After 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.
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, Poison 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.
Karen Buhk has kept her traditional family recipes alive in Happiness Is Homemade in Door County, a cookbook that contains recipes for more than 50 delicious desserts and meals from the past to the present. Photographs by her granddaughter-in-law, Sandy Buhk, make this cookbook even more special.
Karen Buhk spent her childhood watching her grandmother and mother in the kitchen and learning all the techniques and skills that she incorporates in her recipes. She has been cooking and baking by look, feel and taste all her life and has now recorded many details and tips so you can make these delicious dishes for yourself.
Buhk is well known around Door County as the “Cookie Grandma,” making her special treats with love and sharing them with everyone she knows.
MILWAUKEE – 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.
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.
His professional experiences as a large-scale professional problem solver led him to personally explore the most important things in life — love and happiness.
At his presentation at the Sun Prairie Library he will share basic engineering principles for viewing life from different perspectives that can potentially lead to a path to happiness.
Brust, who has worked on some of the country’s best-known buildings asks, “Do you really know why you think the way you do? An open mind can change your life and make you happier. That is important as how you think is important to your happiness.”
Some of his engineering projects include the exterior façade of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and renovations of the plazas at Hancock and Sears towers. In New York, projects included acting as a peer structural design expert for the design of the new Central Park Police Station and designing an unusual shoring system for an extension of the New York City Subway system.
“We are often so focused on the immediate concerns in our lives that we forget to think about what life itself is all about and how that affects our happiness,” Brust pointed out. “We build homes and cars, trains and airplanes, but when it comes to building our lives and optimizing happiness, many of us fall short.”
He began his lengthy search for human understanding after a personal tragedy. When his son died it caused him to reexamine his past assumptions about how to live the best life possible.
He was the second of 11 children and was raised in a household where reason was more important than expressing emotions. The field of engineering was a likely next step for Brust who holds a degree in civil engineering from Marquette University. At the age of 33, he founded a successful Milwaukee engineering firm, now named Harwood Engineering Consultants.
He says one of the greatest gifts he has received in life is the ability to analyze information in areas which he is familiar.
History of Achievers
Brust has been around problem solvers all of his life. “My grandfather on my dad’s side was a very well-known architect who had a book written about him. He was the chair-person for the first building code committee in the state of Wisconsin,” he said. ‘My father was the president of the Wisconsin chapter of the American Institute of Architects and held the high school record for the mile run for many years.”
On his mother’s side his grandfather was a well-known doctor who was nominated for governor of Wisconsin. “He declined the nomination, but because he had diabetes, he worked with the doctor who invented insulin. My grandfather used himself as a test subject to determine the proper dose.”
Brust noted his mother was a champion high jumper in college and was the first president of the Mount Mary College Alumni Association.
The engineer/author makes a point not to tell others what to believe, but he inspires people to dig into issues that may be controversial and come up with their own conclusions. In his book he urges people to look beyond what they may have been told growing up or in school, and learn to think for themselves (https://human-understanding.net/about-the-book/).
“This will challenge some of what you think you know,” he said. “My book is also intended for those who think they already understand themselves. They may be surprised.”
He writes the first step in having a good understanding of life is to have an open mind by taking a fresh look at things you’ve been taught about topics such as history, science, philosophy, archaeology, and even religion.
Brust has spent many years investigating what life is all about.
“I’ve always been curious and asked ‘why’ about so many things,” he said. “When you connect that curiosity about life with an analytical mind, sometimes it is surprising what you discover.”
He does not always accept things as they are or what he’s been told due to many inconsistencies about the topic.
“An engineer cannot afford to overlook contradictory information without risking failure and a lawsuit,” he said.
As an engineer Brust was sought by building contractors for his innovative, problem solving abilities.
His work comprised of designing and analyzing the most effective construction procedures for a wide variety of building projects in 23 states.
“I was often asked to figure things out when no one else seemed to find a solution,” he said.
He offers ideas on how to unlock tough problems using a logical, data-driven approach. In a divisive country today, that approach is what many people desperately need.
Perhaps most importantly, Brust said, “I’d like people to think that after reading his book they have learned something about life and happiness.”
Milwaukee Independent: What was the fondest memory of growing up in Racine, and who was the most influential person in your youth?
Lora L. Hyler: I grew up in a multicultural neighborhood populated with families who greatly respected my parents, and looked out for all the children as we freely played after school and throughout long summer days. The lone single white female around the corner, with the parents’ blessings, regularly invited children over for chocolate-fondue. It was idyllic in many ways, with normal, church-going parents who valued family and friends. These neighborhoods do not attract the local news. My parents were the most influential people in my life, who valued education and reading books.
Milwaukee Independent: How were you introduced to books by Astrid Lindgren and Roald Dahl, and why did they have such an impact on your childhood?
Lora L. Hyler: I was a huge reader. I was first introduced to the Bible, and then the encyclopedia when my parents purchased a volume for our home. Beginning in elementary school, I would check out as many books as I could carry walking to and from school. As soon as I could see over the counter, I would visit my local public library and quiz librarians about books on hand featuring famous Blacks. My eyes opened beyond my hometown, and I have never stopped appreciating various world cultures. I loved the adventures of the Lindgren and Dahl books, and the way they sparked my imagination. As a debut middle grade children’s author, I now appreciate them even more.
Milwaukee Independent: If you could send a message 20 years into the future and another 20 years into the past, what would you ask your older self? And, what advice would you give your younger self?
Lora L. Hyler: Twenty years into the future, I would ask myself, ‘Why stop the adventures?’ How many times did you visit France to work? Are there other stops around the world and people to meet? Are you appreciating all the blessings and thanking God every day?”
My advice to my younger self is, “Congratulations for always questioning, looking within, growing, appreciating and reveling in hard work, along with adventure. Without being aware, you have always been on a fearless path. You remembered to learn from those much wiser than yourself, and to inspire someone else along the way.”
Milwaukee Independent: Just like a sprint is different than a marathon but still perceived as running, what have you found to be the biggest misconceptions about writing styles and being an author?
Lora L. Hyler: The biggest misconception is that inspiration strikes and a masterpiece is birthed, instantaneously. The truth is good writing comes from putting in the work, learning the craft, editing and editing again, and taking chances to tell the stories you want to tell. Then, the real work begins: marketing. The author needs to get a book into the world through tireless promotion, making the transition from keyboard master to public speaker. Luckily, my background includes public relations and marketing. I have owned my PR and marketing company, Hyler Communications, since 2001.
Milwaukee Independent: What did your career in broadcast news teach you about yourself? And, how did that work influence your style of writing?
Lora L. Hyler: My journalism career taught me that a shy bookworm can become anything I set my sights on. Fresh out of college, I was sent to interview Wisconsin’s governor, presidential candidates, and fire chiefs. I enjoyed both research and using my wits and imagination to get the story. My creative writing today – short stories, screenplays, and books – use all of these skills. Authoring children’s middle grade fiction is my absolute joy.
Milwaukee Independent: What is the most rewarding part of the writing process? And, what is the most stressful part of being creative with words?
Lora L. Hyler: The most rewarding part for me is conducting the research first, crafting a story, editing and seeing my words come to life in a way that touches kids and adults. The most stressful part is living life with all the stressors and demands vying for attention. A creative soul must strike a balance between tuning out the world, yet understanding that harmony with loved ones and surroundings is what feeds the creativity.
Milwaukee Independent: What is the writing scene like in Milwaukee? And how can more professional and creative opportunities be developed?
Lora L. Hyler: I have looked all over the country and abroad to form my ‘writing community.’ I nurture and get sustenance from writers without regard for borders. I seek out residencies throughout the country and have established supportive relationships with artists originally from France, the UK, Korea, Japan, and the Caribbean, just to name a few. I am a member of the global Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and am an active member of the Wisconsin chapter. I also belong to Milwaukee Film, Milwaukee Filmmakers Alliance, and Oscar winner John Ridley’s Nō Studios.
I join Ridley in seeing the great potential within artists from Milwaukee and Wisconsin. I challenge artists to devote the proper hours to develop their craft and build mutually supportive networks.
Milwaukee Independent: How do you work to change the racial and gender stereotypes about writers?
Lora L. Hyler: I do not get hung up on the limited views and shortcomings of other folks. I pride myself on identifying gates and gatekeepers, preparing myself, and knocking down barriers without apology. I am fearless. Here is what I know for sure: hard work pays off and once an individual creates his or her own opportunities, the universe opens up to receive and reward their talent. It is as if the universe says, “Welcome, child. You have earned your way. Tell us what you want.” Right now, I am on the receiving end of many blessings and have touched lives in ways I could not even have imagined. It is humbling.
Milwaukee Independent: How has social media and shorter attention spans for reading affected the publishing industry, and they way people consume text published on paper?
Lora L. Hyler: Most publishers advise their authors to release a paper and e-book simultaneously. It is somewhat misleading to think people spend less time reading. They read differently, many on personal screens. Social media has also played a role in ‘vetting’ our reading, through referrals. Savvy authors benefit from this. We have ‘champions’ for our work that we may never meet.
Milwaukee Independent: With the overwhelmingly popular trends of superhero movies and video games, do libraries still offer a place to engage imagination, or is that becoming obsolete?
Lora L. Hyler: There will always be a place for libraries. I spend a lot of time in libraries, with kids, millennials and elderly people. I see researchers, casual readers, and game enthusiasts. I see solo and shared experiences. I walk in and each time, something new catches my eye. I deeply appreciate librarians and view them as vital to literacy and understanding the world around us. They are excited to help kids and adults alike. Librarians are also working to bridge gaps that divide us.
Milwaukee Independent: How do you connect your childhood to your current work, and what are your expectations for kids today?
Lora L. Hyler: I was a kid who grew up in a loving, safe environment populated by two parents in my home, and a safe harbor neighborhood. Not every kid can say this. As I became a member of the kidlit community, I realized I am helping to fill a void. Books can be a safe harbor for a child for whom life is unkind. Every child needs to see himself or herself within the pages of a book. Currently, there is a great disparity between books sent out into the world through publishing industry gatekeepers, and the reality of the nation’s demographics. I support all initiatives to change this. Our kids come in many flavors: various ethnicities, cultures, immigration statuses, religions, sexual orientation, etc. When a child cannot see their beauty in a book, they feel like an ‘other.’ I am convinced we need more of these books in the marketplace. A book can save a life.
Milwaukee Independent: What was your goal in writing the “Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes,” and what do you hope children take away from reading it?
Lora L. Hyler: I simply wanted to write an original fun, adventurous story featuring multicultural superheroes, science and spy gadgets. I achieved that with The Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes. Kids need to just be kids for as long as possible.
Milwaukee Independent: What message do you have for young girls of color who dream of using words to express their creative dreams?
Lora L. Hyler: Creativity does not require a fortune, it requires imagination. All children can start where they are. Simply begin writing, illustrating, painting, designing, dancing, playing the piano or any artistic expression that speaks to you, with whatever skills you have right now. Work at your craft and stick with it because your soul demands it. I promise you, good things will follow. The world loves and needs artists.
“Congratulations. As part of the Eric Hoffer Award, The Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes was nominated for the da Vinci Eye.”
“Your book is still on track for a category prize, including the Hoffer Grand Prize. The da Vinci Eye is an additional distinction, awarded to books with outstanding cover art. Approximately six books receive this award each year. Regardless of the judge’s final determination, your book at the very least will carry the distinction of da Vinci Eye Finalist.”
The Eric Hoffer Award is an international award launched in 2001 for books and prose. Of course, the da Vinci Eye Award is named after Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci known for his Mona Lisa and The Last Supper paintings.
The Eric Hoffer Award is named for the American philosopher, who was an author of ten books, and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983.
This is the best novel about Wisconsin I have ever read, and I have lived in Wisconsin for more than 50 years. The story is set in a rural Wisconsin town during World War II, so it covers life in a setting in which I have not lived and is framed by events about which I personally know nothing. Until now. So reading this book has been a genuine learning experience brought to life by a big cast of wonderfully-drawn characters whom Stokes sets in motion in ways you will not soon forget. I will not give away the book’s creative architecture, multiple mysteries, and certainly not the many-layered ending, but I will guarantee that you will not easily put the book down until you’ve turned the last page and begin processing the story’s multiple messages, some small, others profound, and all both historical and contemporary. Bill Stokes is well-known in our state for his decades of authentic, powerful Midwestern writing and spot-on outdoors daily newspaper journalism. Now he can add first-rate novelist to an already unparalleled resume.
“That which is loving and caring is good and will make us feel better about ourselves and bring inner happiness.”
An engineer carefully constructs a view of life’s meaning and purpose, using techniques learned in his professional experience to elucidate a personal path. Author Brust began his lengthy search for human understanding after a tragedy: his son died, causing him to reexamine all of his assumptions about how best to live. His analysis covers four areas. “How We Function Mentally” explores what is mind, how we learn, and the role of spirituality—”living for a purpose beyond self.” “Concepts in Reality” is a look at thought and consciousness. “Related Considerations” include such thorny details of daily living as anger, stress, forgiveness, health, nutrition, and exercise. “The Path to Fulfillment” includes the author’s catalog of the basics referenced in his subtitle: the existence of a Higher Power, virtue and vice, and the reality of a consciousness that recognizes both and which survives beyond death.
Brust is a nationally noted structural engineer who describes the process of organizing the concepts for this book as being similar to the requirements for his work in engineering. He has gathered all the necessary components and demonstrates how each one fits with the rest to provide a final template for putting ideas into action. This rational, logical methodology, including neatly composed endnotes for further reference, is balanced by the work’s heart quality. There is warmth and accessibility throughout Brust’s dense text, along with the expression of a genuine wish to share his ideas without “selling” or “pushing” them. Thus, no single religious or psychological system is promulgated, leaving readers to make individually weighted decisions as to how to utilize the material given. Brust’s book could provide help and hope to those seeking information on self-actualization, spirituality, and personal growth that is sensible, sensitive, and not agenda-driven.
For 29 years, the University of Wisconsin–Madison Writers’ Institute has built its reputation as the Midwest’s premier writing conference. Authors Rex Owens and Sue Roupp might be its biggest fans, having eagerly shown up for a combined total of 48 Writers’ Institutes, growing their careers with help from the conference.
“Thinking back to my first Writers’ Institute, I was just considering devoting more time to writing. I couldn’t have dreamed of attending the conference this year as a speaker with three books published,” said Owens, who has attended 20 Writers’ Institutes.
Sue Roupp left an executive position at a Chicago company years ago to pursue writing. She said, “I found myself at the Writers’ Institute feeling like the campus newbie. That first conference was a ‘wow factor,’ where I said ‘yes’ to my dreams of being a writer.” Roupp is an author, editor, and writing teacher. She’s attended all but one Writer’s Institute, for a total of 28.
The 2019 Writer’s Institute will take place at the Madison Concourse Hotel on April 4-7. It features presentations by authors, literary agents, and UW–Madison faculty, who’ll provide practical tips for writers of mystery, romance, memoir, history, and true crime, among other genres. Attendees have the unique opportunity to pitch their manuscripts to industry professionals, who attend the conference to find new authors and to help attendees sharpen their skills. Read more…
“I feature American history through black spies and key figures such as Ruby Bridges and Josephine Baker, along with Dr. King,” says Hyler. “Since my novel’s March 2018 publication date I’ve enjoyed school visits, book festivals, education and library conferences all over the country. The kids’ eyes just light up when I note that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is part of the book.”
“Wisconsin Underground” by Doris Green
Wisconsin is home to some beautiful pieces of nature that we can see every day. But what about the beauty and wonder that you can’t see? “Wisconsin Underground” by Doris Green is a guide to the incredible caves, mines and tunnels hiding under the surface in our great state. Author Doris Green joins us to discuss this book and the research done to complete it.
For sheer magnitude, Milwaukee’s biggest book event in 2019 will be Michelle Obama’s March 14 appearance at the Miller High Life Theatre, 500 W. Kilbourn Ave., where the former first lady will speak about her memoir “Becoming.” Except for a few high-end seats in the $925-$1,125 range, it’s a sold-out show.
But fear not, dear readers. The first part of the year brings many promising books and local author events. In chronological order, here’s a selection of 15 forthcoming books and events that may interest you, with an emphasis on Milwaukee and Wisconsin writers.
Larry Cockerel has the energy to rival just about anyone. With his quick wit and solid answers to even the tough questions, he has a genuine talent for helping people. We discuss his books, mistakes and ways he helps his clients. This podcast is filled with little tidbits that make it worth listening to a few times. Visit the Larry Cockerel, The Change Guy.
Visit https://drawincustomers.com for more great small business videos, blogs, podcasts and general business building good times!Draw in Customers Business Coaching brings you another Authentic Business Adventures Podcast to help you with your business knowledge.
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....