Of The Poison Lady, the Beatles and rascally raccoons

I had the pleasure and honor to be a featured presenter at the 9th Annual Sterling North Book & Film Festival in Edgerton, Wisconsin, on Sept. 27.

Not only was it great to be able to present Buddy Schumacher’s story to the public during two presentations I made that day, but the weekend also presented an opportunity for me to talk with fellow authors and film makers.

I wanted to tell you a little about some of my fellow authors, some of whom presented at the festival and some of whom attended and sold books.

Before we arrived in Edgerton, festival organizers sent all of us contact information for our fellow presenters. Deborah Blum was the first author from the event that I friended on

Deborah Blum
Deborah Blum

Facebook. A Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist, author and professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin, Deb’s most recent book is “The Poisoner’s Handbook.” I didn’t find out until I got to Edgerton the night before the event that this New York Times paperback best-seller had become a PBS documentary that I had seen about six months previous.

I do have to mention what the New York Times said about “The Poinsoner’s Handbook:” “The Poisoner’s Handbook is an inventive history that, like arsenic mixed into blackberry pie, goes down with ease.”

Since her book centers on some of the same research I had looked into in my book, “Murder in Wauwatosa: The Mysterious Death of Buddy Schumacher,” and centered on some of the same time period as my book, I was very interested in talking to her.

My wife and I were able to spend some time with her both Friday night at the authors reception as well as during the festival on Saturday. She sat in on one of my presentations, and we traded books.

I think I also unintentionally gave her a new nickname. After we were all introduced at the authors reception, we were invited to give a few remarks. Deb spoke, discussing these day’s most popular poison, among other things. She said that one of the best antidotes was alcohol … the kind you drink.

When I stood up to speak a little bit, I said “I don’t know what it says about me that the first author from this event that I friended on Facebook was The Poison Lady, I am sitting at the same table as The Poison Lady and I sat my wife between me and The Poison Lady.” I also mentioned that my wife was in more danger since she had not had anything to drink, but I felt safe having had a few glasses of Champagne.

I actually went on to say something seriously germane to a book and film event, and my wife said I did a great job. One of my points was that authors should write what they are passionate about, but as readers, we should keep our minds open to various genres and “read outside of the box” once in a while.

Jim Berkenstadt
Jim Berkenstadt

One of the next authors to speak was Jim Berkenstadt, a lawyer by trade who managed to get jobs with both the The Beatles and the Chicago Cubs and wrote a book called “The Beatle Who Vanished” about Jimmy Nicol, a drummer who subbed for Ringo Starr when the Beatles went on a world tour early in their career. Being fan of both sports and music, I enjoyed swapping stories with Jim. He also called Deb Blum “The Poison Lady” during his spiel.

Doug Welch is another sports enthusiast/author I met at the Sterling North festival. He wrote “The Ashippun Trap: A Novel of Baseball and the Milwaukee Braves’ Final Season.” Doug is involved with the Rock River League, a baseball organization from which I used to take phone calls when I worked in

Doug Welch
Doug Welch

the Milwaukee Sentinel sports department in the late 1980s. The commissioner at the time, Elmer Marks, would call in with the results from the games that night. I still have an affinity for the Hustisford Astros to this day, even though I never saw the team play. Doug is also involved with the Milton College reunion committee. The college ceased to exist many years ago, but anyone who ever watched a Seattle Seahawks football game back in the 1980s will have most likely heard the announcer at one point in the game mention that Seahawks quarterback Dave Krieg was “from tiny
Milton College in Milton, Wisconsin.”

Another author I met has invited me to give a seminar at her writers workshop in

Kathie Giorgio
Kathie Giorgio

Waukesha, Wisconsin, next year. Kathie Giorgio, whose first novel, “The Home for Wayward Clocks,” was nominated for a Paterson Fiction Prize, asked me to talk “about nonfiction, or how to cross nonfiction over into fiction, or something like that which reflects the genre of your book.” So, I’ll be doing something like that on July 18, 2015, at the AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop.

Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden, a husband/wife mystery writing team, shared a table with me in the Edgerton High School gym, where we sold and signed our books.One of their books, “The Body in Bodega Bay,” is based in the same city that Hitchcock’s “Birds” was based. They are both professor emeriti of English at the University of Wisconsin and very nice people.

I was able to meet a couple of the film guys that were invited to the festival, too.Since I’m in the process of writing a screenplay based on my book, I was eager to get some insight into the film industry.

Mark Winter actually lives in Wauwatosa about three blocks from where Buddy Schumacher lived at the time of his disappearance in 1925. He stopped me in the hallway at the high school to tell me he was very interested in what happened to Buddy since he lived so close. Mark entered film school at the age of 46 and has now produced, directed, written or done cinematography for several films.

Alex Falk, another film guy, is the arch-enemy of CGI (computer-generated imagery). He does makeup and prop fabrication for sci fi movies. I was only able to chit chat for a short time about his craft while gnashing on some scrambled eggs and an English muffin.

I was thrilled to meet Arielle North Olson, daughter of the man for whom the event was named. Arielle, an internationally known children’s author in her own right, sat in on one of my presentations and seemed to enjoy it, or at least that’s what she told me.

One author who was at the festival but whom I didn’t get a change to meet was David

David Wiesner
David Wiesner

Wiesner, the 2014 recipient of the Sterling North Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature. David is a fantastic picture book creator, who has had three of his books win Caldecott Medals. He’s only the second person to win this award three times. The Philadelphia-area resident is a fantastic illustrator who tells children stories through facial expressions and body language.Kids need to learn those communication skills, too.

Among the authors who did not give presentations, I met two ladies who have done quite a bit of writing., In fact, one of them, Sherry Derr-Wille of Janesville, Wisconsin, has had 73 books published in the past 10 years. Wow! She describes some as “nice” and some as “naughty.”

Pamela Quinlan has a children’s series called The Spring Pond series, which tell stories about animals. The central character, Herman the Turtle, actually belonged to Quinlan’s son.

I wish I could have talked to all the authors.Everyone has such interesting stories about where they get their inspiration, how they got to be authors, what inspires them, and where they go from here.

Before I conclude, I do need to mention a little about Sterling North’s Rascal raccoon character that was made into a Disney movie with Bill Mumy, best known as Will Robinson in the “Lost in Space” TV series playing Sterling North. Rascal became an animated series in Japan, and the character became so popular that Rascal stories popped up, and children became so enamored of the animal that they begged their parents to get them a pet raccoon. As it turns out, baby raccoons make good pets, but adults do not. A lot of these imported raccoons were let go when they stopped being cute and cuddly and kid friendly, creating a nuisance in Japan. Read more here.

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