COMING SOON: The Audacity of Goats


For Immediate Release

Contact: Felicia Minerva, Publicity Manager



Book Two in the Award-winning North of the Tension Line Series.

[New York, NY] Second in the award-winning North of the Tension Line series, The Audacity of Goats (Beaufort Books, April 2016) is the continuing tale of Fiona Campbell, and her reluctant adventures among the pleasures, mysteries, and exasperations of life on a remote island.

J. F. Riordan has been called “a modern day Jane Austen” for her lyrical prose and rich characters. Her books are a tribute to small town life and the beauty of the ordinary. Peopled with sharply drawn characters whose experiences are by turns serious, mystical, and ridiculous, The Audacity of Goats brings into sharp focus the pitfalls and vicious politics that prevail in small towns everywhere.

In an age of celebrity, this series honors the well-lived life of the common man and woman. Its protagonist, city-bred Fiona Campbell, is a strong-willed, independent woman with an intellectual bent, and a sense of irony that comes in handy during her frequent lapses into public humiliation. Although she doesn’t quite fit into her adopted community, her resolute attempts are wryly observed—and endorsed—by her circle of vaguely eccentric friends.

Elisabeth and Roger are not yet back from their honeymoon when a series of unsettling nighttime incidents leave the islanders uncertain whether they are victims of an elaborate teenage prank, or whether there might be a malevolent stranger lurking on the island. Out-of-state owners of a new goat farm seem to consider themselves the self-proclaimed leaders of the island; Pali, the ferry captain, is troubled by his own unique version of writer’s block; and Ben, the captain’s ten year-old son, appears to be hiding something. But it is only when the imperturbable Lars Olafsen announces his retirement, and Stella announces her candidacy for his office that the islanders realize trouble is brewing. Fiona must decide whether it is time to leave the island for good, or to make another reckless gamble.

The Audacity of Goats is literary escapism that will appeal to both adults and young adults, in a return to characters who feel like old friends amidst the picturesque and mystical way of life North of the Tension Line.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A transplanted Midwesterner, J. F. Riordan lives in exile from Washington Island with her husband and two and a half dogs. She blogs at

The Audacity of Goats By J. F. Riordan $24.95, 5.50” x 8.25” Hardcover 9780825308260 E‐book 9780825307553 Available April 29, 2016 .For more information, a review copy, or to schedule an interview with J. F. Riordan, please contact: Felicia Minerva, (212) 727‐0222,

Singing Your Own Song

We went to see a world premier play at the Milwaukee Rep last night: American Song by Joanna Murray-Smith. It was beautifully written and moving, and performed by only one actor, the talented James Devita, whose career I have been following since we were both students in Milwaukee. It was a powerful theatrical experience about which I have only one quibble. But this is not a theatrical review blog, and what matters is that you should go, if you can. You will weep.

But what actually came away with me on the deepest level, former English major that I am, was the long and loving reference to Walt Whitman.

This sounds a little silly, but I had forgotten about Walt Whitman.

I grew up reading Walt Whitman, often, and with gradually increasing understanding. At first I just loved the rhythms of the poetry. I was carried along by his passion. Then I fell in love with what it was.

I am annoyed by people who ask: “What is the poet trying to say?” My slightly irritable answer is: He’s not trying to say anything. He’s saying it. The poem is what he says.

And this is why imbuing a message in art which is not intrinsically involved in the art itself can be dangerous. But Whitman was not delivering a message. He was writing poetry. The poetry IS the message. At least it is, if it’s done well.

I taught Whitman’s poetry as a high school American Lit teacher. And even now, I am a great–possibly overly-enthused–re-reader of many things. But Walt Whitman has not entered my thoughts for too many years now, and last night I re-encountered him with a fresh heart.

The play quotes a line from Leaves of Grass, in which the songs of people in different lives sing out in their own voices to make the joyous melody of freedom, of individual value and dignity: Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else…singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs. I loved that Murray-Smith celebrated that celebration of America.

Pali, the poetry-writing ferry captain in my books, is a man who sings songs, whose work vibrates with a unique and beautiful voice. The question is: whose voice is it?

I love this question more than any of the others. The mysteries of life delight me.


For the Love of Pete


No, not that Pete. But yes, the love interest in my novels is named Pete. I was half-way through writing the first book before it struck me that my character and my dog shared a name, so it was completely unconscious.  Pete, the dog, however, is not quite as suave or subtle as the novel’s Pete, and he rarely quotes poetry.  But he’s every bit as good at getting his own way.  We’re not quite sure what breeds went into his creation, but we call him an Indiana Spotted Dog because he’s from a kill shelter in Indiana, and because he’s, well, spotted.

So, sometimes the quieter members of the family get a bit lost in the shuffle. Moses is big, and young, and boisterous, and he can easily put himself between Pete and a hug from one of us. We have to make an extra effort to make sure he gets his share of attention. Pete, himself, makes sure he gets his share of food. Nothing gets between Pete and food.

Pete is eleven-ish, and he has been with us since he was about ten months old. We’re not sure what happened to him before we met, but it was something that has scarred him forever. When we first brought him home, he would flinch if you moved your hand suddenly, and roll over fearfully and subserviently if you tried to reach for him. Occasionally, under stress or commotion, he still will. Oddly enough, he is not shy with other dogs. On the contrary, his injured leg came when he attacked Moses, and in the scuffle, Moses landed on him. In our house, even though he is only 70 pounds, Pete is the Alpha Dog. Moses is the follower.

I started out obedience training with him, as I do with all our dogs, but once he had learned to sit, and lie down, and stay, and come, I left him alone. The whistles, the shouted commands to drop, the wheelchairs, and the sudden noises that are part of the training left him shaking and slinking away. It wasn’t worth it.

So Pete isn’t a Canine Good Citizen. He is afraid of children, and of people with hats. He will not go outside in the rain, and does not delight in our new dog shower, no matter how necessary. He used to be afraid of cameras, and for that reason, until the advent of the I-Phone, we had very few pictures of him. The camera would come out, and Pete would disappear. My husband says that someone must have once taken an unflattering picture of him, but I think it might have been the high-pitched whine of the electronic flash. A friend has commented that the expression on Pete’s face often looks as if he’s in a hostage situation. Unless he’s around food. He smiles around food.

We didn’t teach him to sit up and beg, or to respect the plastic flags of an invisible fence. He came pre-programmed. But we never hit him, either, and he came pre-programmed to expect that, too. For the first few months after we got him, I would wake up in the night worrying about what had happened to his reported ten brothers and sisters. But Pete, no matter what had happened to him before, had won the dog lottery.

On the other hand, Pete is a survivor, and he has learned the survivor’s skill of how to quickly ingratiate himself once he knows you are not dangerous. He has a sort of Eddie Haskel quality that he uses to great advantage, even–or perhaps, especially–on us. He also has the survivor’s knack of knowing exactly what he wants: yes, it’s usually food–he must have a lot of hound in him–but often just his own space.

We got a new big bed last year for our new bedroom, and it’s pretty high. Even 120 pound Moses contemplates the leap before attempting it, but for Pete, who is about half that size, it’s a bit of a reach. Now, Pete is a snuggler. Lying in bed is what he does. Many times in the past, I have awoken to Pete’s face lying against my face, cheek to cheek. But with the new bed, he simply wouldn’t come up. Maybe it hurt the leg he once injured. Maybe it was better to be away from that nuisance, Moses. But he wouldn’t come.

We felt bad about it, and called him, and tried to lure him with treats. Pete is always lured by treats. But it wouldn’t work.

One day, our friends and general contractors were over. They were at our house every day during our almost two years of remodeling, and our dogs love them like family.  Pete was pressing earnestly against their legs, begging for love and attention.

I watched him, and shook my head sadly. “Poor Pete,” I said. “He thinks no one loves him. He can’t get up on the bed anymore, and he’s sleeping all by himself.”

My friends exchanged glances while rubbing Pete’s ears. They were silent for a moment, and then Patti said: “You know, as soon as you leave every morning, he’s on that bed. He stays there all day.”

She sent me the photo later to prove it. There he was, comfortably ensconced on the pillows of my cream colored bedding.

He is mostly trained, and pretty well-mannered, but not perfect, and I don’t demand of him the same things I demand of Moses. There’s no margin of error for Big Scary Dogs, but for Pete, well, we let some of the details slide.  Pete does things pretty much the way he wants. And in the end, that’s ok, because we love him, and after everything he’s been through, he deserves it.

But I do wish he wouldn’t leave quite so much black hair on my pillows.


Pete, above, snuggling.                                 Pete, in a hostage situation.





Book Signing at BEA Chicago

Signing at BEA New York, 2014

The Book Expo of America is coming to McCormick Place in Chicago this year, May 11-13.  I will be signing free special edition copies of my new book, The Audacity of Goats, on Thursday, May 12th, at 11:30.

There are a limited number of copies available, so come early.

And stop by at the Midpoint Trade/ Beaufort Books booth #1020 to pick up some The Audacity of Goats swag. You may find me there, and I’d be delighted to meet you.


New Date for Door County Book Launch Party!

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Image courtesy of GalleyCat

One of my favorite new friends in the world of books is Peter Sloma at Peninsula Bookman in Fish Creek, Wisconsin. He is a serious book person, with a serious store: the kind you can’t get out of without buying half a dozen things you didn’t know you needed. He has been particularly supportive in offering advice and connections to a first time author, and he has included in me in his Wisconsin Writers’ events, which are worth coming to, and not just because I’m there, although that’s certainly a key element.

Peter has been kind enough to host the Door County launch of my new book the weekend of the Door County Half Marathon. So, if you are on the Door on June 4th, 2016, please stop by that evening to celebrate the publication of Book Two in the North of the Tension Line series, The Audacity of Goats.  You can come to meet me (in case you want to), and, more important, to support one the world’s increasingly endangered endeavors: a local bookstore.

And I’m sure he’d be happy to accept your order for a pre-sale!

Mark your calendars. More details to follow.

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to drinking whisky with Peter.

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4083 Hwy 42
PO Box 381
Fish Creek, WI 54212



The Demography of Goats

Goat photo courtesy the Washington Post (Flickr/Bagsgroove)

Goat photo courtesy the Washington Post (Flickr/Bagsgroove)

Is that an oxymoron, since the root of the word demography is demos, meaning (common) people? Perhaps gidagraphy would be more correct?

In any case, I was reminded recently of this story, that ran in The Washington Post last January.

I am not a numbers person. Nor a measurer. Nor a keeper of statistics of any kind. And yet, this particular set of numbers fascinates me.

Go ahead and click on the map in the article. I’ll wait.


One dot equals 500 goats?? I had no idea that goats were so much a part of the American landscape.

Texas, in particular, seems to be a hotbed of goatishness.

And by the way, please note from the article: “Goats are having a moment.”


Sneak Preview of The Audacity of Goats


Lars Olafsen had been Chairman of the Town of Washington for going on twenty years, and a member of the town board for five years before that. He was a dutiful man, and a public servant in the old fashioned sense. He had earned the respect of his constituents through his fairness, his honesty, and his innate, steady, Scandinavian calm.

But Lars was beginning to feel the wear of so many years at the beck and call of his fellow islanders, and had begun to yearn for a reprieve. His children and grandchildren lived downstate in Milwaukee, and his wife was continually urging that they spend more time there. And Lars, though he was only in his early seventies, was beginning to feel his energy wane, and his enthusiasm for the job with it.

The major consideration, however, was one he would never admit to anyone, not even to his wife. Although his feelings were complicated, secretly Lars still glowed with a feeling of heady triumph after his out-maneuvering of Stella DesRosiers last spring in her mean-spirited attempt to drive her neighbor, Ms. Fiona Campbell, out of town.  He had stooped to political blackmail, no doubt about it, and he had suffered many moments of doubt about what he’d done. Had it been a violation of the public trust that disqualified him for continuing in office, or a valiant stroke for the public good? Lars had struggled with this question, but he always returned to the conclusion that it had been no more than Stella deserved, and an act of natural justice. Stella had been bullying her fellow citizens for years without any repercussions other than her unpopularity. And while he continued to wonder whether it was wrong to feel proud of it, his career, Lars felt sure, could reach no greater achievement. “Might as well go out on a high note,” he thought.

And so, one Wednesday night at Nelson’s Hall, when a quorum of his regular circle was in attendance, Lars Olafsen announced his retirement. He was immediately surrounded by a jovial, back-slapping throng, and shots were thrust into his hand in rapid succession.

“Lars,” said Paul Miller, his childhood friend, “you can’t retire. We’re too young.”

“You’ve been an asset to us, Lars,” said another old friend.

“You run a tight ship, Lars. Those meetings will take twice as long without you.”

But the real concern was the one voiced by Jake, who had a reputation for cutting to the heart of every discussion. “You can’t leave. There’s nobody who’ll take your place.”

This was true, as everyone at Nelson’s well knew. Being Chairman was a thankless job, and few people wanted to be bothered with it. There was a slew of paperwork and arrogant State officials to be dealt with, not to mention the unceasing need to wrangle volunteers for committees and other public work, and the inevitable squabbles—both petty and potentially fatal. No, particularly in these days of escalating state bureaucracy, you’d have to be a fool to want the job. And the Island was remarkably short of fools, unless, of course, you counted that new woman, Fiona Campbell.

Fiona would have been shocked to know her reputation. Her intelligence, wit, street savvy, and seriousness of purpose were not things shown to good advantage in a small town. Add into the mix her city polish and lack of practical knowledge of rural life—and the evil rumors that Stella DesRosiers had very particularly and intentionally spread—and an average observer might have an impression of a flighty young woman who wore impractical shoes, was oblivious to the first principles of survival and sensible living, and whose morals were, well, not what one would hope.

Fiona was, in fact, far from being a fool, but this didn’t stop the locals from thinking her one. Many of them—particularly the men—had come to feel a mixture of pity and admiration for her, a circumstance that Stella’s rumors had unwittingly created, and one which frequently worked in Fiona’s favor. In this instance, however, Fiona was exactly as oblivious as her neighbors thought, and it may have been just as well. She went about her business utterly unaware of her many critics, observers, and secret admirers.


Like what you’ve read so far? You can pre-order at your favorite bookstore!