TWO ACROSS – On sale August 4th, 2015
About the book –
When Stanley and Vera met, they were academically precocious but awkward teenagers who formed a bond when they tie for first place in the National Spelling Bee. Though their mothers have big plans for them—Stanley will become a senator, Vera a mathematics professor—neither wants to follow these pre-determined paths. So Stanley hatches a plan to marry Vera in a sham wedding for the financial freedom to pursue his one true love: crossword puzzle construction. While on the way to university, Stanley entices Vera to marry him, he neglects one variable: she’s secretly in love with him, a fact that dooms his plan to disaster. Once he’s lost her, Stanley tries to atone for his mistakes and win her back using coded messages in crossword puzzles-but can he find her again before it’s too late?
Vera took a step forward, put one hand on her hip, touched the microphone stand with the other, and said, “Excuse me?”
“Charlatan,” said the official pronouncer, Mr. King, exactly as he had the first time, with Old Testament rectitude.
The overhead lights, as well as those pointing up at her from the edge of the stage, bubbled with heat. She could feel the eyes of the eight remaining contestants seated behind her penetrating her back, their little hearts thumping in unison. She gripped the microphone stand. Charlatan. How did they know?
“C-H . . .” she began. She felt so light-headed that it seemed as if the entire ballroom in the belly of the great Hawthorne Hotel lifted slightly, and the crimson curtains lining the stage seemed to sway. There was no escape. Yes, she was a charlatan. She didn’t belong here, little nobody Vera. There was her mother in the front row, hands in her lap, encouraging her with furtive lifts of the eyebrows. Of course she knew this word. It was a freebie, a stroke of luck. The previous word had been dhurrie, and after the atrociously peppy California girl with the long braid running down her back misspelled it, omitting the “h,” the bell tolled with all the mercy of a scythe’s blade.
Charlatan. She had been feeling like one all week, ever since the first day in DC when the kids got a view of bullet-shaped President Eisenhower waving from across the White House lawn. She didn’t belong here. In fact, she didn’t belong anywhere in that hotel, where a team of maids placed your toothbrush in a little porcelain stand, and room service arrived on fine china un- der silver domes delivered by a pair of men wearing white gloves. No, Vera was only really comfortable in her little nest of red leather and auto fumes, windows that roll up and down, roadside billboards drifting by. She had gotten used to spending quite a lot of time in the backseat of her mother Vivian’s red-and-white 1955 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria. That is, when she wasn’t at their apartment in New York, where they’d been spending less and less time lately, and which felt as if it were their residence in name only. More and more now, she found herself biding her time in musty hotels settled into the crotches of crumbling East Coast towns, hotels that were made of cinder block and smelled of wet clay, or rickety wooden motels that smelled of attic and peeling paint, perched on the shoulders of lonely highways. The Hawthorne Hotel, however, had delightful odors floating nose- high on the air: lavender and rose and mint, fragrances that Vera associated in her mind with Paris, although she had only read about it, fantasizing a jolie existence there during her French language studies.
“I’d like to begin again,” she said. Starting over was permitted, as long as the speller repeated the letters she had already spoken. “But first, may I have the definition?” She told herself that it was a good tactic to ask as many questions as she could, especially when feeling uncomfortable—even if she knew the answers. At the age of fifteen, Vera had already developed a coquettish, sly attitude toward adults, who, she found, could be surprisingly easy to fool.
“Charlatan. One making especially noisy or showy pretenses to knowledge or ability; fraud.” Mr. King’s careful voice seemed disembodied from the solid bald head that glistened in the haze behind the lights.
Vera took a deep breath. She was ready. She was alert. She had been preparing all her life to face the challenges of a merciless world. This is nothing, she reminded herself, compared to what’s coming. If you’re a charlatan, then be a good one. She stated the letters with pride. “Charlatan: C-H-A-R-L-A-T-A-N. Charlatan.”
She turned to take her seat before the head judge even began to say, “That is correct.” Applause lifted her like a wave and deposited her in her folding chair. She liked applause. Most charlatans do.
About the author –
Jeff Bartsch is the son of an English professor, and grew up surrounded by stories and literature. He studied creative writing at the University of Wisconsin, and held the Katey Lehman Fellowship in creative writing at Penn State University. Before his career as an advertising copywriter, he worked at the U.S. Postal Service, a plastics factory, a video monitoring service, delivered wedding cakes, was a baker, and an architects’ assistant. He wrote this book on New Jersey Transit trains while commuting to and from the New York City. Jeff grew up in Wisconsin, and has lived in San Francisco, Boston, and New York. His many adventures along the way include being held up at gunpoint, chasing down a purse snatcher, winning a trophy in a pool tournament, acting in a Woody Allen play in Germany, bicycling halfway across the country, and delivering newspapers on the coldest day in Milwaukee’s recorded history at minus 26 degrees. He’s an avid cyclist, home brewer and cook, and currently lives in New York with his inspiring daughter and their collection of imagination vehicles, commonly known as books. Learn more about Jeff at http://www.jeff-bartsch.com.