks to everyone who commented and emailed me good luck with the book. I've been working on the second edition few weeks. This morning, I cleaned out a materials left over from the first book. These are the drafts I'd printed out and edited in summer 2007.

So, as the title says, here we go again...

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Friday, April 2, 2010

Spring 2011: The Jersey Shore: Atlantic City to Cape May, 2nd Edition

That's right folks, the book is getting a makeover.

I'm writing a new version of The Jersey Shore: Atlantic City to Cape May. I say new rather than updated version because the new book will be very different from what you can buy today.

First, it'll be in full color. Second, it'll be more a "best of the best" than listing as many restaurants and hotels and shops as possible. I've covered the area for three years now, and the second edition will reflect all that research - done not just for a book but also all the work I've done on the dozens of articles I've written since, and for this blog.

I'm excited, and I'm nervous. I made my first official "book research visit" on March 20, and I felt sick that entire day. Writing the first edition of the book was the most difficult thing I've ever done professional, and personally? My life was a mess. My grandfather had just died died. I was wrenched out of a horrible relationship, and I'd just bought my first home. Throw writing a meticulously detailed and researched book on top of that? Well, it wasn't the brightest four months of my life.

But this time will be different. I know what lies ahead. I know who to call for what information. I'm not starting from scratch. In a way, I've been researching this book for three years. That's where the excited part comes in.

I printed out the first draft of the Atlantic City chapter yesterday. It clocks in at 7,777 words. Thank you, Lady Luck, for the send off.

If that's not enough shore for you, you can become a fan of this whole crazy "Down the Shore with Jen" thing on facebook. When I started writing the book in May 2007, I never imagined it would become what it is today. So thanks for everyone who has supported me along the way.

Also - I have a piece in today's New York Times about Tampa's vintage fashion scene. Not shore related, but I'm proud of the piece, so go read it!

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Food Network Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival

Big news! The Food Network has signed on as the sponsor for the Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival, now known as - of course - the Food Network Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival.

This is HUGE. Atlantic City is stuffed with fantastic restaurants, but out of towners don't always see that, or even know where to look. It's not exactly the first place non-gamblers think of when they want gourmet food. The Food Network putting their stamp of approval on this festival? Major PR gain for the event, and for the city.

If you want to buy your tickets now, the discount code is FOOD10.

Yes, still big announcement coming. Expect that around 10am on Friday. I also have an article in the Weekend Arts section of tomorrow's New York Times - and it's NOT about the Jersey Shore. I'll post that link tomorrow as well.

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News from around the South Jersey Shore

Excellent piece in the New Yorker about casino carpets.

Jazz Festival is coming to Cape May April 16-18.

I'm a little late in reporting this, but Cape May's Exit Zero now has a boffo new website, so eve if we don't live in town, we can read their ramblings, like what Jack Wright has to say about those silly lighthouse things now at the entrance of town. What were they THINKING?!

Get ready for mosquitos early...


More on the proposed Hard Rock in Atlantic City.

Watch out of ticketing in Wildwood.

Stay tuned for a big announcement tomorrow. Exciting!!

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