One quirky thing
about Milwaukee, says Matt Flynn, author of "Pryme Knumber: A
Novel about Taking a Stand," is that its inhabitants are so
self-deprecating that outsiders think they can just waltz in and push
us around. But as operatives from the federal government and Yale
academics discover during the course of Flynn’s story, we’re not a
bunch of rubes.
In the opening
pages of the book, the uncle of Bernie Weber, a Riverside High School
math phenom loosely based on Flynn’s nephew, points out more of the
city’s endearing idiosyncrasies — suffice it to say that if you’ve
lived here for any length of time, you’ll laugh out loud.
The plot of
Flynn’s "good-natured satire" stems from Bernie Weber’s
ability to factor prime numbers in his head. Could he become the world’s
best code-breaker? Washington elites are sure of it, so they turn up
in Milwaukee determined to kidnap Weber and use his gift for their own
purposes. Milwaukeeans dare them to try.
very much a David and Goliath theme," Flynn explains. It’s
UW-Milwaukee vs. Yale, Midwest city vs. the nation’s capital.
book, Milwaukeeans will recognize characters that exhibit some of the
same eccentricities as local politicians. "Mayors, aldermen,
county supervisors, they’re all in there," Flynn says.
accident, though the author insists all are composite characters.
Flynn is the former chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin,
co-chaired Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign in the state in
2004, ran for Congress and worked on Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton’s presidential bid in 2008.
moved to Milwaukee from the East Coast when he was 15, and his father
chaired the Spanish Department at UW-Milwaukee. "He always
encouraged my writing. He and my mom didn’t buy a television set ‘til
I was out of college, so we read and we wrote and I enjoyed it,"
Flynn writes a
fast-paced tale, using a style, he says, he has honed in his 35 years
as a litigator for local law firm Quarles & Brady. "I wrote
it like a reply brief," Flynn says. "A reply brief has to be
usually very short, very to the point, without much buildup at
Flynn and his
wife, Mary, live on Milwaukee’s East Side and are enthusiastic fans
of the city’s cultural life. He has served on the board of the
Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, as president of the Skylight Music
Theatre and the now-defunct Milwaukee Shakespeare. The city’s iconic
and not-so-well-known landmarks turn up in the story, but its people
steal the show.
a lot to Milwaukee, a lot of integrity, a lot of humanity," says
Flynn. "You can present a great deal of life just by describing a
locality. Milwaukee deserves to be described."
debut novel "Ash Wednesday" may make some clergy hot
under the collar, but so far, his parishioners at Lincoln Park
Lutheran Church in Glendale have been able to draw a distinction
between his life as a writer and his role as pastor.
seven nonfiction works on spiritual topics with his wife, Rochelle
Melander, Eppley began to write a short story about a pastor who
discovers some unsavory secrets about his beloved predecessor. The
colorful characters he added to the story started to "take on
lives of their own," he says, and soon he realized that he was
actually writing a novel. "I did not set out to write a humorous
or irreverent book. I do find that a number of popular novels portray
religious professionals in an idealistic manner," he says.
"Pastors are people too, and I know from experience that most of
them are no holier than anyone else, no matter what they would like
you to think.
people that my novel is no more sexually explicit than some of the
stories that appear in the Bible, and that both my novel and the Bible
are ultimately about grace and forgiveness."
Eppley says he
was pleased to see 15 of his parishioners at his book signing at
Boswell Books, and if they hate "Ash Wednesday," they haven’t
said so: "The novel does not seem to have changed the respect my
parishioners have for me, or my office, though I have noticed that the
atmosphere at church events has taken on a lighter tone lately."
About 70 percent
of Milwaukee native Tom Wascoe’s novel "Backseat"
is fiction, he says, but about 30 percent of the on-the-road story is
real. The true portion of the tale is based on his adventures
hitchhiking from UW-Oshkosh to California, Pa., as part of a
at 57 as senior VP of human resources for Abbott Laboratories, a job
that took him to more than 60 countries. He now spends several hours
each day pursuing his love of writing. "Backseat" is his
debut novel and it took him nearly five years to complete.
The story is set
in 1969 and Michael, the protagonist, is not having a stellar freshman
year at college, so he takes to the road, hitchhiking Wascoe’s
1,600-mile route in just three snowy days.
that trip, Michael learns a lot about himself and makes some changes
in himself," Wascoe says. "It’s kind of a life-defining,
coming-of-age story. The way he changes is unexpected at the
veteran, Wascoe is currently working on "Child of the Dust,"
a novel inspired by the experience of a fellow GI who was forced to
leave his Vietnamese girlfriend and their baby behind when he returned
from the war.