Monthly Archives: October 2006

BOOK BEAT 15 – James W. Bennett

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   October 25-31, 2006

by Philip K. Jason

After earning his B.A. from Illinois Wesleyan University and his M.A. from Illinois State (specializing in English Literature), James W. Bennett taught in junior colleges for twelve years. He then went on to manage East Bay Camp in Lake Bloomington, Illinois for eight years. Next, Bennett spent twelve years doing planning work for the Bloomington school district. During this part of his working life, Bennett developed a special knack for getting into the heads of teenagers. How else could he have fashioned his highly acclaimed books for young adults?

Bennett tackles difficult topics, and many of his titles are just as useful to adults as to the young adult readers he most often has in mind. His first book, A Quiet Desperation, explores depression, while I Can Hear the Mourning Dove – named a top book for young adults by both Publishers Weekly and the American Library Association – is an engaging novel that helps readers understand and cope with mental illness. Bennett received similar kudos for Dakota Dream, a coming of age novel that involves its protagonist in Native American traditions as it underscores how difficult and painful a young man’s search for identity can be.

Several of Bennett’s best-known books have a sports motif. These include The Squared Circle (one of Bennett’s favorites) and Blue Star Rapture, about basketball, and several baseball stories including The Flex of the Thumb, Old Hoss, and Plunking Reggie Jackson. The popular and critical success of these books has established James W. Bennett as the foremost writer of sports fiction for young adults. In each, sports is the hook – decision making and self-mastery are the fundamental themes.

Faith Wish is one of Bennett’s edgier books. It takes up the issue of religious cults and predatory false prophets. By touching on many taboos and not wrapping everything up in a sweet resolution, Bennett sacrifices feel-good for the tough love of realistic insights. Faith Wish received a stellar review in VOYA – the Voice of Youth Advocates library journal.

Bennett’s most recent titles are Harvey Porter Does Dallas and How the Bible Was Built. The former is a whimsical satire that takes advantage of and spoofs the Harry Potter craze. The latter was co-written (originally drafted) by the late United Methodist Minister Charles Merrill Smith, who died in 1985. Discovered after Smith’s death, the original manuscript was expanded and reworked for a broader audience by Bennett, who was a friend of Smith’s for many years. It is a popularization for general readers of the scholarship that explores the motivations, inspirations, collecting, writing, and organizing of holy scripture. One center of interest is the process by which “biblical” writings became rejected or accepted as canonical in both the Old and New Testament.

The impact of Bennett’s writings on young adults is considerable. Many of his titles are required or recommended reading in junior high schools, high schools, and community colleges, and many young people first become serious, engaged readers upon discovering a Bennett novel.

When I asked him how and why he became dedicated to writing books for young adults, Bennett said that it was quite accidental. He had never set out to write specifically for this audience; in fact, he was unaware that there was such a thing as the young adult (YA) market. But he did choose to center his novels on teenage protagonists. Editors and marketing specialists more or less turned him into a young adult author simply by pressing him into that category. Ironically, in some libraries, Bennett’s works, promoted and purchased as young adult titles, are reclassified and shelved in the adult fiction section!

For writers trying to break into print, Bennett insists that knowing and understanding the market – or markets – is essential, as the lines between market categories have become almost impenetrable walls. One must conceive of and prepare and propose one’s work with firm knowledge of where it fits into the market-driven publishing world.

James Bennett and his wife Judith relocated to Naples in 2004 when Mrs. Bennett, a psychiatric nurse, found a position at the David Lawrence Center. A free-lance writer can live anywhere and keep writing. Besides doing just that, Bennett has been tutoring in English skills at Lely High School. This year, he is working with gifted seniors participating in the Laureate Program, a high-powered set of challenges geared toward preparing students for acceptance and success in the top-ranked universities.  

Bennett has done hundreds of guest author appearances and workshops at secondary schools from coast to coast, and he continues to be available for such engagements. Readers can find out more about this exciting author and speaker at

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy. A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at

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BOOK BEAT 14 – Millie Clarkson

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   October 11-17, 2006

by Philip K. Jason

In February of 2005, Millie Clarkson attended the Naples Press Club’s Authors & Books Festival. Not only did she enjoy meeting agents, authors, and publishers and participating in Writers’ Conference workshops – but she also made the connection that led to the publication of her new book, Edna Hibel: An Artist’s Story of Love and Compassion. Jan Fehrman was on a panel representing Pelican Publishing, and when Clarkson asked if Pelican might be interested in her book proposal, Fehrman encouraged her to provide more information, which she did. “Meeting in person like that is what I think resulted in my big break.” Clarkson also made many good friends there: “The very best thing . . . was meeting other aspiring authors.”

Dubuque-born Millie Clarkson had a great Midwestern childhood filled with love, good family, sports, and religion. Marrying quite young, by twenty-one she had three children and a husband who suffered from mental problems. His condition deteriorated when the family moved to Elgin, Illinois, and as Clarkson approached thirty, she realized that she’d have to be the breadwinner while staying at home to watch over her children. Not having a college education, she drew upon her high school hobby and opened a ceramic studio in her basement. She sold her own work and gave lessons.

Following her divorce, Clarkson took the opportunity to sell her ceramics at a Santa’s Village in nearby Dundee, where she developed a prosperous business that employed fourteen young girls. She worked off-season as a painter, decorator, and publicity assistant. Then Clarkson learned to teach ice skating at the Polar Ice Rink that was part of Santa’s Village. Moving her family to Rowayton, Connecticut, in the early seventies, Clarkson taught at the Darien Ice Rink, eventually directing the skating school and became assistant manager of the facility.

Proximity to the writer-rich town of Westport inspired Clarkson to try yet another career – that of author. This ambition, and the desire to keep growing, led her to enroll in Norwalk Community College, attending classes before and after work.

Still in self-improvement mode, Clarkson started jogging, and she soon entered nearby races. On her fortieth birthday, she completed the New York Marathon. She became friends with sports legend Jim Fixx, author of The Complete Book of Running, who taught her the importance of being the first to publish within an area of expertise. At that time triathlons were in their infancy. Disregarding her fear of the swimming and biking components, she entered a triathlon. Clarkson was determined to become a published author, and her triathlon training was a step toward entering an Ironman competition and then writing about it.  

Clarkson received quite a bit of publicity after her first Ironman in 1982. Norelco Consumer Products Division, located in Stamford, gave her a four-month trial sponsorship the week before she went to Hawaii for a second Ironman, sending her off with sportswear embossed with the Norelco logo to promote Norleco’s healthcare products.

ABC Sports covered the event and highlighted participants with problems like cancer and diabetes. Clarkson was chosen to represent the older divorced woman. She finished the race, which was plagued by extreme wind and by a woman who had scattered nails over the course the night before the race. One minute before the midnight deadline, with the camera crews filming the last few hours, Clarkson finished the race.

She received a lot of human-interest publicity for Norelco, who had hired her for a national tour giving speeches, interviews and appearing on radio and television talk shows along with participating in marathons, triathlons and races in the cities she visited.

This experience and exposure led to her first book.  Low- Stress Fitness was published in 1985, and Norelco financed a national book tour. Clarkson’s job was to get in a plug for Norelco healthcare products and keep wearing clothes with Norelco’s logo. 

After ten years of grandmothering, decorating, cooking, and gardening, Clarkson got antsy again and enrolled at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas,  receiving an “Older Adults Specialty Certificate” and a Physical Fitness Specialist (Personal Trainer) Certification. She worked at Fiddlers Creek for four years, as well as several other fitness clubs in Naples, teaching Pilates, Tai Chi and Yoga.

Did I say Naples? While visiting her parents in Naples in 1986, Clarkson met a gentleman named Jim, whom she would marry soon after. It was love on the Naples tennis courts. They built homes in Naples as well as on Lake Muskoka in Ontario and now split the year between these two homes, spending October to May in Naples.

2001 found Clarkson working on her second book, Low-Stress Family Fitness. She spent the whole summer trying to obtain an agent. A few show some interest, but when 9/11 came, Clarkson rethought her priorities.  She decided to spend more time with her children and grandchildren, and she put writing aside.

Millie Clarkson first met Edna Hibel at the Gift Tree, an upscale, classy shop in Naples that was one of the premier outlets for Hibel’s art. After learning more about Hibel, she decided to invest in Hibel’s art, which she had first encountered some forty years earlier when all she could afford was a box of Hibel-designed note cards. As Clarkson began walking the beach the next day, she thought about writing a magazine article on Edna Hibel. By the end of the four-mile walk, the idea had become a book.

Clarkson then negotiated an agreement with Edna Hibel and her husband and family.  Clarkson was charged with doing the writing and find a good publisher and the others with providing the artwork. At some point, Edna and her husband desired to become co-authors. This was an added thrill for Clarkson, who collected Hibel quotes from the masses of research material they provided her in order to craft the Hibel sections. Theodore Plotkin, Hibel’s husband, made his own contribution, as did their son Andy.

On many occasions, Clarkson scolded herself for choosing a ninety-year-old rather than some twenty-year-old to write about. Hibel is an incredibly prolific artist who still wakes at 5am and works most of the day. Establishing Hibel’s career chronology was a monumental task. Eventually, the research and the manuscript were completed, but not without problems.

Mother Nature did not cooperate. Hurricane Frances destroyed Hibel’s studio in September, 2004. In 2005, Katrina devastated Pelican Publishing, located in Gretna, Louisiana. Clarkson returned to Naples a few days before Wilma, which played havoc with her computer and her nerves. The manuscript was supposed to be finished by the end of September 2005, but the contracts had not been signed by everyone involved until the middle of January, so the publisher gave Clarkson another month.

“We did it,” Clarkson wrote to me in early September, “and I can’t wait to see the printed copy!”

In Edna Hibel: An Artist’s Story of Love and Compassion, Clarkson relates Hibel’s upbringing by her European immigrant parents. Readers learn about the young girl’s general schooling and formal art training in and around Boston. Over and over, Clarkson stresses Hibel’s determination to improve. We learn of the artists and teachers who influenced Hibel, but we also discover a strong-minded individual determined to make her own mark. Hibel postponed developing her career until her children had entered their teens. Then her career flourished, with many notable exhibits and eventually her own galleries and a great number of devoted collectors.

Clarkson describes how Hibel’s world-wide travels brought her inspiration and audiences. Then came the Hibel Museum. Always adventurous, Hibel branched out beyond painting to lithography, seriography, ceramic plate and figure design. She lived to be the center of a family business as well as a living legend in the art world. All of this Clarkson relates meticulously and lovingly, and she explores Hibel’s themes and techniques as well. Most of all, Clarkson accounts for Edna Hibel’s broad appeal – the spiritual dimension of her art. Given her determination and her adventurous nature, Edna Hibel sounds a lot like Millie Clarkson.

This abundantly illustrated book is at once scholarly and personal; it is also accessible and attractively produced.

Readers can find out more about the subject of Millie Clarkson’s book at

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy. A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at

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BOOK BEAT 13 – Marcia Schonberg

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   October 11-17, 2006

by Philip K. Jason

Marcia Schonberg, a former art teacher, is an award-winning journalist and photographer who has become an all-purpose, rampant generalist. No one category can hold this author of travel books, lifestyle magazine articles, state studies, and children’s picture books. Well, perhaps there is one large category. Schonberg sticks to nonfiction. She loves the research, and she loves to adapt her writing style and strategy to educate different audiences. Like most successful writers, Schonberg loves words.

This nonstop writer has had a Naples home for the last four years, though her familiarity with Naples goes back another eleven years during which she made many visits to relatives, including her brother Dr. Lawrence Albert of Naples Community Hospital. I was able to sit down with Schonberg at her home in The Vineyards during her whirlwind week-long stay around Labor Day before she and her husband returned to their Ohio home. 

Ohio has been the subject of ten of this Ohio State University graduate’s books. The first two are travel books: Ohio Travel Smart and Quick Escapes: Cleveland (which includes escapes up to six hours away). Schonberg also wrote the six-book Heinemann State Studies series on Ohio. The titles are Ohio Plants and Animals, Ohio History, Uniquely Ohio, Ohio Native American Peoples, People of Ohio, and All Around Ohio: Regions and Resources. These books were published in 2003. (A year later, she published a parallel series on Michigan.)

Two additional Ohio-focused books established Schonberg as a children’s book author. B is for Buckeye: An Ohio Alphabet is picture book aimed at youngsters through the fourth grade level. However, the format allows adult readers to discover interesting facts that they might not expect to find in such a book. A companion title, Cardinal Numbers: An Ohio Counting Book, is also richly illustrated. It provides facts and figures about Ohio while playfully developing students’ math skills. Both of these children’s books, which are published by Sleeping Bear Press, have teachers’ guides available with ideas for classroom activities. Schonberg’s field work on such projects as well as in preparation for classroom visits includes getting her grandsons involved. They help her gauge topics and approaches for her youthful audiences.

By the way, in case you were wondering, Marcia Schonberg does have some ideas for a Florida book or two. She has already published articles about Florida places and events.

One of the benefits of such state-focused projects is that some are likely to become part of a state-wide school curriculum, or at least be adopted by many school districts. For this reason, several of Schonberg’s titles have had many printings. B is for Buckeye is in its 6th printing. An author can write for a national audience and reach far fewer readers than Marcia Schonberg does.

Still, she has taken the risk. Last year she published I is for Idea: An Inventions Alphabet, also from Sleeping Bear Press. Each alphabetical entry has three dimensions: a rhymed quatrain to introduce the information, one or two prose sidebars detailing the history and importance of the invention, and a dazzling illustration by Kandy Radzinski. During our discussion, Schonberg told me that she made her selections in order to accentuate the positive, admitting that many inventions are used for questionable or even clearly destructive purposes. So, “N” is not for Nuclear, but rather for Neon. Still, one has to be realistic and pay homage to great inventors. Thus, “D” is for Dynamite: “Dynamite begins with D, / exploding with a mighty blast. / It breaks up rocks to build long tunnels / so trains can get through mountains fast.” A capsule biography of Alfred Nobel emphasizes the relative safety of this explosive, its contribution to the Industrial Era, and the good uses to which Nobel put his fortune. Schonberg effectively links learning and entertainment in a book that parents and children can enjoy together.

When I pressed for more information about the grade level at which her books were aimed, Schonberg reminded me that most newspaper writing was aimed at a sixth-grade reading level (not mine, of course). The implication, perhaps, was that an experienced journalist can adjust to writing for children without too much difficulty. This versatile writer stressed that in writing for children she pays more attention to avoiding complex and overly long sentences than she does to vocabulary choices. If a “big word” is the best word and says what you mean, suggests Schonberg, depend on the child’s family to have a dictionary somewhere in the house. An information book for children can be used to challenge thinking and stretch vocabulary, not simply to dumb everything down.

M is for Marcia

who respects her young readers

and by not talking down to them

helps them become leaders.

To keep track of what this nonfiction specialist is doing, see her website:

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at

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BOOK BEAT 12 – Beverly Brandt

Tampa Writer Taps Naples for Settings

 BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   October 4-10, 2006

by Philip K. Jason

“Lainie Ames’s return to Naples was supposed to be the sort of local-girl-makes-good story that would make viewers of Oxygen or the Hallmark channel wish they’d bought stock in Kleenex.” So opens Beverly Brandt’s brand new novel, Dating Game, her third book to use Naples as an important setting. In Dating Game, Brandt takes readers to our beloved Ritz Carlton, to a very familiar street of shops and restaurants, and also to somewhat less posh quarters of elegant Naples. Dear Naples reader, how could I resist finding out more about a writer with such good taste? 

PKJ: What led you to set Match Game in Naples?

BB: When I moved to Florida from Seattle three and a half years ago, Naples was the first city I visited for fun.  I had a much-needed long weekend off with my husband, and we drove down and stayed at the La Playa hotel on Vanderbilt Beach. The beach was gorgeous and I thought it was so cool that we had to close our drapes at night so as not to disturb the breeding sea turtles. We shopped and ate several fantastic meals on Fifth Avenue South and I just kept thinking that if I set a book down there, I’d have a reason to come back more often! 

Around the time I moved, I had just sold a three-book romantic suspense series and I wrote it into the first book (Dangerous Curves, written under my pseudonym Jacey Ford) that the heroine of the third book (Dead Heat) would be working a job in Naples. The mission of the heroine in that book is to tail a bank president’s girlfriend to a (fictional) firm called Rules of Engagement, which is in the business of advising their mostly-female clientele on how to motivate their reluctant significant others from “I’m not sure” to “I do.”  I thought Rules of Engagement’s mission was so fun that I wanted to use it in a couple of my romantic comedies as well, which is why Match Game and Dating Game  are set in Naples.

PKJ: How much time have you spent here?

BB: Unfortunately, not as much as I would have liked!  Almost as soon as I moved to Florida, I sold not only the romantic suspense series I mentioned above, but another two romantic comedies to St. Martin’s Press. Then, just as I finished the fourth contracted book, I sold another two comedies and three novellas to Berkley, which means I’ve written seven novels and three novellas in three and a half years, leaving very little time for even short trips down to one of my favorite cities in the state!

PKJ: How did you draw upon this town?

BB: Despite the deadlines I mentioned above, I was able to make a few more trips into town and took photos of the buildings along Fifth Avenue South, which I used to create my own fictional Sunshine Parkway.  I decided to use fictional businesses (and even an airport) instead of real ones because I didn’t want to inadvertently use the name of a real one and end up with the owner angry at me because I set some sort of crime or nefarious activity there. Hopefully the true feel of Naples comes through, though!

Beverly Brandt did not emerge full-blown as a successful novelist. Though it was one of her earliest ambitions, no one encouraged her and she made her way in the world as a clerk and later a receptionist in an insurance company. Job assignments revealed her facility with computer software, and this skill plus a degree in finance enabled her to become a financial analyst. But the work was deadening to her mind and spirit. She finally made the break and committed herself to her first love – fiction writing.

“For five of the last seven years,” Brandt writes, “I’ve been a full-time writer. The work is sometimes difficult (but, hey, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it!), but more rewarding than anything else I’ve ever done. There is nothing like typing ‘the end’ on a manuscript you’ve labored over for months. When my first book came out, I slept with a copy of it under my pillow. I went to a party around the holidays last year and mentioned to a stranger that I was a writer. When she asked what names I wrote under and I told her I also write as Jacey Ford, she screamed and then threw her arms around me. Then she called her daughter from her cell phone and said, ‘You’ll never guess who I just met!’  How cool is that? I can tell you, no one ever gushed that way over a spreadsheet I created.”

Dear reader, I can do no more to whet your appetite for Beverly Brandt (or Jacey Ford) than to provide this overview of Match Game: At her wedding ceremony, Savannah Taylor, an accountant, is arrested for money laundering and tax evasion. The unsympathetic would-be groom decides not to set another date, even though young Savannah has been exploited through identity theft. The list of items she has supposedly charged leads Savannah to head for Naples, Florida – where the upscale items were purchased. There, as she investigates the cause of her dilemma, she runs into Mike Bryson, a U.S. Marshall. A job at a place called Refund City puts her dangerously close to the thief – and pleasantly close to Mike. Are you hooked?

Explore this talented writer’s two worlds by visiting and

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy. A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at

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