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May-August 2008

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A Steady Hand on the Thriller Guides Author to Best-Sellerdom

Q&A with Shane Gericke

Literary License: What inspired you to switch from journalism to writing novels?

Shane Gericke: After 25 years in the newspaper business, primarily at the Chicago Sun-Times, I decided to give fiction a whirl. I've wanted to write crime thrillers since I read my first Hardy Boys, and I wrote a crime thriller. I was hooked! Where else could I create my own world and populate it with characters I wish I knew in real life? Then share it with thousands of people around the world? And get paid? It's a kick.

LL: How difficult was it to get your first book published?

SG: It took forever. I spent years writing my first manuscript. It went nowhere. More years working on No. 2. Again, nowhere. The third time was the charm. A top literary agent was interested, and he brought it to 12 big publishers. Eleven said nah, though they spelled my name right. Hey, take the crumbs you get, and gratefully! No. 12, Kensington Books, said, "We love this." So we're off and running. The book became Blown Away, appeared worldwide in May 2006, and became a national bestseller with Chinese, Turkish and Slovak translations. The lesson I learned: Keep trying, and accept rejection as part of the game. The second in the series, Cut to the Bone, came out in June 2007, and Kensington wants more.

LL: Cut to the Bone is set in Naperville, Ill., and involved a wrongful execution. Naperville itself was the center of perhaps the most controversial wrongful death penalty convictions in Illinois history. (The Jeanine Nicarico kidnap-rape-murder.) How did the reality of Illinois' death penalty record shape your book?

SG: It had a strong influence. Illinois politics is breathtakingly corrupt and small-minded, so frankly, how could we NOT put innocent people on Death Row? Answer: We can't. Illinois has sprung scores from the Row because DNA and other fresh evidence proved they couldn't have committed the crime. That's why I wrote this novel – to show the crimes that politicians commit when condemning a person to death, and the unrelenting headaches that gives good cops trying to prevent it.

LL: What advice do you have for authors trying to get publicity for their books?

SG: First, join Midland Authors. Seriously. You guys are aces at promoting author members, and the newsletter is gold for helping you create your own buzz. Second, cultivate every bookseller and media person you can find. If they like you, they will help you get out the word. Third, consider hiring a publicist. They have contacts you couldn't get if you bribed the folks at Fort Knox. It ain't cheap, but you get the critical exposure you need to make your launch a success, and you convince your publisher that you're serious about sales. Finally, join local and national organizations, both professional and service-oriented. Networking is just telling a buncha people your stories, and listening to theirs. It's fun, and it boosts your sales and reputation.

LL: What's your next project?

SG: I just signed a contract for No. 3 in the series. It will be on the bookshelves in January, 2010. It's nice being gainfully employed for another year! Meantime, I'm one of the directors of ThrillerFest, the annual national convention of thriller writers, readers, editors, publishers, agents and other industry folks sponsored by International Thriller Writers Inc. I run the ThrillerFest Charity Auctions and what we call AgentFest, a speed-pitching event that allows hundreds of authors to pitch their book ideas to 45 top New York literary agents. That combination keeps me incredibly busy, but it's the best kind of busy.

LL: If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?

SG: Whoops, look at the time, gotta go, let's do lunch real soon, thanks for everything!

Member News

Paul McComas' novel Planet of the Dates (2008, Permanent Press) has just been optioned for a motion picture by Hollywood producers Jason Koornik (Eye in the Sky Entertainment) and Michael Henry. Koornik's credits include the 2007 science-fiction action/thriller "Next" (starring Nicolas Cage). Henry's credits include "The Best Man" (with Seth Green). McComas also recently completed a nine-stop East Coast bookstore tour and visited Midwest locations in May.

Dan Dinello wrote a chapter for a book published June 15 titled "The Wretched of New Caprica" for book called Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy - Mission Accomplished or Mission Frakked Up? . . . Chuck Masters, the Society's new corresponding secretary, received an Illinois State Historical Society book award for his book, Governor Henry Horner, Chicago Politics and the Great Depression at the 2008 Annual Awards Luncheon April 26 at the governor's mansion in Springfield. "It was an absolutely wonderful event," Masters reported.

At 7 p.m. on June 24, Stephen Kinzer, a columnist for The Guardian and a former New York Times foreign correspondent, will be at Yoshi's Café, 3257 N. Halsted St., to tell over conversation, drinks and/or dinner the story of Paul Kagame, who grew up as a "wretched refugee" and went on to become an ambitious head of state. The story is told in Kinzer's new book A Thousand Hills: Rwanda's Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It.

John Wasik's story for Bloomberg News, "It's Not Just Money," was a finalist in the news bureau/wire service/online category in this year's Peter Lisagor Awards presented by the Chicago Headline Club.

Kristen Laine is an Indiana native and her book, American Band, is about a marching band at an Indiana high school. But that didn't stop American Band from recently receiving the L.L. Winship/ PEN New England award for nonfiction. The award is given for work with a New England topic or setting or by a New England author. (Laine now lives in New Hampshire.) The Winship awards were presented on March 30 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston.

Kerry Trask and Sean Carroll are are among the seven new fellows for 2008 named by the Madison-based Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.

Arnie Bernstein's book on the Bath School bombing is finally finished and off to the publisher. He finished in a flurry this spring "which is why no one has seen or heard from me." Production is under way for a spring 2009 publication, which means anywhere between January and June. SMA members Sam Weller and Paula Kamen have graciously offered to provide cover blurbs.

The next book by Roderick Townley, who was an SMA finalist for children's fiction in 2007 and 2008, will be The Blue Shoe, scheduled for 2009 publication by Knopf.

lain Rita Emmett's manuscript for her fourth book, (working title: Manage Your Time to Reduce Your Stress), has been accepted by Walker & Co., New York. If all goes well (and every author knows that nothing ever goes wrong with the publishing process) it will be in book stores by December.

On July 20, 2008 at the Topeka (Kan.) and Shawnee County Public Library, Robert Collins, author of the SMA 2008 Biography Award finalist Jim Lane: Scoundrel, Statesman, Kansan will interact with Tim Rues, site curator of the Constitution Hall State Historic Site at Lecompton, Kan., who will re-enact the role of Lane. Also, Collins' new novel, Lisa's Way has just been published as an e-book by eTreasures Publishing. A print version will follow in four weeks.

SMA board member Jim Schwab, who has become the American Planning Association's disaster policy expert and now is manager of its Hazards Planning Research Center, will be on his way to China and New Zealand this summer. He will head to China soon to assist with earthquake reconstruction assessment, using his disaster planning experience to help officials there avoid big mistakes in the cleanup process that could complicate future reconstruction. One month later, he'll head to New Zealand where the Center for Advanced Engineering in New Zealand has invited him for three weeks of speaking and consulting on disaster policy, including issues connected with landslides. Jim notes that the scenery in "Lord of the Rings," filmed on the South Island, entailed significant natural hazards — not only landslides, but also volcanoes, seismic threats and floods. Among other things, Jim will be speaking July 29 at the Second Australasian Natural Hazards Management Conference in Wellington on "Lessons from the 1993 Midwest Floods." Jim is at the very beginning of undertaking a new book on that very topic and just completed his first visit to Iowa May 9 to research the history of that event. He's also "rethinking the framework of the book" to include this year's floods.

Carol Felsenthal's latest book was the subject of the "Chicago Lit" column in the May 18 Chicago Sun-Times, which referred to Clinton in Exile: A President Out of the White House (William Morrow) as "a juicy, can't-put-down new book." And one of her posts about Bill Clinton on was reprinted in the June 4 Sun-Times. Felsenthal also was scheduled to discuss her book with Jim Warren, Chicago Tribune deputy managing editor/features, on June 8 at University Center.

Charles Wheelan, author of Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science, was scheduled to address the CFA Society of Louisville on May 20 during a luncheon about what basic economics can say about the future.

Nathan Kantrowitz was interviewed for an 8,000-word mini-biography of the serial murderer William Heirens, "The Long, Long Life of the Lipstick Killer," that appears in the June issue of GQ magazine (p.176ff.). In the article, Heirens mentions in passing just how safe it was to do time in Warden Joseph Ragen's Stateville Penitentiary. Kantrowitz is author of Close Control: Managing a Maximum Security Prison-The Story of Ragen's Stateville Penitentiary (1996), which details how Warden Ragen controlled the Stateville-Joliet prison in the 1960s. "[Heirens' comment] is quite an independent validation of the efficacy of Ragen's unique system of control," Kantrowitz says. By coincidence, the Chicago Historical Society this May made public details of the archive of basic documents and field work notes that detail that control and lives of Stateville convicts. Go to, click on "author/co-creator" and type in Nathan Kantrowitz to see his contributions to the archive.

David Mendell's was the first title mentioned in a June 6 Associated Press story on works about Sen. Barack Obama planned for the summer and fall. Carla Cohen, co-owner of the Politics & Prose bookstore, based in Washington, D.C., told AP "there has been interest in some previous books, including David Mendell's Obama, a biography published by HarperCollins last year and recently out in paperback."

Joel Greenberg received a grant last year from the Illinois Humanities Council to put on a show with two musicians based on material in his new book. "We call it Voices of the Land." His Chicago appearance will be at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Antioch (Ill.) Community High School's "one book, one community" initiative this summer picked Scott Turow's Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing With the Death Penalty.

Martha Modena Vertreace-Doody, distinguished professor of English and the poet-in-residence at Kennedy-King College in Chicago, was scheduled to give a reading of her work June 16 at the annual meeting of the Governor Duncan Association in Elgin, Ill.

New Members

Fran Baker is the best-selling author of 10 novels, including The Lady and the Champ (1993, Doubleday/Bantam), The Widow and the Wildcatter (1996, Bantam) and Once a Warrior (1998, Delphi Books). Publishers Weekly said: "Her descriptions of war, particularly the WWII battles, are grimly honest."

Michelle Boisseau, author of the poetry books Trembling Air and Understory, was born in Cincinnati and teaches at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. In 1989 she received a National Endowment for the Arts poetry fellowship, and in 1990 her first book of poems, No Private Life (Vanderbilt University Press) was published. Understory (Northeastern University Press), was chosen by Molly Peacock as the 1996 winner of the Samuel French Morse Prize. Her poems have won the Lucille Medwick Award, the Cecil Hemley Award, and were a finalist for the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award; she has also received the Stanley Hanks Poetry Chapbook Award and first prize in the National Poetry Competition from the Chester H. Jones Foundation. Her next book of poems, A Sunday in God-Years, will be out in early 2009 from the University of Arkansas Press.

Ray E. Boomhower, author of "One Shot": The World War II Photography of John A. Bushemi, is senior editor of the Indiana Historical Society Press's quarterly magazine Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History. He is also author of The Sword & the Pen: A Life of Lew Wallace; Robert F. Kennedy and the 1968 Indiana Primary; Gus Grissom: The Lost Astronaut; The Soldier's Friend: A Life of Ernie Pyle; and Fighting for Equality: A Life of May Wright Sewall.

Emily Calvo is author of How to Succeed in Advertising When All You Have Is Talent (1994, National Textbook Co.); 25 Words or Less (relationships, 1998, Contemporary Books); First Comes Love (humor, 2004, Publications International) and Friends Wit, Wisdom and Fun (Publications International). She was the 1999 and 2003 National Poetry Slam's marketing director and works as a freelance writer, specializing in marketing. She has performed her poetry at the Around the Coyote Arts Festival, the Cook County Fair, the Green Mill and numerous other venues, including civic events in France. She has been interviewed on NPR regarding today's poetry scene and published in After Hours and Roosevelt University's Oyez Review.

William Farina is author of Ulysses S. Grant 1861-1864: His Rise from Obscurity to Military Greatness (2007, McFarland) and De Vere as Shakespeare (2006). He was born and reared in LaPorte, Ind., where he attended the public schools. He earned a B.A. in English and philosophy, then a law degree, from Valparaiso University, where he attended as an undergraduate student on a baseball scholarship. Soon after, he made his home in the Chicago area and became a member of the Illinois bar. Since 1979, he has enjoyed a successful career in the real estate consulting industry. Bill and his wife, Marion Buckley, live in Evanston, Ill. His third book, Perpetua of Carthage: Portrait of a Third-Century Martyr will be published soon.

Patricia Kummer has written about 60 books, mostly biography, history and geography for children and young adults. She was born and raised in Minneapolis, has a B.A. and M.A. in history and is a former middle school social studies and language arts teacher. She also is a former social studies editor at Laidlaw Brothers in River Forest, Ill. She was an elected trustee on the Lisle (Ill.) Library District board from 1999 to 2007 and now teaches continuing education writing courses at the College of DuPage.

Richard C. Longworth is a retired Tribune reporter and a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He is a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at DePaul University, an adjunct professor of international relations at Northwestern University and lectures regularly at Columbia University. He is author of Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism, just published by Bloomsbury, and Global Squeeze: The Coming Crisis for First-World Nations.

Kevin Mattson is Connor Study Professor of Contemporary History at Ohio University and a faculty associate at the Contemporary History Institute. He is author of Upton Sinclair and the Other American Century (2006), Intellectuals in Action: The Origins of the New Left and Radical Liberalism, 1945-1970 (2002) and other books. He is a fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Steven Simoncic, who grew up in Detroit, is author of Heat Wave (2008, Pegasus Players) and also a playwright and adapter. He has a degree in finance from the University of Michigan, an MFA in writing from North Carolina's Warren Wilson College and an MLA degree (concentration in philosophy) from the University of Chicago. His fiction has appeared in New Millennium Writings, Drift Magazine, the Chicago Reader and Spork, and his play "Broken Fences" will be produced off Broadway in New York in April.

Ruth Spiro lives in Illinois with her husband and two daughters, who provide endless inspiration for her writing. She graduated with a B.S. in advertising from the University of Illinois in 1986 and worked for advertising agencies in both broadcast production and account management. In 1990 she earned an MBA from Loyola University Chicago.

Her articles and essays have appeared in Child, Woman's World, Redbook, FamilyFun and Chicago Parent. Her stories have also been published in popular anthologies, notably The Right Words at the Right Time, Volume 2: Your Turn, edited by Marlo Thomas and several Chicken Soup for the Soul titles. Her picture book, Lester Fizz: Bubble Gum Artist – soon to be published by Dutton – was a winner in the Writer's Digest 72nd Annual Writing Competition, and was named Best Contest Entry in the Kay Snow Writing Contest sponsored by the Willamette Writers in Oregon.

Victor R. Volkman is president of Loving Healing Press, which has 60 titles in print and publishes 15 a year. He is a former part-time instructor at Washtenaw (Mich.) Community College and now serves on CIS Faculty Advisory Board. He also is author of Beyond Trauma: Conversations on Traumatic Incident Reduction, 2nd Edition and two other books. Modern History Press, an imprint of Loving Healing Press, is republishing F.N.G. by Donald Bodey (See New Books).

Final Chapters

Longtime SMA member Mary Radmacher, former chief librarian at the Skokie (Ill.) Library, died June 9 at St. Joseph Hospital in Chicago at age 92.

Miss Radmacher, which is how her staff referred to her, was born Nov. 24, 1915, in Monmouth, Ill. She attended Monmouth College and graduated from the University of Illinois.

Her first job was as children's librarian for Warren County in Monmouth.

She also worked at libraries at the University of Illinois and Gary before taking over in Skokie.

As chief librarian from 1956 through 1985, Miss Radmacher was a key player in the building of the village's new library at 5215 Oakton St. She recruited a library board that obtained funding, helped select an architect and provided input on the building's interior and exterior design.

During her 29-year career at the Skokie Library, Miss Radmacher also oversaw a major expansion of the building in 1972.

While Miss Radmacher was chief librarian, the Skokie Library introduced bookmobile service, began automating the card catalog and equipment and implemented staff training to help people with vision impairments and other disabilities access library materials.

When she retired, the Skokie Village Board named Sept. 29, 1985, Mary Radmacher Day in Skokie.

Private services were held in Monmouth. A public memorial service will be held in the Mary Radmacher Meeting Room of the Skokie Library at 1 p.m. on Sunday, July 13.

Richard "Tim" Unsworth, a longtime member of the Society of Midland Authors and a former treasurer of the Society, died April 30 at age 78 after a long illness.

Mr. Unsworth was the author of five books — a sixth coincidentally went to the printers on the day he died — and a longtime columnist for the National Catholic Reporter who became the unofficial voice for liberal Chicago Catholics. He was a frequent guest on Chicago television stations as a commentator on Catholic issues.

His books included a biography of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago titled I Am Your Brother Joseph (1997); The Lambs of Libertyville: A Working Community of Retarded Adults, which Publishers Weekly called a "warmly told, anecdotal story"; Catholics on the Edge, (1995); a book about Catholic laity titled Here Comes Everybody, and a series of portraits about activist priests titled The Last Priests in America. Excerpts from that book ran in the Chicago Tribune magazine.

"He had a wonderful sense of humor, and he took delight in the church, the local church especially," said William Kenneally, a retired Catholic priest and longtime friend. "He had a stage to present that [through his column], and his books were wonderfully written."

Mr. Unsworth's latest book, a collection of columns, is titled, Tim Unsworth: Articles from the National Catholic Reporter, said Gregory Pierce, president of ACTA Publications, which is publishing it.

"He was never mean-spirited," Pierce said. "He truly loved the Catholic Church, even though he was always calling it to task, even though he was always wanting it to do better."

The National Catholic Reporter said he was "known for his wit and keen observation of how ordinary Catholics lived their faith in the pews and the streets."

Mr. Unsworth, who was born in 1929 in Canton, Ohio, got his start as a columnist when he wrote a seven-page letter to Joseph Bernardin, as Bernardin was about to take over as Chicago's archbishop. The letter, advising Bernardin not to immerse himself only in the higher circles of Chicago, but to ride buses, eat in everyday restaurants and get to know average Chicagoans, was so charming that his wife, Jean, sent a copy to the National Catholic Reporter. The newspaper printed it on its front page and hired Mr. Unsworth as regular contributor, a job he held for the next 24 years.

As a columnist and feature writer, "He wrote a lot of stories about underdogs — lay and clergy — who were doing good but perhaps not getting any credit, or in fact maybe suffering for it," said SMA member Robert McClory, professor emeritus at Northwestern University.

The son of a bakery superintendent, Mr. Unsworth attended Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., and Fordham University and obtained a master's degree in Spanish in Saltillo, Mexico. He joined the religious order Christian Brothers of Ireland, and in 1967 was named principal of Brother Rice High School, 10001 S. Pulaski.

He left the order and in 1970 married Jean Morman Unsworth, a former member of the Sisters of Mercy, whom he had visited after she suffered a serious accident. He led the alumni and development offices of DePaul University from 1970 to 1979, the University of Chicago for about a year and the former Northwestern University Dental School from 1981 to 1987.

After hip replacement surgery in September 2006, Mr. Unsworth suffered a massive infection and never regained his health.

He died of heart failure.

Jean Unsworth, a retired Loyola University professor of fine arts, said their years together were wonderful, punctuated by frequent trips abroad and buoyed by Mr. Unsworth's unremitting sense of humor.

Mr. Unsworth also is survived by a brother, Robert Unsworth, and several nieces and nephews.

A memorial service followed by a dinner was held May 25 at St. Clements Church.

Elsie Ziegler, author of three historically based books for young adults and a longtime member of the Society of Midland Authors, died May 23 in San Marcos, Calif., at age 97.

A winner of several writing awards, Ms. Ziegler also wrote freelance articles for the Chicago Daily News and other publications.

Her 1961 book Light a Little Lamp told the fictional story of a young girl whose heroism during the Chicago fire started her on a career as a social worker. Her novels The Blowing-Wand (about glass blowing) and Face in the Stone (about stonecutting) dealt with immigrants and the trades they brought to America in the 19th century. She also published stories in Every Woman magazine, Judy's magazine, Extension magazine, the Toronto Star, Writer's Digest and the Farm Journal.

Born Elsie Mary Reif on Nov. 15, 1910, Ms. Ziegler attended Stowe Elementary School in Chicago. She attended high school first at Tuley High School (since replaced by Clemente High School) in Chicago and then Oak Park and River Forest High School in Oak Park, Ill. As a senior, she wrote a story titled "The Green Velvet Hat," which won the school's short story contest. Her essay "Who am I?" was one of six nationwide winners in an Atlantic Monthly contest for high school seniors and was published in a supplement to the magazine.

She studied journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she won a contest by the Gregorian Literary Society with a story titled "Strange Interloper."

After marrying Norman A. Ziegler, she moved to Park Ridge, Ill., and then Barrington, Ill., before moving to San Diego in 1979. She is survived by her three children, Peter Ziegler, the actress Karen Black (who won an Academy Award nomination for her role in "Five Easy Pieces") and Gail Duggan, seven grandchildren and two great-grandsons.

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