Florence Wetzel moved to Hoboken in 1986 after graduating from Barnard College in 1984. “My sister moved to Hoboken during the first big wave of gentrification,” Wetzel said. “The rent was $235 a month, and I shared with two people. It’s impossible to believe now.”
She lived on Washington Street, Grand Street, “a couple of different shares over the years.”
Living in Hoboken at that time, she became friendly with a lot of musicians who had also moved to the mile-square city to take advantage of low rents.
“Jazz musician Perry Robinson was living there,” she said. “There were clubs of all kinds, and through osmosis I got interested in jazz.”
A lot of the bars had music. “Not fancy, just people standing in the corner on the linoleum. There were a lot of venues for people to play.”
“Hoboken is the first place I felt comfortable calling myself a writer.” – Florence Wetzel
This is an important point because a couple of her books have a jazz theme. She was coauthor of Robinson’s autobiography, Perry Robinson: The Traveler.
“I finished that book in 2003,” Wetzel said. It took six years. It was a very intensive process.”
In February, Wetzel self-published a new book. Dashiki is a novel about a jazz journalist who uncovers the lost tapes of the 1957 Monk-Coltrane Five Spot gig, which leads to the murder of a reclusive jazz singer. It takes place in Hoboken.
“The book interweaves fictional characters with historical figures from the world of jazz,” Wetzel said. “It was inspired by Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie.”
She said the murder involves the Hoboken Police Department as well as an Oreo cookie cake from Carlo’s Bakery.
“For the detective aspect I went to the Hoboken police station with a list of questions,” she said. “They answered all my questions. That’s where I got all the details, like the cars police would drive. It was immensely helpful.”
Wetzel also writes for AllAboutJazz.com.
Wetzel left Hoboken in 1990 and moved to Greece. “I’d gone there on vacation, met a fisherman, and ended up getting married and living in a small fishing village,” she said.
The experience was fodder for a book about Greece, Mrs. Papadakis and Aspasia.
Originally they were two books, she said, “One a comedy about Greek village life and the other a tragedy about Greek village life.”
During her five years there, she gradually learned Greek. “It was a slow process,” she said, “and I don’t get much chance to speak it nowadays.”
When the marriage ended – they’re still friends – she came back to Hoboken where she landed a job in community relations at Barnes and Noble. “I coordinated events for the store,” she said. “We had a day devoted to Frank Sinatra.”
The store became a magnet for artists. “It was fun because it gave me an opportunity to hang up artwork and get musicians into Barnes and Noble to do gigs,” she said.
Wetzel was also involved at the time with an artist space called O Roe Electric. The name came from a sign that should have read “Monroe Electric,” but the M and N were missing.
“That was a wonderful organization,” Wetzel said. “It was a little weird storefront on Monroe between Third and Fourth. It was a great very warm supportive community.”
Sense of place
Wetzel is obviously influenced by her personal geography. After she finished the Robinson autobiography she moved to upstate New York because she’d become interested in Buddhism. She lived for six years in a Zen and Tibetan monastery.
The result was Madeline: A Novel of Love, Buddhism, and Hoboken.
“I have a strong bond with Hoboken,” she said. “I met a lot of wonderful people there and had great experiences, and it was the first place I felt comfortable calling myself a writer and artist.”
But because she traveled a lot with her parents when she was young, she also has the wanderlust.
“I finally realized that the monastery life was not the life for me, and I wanted to get back into the world,” she said.
Which took her westward. “I grew up in New Jersey, but I had a Wild West fantasy. I’d been to Colorado, and I thought this was the time to move out there.”
That was two years ago.
“It’s very different,” she said. “I live in Boulder. It’s very relaxed. The air is different. Denver is the Mile High city, and the Rockies offer a panoramic view. I’m inspired by the landscape.”
As with the old Hoboken, the rents are low, and there is a thriving arts and jazz scene.
“I’m gearing up for new fiction,” she said. “It will take place in Colorado, and there will be some jazz in there as well.”
Dashiki is available from Amazon in soft cover for $16.95 or on Kindle for $9.99.
Kate Rounds can be reached at email@example.com..