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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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Bipolar Author Bill Zaferos Channeled Mental Illness Into Creativity

poison pen

Your LIFE! Magazine

Book Release/Fundraiser to be Held May 15 at the Marcus Center

Author Bill Zaferos did not know he was suffering from bipolar disorder when he wrote his first novel, Popoison penison Pen, in 2000. All he knew was that the title popped into his head and he became driven to write day and night. The book will be released May 15 with an event at the Marcus Center.

The plot of Poison Pen centers on Jerry Most, the acerbic host of the game show Die Trying, in which contestants perform death-defying acts to win fabulous prizes. The dangerous stunts never really work but the highly popular show gives Most riches beyond his belief. Still, his wealth isn’t enough to keep him happy and he sinks into a dangerous depression. Seeking solace on a cross-country trip during the show’s summer hiatus, he winds up in Hammertown, a miserable Wisconsin burg, where he decides to end it all while getting drunk in a local bar.

Called a “brilliant tour de force” by Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas Peele, Poison Pen is a tale of redemption that offers an off-beat look at American culture as well as life, death and the deeper meaning of ‘60s television shows like The Beverly Hillbillies.

Author Nick Chiarkis said: “Poison Pen by Bill Zaferos is a page-turner. Mr. Zaferos is a wonderful storyteller and masterful writer. This is a ride you don’t want to miss. You will cheer and laugh, and at times choke up with tears. I did not want the story to end. Bravo, Mr. Zaferos.”

Bill Zaferos is a first-time author and writer who managed to channel his mental illness into creativity by writing Poison Pen during a manic high. He wrote the novel in a few months and then left it on a closet shelf for 15 years before allowing friends and family to read it. With their encouragement, Zaferos finally sought publication of the novel.

Zaferos is a former newspaper political reporter, political consultant and public relations and advertising executive. He lives in downtown Milwaukee – not the suburbs – with his wife, Tracey Carson.

“A Night for NAMI Poison Pen Book Launch” Wednesday, May 15. VIP reception at 5:30 in Conference Room A and an interview/audience Q&A with Zaferos at 7 pm in the rehearsal hall. Proceeds for the event will go to the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Greater Milwaukee. Tickets are available on the Poison Pen website (poisonpenbook.com) as well as the Marcus Center ticket office (marcuscenter.org) and Amazon.

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Former Wisconsin newspaper reporter publishes first novel

Jordan Schelling
Wisconsin Newspaper Association

poison penMILWAUKEE – Bill Zaferos, who started his career as a journalist in Wisconsin before switching to public relations, has published his first novel, “Poison Pen.”

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Jim Stingl spoke to Zaferos ahead of the book’s release, which is scheduled for May 15. The book launch includes a fundraiser for the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Milwaukee, at which Zaferos will read from the book and take questions from the audience.

“Poison Pen” is described as an absurdist tale of redemption about a depressed game show host known for his cruel on-air insults and crude behavior. Zaferos told Stingl he wrote the book in 2000, but waited 16 years before getting the courage to show friends, fellow writers or a publisher.

Zaferos, a UW-Madison graduate, started his journalism career as a reporter for the Oshkosh Northwestern. He also worked as a political reporter for The Post-Crescent in Appleton before serving in a number of public relations roles.

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Milwaukee novelist who wrote on a manic high is putting the focus on mental illness

poison pen

poison penJim Stingl
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The stunningly honest author biography of Bill Zaferos’ new novel begins this way:

“Bill Zaferos is a first-time author and writer who managed to channel his mental illness into creativity by writing ‘Poison Pen‘ during a manic high.”

The words flowed out of him for three months as he huddled over a vintage Mac computer in his basement, often well into the night while self-medicating with wine and grooving to Bruce Springsteen and The Who.

Out poured the wild story of a rich and caustic game show host who hits the road to find himself and winds up in a miserable northern Wisconsin town populated by weird characters.

Did all that feverish late-night key pounding lead to a story that makes sense?

“What’s remarkable to me is that it holds together. There are parts of this that I don’t remember writing. I was a man on a mission,” said Zaferos, 60, a former newspaper reporter and public relations man who lives in Milwaukee’s Third Ward.

HenschelHaus Publishing in Milwaukee agreed with his assessment and took on the book. It will launch May 15 as a fundraiser for the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Milwaukee at the Marcus Performing Arts Center. It starts at 7 p.m., preceded by a VIP reception at 5:30. Tickets are $30.

Zaferos will read from “Poison Pen” and take questions from Marcus Center President Paul Mathews and the audience. Everyone present will receive a copy of the book, which also becomes available that day on Amazon.

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