Throughout the past few years many aspects of Boston have been depicted in books (George V. Higgins, Dennis Lehane, Robert Parker novels and more) as well as in the cinema.  Most recently, Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, The Departed to name only a few.  Not surprisingly the reader or viewer is mostly treated to the underbelly of the underworld–though there have been some exceptions—Good Will Hunting, for example.

As a detective fiction writer, I too use Boston as a background for my mysteries.  But the alpha and omega of my town is neither the crime world or its historical significance and the preservation of that history.

Boston’s real backbone is its neighborhoods—each with their own name and often cultural differences.  The North End, seat of our Italian population, South Boston (about which much has been written and filmed), and many others like the South End, Roxbury, and Dorchester.

I live in Jamaica Plain (JP), one of Boston’s most diverse neighborhood with a mix of Irish, Hispanic, gentrified Whites, African Americans, gay men and lesbians, and Asians.  During my thirty years of living here, I’ve watched the housing market undercut a swatch of that diversification with house and rental prices.  Still, there’s a reasonably decent mix of community people, which, in a provincial city, is pretty difficult to find.

Over the course of a year there are Dominican and, Puerto Rican festivals, Little League, Wake Up The Earth parades and celebrations.  There are farmer’s markets, night time lantern walks around Jamaica Pond (about a mile and a half in circumference), and in the deep of winter, public Caribbean parties.

But my favorite community weekend is Jamaica Plain Open Studios (JPOS) when local artists and crafts people line the streets, open their houses and apartments, use public spaces and local businesses to exhibit their work.  Begun around 1993 after the JP Multicultural Arts Center was forced to close for economic reasons, the yearly September event draws people from the entire city.  In fact, other Boston neighborhoods (Roslindale, South Boston, etc) have followed suit with their own Open Studio days.

I’m sure Boston isn’t the only city that showcases its local artists, nor the only one with open studio weekends–whatever they’re called.  But JPOS is mine and I want to present some sights from this past weekend.

This watercolor above by Peter Bass is of JP Center, the heart of the neighborhood and one of the major locations of JPOS.  Churches, theaters and  public buildings present groups of artists’ work; individual artists open their homes.


Here are some examples of what we saw in the Center.  The first artist below turned out to be an old book rep friend of mine who has become a landscape designer and jewelry maker, Barbara Trainer and second two below are the work of Anna Koon.








The other end of JP was home to factories and their workers’ housing.  Another center for artists is a restored brewery, now home to an annex of Sam Adams, and other factories that have been converted to artist spaces.

More jewelry, more crafts, more art.  We spent an extra long time in the studio of Maggie Carberry, whose work hangs in our kitchen and in the dining room of my in-laws.

Lest you think this show is just for adults, let me add one last picture:

I would love people to put their own community pictures on my author page on Facebook.  And if you feel like it, it would be great if you “liked” the page.



First post in my new place, my books are finally up for sale, and there are a few housekeeping issues I’d like to touch upon.

I’ve always been conflicted about what to charge for my work.  This was especially true when I worked as a counselor.  Then its roots came from the notion that social services ought to be free.  While I was at Project Place, we pulled this off with help from the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, some federal funding, private donations and a pay scale collectively determined by need.

When I struck out on my own, no one offered to underpin my salary.  Still, I was incredibly uncomfortable with the fees clinical psychologists were charging their clients, even more so, psychiatrists.  I knew I wasn’t going to get involved with insurance for a myriad of reasons so I had to figure out what I considered fair.

I began checking with crafts people and artists about their “hourly” wage and tried to follow their lead.  Problem was, their lead led to financial disaster.  I was a single parent for half the week and had mouths to feed.  Ten to twelve bucks or barter for more than an hour of work just couldn’t cut it.

So I changed and began charging the hourly rate that each of my clients earned.  For those who earned nothing, I charged nothing.  For those who made a lot of money per hour, that was my fee.  This is how I got paid through most of my years as a counselor.

When I decided I to change careers and write, I knew the termination process with my clients was going to take a significant amount of time.  So I returned to my Project Place headset  and simply placed an open guitar case by my office door and told people to throw in what they thought the session had been worth.  (I probably made more money per session with the open case than I had previously.  Should have stuck with my roots from the get go.)

When I took the plunge at becoming an online novelist, I also decided to man up, not to shuck and jive about the price or worth of my books.  But of course I did so in my usual–not so logical–fashion.  I thought back to when I was young and the cost of a paperback was $4.95.  I liked the number, thought it fair given what it takes to write a novel (as long as there are enough $4.95s, of course) and decided to go with it.

Not so fast.  Apparently some places that distribute e-books demand a minimum of $4.99 per book.  I’d rather $4.95, but it is what it is and I hope my readers find it fair.

I also know that a great many e-book authors do 99 cent specials, free giveaways for certain periods of time, and move their book prices up and down.  I prefer not to get into that game.  And while I can easily imagine some contests like the Goodreads one I did where books are given as a prize, I do intend to keep my e-book prices at $4.99 unless I run into compelling reasons (like distributors) to change it.  Believe me, if that happens, I’ll post about it.

I’m sure there are or will be some with the new site.  Working the backend of this baby is more complicated than the original, so get ready for some operator errors.  Please let me hear about any problems you might encounter by writing me from the “Contact Zach” page.  I will jump right on it.  But don’t feel contacting me is just meant for website issues or feedback.  Feel free to get in touch with me about anything, especially writing.  One of the major reasons I decided to go net rather than traditional is the opportunity to actually converse with my readers. So, if you tell your friends about this site, my books and posts, (see WORD OF MOUTH, two posts below), tell them they can write me too.  As anyone who has seen my Facebook comments can attest, I enjoy communicating with people whether I agree with them or not.

And finally:

Every Monday post from the old site had to be cut and pasted into the new one.  Had I done the same with each comment, this site would still be just a dream.  Although I have every comment ever written in a folder on my computer–as well as every reply–the comments cut and paste process begins from this past July.  I wish I could have moved them all since I know folks spent time and effort writing them.

So look over my new digs, find the problems and the stuff you like, buy a book if you’re so inclined, but most of all, please bring your friends to visit.  I like company.

Life loves to be taken by the lapel and told, “I’m with you kid.  Let’s go.” ~ Maya Angelou


To my new virtual home.  A shout out to (Tim and Paula) for all the work they did in creating/decorating the site and their patience with my constant emails.  Also a thank you to who kindly let me use his photographs for some of the banners.

Please look around, play with the buttons, check out Monday’s post, WORD OF MOUTH, and by all means let me know what you think.

Mi casa es su casa.


Last week I wrote about a few emotional issues that reared their ugly head as I grew closer to opening the new website and putting up my Matt Jacob Mystery Novels for sale.

This week I’m taking on some practical concerns I have yet to answer.  That is, how to cut through the overwhelming content and indescribable noise that lives and breathes on the web.  I don’t expect to make a fortune with my books, but I do want to be read.  (DO YOU HEAR ME, MR. GOLDBERG?!?!?)  I believe my novels have something real to say about people, relationships, and life.  And while writing a novel is an amazing experience of discovering one’s self, I have no taste for shouting into an abyss.  There’s also a driving desire to be heard.

I had someone helping me with this area, but no longer.  Probably why my concerns have jacked.  So I do have some publicity plans, press releases, and will hope for an “author’s blog tour.”  In my heart of hearts, though, I believe in word of mouth.  People read because friends and relatives tell them about books they like.

An interesting example of this was a book called Women Running With Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés.  First published in 1992, at the time I wrote for legacy houses, the book went nowhere for years.  But then something happened.  Book reps from publishing houses (these were the days when a lot of reps visited bookstores unlike today) began to pass the book around among each other, house notwithstanding.  (Another phenomena I discovered back then was that reps from different houses often partied together and hung out with each other.  Since I was pretty tight with my own rep, Barb, Sue and I were often invited to these parties.)

They threw me a curve.

These were the most literate people I met in the traditional publishing world and used to give each other books and discuss them all the time. Well, WRWW caught fire with the publishing reps who talked it up to their bookstores, who eventually began talking about it to their customers, who began talking about it to their friends.  After years of languishing, the book became a bestseller and is still selling.

As the moment of this writing, a decade later, it is #2,503 on Amazon with 191 reviews, 8,013 ratings and 676 reviews on Goodreads.  This word-of-mouth wave was begun by house reps.  Today there are just skeletons of local reps and few independent bookstores.  But these waves still happen in stores and online, whether they are tsunamis (A Million Shades of Gray) or smaller swells.

Solving this publishing issue ain’t gonna happen by honing my craft.  Might not go away by using my imagination–but I gotta try.  The question is, uh, try what?  As a friend of mine Bruce Turkel,, once said about slicing through this noise (and I paraphrase) “Nobody knows nothing.”  And Bruce is a man who has spent his entire adult life in advertising and market branding.

Since I started this project and word got out, I’ve received dozens of emails from companies telling me they really know how to market on the Internet.  Frankly, I believe Bruce.  If Facebook’s stock gets smacked around because they have trouble attracting advertisers despite millions upon millions of users, then it seems absolutely true that “Nobody knows nothing.”  Or that successful paradigms for advertising and/or selling become outdated as fast as last year’s cell phones.  Maybe this is a good thing.  Maybe.

But if that’s going to happen, I’m gonna need your help.  There’s around a thousand of you who have been following my posts.  I don’t receive too many comments so I’m a bit hard-pressed to understand why you follow me, but perhaps that’s not important.  I only hope you’ve found many posts to be interesting.  And that those of you who will read my books and glom onto what I’m trying to do with detective fiction find the attempts successful and an enjoyable read.

In a week or two (boy, was I off with my timing) my new site will actually be up and running and will include all the links to buy my digital copies.  I’m asking you to not only buy a copy, but to tell as many people as possible–by talking it up, writing reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, your own blogs if you have them.  And ask your folks to tell as many people as they feel comfortable with.  I always liked the old Almond Growers Association’s ad campaign: One can a week, that’s all we ask.

Word of mouth is like the Great March; it begins with a single step.  Which I no doubt will remind you again, and probably again (sorry) down the line.  But I’d like to thank in advance each of you who decide to take that step with me.

“We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.” ~ Leo Tolstoy


(*From “Let It Bleed“)

I began these Monday posts in January of last year.  Since I’d left the legal world and wanted to return to writing, I thought it would be a reasonable way to shake off the dust and try to recapture my voice after endless edits of legal briefs, focus group reports, and case analyses.

I also wanted to see if my take on “stuff” could and would generate any interest from folks other than friends and family without a ton of publicity or spam.  It seemed like a smart thing to do as I also worked on my ultimate goal: turn my original Matt Jacob mystery novels into reasonably priced e-books (more about this coming soon), create a site to sell the MJs as both downloadable PDFs and all the different e-book formats, and, of course, work on new ones.

Well, the books have been converted and the new website is just a kiss away.  There are still a few tweaks left–and don’t hold me to it–but I believe it will be up and running in the next few weeks.

Lately one of my jobs has been to copy and transfer all my past posts over to the new site.  Of course, I end up reading them–déjà vu all over again.  Sort of fun to see the evolution of style and subject, and on the whole I was okay with the writing.  I was pleased that about a thousand people have jumped onto the bus for the ride.  But then a disquieting unease set in and a couple of uncomfortable concerns began to emerge.

Yeah, the Monday’s were a “pass” on my pass/fail life continuum, but they were also an ocean away from what it takes to create a good, honest novel.  Could I still do it?  This question gut-punched me and I began to doubt the entire endeavor.  Began to do my old recluse thing, feel sorry for myself about everything rotten that’s happened this year (of course neglecting all the positives), feeling the pull of my bed and the oblivion of sleep.

Why not try to attack the concern rather than wallow in it?  Unfortunately, that isn’t my strongest gene.  But it is Sue’s.  Who, along with her ongoing concern, sympathy, cheer-leading, and annoyance at my increasingly depressed behavior, sensibly said: “Okay you’re scared.  On one hand, who can blame you?  On the other, so fucking what?  Just start.  You’ve been talking about pushing the fourth book forward some years (a possible idea) to bridge it to the new ones.  Glue yourself to your chair and begin with that.  It might actually give you some idea of the reality of your fears–one way or another.”

I immediately rejected the idea finding one excuse after another.  Until finally, “excused” out, I realized the obvious.  Sue, as she has been so many times during our 30+ year relationship, was absolutely right.

Next morning I plunked my ass down and stared at a blank screen and found myself turning around looking at the old Kay-Pro stowed under my music table.  The machine I used to write STILL AMONG THE LIVING.  My way of avoiding that white void.  Some people count paper clips, I stare at my stuff.

But sometimes that staring actually generates ideas.  I’ve often said that “consciousness is the last stop of information-not the first.”  Apparently the notion of pushing TIES THAT BLIND forward in time had been percolating beneath the angst that had engulfed me.  Instead of stomach sink, I began to imagine my writing groove where I followed the images in my head and used my two fingers to write down the movie I was watching.

I swiveled my chair back toward the computer and began to fill the screen.  The images, and words didn’t come easy that first day.  But I’d set an amount of time to write and wasn’t gonna move until that time was up–all the while keeping Hemingway’s rules in mind.  That is, never finish writing at the end of a sentence, paragraph, or chapter.  The “unfinished” then makes it easier to pick up where you leave off.  I also kept in mind a New Yorker cartoon I had pinned on the wall of someone hunched over a typewriter with the thought bubble saying “Not finished yet, not finished yet, not….”

But it wasn’t until the third or fourth day that my years of novel writing actually kicked in.  Whenever I write I always start at the beginning of the book and edit my way to the place where I left off.  And this time I really enjoyed the process.

So yes, I’ve begun reworking TIES with entirely new opening chapters in order to determine whether I want to push the book’s “time” forward or not.  This writing hasn’t really resolved my anxiety, but it’s reduced it to a level that’s surprisingly comfortable.  Actually, back to what I remember feeling each time I sat down to write a new book.

My head is back into fiction.

One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is
the belief that ones work is terribly important.

– Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)