Former Hoboken resident Jane Isenberg lived and worked in Hudson County for 23 years. She tapped into that vast collection of knowledge when she set out to write a book, which eventually developed into an eight-book mystery series centered on the amateur sleuth Bel Barrett.
Isenberg, a former English teacher that taught at Hudson County Community College, created Bel Barrett when she began suffering from some of the symptoms of menopause. She looked to fiction to answer some of her concerns, and couldn't find any examples of women going through the process of aging.
Out of that need, Bel Barrett was born. But Isenberg needed to find the story that was worthy of her character. Then life provided her with inspiration. Isenberg observed a political battle going on between the board of trustees of her college and the president. From there, she developed a fictional story about the murder of a college president.
Life imitates art
Isenberg lived in Hoboken from 1977 to 2000. She watched the small town that she knew and loved grow and change.
"It really is a different place," said Isenberg. "It doesn't have a small town feel anymore. It has a small city feel. It seems bigger."
Each of her novels address concerns that women have in midlife, like an aging parent, adult children, female friends facing breast cancer, and career choices. By having Bel Barrett suffer through all of these life changes, women going through the same concerns could find answers. She also relied on Hoboken's history for some background.
Her book "Mood Swings to Murder" is about a Frank Sinatra impersonator who ends up dead. Isenberg went to the Hoboken Library to fill in the missing pieces about Sinatra's mother.
In Isenberg's book, there are references to some of Hoboken's landmarks like Leo's and Piccolo's.
"I wrote it when I was leaving Hoboken [in 2000]," said Isenberg. "I thought of it as my love letter to Hoboken."
According to Isenberg, there are certain topics like Sinatra that you have to talk about if you are setting a book in Hoboken.
"Setting the books in Hoboken is so exciting," said Isenberg.
In addition to getting character ideas from her own experience, she got inspiration for the villains by reading local newspaper headlines.
Isenberg's latest book in the series, "Hot Wired," has Bel Barrett accused of murder of a former student.
For the book, she had to do some research on the world of rap. She initially thought that rappers were all thugs who hated women, and realized that this conception might be a result of aging. By immersing herself in the world of rap, certain truths became clear and she developed an appreciation for the music. She even wrote three original rap pieces for the book. Isenberg keeps Bel Barrett up to date in other ways, by addressing the way that people communicate now by e-mail, websites, and cell phones.
It is on a website rating professors that character Bel Barrett encounters an angry rap that accuses her of being a racist and a poor teacher. When Barrett's student gets pushed in front of the Grove Street PATH train, the cops turn to Barrett as the main suspect.
Romance and murder
Amy Garvey, author of "I Love You to Death," is another writer who sets her characters firmly in the Mile Square. This is Garvey's second novel. Garvey worked for years editing romance novels for Kensington Publishing before turning to writing them. But her book, which is a collection of three different stories, isn't just romance; there is a murder tied in to spice it up. The main female characters have to deal with blind dates, coffee shops and the bar scene, just as real singles do.
Garvey grew up in Union County. She had friends who lived in Hoboken and she loved Hoboken's combination of small town/big city.
"[Hoboken has] everything good about a big city, but it's really more of a small town," said Garvey. "It feels friendlier and more accessible. [There are] great restaurants and nightlife, great shops, and also the accessibility of New York and the more rural parts of New Jersey."
Garvey's characters should be appealing to anyone who is single and living in Hudson County. Although only her second book, the dialogue is incredibly realistic and the story moves well. Garvey is currently working on another book set to be published in 2007.
Honored by the mayor
Meanwhile, Jane Isenberg came back to her hometown of Hoboken for a reading at Symposia bookstore this past Monday night.
At the reading, Isenberg received two proclamations, one from Mayor Roberts and another from state Sen. Bernard Kenny. Both honored the writer for her many accomplishments.
According to Isenberg, she misses Hoboken and the city life.
"I love the energy and the diversity," said Isenberg. "I'm really a city person. I like to have all those choices - to be able to jump on a train or walk everywhere. It was just a wonderful place for us."
Fans of her work will have to wait for the next Bel Barrett mystery, since the writer's next book is tackling a different topic. Her next book will be historical fiction that starts in New York and ends in Seattle. According to Isenberg, it is important to stretch yourself.
For more information about Jane Isenberg or her books visit: www.janeisenberg.com or www.avonmystery.com.
For more on Amy Garvey and her books visit: www.amygarvey.com or www.kensingtonbooks.com.