Monday, November 29, 2010

Excerpt: On Maggie's Watch by Ann Wertz Garvin

I hope everyone had WONDERFUL Thanksgiving, enjoying time (and food) with friends and family. I know I did!

Today is Excerpt Monday, and I'm very excited to be introducing Ann Wertz Garvin and her newly released book, On Maggie's Watch, published November 2, 2010 by Berkley (Penguin Publishing).

The story:

Maggie Finley has returned with her husband from the big city to her Wisconsin hometown, where she reunites with her best friend and awaits the any-minute-now birth of her baby. She's determined to create a safe haven on Hemlock Road, a neighborhood that has always meant security, community, and love. One way to do that: resurrect the defunct Neighborhood Watch program.

The Watch folks are mostly concerned with dog poop and litterbugs. But Maggie's done some digging and discovered a potential threat living just around the corner-a threat that must be eradicated. And the more Maggie tries to take control, the more out of control she gets...

What readers are saying:

“On Maggie’s Watch shows how we thrive, how we go on, in a life that’s neither perfect nor fair. Ann Wertz Garvin writes with humor and compassion so well; just when I’d feel about to cry the scene would twist and I’d laugh out loud. She has such a deep understanding for her flawed and trying-to-get better characters; she obviously loves them and so do we.” -- Luanne Rice, author of The Deep Blue Sea for Beginners.

And now for an excerpt from Chapter One of
On Maggie's Watch:

“Wash your hands and say your prayers/'cause Jesus and germs are everywhere!”

Maggie Finley smiled at her best friend and rolled her eyes. “Tell me you did not just make that up, Julia.”

“God, no. I heard it on that country western music station. One of those Judd girls said it. But it’s perfect, don’t you think?”

Sitting in a wicker chair with her hand on her seven-months-pregnant shelf-of-a-belly Maggie said, “You can’t use that slogan at a Catholic church. It’s blasphemous.”

Julia shoved a blond strand of hair off her forehead with the back of her hand and said, “No it’s not. It’s the perfect marriage of hygiene and religion. If you’re going to be on the food safety committee, sweetie, you’ve got to start thinking outside the box.” The two women sat on Julia’s sun porch, surrounded by markers, poster board, and water bottles. It was the only place in her house not occupied by her sons’ wet swimming trunks, plastic action figures, and shoes without laces.

“I didn’t ask to be put on the committee. You volunteered my services. Besides, the parish doesn’t want a full scale movement against bacteria. They just need someone to make a poster for the pancake breakfast. Something with bullet points. You know, ‘don’t bring desserts with peanuts and don’t cough on the forks.’”

“You don’t know what they want because you didn’t come to the first meeting,” Julia pointed out.

“From what I understand, the first meeting was Bingo night.”

“I love Bingo night. It’s all about comfortable shoes, a good marker, and the potential of winning a canister of caramel corn. We talked about bacteria at the break.”

“You’re right, that sounds so official. How could I not want to be involved?”

“Look Maggie, Home & School needed help for the fund raiser. You wanted to get involved. As I remember, you said” – here Julia sat up straight and linked her fingers together in front of her, Yin/Yan fashion, resembling a Quaker ready to give an oration – “I want to use my energies for the betterment of the community.”

“I did not look like that,” Maggie said, smiling and looking irritated at the same time. “I do want to get involved, but I was hoping for something a little broader than taking a stand against germs and tree nuts.”

“Don’t underestimate the tree nut. The tree nut will be the death of us all.”

“You’re a big bratty kid, Julia.”

“A bratty kid with saggy boobs,” Julia said, adjusting herself. “No offense, Maggie but I don’t need your help.” She pointed to her poster and said, “Look, my peanut has tiny shoes and he’s walking toward the exit with the hand sanitizer bottle.”

Maggie stood and gazed past the wooden, backyard play-structure and plastic yellow slide into her neighbor’s homes. As if from the same family, they all had similar features with only slight differences. A playhouse here, a feeble Arbor Vite privacy hedge there. All seemed to invite in the American Dream without promising too much individuality or too much success. The American median. As she bit a nonexistent hangnail for the hundredth time, she said, “I need something to keep me busy. To distract me. I can’t stop thinking about Ella.”

Suddenly uncharacteristically serious, Julia moved closer to Maggie’s side. “You’ve had a really hard couple of years,” she said. “Why don’t you try to relax a little? Just take care of yourself.”

The shadows under Maggie’s eyes seemed to become more noticeable with the mention of the last twenty-four months. “That’s what I’m trying to do. Take care of myself while keeping busy.”

Julia placed a strong arm around Maggie’s shoulder and touched her forehead to her friend’s temple. “You don’t think an immunology think tank will help you, huh?”

“No. I don’t think so. I need something that makes me feel safer. Helps me to obsess less about this baby’s chances.

“What about Martin?”

Maggie pursed her lips at the mention of her husband’s name. “What about him?”

“Is he helping?”

“If working is helping than yeah, he’s helping like a fiend.” She laughed mirthlessly.

“Every time I bring up Ella, the funeral, or being afraid, he looks like I poked him with a sharp stick.”

Julia sighed. “Sometimes I dream about poking my husband with a sharp stick, but I’m afraid the poking would become a stabbing motion and the next thing you know I’d be sharing a cell with Lorena Bobbit.

“Oh, she’s not in jail. I saw her on Oprah this year.”

“God bless her.”

“I just want to know that moving home was the best thing for us.”

“Your moving back has been the best thing for me.” Julia squeezed her friend closer and dropped her arm. “I missed you when you were living in Minneapolis. Are we going to the book signing tonight?”

“Yeah, definitely, but that’s not enough to distract me either.”

Julia sighed and said, “Okay, let me think. Maybe you could go work at the food pantry, or help the DNR get rid of the Ash Borer – that nasty bug eating all our trees – or better yet, volunteer for the neighborhood watch.”

“There’s a neighborhood watch?”

“Well, not anymore. You’d have to revamp it,” Julia said. “It folded. We used to have great potlucks. We’d spend fifteen minutes talking about dog poo pick-up and then Lou Loomis would grill the brats.”

Maggie raised her eyebrows at this new possibility.

Julia returned to her poster and sketched a flipping pancake on a skillet, shared a look with her old friend and said, “You’re always complaining about how everything went to pot when you moved away. Now you’re back, here’s your chance. Spruce us up.”

“We do need some sprucing,” Maggie admitted.

“Prevention is the key.”

“I’d be perfect for that. The other day I walked past that abandoned gas station on Main. Someone had rearranged the letters on the free bag of donuts and hot coffee sign to read free douche bag here. So I took a bunch of the letters and threw them in one of those huge green dumpsters.”

“Hey, I saw that. Now it says free dog here. I remember wondering what that was about. thinking ‘oh, good a new pet store.’

As if to herself, Maggie said, “Prevention is the key. A neighborhood without crime.”

“You always were afraid of robbers.” Julia smiled at the memory. “You couldn’t sleep over at my house until your mom came and went through the drill. No, there are no robbers in this town. No, no robbers in the next town. All the robbers are in New York City at a robber convention, where they learn to take money very quietly, leaving the nice people alone.”

“Our streets could be the kind of streets they were when we were growing up. Playing kick the can at night, riding bikes during the day. No worries.” Maggie sighed a dreamy sigh and pressed her hands lovingly to her stomach. “Safe.”

“You wouldn’t have to do much. You could resurrect the watch, elect a president and let other people do the work.” Julia blew the eraser bits away from the penciled-in syrup bottle on the poster and said, “There you have it.”

“There you have it,” Maggie repeated, as if it was all decided. “No longer will I be a rebel without a cause.”

Julia said, “A rebel without a peanut allergy.”


The bells chimed prettily as Maggie pushed open the bookstore doors and breathed in the scent of new books and coffee. Her favorites. She spotted Julia, waiting near the entrance, engrossed in a photography book.

“Check this out.” Julia slid the glossy coffee table book in her direction. “Hot firemen.”

“That’s totally redundant.”

“Totally. Look at this one.” She pointed to a photograph of a shirtless man, holding a kitten, dressed only in fluorescent green baggie fireproof pants. He had dirt on his face and his helmet was cocked at a jaunty angle.

“You’re too easy, Julia.”

“You’re just saying that because you knew me in high school.”

“Everyone knew you in high school.”

“Very funny. God, look at those abs.”

“Doesn’t Steven have abs like that?”

“I haven’t seen Big Steven’s abdominal muscles since – well, actually, I’ve never seen Big Steven’s abs.”

Maggie shut the book and grabbed Julia’s elbow. “Come on. Let’s go get a seat.”

“My painters kind of look like that,” Julia said as she let herself be dragged over to the chairs set up at the other end of the store.

“They do? That’s good, because they’re sure taking their time getting your house done.”

“Come see for yourself. They take off their shirts around one.”

“Coo, coo, ca-choo, Mrs. Robinson.” Maggie laughed. “Now you’re kinda creeping me out.”

“I’m kind of creeping myself out,” Julia admitted. “Steven’s out of town so much now we hardly ever park the bus, if you know what I mean. Mostly that’s okay, but occasionally I get the urge.” She elbowed Maggie and leered.

“You are a juvenile.”

“You are a prude.”

“Who’s watching the boys tonight?”

“Daphne, our neighbor’s daughter. That’s why I can’t stay too long. She may be able to run the hurdles but she’s no match for my boys.”

At the book table in the back of the store, Maggie and Julia mingled with the other, mostly female readers, waiting for their favorite author to come out. Maggie picked up a hardcover, lifted it to her nose, breathed in its scent. She looked at the author’s photograph and tucked it under her arm. She lifted another book and asked, “Did you ever read this one?”

“That’s the one with the kidnapping in it, right? I just couldn’t. I heard nothing bad happened to the kid, but I was pregnant with little Steven at the time and Mikey was just a toddler. I couldn’t bear even the thought that kidnappers existed in the world, let alone read a story with one in it.”

“It was a good book.”

Julia grabbed Maggie’s arm playfully. “You know how it is when you’re pregnant,” she said. “You kind of lose your mind with horror and possibility. I was completely obsessed with washing my hands; a kidnapper was fear beyond the realm. When bacteria is your terrorist, a kidnapper is like a nuclear war.”

“If you kill all the bacteria, there’s always the peanut allergy, though.”

“Just another kind of kidnapper.”

Taking their seats a few rows back from the front Maggie said, “I went home today and did some research on Neighborhood Watches.”

“What’dya find out?”

“There’s lots of great information online. Like safety tips, Things to watch for. How to create a safety net.”
Julia shrugged, “It’s not like we’re the nexus of crime here in Elmwood, Wisconsin. I mean what are we really talking about here?”

Maggie floundered a little, trying to think of a recent crime, something to validate her fears, her need for safety. “I don’t know. I’m just getting started.”

It’s not like we live in the big city, where there are sex offenders everywhere. Besides, these days, you can check online for those.”

“You can find sex offenders online?”

Julia said, “Yeah, but I doubt we have any here. If I were you, my first order of business would be those skateboarders on the post office handicap ramp.”

Absently Maggie said, “Skateboarders?”

Those kids scare the crap out of me. Especially the one with the huge grommet in his ear. I’m afraid he’s going to crash into me and break my hip.”

“Who are you kidding? If he hit you, Julia, you’d break his arm. When did they put sex offenders online?”

Julia waved her hand, “I don’t know. Who cares?”

“I don’t think I want to check for offenders.”

“Talk about creepy.”

Maggie shuddered. “I definitely don’t want to know.”

“Listen Mags, you don’t have to dredge up crime to have a watch. Send a few emails. Pretty soon you won’t have time to round up all the peanuts in the county and wrap them in latex, you’ll have a newborn.”

“I can’t even think about it.”

Julia frowned and pushed a lock of hair behind her ear and said, “Wouldn’t it be great if you could give sex offenders a peanut allergy? Then all you’d have to do is put a peanut in your child’s pocket. Mothers everywhere could rest easy.”


Ann Wertz Garvin has a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a doctorate from University of Wisconsin-Madison in Exercise Psychology. She is a professor at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater where she teaches courses on nutrition, stress management and other health topics. On Maggie’s Watch is her first novel. Ann has lived all over the country but currently resides in a small town in Wisconsin that provided the inspiration for this novel. To learn more please visit Ann Wertz".

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