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January 2004

SMA ARCHIVE GROWING

        The SMA Archive at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) is growing.
        Past President Jim Schwab recently donated almost a decade of Literacy License newsletters from his tenure as editor. We urge members to add their books to the SMA Archive by sending copies to: SMA president, R. Craig Sautter, 7658 N. Rogers Avenue, Chicago, IL 60626, who will deliver them personally.
        For more information, call 773-262-5806.

RAT-TAT-TAT! CHICAGO CRIME STILL FASCINATES

By Richard Frisbie
        One day about 10 years ago, Richard Lindberg and Steve Monroe ran into each other at Chicago's Harold Washington Library. It turned out they were both researching the same crime, the murder of Leon Marcus, a respected banker whose pockets still bulged with cash and checks when his body was found. Each writer was interested in pursuing the secret mob connections that came to light.
        That story set the stage for discussion of "Chicago crime in fact and fiction" at the Jan. 13 SMA meeting in the Chicago Athletic Assn.
        Lindberg is known for 11 true-crime books. Monroe has written three highly praised novels set in the gritty world of bookies and other minor crooks.
        Lindberg said the true-crime genre has been slipping in recent years with sensationalism triumphing over scholarship. He deplored titles like With an Axe or Sex Slave Murders in comparison to solid work like Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. A true-crime book "should tell more than how to dissect a body and bury the parts."
        Monroe described his work as "fact-based fiction." He starts by working out the general outline of the plot and giving each character a biography. Then he intensively researches the setting, using snippets from newspaper clippings to create a realistic background. In his novels '57, Chicago or '46, Chicago, for example, characters comment on movies showing at the time or prices of items on sale at stores.
        SMA President R. Craig Sautter opened the discussion by reading a brief excerpt from W. R. Burnett's 1929 novel Little Caesar, which inspired so many gangster books and movies. "I had to plug a guy," a hoodlum admits while turning over a share of the loot from a robbery to a confederate.
        (One is reminded of "smile when you say that" from Owen Wister's seminal western, The Virginian.)
        Lindberg believes Chicago acquired its reputation as a crime capital because as a transportation center it early attracted all kinds of entrepreneurs and some of them were criminals. Unlike the old days, he said, "there have been few mob murders in recent years because the mob has learned it's more profitable to keep a low profile."


MEMBER NEWS

Hard and Soft Covers
        Libby Fischer Hellmann reports that her third novel, An Image of Death, is coming out in both hard and soft cover more or less simultaneously. "It's a little unusual," she says. The hard cover date is Jan. 19 from Poisoned Pen Press and the mass market date is Feb.3 from Berkley Prime Crime. "The covers are different."
        The plot involves a video documentary producer who finds a mysterious package at her door. "Inside is a surveillance video showing the brutal murder of an unidentified young woman. A little digging reveals that the woman was a diamond courier with a shady history based in Eastern Europe during the collapse of the Soviet Union.
        "And a little more reveals dangerous happenings at home, money laundering by a local banker, and the real -- and deadly -- price of dealing in diamonds."

Front Page Correction
        An item in the December issue of Literary License that called attention to Merv Block's informative and entertaining web site listed an incorrect URL. The correct Web address is www.mervinblock.com.
        The item reminded Block of knowing some of the old-time Chicago journalists who inspired the writing of The Front Page, a classic play that was turned into at least two movies.
        Block writes, "I was working my way through the latest Literary License (when) my mind wandered back to the Front Page characters I worked with: Walter Howey, who was Walter Burns in the play (I was a copyboy for him--in the newsroom, not in the play); Buddy McHugh, who was McCue in the play (we were deskmates at the American); Al Benziger, who was Bensinger in the play (we worked together in the criminal courts); and one or two others.
        "Also, I interviewed the co-author of The Front Page, Ben Hecht. Spent an hour or so with him.
        "One other ultra-thin link to The Front Page: I once phoned John D. MacArthur, whose brother Charles was the other co-author. When my questions became too uncomfortable for John, he slammed down the phone. End of interview, end of this item, end of my ramble."

"Blatant" Book Promotion
        The Literary License series on book promotion reminds Catherine Kenney of the "blatant book promotion strategy" of Dorothy L. Sayers, the British mystery writer.
        "As she traveled in the English countryside, she would stop at book shops, and ask if they had the most recent book by Dorothy L. Sayers. If they said yes, she was happy. If they said no, she would chastise them: 'No? It's all the rage in London just now. You really should order it straight away! You'll be wanting multiple copies.'
        "Either way, this advertising copywriter cum novelist would achieve her mission: she had everyone in the book shops talking about her latest book. I love this combination of the sacred and profane in D.L.S—or of the artist and the huckster that we all have to be in order to get heard."
        Kenny copied this strategy while visiting England in the early 1990s, after publication of her literary biography, The Remarkable Case of Dorothy L. Sayers.
        "I was going into book shops asking if they had the book. At Basil Blackwell's in Oxford, where she had worked as a young woman, I was astonished to see an exhibit of my book stacked twice as high as my head, complete with posters announcing its exciting publication."
        A clerk said that this was a major book which had been written about "Oxford's own" Sayers. He added that it was by a writer who also had written a play about Sayers, (Dorothy L.—a Matter of Life and Death), which was going into production just then in town.
        "I'd come over to England to see my play through rehearsals, and was happy to know that someone in Oxford had noticed. And they were selling my book!"

"Vivid" World War II
        Melvin G. Holli (co-author with Paul M. Green) has another new book, World War II in Chicago (Arcadia). The dust-jacket blurb calls it a "vivid photographic history of this most influential time," using images from a diversity of sources that include the Chicago Sun-Times, City of Chicago and University of Illinois.
        Holli, as author also of The American Mayor: the Best and Worst Big City Leaders (1999), keeps being quoted in national media on the ranking of mayors. The topic is especially pertinent with Dennis Kucinich, former mayor of Cleveland, now running for President.
        He gave a talk on Harold Washington at the Chicago Historical Society in November marking the 20th anniversary of the election of Chicago's first black mayor.
        Holli is a history professor at the University of Illinois Chicago.
        Honoring his Finnish heritage, he recently took time to detail for readers of a skiing publication how Finnish ski troops stalemated the Soviet army early in World War II.
        Wearing white and hiding under snow, the Finns would let the Soviet tanks pass, then rise up and throw gasoline-filled bottles, a tactic that destroyed 1,200 tanks.
        The highly mobile ski troops also wrought havoc by blocking reinforcements and supplies while cutting down thousands of clustered Soviet soldiers with Finnish-made sub-machine guns, then disappearing into the whiteness of the winter forest.
        
Chip, Chip and Choo, Choo
        Gerry and Janet Souter start out the New Year with three new book contracts. Their Paris publisher, Parkstone, liked their coffee table biographies on Frida Kahlo and Georgia O'Keeffe, so two more monographs have been assigned. In January the Souters began work on sculptors Alexander Calder (Gerry) and Camille Claudel (Janet).
        Last time around, Gerry wrote about Kahlo, the peppery avant garde Mexican painter. This time, Janet comes to grips with the fiery French femme, Claudel, who spent the last 30 years of her life in an asylum.
        Gerry has also begun research on the tech history of the Burlington Zephyr streamlined trains for Specialty Press (Minneapolis)due in September. These 100 mph-plus passenger diesels were the first of their kind in the 1930s.

Unretired Retirement
        Martin E. Marty in his sixth year as emeritus at the University of Chicago keeps rolling out books.
        In February Penguin published his Martin Luther in the Penguin Lives series. To be published this spring by University of Georgia Press is The Protestant Voice in American Pluralism and by Wm. B. Eerdmans The Promise of Grace.
        On the autumn list in the Blackwell's Manifesto series is his When Faiths Collide. In late 2003 Augsburg published Speaking of Trust. He also published two works at the end of the Public Religion Project that he directed: Politics, Religion, and the Common Good and Education, Religion, and the Common Good.
        Co-authored with two New York Times writers, Edward Rothstein and Herbert Muschamp, in 2003 was Visions of Utopia.
        This winter he and photographer son Micah Marty are writing and producing the fifth book in their series, this one features the desert in photographs and meditations.
        Co-director of a project on "The Child in Religion, Law and Society" at Emory University in Atlanta (to which he commuted 14 times last fall), he has begun to write The Mystery of the Child.
        When Marty left the U. of C. they started a Martin Marty Center, which every Monday issues an e-mail newsletter, Sightings. Its purpose is to do "sightings" of religion in American public life.
        SMA members can view it every week by Emailing e-alvarez@uchicago.edu
and asking for "Sightings."

Kogan on Cable
        During the month of January, Rick Kogan will be talking about his new book, America's Mom: the Life, Lessons and Legacy of Ann Landers on the Library Cable Network. The show is available to residents of six Chicago suburbs.

Dybek at Guild Complex
        Stuart Dybek will be a featured speaker at the Guild Complex on Sunday, Jan. 25. The program will be held in the Chopin Theater, 1543 W. Division St., Chicago.

Back to Books
        Joe Cappo has announced his retirement after 26 years at Crain Communications, Inc., where he served in jobs including publisher of Advertising Age and Crain's Chicago Business.
        His immediate plans include organizing advertising conferences in the Middle East and China, lecturing at universities on journalism and advertising, and writing another book.

Pasta, Basta
        Ron Offen, poet and publisher of the Glenview-based poetry magazine, Free Lunch, took umbrage when he saw an ad in the Ravinia concert program implying that poetry is inferior to the visual arts for representing tangible things and to music for the intangible.
        He threatened, tongue-in-cheek, to organize poets to picket the headquarters of the ad's sponsor, Barilla America, Inc., the Bannockburn (Ill.) producer of pasta and other Italian food products. The parent company is based in Italy.
        The upshot is that Barilla America, Inc. will fund a poetry prize of $200 for a poem to be published in Free Lunch. The winning poem must be related to Italian cuisine.
        Sergio Pereira, Barilla vice-president of marketing, said, "I love poetry, and Italy loves poets and poetry. It's the land of Virgil and Dante!"
        So the word is out to poets to send their spaghetti, ravioli, lasagna and tortellini poems to Free Lunch, Box 717, Glenview, IL 60025-0717.



FINAL CHAPTERS
        Kathryn Cleven Sission died June 13 in Fort Myers, Fla., at age 97 Besides her long-time membership in SMA, the Children's Reading Roundtable of Chicago and the Women's National Book Assn., she served as vice president of the National League of American Pen Women.
        Originally a newspaper reporter in the Chicago suburbs, she wrote several children's books on historical subjects and poetry. Her Eddie Rickenbacker book was republished in 2002 and another on John Hancock is scheduled for reprint in 2004. Under a pen name, Catherine Cleven, she won a Dolly Madison Award from the Sons of the American Revolution.

SOME RECENT NEW MEMBERS
By Tom Frisbie
        Leslie Baldacci is a former reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times who now teaches at an inner-city Chicago school for special education students. She is author of Inside Mrs. B's Classroom (McGraw-Hill, 2003). Publishers Weekly called her book "both beautiful and heartbreaking" and said it "belongs in a first-day kit for new teachers, and deserves a hard look from legislators, school administrators (and others)."
        
        David Allan Evans is a poet and writer in residence at South Dakota State University, where he teaches creative writing and literature. He was named Poet Laureate of South Dakota in 2002.
        He is the author of five books of poems and three books of essays. He has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arkansas and an MA from the University of Iowa. He has been on the SDSU faculty since 1968.
        Among his books are Train Windows (Ohio University Press), The Bull River's Advice: New and Selected Poems (Center for Western Studies, 2003) and Hanging Out With the Crows.
        He has received writing grants from the NEA and Bush Artist Foundation and has twice been a Fulbright scholar to China.

        Betsy J. Green is a house historian and a chronicler of Western Springs (Ill.) history. She is author of Discovering the History of Your House and Your Neighborhood and Western Springs: Images of America.


PROFESSIONAL NEWS

        The Manhattan, Kan., public library will celebrate its 100th anniversary in October with programs featuring personal appearances by authors. Details at www.manhattanmysteries.com.

        Midwest Living magazine wants SMA members to know that their book editor likes to review new books by Midwest authors with Midwest settings, especially fiction but also literary nonfiction and coffee table books. Contact: Jennifer Wilson, jennifer.wilson@meredith.com.



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