Area authors showcase books for winter
The holiday season is upon us, a time when people are seeking the perfect presents. Books can be just that and, as everyone knows by now, buying local is better. On Saturday, Nov. 24, eleven local area authors will be discussing, signing and selling their books at the Springfield downtown bookstore, Books on the Square, at 427 E. Washington Street from 10:30-2:30. Local stories, local authors, available at a local store.
Co-owners John and Jeannie Alexander have operated a bookstore by the same name in Virden for many years and opened their second location in Springfield earlier this year. They promised to hold unique events, highlighting books and authors, and that is what they have done.
John Alexander says, “We want to promote writers from Illinois, especially from the regional area.”
Saturday’s event will feature established, published authors as well as newly published writers. Each author brings a special flavor to the event with works of historical fiction, poetry, mystery, sci-fi, nonfiction, Civil War and Illinois history.
Trever Bierschbach of Pekin has published his first novel, Embers of Liberty. He calls it “speculative fiction.” It features a family and their friends from a fictional Illinois town who are seeking freedom in another state due to a civil war that has led to states seceding from the union. “I have been fascinated with news reports of extreme ideas from groups and have often thought it was good there weren’t enough people to actually carry out these crazy ideas. One group, taped by the FBI back in the 1970s, claimed the way to fix the country was to kill off 25 percent of the population and put another 25 percent in re-education camps. Then, I started wondering what would happen if people could actually carry out some of these crazy ideas. That led to this book.” He says this is not a comment on any political party or any person. “I want anyone who reads this to come away realizing that any group with views opposite from their own could end up doing some dangerous things.” Bierschbach, a software analyst, spent two years writing the book and another two years editing and publishing it through Amazon.
Kevin Corley of Shelbyville, a retired teacher and principal, has partnered with Doug King of Springfield to write Sundown Town, a work of historical fiction about southern blacks who came from Alabama to work in the coal mines in Pana, with tragic results leading to the Pana Massacre in 1899. Corley’s previous book, Sixteen Tons, was written in 2014. Corley says, “In 1985 when I was getting my master’s in history, I did oral histories of Illinois coal miners for my internship. These 44 interviews were used by Carl Oblinger for his book, Divided Kingdom. I taught high school history and often told students of these stories. When I retired I decided to combine these into historical fiction and thus Sixteen Tons came about.”
King, a friend of Corley’s, says, “I got into the project of Sundown Town, unexpectedly. Kevin called one day and said he couldn’t find details on the African-American experience in the coal mines and needed some details. I had been interested in the coal mine wars and always wanted to pursue knowing more. So, I helped with the development of some of the African-American characters, dialect and experiences from the time period that would fit the plot.”
Over a 30-year career, Robert Grindy of Decatur has published stories, essays and articles and has now written his first novel, Iced. It is a mystery about a teacher who steals an idea for a novel from a dead student. “Years ago, a student of mine was killed in a car accident, and he had left me with a plot outline for a murder novel. His manuscript haunted my shelves for many years. Iced is in many ways an exorcism of that haunting.”
Grindy, originally from California, has been an English professor at Richland Community College since 1990. “Having lived in several places, I have gnawed on sense of place and self. How is one’s sense of self shaped by sense of place? What started as a funny little murder mystery actually explores these more important, unanswerable mysteries.” Since the book was published in 2017, reviews have been positive, one saying it is “realistic and hilarious…an offbeat thriller.” Grindy says he has wanted to be a writer ever since he was a kid. He pursued a degree in English and then earned a master’s in fiction writing.
Dan Guillory of Findlay, a professor emeritus at Millikin University in Decatur, has 10 books to his name. His book of original poems, The Lincoln Poems (2008), is on permanent display at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. Other books include Living with Lincoln: Life and Art in the Heartland, and People and Places in the Land of Lincoln. Housepoems includes poems about houses in Springfield. Coming out in early 2019 will be The Prairie: Then and Now, which focuses on early and more contemporary visitors to the prairie. The collection ranges in topics from birds and combines to Vietnam and vets. Photos and line drawings by Guillory’s wife, Leslie, are included.
Guillory: “Almost exactly four years ago, on a pristine October day, I was driving on a country road leading to the little farming village where I live. Telephone poles lined the road, and suddenly a huge flock of blackbirds appeared and landed on the wires strung between the poles. Then another flock appeared, then another, and finally one more. The moment melted into my memory, and I knew I had to capture that sequence of events in a poem. More importantly, that poem would become the basis for a book. But it was easier said than done.”
John Lupton of Springfield, a professional historian, worked for 19 years on the Lincoln Legal Papers, later called the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, which reconstructs Lincoln’s legal cases. In 2009 he became the executive director of the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission. His book Prairie Justice tells the history of the Illinois courts from the French time up to 1900. Realizing there were already books highlighting all the Illinois governors, the Illinois U.S. senators, and secretaries of state, he felt the Illinois Supreme Court Justices deserved recognition, too. Started in 2009, the resulting book is Adjudicating Illinois: The Justices of the Illinois Supreme Court. It presents short biographies of the 117 people who have served on the Illinois Supreme Court since 1818 and who helped decide cases affecting society, agriculture and technology of Illinois. Lupton says, “I didn’t set out to write this for the Illinois bicentennial, but the timing worked out to finish it in time for the celebration.” Lupton is also an expert on Lincoln’s handwriting and has been active in authenticating hundreds of documents with Lincoln’s writing.
T.J. Martinson of Bourbonnais is working on his Ph.D. in English from Indiana University and will be debuting his first novel, The Reign of the Kingfisher. The Kingfisher is a superhero from Chicago who had kept the streets safe from drug dealers and thieves. Now, 30 years later, crime has risen, and one criminal sets out to prove the Kingfisher’s death was faked by the police. “I have been fascinated with superheroes,” Martinson says. “I’m a Batman and Spiderman kind of guy. I wanted to break away from the typical hero’s journey. At the time the Black Lives Matter movement was going on and I started looking at reconceptualizing what justice is in our modern day. Sometimes, the lines between good and evil are not far apart. I imagined how people might react to a superhero who is dealing with vigilante justice. The book took on a life of its own.” Martinson will be coming out with another book, Flat Iron, within the next few months.
Taylor Pensoneau of New Berlin worked as a political reporter for the St. Louis Post Dispatch for 16 years and then served as president of the Illinois Coal Association. Most of his books are nonfiction, but he ventured into fiction with Summer of ’50 in 2003. Drawing upon his political knowledge, he developed a story around a real situation in the 1950s that he says combined, “political corruption, illegal gambling, murder and betrayal.” A sequel scheduled to come out in the next year is called Falling Star. It picks up the story and answers questions left hanging in Summer of ’50. Pensoneau has written three biographies: Dan Walker: The Glory and the Tragedy (1993), Governor Ogilvie: In the Interest of the State (1997) and Power House: Arrington from Illinois (2009), about W. Russell Arrington, Senate majority leader who was called the father of the modern General Assembly. Pensoneau’s book Brothers Notorious: the Sheltons: Southern Illinois’ Legendary Gangsters has sold over 20,000 copies. Pensoneau says he maintains a large filing system on situations and many people. “With nonfiction you have to be accurate; what is nice about fiction is that if you don’t like someone you can kill them off.”
J.D.(Jim) Proffitt of Jacksonville is a business professor at Illinois College and has written three novels that are all set during the Civil War. Some of the same characters appear in the books, but to follow them chronologically means reading book 1, then 3 and then 2. The titles have a meaning that becomes clear while reading. Proffitt’s first book, Manchester Bluff (2011), took seven years to research and write. In it a college student is recruited to serve in Stanton’s War Department; in Beard Iron (2015) a Confederate captain fights to save the Confederate treasury, which actually existed, contrary to some accounts. In Fever Run (2013) the Civil War is over, and former enemies are now driving longhorn cattle to Chicago while conflicts in the nation threaten. This novel is based on a true story of John T. Alexander of Alexander, Illinois, (where Proffitt grew up) who purchased cattle in Texas and helped drive them to the East after the Civil War. Coming out in 2019 will be a historical fiction novel about Vietnam. Accuracy is important to Proffitt and hours are spent doing research. Proffitt says, “I track down original source material and have found it to be completely different from secondary sources that reference it.”
Robert Sablotny of Springfield draws upon his career as a railroad engineer in his first historical novel, Long Way Home: A Novel of Sex, Drugs and Rock ’n Railroad. A real-life Decatur railroad explosion in 1974 starts the plot of a young engineer who discovers that company officials are hiding the truth about the explosion. He sets out to leak information through a nurse who happens to be his wife. Sablotny has had varied careers: railroad, TV, communications instructor. Another novel, Three Sisters, will be coming out in 2019. “What started as a short story for my wife’s 50th birthday turned into a 150-page novel three years later,” he says. “I used the idea of three sisters, but then I looked for a place with that name and came across a mountain in Oregon with the same name and, ironically, it also had history of a railroad. The novel is a fun look at the area and is a cross between Jane Austen, who my wife likes, and Zane Grey, who is known for Western settings.” Sablotny started writing while convalescing from heart surgery. While watching a movie, he was struck with the message, “Write what you know about.” That inspired him to start writing.
Sarah Hathaway Thomas of Springfield offers a memoir of her family and their many life journeys in Through Time and Space. Included are memories of a woman who grew up in Germany, Sarah’s father, two exceptional aunts, a next-door adventuresome neighbor and her own experiences teaching in China. Her now-deceased father, Benjamin, is still revered by Lincoln scholars for a biography of Lincoln he wrote in 1953. “I remember my dad’s love of baseball – which I think he liked more than Lincoln.” Two unmarried aunts, who lived in a big home that is still standing on Chatham Road, were “wonderful,” Sarah says. (One was Mary Kreider, who was Springfield’s First Citizen in the 1970s). The memories and memoirs combine to show her life enriched by the events and people Thomas knew and admired. In 2009 she published West of Buffalo, detailing life in a small Indiana town of 200 people where Sarah moved with her husband and experienced culture shock after having lived in Springfield. Thomas says, “It is a fun book; I am not making fun of the people in the very small town, but there were some strange things that went on.”
One author who cannot attend the Books on the Square event may be of interest to readers. B.D. (Brenda) Bucher of Springfield. She has written her first novel, Riddle Me Home. From Springfield, a woman with two adoring children but in a horrible marriage is abducted from a restaurant while on vacation in Florida. The mystery about who might be behind this – Her husband? Her twin sister? Someone else? – continues to build as the kidnappers send enigmatic messages in the form of riddles to the Springfield police. Bucher says, “I spent five years writing this novel, often rising at 4 a.m. to write.” Bucher is an English teacher at Lanphier High School.
Books on the Square will be the place to go on Nov. 24 to stack up on books for gifts or for your own library shelves.
Cinda Ackerman Klickna of Rochester loves books and has started to write a novel of her own.