Jack Chaucer sold and signed 26 paperbacks for a bunch of awesome people at The Big E in West Springfield, Mass., on Monday. It’s a great event with a good crowd in the Connecticut Building. Readers of all ages were looking for new books and my pal Jim Fuller made the drive up from CT to buy the whole Nikki trilogy. I actually sold out of the Nikki trilogy plus eight additional books from my other three titles. Thanks to fellow author Karin LeFranc, a veteran of the CAPA booth, for her helpful tips.
My wife, Wilma, and I are teaming up on a true story, “Hardcore Dutch Epicure Gypsy.” That’s the description of my wife that a bakery supply truck driver left on a note she found, and it is certainly fitting for the story of Wilma and her parents, Wolfgang and Betsy, and what it has taken to make a little international bakery in Litchfield, Connecticut, such a sweet success for the past 50 years. Preliminary work on this book has begun and we’d like to get it published in time for Litchfield’s 300th birthday in 2019, because The Dutch Epicure Shop is one of the many things that makes this town unique and special. We’ll also be seeking anecdotes from the shop’s customers, so message me if any of you want to contribute a favorite memory or story about the store, its many delights and/or the hardworking Joas family.
For now, here’s a little teaser …
THEY MET ON THE SS ROTTERDAM, a Holland America cruise ship, where they learned to work hard while others vacationed. They honed their skills as a pastry chef and stewardess. They saw the world together and fell in love.
And one day in 1967, Wolfgang Joas of Germany and Betsy Pronk of Holland docked for good in the little town of Litchfield, Connecticut, where they began raising a family and operating a fledgling bakery called The Dutch Epicure Shop.
More than 50 years later, in an America full of big-box retailers and fast-food joints, that little shop still hand-rolls pretzels and hand-dips macaroons in chocolate behind a modest storefront in a nondescript plaza.
If not for the German and Dutch flags flapping in the breeze alongside Route 202, one could easily miss this portal to a different time and so many places all at once — all of which can be experienced in as little as one bite.
PERHAPS IT IS FITTING that Wilma Joas — daughter of Wolfgang and Betsy, and owner of The Dutch Epicure Shop since taking over from her parents in 2002 — began selling her own ice cream in flavors ranging from apricot brandy to marzipan swirl to celebrate the family’s 50th year of running the store in 2017.
Wolfgang’s job in his first cruise on the SS Rotterdam was to make ice cream. When the massive ocean liner departed Holland on May 5, 1962, for a weeklong journey to New York and back, the 23-year-old was one of nine pastry chefs and part of a 130-person kitchen crew. The ship could ferry up to 1,700 passengers, including 150 to 200 in first class, during a time when it was cheaper to cross the Atlantic by boat than plane.
Wolfgang didn’t know it at the time, but his future wife was among the ship’s 600 total crew members who set sail that day …
P.S. I’ll be writing under my real name, John Cullen, for this one. Jack Chaucer, last seen blasting off for Mars with Nikki and touring the Isle of Wishpers with a group of children, is on hiatus.
Nikki Blue: Source of Trouble
By Jack Chaucer (380 pages, $13.99 on Amazon, $11.99 at Hickory Stick Bookshop, $2.99 ebook)
When we last checked in with Nicole “Nikki” Janicek, she had put herself in harm’s way to stop a deranged teenager from carrying out a massacre at her New Hampshire high school. That event — depicted in Jack Chaucer’s previous novel, “Streaks of Blue” — took place four years before “Nikki Blue: Source of Trouble” begins.
The added twist in this sequel is that the action takes place in 2018, when 21-year-old Nikki — recovered physically but not emotionally from the gun wound she received during her act of teen heroism — has moved to Connecticut to make her way in the world with virtually no safety net. That is, she aims to start a career in print journalism. Talk about jumping from the frying pan into the fire!
As the book opens, Nikki is on her first assignment as an intern reporter for “The Brass City Bulletin.” Suffice it to say that things get off to an inauspicious start. Ah, but out of that event, the scoop of the century arrives, hand-delivered to her by a minion from a cult called The Bridge, comprised of disgruntled former Scientologists: Mayor Phil Battaglia is having sex with a prostitute and her young daughter in Bridgeport. Does that sound familiar?
Many other local touches and locations also will sound familiar to anyone who’s lived in the area for more than two weeks. For these alone, “Nikki Blue” is worth reading, largely because they offer Chaucer a chance to make subtle commentary on the scene.
Indeed, Chaucer puts his intimate knowledge of big-city newspaper newsrooms and local settings to good use here — Chaucer is actually John Cullen, the Litchfield County editor for this newspaper. And the characters at the newspaper bear some passing resemblance to staff members. Particularly well drawn is the restless, wisecracking reporter Steve Pearson, who accompanies Nikki on her big scoop to bust the mayor in Bridgeport, and then serves as the voice of conscience for the rest of the novel.
After receiving a surprisingly lucrative offer, Nikki quits her internship at the newspaper to become the director of information (ahem, the public relations flack) for The Bridge Group, which is planning to open a branch here in Waterbury. The irony is not lost on Chaucer: she’s a director of information for a secretive cult that does not issue any information. Not only that, but The Bridge has plans so big that the Earth can’t hold them: it is planning to launch rockets to Mars, with 24 hand-picked colonists (Nikki among them).
While on the surface The Bridge seems creepy and manipulative, the organization’s professed aims are to save humanity from planetary destruction by addressing massive environmental issues head on [–] sort of a combination of Greenpeace and Esalen. They convince a skeptical Nikki that they are not a cult. As one of the leaders tells her, “Religion is more trouble than it’s worth.”
The narrative moves along crisply, incorporating some of the characters from Chaucer’s earlier novel, and introducing some appealing new ones, including Bill Oz, a dueling pianist and middle-aged writer who has lost his mojo … until he meets Nikki. Together, the pair meet the perfect storm of power-mad bosses, family tensions and a hurricane that makes Katrina seem like a shrinking violet.
The cliffhanger ending leaves open the likelihood of, yes, a sequel to the sequel. Nikki is an appealing enough character to pull something like this off.
To contact Chaucer, visit his blog queensarewild.wordpress.com or facebook.com/jackchaucerbooks.
Derek and I held hands as we strolled down the long boardwalk toward Silver Sands Beach in Milford, a town on Connecticut’s southern coast.
Just a mile or so behind us lurked the rat race of Interstate 95 and its ugly little sister, Route 1, with its endless strip malls and oversized SUVs. A few hundred feet ahead of us, beyond the beach, Long Island Sound beckoned, calm and blue. In between, sandals flip-flopped against wood; cattails rustled on either side of us in the salty breeze; and small children skipped with delight as their feet approached the warm sand.
The fine line between madness and serenity in this world is hard to fathom sometimes.
I’m from New Hampshire and I still believe it is one of the most beautiful places imaginable, but the fact remains that I got shot there. And though I had been told there are beautiful places in Connecticut, I had yet to see anything that resembled New Hampshire. It’s hard to find beauty on flat, crowded highways. So far, I didn’t like Connecticut or its maddening pace.
Thankfully, by showing me this place, Derek had given me my first glimmer of hope. And he needed to … because the only reason I moved to this state was to be close to him.
Our first date was at Chili’s on September 13, 2014. We were both just barely seniors in high school. A co-captain of the football team, he was so confident, handsome and funny that night. We toasted to our future and I felt on top of the world.
I got shot the very next night … because I was worried about another boy … about what he might do.
I had to find Adam Upton.
In most of my nightmares, I’m still looking for Adam. I’m searching his pickup truck on the side of the road. I’m looking into the windows of strange cars in dark, wooded parking lots. I’m seeing something run across my field of vision, baiting me to chase whatever it is.
And inevitably, a figure dressed in black steps out of nowhere to torment me. Thomas “Lee” Harvey.
There’s a totally catchy song they used to play on the radio all the time that summed me up perfectly at various times over the past four years. I have no idea the name of the band, but the chorus is “I’m not sick, but I’m not well.” There’s another line from that song that spoke to me as well: “Paranoia, paranoia, everybody’s coming to get me.”
From “Nikki Blue: Source of Trouble”
Pub date: 10-9-15
ARC date: Available now on NetGalley
I will be featured in the Summer Author Expo at Main Street Marketplace in Torrington on Aug. 8 from 5 to 9 p.m. Stop on by the author tent. I’ve prepared a special deck of cards with fun clues from the characters and plot of “Queens are Wild.” Beat me at seven-card stud for the chance to buy the book for half price. Draw three queens and you get the book for free! See you there.