Tag Archives: Barnes & Noble

Wicked Omaha

April 27, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Musty newspapers, photos, archives, public records, presentations, and endless hours of research. Sure, the life of a modern folk historian sounds glamorous, but it’s not all like Raiders of the Lost Ark. In many ways, history is an occupation reserved only for those obsessive truth-seekers disconnected from their place on the space-time continuum.

Local historian, author, teacher, and Glenwood native Ryan Roenfeld has been making history entertaining for nigh on two decades. The 44-year-old nontraditional UNO student describes himself as a “hick-from-the-sticks.” A quasi-Luddite with a passion for the past, he doesn’t have a cell phone but he uses Facebook.

“I don’t know how I got so interested in history,” Roenfeld says. “Most folks see history as dry and dull, but it’s not. It really is—good, bad, or indifferent—the story of why things are the way they are.”

While decrying the modern age, Roenfeld helped popularize one of Omaha’s most frequented social media sites: Chuck Martens’ “Forgotten Omaha” Facebook page.

As one of three administrators, Roenfeld has seen “Forgotten Omaha” grow to more than 45,000 likes over the last year.

“I was surprised at the interest. Omahans didn’t know as much of their history as I thought,” says Roenfeld, who also teaches classes on Omaha history for Metropolitan Community College at Do Space. “History really is the story of us all, and I like telling people their stories.”

A folksy populist with an encyclopedic knowledge of colorful locals and criminals, Roenfeld tells the lesser-known tales of underrepresented populations, colorful characters, and swept-under scandals. He has self-published a dozen books and contributed to many articles on topics ranging from old postcards, railroads, steamboating, and local 19th-century brewers. To date, his most popular book has been Tinhorn Gamblers and Dirty Prostitutes, a colorful history of vice in Council Bluffs, which offers a glimpse at the city’s exploitation of prostitutes in the late 19th century.

“The highlights are always the lowlifes,” Roenfeld says. “People like hearing stories of cowboy shoot-outs in the street. People think the Old West happened in Arizona, but this area was really the archetype for every Wild West trope.”

The popularity of Western depravity was also obvious to Roenfeld’s publisher, The History Press. Roenfeld’s latest book, Wicked Omaha (not to be confused with David Bristow’s book, Dirty, Wicked Town [Omaha], published by Caxton Press in 2000), looks closely at “Hell’s Half-Acre,” Omaha’s red-light district in the 1880s.

Hell’s Half-Acre stretched from the Missouri River to 16th Street and from Douglas to Cuming streets. The city portrayed in Roenfeld’s Wicked Omaha makes all the stereotypes of Deadwood seem trite.

“People don’t realize that anything went in Hell’s Half-Acre,” Roenfeld says. “It was a different Omaha, when the saloons ran all night and strangers were victimized by every scheme going, all right downtown, nothing secret about it. Brothels were illegal, but ran in the open. There was drug addiction, suicide, and systematic exploitation. Prostitutes paid ‘fines’ monthly to keep operating. If they couldn’t pay, the city gave them a few weeks before they were hauled in front of a judge to either pay up or get shut up.”

Wicked Omaha made its debut Thursday, March 9, at the UNO Criss Library’s Read Local Author Showcase. Roenfeld plans to present his book at Omaha’s W. Dale Clark library May 6. The book is sold at The Bookworm, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and elsewhere.

Visit arcadiapublishing.com for more information.

This article appeared in the May/June edition of Omaha Magazine.

Creating Fine Lines

May 2, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Twenty-five years ago, a high-school teacher and a group of self-described misfit teenagers gave birth to a tiny literary journal. It was a document, and project, seemingly as ephemeral as the cheap paper on which it was printed.

Central High School instructor David Martin created the 2-page pamphlet of writing based off the best of this class’ daily notebook entries. The pamphlet spread like wildfire around the school, and eventually, to the community. Now, a quarter century later, that humble pamphlet has become Fine Lines, a 200-plus-page quarterly journal.

The journal’s success inspired Martin to go further in the Omaha literary scene. Seventeen years ago, eight people met for four hours a day during one week at Barnes & Noble in Crossroads Mall, crafting their work in a summer camp appropriately called Fine Lines. Martin used his skills as a writing teacher to show those eight campers how to clarify their writing and play with words. He helped them develop poems, essays, and short stories.

“We’re there to get the fire going—to foster creativity,” Martin says. “We go to great lengths to help kids of all ages and all abilities.”

Those eight kids enjoyed themselves, told their friends, and brought others with them to share the experience the next year. Those people told their friends, who told others.

“It’s been a lot of word of mouth,” Martin says.

The eight-person, informal session has grown into an annual writer’s workshop attracting more than 150 people, from fourth graders to octogenarians. They gather for four hours a day during one week to talk about their creative passions. This year, the event runs from June 20 through June 24 at Milo Bail Student Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Each day begins with Martin himself talking for 15 minutes about the activities. At that point, a performer, writer, or musician will talk about his or her field and how creativity comes into play in that field. That becomes the metaphor for the day’s writing.

Music, specifically, helps Martin.

“Every now and then when I’m writing and the words sort of elevate off the page…I can hear a tone,” Martin says. “When you’re really onto something and it’s really good, you can almost sing the words.”

Writing students gain the ability to expand their creativity, craft their words into publishable writings, and ignite their passions for words. But there’s also something more meaningful that most campers receive.

“It was about being around people my age who loved doing the same things I loved doing, which was telling stories,” says Emma Vinchur, a student at UNL and graduate of Elkhorn South High School.

The camaraderie Vinchur gained from fellow writers inspired her to return annually. Last year was her 10th year at Fine Lines Camp.

The students are given a chance to read in the afternoon, and, ultimately, a chance to be published in Fine Lines.

“They all made an impact on me,” Martin says. “I feel I benefited as much as them.”

The camp gives writers young and old a chance to spend a week doing what they love—putting words to paper.

“I think for me, since I am in college and I am so busy, Fine Lines grounds me and reminds me of my love for creative writing,” Vinchur says.

“It’s about the community,” Vinchur emphasizes.

Tonya Kuper

June 1, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in June 2015 edition of Her Family.

Tonya Kuper was bored. As a stay-at-home mom, her 4-year-old son and baby kept her hopping. Her husband would eat dinner, play with the kids, and help her put them to bed. As an attorney, he would often head back to work until the early morning hours. 

Therefore, Kuper had nights to herself. She devoured books like Dracula, Pride and Prejudice, and Harry Potter. Not so surprising for someone with a master’s degree in reading. She binge-watched The Vampire Diaries, but there was only just so much Ian Somerhalder to drool over.

Kuper’s story doesn’t have a romantic beginning. She needed to clean one weekend when her eldest acted up.

“Just please take him downstairs. He’s like the son of the devil,” she jokingly said to her husband.

Man, it’d suck falling in love with the devil’s son. Hmm…That would be good story. Kuper’s thoughts soon transformed into words on a page. Closer, a story about a girl falling in love with the devil’s son,
would be her first novel.

“It was terrible,” Kuper recalls with a laugh.

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Kuper wrote for fun, but three quarters of the way in she researched the publishing world.  She soon amassed an entire file full of rejections. Friends, family, and her husband supported her through it all. She learned a lot about herself in the process, including that it is okay not to have everyone like her. “If you are going to write, you have to have thick skin and buck up,” she advises future writers.

She wrote a second book, sort of a Mean Girls meets Pretty in Pink.

Her agent sent the book out to a short list of editors, one asking if she would like to try a science fiction trilogy for young adults instead. Kuper was a “science fiction geek” so she knew she could do it.

Anomaly, about a girl named Josie who can push and retract reality, was created based on a quantum physics theory.

“I loved that it was about a girl who was fighting to save her family,” Madison Schuetz, 14, says. She just finished the book and loved the dual points of view. Every chapter switches from Josie to Reid, a boy character who helps Josie train, so the book isn’t gender specific.

Kuper, 37, soon changed from full-time mom to full-time writer.

“I have the best job ever. I kill people for a living,” Kuper says.

Tears ran down Kuper’s cheeks the first time she saw her book on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. She scared the girl in front of her, who was buying Anomaly. Kuper signed her first book on the spot.

“Create your own reality,” is something she typically writes to teenagers during book signings.  Kuper grew up with little money in a small cornfield town in western Illinois; her father was an auto mechanic and her mother a stay-at-home mom. Kuper had to work hard for her future.

“Do whatever you want to do. Think of the biggest thing and then work for it,” Kuper tells teenagers. She plays a bit with her blue scarf, detailed fittingly with Rebel symbols from Star Wars. Kuper adds an element of the movie, such as Josie’s Vader T-shirt, into each book.

Anomaly, published by Entangled, took off, hitting the bestseller list on Kindle for science fiction and science fiction romance. Recently, it reached the top of the bestselling teen science fiction as well. Her second book in the Schrodinger’s Consortium trilogy, Enigma, won’t be available until this October.

“I want it to be out, like, now,” Schuetz says.

Kuper is currently comfortable in her own skin.

After Kuper’s first signing at the American Association Conference, she had an ampersand tattoo etched into her wrist. “In writing, when you add an ‘and’ the possibilities are endless.  And now I have my ‘and.’”

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A Hidden Myth in Elkhorn

December 15, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

On one late fall day, as most high school students were shuffled to and from sports practices, band rehearsals, and gatherings at friends’ houses, 15-year-old author Brandon Bauer was hard at work at a local Barnes & Noble signing copies of his first book, the Greek mythology-inspired A Hidden Myth. It’s a process that’s been more than four years in the making, but one that didn’t come as a surprise to the diligent teenage scribe.

Brandon, a sophomore at Elkhorn High School, released his first book of seven in his series, Heroes of Light, through Tate Publishing this October. The first entry, which will be available on Amazon and in some Barnes & Noble stores, follows the three main characters of Perseus, Hercules, and Athen, as they are pulled back in time by Kronos, the Lord of Time. The rest of the series will follow other characters in Greek mythology as they attempt to defeat the three Dark Prophecies set forth by the evil Kronos.

Despite the intense amount of work creating such a complex series entails, Brandon never had any doubts that he would finish his book. If there’s one trait that Brandon has, it’s focus, says his mother, Cathy.

“Even when he was a baby, you could put him in one spot, and he could play for hours,” Cathy says. “He had an imagination—he wasn’t all over the place like some other kids were, but he was focused.”

It’s this focus that has kept Brandon consumed with writing even as his life is constantly sidetracked by health issues. Brandon was born with a cleft palate, and has had approximately 10 to 15 surgeries to fix it during his lifetime. This December, he is also receiving surgery to treat his scoliosis. However none of these surgeries will set back the timeline of the release of Brandon’s future books.

According to Cathy, Brandon was bitten by the writing bug around age 9. While Brandon has written piles and piles of short stories over the years, he didn’t begin writing the Heroes of Light series until he was in sixth grade. Brandon had enjoyed reading Greek mythology and thought he had enough ideas that he could actually put together a book. But not just one book—Brandon knew from the beginning that he wanted to do a series of seven.

“I like long, complicated plots more,” Brandon says. “They keep me guessing more, and you’re more into the story.”

After numerous edits, Brandon and Cathy began reaching out to publishers in January. They heard back almost immediately from Tate Publishing, and signed a contract in February. After five more rounds of edits and selecting cover designs, Brandon received the first copy of his book in September. Now Cathy and Brandon are in the process of setting up book signings and presentations to schools to promote the series.

Brandon hopes to continue writing or to go into film production. He’s coy about what lies next for him—“I have some ideas”—but doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. He is already editing the second book in the Heroes of Light series, writing the third one, and has outlines for the fourth and fifth.

“Brandon is pretty laid-back, and he kind of goes with the flow,” Cathy says. “But it’s an accomplishment; I would never have been able to do this at his age.”

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