Today I'm welcoming author J.M. Kelley to the blog. She's going to tell you a bit about her state and mine, Pennsylvania. I think I live on the wrong side of the state. All the fun stuff is out east!
Pennsylvania is a glorious cornucopia of weirdness. It’s no wonder that the cosmos planted me in the midst of all the insanity the Keystone State throws out there. It’s a perfect fit for me, really.
You don’t have to look far for strangeness in Pennsylvania. In fact, all one has to do is look up the names of cities and towns in the state. Lancaster County alone is responsible for the majority of the oddball name choices: Paradise, Blue Ball, Climax, and Bird-in-Hand. My grandmother, upon seeing a sign for Intercourse, PA years ago, blurted out, “Intercourse? That’s a screwy name.”
Of course the real awesomeness set in when she realized the borderline dirty play on words she’d just shared with the entire carload of people.
York County, where I was born and raised, is a stronghold of weird. Countless not-so-urban legends abound in the area, probably because teenagers have to come up with something fun that doesn’t have to do with cornfields and hay bales. Most of us have taken a trip down Toad Road (now Trout Run Road) to see if we had the courage to traverse the Seven Gates of Hell. We’ve gone to Lewisberry to mess around on Gravity Hill, where you put your car in reverse and let your mind boggle as the vehicle drifts back up the hill. Rehmeyer’s Hollow, scene of a bizarre murder and rumored hauntings, was a must-see, if you could get onto the property before getting run off by cops just waiting for a bunch of underage hoodlums in search of a scare.
York has the Haines Shoe House. It’s a shoe. It’s a house. There’s ice cream, too. In the heel, I think….
For the creepy-factor, drive to Centralia, a town abandoned due to underground mine fires that warm the streets, unleash toxic fumes, and makes for an all-around life-risking experience.
New York City isn’t the only place boasting a Statue of Liberty. Pennsylvania has one too: smack in the middle of the Susquehanna River, in a spot that…well, most people can’t really see it.
Pennsylvania has Hershey, a town with the scent of chocolate wafting through the air and streets lined with street lights shaped like candy Kisses. How can any town compete with that?
Don’t want to deal with the hassle of Times Square on New Year’s Eve? Come to PA: York drops a white rose at midnight, Lancaster drops a red rose, Lebanon drops bologna, Dillsburg drops a pickle, Beavertown drops a beaver, Bethlehem drops a Peep (thank goodness they don’t drop a baby Jesus), Red Lion drops a cigar, Ickesburg drops a French fry, Blain drops a cow, and Frogtown drops a frog. Well, from what I hear, Frogtown winches a stuffed frog doll up in the air and hurls it against a barn. But, you gotta do what you gotta do for entertainment in the sticks, right?
Growing up in this kind of environment, you can’t help but try to find a use for all the crazy that surrounds you. Me, eventually I realized I had to write about it. Not in a blatant sense, mocking my home state, or pointing out the endless oddities. I use it as inspiration. The day I realized how necessary it was for me to set stories in Pennsylvania was an average day. I lived in Dover back then, and I was stuck in traffic on 74 Northbound. I glanced over at the shoulder of the road in time to see a random man toodling on up the road on a penny-farthing bicycle. Yeah, one of those antiquated things with a giant front wheel? There he went. I have no idea where he was going or where he got that penny-farthing, but I knew then and there that I had to write about this madness. In Drew, its seen in Elmer Ochs, the octogenarian on Rascal wheels, or in Daddy’s Girl, where no neighbors ever reveal themselves, but their casseroles keep showing up in weird places. It’s in the festivals that like to appear in my stories, from the River’s View German Days, where a baby can lick all the head cheese he wants, to the magical Essex Woods May Day Celebration in my forthcoming story, Almost Magic, to be released later this month.
That’s Pennsylvania. That’s my home, and always will be, no matter where I roam.
Sometimes, returning home isn’t about confronting your past; it’s about discovering your future.
Janie McGee, the black sheep of her family, is free-spirited, uninhibited, and never one to stay in the same place for too long. When Janie learns her father, Joe, is gravely ill, she reluctantly returns home to rural Pennsylvania to care for him. Joe’s neighbor, David Harris, sports a pocket protector, collects coins, and is addicted to Antiques Roadshow. Everything about him rubs Janie the wrong way, from his nerdy wardrobe to his enviable friendship with Joe. And to make matters worse, her father thinks they’re perfect for each other, proof positive of how little Joe knows his own daughter…or so Janie thinks.
A shared devotion to the elder McGee begins to close the gulf between Janie and David, but a burgeoning romance opens the door to new problems and unexpected consequences neither could foresee. Joe, however, remains steadfast in his resolve to show Janie that Daddy knows what’s best for his little girl. Can Janie finally open her heart to David while watching the first man she ever truly loved fade away?
The interloper entered the room. His eyes widened when he caught sight of Janie, and he raised his hands up in front of him.
“Don’t think I won’t hurt you!” Janie shrieked, holding her ground.
“Joe might need that the next time he buys a pair of shoes,” the man said. His eyebrows arched theatrically while he gave Janie an appraising once over. His eyes lingered on her chest, she noted, which bolstered her resolve to kill him if he made any sudden moves.
Great. Janie tightened her grip on the shoe stretcher. Pervert.
The man stayed where he was and plastered an expression on his face that Janie assumed conveyed harmlessness. “You shouldn’t bean me with that. I doubt they make those anymore. It would be a shame to break it.”
Janie held the stretcher up higher, wincing as it wobbled flaccidly over her head. “If you knew my father, you’d know he only buys shoes once a decade. Who are you, damn it?”
“David Harris.” He slowly lowered his hands and took a step back. “I live next door. For the record, your father bought a pair of shoes last month. Are you Janie?”
Janie narrowed her eyes. “You’re David.”
A bemused smile curved his lips. “Were you expecting someone else?”
Almost certain she wasn’t about to be attacked, Janie dropped the stretcher to the bed. “I figured you’d be an octogenarian like my dad.”
“Your father is in his seventies.”
“That would make him a septuagenarian.”
Janie blinked. “Oh,” she said. “Well, I rounded up. Sue me. What are you, anyway, the vocabulary police?”
Three years ago, native Pennsylvanian J.M. Kelley packed her bags and moved south. Now, the wannabe Carolina Girl can’t speak a single sentence without adding the word y’all at the end of it, and regards a blast of snow flurries as a doomsday-level event. When the day job allows, and when she can pull herself away from George Takei’s Facebook fanpage, she likes to go on writing jaunts to her favorite lake, or a local coffee shop with delicious shakes and questionable Wi-Fi connections.
J.M. Kelley is a proud recipient of a Carrie McCray Memorial Literary award, and is a member of The South Carolina Writers Workshop and Romance Writers of America (PAN). Readers interested in more information may visit her website at www.jmkelleywrites.com.
Daddy’s Girl purchase links:
Turquoise Morning Press: http://www.turquoisemorningpressbookstore.com/products/daddys-girl-by-j-m-kelley
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/daddys-girl-jm-kelley/1114255053?ean=2940015960969&isbn=2940015960969
J.M. will be awarding a gift basket of some of the author's favorite things, including a $25 gift card from Amazon and a signed copy of the Foreign Affairs anthology from Turquoise Morning Press to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour.