Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Holidays!

I'm about to take some time off between Christmas and New Year, so from my family to yours (and this is my family at our annual 'ugly sweater party'), happy holidays, and a wonderful new year!

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Down the Shore with...John Alvarez

What better way to start off Christmas week than with a Santa Q&A? Well, not quite a chat with Santa, but John Alvarez of Cape May Stage, who happens to sometimes play Santa (I met John the night of the Cape May tree lighting, sans big red Santa suit).

1. How did you make your way to Cape May?
Kicking and screaming (lol). I was born and raised in Northeast Philadelphia, with my nine other brothers and sisters. When most of my older siblings had moved out of the house, my parents moved to Cape May. This was 1983 and in the middle of my senior of high school. Believe me, I wasn'’t to happy to move. It really wasn'’t until after I had graduated college and was on my first theatrical tour that I started missing walking the beaches of Cape May. At the end of the tour, I was taking NJ Transit back to Cape May. I was looking out the window as the bus was coming over the Cape May bridge. I had a great view of the canal, the docks and Lobster House. I smiled and said “I’'m home”.

3. What does it take to play Santa?
I’'ve played Santa, at different times, for twenty years. I can tell you that it takes more than just being a big, jolly man. You need patience, compassion, and great sense of humor. And that'’s just for the adults who want to tell Santa their Christmas list (I blush at some of the requests). Seriously, it'’s surprising what you are asked as Santa. I’ve had children ask anything from toys finding their parents a job. The worst question I was ever asked: A boy asked me to bring back his brother who was killed in a car accident a few months before. The best question: A little girl, about four years old, had asked me for a lump of coal. When I asked her why she wanted a lump of coal, she said, "“So I can give it to my brother. He’'s so mean to me”." I laughed for a good five minutes at that.

4. What's the toughest part about the costume? Having to navigate it when using the restroom. Enough said.

5. Tell me about the Christmas show, and how that came to be.
The show is called “Every Christmas Story Ever Told” and it depends on which person who created the show (Michael Carleton, James Fitzgerald and myself) you'’re talking to at any given time. We all have our different take on how the show came to be. My interpretation is simple. It was all my idea (lol). Seriously, it was summer of 2003 and the theatre was having their weekly “clambake”, a party where anyone can show up. I was bouncing the idea of doing a show about every Christmas story ever told to friends who were also writers. All of them laughed at me, except for Michael and James. We went to the kitchen of the actor’s house, sat at the table, opened a beer and talked. By the end of the second beer, we had an outline of the play. Basically, it’s about three guys doing “A Christmas Carol” when one actor (my character) confesses that he can’'t do another version of this story again. From that point on, we spoof Christmas stories, traditions, carols, commercials, parades and TV specials. I would love to tell you more, but that would give too much away. Let me just with the fact that, four years ago, Michael, James and I were sitting in Cape May Stage’s theatre, twenty-four hours before opening night, wondering if the show was going to work. Four years later, the play is published and is being done in over ten theatre’s in the US, two in Canada and one in Tokyo, Japan. Not bad for a show that got start in a kitchen over a beer.

6. What's up next for the 2008 season?
2008 is the twentieth anniversary of Cape May Stage'’s first year. We will also be done with our renovation campaign called Project Encore. For four seasons now, Project Encore has been raising funds to fix up the theatre. Also, for far too many years, we have had folding chairs for our patrons and only about a dozen lighting instruments for our shows. (I won’t even tell you abut our sound system - uggh) Hopefully, and after nearly $1.5 million raised, we will be done with the renovations. As for our shows, our season has been picked and we are doing six (or seven) shows, one children’s production, and after the success that had last October with a staged reading of Macbeth, we are doing four staged reading ranging from “The Tempest” to Orson Wells'’ radio version of “War of the Worlds”. Now, all of this is subject to change so check out our website at and check out our schedule.

7. What are two places in Cape May that everyone MUST see/do if they're coming down for vacation?
Well, one of the things that people should do is take one of the tours sponsored by the Mid Atlantic Center of the Arts. Through this organization’s efforts, many of the Victorian houses in town were saved. They helped Cape May get it’s National Historic Landmark status. Many of the reasons why people come to Cape May are through their efforts. Sadly, they do these great tours and a lot people don’'t go to them. When you’'re in Cape May (especially if it’s raining) go take one of the MAC tours. They’'re fun.

The second thing is to go walk the beach. I know, I’'m crazy to mention walking the beach in South Jersey. But how many time do people actually walk the beach? The run to it to get tanned, or go body surf they waves. But how many just actually walk the beach? It’'s a beautiful walk. Tranquil and inspiring. It'’s a great place for people watching. You'’ll see anything from a child’'s first steps to the ocean to older people who have been on the beach for most of their life. And everything else in between. And if you are dating someone one or you’'re happily married, there is nothing more romantic than kissing the love of your life with the taste of see mist on your lips. Go take a walk on the beach. It’s fun. And, after that, you can walk up the stree to this little theatre called Cape May Stage.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

News from Around the South Jersey Shore

Let's start with the big story: the Tropicana has managed to stay out of bankruptcy so far.

Here's an overall picture of Atlantic City's future as a gaming city, and what the decision to not renew the Tropicana gaming license means for that future.

The man allegedly behind a 1982 murder in North Cape May has been caught.

Cape May Point's going to be getting more help to stop the sea from washing it away (though I think having a convent on the tip of the state is still a great idea).

Cape May County's going to be keeping a closer eye on Sea Isle City.

Sea Isle City' Colonnade Inn gets a nice write up here.

This isn't exactly news, but here's a cute blog post from Zoey Castelino, a Sea Isle City native who now lives in Toronto. She writes about how things have changed in a blog post titled "How far must one redhead go" where she marks the distances to Wal-Mart, Starbucks and Target from Sea Isle City -- all things that hadn't been in the area when she last lived in town.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

South Jersey Girl on Film -- Really!

In October, I posted about being interviewed for a documentary about where is the middle of NJ, and the footage is now online. Check that out here.

I never like hearing/seeing myself on tape/camera, but this isn't too bad. I also love the random dog in the background.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Down the Shore with...Scott Neumyer

Scott Neumyer is the guy behind the camera -- literally. I forget how I found out about the work of this photographer, who is based on Central Jersey (it's okay -- I don't judge...that much). In any case, Scott found this blog in the way that we find most blogs (by accident, I'm guessing). He wrote me about his very strong South Jersey shore ties, and I liked the recent beach wedding pictures he posted on his blog at, so, viola! He's the latest interviewee of the "Down the Shore with..." series.

1. What do you consider your favorite shore town? Why?
Easily Stone Harbor. Of all the shore towns I've visited in my life (and that's probably just about all of them), Stone Harbor is just so quiet, clean, and peaceful. We spent a lot of time in Wildwood when I was a child and I always thought that was the shore town of choice. That was until I first visited Stone Harbor and was completely blown away by how relaxing it is. My wife and I spend at least a week there every summer. I proposed to her on the beach in front of the Windrift, and it's where we spent our honeymoon. Sure, it's not the hippest or most exciting of all the shore towns, but it's definitely where I'd choose to rest my head were I able to move there permanently.

2. A lot of people go to the shore just to eat. Any foodie memories?
Absolutely! I mean, where do you begin with foodie memories of the shore? Greasy pizza at Seaside and Point Pleasant, Kohr Bros. ice cream at just about any boardwalk. Salt water taffy in Cape May. They all share a little place in my memories, but my main memory is from Donna's Place in Stone Harbor. It's tiny and mostly non-descript, but the food is just fantastic. I'm not a huge seafood eater (go figure), but the first time I went to Donna's Place was with my girlfriend (now wife) on her recommendation. It's pretty much become "our place" and is the restaurant of choice for us every summer. I think we actually ate there at least once a day for the week we spent in Stone Harbor this last summer.

3. Do you have a favorite spot to photograph at the shore, or is everything a possible target?
Everything is probably the easy answer, but if I had to choose only one thing it's people. I'm a portrait and lifestyle photographer, for the most part, and I just love to people watch. Strolling through town (be it in Stone Harbor or Cape May, etc) or down the boardwalk, there are so many different types of people at the Jersey shore and they're all great subjects in one way or another. It's as easy as watching the people, having the guts to approach them and as to make their photo, and then creating something interesting and beautiful. If I could, I'd do that every single day for the rest of my life. People are far more willing to let you make their photo than you might expect, and you can come away with some really cool shots.

4. I see that you've photographed beach weddings you change what you do because of the environmental factors of the beach?

Aside from making sure your gear is protected, the most important thing is probably knowing your surroundings well enough to adjust to whatever conditions may arise. If you know how the wind, the sand, the air, and the water will react (to a certain degree), you can still make great photos in bad situations. The last wedding I shot was in Point Pleasant in early November. It was absolutely freezing and the wind was blowing like crazy, but if you push through those small factors, you can get some really great images. I just kept reminding myself how great the clouds would look (because of the incoming storm) in the final photos and that kept me going through the freezing cold.

5. Aside from weddings, portraits and a whole host of other things, you photograph dogs. I have one -- a somewhat crazy Jack Russell Terrier mix. Any tips on how to get her to sit straight for pictures?
Wow. Yeah, I wish I did. Ha! It's tough to get animals and children to sit still for you, but you have to be persistent. Especially hyper dogs are even tougher. The only advice I could offer is to get down on their level. Play with them (this works for animals and children). Show them that you love them and then start picking up the camera. Take a ton of shots and eventually you'll get some that you love. With dogs, you end up throwing a lot away, but all that only makes you faster. The faster you are, the better chance of grabbing a great dog portrait. There are photographers I know that specialize in Dog Portraiture and they're some of the quickest and best photographers you'll ever find.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Retro Down the Shore with Jen

Got some good news last night: I'm writing an essay for the 2008 issue of Cool Cape May, which is a fab hardback book that goes into a lot of Cape May's B&Bs, inns and hotels (and is also available for sale online at the Exit Zero store, which is located in Congress Hall).

The editor sent me to my mother's photo albums to find a few retro Jen shots to include with the essay. In these pictures, I'm 3 years old, then 7 years old, then 16 years old.

Fortunately, these bathing suits aren't frightening, unlike every Easter dress I wore from about 1983 through 1998.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

What's Up, Trop?

This is about the time of week when I'd write up a "News Around the South Jersey Shore" post, but there's only one story I really care about right now: the Tropicana.

Yesterday, New Jersey Casino Control Commission refused to renew the Tropicana's gaming license. They've put the property in the trustee hands of former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Gary Stein.

Big news? Absolutely. It's only the second time this has happened since gambling became legal in Atlantic City. Things have hit rock bottom if the gaming comission is shutting down a casino.

So what happened? On January 3, Columbia Sussex Corp., which owned (and lost control through this ruling) of the Trop slashed 900 jobs, and now the casino/resort is in a state of chaos. It's understaffed and, as I heard, "filthy" because a lot of the jobs cut were those of housekeepers.

I've stayed at the Trop twice and didn't see a problem, but if it's bad enough that the state has shut down a casino, then something's really wrong here.

If you're headed to the Trop, know this: the casino is still open. Why? That magic word of "appeal." Stay tuned. This will be an interesting one.

For more information, check out articles in Newsday, The New York Times, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Cover! The Cover!

Here it is, kids, the cover to the book. I'm told that this will also be up on Amazon within the week.

Congrats, Wildwood, on making the cover!

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Get Your Copy! Or at Least Schedule to Get Your Copy!

Big day in the offices of Jen A. Miller. The Jersey Shore, Atlantic City to Cape May: Great Destinations: A Complete Guide: Including the Wildwoods (Great Destinations) is now up for pre-sale on

It's a bit surreal to see that considering the proof, with my marks, is still on my dining room table. But now if you ask me when you can buy your copy, there's the answer. Of course, you won't actually get the book until May, but it's a start!

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Fish Out of (or Without) Water

I'm finally, after a series of delays and debacles, back from Arizona. It's a shame my wonderful trip was capped off with terrible service trying to get back from Phoenix (Delta, expect a letter of complaint soon).

In any case, I had a good time, and I was fascinated by just about every aspect of the trip. I'd never been so far west, or even seen a mountain that was not part of the Appalachians. As you can imagine, I was shocked by the size of those in Arizona, from the moment I landed -- heck, even before! As we flew into Arizona, I was like a kid with my face plastered against the airplane window.

If you'd like to see my pictures, and what I'm calling my fish-out-of-water-story-told-through-pictures recount of the trip, the Flickr set is here. Notice the address in that link -- I've created my own "Down the Shore with Jen" spot on Flickr, and I hope to be adding shore pictures soon. And if you're still not enticed, maybe this picture will grab your interest:

For the full story, check out the Flickr set.

I went on this trip for work, so I was asked a lot what I do. When I said anything about "travel writing," most people wanted to know about all the exotic locales I go to. They're shocked when I say that my main focus, travel writing wise, is New Jersey (and those jokes about Newark and Joisey, which is not even how we pronounce it in South Jersey, are really lame, especially after the fifth time I heard them last week).

Why travel write about your own back yard? Because it's my own backyard, and who knows it better than I do? There's only so much you can learn on a short trip -- while I visited a lot of different places in the Phoenix area, I wasn't able to find that corner BYOB that demands reservations even for lunch, or who has the best bike tour in the region. There wasn't enough time. With New Jersey, especially South Jersey, I'm a life-time expert. I was born here. I live here. And I'll probably die here. Who better to delve into the nooks and crannies and figure out what would be of interest to a traveler? I guarantee you that if you looked within a 10 mile radius of your home, you'd find something of interest to a visitor. So take a closer look -- you'll be surprised at what you might find.

This also reminded me of my grandfather. After returning from World War II, he vowed that he wouldn't go overseas again until he saw all 50 states in his own country (and he was close to reaching that mark before he passed away in May). What a neat idea. And after my short trip out west, I've realized that he was right -- our own country, which is a very big backyard, has a lot of wonders to be seen.

With that, I'm off to edit. As I mentioned, the page proofs of The Jersey Shore, Atlantic City to Cape May: A Complete Guide are on my dining room table. I'm through the Atlantic City chapter already. It's a bit scary to think that this is the absolute last chance I'll have for changes, but exciting, too. It'll be nice to see the dang thing in print.

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Down the Shore with...James Lilliefors

Back in August, I went to the Rutgers University-Camden library to delve into the history of the South Jersey Shore towns. One of the books I referenced, which I wrote about, was America's Boardwalks: From Coney Island to California by James Lilliefors.

Even though the book is about a lot of different boardwalks, Lilliefors chapters about Jersey shore boards are fascinating (hint, hint, making the book a great gift for shore fans), and helped me with my research. So let's welcome him to the blog today as the "Down the Shore with..." interviewee.

1. How did you come up with the idea to write a book about boardwalks?
I’ve enjoyed boardwalks all of my life. I grew up two and a half hours from the nearest one (Ocean City, Maryland) so there was always a delicious sense of anticipation in traveling there and, once we arrived, a feeling that boardwalk life was a little more wild and free than the lives we were leading back home. Later, I lived in Ocean City for about 10 years, editing the town’s newspaper, and became interested in the boardwalk for different reasons – not just as a place to hang out but also as an enduring part of Americana. The first American boardwalks date back to the early 1870s – and there aren’t many things in this country that have survived so long. As I traveled to other boardwalks, primarily in New Jersey, I began to discover common denominators. Early boardwalk towns represented an intoxicating alternative to urban American life, offering cheap, exotic products and pleasures that couldn’t be found at home; they were also refreshingly democratic, inviting visitors from all social and economic strata to join the same parade. These traits are still at the heart of the most successful boardwalks today. It seemed that the phenomenon of America’s boardwalks hadn’t really been written about, and it interested me.

2. You write about three towns I cover in my book: Atlantic City, Wildwood and Cape May. I have to admit I found the Wildwood chapter most interesting. Do you think the town really has a shot at holding off developers and saving all that great Doo Wop architecture?

Unlike its remarkable beach – which, as you know, actually grows each year – Wildwood’s Doo Wop movement appears to have eroded a bit. It’s a terrific idea – preserving those space age and tropical-theme motels, which could give Wildwood a look unlike anyplace else in the country. It’s sort of akin to what South Miami Beach did with art deco. But the economic realities have sometimes gotten in the way – there’s more money to be made in tearing down motels and replacing them with condos than in refurbishing 50- or 60-year-old buildings. On the other hand, Wildwood has some real visionaries and, as I discuss in the book, some exciting plans on the drawing board. I’m optimistic about Wildwood, one of my favorite boardwalk towns.

3. You’ve obviously seen a lot of boardwalks and learned a lot about their history. Why do you think they are so popular – still – today?
Unfortunately, not all of them are. Since I wrote the book, the Pavilion in Myrtle Beach and Astroland in Coney Island have shut down. The ones that are still thriving are able to strike a balance, carrying on traditions while staying current, offering the latest music and fashion fads, for example. They’re both hip and nostalgic, in other words. All of the successful boardwalks have food traditions that go back decades – Mack’s pizza and Douglass Fudge, in Wildwood, for instance. Fralinger’s Saltwater Taffy, in Atlantic City, dates to the 1880s. But, really, the appeal of the boardwalk is largely sensual and a little intangible – the spinning lights of pier rides reflecting on the ocean, the smell of frying funnel cakes and caramel corn in the sea breeze, the sounds folding into one another, the excitement of so many people sharing space on a warm summer evening.

4. What is unique about the Boardwalk in Atlantic City?

Mystique. It has a remarkable history, which it could do more to promote. A.C. is the first and most-famous Boardwalk, the most valuable property in Monopoly, and a place that is coming back from some rough times. It’s inspiringly resilient (and I haven’t even mentioned casinos).

5. Wildwood?
Wildwood has more amusement rides there than at any other boardwalk, giving summer nights there a perpetual carnival backdrop. It’s wild and whimsical, a lot of fun.

6. Cape May?
Unlike most New Jersey boardwalks, Cape May’s is for walking, not for people-watching or letting your senses be bombarded. It’s “the anti-Wildwood,” as one business owner said. When I was doing interviews for the book, I spent a few days hanging around Wildwood, then drove down to Cape May one afternoon, walked the length of the boardwalk and was struck by how enchanting the place is.

10. And what happened to poor Ocean City? That’s one of my favorites.
Ocean City has a wonderful boardwalk, with lots of great amusements. Several boardwalk towns call themselves “family resorts” and really aren’t – but Ocean City, New Jersey clearly is. When I began putting this book together, I decided not to write about the “best” boardwalks but to present a cross-section that seemed to best tell the tale of America’s boardwalks. I also decided to limit the number to 12. As it is, there are more boardwalks from New Jersey than anywhere else, which is fitting because Jersey is the boardwalk capital of the country. But I wanted to include other examples, so there are two from California and others farther south on the East Coast. Nothing against Ocean City (unless it's a hot summer evening and you’re thirsty for a beer).

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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

And Now for Something Completely Different

Hello from Arizona! This is the view from my room out in the middle of nowhere. Well, sort of. I've never been to the desert before, so this feels like the middle of nowhere. And isn't that mountain amazing? I've never been this far west, so I'm seeing something new everywhere I turn. Right now, though, I'm trying to stay awake and adjust myself to the time zone out here -- I'm having moderate succe...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Kidding. I'm still awake. I won't be posting again until Monday, but I did want to point you to an interview I did at The Urban Muse blog. It's about writing (and the book, of course), so check it out.

Also (and here's how I stay on topic): in giving introductions today, I mentioned the book and how much I love Cape May to a room of people who are from everywhere from New York to Texas to California. The response? At least four people said "Oh, I love Cape May. It's so beautiful there," and a discussion about how buys they are in the fall and spring ensued. It just goes to show that you can take the girl out of Jersey, but you can't take Jersey out of the girl...

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

South Jersey Shore Holiday Shopping Guide

Ho ho's time to take in your holidays down the shore. Why now? Because you'll skip all the crowds that pack the beaches and meat market bars. Of course you can't lie in the sun on the sand, unless you REALLY like the cold, but you can still enjoy the food, the fun, the tranquility and the shopping that the South Jersey Shore offers.

Granted, not every store is open, but enough that I want to share a few tips on where to go. So rev up your engines, pop in your Ray Conniff Singers Christmas CD and zip down the Atlantic City Expressway. Here's what you can expect.

Atlantic City
Get the most bang for your buck -- or most stores per square mile -- in America's playground by the sea. To start, The Atlantic City Outlets - The Walk (1931 Atlantic Ave., Atlantic City, 609-872-7002) offer tons of top quality shops (I've already written about how my prep meter went berserk when the new JCrew outlet opened) at discount prices. I've also found great deals at The Pier at Caesars (1 Atlantic Ocean, Atlantic City, 609-345-3100), even though the stores aren't outlets. I've been trained by a pro bargain hunter and have found gems on the clearance racks of Banana Republic and Charles David at the Pier. If you're looking to spend big, the Pier is for you, too, with its luxe shops like Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton and Burberry.

If you're shopping on Thursday, December 6, bring new unwrapped toys, clothes and house ware items to the Walk -- they're collecting those items for the "Adopt a Family" program. If you're in town on Saturday, December 8, the Starbucks at the Walk will be hosting the 4th annual Holiday Cheer event where Santa will arrive to host a reading of "The Night Before Christmas. Starbucks will also accept new, unwrapped toys for the "Just for Kids" program.

If you're Hanukkah shopping, check out Zephyr Gallery, which is in the Quarter at the Tropicana (2801 Pacific Ave., Atlantic City, 609-340-0170). They stock gorgeous Judica items, including menorahs, Star of David necklaces and anything else you can imagine. They have lots of Christmas gifts, too.

Ocean City
Asbury Avenue has dolled itself up for the holidays and is offering specials all weekend long. I highly recommend stopping at Sun Rose Words & Music (756 Asbury Ave., Ocean City, 609-399-9190) -- and not just because they host local authors (hint hint). Sun Rose is the kind of independent bookstore you don't find in any Barnes and Noble-ized towns anymore. They know books, and they're champions of local titles. It's a great place to get something NJ-ish for a shore lover. I'm also a big fan of Colette Boutique (900 Asbury Ave., Ocean City, 609-525-0911). The clothes are gorgeous and the perfect spot to shop for that glamazon on your list.

And, of course, don't forget that you can order Upcakes for the holiday season. Check that out here.

Avalon/Stone Harbor
Sorry, Sea Isle. You're cozy and quiet in the winter, but not a spot I'd recommend for shopping. I could say the same for Avalon and Stone Harbor. I drove through on my way back from Cape May, and I felt like I was in a ghost town. BUT -- I recommend stopping in at Wave One Sports (221 96th St. #225, Stone Harbor, 609-368-0050). Their embroidered sweatshirts put all those cheap shore-named copies to shame. They're pricier, yes, but they last much longer. I was given my Avalon sweatshirt in high school, and it still looks great (no jokes about how ancient it must be, okay?). Pictured in this post is my new-ish Cape May sweatshirt. It's very warm and cozy right about now.

Also make sure to stop in Murdough's Christmas Shop (256 96th St., Stone Harbor, 609-368-1529). My advent calendars for, well, forever have come from Murdough's. In fact, my father bought me one from Murdough's that I'm picking up today so I can hang it in my office (a subtle and sparkly reminder that I have to finish my shopping ASAP!) Even in the summer, I love stopping in for a whiff of that piney, Christmas smell. Make sure to peek behind the counter to say hi to the Golden Retriever who's always keeping the cashier company.

Another great Christmas shop down the shore is Winterwood (3137 RT 9 S., Rio Grande, 609-465-3641). I'm a fan of their Rio Grande location, but they also have stores in Wildwood and Cape May. The Winterwood stores are big, sprawling winter wonderlands. They have just about every kind of Christmas decoration you could ever want -- and beyond.

Cape May
Ah, lovely, beautiful Cape May. The offerings are too many to list. My suggestion? If you're looking for something for that someone who already has everything -- and I mean EVERYTHING, right down to the bulk of the Sharper Image catalogue -- consider buying them a gift certificate to one of Cape May's many gorgeous and beautiful B&Bs. Not only are you giving that person something unique, but you're also providing an experience that you can't get in any catalogue.

If you're an animal lover, and make sure to stop by Whiskers (605 Hughes St., Cape May 609-898-1232. It's where I found the perfect Jack Russell Terrier ornament for my tiny Charlie Brown-style tree.

Since you can't just shop and run in Cape May, stick around a while and check out Cape May Stage's Every Christmas Story Ever Told. I hear it's a hoot.

And with that, I'm off for a mini vacation to Arizona. Sure, I'm a Jersey girl through and through, but even I could use a hit of desert sun right about now!

Quick reminder: if you haven't already, drop your email into the "Subscribe!" box if you'd like to get "Down the Shore with Jen" in your inbox.

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Monday, December 3, 2007

I'll Make a Mock Out of You

Well, it came today: the mock up of my book. This is more than just a manuscript -- it's a replica of what the book will look like, maps and pictures included.

I almost didn't open the package. I'm leaving for a trip on Wednesday and thought that, if I opened the FedEx bag, I'd worry about the changes for my entire Arizona trip. But how could I resist? So I ripped open the package and did a little jig around my dining room table. Why? Because I'm one step closer to seeing the darn thing in book form.

What's the next step? I'll read through the book one...last...time. If there were a god of good grammar, I'd be lighting candles at her alter in hope that she would lend me guidance in making sure there are as few errors as possible in the book. Hopefully the picture of a nun on a surfboard on the facing title page will distract anyone of any little mistakes.

What I'm Listening to: In Our Bedroomm after the War by Stars.

Quick reminder: if you haven't already, drop your email into the "Subscribe!" box if you'd like to get "Down the Shore with Jen" right to your inbox.

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If you'll look to the toolbars to your left, you'll notice that I've been moving the furniture around here at Down the Shore with Jen. Why? To make room for the "Subscribe!" box.

If you're like me, you can't keep up with all your favorite blogs. Now you can subscribe to Down the Shore with Jen by submitting your email address into that box. What happens? Every time I post on the blog, that post will be sent right to your inbox so you won't miss out on any Down the Shore with Jen fun.

Don't worry -- the only person who gets your email address is me, and I won't share them with anyone. Promise. Plus, if you get bored with me, unsubscribing is a snap.

So go ahead and drop your email into the box. It's much easier and eco-friendly than ansewring one of those million little white cards that fall out of magazines. Plus it's free. And if you know anyone else who might be interested in following along, tell them to drop on by.

P.S. This tip comes from Plug Your Book! Online Book Marketing for Authors by Steve Weber -- I highly recommend it if you've got a book to sell!

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

Down the Shore with...Lisa Rogak

This week's "Down the Shore With..." victim, er, subject is Lisa Rogak, author of A Boy Named Shel: The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein. Did you know the man behind The Giving Tree, Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic was also a go-to guy for musicians? Including Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash? I didn't. I just knew I liked that poem about picking your nose (because it was funny -- not because I'm gross). She's also written books about Barak Obama and Dan Brown, among others. Jealous yet? I know I am.

I haven't had a chance to read A Boy Named Shel yet (sorry, Lisa!), but it is on the to-read list for my "Book a Week" project. Eric Nuzum, author of The Dead Travel Fast, previous "Down the Shore with..." interviewee; and reader at the end of of his book a week project, reviewed it on his blog. Check that review out here.

Rogak has buckets of shore memories, too, including those of Atlantic City before gambling, let alone the recent construction boom, came to town.

1. What do you consider "your" shore town? Why?
Two: Asbury Park, because that's where we went when I was a kid, and Cape May, because I discovered this town later on, and I love the elaborate Victorian architecture.

2. Most people go down the shore just to eat. Any favorite restaurants or foodie memories?
In Cape May, I stayed at a place called The Packet Inn in a tower room that had a little fridge in it. Anyone who stayed in the tower room had to raise and lower the flag every day, but half the time I lost track of time and the owners -- Jay & Marianne Schatz, who are still in the business -- would have to do it. I would go to the supermarket and bring back a few things and eat in the tower room and look out at the ocean or take it down on the beach. My dream house will have a tower room that will serve as my office.

3. Do you still get to the shore now that you're a big famous author? ;-)
I haven't been to Cape May or Asbury Park in years, though I have been spending time on the beaches of South Carolina recently, in preparation for my move to Charleston in the spring.

4. How do you think Atlantic City's changed? For better or for worse?
It's changed, that's all. The Atlantic City I remember is from the 60s when we used to sit on the boardwalk and throw peanuts at the pigeons in between skee-ball games as the cigar smoke from old men wafted by. That's still one of my favorite smells in the world: peanuts, old wood, and cigar smoke. It's a rare combination these days.

5. How did you pick Shel for a biography subject?

There was no full-length adult biography on him. But the fact that he wrote "The Unicorn," my favorite song as a kid, sealed the deal.

6. Why do you think he's misunderstood? I was shocked to learn about his influence on Bob Dylan.
To the outside world, Shel was selfish: his creativity came first, and he never apologized for that. As a result, he could be brusque and rude, but he fiercely protected his work. And those people who stuck by him were rewarded by Shel's great generosity in time and spirit. He was a little boy who never really grew up, plus he lived in an era that was very different from ours.

6. You have written so many interesting books. How did you get your start? And how do you pick your subjects?
I started freelancing for magazines because I didn't like the idea of a j-o-b where I had to be in the same place for the same time five days a week. Fortunately, years spent reading everything in sight as a kid panned out. The subjects pick me, and then I decide with my agent whether it would be a good book for me to write.

7. What's next?
I'm finishing up a biography of Stephen King to be published next year, and then there are a few other projects I'm considering. I'm finishing two novels, one for adults, one for kids, so we'll see where they go.


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Saturday, December 1, 2007

Thank You

On July 23, I created this blog as an experiment because I'd read that blogging could help sell books. I didn't have a book out yet (May 5! May 5!), but I gave it a go anyway. This blog became a place for me to write about what was going on down the shore right now (as opposed to writing in 'timeless' guide book form), and a place for me to share and maybe vent about how the book writing process.

On Thursday, 420 people visited this blog. Never did I imagine that 420 people would visit the blog in one day when the book came out let alone months in advance. Thanks again to everyone who's linked to me (Preston and Steve, Philebrity, and Allison Winn Scotch to name a few), and everyone who's told another person about this South Jersey shore book coming out. Not only has this blog helped started a buzz about me and The Jersey Shore: Atlantic City to Cape May: A Complete Guide (the folks at Dixie Picnic call me "Down the Shore Jen!"), but it's also put me in a documentary, and hopefully an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about where is the middle of NJ (should be out next week).

But let's not stop here. Tell your friends, and friends of friends. And keep coming back to read more about what's going on down the shore. I'm headed to Arizona on Wednesday but will be putting together a shore gift guide early next week. The shore in the winter is beautiful. Hope you get a chance to go down the shore yourself!

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Friday, November 30, 2007

Happy Birthday, Emily!

Today's a special day here in the offices of Jen A. Miller. I've written about Emily, my Jack Russell Terrier Mix, before, and today is her sixth birthday. She's celebrating right now by going back to bed -- and who can blame her? Who wouldn't want to sleep in on her birthday.

In honor of Emily's birthday, I encourage you to click over to my Book a Week With Jen blog for a review Jean M. Fogle's Salty Dogs, and adorable book about dogs on the beach. Not only did I write a preview of that book, but I also wrote the "Jen & Em" story because, on top of today being Emily's birthday, tomorrow marks two years ago that I brought home this squirrel-barking, ball-chasing, space-heating, best pal a gal could have.

If you're thinking about bringing a pet into your home, I urge you to think about adoption. Emily came to me through the Animal Welfare Association in Voorhees, NJ. Maybe there's a shelter dog or cat in your future, too.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

News from Around the South Jersey Shore

Atlantic City is changing. Big time. Here's a fantastic article from Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer about all the proposed construction -- much of which does not involve casinos.

The Philadelphia Inquirer checks in with Scott K. Evans, the new mayor of Atlantic City.

Ever go to West Cape May? Now you can see its history in a new painting.

Speaking of Cape May, here's a round up of what's going on with the renovation of Washington Square.

Speaking of Cape May (again) -- it's getting a dog park. Emily will be thrilled.

There's movement on that Strathmere-wants-out-of-Upper-Township story.

Stone Harbor's looking to remdy what the Cape May County Herald calls the "dwindling business district."

The Nature Center of Cape May is having a "yard sale" that runs through Saturday.

The CFO of the Tropicana has resigned. I've read a lot about the Tropicana's woes since this summer -- the Quarter, where I love to go when I'm in town, might be up for sale. It's sad, really, but as long as I can get a mohito at Cuba Libre...

And finally, Van Halen's coming to Atlantic City.

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Public Service Announcement: Camp Out for Hunger

Two weeks ago, I had the chance to visit the 93.3 WMMR studio to watch the Preston and Steve show in person. If you've paid attention to my "what I'm listening" to notes at the end of blog posts, you'll see that I'm listening to them for most of my morning posts. When I was wrapping up The Jersey Shore: Atlantic City to Cape May: A Complete Guide, I listened to Preston & Steve so I had something to laugh about when I put in those last changes. They helped me not rip my hair out when it came down to the wire.

The entire show is fantastic, and the people are fantastic. They couldn't have been nicer to me as I watched from the wings. They also do great things, one being the annual WMMR Camp Out for Hunger. Starting on Monday and running through Friday, they'll be set up in the Metroplex shopping complex in Plymouth Meeting, PA, collecting non-perishable food items for Philabundance, which is reporting an absolute all time low in how much food they can give to people in need.

This isn't just broadcasting live from the parking lot for five mornings. The gang lives there for the entire week.

For all the details, click here. If you make the trip up, they'll keep you entertained. From what I hear, it's one big party, and you can win some fab prize, all while helping out a good cause. I'll be in Arizona next week (yes, I do go other places besides the shore), so I'll miss out, but that doesn't mean you have to.

I also talked to Tracey Deschaine of Dixie Picnic, and it turns out that her clan is a big fan of the show and plans on bringing some Upcakes to the party as well. So grab some food and head up the Blue Route. It's needed now more than ever.

What I'm Listening to: Preston and Steve on 93.3 WMMR

P.S. I'm working on an article about self help books and the people who love and hate them. If you'd like to interviewed for the article (and are willing to let me use your real name), drop me a line at jenmiller27 [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Upcakes for the Holidays

I think Upcakes are the shore food item I've mentioned most on this blog. Surprised? I am -- it's not something I grew up loving. But these sweet treats, which are cupcakes iced on three sides instead of one, are so darn good, and the owners of Dixie Picnic (609-399-1999, 19 8th Street, Ocean City), which sells them, have been smart about keeping them on my mind -- and in my mouth -- long after Labor Day.

First: you can get Upcakes at the King of Prussia Mall. My father was out doing a bit of holiday shopping and saw Upcakes, all lined up in a pretty row, for sale in the Plaza section of the mall. What a great idea! If I hadn't done all my shopping online and in Collingswood this year, an Upcake would be a perfect mall shopping break. Even better, the people running the stand seemed to remember who I was, or what this blog was (hi guys!).

Second: you can now order Upcakes and Dixie Picnic Jams for the holidays online and ship them anywhere in the continental U.S. It's a great way to send a bit of the shore to someone far away, or someone who is missing the summer.

If you're not sure about an Upcake purchase just yet, I highly recommend going to the Dixie Picnic website and signing up for their email list. You'll stay updated on everything going on at the shop (how do you think I learned about these great ideas?), and maybe get a coupon or two.

By the way, my picture of an Upcake does it no justice. Better shots are on their wesite.

What I'm Listening to: Silver Storms by The A-Sides

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Getting the Word Out

Good news on the book front -- we're almost at proof stage, which is when I'll see a mock up of the book with the words, pictures and maps (provided by my brother) all rolled into one. I'm so excited to get that package in the mail. It's one step closer to seeing this dang thing in print!

In the meantime, though, I've been working on getting the word out about the book. I don't want to do TOO much advance PR, but I'm setting into motion things that could pay off in the long run. To start, I'm reminding my editors when I email them about the book, and about this blog (which is in my email signature). I'm averaging more readers a day here than I ever thought, so thank you again for visiting!

To start, I took Sandra Beckwith's most excellent book PR class. It's online, it's a great value, and it's given me plenty of ideas about how to get this book in the hands of readers.

I've also put together a list of magazines and newspapers that might want to write about me, as well as a list of local radio and TV stations that might want to feature my face or voice. I had a chance to sit in on a day of Preston and Steve (which, if you pay attention to the ends of these posts, is a morning radio show I listen to a lot). My mother wanted to know why I was going if I wasn't promoting the book yet, and I said, well, because I thought it would be cool to meet these guys, and going now will make it that much easier to send out an email when the book comes out to see if they'd like to put me on the air next time.

I'm also talking to some of the presidents of the Chambers of Commerce about what we can do together to get the word out; I'm pitching articles about the area to magazine, and I've been assigned quite a few so far; and I've started planning both my book launch party and a few signings (hint: Collingswood's Second Saturday will be involved). A book website is being designed, and I've started to plan my "blog tour."

But my brain can only storm so much. What do you think I could do to promote the book?

What I'm Listening to: In Our Bedroom After the War by Stars.

What I'm Reading: Oh, the Humanity! by Jason Roeder

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Down the Shore with...Chris Grabenstein

Who better to interview for the "Down the Shore with Series..." than Chris Grabenstein? His John Ceepak Mystery Series takes place in Sea Haven, which is a mash up of a few Jersey Shore towns. This one-time ad agenecy writer has written three seaside mysteries so far, with #4 coming at you this summer. What better becah reading could you ask for?

1. What do you consider "your" shore town? Why?
My shore town is definitely Beach Haven on LBI. We go down there with friends every summer to do, uh, research. Much of the research involves Corona Beer and Hint Of Lime Doritos. We stay on the same block off the beach every year. Our friends go when their whole family is in residence and we get to become adopted members for the week. I have learned how to boogie board and snarf down oysters.

2. Most people go down the shore to eat. Any favorite places you like to go?

One of the people in our extended family is a gourmet chef, so we usually eat one place fancy every summer. My favorite spot is Skipper Dipper's ice cream. I think we go over there every night. I love standing in line, watching all the kids scooping and squirting ice cream. "Next group!" I always go for the chocolate dipped soft serve cone so I can watch it drip all over my hand and make a mess. I also love the Chowda at the Chowda Pot. Who would've thought hot soup would be so refreshing in August? Oh, and Pinky's Shrimp. Love getting a pound or two of cooked shrimp, some cocktail sauce, and lemon wedges and taking it back to the house. Goes well with those Coronas I mentioned earlier.

3. Tell us a little bit about the series.
The John Ceepak mysteries include the Anthony Award winning Tilt a Whirl, Mad Mouse, and Whack a Mole. Book #4, Hell Hole, will be published next August.

John Ceepak is a former MP just back from Iraq who lives his life by a strict moral code: he will not lie, cheat, or steal nor tolerate those who do. He is teamed up with a 20-something part-time summer cop named Danny Boyle who, basically, took the job because, as he puts it "chicks dig the cop cap." What makes the series so powerful is the growth in the two characters across the books. I think that's why they've been on several Best Mysteries Of The Year lists. At first, the only thing that the two guys have in common is a love for the Boss. Bruce Springsteen. Here's what Booklist says: "Grabenstein has done his homework. His portrait of summer on the Jersey shore, replete with tacky boardwalk arcades, kitschy souvenir and T-shirt shops, manic city folk who bring their attytood on vacation, and hordes of young people awash in hormones, is virtually note-perfect."

4. How did Beach Haven and Seaside Heights become Sea Haven?
Well, I wanted the family-beach scene from Beach Haven but I also wanted my fictional town to have a tacky boardwalk. So, I put the two together. I once filmed a Dr Pepper commercial on the Boardwalk in Seaside and, after three days of shooting there, the images were indelibly etched in my imagination. I also added in a little of Cape May and Spring Lake and Wildwood. In fact, my Sea Haven is the whole Jersey Shore crowded onto one eighteen mile long barrier island.

5. What's this about you and the Cheetah Girls? Did you have anything to do with their concert in Wildwood this summer? ;-)
Well, this is funny. My brother called to say he saw the Cheetah Girls posing with a copy of Whack a Mole, Ceepak mystery #3, in one of the celebrity magazines. Not People, one of the others. Anyway, it showed the girls relaxing at home. And there was Whack a Mole sitting on the coffee table. It has a purple cover. One of the Cheetahs is wearing purple pajamas. Coincidence or a photographer's art direction? The photo is on my web site!

6. How long have you been writing?
I have been writing since fifth grade. I have been getting paid for writing for about 25 years, having spent a great many years writing commercials for ad agencies up and down Madison Avenue.

7. Why did you pick the Jersey Shore as the setting for your novels?
I thought it would make a great setting and allow me to have all sorts of people drifting in and out, bringing their troubles and passions with them. I didn't want to do a mystery series where the friends and neighbors of the sleuths kept getting bumped off -- although, sometimes, that happens in Sea Haven, too!

8. We're big dog lovers here at Down the Shore With Jen. Who is that handsome pup you your site? And does he like the beach, too?

That's Fred! Fred was a rescue from up in the Bronx. He was saved from the gas chamber by famed animal trainer Bill Berloni who put him into the Broadway cast of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. When the show closed, Fred was available for adoption and we were the lucky ones to take him home. He and I go running together -- about four or five miles. He also takes me for long, contemplative walks where I can dream up what happens next in my mysteries. We've never taken him to the beach. I'll bet he'd love it. But, he'd want to lick every face on every beach blanket.


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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Checks and Balances

This summer, I tried to train for a half marathon. Yes, this would be the same summer that I wrote the Shore book. Why I thought this would be a good idea, I don't know. Superwoman complex? Mega type-A? Whatever the reason, I couldn't do both at once, so I dropped out of training and finished the book.

I didn't completely stop, though. I run three to four times a week to stay in shape (and to clear my head -- running is great for that). I quit because running stopped being a mental relief and started being another job, not something I needed while trying to write my first book. Still, I couldn't read last Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer, which was chock full of articles about the Philadelphia Marathon. It was too much a reminder of what I didn't achieve.

Why post this now? Because today I ran Haddon Township's Turkey Trot 5K, and I placed second in my age group. I ran almost as fast as I ran a 5K when I trained with a running coach for a magazine article. I was shocked to see my time, and even more stunned when I was called up for a medal.

Even though I didn't run the half marathon, and even though I didn't win, I'm darn happy with how today went. I have to remind myself that perfection is not always an option (something that I'll need to keep in mind when the book comes out and people start pointing out what I didn't include). I was so happy with how this morning's results that I couldn't taken the medal off. I wore it as vacuumed the house. I still have it on. Why not? How often is it that you win a medal?

This would also be a good time to point out that there are loads of races down the shore every spring, summer and fall. I hope to be part of a lot of them, especially the annual Tim Kerr 7 mile run, which spans Avalon and Stone Harbor. The Ocean Drive Marathon will be held on March 30, too. I won't be training for that one, but I'll probably sign up for a shorter version of the race. Who knows. Maybe I'll win medal #2.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

What's your favorite shore town? Via Facebook

I just started a discussion on my "Down the Shore with Jen" facebook group about favorite shore towns. Care to chime in? Click here. And while you're at it, friend me!

What I'm listening to: Silver Storms by The A-Sides

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Down the Shore with Jen and Em

This weekend, I did something I've never done before: brought my dog to the shore.

Yes, I spent a lot of time at the South Jersey shore this summer, but the house I'd rented did not allow pets. So friends, family and a dog walker took care of Emily, my (almost) six-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, while I was gone (something she thanked me for by pooping in the spare room -- lovely!)

I adopted Emily about two years ago, and in that time, I'd never taken her to the shore and, as far as I know, she'd never seen the beach before. The Billmae Cottage (1015 Washington Street, Cape May) isn't just dog friendly but dog WELCOMING (they're the folks who host Yappy Hour), so I packed up the pup and made the two hour drive to Cape May.

Cape May has a wonderful shopping district called the Washington Square Mall, so soon after dropping off my stuff at Billmae, me and Emily took a walk into town. It's under construction right now, it's not as picturesque as usual (the trees are gone for now). But everywhere Emily went, she attracted attention. I took her into a few stores, too, and no one blinked an eye, though she did get a lot of pets from strangers.

Then it was beach time. Even though it was about 45 degrees outside, Emily headed right to the water. She tried to bite the ocean, and she peed on the sand. She barked at birds, at fishermen, and at the water (again). I wish I could have let her run off leash, but I'm too scared that she wouldn't have come back (which is why these pictures have a big black line in them -- that's her leash).

After our beach adventures, we visited Jay and Mary Ann Gorrick, who own the Inn at the Park (1002 Washington St., Cape May). This is one reason why I love Cape May. Most people are so incredibly friendly. I stayed with the Gorrick's in the spring, and after about five minutes of chatting, they'd given Emily two treats, invited me to their cocktail hour AND dinner. I accepted the cocktail hour invite, and went with the Gorrick's to the tree lighting. Emily had a good time. She barked whenever people clapped. The old girl's got great timing.

By the time we got back to our room, Emily was ready for bed, and she walked right into her travel crate. I stopped in at both Congress Hall (215 Beach Ave., Cape May) and the Ugly Mug (426 Washington St., Cape May), the first for a drink and entertainment, and the second for food (I forgot that the Brown Room is drinks and dessert but not dinner food). I ended up sitting next to the guy who played Santa earlier in the day. Wasn't a late night, but a fun one.

The trip must have wiped Emily out because, after a Sunday morning beach walk, she was ready for bed again. She slept the whole way home, and most of of Sunday afternoon. It's strange -- I like having an active dog, but complain sometimes about her spunkiness (right now, she's trying to hop onto my lap). But whenever she's sluggish like that, I worry that she's slowing down. She does have gray hair, after all.

I was impressed with how busy Cape May was for a November weekend. People were out walking, in the restaurants (I had trouble finding a seat at the bar in both Congress Hall and the Ugly Mug), and a lot of the B&Bs had up the "no vacancy" signs. I hear that the only real dead month is January, which makes sense since it's cold and it's after the holidays. But things pick right back up around Valentine's Day. Most of the people were couples, which made me feel a bit out of place. I even saw a just-engaged engaged couple at the Ugly Mug (with a bottle of champagne, mind you). Still, I had a great time. It was nice to get away and not worry where my dog would stay because she was exactly where she belonged: right by my side.

The "Down the Shore with..."series will return shortly. This week's interviewee is in Africa, so we're on a bit of a delay!

What I'm Listening to: Soundtrack to Le Divorce

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Emily Goes Down the Shore...

...and pees on it.

I'll write a longer post soon about the adventures of Jen and Em in Cape May, but that picture was too cute to pass up. So's this one:

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Friday, November 16, 2007

On the Way to Cape May

Yes, it's November. And, yes, I am headed down the shore. I'm packing up the pup and headed to Cape May to do a little Christmas shopping and work on an article. I've never taken Emily, my Jack Russell Terrier, to the beach. Should be an intersting trip!

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News from Around the South Jersey Shore

Some bizarre stuff happening in Atlantic City this week. First, there was a stand off outside the Showboat.

Then there's that illegal gambling ring that was being run out of the Borgata.

On a positive note, the new Harrah's tower is coming along.

The Washington Street Mall in Cape May is getting an upgrade.

Strathmere is still trying to break away from Upper Township.

Still think buying a shore house it too expensive? I do. But CNNMoney says that tide might be turning.

Who doesn't love a good college newspaper article? Here's one from The Quad, West Chester University's paper, about road trips to New York and Atlantic City.

What I'm Listening to: Gimme Fiction by Spoon

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Down the Shore with...Lord Whimsy

I debated for quite some time about to introduce Lord Whimsy. I interviewed him when his book, The Affected Provincial’s Companion, was first published, and I've been delighed by his wit ever since. So instead of trying to put that in my words, I'll let the man do it himself.

1. What do you consider 'your' shore town?"
I have a complicated relationship with the shore, a lot of mixed feelings. I grew up in Somers Point, but the Great Egg Harbor Bay area in general—Ocean City, Longport, Strathmere--is the area that was home, at least until the bay was ringed by condos that obscured the view for anyone who wasn’t paying for it. Over the past twenty years the area towns all became Cherry Hill-by-the-sea. All of the wonderful character and texture has been stripped away: the bait shops and little houses abutting the fisherman and clammer’s docks, all gone. It’s heartbreaking to see what has happened, because even though the people could be small-minded and mean, I loved that little bay town with all of my heart—the seafood restaurant kitsch, the boats, the history, the sights and sounds, the wooded lots, the living things, all of it. You’d have to be a millionaire there now to live like we did when we were kids. We would spend entire months outdoors, sleeping in the backyard. Woods, marshes, bay, beach—it was a Huck Finn existence, and I absolutely lived for the summertime, when I could go crabbing, fishing, beachcombing for shells, collecting bugs and butterflies, building tree forts--all for which I’m paying now in close calls with skin cancer, but I wouldn’t trade a moment of those memories.

The presence of the ocean was something vaguely mystical, because it was an absolute but nebulous part of the landscape—the horizon said "here, and no further". I remember taking my surfboard or inflatable raft way out past the breakers in the evenings, and look back at the Ocean City boardwalk, which looked like this slender string of color, noise and light suspended in glistening, black void. I would visit the old bait shops that were stuffed with photos of bizarre animals the old men had yanked out of the deep waters out off the lip of the continental shelf. They were like astronauts to me. I would sit on the rickety docks and listen to the boats pull their lashings through the rusty pulleys as they bobbed in the slips, which gave off an eerie singsong ambiance all along the bay. They’re all gone now. I’ll never hear that sound again.

Barring a couple exceptions, most of the things I loved about Somers Point have either been paved over or torn down. Even the huge fallow field that I used to spend entire summers rooting about for lizards and strange insects became victim to a particularly cruel irony: it’s now a garden center.

2. Tell us about the work you did for the casinos?
I worked for an ad agency that worked almost exclusively for casinos. I was fresh out of Stockton, and it was an opportunity—in fact my only opportunity—to learn the trade. The casinos at the time were in a fifteen-year time lag behind the culture at large. Blondes in red dresses and high heels emerging from Ferraris were the epitome of sophistication, as far as the marketing departments were concerned, which were manned by local “talent”. Working for them was like living in 1981 for ten hours each day; I went home thinking that I would see PM Magazine if I flicked on the television. I was miserable most days because the exuberant non-design I was forced to make was even more confining than if I was doing bleak, clinical ads for pharmaceuticals: the type treatments were always clunky, shrieking pink and purple on everything, and die cuts and foils were on every surface. Thanks to my art director Jay, I did learn a lot about production; I did everything from doll designs to swizzle sticks. However, unless Rip Taylor started a design studio, I couldn’t use any of it in my portfolio; I’d get laughed out of every studio or agency north of Hammonton. So I worked late at night on my own projects—some freelance, some made up. I designed Apogee, a typeface that was included in a major design exhibition at The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. I couldn’t eat for three days before the opening. Like a true South Jersey rube I had a hard time finding the museum, finally got there only to stand around looking overwhelmed and completely out of my depth, went home—and got up the next day to paste up bus ads for Trump Taj Mahal. Later on though, that little feather in my cap came in handy, along with my side projects. It helped me move on to better things, as did all my pathetic stumbles in those early years. Took a couple false starts over seven years, but I finally got loose.

3. And how did that influence what you do now?
I suppose living near the sleaze that was Atlantic City in the 80’s really set me against that kind of empty, garish frivolity for a long time. I’ve always loved kitsch—the shore is full of it—but there’s kitsch that’s so bad it’s good (Lucy the Elephant, doo wop architecture), and there’s the other kind that’s just tawdry and plain awful from every angle (casinos). That said, I love the goofy overstatement and showmanship of cabaret and camp, and I can now look back and laugh about the godawful projects I used to work on. Sequined billboards! Where else would they go to that level of excess? In that sense, I was strangely fortunate.

4. Most readers might not 'get' what it is that you do. Care to share?
I’m a writer, illustrator and designer who’s turned his tools on himself. I’ve written a book called The Affected Provincial’s Companion, which is loosely based on the life I’ve lived in New Egypt for twelve years with my wife. We rented a drafty old four-room army barracks that we crammed full of art, plants, books, and a Victorian highwheel bicycle leaning against the wall. We were young and poor, and wanted to start a small illustration and design studio, which we did. The cheap lifestyle and vegetable garden helped a great deal. We couldn’t have done it if we had to pay the kind of rent our friends in New York were paying. They were happy years.

The book is a collection of fragments, a kind of tongue-in-cheek “Poor Richard’s Almanac.” There are satirical charts, nonsensical poems, and essays on inconsequential things. I wrote, edited, typeset, designed and illustrated the entire book myself. The book had to be a physical expression of the ideas inside, which center around how to live beautifully, and the joy of appreciating living things. The cover is leaf-green and silver, and the inside endpapers are a hot pink—it’s meant to suggest the mouth of a Venus Flytrap. It’s a strange book. The book is very funny, but it is also a critique of our current age, which to my mind has become harried and toxic. It offers another way by saying “These things still matter.” I like to think it offers some degree of hope; after all, any twit can whine about the current state
of affairs.

The other news is that Johnny Depp’s production company has bought the rights to the book, a director and screenwriter have visited us over the summer, and a first rough draft of the film script has been finished. The film and book allowed us to finally buy a small house. We now have plenty of room for our terrariums, bog garden, and odd

You can see more here:

5. Why do you think people either assume that you're British or gay? Or both?

Hah. Probably because they don’t know any British or gay people, but mostly because I don’t dress in sweatpants, which has become a kind of uniform these days. Want to confuse people? Dress up. People think they’re being “authentic” by dressing like slobs when all they’re doing is being lazy—and an eyesore at that. It isn’t a matter of cost, either—sweatpants can cost more than a perfectly nice pair of trousers. Grown men shouldn’t dress like five year-olds, with space sneakers and baseball caps. It’s juvenile, and gives our part of the state a bad reputation--like we’re all a bunch of fat mall-waddling mouth breathers. Are we really all so special that we don’t see the need to put any effort in our appearance? Think of the poor guy that has to look at you at the supermarket! I’m not saying everyone has to dress like me—not everyone wants to risk a bloody nose when they step out of their door--but a little effort would be nice. It’s not snobbery—it’s civic consideration.

6. What should people visiting the shore know about terrapins?
They should do what they can to help diamondback terrapins, especially in early summer. People should volunteer at the Wetlands Institute outside of Stone Harbor. They are extremely vulnerable animals; all they want is to get across the road to lay their eggs and perpetuate their kind, which is far more important than someone getting to the beach.

Snapping turtles are an incredibly old species; they’ve been around since the Triassic, and eighty percent of all turtle species living today are descended from them. I pulled a sixty-pound snapping turtle out of the road this summer down in Cape May; she must have been fifty years old. Did it all in my best linen summer suit. I had to be careful--things can take off your fingers, but I’ve been handling them my whole life. You have to pick them up by the base of their tail, with the plastron (belly) towards you. Their jaws are much less likely to reach you that way. Keep the turtle far from your body, as they are fast and mean. Set them down gently on the other side of the road they were heading, otherwise, they’ll just try to cross again. Do this, and you can take pride in having done a selfless, kind, and decent thing.

7. And what do you think most people don't know about the shore environment, but should know?
That it is a very rare environment. Very few healthy temperate marshlands remain in North America, and the Pine Barrens is even more of a natural treasure, rich in history and folklore. There are some species of frogs or plants in the pines that are more rare than emeralds, and infinitely more precious. They should be regarded with love and respect. It is these things that make this region truly unique, not our boardwalks and casinos. They can put that stuff anywhere.

Oh yes: Mary Treat, the amateur naturalist from Vineland who helped Darwin in his research on insectivorous plants should be known by every child in South Jersey over the age of twelve. She’s a more admirable historical figure than that so-called “hero” Emilio Carranza, who used to strafe Mexican Indians in his airplane--and yet he’s the one with the monument on the Batona Trail!

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Best Face Forward: The Down the Shore With Jen Facebook Group

Got a Facebook account? Then join the Down the Shore With Jen group! You can access it here.

Check it (and me) out!

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Hey There, Ocean City

If you're like me and make sure to watch ABC's Extreme Makeover Home Edition with a box of tissues in hand, you were bawling after last night's episode about the Marrero family. They were living in a run down home in Camden, which is America's second most dangerous city. It also happens to be the town next to mine. Plus, I went to graduate school at Rutgers University-Camden and write about Camden for Rutgers Magazine, so I have seen how bad Camden is really is. I pass through the heart of Camden every time I take the PATCO high speed line into Philly, and it's not a pretty sight.

But that's not why I'm writing this post. I'm writing because the intro to last night's show was flimed in Ocean City, NJ. Never mind that OC is over an hour ride from Ocean City to Camden. It looked like a whole lot of fun. I'm guessing they were at Wonderland Pier based on the rides, and their positon on the Boardwalk. I might have even been in OC the day they filmed. The only thing I remember about the week that Extreme Makeover was in town (since it was covered in local media) was that it was hot as hell. Not the best time to be building a house. Then again, based on how the Marrero family seemed transformed by the show's help, any time was a good time to be pulled out of poverty.

What I'm Listening to: News and Tributes by The Futureheads

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

News from Around the South Jersey Shore

Update from Atlantic City's "sitcom" government: the mayor is guilty of cheating Veterans Department.

Here's an interesting article on the growing population of Asians gambling in Atlantic City.

Well, this isn't good -- more trouble within the Sea Isle City police department.

Shhhhhhhhhhhhh. It's almost time for Ocean City's Quiet Festival.

Vegan? Check out The Healthy Voyager's report about her trip to Cape May.

I'm not as shocked about this as I should be: gangs in Cape May County. I'd heard about this back in the spring.

Don't pick up the horseshoe crabs! And this rule isn't in place because they're dangerous -- they're not. The Delaware Bay is the world’s largest spawning grounds for horshoe crabs, which explains why the Jersey Shore has so many. The Delaware Estuary is also the largest staging area of shorebirds that travel the Atlantic Flyway, largely due to the horseshoe crab — they eat the horseshoe crab eggs. Horseshoe crabs can also save your life, indirectly. According to the Ecological Research and Development Group, extracts of blood from horseshoe crabs are used to make sure that items like intravenous drugs, vaccines, and medical devices are bacteria-free. So leave 'em alone.

Update on the potential buy out of Trump Entertainment Resorts from Forbes. Summary: doesn't look like it's going to happen.

What I'm Listening to: Preston & Steve on 93.3 WMMR

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Another Level of "Done"

I just sent an email to the copy editor assigned to my book. This was not just any email. Attached to it was the Cape May chapter -- the last chapter in my book. Over the last few weeks, I have re-read my book from cover to cover, approving the changes the publisher wanted while also clarifying and correcting anything that need to be clarified and corrected.

This is not the last time I'll see the book before it goes to press, but it's the last time I could make any major changes. So if any more casinos expansions want to catch on fire, restaurants decide to fall into the water, or shore towns opt to use digital beach tags, could you please wait until after my book comes out?

I feel a little sad letting that last chapter go. Right now, I'm sitting in my office with a crick in my neck and an empty feeling all over. It's a lot of information, and I poured, so far, almost a year of my life into creating this book. I guess when I started I never thought ahead to this point, just like when you're 17, you can't imagine what it would be like to be 27. But, sure enough, I'm 27 now, and the book is almost published.

Anyway, this is not something to feel glum about -- it's something to celebrate, so I'm going on a run. While I'm at it, check out my blog for an update on how my "52 books in 52 weeks project" is going. I'm tempted to make my book #7 of 52 since I did read it within the 52 weeks. But I don't think my own work should count!

What I'm Listening to: Air Stereo by the Damnwells

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Down the Shore with...Caroline Leavitt

This week's installment of "Down the Shore with" takes us to Ocean City with Caroline Leavitt. Not only is Caroline a big OC fan (of the town, not the TV show), but she's also a fantastic writer, counting eight novels, like Girls in Trouble and Coming Back to Me, to her byline, as well as numerous essays and articles in magazines you know and love.

Writers, listen up (or read up). She gives great advice to us ink stained wretches and aspiring authors.

1. What do you consider your shore town? Why?
Ocean City! Neither my husband Jeff nor I are really beach people (I didn't own a bathing suit until we started to go! I have parchment pale skin so I always burn, too, which makes the beach less fun) but when we had our son, we realized we couldn't deny him the experience of the beach. We chose Ocean City because we heard it was a family-friendly place, and because we heard it had a boardwalk! (One of our first dates was on the boardwalk of Atlantic City. We both love kitsch and ended up spending way too much money on figurines and snow domes!) We have both come to love Ocean City and go every year. I even buy new bathing suits and go in the surf and slather on sun block with a SPF of about two thousand! Every year we also hit the arcades and get one of those photo booth shots of all of us making silly faces. We have about ten of them framed at home to remind us how much fun we have at Ocean City.

I just love everything about it--the salty air, the arcade, the boardwalk, the food, the ocean. We're still not major beach people (we only stay four days and we usually limit our beach time to an hour and a half every day), but anyone who knows us always thinks it remarkable that we can't wait to come here.

2. A lot of people go to the shore just to eat. What's your favorite Ocean City hot spot?
Bashful Banana is FABULOUS. It's right on the boardwalk. They make incredible (and healthy) sandwiches, wraps, hot stuff, and even better is their banana whip, which is a frozen banana that they somehow puree with honey so it becomes this extraordinary dessert. Plus, the waitstaff is always really, really friendly.

3. Which do you prefer? Wonderland or Playland?
This is a question for my 11-year-old, since just looking at rides makes my head swim! He adores Wonderland and would rent an apartment in there if he could. However, I admit I love the LOOK of the place, especially at night when everything is all bright and shiny with lights, and we have taken a zillion photographs of it.

4. When did you start writing fiction?
As soon as I could hold a pencil. I made up books for book reports, I wrote stories instead of reports and I always knew I wanted to be a writer. Nothing seemed more fun than making up whole worlds! I didn't get really serious about sending things out until after I graduated college, though!

5. This blog is read by a lot of writers -- what advice would you give to aspiring fiction writers?
1. Never, ever give up. No doesn't always mean no when you approach agents or editors--and even if it sometimes does, remember a "no" is just one person's opinion.
2. Write every day if you can, or at least five days a week. Don't wait for inspiration. Instead train your subconscious to help you.
3. This one is the most important, next to number 1. Write what obsesses you, what you are most passionate about. Don't write for the market! That's a huge mistake because the market always changes and because if you just write what you think might sell instead of what you really care about, the work will be dry and flat.
4. Befriend other writers whenever you can because writing can be a lonely business and it helps to have the support of others who know what you are going through.
5. Read everything. Pay attention to how other writers solve problems about character or plot.
6. I repeat, NEVER GIVE UP!

6. Tell us a little bit about your Boston Globe column.
I started out writing part of their "A Reading Life" column, where I could talk about three books around a theme--for example, three first novels all about sky diving, or three books that all look at betrayal! I did that until they had a budget cut and then I simply reviewed for them. Recently they offered me a new column--about self-help books, but they told me I could write about the smarter, quirkier ones, such as titles by Annie Lamott or Peggy Orenstein or that wonderful book, EAT, PRAY, LOVE. I'm out to transform the genre! It's every other month, and so much fun. I'm originally from Boston, which makes the job all the more fun, plus it's truly a wonderful place to work. I also review books for Dame Magazine and People, teach writing through UCLA online, mentor writers, write novels AND I'm a professional namer! (I just named a brand of potato chips!)

7. What writers do YOU like to read?
I love Dan Chaon, Alice Hoffman, Robb Foreman Dew, Maggie O'Farrell is wonderful. Leora Skolkin-Smith, Rochelle Shapiro, Elizabeth Strout. I have a soft spot for new writers (Dean Bakopoulos' Please Don't Come Back From The Moon is astonishingly good) and I also love nonfiction about history and science.

8. What's next?
I just turned in my 9th novel, Traveling Angels, to my beloved agent and immediately started a new novel. It's set in 1950s suburbia so I am doing some research and in that dreamy stage, which is bliss. I am working with Leora Skolkin-Smith and a producer and director to adapt her novel Edges to the screen and am hoping to sell two other scripts I completed (both just got into the quarter finals of the Writers Network Screenplay competition, so my fingers are crossed so tightly, circulation is about to be cut off.) And I am trying to learn to knit socks so they come out properly!

Check out Caroline's blog at

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