Opinion Matters

With Gazette Opinion Editor Greg Peck

Speeches set about “Death Beyond the Willows”

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Greg Peck
Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The newly revised edition of my nonfiction book, “Death Beyond the Willows,” debuted in December, but it has taken a few months to arrange speaking engagements. Those are coming together. I have one set for each of the next three months, starting next week Friday in Beloit.

I'll be speaking about and signing copies of my book at 9 a.m. Friday, April 25, at Grinnell Hall, 631 Bluff St., Beloit. My talk at this senior center is open to the public.

Here's a brief recap of this book of rural history: In 1927, Johnny Pirkl, a handsome young farmer from a large family in my hometown of Marshall, proposed to Hazel Ferguson, only child to a farm family from nearby Cottage Grove. Her parents objected because Johnny was Catholic and Hazel was not. What followed this clash of religions was a shocking wedding-night tragedy in Portage that made national news and left both families grieving for decades. During my years of research, I discovered several twists tied to this clash over faith that helped carry the story to a conclusion.

My book debuted in 2005, and I re-edited this edition and added updates and fresh graphics, including a new cover designed by Gazette colleague Tony DiNicola. An Afterword tells how the book inspired bus tours of key sites and of stunning coincidental stories that emerged and brought this rich history full circle.

On Saturday, May 3, I'll be at the first-ever Authors Showcase organized by the Wisconsin Writers Association at the Days Inn Conference Center, French Island, in La Crosse. I'm a member of the association's board of directors, and we're lining up a growing number of writers from Wisconsin, Minnesota and across the northern Midwest.

Our nonprofit association, the longest-serving volunteer organization for writers in the state, is hosting this Authors Showcase as the focal point of our two-day spring conference. The showcase is open to the public without charge from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. that Saturday.

The Authors Showcase is a chance for writers to meet the book-buying public. Individual display space can be reserved for a modest $20, and authors can sign up for time on our open microphone schedule. I plan to do that and will explain my arduous route to initial publication and then republication.

To register, go to the WWA website and click on Conferences in the menu, then Spring Conference. Display space is limited. Contact Dave Rank, WWA president, pres@wiwrite.org, for more information.

At 10 a.m. Saturday, June 28, I'll be back in my hometown, the village of Marshall in Dane County, to speak about my book at the Marshall Public Library. My appearance is being organized by the Marshall Area Historical Society. That's fitting because this is the community where the vast majority of the story behind “Death Beyond the Willows” unfolded. Given that this will be my third speech about the book in Marshall, I've crafted a talk, titled “Tales from the Archives of 'Death Beyond the Willows.'” I will present more rich, rural history, true stories that did not make it into my book. Some will be funny, some will be sad—much like the stories in my book.

I hope some of you can join me at one or more of these three events. Each talk will be quite different, tailored to each particular audience.

“Death Beyond the Willows” sells for $16.95. Signed copies are available at Book World in Janesville. You can order it at amazon.com. Feel free to contact me at The Gazette if you're interested in buying a copy with a personalized signature.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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