Precisely, at the appointed hour of noon, Jen Miller strode confidently into Sam’s Pizza Palace on the Wildwood Boardwalk.
I immediately recognized her from her endless photos posted on Facebook where she is an endless presence. She is tallish, dirty blond, with almost fashion model, good looks. She also is probably the foremost writer about the Jersey Shore in the whole world. I had long wanted to meet her and get her take on Wildwood, but in the season she covers the Jersey Shore with the boundless energy of her 29 years — she seems to be everywhere at once — and this was the first chance we’d had to get together.
Miller makes her living as a freelance writer, which is an amazing feat in these times of cut-back budgets and folding publications. She said her writing has appeared in over 70 publications, and much of it is devoted to the Jersey Shore. Her 2008 book, published by the Norton subsidiary The Countryman Press and part of their Great Destinations series, is called "The Jersey Shore: Atlantic City to Cape May" and subtitled "Includes the Wildwoods." The cover photo is of the Wildwood Boardwalk in full summer bloom and the first photo in the book is a nun in full habit riding a surfboard (sort of) and was no doubt taken at the Nun’s Beach surfing Mecca in Stone Harbor.
"I had felt that books about the whole shore didn’t give a lot of attention to down here, the South Jersey Shore," she said, explaining why she pitched a book about this neck of the Shore woods. Luckily, someone at her publishing company was from Philly, and agreed with her and became her champion in getting a deal.
She writes as Jen A. Miller and comes by her Jersey Shore credentials legit. She’s from Bellmawr in South Jersey and her folks had a summer place at the Avalon Campground on Route 9.
She’s always been a Shore Rat, so it was a natural move to stake out the South Jersey shore as her writing territory. "It’s my beat without having a paper," she laughed, and added, "It’s weird having a Shore beat, but not a paper."
With this the case, she has become a mistress of self-promotion.
"Well, the only person who knows how to promote yourself is yourself," she explained.
She added her publisher had never had an author try social networking as a promotional tool so she took an online PR class "and I gave social networking a shot and it took on a life of its own."
She scored big last year with a story in the August New York Times on West Wildwood.
"When I called people, they said, ‘You have the wrong Wildwood,’" she remembered. "I’m like, ‘No, I want West Wildwood.’ They said, ‘Well, nobody’s written about West Wildwood’ I said, ‘Well, exactly.’"
Miller offered a personal take on Wildwood.
"It’s a town that’s embraced its history in a good way," she feels, "rather than trying to start over again. If you look at Sea Isle City — that’s the example everybody uses, not just me — there’s not much character there. There’s a lot of bars, which are fun, and the restaurants are great, but there’s nothing really that makes it stand out. Cape May has its thing, Ocean City has its thing, and now I think Wildwood is embracing its thing. I wish they could have saved more buildings, but I know they did what they could."
On the negative side, she said, "As long as places cater to prom weekends and Senior Week, they’re going to have problems in Wildwood proper. And I don’t know if there’s anything the town can do about that."
She’d sent her publisher a proposal for a new book that very morning, and at first wouldn’t tell me the subject, and then relented, and said, "It’s about the whole Jersey Shore."
An avid runner who places well in her age bracket, she and her boyfriend, an investment banker, recently journeyed to Bellmawr on the North Jersey Shore to compete in a 5K and to check out the area for her proposed new book.
Jen wasn’t able to run, explaining on Facebook that she wore high-end shoes while on the town the night before and got blisters.
Now how Shore is that?