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March 2004

        Along with the often amusing and inspiring comments of award winners, the annual SMA banquet on May 11will feature the story of a long-neglected novel rediscovered a generation later.                
        The author and the filmmaker who brought it back to life on the screen will be featured speakers.
        Dow Mossman first published The Stones of Summer in 1972. The Washington Post acclaimed it. The New York Times Book Review critic John Seelye wrote: "The Stones of Summer is a holy book, and it burns with a sacred fire, a generational fire, moon-fire, stone-fire….a marvelous achievement."
        Not all critics agreed, and it went out of print.
        The book resurfaced recently when filmmaker Mark Moskowitz read it and began a search for Mossman that he documented in his award-winning 2002 film, Stone Reader, about the pleasures of reading.
        Now the novel has been reissued by Barnes & Noble Books.
        The dinner will be held this year in the Chicago Athletic Assn. instead of the Cliff Dwellers Club. Tickets will cost $50
        If you wish to stay overnight after the dinner, the CAA will have rooms available for $125, including tax. For reservations, call the CAA directly at 312-236-7500 and mention SMA.

        The Siragusa Foundation has renewed its support of the SMA Annual Banquet with a $1,000 grant. Siragusa has been supporting SMA since 1984.
        SMA has also received a $2,000 grant from the Driehaus Foundation, which remarked after seeing our proposal that SMA, "does a lot with a little."
Have you sent in a copy of your book(s) to the SMA Archive, which is housed at the University of Illinois Chicago Library? The Archive offers a good way to keep a record of your work for posterity. The archive began in 1915. To be included, send your book to R. Craig Sautter, 7658 N. Rogers Ave., No 3, Chicago, Il 60626.


By Tom Ciesielka
TC Public Relations
        Let me make one thing clear: I respect all media outlets regardless of audience size, prestige or other attributes. The Pioneer Press newspapers are just as important as The New York Times. Why? Because when you have a story to tell or a book to promote, many media outlets can be part of the success of telling your story.
        Normally, unless your book covers a high-profile topic in the news today, getting immediate coverage from the media will be difficult. Rather, I suggest what I call a "little fish, medium fish, big fish" approach. It's like the rings that ripple outward after you drop a pebble in the water. Here's the process:
        1. The "little fish." Start promoting your book with the local weekly community newspapers. You can pick up the phone and speak with the main editor. The fact that you are a local author gives you an advantage over other book authors they might be considering. Plus, if they cover you and your book, you'll get a bigger story, and that will encourage you to continue promoting your book.
        2. The "medium fish." Now you might want to get into one of the bigger daily newspapers. If you live in the Chicago area, you might first think of the Chicago Tribune or the Chicago Sun-Times. If you live outside the city, then the Daily Herald or the Daily Southtown might be a more logical step. And in this case, you still might be able to get the right person on the phone. However, there will probably be more than one person to call. You might want to contact the book review editor, the writer who covers the city where you live or the person who writes about the topic of your book (e.g. natural resources, history, legal topics).
        The "big fish." At first it might seem that USA Today or The New York Times are the next place to go. While you certainly can contact the appropriate writers, it will be harder to get an audience with them. And sending your book without their requesting it means that it might quickly find its way into the recycle bin. The other "big fishes" to consider are national magazines with readers who will be interested in the topic of your book. If you write mysteries, then target publications that your potential readers would be interested in. If your book is about nature, then target national media outlets that reach nature lovers.
        Next month's tip: How to decide whether spending your own money on public relations is a good investment.

By Richard Frisbie
        David Hernandez and Achy Obejas have both made their mark as writers in English and Spanish and the blend known as Spanglish.
        In a warm and witty discussion at the March 9 SMA meeting at the Chicago Athletic Assn. they explained that Chicago offers a richer exchange of Latino culture than other parts of the U.S.
        New York is Puerto Rican. Miami is Cuban. West of the Rockies is Mexican.
        In Chicago, Obejas said, a Cuban restaurant may serve tortilla chips. In a supposedly Mexican neighborhood, the "guy selling you the cowboy hat is a Peruvian."
        Despite differences in the Spanish they speak (think British English versus American English), Latinos do understand each other.
        In Chicago this leads to a stimulating blend of Latino sensibility rather than writing contained within a specific ethnic outlook.
        Obejas believes the word "Latino" was coined here.
        Hernandez was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in Chicago. Obejas came from Havana at age six to grow up in Miami and later among the "corn-fed" good people of Indiana.
        For Hernandez and Obejas, English is not a second language but as much a part of them as Spanish.
        Hernandez said he began writing poetry at age 11 when a teacher explained poetic license. "You could write any way you wanted." Never mind grammar and punctuation rules.
        Although he now has a master's degree, he resists the academic "literary junta" that has taken poetry away from the people.
        He fights back by combining poetry with music and taking it to cafes and bars and anywhere people will listen.
        He says poetry in general has "taken off" in recent years, perhaps filling the gap left by the decline of folk music.
        Hernandez, founder of the Street Sounds ensemble and author of Roof Top Piper, Satin City Lullaby and other books, has won many honors, including the Puerto Rican Heritage Award for 2002.
        Obejas, whose familiar byline has appeared in all of the Chicago papers, is a poet, playwright and author of several widely acclaimed novels: We Came All the Way from Cuba So You Could Dress Like This?, Memory Mambo and Days of Awe.
        She also teaches writing at the University of Chicago.


Read It or Else
        Everybody in Chicago is supposed to be reading Stuart Dybek's short story collection, The Coast of Chicago.
        It's part of a city-wide celebration of reading focused on National Library Week, April 18 to 24.
        There'll be readings, lectures, book club discussions and even a guided tour of the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods in which Dybek's stories are set.
        It's the sixth book selected for the annual One Book: One Chicago honor by a committee of librarians, teachers, book store owners and book club leaders.
        Chicago Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey said the 1990 book would have been selected sooner if it hadn't been out of print.

        Sara Paretsky lectured March 18 at Harper College in Palatine, Ill., on personal heroines and how they have inspired her.
        In 11 best-selling mystery novels she has featured a tough female private investigator who fights corporate and political corruption.
        Paretsky also founded Sisters in Crime, which promotes woman mystery writers.

Familiar Story
        Walter J. Roers is featured in the March issue of Mpls. St. Paul magazine as an author whose first novel, The Pact, got off to a great start–well, almost.
        It was published by New Rivers Press, "one of the country's premier literary presses." It became a finalist for a Minnesota Book Award.
        Publisher's Weekly praised the author's "great skill at maintaining the momentum of his storytelling and the tension between his characters. Through smooth prose, a splash of humor and concise but effective details, he sweeps the reader onto empathetic, emotional white water, joining these sensitively portrayed characters as they cascade from youthful insouciance to rage, pity and remorse."
        Then New Rivers Press collapsed because of the illnesses of founders and financial problems, leaving The Pact "in limbo" despite enthusiastic support by some Twin Cities bookstores.
        Now it will have a another chance. Minnesota State University at Moorhead has revived New Rivers Press, is issuing a third printing of The Pact and considering another Roers novel, Winter Shadows.
        This story of weak or non-existent support by publishers no doubt will resonate with many SMA members. So far, considering his personal out-of-pocket expenses for travel and appearances, Roers figures his net profit from The Pact at zero. But, he told Mpls. St. Paul, "What I've really wanted all along is for the book to be read."

"Impressive Credentials"
        Ever since 1915, the Chicago papers have covered SMA events.
        The most recent occasion was the Feb. 9 monthly program. In his Citywatch column for the Chicago Tribune, Jon Anderson wrote that the speaker, Joel Greenberg, author of the monumental A Natural History of the Chicago Region, and SMA itself shared a common attribute: "impressive credentials."

"Strong Writing"

        In Kathleen Ernst's latest historical mystery, Betrayal at Cross Creek, young Elspeth Monro, the main character immigrates from Scotland to North Carolina in 1775.
        She wants nothing more than to pursue her weaving apprenticeship with an English woman, and find the peace her family was denied in the old country. Instead, both Tories and Patriots demand the newcomers' loyalty.
        "Strong writing brings the setting to life," Kirkus Reviews notes. "Complex emotions are as balanced as the light and dark threads in the overshot patterns Elspeth loves to weave, and Elspeth, trying desperately to find her own balance, is appealing and brave. ...A grand read."

Her Turn
        Kathy Stevenson, author of the historical novel, The Lake Poet, had a "My Turn" essay published in the March 1, 2004 issue of Newsweek.
She will also have a humor piece about how writers deal with rejection in the May issue of The Writer.

"Free Lunch," Free Poetry
        Ron Offen, novelist, poet and publisher of Free Lunch, a poetry journal, persuaded the Glenview (Ill.) public library to co-sponsor a free poetry reading on March 7 featuring Paulette Roeske, also an SMA member.
        Another Free Lunch poetry reading will be held on Sunday, May 2, with Pamela Miller, a former SMA member.
         Miller's work has appeared in many literary magazines and anthologies. Her books of poetry include Fast Little Shoes (Erie Street Press, 1986) and Mysterious Coleslaw (Ridgeway Press, 1993).
        Roeske, a former professor at the College of Lake County (Ill.), now resides in Evansville, Ind.
        She has won prestigious awards for both poetry and short stories. Her most recent book is Anvil, Clock & Last (Louisiana State University Press).

Signing and Singing
        The Newberry Library, Chicago, will sponsor a book signing for June Sawyers Wednesday, April 7, at 5.30 p.m. Her latest book is Racing in the Street: The Bruce Springsteen Reader. She writes, "It will include a talk by me, renditions of Springsteen songs on acoustic guitar by local singer-songwriter Bucky Halker, and a very brief slide show, at the beginning of the program, to put everybody in the mood."


By Barbara Schaaf
A Moveable Feast
        Thanks to Kathleen Long Bostrom, the four-to-eight set has a new book to read while devouring pastel Peeps. According to Publishers Weekly, Sunrise Hill is set in a "Little-House-on-the-Prairie-like setting," home to ten-year-old Caleb. The boy's preacher Uncle Josh arrives to build a new church, named after the hill, just in time for Easter.
        All goes well until two weeks before the holiday, when a spectacle of donder und blitzen sets the structure afire and it burns to the ground. Josh is crushed but Caleb refuses to accept defeat, even persuading the local curmudgeon to assist in the resurrection from the ashes. Bostrom gets high marks for weaving an inspirational message into her story, which is handsomely illustrated by Rick Johnson.

Another Type of Mystery
        In Desert Spring, Michael Craft moves his 50-something Broadway director Claire Gray to Palm Springs, where she will run the theater department at Desert Arts College. This is Gray's third outing in what Publishers Weekly calls a "well-crafted and lighthearted" series.
        When she finds the body of a womanizing Hollywood writer doing the dead man's float in her swimming pool, she decides it is just a touch too California casual. Armed with a witty tongue and a curious mind, Gray gets to the bottom of the matter, where she finds a surprising twist.


By Tom Frisbie
        Michael Raleigh is the author of seven novels. His first five books were mysteries set in Chicago: Death in Uptown (1991), A Body in Belmont Harbor (1993) , The Maxwell Street Blues (1994), A Killer on Argyle Street (1995) and The Riverview Murders (1997) ? all published by St. Martin's Press.
        More recently, he published In the Castle of the Flynns (Sourcebooks, 2002), a novel of two Chicago families in the 1950's, and The Blue Moon Circus (Sourcebooks 2003), about the seriocomic adventures of a group of circus performers in the West in 1926.
        He has been the recipient of five Illinois Arts Council Grants, and his mystery novel, The Riverview Murders, received the Eugene Izzi Award in 1997 for the best Chicago crime novel of the year.
        He has been a full-time instructor at Truman College since 1980, teaching literature, composition and a course on the history of Chicago, and is also on the faculty of the Newberry Library Adult Seminar Program.
        He lives in Chicago with his wife and three children.


        Steve Neal, 54, highly regarded political columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, died Feb. 17.
        Many state and local officials stood in line at his wake to offer their respects.
        Former President Bill Clinton praised him as "a gifted writer and sharp political analyst, always drawing from his deep reservoir of historical knowledge to frame current events in a way that helped people really understand what was happening in an increasingly complicated political universe."
        He was also historian, author and editor of numerous books on political subjects.
        His final book, Happy Days Are Here Again: The 1932 Democratic Convention, The Emergence of FDR–and How America Was Changed Forever, is in production by his publisher.

        Daniel J. Boorstin, 89, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and the librarian of Congress for 12 years, died Feb. 28 in Washington, D.C. He was a member of SMA during the 1960s while on the faculty of the University of Chicago.
        The New York Times noted that in numerous books "while the scope of his work was sweeping, his historical focus was typically down to earth: the lives of people, their daily concerns, the implements they used, the way they solved everyday problems."

        Melanie Pflaum, 94, an SMA member for more than half a century, died March 5 at her home in Spain, where she had lived for many years.
        She was the author of 14 novels, two of which won British Books Society awards.
        She based her fiction on the scandalous background of events she covered as a foreign correspondent.
        With her husband, Irving Pflaum, who later became foreign editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, she covered the Spanish Civil War. The Pflaums were in Paris when the Nazis invaded.
        In a note received in 2000 by Literary License, she said she was still swimming and walking every day.

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