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Literary License Newsletter heading

December 1998


If your publisher won't enter your 1998 book in the SMA awards competition, don't hesitate to do it yourself. Just photocopy the enclosed form and follow the instructions. Make copies also for any friends with 1998 books. They don't have to be SMA members. Winners will receive cash awards (usually $300) and plaques at the annual dinner in May.

Speaking at the Nov. 10 meeting in the Cliff Dwellers Club, Joseph Massucci said you don't have to be a scientist to write techno-thrillers; you just have to learn enough to make your story seem plausible. Too much science, he said, bogs down the story.

After his successful Code: Alpha, a thriller involving a genetically engineered killer virus (print run 70,000 copies), he proposed a story based on the year 2000 computer bug. His editor showed no interest. At that point nobody had heard of the Y2K problem.

Then NEWSWEEK ran a cover story about the threat built into millions of computers that won't know what day it is after Dec. 31, 1999.

Leisure Books promptly contracted for Massucci's The Millennium Project at double his previous advance. In this book, now in the stores, a high-tech terrorist deliberately tries to crash the world's most important computer networks. Massucci's web page is at

By Barbara Schaaf

Tally Ho
The Hunt, a short story by Kathy Stevenson, makes its appearance in the December issue of American Way, American Air Lines in-flight magazine. Stevenson has the distinction of being the author of the last fictional work accepted by the magazine, which has decided to go the nonfiction route.

Also look for Stevenson's review of Milltown Natural: Essays and Stories From a Life in the November/December issue of American Book Review. This collection of essays is by fellow SMA writer Dick Hague.

Air Kriz
One more about the friendly skies: Marjorie Kriz's book, Soaring Above Setbacks, is featured in the fall catalog of the Smithsonian Institution Press. Kriz describes the fascinating life of Janet Harmon Bragg, who is described as a pioneer African-American woman pilot, nursing home entrepreneur, world traveler and hobnobber with African royalty. It is available in hard and soft cover.

A New Canine Hero
Lassie, make room for Princesa the chijund (Chihuahua and Dachshund mix), the heroine of Diana Johnson's Princesa and Friskie. Published by Interkids, Johnson's company, the book is about a dog who rescues a kitten. The illustrator, Ernesto Lopez, is a Hanna-Barbera veteran.

Available in book stores now, it will be officially launched at Storyopolis in Los Angeles on Valentine's Day 1999. The Spanish translation is imminent, and the search is on for backers to fund the production of a full-length animated film.

Trio Con Brio
The Impossible Toystore, Mark Perlberg's third volume of poetry, will be published by the Louisiana State University Press in 2000. It will join The Burning Field (William Morrow), which bears a jacket blurb by Mark Van Doren, and The Feel of the Sun (Swallow/Ohio University Press), endorsed by the late great Midwestern poet William Stafford. Perlberg has been an SMA stalwart and a long-term president of The Poetry Center of Chicago.

Don't Hold Your Breath
Marlene Targ Brill's comprehensive work on asthma, The American Medical Association Essential Guide to Asthma, has just been published by Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster. She covers everything from the medical definition of asthma, to how to choose a physician, to (surprise) alternative and non-prescription treatments. For this last, she gives full credit to her AMA editor.

Encore, Encore
Cynthia Gallaher's second book of poems, Swimmer's Prayer, will be brought out in February 1999 by Seattle's Missing Spoke Press. For a preview, access: In the meantime, Gallaher is busy performing readings and giving journal writing workshops at Women and Children First, Chicago Historical Bookworks and Barnes and Noble, as well as the Peoia, Elgin, Deerfield, Oak Lawn and Chicago public libraries.

I'll Vote for $1,000, Alex
Gordon Durnil joined the likes of David Broder, Mark Shields, Ken Bodes, and the chairmen of the Republican and Democratic National Committees for the Bulen Symposium on American Politics, convened Dec. 1 in Indianapolis.

The objective of the first annual conference is to answer such questions as why the voters don't vote, and what will become of our system if this trend continues. Durnil addressed the matter at length in his book, Is America Beyond Reform (Sligo Press, 1997). For more information, access:

Just out from William J. Helmer is Public Enemies: America's Criminal Past 1919-1940 (Checkmark/Facts on File). With the assistance of researcher Rick Mattix, Helmer has produced what is described as a racily detailed America's big-time bandits.

Heavily illustrated, it includes A Chronology of Crime, listing a thousand-plus headline crimes with commentary on those with historical significance; a Who's Who of Gangsters and Outlaws in alphabetical order; and a comprehensive bibliography. Helmer's earlier credits include Dillinger: The Untold Story, The Quotable Al Capone and The Gun That Made the Twenties Roar.

According to SMA Vice President Richard Lindberg, Helmer and Mattix unravel the myths and mysteries of America's golden age of gangsters with facts, features and a fresh understanding of crime and crime indispensable research tool for years to come.

Apologies to Bruce Felknor for reporting (Literary License, Sept., 1998) that World War II members of the U.S. Merchant Marine were granted veterans' status in 1995 when it happened in 1988. Please note also that the armed guards aboard the merchant ships belonged to the U. S. Navy.

I have taken myself to the woodshed because I know better. I am working on a book tentatively titled Hitler's Last U-Boat for W. W. Norton, together with researcher Ross Mullner. Apparently all the submersion gave me the bends. Sorry!


(When we heard that a short film made from one of Sue Sussman's books won an Emmy, we asked her to describe her adventures in TV land.)
By Sue Sussman

Okay. So I get this call from WTTW, Channel 11. We're putting your movie up for an Emmy, they say. I am dumbfounded. You can do this? I ask. Sure, they say. Wow.

Let me rewind a bit. A few years back I produce a movie of my book, There's No Such Thing as a Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein. It's a short live-action film about a little Jewish girl who longs for a Christmas tree. True story. Autobiographical. But I digress.

We film on a shoestring: shoot scenes in my children's old Evanston school, my girlfriend's apartment, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union Building over on Ashland and Congress where my grandfather used to hold court. My girlfriend is prop maven and I'm her assistant. She's cooking potato pancakes for the Chanukah party scene and I'm sticking sequins into Styrofoam balls to decorate the living Christmas tree.

The film actually gets made and it comes out nice something I'm proud to put my name on (unlike a few books-for-hire I could mention, but won't.)

My cut from an educational film distributor is two cents per copy (a penny better than my average book royalty). When I get the rights back, I begin sending out letters to PBS stations around the country asking if they'd like to see the film. (Like most writers, I keep sending out things to create the illusion of forward movement. This is especially necessary in the long intervals between books.)

A few stations, amused at being approached by a civilian, buy the rights to show Chanukah Bush. WTTW is the first. They show it last Chanukah on their WindowWorks program and this summer I get the call that they've nominated it for an Emmy.

There's an Emmy nominations party at Planet Hollywood, I'm told. I've never been to Planet Hollywood, and I've certainly never been to an Emmy nominations party. I figure this is my one shot at this entire experience so I ask my husband if he'd like to walk over with me and see what it's like. I promise him dinner after. He says, sure.

After free drinks and appetizers, a couple of Channel 9 newscasters begin reading off the list of final nominees from each of the 45 Emmy categories. When they get to my category, I'm thinking well, it's been fun, but this is where it ends.

It doesn't register when they mention WindowWorks until they follow it up with Chanukah Bush. My husband and I whoop and high-five and otherwise show how uncool we are. Later, we float to an outdoor restaurant where he tells the hostess, waitress, bus boy and assorted others he is dining with an Emmy award nominee. He figures he might as well play it up since this is as far as we'll get. (Note: It helps for writers to marry extroverts who can do their talking and PR for them. Trust me on this.)

Fast-forward a month or so to Emmy Award night. Black tie. Fairmont Hotel. I am grateful my daughter had a formal wedding a couple of years back so I have a dress to wear. I am even more grateful I still fit into it.

For a change, my hair cooperates and looks more like a string mop than steel wool. Beautiful people mill about wearing black and looking as if cameras are trained on them. They are used to the spotlight. Their teeth are blinding-white, all hairs remain exactly in place and clothes fit beautifully.

I try to remember to close my mouth and not stare. Occasionally, I succeed. We are seated at Table 19. Close to the stage. Even at my kids' weddings I was stuck at a back table. But Channel 11 has been nice enough to put us with them, and we have a great view of all the famous people around us: newscasters, producers, actors. The food is wonderful and the company at the table is delightful. (Real producers at WTTW are seated with us. They don't seem as excited as we are. But, then, they've done this before.)

Then it's time. Lights dim, music comes up. Picture the Academy Awards stage. Statuettes lined up in front of a giant screen. Glass dais for presenters who come and open the envelopes and read the winners' names.

My mind separates from my body. I am usually a calm person, a half-step off comatose. I have been watching the awards with great interest and enjoyment. But, as the presenters come closer to my category, my heart starts raging against my chest wall, fighting to get out.

The list of nominees goes up on the screen. They open the envelope. They read WindowWorks ... and again it takes a second to register. Chanukah Bush has won! I am aware of walking up to the stage as a clip from the film is shown to the audience. It is a poignant moment when the little Jewish girl runs home to tell her mother about this great new invention, A Chanukah Bush! It's like a Christmas tree, but it's for Jews. She asks if they can also get one. There is no such thing, says her mother. The lights come back up. A spot blinds me.

I can't remember exactly what I said. I did start by saying those in the audience who work with writers know we're much more comfortable standing in the back of rooms like these than on stage. I remember wanting to thank my husband who handed a copy of my book to a young producer who was using our attic to shoot a music video. And I thanked the two people at WTTW who made room for this small film in their busy holiday schedule. And I didn't trip going up or down the stairs. At least, I think I didn't. I really don't remember. Next time, I'll take notes.

That's the Ticket
David J. Walker, author of the Edgar-nominated Malachy Foley mysteries, has launched a new series with A Ticket To Die For (Wild Onion). It's getting good reviews: Publisher s Weekly: Walker... brings his crisp dialogue, a fine comedic edge and a cast of sharply drawn supporting characters to a new series featuring a spirited wife-and-husband sleuthing team based in Chicago... The pair are near witnesses to a killing that may be a Mafia hit... A kidnapped exotic dancer, two further murders, a pair of vicious thugs and a slew of lawyers (a cheap shyster, a powerful deal-maker, a couple of militant anti-pornography crusaders) are among the highlights that make this adventure complex and memorable. The spotlight, however, belongs to the leads, whose interplay is wry but not cutesy, and will have readers looking forward to the next in the series. Kirkus Reviews: As richly plotted as (Walker s Mal Foley novels), but good for a lot more laughs and a perfect introduction to the talented author. Booklist: Walker offers up an eye-popping plot, wacky characters, oddball humor, and, best of all, the delightful (Kirsten and Dugan) in a story that s fresh, funny, and thoroughly entertaining.

Rubbing Out Characters
Mary Kay Shanley, author of five books including the bestseller She Taught Me to Eat Artichokes, has joined with 16 other Iowa writers in contributing one chapter each to Time and Change: an Iowa Murder Mystery. The book, released in November, is published by KUNI, the public radio station on the University of Northern Iowa campus in Cedar Falls as a fund-raiser for the station. Before the book ends, several murders occur. Shanley says that was because some of the chapter authors couldn't figure out how to solve the unfolding mystery, so they just killed somebody else off!

(If you joined SMA recently and haven't yet been introduced in these pages, remind us who you are.)

Esther Hershenhorn
She writes picture book texts and middle grade novels for children. Holiday House published There Goes Lowell's Party in March. Holiday House will also publish Fancy That. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers will publish her Chicken Soup by Heart. Pub dates will be 2000 and/or 2001. She heads the Illinois Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and teaches Writing for Children at Ragdale.

Turow Criticizes Starr
The New York Times gave Scott Turow the top of the Op-Ed page on Nov. 20 to explain how in Kenneth Starr's appearance before the House Judiciary committee, the independent counsel overstepped traditional bounds of prosecutorial behavior. Turow, himself a former Federal prosecutor as well as best-selling author, noted that despite having been a judge, Starr never had any personal experience as a prosecutor. Instead of simply stating the evidence, Starr took it upon himself to render judgment.

Wins Poetry Prize
Martha Modena Vertreace has won the 1998 Firth Press Poetry Chapbook Contest. Her book, Smokeless Flame, will be published soon with her original design on the cover.

Poetry Contest
Christianity and the Arts, published by SMA member Marci Whitney-Schenck, has announced its second annual poetry contest. The magazine has expanded its contest to include visual arts as well as poetry. For information, write Christianity and the Arts, P.O. Box 118088, Chicago, IL 60611. Phone: 312-642-8606; Fax: 312-266-7719; E-mail:

How to Get an Editor to Help Pay for Your Trip
After traveling extensively in Scotland in connection with her books, June Sawyers has learned a lot about writing for the travel market. She'll share what she has learned. Her forthcoming book is A Maverick Guide to Scotland (Pelican). She previously wrote Famous Firsts of Scottish Americans. Formerly an editor for Loyola Press, she is also the author of Chicago Sketches and Chicago Portraits: Biographies of 250 Famous Chicagoans.
Where: Cliff Dwellers Club, 22nd floor, Borg-Warner Building, 200 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago
When: 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 12, 1999.
Reservations: 3412/922-8080. Please call by Jan. 11. Public invited. Hors d'ouevres, reception and presentation: $10 for nonmembers. FREE for paid-up SMA members.

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