Edgerton Sterling North Book and Film Festival featured authors

The Edgerton Sterling North Book and Film Festival has announced its lineup of featured authors for the Sept. 27, 2014 event in south central Wisconsin.

I am honored to have been asked to serve as a featured speaker this year. 

This is what organizers are saying: “Breath-taking. That’s what this Cast of Characters, if you will, really is when you stand back and look at all the amazing talent we have lined up for you this year!”

Get more information about the festival here.

John C. Pritzlaff: From penniless immigrant to hardware tycoon

Researching real can be real cool.

In digging around for information for my upcoming screenplay adaptation of my book, “Murder in Wauwatosa: The Mysterious Death of Buddy Schumacher,” I’ve come across a real cool story of an immigrant who came to this country broke and ended up building a virtual hardware empire in Milwaukee.

John C. Pritzlaff (1820-1900)

John C. Pritzlaff (1820-1900)

John C. Pritzlaff, great-uncle to Buddy Schumacher’s father, Art Schumacher, was said to have absolutely no money when he sailed to New York City from Pomerania (an area now divided between Germany and Poland). In fact, he later said that he actually was $10 in debt at the time.

He managed to work his way up to becoming president of one of the country’s biggest hardware companies, on that at one time employed 400 people. When he died in 1900, he left a fortune that in today’s dollars might amount to near $8 million.

It took Pritzlaff a number of years to get where he got, and it started with the humblest of beginnings.

His father died when he was 19 years old, and young John decided to try his luck in America. He sailed to New York with a group of Lutherans, a trip that took four months. He then moved onto Buffalo, N.Y., where he worked for two years on the Genesee Canal.

In late October 1841, Pritzlaff reached Milwaukee. He performed many odd jobs – wagon driver, cook, wood chopper – until he landed a job as a shipping clerk for Shepardson & Farwell, hardware merchants. His salary his first year with the company was just $200 (about $5,600 in today’s money). It is said that he typically worked from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. for this low pay.

Pritzlaff stayed employed at the company through new ownership, and planned to open his own hardware store in 1949. But owner John Nazro convinced him to stay on another year with the promise that he’d help get Pritzlaff started in the business at that time.

Nazro kept his promise, and in 1850, he bought the stock for Pritzlaff and partner August Suelflohn for their downtown Milwaukee firm. Three years later, Suelflohn retired. In 1866, Prtizlaff bought out Nazro. Annual sales of $12,000 grew to hundreds of thousands under Prtizlaff, considered to be unusually honest for a businessman of such stature at that time.

It was said that Pritzlaff “enjoyed universal respect wherever he was known,” according to a story in the Weekly Wisconsin newspaper that was published immediately after his death. He was also “always on hand to contribute to enterprises of public usefulness.”

He was also said to be a zealous Lutheran. He was one of the founders of the Evangelical Lutheran Trinity Congregation in Milwaukee and donated land for a new church to be built at 9th Street and Highland Avenue in Milwaukee. The church is still located there today.

Pritzlaff married while he was still employed by Shepardson & Farwell. His wife, Sophia, preceded him in death by six years. The couple had eight children. One of his children, Elizabeth, married John C. Koch, a vice president at Pritzlaff Hardware who would go on to become mayor of Milwaukee. His younger brother, Henry, is one of Art Schumacher’s grandfathers.

The Pritzlaff Hardware Co. stayed in the family until 1958, when it was sold for $1.7 million.

 

‘Blackridge’ screenplay update

I’ve set aside my bowl full of cherries and my block of orange rind Muenster cheese to update you a little on the progress of my first screenplay. But don’t worry; the Torpedo Juice brand root beer obtained directly from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, is nearby in case I get parched.

Many of you know that I decided to write a screenplay adaptation of my book, “Murder in Wauwatosa: The Mysterious Death of Buddy Schumacher,” the true story of the 1925 disappearance of an 8-year-old boy suburban Milwaukee boy and the subsequent search for his killer.

Going into this process, I knew I’d have to make a number of changes going from book to big screen. My brother, Andy Hoffman, who works for a production company in Chicago and who has a degree in such things cinematic, suggested I look into reading the late Syd Field‘s book “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting,” which is a step-by-step guide for writing sceenplays, from concept to finished script.Syd Screenplay book004

Another of Field’s advocates is director/writer/producer Bill Dever, a Franklin, Indiana, resident who graciously allowed me to bang my head against a wall for his movie “Resurrection,” to be released in October. Bill studied under Syd.

Armed with the advice in Syd’s book, along with the knowledge of the basic story already, I have begun piecing together the basics of my screenplay. I haven’t really written too much of the screenplay itself, although I did paste the text of my book into a Celtx file. That software helps format your sceenplay to Hollywood specs.

As I read the book, I take Syd’s advice and apply it to my situation. Here is some of the advice Syd gives, as well as how I’ve tentatively applied it to my screenplay, which I’m tentatively calling “Blackridge,” which was the name of the swimming hole little Buddy and his pals were headed for when he disappeared:

What is your movie about?

It’s about a person (Art Schumacher, Buddy’s father) in a place (Wauwatosa, Wisconsin) at a time (mostly 1925).

What is your main character doing? 

He’s trying to keep his own sanity as well as keeping his family from falling apart after the disappearance of his son and later the revelation of the boy’s murder.

What kind of story is it?

It’s a story about the relationships between a father and his family and his community and how those relationships can change when tragedy strikes.

The screenplay will consist of three acts, the first of which will be about 20-30 pages/minutes long followed by Plot Point 1, which is an event that changes the direction of the film. The second act will last about 60 pages/minutes, terminating with Plot Point 2. The final act will be 20-30 pages/minutes.

Act I (Set-up): We’ll be establishing Art’s character … who he is; what he’s like at church, home, work and in the community; how he reacts to certain situations; his relationship to some of the other characters, etc. We’ll also be introducing some of the other main characters.

Plot Point 1: Buddy disappears. The story is set in motion at this point.

Act II (Confrontation): Art begins his quest to find his boy. His desire to stay calm for himself and his family is challenged by nightmares, some of the newspaper reporters who hound his family, rumors flying around town, eye witnesses changing their stories, etc.

Plot Point 2: Someone confesses to the murder.

Act III (Resolution): Here is what happens to everybody, whether Art is successful or not in his quest. I won’t spill the beans on this, but I know what happens (in general, specifics yet to be determined).

I know I have a lot more work to be done. I’ll be doing even more research on the 1920s, Milwaukee and Wauwatosa than I did for the book. I’ve already looked heavily at some of the events and issues that shaped society back then, especially in that area, things like mental health care, media coverage, homelessness, Prohibition, etc. But there is so much more to know when trying to show a story in pictures than in words.

I’ve also spelled out on paper a lot of things that have just been rolling around in the back of my mind. These include jotting down the dramatic need of each major character… what do they want … and the conflicts that crop up that could prevent them from getting it.

Syd’s book is fascinating, with several examples from Hollywood movies that many of us have seen to help illustrate his points. I have started watching for certain things in movies I watch.

I’ve got quite a long way to go. But I should be able to stay on track and get through the outline phase before too long and get going on putting an actual screenplay together.

OK, back to the Muenster.

‘This is the way I like to see social history presented’

Here are some excerpts from a pair of emails I received today from Nancy Cavanaugh, a resident of Wauwatosa, a reader of “Murder in Wauwatosa: The Mysterious Death of Buddy Schumacher” (she is also the author of a book on boomers and social media and has two degrees in history):Nancy Cavanaugh

   “Just finished reading your book for the third time. The 89th anniversary of the murder has just occurred, and what happened is even more realistic to me because I live within walking distance of most of the locations described in your book.

   “Great research! You not only explain events, but put them into the context of the crime/investigation. I have two degrees in history from UW-Milwaukee, and this is the way I like to see social history presented.

   “It’s interesting to see how a horrible event like a local murder forces change. Today, the village area is full of beautiful parks and the area around the Hoyt Park swimming pool has been maintained very well. No one could possibly know what happened when the area was once more rural.  

   “The Little Read Book down in the village had your book in the front window for months. That’s what attracted me to it in the first place and it was worth every penny!  

    “As you can tell, I love to read books related to history and yours is one of the top ten best I’ve ever read.”

 — Nancy Cavanaugh

Author of “The Boomer’s Guide to Social Media Success: Harnessing Your Inner Expert to Promote Your Business” Buy at The Little Red Book or online at: http://www.boomersocialmediabook.com

Thanks, Bay View Book Club!

I’d like to to thank the Bay View Library Book Club for choosing “Murder in Wauwatosa: The Mysterious Death of Buddy Schumacher” as its book of choice to discuss at its Feb. 19, 2014 meeting at Bay View Library.

The Bay View branch of the Milwaukee Public Library.

The Bay View branch of the Milwaukee Public Library.

The Bay View Library Book Club meets the third Wednesday of each month from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Frequently, the members choose stories that are historical and appeal to local interest. Books are held in advance for participants at the circulation desk at Bay View Library. New members are welcome! The library is a branch of the Milwaukee Public Library, the downtown branch of which I used for hours and hours of research.

Bay View is a section of Milwaukee south of downtown along the shores of Lake Michigan.

Let’s make this book into a movie!

Gallery

Since “Murder in Wauwatosa” was published, I’ve debated what direction to go. While still promoting that book with various speaking engagements and book signings, I started on another book … a fiction book aimed at kids ages 10-14 or so … Continue reading

I have a Bacon number! But no Erdős number.

Gallery

This gallery contains 4 photos.

My brother, Doug Hoffman, informs me that, like every actor, I am now within Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Actually, he informs me that my Bacon number is a mere TWO! “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” is a parlor game based on the “six … Continue reading

An evening with the Central Indiana Writers Association

Gallery

Thanks to all the great folks at the Central Indiana Writers Association for inviting me to serve as a guest speaker Monday night, June 16. I’d especially like to thank Robin Waldron for suggesting to the group that I was … Continue reading

My motion picture acting debut

Gallery

This gallery contains 1 photo.

Twenty-four hours after performing in what promises to be first appearance in a real motion picture – unlike the Super 8 movies that Dad made of us during Christmas and birthdays in my youth – the headache has finally subsided, … Continue reading