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December 2003


        R. Craig Sautter, SMA president, has announced receipt of a $2,000 grant from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.
        The money will help support the current "Chicago in Literature" series and the annual awards program.
        Sautter reported that a foundation representative remarked SMA seems "to do a lot with a small budget."
        SMA also thanks these other recent donors: Dorothy Haas, Barbara Polikoff and Margaret Rahmann for their generosity.

By R. Craig Sautter
        When you publish your next book, make sure that you go to SMA's web page at and list it under our new web feature, "New Books by SMA Members." Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on "Submit a New Book for this Page."
        We already have posted the book covers, and critical information about 12 new SMA books. More are being added weekly. New books will remain posted for about three months, then removed for new titles. SMA has sent press releases on this new web feature to over 150 news outlets throughout the Midwest and will continue to publicize this feature as a way to help SMA members promote their new books.         
        And as usual, SMA thanks our web master, Mary Claire Hersh, for all her hard work on this new project.

By Tom Ciesielka
TC Public Relations
(Ask Tom Ciesielka your personal book PR question via the SMA web site: www.midland
        It's the pits. You open the newspaper and see a story on a topic related to five books you have written and nowhere in the article does the reporter refer to your expertise on the subject. Whose fault is it, the reporter's or yours?
        When writers and reporters do research for their stories, they have a limited amount of time to find sources. Therefore, whether reporters rely on established contacts or an Internet search, they will take the shortest path to get the information they need.
        There are a number of ways that you can get reporters to think of you when they are doing stories related to your book: Comment on what they are writing: When you read a publication and see an article related to your area of expertise, drop the writer a note. The message can simply be, "I enjoyed your article on XXX. I did some research on that topic and…" Your note can go on to explain the part of the story you have that might interest the writer and no one else has reported on.
        Be Social: If there is a writer near where you live who covers topics related to your book, offer to take him to lunch. First call or drop him a note saying that you would like to meet for lunch to share some information he might find valuable for future stories. You might even include a copy of a page from your book, highlight a few sentences and mention that you would like to offer more information in person.
        Offer Your Book as a Reference Tool: If your book has information that you know a particular reporter could use periodically, send her a copy. However, you need to make it easy for reporters to understand why your book should be important to them. So in your cover letter list three bullet points about why your book can help with future stories. You can even take Post-It notes and mark the pages that are directly related to what they cover.
        Media-worthy authors are not born, they are made. It's the responsibility of the author to be the number one cheerleader for his or her book. Since most books are not considered "hot news," writers need to use all their resources creatively to get the exposure they deserve.
        If there is one common link among lesser known authors who have achieved success, it's their ability to "aggressively sell" their book. This means more than just showing up for a book signing or perhaps doing a few media interviews. Rather, it's tapping into some proactive efforts that make a significant difference.
        Read a good book about promoting books: Sounds basic. However, I am surprised that when I speak to writers' groups, many people ask me what they should read about book publicity. As someone once said, "writing your book is 10% of the work, the other 90% is promoting it." Authors need to become marketing experts or their work will remain unknown.
        Always ask for more: If a bookstore schedules you for a book signing, great. But also ask if they have a mailing list you or your publisher may use. When you do get booked on a radio or television show, ask with whom to stay in touch in order to tell him about your next book. If your publicist is sending out review copies, ask to see the media list and ask that additional books be sent to potential media outlets that are not listed. The point is, the author who gets the most promotional consideration is the one who asks for it.
        Be a nice person: While I assume anyone who reads my advice is a good person, I still need to make a point here. If a reporter interviews you, follow up with a note of appreciation (it will help keep you top of mind). If your publisher has someone dedicated to help with public relations, also send that person notes. When he or she gets some great coverage for you, send a gift of fruit or candy. While being the "squeaky wheel" might get you some "oil," you'll be ahead of the game if you provide the "oil" to make someone else's life better.
        Next month's tip: Can book promotion include publicity stunts?
With the SMA web site becoming increasingly useful, our clever web master, Mary Claire Hersh, has found a way to program the site so that spammers can't scoop up members' E-mail addresses automatically from our roster.
        When spammers' software goes slithering around the web looking for E-mail lists they won't recognize ours.
        That doesn't stop spam from other sources, but they can't get your E-mail address from SMA.

By Richard Frisbie
        Sam Greenlee and Sterling Plumpp are the kind of long-time friends who would hang out in a bar frequented by writers and artists to talk and argue about literature. At the Oct. 14 SMA meeting in the Chicago Athletic Assn., they staged just such a discussion for an audience more interested in what they had to say than in the simultaneous Game Six between Cubs and Marlins.(Smart choice; the game was a disaster for the Cubs.)
        R. Craig Sautter, SMA president, opened the evening devoted to "Chicago's Black Literary Renaissance" by reading a passage from Divine Days by the late Leon Forrest, a notable black writer and former SMA president, and introducing his widow, Ann, who was present for the occasion. Plumpp said he considers Forrest the James Joyce of black writers.
        Greenlee and Plumpp agreed Chicago's black community was more unpretentious and self-reliant than Harlem's because most Chicago blacks had come up from the Mississippi Delta where blacks didn't expect anything good from whites.
        Greenlee, 73, felt he received a good education in the Chicago public schools years of his day despite having to learn from second-hand schoolbooks. "We even had black history, with a student posted at the door as lookout in case the principal came round." The Chicago Defender published so much work by rising black writers that it was almost "as much a literary journal as a newspaper."
         Plumpp said the writers of the Harlem Renaissance tended to be more avant garde, while the Chicago writers had a socialist bent. All black writers face a degree of conflict in establishing an identity. "Blacks almost need to shed whiteness," Plumpp, 63, said. The "desire to be oneself," to find one's own voice became more of a problem in the 1960s than it had been in the 1930s.
        Greenlee spoke wryly of the "Columbus syndrome: nothing exists until it's discovered by whites." He cited W. E. B. Dubois's concept of "double consciousness: be black with blacks, act white with whites."
        Attending poetry slams has convinced Greenlee that we're "on the verge of another chapter in the renaissance." Plumpp praised the slam movement for "democratizing poetry," but wishes young people, not just blacks, would read more and write with greater discipline.
        Both writers draw inspiration from jazz and the blues. Greenlee lamented that jazz is dying because Chicago public schools no longer teach music. He wound up the presentation by singing a few bars of the blues.
        Plumpp and Greenlee constitute a literary renaissance just by themselves. Plump, now retired after 31 years of teaching at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is a poet whose 14 books have brought him numerous honors including the Carl Sandburg and Richard Wright awards. Greenlee, one-time decorated Foreign Service officer in Iraq and other hot spots, has been novelist, poet, screenwriter, journalist, teacher and radio talk show host. His works include Baghdad Blues and The Spook Who Sat By the Door, book and movie.

By Richard Frisbie
        Antietam, Appomattox, Chickamauga, Shiloh, Chicago
–what's Chicago doing in a list of Civil War sites with names that beg to be chanted in an epic poem?
        Actually, as Arnie Bernstein demonstrated at the Nov. 11 SMA meeting at the Chicago Athletic Assn., Chicago is an vast outdoor Civil War museum        
        In a slide presentation based on photos from his new book, Hoofs and Guns of the Storm, he identified numerous Chicago places associated with the war and discussed the pertinent history.
        There are monuments to leading figures of that time, including generals–John A. Logan and Philip Sheridan–and politicians–Stephen A. Douglas and Lincoln himself (six statues).
        Bernstein said he used "hoofs" in his title rather than "hooves" because Carl Sandburg used "hoofs" in a poem.
        Even people fairly familiar with Chicago and Civil War history learned new facts. For example, busy Cottage Grove Avenue was named after the cottage Douglas built on a large land-holding that became part of the city's South Side.

By Barbara Schaaf
Public Eye
        In November, ten people were honored for their "outstanding efforts to deepen public awareness of the humanities." OTH
        Among the select group meeting with President Bush in the Oval office was Joseph Epstein, professor emeritus at Northwestern. Best known as the nation's most prominent essayist, Epstein's short stories are also highly regarded.

Private Eye
        The Private Eye Writers of America met in Las Vegas during this year's Bouchercon to celebrate their Shamus Awards. Jack Clark was first runner up in the Best P.I. Novel category for his book, Westerfield's Chain.

        Charles J. Balesi was elected to a six-year term on the Conseil Superieur des Francais etablis hors de France, or High Council for French Expatriates.
        As one of nine Conseillers in the United States he will be "called upon to give the French Cabinet opinions on matters and projects of concern to French expatriates," including education, culture, trade and social affairs.
        A Highland Park resident, Balesi specializes in French and Native American colonial history. His best selling book, The Time of the French in the Heart of North America, l673-1818, was published in French last summer.

Women and Web of Friends
        Sarah Paretzky will be the principal presenter at the l3th Annual Women's Conference, "Women's Experience: The Web of Friendship" sponsored by the Gannon Center for Women and Leadership of Loyola University, on March 20. Further information may be obtained at

Didn't Have To Go To Hogwarts
        "What Makes Harry Run?" was the subject of a workshop on writing for the young adult market held in November at National Louis University. That's Harry Potter, of course.
        Naturally, one of the experts was Lawrie Lawlor, who has published more than 30 books, including fiction and nonfiction, for children and young adults. The program was conducted under the auspices of the Master of Science in Written Communication Program.

Editing Ann Landers
        Publishers Weekly gave high marks to Rick Kogan's America's Mom: The Life, Lessons and Legacy of Ann Landers (Morrow), citing Kogan's special insight gained from his long personal acquaintance with America's best-loved agony aunt, especially as her last editor.
Holiday Cheer, Sort of
        Jacquelyn Mitchard has brought out a "slim, but moving" seasonal book entitled Christmas Present (HarperCollins). Publishers Weekly credits Mitchard with handling a difficult plot (the death of a young wife and mother) poignantly rather than mawkishly, and predicts her fans will propel this volume to the list of best-selling holiday books.


New Illinois Poet Laureate
Kevin Stein, an English professor at Bradley University in Peoria, has been appointed poet laureate of Illinois after a three-year search.
        He succeeds the late Gwendolyn Brooks, who also was an SMA member.
The author and editor of many poetry collections, essays and anthologies, Stein has received many prestigious awards, including the Devins Award for Poetry and the National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship.

Oldest Member Writes Back

        When Phyllis Whitney, the prolific mystery novelist, turned 100 earlier this year, several SMA members who had corresponded with her at various times sent their congratulations. She responded with a chatty handwritten note, remarking that her most recent piece of writing is her autobiography, which is somewhere in the production stage.

Fair Wind for Dybek
        Although most first novels do well to get reviewed anywhere, Stuart Dybek is enjoying a blast of media attention for I Sailed With Magellan (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).
        One reason is that he already had established a literary reputation for his collections of short stories and poems. Another is that critics really like his new book, although they differ on whether it's an "episodic novel" or an "interconnected set of short stories" about the same characters.
        Publishers Weekly
ran a feature interview calling him the "Windy City Oracle." Although Dybek has taught for many years at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, he grew up in Chicago and his "gritty yet magical" fiction is set almost exclusively in that city's Southwest Side.
        The Chicago Tribune Magazine toured his old neighborhood with him, recorded his reminiscences and rounded up praise. Studs Terkel called Dybek the "bard of the blue collar."
        The Sunday book section of the Tribune said I Sailed With Magellan "extracts a grand spectrum of experiences, emotions and epiphanies from the potholed, broken glass-strewn byways of a sprawling spellbinding stories that are, by turns, hilarious, stunning and tragic, but always deeply moving, genuine and compassionate."

Fiction Follows Fact
        Carol Adorjan's short story, "May Day, based on her experience with the Laurie Dann shootings in Winnetka, Ill., is included in a collection, Sojourns, being published by PoetPress.

Sixth Edition Out
        Family Communication: Cohesion and Change by Bernard J. Brommel of Northeastern University and two co-authors is being republished in a sixth edition.
        With six children and 15 grandchildren, he has had considerable experience with the subject.
        The publisher (Pearson) says: "By viewing the family as a communication system with identifiable patterns, this text encourages students to analyze family interaction patterns analytically and thoroughly. Using a framework of family functions, first-person narratives and current research, Family Communication emphasizes the diversity of today's families in terms of structure, ethnic patterns, and developmental experiences."

Weird and Wonderful        
        More Weird and Wonderful Words,
Erin McKean's second compilation of unusual and interesting vocabulary, (illustrated by New Yorker cartoonist Danny Shanahan), has been published by Oxford University Press.
        She is heard regularly on the PRI show, The Next Big Thing," which airs Saturdays at 2 pm on WBEZ, and has recently appeared on Milt Rosenberg's show on WGN Radio and the Ben Merens Show on Wisconsin Public Radio. Her autumn speaking engagements include the Wisconsin and New Orleans book festivals.        

A Critic's Mystery
        Henry Kisor, book editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, has just published his first mystery, Season's Revenge. He has been busy on the local book-signing circuit with at least one stop as far afield as the Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, Pa.

Don't Burn, Baby
        Jim Schwab will serve as project manager to develop a special report on planning for wildfires for the American Planning Association and the National Fire Protection Association. The team will spend a year rounding up and analyzing "best practices" from across the nation.
        Schwab observed that although recent media focus has been on California, wildfires have been a growing problem in the past decade for the South and the Northeast as well.

The Front Page to Homepage
        Merv Block, a Chicago newsman when city rooms still harbored characters out of The Front Page, moved to New York to write TV network news.
        He graduated to teaching others how to write broadcast news through his books and seminars for staffs of broadcasting stations.
        Now he's posting some of his how-to columns on his new web site,
        Besides being reminders of the virtues of precision and clarity, useful to any writer, his columns offer entertaining comments on the clichés and pomposity that are too frequently heard on newscasts.
        His homepage carries testimonials from some familiar names.
        Charles Kuralt: "Mervin Block is an old pro at televison news writing from whom anyone could learn a lot. I know I have."
        Walter Cronkite: "There is a crying need for the sort of workshop that Mervin Block has the unique talent to lead."

"Beautiful and Intricate"
        "A beautiful and intricate account of a world in transition" is how Kirkus Reviews described Barbara Croft's novel, Moon's Crossing.
        It's the story of an idealistic Union Army veteran who visits the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
        Croft has won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize as wells as the SMA Adult Fiction Award for Necessary Fictions, her second collection of short stories. She has been awarded two Illinois Arts Council grants in prose. An earlier version of Moon's Crossing won a gold medal from the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society of New Orleans.

Staying Well Despite Toxins
        Lynn Lawson was listed among several notable older women by the Chicago Tribune for her work in championing the cause of persons with food allergies and chemical sensitivities.
        Author of Staying Well in a Toxic World, she recently journeyed to Washington to lobby for legislation requiring better consumer information about fragrances.


        Jonis Agee is a professor of English and creative writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Among her many awards are an NEA grant in fiction, a Loft-McKnight Award and a Loft-McKnight Award of Distinction.
        Three of her books--Strange Angels, Bend This Heart and Sweet Eyes--were named Notable Books of the Year by the New York Times.
        Her novel, Weight of Dreams, won the Nebraska Book Award for 2000. She owns 20 pairs of cowboy boots, some of them works of art, loves the open road and believes that ecstasy and hard work are the basic ingredients of life and writing.
        Her latest collection of stories is Acts of Love on the Indigo Road (2003).

        Brian Bouldrey is the author of Monster, a collection of personal essays (Council Oak Books) and three novels, The Genius of Desire (Ballantine), Love, the Magician (Haworth) and The Boom Economy (University of Wisconsin Press).
        He's editor of Writing Home: Literature of the New West (Heyday), Traveling Souls (Whereabouts), Wrestling with the Angel (Riverhead) and the Best American Gay Fiction series (Little, Brown).
        He served for seven years as the associate editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian "Lit" supplement, and is a frequent contributor to that weekly.
        Recipient of the Joseph Henry Jackson Award from the San Francisco Foundation, a Lambda Literary Award, and the Western Regional Magazine Award, he teaches fiction and poetry.

        Lee Ann Lemberger, writing as Leigh Michaels, is the author of more than 75 contemporary romance novels published by Harlequin Books. More than 30 million copies of her books have been printed worldwide.
        Six of her books have been finalists for Best Traditional Romance novel in the RITA contest sponsored by Romance Writers of America. She has received Reviewer's Choice awards from Romantic Times.
        Her work has been translated and published in 120 countries in 25 languages, including Japanese, Korean, Hungarian, Polish, Portuguese, Czech, Bulgarian, Russian, Turkish, Hebrew, Greek, Swedish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Danish, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Africaans and Chinese. She wrote her first romance novel when she was 15 and burned it, then wrote and burned five more complete manuscripts in the next ten years before submitting to a publisher. She is a native Iowan.

        Pat Colander, author of Thin Air, The Life and Mysterious Disappearance of Helen Brach (1982) and Hugh Hefner's First Funeral and Other Tales of Love and Death in Chicago (1986), is the editor and publisher of Lake Magazine in northwest Indiana.
        She grew up the eldest in a Chicago-Irish family of six and is a University of Illinois journalism alum.
        She has been a Chicago Tribune staff writer, a full-time Chicago Reader writer, a teacher at Northwestern University, Roosevelt, and Columbia, and was a founding editor of the Naperville City Star.

        Carol DeChant, author of Momma's Enchanted Supper (Loyola Press, 1999), returned to writing after retiring from the public relations firm Dechant-Hughes & Associates. She was previously a photojournalist and magazine editor. Her screenplay Pure Beholding won first prize in a Texas screenwriting competition.

        A Central Michigan University English professor, Robert L. Root Jr,. teaches courses in composition and rhetoric, nonfiction, editing, English education, literature and media.
        He is the author of Wordsmithery: A Guide to Working at Writing (Macmillan, 1994), Time by Moments Steals Away: The 1848 Journal of Ruth Douglass (with Ruth Douglass, Wayne State University Press, 1998), Those Who Do, Can: Teachers Writing, Writers Teaching: a Sourcebook (National Council of Teachers of English, National Writing Project, University of California, 1996) and The Fourth Genre: Contemporary Writers of/on Creative Nonfiction (Longman, 2001 ) and several other books.
        He received his Ph.D. in English from the University of Iowa in 1975. He was a writer for the Westinghouse Learning Corporation in Iowa City while he completed post-doctoral study in rhetoric and composition during 1975-1976.
        In August, 1976 he joined the Department of English Language and Literature at Central Michigan University.


        Paul Simon, 75, died Dec. 9 after heart surgery. Respected by all parties for his integrity and decency during a lifetime of public service in the Illinois legislature and Congress, he was the author of 22 books.
        He retired from the U.S. Senate in 1997, weary of the increasingly vicious partisanship he observed in Washington and decried in a book just published, Our Culture of Pandering.

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