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Midwest Book Review of “All Heart: The Baseball Life of Frank Torre”

Synopsis: Milwaukee Braves’ first baseman Frank Torre won a World Series Ring in 1957, 39 years before his Hall of Fame brother Joe Torre earned his.

All Heart: The Baseball Life of Frank Torre“, is Frank’s story in his own words, as told to Cornelius Geary in a series of interviews. This is a timeless, first-person account of a baseball life at the peak of one of the great franchises in baseball history, the Milwaukee Braves.

“In All Heart”, Frank recounts the Braves’ glory years with game-by-game accounts of the 1957 and 1958 World Series, tells what it was like playing with Henry Aaron, Ed Mathews, Warren Spahn, and Lew Burdette, and shares his heartbreak as the Braves’ dream ends almost as quickly as it began.

With dozens of photos, “All Heart, the Baseball Life of Frank Torre makes an important contribution to the history of the Milwaukee Braves as the savvy veteran reflects on many of the great players of his time, including Mantle, Mays, Clemente, Koufax, Musial, and Hodges.

Critique: An absolute ‘must read’ for all baseball fans in general, and Milwaukee Braves fans in particular, “All Heart: The Baseball Life of Frank Torre” is an inherently fascinating and informative read from cover to cover. While certain to be an immediate and enduringly popular addition to community library collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that “All Heart: The Baseball Life of Frank Torre” is also available in a paperback edition (9781595986979, $16.95) and in a digital book format (Kindle, $9.99).

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BENEATH THE FLAMES is the 2019 Gold Medal Award Winner

beneath the flames
beneath the flamesBENEATH THE FLAMES is the 2019 Gold Medal Award Winner in Fiction-General in The Readers’ Favorite International Book Award competition. Below is the five-star review:
“Beneath the Flames by Gregory Lee Renz is a mesmerizing story that brims with life and humanity, a story that explores themes of race, love, family, and an adventure within the firefighting department. The prose is gorgeous and, from the very beginning, the author had me captivated by the wonderful imagery and the lyrical nature of the story.”—Christian Sia for Readers’ Favorite.
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“Good As a Girl” Review by Patricia McConnell

Review from The Other End of the Leash

GOOD AS A GIRL: A MEMOIR, by Ray Olderman.

Ready for a paradigm shift? This book has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with dogs, but it holds a special place in my heart because it was written by a man who saved my soul in college. Quite literally. I was taking his class in literature at UW-Madison and working part time at the Primate Center. Long story, but at that time, the housing conditions for the monkeys at the Center were profoundly different than they are now. And pretty awful. When I went to the person in charge to talk about what I felt were abuses, he literally told me “There is no biological evidence that monkeys can feel pain.” Yup, that’s what he said, in the mid 1980’s. I had thought that perhaps I could have some effect on the way the monkeys were treated, but it became clear that my ability to do so was negligible.

I couldn’t quit, I desperately needed the money, and I mean desperately. I could barely afford to eat. And yet working there violated everything I believed in. I stopped sleeping, and had a hard time just getting through the day. Ironically, in my literature class we were reading a book about a man who thought he could change a corrupt system by working within it, but was eventually destroyed by it. I finally went to see my professor, Ray Olderman and told him I was living the life we were reading about it. And it was killing me. And I couldn’t quit, I was beyond broke and there were no jobs available at that time of year. He hired me on the spot, finding some spare money to help him with grading. I will never forget it, and will always be grateful.

And so, I admit to a profound lack of objectivity about Ray’s book. But here’s the thing. I loved the book. It’s funny and engaging and fascinating to read about a man who was raised to believe that being a boy was a disability. Talk about a paradigm shift! Ray’s mother had wanted a girl, and had no pretense that she was disappointed when Ray turned out to be a boy. And so, at age eight, he vowed to her that he’d be “as good as a girl”. We follow Ray throughout his life trying to understand the female perspective while negotiating the complexities of Madison, WI in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s during a time of profound cultural change.

If you’re interested in a delightful memoir about a guy who “couldn’t keep his mouth shut,”  fought the system all of his life while doing all he could to understand women, this book is for you.

 

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5-Star Review of “From Coin Toss to Championship”

From Coin Toss to Championship

Reviewed by Mamta Madhavan for Readers’ Favorite

Let us rewind and go back to 1971, the year the Milwaukee Bucks won the Championship. From Coin Toss To Championship: 1971 – The Year of the Milwaukee Bucks by Rick Schabowski is an engaging book that gives details about the magical season, players’ interviews, game stories, and pictures that will trigger a lot of memories and give game insights. After the 1965 baseball season, once the Braves moved back to Atlanta, Milwaukee ceased being home for any major sports franchise. The Milwaukee Bucks brought Milwaukee back into prominence by winning the 1970-71 National Basketball Association Championship. This book is good for the future generation of Bucks supporters and NBA fans who can take a trip down memory lane while reading about the game’s history and the magical season.

The author speaks about the Championship in detail which enables readers to enjoy the season and the memories associated with it. The entire season, along with some wonderful pictures, is a delight for readers from all walks of life; for many, it is like bringing back memories of a wonderful season and for others, it is learning about that magical season that put Milwaukee back on the sports map. The black and white photographs shared in the book breathe life into that time and make it tangible for readers as they learn about the players and the moments on the court. The author’s love for the game is evident from the details and descriptions in the book and it is a good read for all those who want to recollect the scenes from the coin toss to winning the championship.

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‘Sally and the Yeti:’ Erin Hills competitions director turns daughter’s bedtime story into book

Fox6 News

Sally and the YetiHARTFORD — When a person has a great story to tell or life experience to share, they’re often told to write a book. That’s exactly what John Morrissett, the competitions director at Erin Hills Golf Course, has done.

Overlooking the rolling hills that share Erin Hills Golf Course, Competitions Director John Morrissett is envisioning what could be.

“This time next year, the hillside will be knee-high in fescue,” said Morrissett.

It was what he envisioned many years ago, that has put him on a new course away from golf.

“Back in the winter of 2007-2008, when my daughter was 6, I would put her to bed at night and turn on the night light, turn off the light and then I’d start to tell a story,” said Morrissett.

Soon, Morrissett was writing the story down 11 years later.

“That’s became ‘Sally and the Yeti‘,” said Morrissett.

This summer, that bedtime story officially turned into Morrissett’s first novel when it was published by Three Towers Press.

“The hard part was I would try to think in advance as to what the next part of the story would be, the rest of the story. Then, bite off those chunks as they came along. So, it took some discipline just to stay with it and eventually got it done,” said Morrissett.

The fictional and fantastical story is about a seventh grade girl from Kohler named Sally, free meeting a yeti which leads to a special trip to Nepal and its adventures.

“I was living in Kohler, Wisconsin. So, the book starts in Kohler, Wisconsin. I was dreaming of going to Nepal one day, so I tried to tie all of that together. But, I wanted it to be authentic, I wanted to be able to describe Kohler, describe Wisconsin and have it be real,” said Morrissett.

Initially, his descriptions of Nepal were written based on guide books and videos. However in 2014, those descriptions had to be changed when he actually visited the country he had been dreaming about since childhood.

“For a large part of my life, I’ve had a real interest and fascination with Nepal and Mt. Everest with the Himalaya. And I remember growing up, going to the public library and getting all of Edmund Hillary’s books about his Everest expedition, about crossing Antarctica, about going up the Ganges River. So, that was very much in my mind,” said Morrissett.

The feeling he gets when planning a trip is something he hopes the readers are able to experience for themselves.

“It’s exactly exciting to go somewhere,” said Morrissett. “That’s one of the themes of the book, is to make people be curious about this amazing world that we live in.”

Morrissett’s traveling companion on many trips is his daughter, Amy Jayne. She’s also the inspiration for Sally.

“It’s a very personal account because I have a very close relationship with my daughter and all the memories that we’ve had together, the trips we’ve been on have meant the world to me. And to capture some of that in a book means a lot,” said Morrissett.

In many ways, the book is a story of love, taking Morrissett back to the magical place where the story began.

“It kind of captures those special moments of when she’s a little girl, putting her to bed, telling her a bedtime story. It kind of locks that in and formalizes that in a way that I’ll always have. Those are just some of the happiest memories I’ll ever have,” said Morrissett.

Morrissett has another book he’s hoping will be published later this year, with Sally going to London to save the queen’s corgi.

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Door County Cherry Pie

hapiness is homemade in door county

Fox11 News

hapiness is homemade in door countyRecipe Featured in Karen’s cookbook – Happiness is Homemade in Door County. (Available at Amazon or in Door County at Seaquist Orchards, Body, Bath & Soul or Nature Works)

Ingredients:

Double Pie Crust, recipe below

4 cups pitted sour cherries, from Door County, of course!
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons quick cooking tapioca
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons sugar for sprinkling on top

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare double pie crusts.

In a large bowl, mix cherries with sugar, tapioca, and almond extract. Let stand for 15 minutes.

Roll out lower pie crust and place in pie tin. Fill with cherry mixture and dot with butter. Roll out second crust. Crimp edges of crust and cut several slits in the top to permit steam to escape. Sprinkle top with sugar.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes until crust is golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

Pie Crust Recipe:

Single Pie Crust: 1 cup flour, 1/4 cup lard, a pinch of salt and approximately 4 tablespoons ice water.

Double Pie Crust: 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup lard, a pinch of salt and approximately 6 tablespoons of ice water.

In a medium bowl, work the lard into the flour until it is pea-sized and crumbles. Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough holds together in a ball. Place on a floured surface. Roll out and turn, rolling until it is the desired thickness.

Watch a video of this wonderful recipe!

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Instructor’s ‘Baking With Vegetables’ cookbook a hit

Moraine Valley Community College
Sweet taste of culinary success
The Beacon-News

By Barbara Dargis


Rose Deneen, assistant professor at Moraine Valley Community College, displays her award-winning book, “Baking with Vegetables.” (Moraine Valley Community College)

Lots of bakers make chocolate brownies. Few include cauliflower.

But a brownie recipe developed by a Moraine Valley Community College instructor features the vegetable, and it’s not the only one.

Rose Deneen, an assistant professor in the school’s Culinary Arts program, self-published a book of recipes for desserts featuring beets, cauliflower, pumpkin and other healthy ingredients. So far she has sold some 300 copies of “Baking With Vegetables,” a book that also has been nominated for a publishing award.

“All my recipes turn out looking like something sweet, like bread or cake,” said Deneen, a Bartlett resident. “I’m really very proud.”

Deneen has been a pastry chef for 30 years with outlets such as Shaw’s Crab House and Blue Plate Catering on her resume.

Deneen said the idea to pair vegetables with ingredients that lead to a sweet outcome is really nothing new. But she said she realized at one point in her career she “could expand on the idea” and compile a collection of dessert recipes that could be healthy as well.

The cauliflower chocolate brownies are one of her personal favorites that are featured in her full-color illustrated and step-by-step recipe book.

Deneen’s book is a finalist for the 2019 Midwest Independent Publishing Association 29th Annual Book award. “Baking With Vegetables” is a standout in the cookbook category, according to a news release from MVCC.

Deneen’s book includes 51 recipes and she said she completely enjoys eating all of them. But she knew she would need independent taste buds to judge her work as well.

For that, the longtime MVCC assistant professor turned to her students for input and suggestions. So she developed a recipe using canned pumpkin, in one case, baked it and brought it to class.
That Pumpkin Pecan Ring was “amazing” said student Erin Byers. Byers credited her professor for more than her ability to come up with tasty treats. Byers said the recipes can be followed by even the most novice of bakers.

“Her recipes are not scary or intimidating at all,” said the 22-year-old Oak Lawn resident. “She breaks each recipe down in easy step-by-step instructions, and the photos are very helpful as well.”

In the classroom, Deneen encourages her students to “put their own spin” on whatever food they are working with, Byers said. In the case of the Pumpkin Pecan Ring, Byers said she created a cream cheese based topping to enhance original recipe.

“She reminds us often that we can do so much with vegetables,” Byers said.
But Deneen has had a few criticisms along the way as well. Deneen recalls one woman who challenged her on the “healthy” aspect of her baked vegetables recipes when she was out promoting the book.

Deneen acknowledged that she has not done the research to conclude that her carrot mousse, for example, can be considered “healthy.” But she said any way you look at it, eating more vegetables, especially for dessert, is a good thing overall.

Deneen has earned a good reputation on the Palos Hills campus of MVCC as well. Dean Eliacostas, a chef in the Culinary Arts program who has worked with Deneen for nine years, said the award is good for the students as well.

“This is so exciting and gratifying, and that carries over to the students,” Eliacostas said. “This is amazing for the program and the school, too.”

While Deneen waits to hear on the outcome of the book award, she said she is already at work on a book of recipes for gluten free diets. A vegan cookbook is on the back burner as well.
“Baking With Vegetables” sells for $30. It can be purchased on Amazon and HenschelHAUS.

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Hero Firefighter/Author to Address PTSD in First Responders at DeForest Library Monday, July 22

By Sharyn Alden Special to the Times-Tribune

beneath the flamesGregory Lee Renz, author of Beneath the Flames, discusses firsthand knowledge of firefighters’ battles with post-traumatic stress disorder, also a theme in his novel.

Gregory Lee Renz, a former captain of 28 years with the Milwaukee Fire Department, has written an acclaimed debut novel, Beneath the Flames. Before retirement, Renz was highly decorated with awards for saving two boys from their burning basement bedroom.

Since his book was published a few weeks ago Renz, who has not personally experienced PTSD, has been surprised by the number of responses from active and retired firefighters regarding the topic of PTSD. It is presented in intimate detail in his novel.

Numerous firefighters have shared some of their most painful memories with him like visions of a mother draped over her small child to protect her from the fire.

A retired fire captain wrote him saying he appreciated how his story presents the topic of PTSD. At the end of his career he said he had a tough time, but eventually accepted and understood his own pain. Reading Renz’ book, he said, was not unlike therapy.

His book also addresses the PTSD epidemic in the youth of the inner city where they often witness multiple acts of violence.

Besides PTSD Renz covers other topics drawn from his years as a firefighter in his informative talks.

Deforest Public Library, 6 p.m., July 22.

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A story taken from the headlines

beneath the flamesFor 28 years Gregory Renz was a firefighter and Captain with the Milwaukee Fire Department, and he called it, “The best job in the world. It was my passion,” he says.

On a cold night in December a few years ago two young boys were extremely fortunate that Renz was able to save them.

The building where they lived was on fire and thick with smoke when he made his way down a smoke-filled stairwell to the boys’ basement bedroom. “I couldn’t see a thing but I knew I couldn’t live with myself if I backed out,” he says. “You train your mind to slow down the rush of adrenaline and focus on the situation,” he says.

He found the little boys unconscious and not breathing.

“When I picked them up they were lifeless, like rag dolls,” he says. “I brought them up the stairs and outside but feared the worse. Miraculously, they were resuscitated on scene by paramedics and transported to the hospital where they recovered with no lasting effects.

For this rescue Renz received the American Legion Medal of Honor, the Fire Rescue Class “A” Award from the Milwaukee Fire Department (their highest award), the Heroism and Community Service Award from Friehouse magazine, the Red Cross Brave Hearts Award for Emergency Response Hero and many other accolades.

Since retiring from life as a firefighter, Renz has turned his experiences into his debut novel, “Beneath the Flames.” “The story is about a guilt-ridden firefighter and a courageous twelve-year-old girl who join forces in the fight for their lives,” says Renz.

It’s not often that a story vividly shows us what life as a firefighter is like and how it feels to face life and death situations on a regular basis, but readers will have an opportunity to hear Renz talk about life as a firefighter and an author on July 22 at the DeForest Public Library.

He will discuss what prompted him to write the book that has been creating a buzz since its release in late May.

It took eight years of creative writing courses, workshops, conferences, and countless drafts, before he finally typed, “The End” at the completion of his manuscript.

About the Book

On the cover of his novel, the photo depicts Renz holding his granddaughter. That dramatic scene (staged) epitomizes the vivid human interest themes inside the cover.

“Gregory Renz’s new novel is a triumph of poignancy, compassion, and restraint. In it, a man’s regret is transformed to triumph.” –Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean.

The author draws on the power of forgiveness, hope and redemption in telling a compelling narrative.

He adds that when people from diverse backgrounds work together in challenging situations, they come to realize that we all have the same hopes, dreams and fears. “The walls of ignorance and bias crumble. There is no longer us and them; there is only us.”

An overriding theme showcases the difference between growing up in rural Wisconsin and living in the inner city of Milwaukee. “One aspect of the story is that the lush rural setting of Wisconsin becomes the source of agonizing guilt for the protagonist while the decaying inner city of Milwaukee becomes a source of hope and redemption,” Renz explains.

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One Man’s Manic High Helped Him Write A Novel

TMJ4

Poison Pen is an offbeat look at American popular culture in a tale of redemption. The plot surrounds Jerry Most, the suicidal, acidic host of a death-defying game show. The book explores themes of life, death, and the deeper meaning of ’60s television shows like “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

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Remembering Baseball with the Milwaukee Braves

shepherd express

Shepherd Express
JENNI HERRICK

Baseball has long been called America’s national pastime, and 60 years ago, baseball was at the height of its popularity. When the Milwaukee Braves moved to the city from Boston in 1953, more than two million local fans flooded the brand-new County Stadium annually during the team’s first five years in town. The team finished in second place in three of those five seasons before winning the National League Pennant and appearing in the World Series in both 1957 and 1958.

The hometown Braves experienced their best season in 1957, when they won it all in a grueling seven-game contest against the formidable New York Yankees. During that season, the Braves won 95 regular-season games, and the team’s success came from the contributions of perennial All-Star Eddie Mathews and the 23-year-old league MVP Hank Aaron, as well as from Cy Young-winning pitcher Warren Spahn. Consistent victories were also the result of quality performances by the defensively minded first-baseman Frank Torre. Torre, who batted .273 over his seven-year career with the Milwaukee Braves and Philadelphia Phillies, experienced his best seasons in 1957 and 1958, leading the NL in fielding percentage and twice homering in the 1957 World Series.

Before he passed away in 2014 at the age of 82, Torre sat down with Wauwatosa native Cornelius Geary to share detailed personal stories of his time with the Braves organization. These timeless stories have been collected into the book All Heart: The Baseball Life of Frank Torre, which is filled with photographs, engaging narrative and new stories about some of the greatest players of all time.

Cornelius Geary will read from his new book at the Wauwatosa Public Library, 7635 W. North Ave., at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 20.

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Cedarburg woman writes book on father’s secret World War II service, 75 years after D-Day invasion

CEDARBURG, Wis. — CEDARBURG — A World War II veteran’s secret service is revealed decades after his deployment. A Cedarburg family used to believed their dad was a barber, chauffeur and translator during the war.

But he finally told them about his role in the D-Day invasion. now his daughter is writing a book about it.

“I thought he trained with the 35th, went to Europe with the 35th served and came home, but that’s not what happened,” said Louise Elders Moore.

Her father Alfred Endres was 88 when he was awarded France’s Legion of Honor for his work liberating the country. Louise found out after the ceremony her father actually a machine gunner during the invasion.

“D-Day plus one was his initiation into combat,” said Moore. “People jumped over the sides of boats, some sank, there were dead bodies floating in the water. He didn’t think he would live through it.”

Alfred was 26-years-old when the government came to their farm near Lodi, Wisconsin and told them either Alfred or his younger brother had to serve. His daughter said Alfred volunteered, so his brother could stay. Just weeks later, he was on the beaches of Normandy.

“He almost got crushed to death because when the ramp came down on the Higgins boat bullets were flying and everybody pushed back. He was in the back and he almost suffocated,” said Moore.

Alfred passed away shortly after he was given the Legion of Honor. Louise decided to find out more about her Dad’s combat experience. She’s now writing a book to honor her father, a man who wanted no accolades for himself.

“I said to my Dad, ‘Do you feel you are the greatest generation?’ ‘No.’ And I said, ‘Some people say you are a hero.” And he went, ‘nah.'”

Moore’s book titled Alfred will be out before the end of the year.

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Local cookbook author, Karen Buhk, “Happiness is Homemade in Door County”

hapiness is homemade in door county

WFRV- Green Bay

hapiness is homemade in door countyDo you have some old family recipes you’re trying to keep alive and pass down to new generations? That’s the focus of a cookbook from a local author, Karen Buhk.

You can get “Happiness is Homemade in Door County” at Art of Door County in Fish Creek, Seaquist Orchards Farm Market in Sister Bay, and Nature Works in Egg Harbor.

Watch the segment.

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Homemade Cream Puffs

Fox11 News

* Recipe Featured in Karen’s cookbook – Happiness is Homemade in Door County.

Watch the full video.

Cream Puffs:

1/2 cup water
1/4 cup butter
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white flour
2 eggs

Filing:

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Directions:

hapiness is homemade in door countyPreheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium saucepan, bring water, butter, and salt to a boil. Add flour all at once and beat over low heat until mixture leaves the side of the pan and forms a ball. Remove from heat and continue beating to cool down dough, about 2 minutes. Add one egg at a time, beating well after each egg. Continue to beat until mixture has a satin-like sheen.

Drop 1/4-cup mounds of batter, swirling the top of each, onto parchment- lined pans. Bake for about 50 min or until they turn brown and puff up. Remove from oven and cut 1 or 2 slits on each side. Return to oven for 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

For filling, beat heavy cream with sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Cut tops off puffs and fill with cream. Return tops and dust with powdered sugar.

Makes 6 cream puffs.

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Old Fashioned Banana Cream Pie

Fox11 News

* Recipe Featured in Karen’s cookbook – Happiness is Homemade in Door County.

Watch the full video.

Ingredients:

Pie Crust
1 ripe banana
3 cups whole milk
3/4 cup white sugar
1/3 cup flour
A pinch of salt
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla

Directions:

hapiness is homemade in door countyPreheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare single pie crust. Roll out and place in pie dish. Bake with weights for 10 minutes or golden brown. Let cool completely.

Place sliced banana on the bottom of pie crust. In a medium saucepan, scald milk and set aside. In a heavy saucepan, put sugar, flour, and salt. Stir in milk. Place over medium heat, stirring until the mixture thickens, about 2 minutes. Stir in egg yolks and cook another minute. Add butter and vanilla.

Pour into pie crust and cover with plastic wrap. Let chill for 2 hours.

Before serving, in a medium bowl, whip cream until soft peaks form. Mix in sugar and vanilla. Top pie with whipped cream and serve.

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Bipolar Milwaukee author uses novel to promote mental health awareness

WMTJ-4 Milwaukee
Pete Zervakis

A local author who recently saw his first novel published said channeling a mental illness into creativity is what helped him write the book.

poison penA local author who recently saw his first novel published said channeling a mental illness into creativity is what helped him write the book. Bill Zaferos wrote the novel, “Poison Pen,” in 2000.

At the time, he didn’t know he was bipolar. His condition was going untreated.

“One in four people have mental illness in America, and I’m part of that one in four,” Zaferos said. “It manifested itself in me in just writing obsessively for three months.”

He said one reason it took him so long to begin treatment through therapy and medication was that he was embarrassed to admit he might be mentally ill.

“If you tell people you’re mentally ill, you can never have a bad day again,” Zaferos said. “Because if you do, the line is always, ‘Somebody’s off their medicines.’ Which is unfair.”

“A lot of people are ashamed about it, and that’s wrong,” he said.

Zaferos’ manuscript sat on a shelf for almost two decades before he mustered up the courage to approach a publisher about it last year.

The novel will be officially released Wednesday at an event at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

At the book launch, Zaferos will read from the novel and explain how he channeled his mental illness into creativity.

All proceeds from tickets, which can be purchased here, will go to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Greater Milwaukee.

“Not everybody’s going to write a book. But they can work to feel more comfortable about having a mental illness and about how to deal with it. So it’s just really important to remove the stigma.” “I want to do something to help them because they’re doing a lot to help other people,” Zaferos said.

Zaferos said he hopes the event and the story behind his book will bring awareness to mental illness and break stigmas that often make it taboo to talk about.

“Not everybody’s going to write a book,” he said. “But they can work to feel more comfortable about having a mental illness and about how to deal with it. So it’s just really important to remove the stigma.”

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From life to the page

Retired firefighter draws on experience for first novel

The Isthmus

BY KATY MACEK

beneath the flamesAfter 28 years of working for the Milwaukee Fire Department, Madison native Gregory Renz has seen a thing or two.

Renz was a fire captain in inner-city Milwaukee, often encountering much more than dangerous fires — though he certainly saw his share of those. Renz observed how poverty, racism and social injustice divided one of the most segregated cities in the country.

When Renz retired in 2008 and moved back to Madison, he thought about all he had experienced, particularly a dramatic rescue in which he saved two boys from the basement of a burning building on Dec. 6, 2004. He’s shared the story several times, including when he was honored for the rescue and inducted into the Fire and Police Hall of Fame in 2006.

“When I shared that story, I saw tears coming down people’s faces,” Renz says. “It hit me: the power of a story and how it can move people.”

In retirement, Renz took up writing. It took him nearly 10 years, but on June 1 he is launching his first novel, Beneath the Flames (Three Towers Press.)

The novel follows farmer and volunteer firefighter Mitch Garner’s journey to salvation after he blames himself for a devastating loss of life at a fire in his small, rural Wisconsin hometown. Garner falls into a depression and decides the only way to redeem himself is to be somebody else’s hero.

He applies for and is accepted into the Milwaukee Fire Department, where he confronts a culture and community he knows nothing about. Then he meets 12-year-old Jasmine and her little sister, Alexus, through the department’s mentoring program.

“They are as far apart culturally as you could possibly get, and they don’t understand each other,” Renz says of his main characters. “Jasmine starts helping him [Mitch], and this huge racial divide starts narrowing.”

Renz’s debut novel tackles such themes as forgiveness, redemption and family. It also provides a behind-the-scenes look at a fire department, as Doug Holton, a retired Milwaukee Fire Department chief who worked alongside Renz, points out. He says Renz’s book was a “realistic portrayal” of how racism plays out both in the city and on the staff. “His book is very dynamic,” Holton says. “People have a perception of firefighters that they’re heroes. But when the door is closed, and you’re living with somebody for 24 hours, what’s going on?”

Those dynamics are what make the story work, according to writing instructor Christine DeSmet, who coached Renz in writing classes through UW-Madison’s Continuing Studies program. “Greg relished the revisions that helped him hone his storyline and characters,” DeSmet says. “He seemed to be a treasure hunter with his own material. He loved scraping away at words to find even more emotional depth for his characters.”

She says the novel is packed with emotional twists and turns, weighty themes and humor. “They say a novel is only as good as its ending,” Desmet says. “Greg Renz’s debut novel has one of those thought-provoking endings that doesn’t leave a reader. I suspect a lot of readers will be asking, ‘When’s the next novel coming out?’”

Renz is working on it. He’s drafting ideas for a second firefighter-themed novel. He’s got more stories to share.