WNIJ Read With Me

WNIJ's "Read With Me" archive collects dozens of interviews with authors from the WNIJ area -- northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.

On the third Monday of each month, Morning Edition host Dan Klefstad talks with an author about their latest book, and asks them to read an excerpt. Many of the interviews below feature an additional excerpt reading captured on video.

We hope you take the time to read the books featured here. And if you talk about them on social media, please use #WNIJReadWithMe.

Amy Newman's latest collection of poetry imagines scenes in the lives of seven poets who emerged in the mid-20th Century: Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Theodore Roethke, Delmore Schwartz and Anne Sexton.

Many critics identify these poets as writing in the Confessional style, often in the first person and including then-taboo subjects such as sexual abuse and mental illness.

How important is verbal communication between strangers? Can two people bond using only non-verbal cues?

Author Maria Boynton explores this theme in her novel, Ruthlessly Aadi, a Read With Me book selection for this summer.

When the FBI enters your life, they are not to be trusted.

This is Michelle Monelle's advice to the reader as she revisits her past during a series of interviews with two agents. Monelle is the protagonist of GK Wuori's latest novel, HoneyLee's Girl.

The book is the second of five selections for this summer's Read With Me Book Series.

A motorcycle crashes into a car on U.S. 20. A reporter investigates a town where every child appears to be a truant. And an aide to the governor pushes a bill to outlaw "unschooling."

These are the main plot lines in Kristin Oakley's novel, Carpe Diem, Illinois. The book starts our Read With Me Book Series for this summer. Before we go further, we should explain unschooling.

Memory and desire are common themes in Joe Gastiger's prose poems. In his latest collection, If You So Desire, he uses historically famous people to illustrate these themes as well as ordinary people in the news.

Two writers meet in a bar called The Jesuit in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The older one is struggling to finish the final book in his contract. The younger one hopes to repeat his one publishing success.

They only met the day before; but the older man, Nigel Moon, proposes a deal:

"What Moon would like the other writer to do is ghost-write this final book for him," says Craig Hart, author of the novel Becoming Moon, our first Winter Book Series selection for this season.

Florencia Mallon wrote several books and articles about the events preceding Chile's 1973 military coup and the subsequent dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. These were intended for her colleagues in the field of Latin American history.

"He will be unshaven, wear a battered borsalino, and nod a greeting to me, smiling slyly."

This is how poet John Bradley describes his character, Roberto Zingarello, a fictional poet writing about his native Italy under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini.

In 2000, dozens of U.S. Navy veterans arrived on the Greek island of Crete to restore a former American warship and sail it home. All were volunteers. Several served during World War II.

Their average age: 72.

One of the younger vets (at 61) was Robert Jornlin, who recounts the story in Bringing Back a Hero, a Summer Book Series selection for 2015.

The title, Annabelle and the Sandhog, introduces two of the book's main characters, so let's take them in order:

Annabelle is a nursing-home aide who befriends the sandhog, in the novel and in real life. We'll learn more about her in a bit.

"Sandhog" is American slang for a person who works underground at an urban construction site.

The sandhog in this story is John O'Malley, modeled after author Ray Paul's grandfather, who made a career of blasting bedrock to carve the foundations of tall buildings in the early 20th Century.

When you write a novel, how much of your life experience do you give to your characters? And how much of that experience do you fictionalize?

This question came up during two panel discussions with WNIJ Book Series authors last week. One panelist, Katie Andraski, described how she transferred her experience as a publicist to her protagonist in The River Caught Sunlight.

The latest book in our 2015 Winter Book Series is a novel set during a time when evangelical authors and publishers pushed for wider recognition of books with a Christian perspective.

If you saw Ron Modell leading Northern Illinois University's Jazz Ensemble, you'll recognize the title of his memoir, Loved Bein' Here With You.

If you haven't, here's the story behind the title:

Early in his career at NIU, Modell invited trombonist Phil Wilson to perform with the ensemble. In between rehearsal sessions, Wilson heard Modell singing Peggy Lee's tune, "I Love Being Here With You," and bet $10 that Modell wouldn't have the nerve to sing it on stage:

This Autumn, WNIJ again invites northern Illinois authors to read, and discuss, their stories. Recently, a trio of writers published shorter works that add to the growing body of quality literature from this area. To showcase these quick reads, we created our first-ever "Fall Book Bites" series. We'll welcome back Susan Azar Porterfield and Molly McNett during the next two days. Today, we'll meet G.K. Wuori, author of Infidelity, a novella.

"This is the story of a retired high school Latin teacher who murders her son-in-law."

That's what Robert Hellenga wanted on the cover of his latest novel, The Confessions of Frances Godwin.

"I felt it was necessary to give some oomph to the story," Hellenga explains. "Otherwise, the memoir of a retired Latin teacher doesn't sound too exciting."

In less than a week, Barrie Jean Borich won two big awards this spring for her latest book, Body Geographic.

On May 28, her memoir tied for a gold medal at the Independent Publisher Book Awards, or IPPYs. Then on June 2 it won a LAMMY, or Lambda Literary Award, which recognizes LGBT authors.

Dan Klefstad

Joseph Gastiger writes prose poems, a hybrid form that reads like fiction but uses poetic imagery. He prefers writing this type for two reasons.

"I found it made certain stories in my life more available," he says, "rather than break whatever it was I was trying to say into lines."

In an interview with WNIJ, Gastiger said the form allowed his sentences to flow more easily, and led to more surprises. The other reason:

Gary Lawrence is a Rockford native who uses familiar sights and people in his fiction. In Baffled and Other Stories, Lawrence takes us to the "On the Waterfront" and "Summerfest" music festivals.

One of his characters works for an aerospace firm named "Sundstrom" (a nod to his former employer Sundstrand). And two stories are set in Rockford's West High School, now West Middle School, during the early 1970s. 

"Noctambulous" means of, pertaining to, or given to sleepwalking, according to Dictionary.com. It is also the first poem in a new collection by Ricardo Mario Amézquita:

Solid ground                        floating on sea

not lost                                  iceberg belief

isolated                                 suspended

to reoccur                            cyclic amnesia

From myself                         in vacuum

the picture of a flame/ reaching home

In the 1850s, Henry David Thoreau spent two years at a cabin in the woods near Concord, Mass. The cabin, at Walden Pond, is where he wrote his most famous work, Walden; or, Life in the Woods. In it, he writes:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately ... to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life ... to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

In the late 14th Century, poet Geoffrey Chaucer mined Greek mythology to retell the story of two lovers from ancient Troy. His book, Troilus and Criseyde, is considered by scholars to be his best work.

You'll find a synopsis below, but the first thing you should know is this: On his deathbed, Chaucer renounced the poem.

Sunny is a woman just released from prison for attempting to kill her husband, a snake-handling preacher. Jackson is an anthropologist who falls in love with Sunny, but then joins her estranged husband to research religious snake handling.

This is the basic premise of Snakewoman of Little Egypt, a novel by Robert Hellenga.

Dan Klefstad

Poet Susan Azar Porterfield remembers meeting a Syrian family in Beirut. She was visiting Lebanon during a period of peace, in 2003.

The Syrians were brand new parents and allowed Porterfield to hold their infant.

"They were very sweet," she says. "And the baby was adorable."

She doesn't know where the family is today; they were from Aleppo, the site of intense fighting between government troops and rebels.

Rock 'n roll author Joe Bonomo has written books about AC/DC, Jerry Lee Lewis and The Fleshtones. His latest book, however, is a collection of essays about his childhood in Wheaton, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.

"If you're from a small town," Chris Fink says, "one of the things that's required of you is that you have an opinion about that town."

Fink's debut novel, Farmer's Almanac, is full of characters who criticize or defend the Wisconsin villages of Bergamot Pond and Shady Valley -- fictional communities that struggle with the very real challenge of low milk prices.

A picture may be worth a thousand words. But how many of us write down the words inspired by an iconic photograph, such as this one of Billy the Kid?

NIU poet John Bradley is familiar with this photo, the only authenticated image of the Wild West outlaw.

"I've studied that many times," Bradley said. "I think it's just one of the things a writer needs to feed the imagination."

450 miles. That's the distance Marnie Mamminga's family traveled every summer from suburban Chicago to their cabin in northwest Wisconsin.

Mamminga recalls the cabin, and the long journey it took to get there, in her latest book Return to Wake Robin: One Cabin in the Heyday of Northwoods Resorts.

In the 1950s, America's Interstate highways weren't completed, so Illinois families headed "Up North" drove rural roads for much of the trip.

Most of us don't think about computers and robots as conscious beings. NIU professor David J. Gunkel thinks we should, because the consequences of not doing so could be catastrophic.

The world of fiction provides many examples of hostile interactions between humans and artificially intelligent beings, or AIs. One of Gunkel's favorites is the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially the scene where astronaut David Bowman is locked outside the spaceship Discovery. The brain of the spacecraft, HAL, refuses to let him in:

Kibbe is a new book of poems by Susan Azar Porterfield, but it's also a traditional Arabic dish made of ground meat, bulgar, onions and spices. For Porterfield, of DeKalb, the dish recalls memories of her childhood in Chicago.

"My father was Lebanese," she says, "so he missed the food of his homeland. And he would make kibbe and we loved it, we grew up on it."

Cris Mazza's new novel, Various Men Who Knew Us as Girls, blends a true story of unrequited love with a fictional attempt by Mazza's alter ego, Hester Smith, to rescue a 14-year-old prostitute.

The first part is drawn from Mazza's experience. The second part is her attempt to explore — as one reviewer put it — the continuum from flirtation to abuse. The story is intricate, so let's begin with a synopsis:

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