Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day from Liberty Heights, NJ

Author:  Elle Druskin
Publisher:  MuseItUP Publishing

Hi Penny, and thanks for inviting me to this special Valentine’s Day blog. You’ve asked me to talk about the Liberty Heights series with all its romance, fun, and the “unexpected expected” in the stories, and especially, what you call the “hijinks” that add so much color and amusement to the books. Okay, I’ll give it a try, but first, I want to say thank you to the many readers who have written to me. In the last month or so, the books have been discovered by lots of people. Amazing, but true. That’s always thrilling and more so when people take the time to write to say how much they enjoy them. It’s gratifying and entertaining when I get these messages:

“I want to go to Liberty Heights and take a dance class with Aunt Tilly.”
“I wish I could live in Liberty Heights because I would definitely take my dog to Jake Marx. Cute, and a veterinarian.”
“I would love to join the pole dancing group at the firehouse.”

Well! I find this fascinating because while the readers know, or at least, I think they know, that mythical New Jersey town Liberty Heights isn’t a real place, it feels real. By the way, all the towns mentioned in the books are real places, Hackensack, Lodi, Teaneck, etc. You can find them on any map but not Liberty Heights. But, and here’s the but, Liberty Heights is real to me. How did this happen?

The Birth of Liberty Heights
I set out originally a few years back to write a romance novel. No big deal about that.  I knew it involved a veterinarian and some very strange animals. I liked that right away. Kind of allowed the concept to percolate in my brain and pretty soon I was sure of two things. The vet, Jake Marx, came from a small town in New Jersey. I was born and raised in Jersey and believe me, I know it’s not far from Manhattan but definitely a different world. It seemed natural to pair Jake with Hayley who comes from Manhattan. She’s a high strung, obsessed workaholic who loathes animals and detests New Jersey. Poor Hayley’s been fired. Times are tough, and the only job she can get is house-sitting for a B grade movie star. Sounds like the solution to her problems—or is it? Nobody told her the house is in New Jersey, nor that it is populated with, let’s say, exotic pets.

 I had so much fun writing Animal Crackers! Who wouldn’t have a ball with Antoine, the parrot who swears in French, Pansy the chimpanzee, and Henry the deaf dog from China? Not to mention the folks of Liberty Heights where the women go pole dancing at the fire station—hey, they need to borrow a pole somewhere, Alice Finster, Chief of Police, and Wilbur, her rooster alarm clock, and the losingest Little League baseball team, The Liberty Heights Lemurs? I had a blast.

Normally, a romance novel is a courtship story. Boy meets girl, conflict, resolution and the story is over. Except in this case, I didn’t want to leave Liberty Heights. You could honestly say the romance was between Liberty Heights and me. I fell in love with the town and couldn’t leave. It wasn’t a great surprise that a second story started to take shape toward the end of Animal Crackers. Oh boy! I didn’t have to leave. Yay!

Life of the Party became Book 2 in the series. Once again, I had heaps of fun. War correspondent Zach Resnick is home after ten years. All the poor guy wants is some peace and quiet to write a book. Fat chance. He’s staying with Jake and Hayley (I couldn’t give them up, and readers love keeping up with characters from previous books) but Jake’s cousin Ellie surprises them with a visit. Cruise director Ellie is in town due to a gastro bug shutting down the ship. Perfect. Ellie is the world’s greatest organizer. Parties for any and every occasion. Daddy baby showers, speed dating—if you want to know what this is, read the book! To make things a bit more interesting, as a child, Ellie had an enormous crush on Zach. Unrequited love. Could the tables be turned? This was too much fun to resist. It also gave me a chance to develop Jake and Hayley a bit more and that was terrific fun.

After that, the stories flowed. Hanky Panky was a natural. Poor Dana Fremder. A gas leak blows up her building. She’s lost her home and business all in one day. Nothing to do but head to Liberty Heights to best friend Hayley where Dana runs into a gunman shooting up Main Street. Yikes! Lucky for Dana, the gunshots are courtesy of Hank Axelrod, renowned voice over actor who’s terrific at imitating a machine gun. Hank has a million voices, sound effects and characters in his repertoire, and he’s driving Dana crazy. Too bad for Hank and Dana that Grandma Baumgart takes a joyride on a skateboard and gets a concussion. She’s recovered (thanks for asking!) except for one minor problem. Okay, one BIG FAT PROBLEM.  Grandma is convinced grandson Hank and Dana are married. Oh boy. Nobody wants to upset Grandma, and pretty soon the whole town is convinced they’re married. Grandma is planning a reception for everyone who missed the wedding and has her heart set on a new dress. And to make things worse, on Groundhog Day, Algernon the meerkat, (they couldn’t get a groundhog so they borrowed Algernon) predicted six more weeks of winter. It’s done nothing but snow with Dana and Hank trapped in the house with Grandma. How do you think that’s going to turn out? Are you having fun yet?

Light My Fire showcases a Liberty Heights election. Mayor Woodrow Wilson—yes, that’s Woodrow Wilson. Liberty Heights is loaded with Wilsons in case you didn’t know.  “Woody” is pitted against 80-year-old Gertie Finster. Gertie can’t hear a thing, and her vision is none too good. She’s also announced her engagement to Grandpa Jonas Wilson, only nobody told Jonas. Chief of Police Alice Finster is also running for mayor. She’s convinced the announcements for Burning Desire indicate a sex shop opening in Liberty Heights. Holy cow!

Woody’s been hopelessly in love for years with Kara, his best friend’s widow. Too bad Woody doesn’t know Kara feels the same way. Kara will do anything to capture Woody’s attention. Could the Miracle Dress that makes every woman look sexy do the trick? And what about that alleged sex shop? What is Burning Desire? Who the heck is Wayne, the owner? Big grin. You’ve going to fall in love with Wayne and LouAnn. Everyone does. One reader wrote “If they ever make a movie of this book, I’m dying to play LouAnn, I just love her!” Light My Fire is a campaign for election but also for love.

In Rodeo Daze, that daffy actress Paulette who owns all the crazy critters (remember Animal Crackers? Just checking ) finally has a chance at a decent movie role. The catch? Equestrian skills required. Uh-oh. New resident Dr. Jim Kildare--yep, Jim Kildare, comes from Boring, Texas where everyone knows how to ride. Paulette is beyond hopeless, and Jim would rather try to romance Renee Landis who’s doing her best to ignore him. There’s only one thing to do—import Grandma Dixie Sue Kildare to help Paulette. Oh boy! Pretty soon Dixie Sue is running wild, shooting up the town, running garage sales and Jim’s love life. What about the ghost haunting LouAnn’s basement? Does LouAnn stand a chance for romance with Howie, the accident prone magician? Can anyone help BettyAnn, LouAnn’s sister, who’s been kicked out of Registered Witches of America?

There are also two short length stories especially written for the holidays,
Adams and Eve, A Liberty Heights Halloween and Pranksgiving (you can figure out that holiday).

In Adams and Eve, everyone’s favorite ditzy resident, LouAnn Freedbush invites the town to her party. Dress as an Adams, says the invitation. Everyone in Liberty Heights scrounges to come up with a costume representing an Adams—Don Adams, Abigail Adams, Ansel Adams and more. LouAnn isn’t very good at spelling. She meant Addams as in Addams Family with Wayne the psychic beagle decked out as Cousin Itt. Sister BettyAnn, the witch, arrives dragging a monster boyfriend who’s practicing to be a vampire. One problem—Simon faints at the sight of blood.  Could be an allergy. Go figure. Meanwhile, LouAnn’s long missing husband Calvin secretly arrives in town. The party should be excellent cover to get rid of LouAnn permanently, but this is Liberty Heights where nothing ever goes to plan. So grab a costume and join the party!

Kidnapped! Or is that birdnapped? In Pranksgiving, B-grade movie actress and well known animal lover Paulette Stone kidnaps Jerome the turkey, star of the Ledbetter Turkey Farm commercials. Paulette figures with the holiday coming, Jerome is slated for the chop, and she’s determined to rescue the bird. The New Jersey cops are out all over the state looking for turkey, anonymous callers are phoning to demand ransom, and Paulette’s got one teensy problem. Make that a big fat problem; Jerome’s flown the coop. Vamoosed. He’s gone and to complicate things, Hayley Marx (heroine of Animal Crackers, Book 1 in the series) is in big trouble, thanks to Paulette. She’s responsible for the PR turkey campaign, and now her star is gone. Yikes!  Suffice to say, I had lots of fun with Pranksgiving, too, with the usual Liberty Heights mayhem and fun.

In 2014, there will be a new Liberty Heights novel (Book 6) entitled Wait Watchers. Renee’s (remember Renee from Rodeo Daze?) straight laced literary agent Portia Hart is hiding out in Liberty Heights. So far, she’s sprained an ankle, lost her eyeglasses and can’t see a darned thing, and the worst is yet to come. Portia has the dubious distinction of being the first guest at LouAnn’s newly opened bed and breakfast and going nuts from the other residents. LouAnn’s boyfriend Howie, the accident prone magician, sister BettyAnn who’s been evicted from Registered Witches of America and in hysterics, and the Valentine family—John, Paul, George, Rocky and Eve who have interesting methods of getting their way. This is New Jersey, after all. Portia’s on a collision course with newly widowed Truman Wilder. The last thing Truman wants is another woman in his life. It’s enough dealing with a teenage daughter. Oh yeah, then there’s Uncle Rupert Freedbush whose nursing home has been condemned. Nothing wrong with Uncle Rupert, other than his delusion that he’s Ernest Hemingway. Oh boy. Men definitely make passes at gals who don’t wear glasses! Join me in more Liberty Heights fun, romance and mayhem later this year.

Where do these ideas come from? Where do you get these crazy animals like Ricky, the picky anteater in Light My Fire?

Grin. Honestly? I don’t know. I do come from a family of great storytellers and I think that’s what I do—tell stories. I’ve tried writing serious work but inevitably, something humorous creeps in. It’s part of my personality so why fight it?  I honestly think my brain is wired that way. I have what I call these long playing tracks in my head. I see, hear, smell and taste these scenes, and often, more than one is playing at a time, so I try to shut that down and work with one scene then allow the next one to play again. I can’t explain it any other way. I do not write a synopsis or use character sheets. I do have a clear idea in my head of what I am writing, or at least, a particular scene and allow it to unfold.

One of the things I’ve found is that readers truly enjoy keeping up with Liberty Heights but especially keeping up with characters. They love having Jake and Hayley in all the books and watching them grow and develop. Each book introduces new characters but also includes some of the previous characters from earlier novels. It’s important that they stay in character and they do. It still allows them scope to grow. One reader recently wrote to me, “I love Tootsie Hawkins in Animal Crackers.”
(Tootsie is the nine-year-old star of the losing baseball team.) This reader was thrilled to find Tootsie in Life of the Party and Hanky Panky because we get to see Tootsie slowly growing up. I think all of this gives readers a sense of really knowing these characters and the town. It’s the only explanation I have.

Writing humor is difficult, it’s very subjective. I write what entertains me and hope that other people are laughing along. So far, they seem to and along the way become addicted to Liberty Heights. So, have a Happy Valentine’s Day. Read a romance novel, play some old-fashioned romantic music and take a visit to Liberty Heights. I can guarantee love and laughter.

At Barnes and Noble for Nook:

You can catch up with Elle and Liberty Heights at any of the following places:

Elle hangs out at Books and Writers Community, a great place for writers and readers. It’s free, it’s fun and everything you can possibly imagine is discussed. You’ll see some famous names there including Diana Gabaldon and Joanna Bourne.

Valentine clip art courtesy of:


  1. A fun series, for sure!

    Nice interview!

  2. Thanks Cheryl. I'm a great believer in having fun. Kind of turning lemons into lemonade whenever possible. Laughing beats crying unless you laugh so hard you do both!


  3. Liberty Heights sounds like a fun town full of interesting characters.
    Carolyn Rae Williamson

  4. Hi Carolyn,

    Oh boy is it interesting. Lots of fun and I might write the series but I'm continually surprised too.