State of Limbo:
New Jersey Simply Lacks
an Appreciation for Its Authors
New Jersey's problem dates as far back as the Revolutionary War when it was considered nothing more than that expanse of land which connected New York City and Philadelphia. It was termed "the crossroads" and it held no real worth or identity of its own. Unfortunately, that still holds true today when it comes to the arts.
New Jersey is just too uncomfortably close to Manhattan where the big guns thrive even though they often live here in the suburbs. Whereas states like Texas, Florida, and a great many others celebrate all resident writers who base fiction and non-fiction in those places especially with an eye towards indigenous culture and history, it is not so in New Jersey.
When we have high-profile authors living in the Garden State (whether born here or just relocated), the publicity machines of the major publishing houses manage to attract all the press coverage. The financially-hurting, popularity-waning newspapers simply jump on any bandwagon which makes it easier and attractive to tout well-known names (who hardly need any more press coverage) rather than seeking out and supporting much lesser-known names.
Some people have recognized and tried to fight that trend. When my first New Jersey-based mystery novel debuted nearly twenty-five years ago, the editor-in-chief of The Star-Ledger was a well-respected old-timer named Mort Pye who had come up through the ranks and realized the true value in real local news. Mr. Pye then retired and has since passed away not to be replaced by anyone with such insights.
For a while, The Star-Ledger had a reporter named Pat Turner who helmed a column called "Jersey Ink" but then the layout editor starting playing fast and lose with which editions carried the column "due to space" and more often than not, books important to specific counties received absolutely no mention in those counties. It was maddening to all concerned. Ms. Turner retired not to be replaced.
Also when my first New Jersey-based mystery novel debuted, a professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology named Dr. Herman Estrin realized our state's shortcomings when it came to local writers and he began the New Jersey Author Award of which I am a recipient. But Dr. Estrin, too, has since passed away, not to be replaced.
It's all rather sad. Yes, the well-known authors should certainly get their due but authors published by small presses (now given the newest terminology: independent presses) certainly don't lack talent and, it can be argued, often bring more valuable attention to places within New Jersey which would otherwise go unnoticed and undervalued.
I'm not talking about self-published e-book "authors" or those postcard collections put out by a certain publisher (such collections are more-or-less vanity undertakings which receive no fact-checking or copyediting and lack the common sense to respect the copyrights of others and seek permissions for use).
I'm talking about those of us who are published by smaller presses or are considered "mid-list" authors for large presses. Unlike power-hitters, we aren't necessarily celebrities. But to use an analogy from the Hollywood Studio System against which many of my novels are set: we less-publicized authors are the "contract players" who make it all work. We're like those actors and actresses whose faces you know from countless movies and you remember us because we turn in good solid performances. Yet, how is it that with all of our professional credentialswhich were legitimately earned in any number of highly respected guildsthat the few remaining New Jersey book reviewers seem to think it's not insulting to make us audition so that they can determine whether we are worthy of a mention? And why is it that removed from the national spotlight, the few remaining New Jersey reviewers all too often make their reviews about themselves rather than strictly about the books and authors?
At the very least, it ruffles our feathers. But the worst of it is that New Jersey is a state desperately in need of anything positive to help brighten its lackluster image and the authors who could help bring that about are being ignored.
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