Tag Archives: book

Ren
ais
sance 
Man

April 13, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A boozy brunch between girlfriends, a meeting of coworkers over coffee, a couple splitting a glass   of wine—conversations captured around the city, all serve as fodder and inspiration for Brion Poloncic’s work. In the quiet corners of Omaha’s local coffee shops and wine bars, Poloncic puts pen to paper, his ear tuned into the surrounding babble, creating art that he feels represents those around him and the experiences they discuss.

But don’t expect a still life of women gossiping between sips of their Venti mochas. As a visual artist, author, and former musician, Poloncic is a man of many hats but always remains a creator of thought-provoking and idiosyncratic work that paints middle America in a psychedelic wash.

“I’ve always fancied myself an artist,” Poloncic says. “My art is an affirmation of my peculiar skill set, and it just so happens to make me happy. It’s my own blend of therapy.”

It was through chance that Poloncic was first bitten by the creative bug. After he didn’t make the baseball team, he traded mitts for guitars and started writing music. A fan of everyone from Pink Floyd to Johnny Cash, he parlayed his early love for listening to his parent’s records into seven albums, all released under the moniker “A Tomato A Day (helps keep the tornado away).” A prolific songwriter, his discography is filled with character and colorful song titles, including ditties like “You Little Shit” and “Weirdo Park.”

For Poloncic, music wasn’t enough. He needed to sink his teeth into his next artistic outlet. So when a friend needed help setting up an Iowa art studio, he asked Polonic to draw pieces that illustrated his career. With no formal training or experience, unless coloring backpacks with magic markers counts, he dove in.

Two years later, Poloncic sold his first piece at a gallery in Lincoln. He has also shown work in Omaha and Kansas City and has a collection represented at Gallery 72, all those diploma-yielding pros be damned.

“My art isn’t constrained by my knowledge or training, and I think this makes me naturally less critical of my work,” Poloncic says.

Filled with abstract shapes, haunting faces, and stark use of color, his off-kilter yet original drawings mirror the tone of his written work. Through The Journal of Experimental Fiction, he published his first book Xanthous Mermaid Mechanics in 2012, following this up in 2014 with his second printed work On the Shoulders of Madmen. Both explored concepts of the subconscious mind, and the novel he is currently working on will follow suit.

“I’ll be surprised if anyone can read it,” Poloncic says. “It’s got no characters, no story arc, and isn’t about anything in particular.”

And he admits this is his niche, comparing his art to improvisational jazz or free-style rap where “things just happen.” For whatever he’s working on, he says the hardest part is just getting started. Once that happens, everything else just falls into place, and if he can’t get over a block, he always has another craft to turn to.

“If I stumble off the creative wagon with drawing, I get back on with writing and vice versa,” Poloncic says. “As you work on one, the other comes right along with it.”

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

13 Hours in Benghazi

July 17, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article was featured in July/August 2015 Omaha Magazine.

The chaotic scene in Benghazi, Libya, the night of Sept. 11, 2012, looked like something out of a Michael Bay movie.

Just after 9 p.m., more than 100 Islamic militants flooded the U.S. embassy compound there, forcing a small group of American diplomats and security personnel into a frantic retreat to a safe room hidden within the compound.

One mile away, Omahan Kris Paronto, a former Army Ranger, sat watching a movie with fellow members of the secretive CIA security force known as the Global Response Staff. Then came the distress call from the compound: An urgent cry to “Get in here—NOW!” amid explosions and Jihadist cries of “Allahu Akbar.”

The ensuing rolling battle placed Paronto not only in the crosshairs of Libyan extremists, but, back in the United States, in the crosshairs of one of the most politicized events of the 21st Century. Benghazi.

Benghazi. The death of two American diplomats, including American ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who died of smoke inhalation in that safe room. The fact that Paronto and his team—two of whom died in the skirmishes that followed—were told to stand down by the region’s CIA chief (orders that Paronto and his team soon disobeyed).

How could this all happen? Who was responsible for the intelligence and security lapses? Liberal conspiracy, or conspiracy theory of conservatives? Politicos in the 24-hour news cycle droned overtime.

This firestorm in which Kris Paronto found himself not only looked like something out of a Michael Bay movie, it will actually be a Michael Bay movie. And in that movie, and the book that inspired that movie, will be a character named Kris Paronto.

Paronto is now back in Omaha living what may be called a normal life with his wife, a son he calls “Bubba,” and a daughter he calls “Princess.” He takes long runs and rides his bike to clear his mind of the ghosts that haunt him. He resumed his insurance-adjusting business.

In the months following September 2012, the hourly barrage of news about this horrific ordeal died down, but what trickled out to the public was, in Paronto’s mind, grossly twisted into a political nightmare.

The surviving members of the team met in Langley, Virginia, that May to honor their fallen comrades. Following the formal service, they gathered at a bar, where they toasted the deceased. As the nearly unavoidable subject of politics arose, Paronto discovered he was not the only team member disgusted with the media’s portrayal of Benghazi.

“What the hell?” Paronto says, shaking his head.

The only way to tell the correct story would be to tell it themselves. It was then they determined they needed to write the story—as a team effort.

They had to stick together, as they were not supposed to mention the attack to anyone, let alone write a book.

“We kept getting treated badly by the CIA,” Paronto said. “We had to sign a bunch of non-disclosure agreements.”

But Paronto maintains this is the truth, and he tired of biting his tongue and clenching his fists when he heard inaccuracies on the news.

“It really bothers me when whatever side you’re on goes too far to further their cause,” Paronto says. “Battles aren’t political. You’re trying to live and they’re trying to live. We did not speculate what was going on in the head shed.”

Paronto is political in his own right. He’s a conservative-minded patriot with several tattoos, including one that looks as though his skin is being ripped open to reveal an American flag in his core.

He considers himself a warrior not just for the U.S., but for God, though personally, he’s more of a C&E’r, as in Christmas and Easter churchgoer. He sometimes attends Gethsemane Lutheran Church outside of the holidays and is a member of Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

A plan of counter-political attack made, Paronto contacted his friend Richard Abate, literary agent for author Mitchell Zuckhoff. Paronto previously read Zuckhoff’s book Lost in Shangri-La, and knew that the seasoned journalist and Boston University College of Communication professor could write the story well.

“This was the first book that came to me quite this way,” Zuckhoff says. “Normally I got out and found an idea and wrote a book. I felt honored that Kris and the guys went out and found me.”

“Like a lot of Americans, I thought I knew a decent amount,” Zuckhoff says. “The incident happened about nine or 10 months earlier, and I kept on top of it…Once I started talking to the guys, I realized I, like most Americans, had no idea what happened over there.”

One part Zuckhoff had no idea about was the lack of involvement from a film titled Innocence of Muslims, which both conservatives and liberals blamed as being part of the reason for the attack.

“What? I got up the next day and saw something about a video,” Paronto says. “Gosh, I don’t know where they got that video thing. It hadn’t filtered to Benghazi yet.”

As Zuckhoff discovered the story being told in the mainstream media differed vastly from the story the guys told him, he unraveled the story like a cat tearing into a knot of yarn.

“We got it done in about three months,” Paronto said. “We did three different revisions to make it apolitical. Even though we knew it would eventually become political, we wanted it to be nonpartisan.”

Also helping to keep the story apolitical were the GRS operators’ unassuming demeanors. “These are extraordinary guys, and what I loved about working with them was they got it,” Zuckhoff says. “They didn’t focus on ‘does this make me look good?’ They didn’t ask ‘does this make me look bad because I was joking around in a serious moment.’”

One member of the unit that Paronto had a hard time keeping apolitical about was the chief, known as Bob. Bob wasn’t Paronto’s favorite person. He was a veteran of what Paronto calls the “Alphabet Soup Company,” since he oversees so many things without really being a part of any of them.

“You can be in a combat zone and not be in combat,” Paronto said. “But that’s Bob.”

He sets his jaw more squarely and straightens his back when talking about the large Libyan militia unit known as the “17 February Martyrs Brigade.” Bob told the team one reason his team did not respond quickly was that they were waiting for help from the militia’s fighters. Paronto, specifically, did not trust that militia, which was formed during the revolution that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Paronto’s instincts were proved correct when the only members of the militia in the area were a group of boys who turned back following the sight of actual combat.

“Failure to prep the 17 February unit.” “The GRS operated as mercenaries.” Accusations flew in all directions. Zuckoff had myriad divergent narratives to rectify.

“There were so many political interests around, but once I started talking to Kris, I discovered it was really straightforward,” Zuckoff says. “These are truly honorable, decent men who didn’t have any agenda outside of how they lost four brave men, and how they had been left to fend for themselves.”

Zuckhoff himself had no problem remaining neutral, although his own political tendencies sway opposite Paronto’s. The Boston University professor admits that previous to his contact with the GRS team, he was not likely to be friends with military contractors.

“My professor friends are more likely to have a glass of wine and call it a night,” Zuckhoff says. “When I go out with these guys, there’s a lot of storytelling. They are funny and profane, and there’s no guile.”

For example: Paronto, as serious as he can be, is well-known by his compatriots as an unrepentant prankster. He particularly enjoys heisting the odds-and-ends of friends (such as hats, Xbox games, and magazines), immersing them in containers of water, and then freezing them.

“I wanted to show a human side,” Paronto says. “I think the book did a good job of that.”

The book, 13 Hours in Benghazi, came out in September 2014—exactly two years after the attack.

“This was the fastest I’ve ever written a book,” Zuckoff says. “I literally only took one day off during that entire time. The only real pressure I had was that we wanted the book to come out on the second anniversary of the attack.”

The tome, bearing a book jacket covered in the yellow and green colors of a fading bruise, came out at the perfect time to engage the media. The first organization to report on the book? Fox News.

“People were saying we chose Fox because it is Republican or whatever,” Paronto says. “No, we didn’t choose them for that reason.”

The reason, Paronto said, was because Fox gave them the best deal.

Publishing the book means potential civil forfeiture of royalties and movie life rights, along with possible fines of $250,000 and prison. The team has experienced accusations of slander from both the government and the media.

But Paronto and his teammates succeeded in telling people their story. Partially boosted by good reviews in the The New York Times and the Washington Post, United States and Canadian bookstores sold 200,000 copies by the end of 2014.

Paronto sits back in his chair. “If I was in a military setting, we’d have gotten the medal of honor,” he says. “The things those guys did that night…those things that happen in combat, they don’t happen anywhere else.”

There is one other place that happens…the big screen. Paronto and the team will be able to watch the horror unfold again through the magic of Hollywood. Chuck Hogan, writer for The Town, starring Ben Affleck, wrote a screenplay based on the book. Shooting for the movie has just begun, with Pablo Schreiber portraying Paronto. No release date has been set, but Paronto has visited the set and describes Schreiber as “outstanding” in the role of, well, him.

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Busting Bad Guys

April 20, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in the May/June 2015 edition of Omaha Magazine.

It was February 2002 and Mark Langan and his partner had just shot a man dead in South Omaha. The convicted drug dealer was known to be violent and shot at Langan first, but the longtime Omaha narcotics cop was still badly shaken. Not only had he killed a man, but he was being read his Miranda Rights and would soon be facing a grand jury to defend his actions. Then, amid this tumult, he did what he says “officers are told never to do.”

“I called my wife,” he says. “I knew she’d be seeing it all on the news. I knew she’d be worried. I had to call her. I had to tell her everything would be alright.”

In Busting Bad Guys, Langan tells this gripping story with all the taut verve you expect from quality true crime. But, then, Langan, arguably with more literary finesse that one might expect from a career drug cop in Omaha, tells the rest of the story. Four years after, he and his partner were contacted by the dead man’s daughter. She wanted closure. She wanted to meet them. Langan and his partner agreed. The scene that followed at a local restaurant reads as poignant as
fine fiction.

You might know Langan now as the guy at the Nebraska Humane Society tasked with protecting the city’s animals from abuse. For 10 years, he’s been the enforcement arm for the Society—the guy who, with his close ties with law enforcement and his passion for animals, puts teeth in the Society’s mission and the city’s anti-cruelty statutes.

But, before that, Langan spent 26 years as an Omaha police officer. Sixteen of the those years were in vice and narcotics, the two areas of crime fighting that, with the homicide department, generate some of the wildest and gut-wrenching cop stories there are. “The joke was that I went from busting meth labs to chasing black labs,” Langan says.

Just as interesting as the tales of mayhem are Langan’s stories of his personal life. If you know the man only peripherally, he can come off as the stereotypical cop: Hard, jaded, forceful, and unusually self-assured. In the book, and in person, you come to know a different Langan, one who his high school counselor suggested was far too sensitive and introspective to go into law enforcement.

Langan is a contradiction. “Sometimes it’s like you’re several different people.” He’s the tough guy when tough is necessary. “There are some people I was thrilled to help send off to prison.” He became more himself, he says, when he was consoling a victim or working with non-violent criminals struggling with drug addictions.“It can be so rewarding hearing from somebody years later who got their life back together,” he says.

Then, unlike many longtime cops, he was, and remains to be, your average family guy with his wife and two children.

“My kids didn’t know what I was doing,” he says. “I didn’t want to bring it home to them. In a way, this book is for them. It’s a way to tell them what I was doing all
those years.”

“Mark didn’t bring his work home—he wasn’t that stereotype of the bad cop husband you see on television,” says his wife, Annette. “He really was wonderful even through the toughest times.”

The only impact she says she saw: He was a clean freak, especially after he was involved in busting a meth house in which children were neglected and abused.

“That’s where we’d see it,” she says. “I think he dealt with what he had seen by coming home and making everything right.”

In the year since the books release, Langan has been an aggressive promoter, having done 80 signings throughout the city. He has sold more than 7,000 copies so far and plans to continue the breakneck promotional tour.

Then, when things calm down, he may try his hand at another book.

“I’m not sure what it would be,” he says. “But the response to the book has been amazing and it’s been such a wonderful experience. I enjoy writing, I enjoy telling stories. I’d hate to think this book is it.”

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Jeremy Caniglia

February 25, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

He walks into the comic shop, and he looks like he belongs. Internationally recognized Omaha artist Jeremy Caniglia is wearing a hoodie, jeans, and sneakers. He’s buried under an armload of books. The one thing all the titles have in common is original artwork by Caniglia.

“This is being optioned for a film…the director loved this concept,” he says of one book cover. “They wanted something bleak, simple. That’s one of my earlier works.”

His Wikipedia page is a Who’s Who of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror authors. Max Brooks (World War Z), Stephen King, Peter Straub, and Ray Bradbury (The Devil’s Wine), William Peter Blatty (40th editions of The Exorcist and Legion), and most recently, Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol, 170th anniversary edition) have all produced books that now proudly carry a Caniglia illustration. Anne Rice’s 38th anniversary edition of Interview with a Vampire will also be getting one of his custom covers.

“I guess people labeled me early on. Oh, he’s a horror artist,” Caniglia says. Well, he is nominated for a Hugo award this year. “I mean, my work’s about the human condition, so that’s everything. That’s love and death. I love the idea of redemption. Life throws everything it can at you. That perseverance that individuals have, I’ve just fallen in love with it.”

To convey the multiple facets of humanity, Caniglia exercises multiple facets of artistry. He works in oils, screen-printing, sculpture, and bronze, to name a few. The self-portrait he painted for this cover of Omaha Magazine, however, is something relatively new to his
body of work.

“I never do self-portraits!” he says with a laugh.

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His projects extend to film concept art (season one of Showtime’s Masters of Horror, 2005) to theater (Benson Theatre’s stage adaptation this March of Stephen King’s The Shining), and of course, over 100 book covers. “I try to be a renaissance man in a way.”

By the way, he owns a bakery, La Charlotte, with his wife, Jacqui, an accomplished pastry chef. And he gardens and cooks with their two children, Caravaggio, 16, and Vivian, 14. He writes poetry no one will ever read. And he codes. While still earning his master’s in fine art at Maryland Institute College, he built his first website in ’94, complete with rotating skulls. That’s how author Doug Clegg found him to ask Caniglia to paint his first cover.

“One thing leads to another to another,” Caniglia says. Inquiries came in on his site early on, largely from Europe. “I have this Old World sense that the United States wasn’t really into.”

“I love his dedication to the Old Masters,” says Brigitte McQueen, director of The Union for Contemporary Art. “The way he works is so unlike how any other artist in Omaha is working. The palette, the processes. I remember seeing it and knowing it was different than anything else I was ever going to see.”

Caniglia’s ability to capture light, McQueen says, is itself captivating. “There’s like a luminescence that comes off the canvas,” she says. “The pieces just seem to glow.” Caniglia tips his hat to Caravaggio as his biggest influence in painting light. If you’re   paying attention, yes, he named his son after the Italian artist. Caravaggio popularized the high-contrast light technique chiaroscuro; it’s mimicked in every artistic media today. “You see The Godfather, you see chiaroscuro,” Caniglia says.

The technique highly impacted religious art, which is what Caniglia saw as a child growing up in the Catholic Church. To this day, he says it’s important that even his darkest works have an element of reverence. The artist who produces exhibits like “I Before E Except After Death” is equally passionate about creating the Stations of the Cross for the Omaha parish of Saint Gerald. Perhaps being surrounded by such sacred art from a young age was what drew him to artists like Käthe Kollwitz who tackled the subject of human suffering.

“Best line work, best drawing,” Caniglia says of the painter who ran the Berlin Art Institute. “Actually, I think she’s the best artist of all time.” Kollwitz turned to printmaking in order to produce anti-Nazi art quickly and discreetly. “You could pull like 100 and put them all over Berlin. Her line work…it looks like Mike Mignola.” That’s Hellboy’s artist, to you. “Or Frank Frazetta.” Conan the Barbarian, King Kong, Tarzan, et cetera.

“Understanding form, motion, human condition all in one—wow. If she didn’t have these harsh conditions, I think she would have been the greatest artist.”

That investment in humanity, that passion for the work, is what Caniglia hopes to instill in the young artists he teaches in Omaha. He’s a mentor with Kent Bellows Program and occasionally adjunct teaches painting and drawing at Creighton Prep, where he’s a board member.

“For people to write you off as a high-school student, thinking your art isn’t important…” He shakes his head. “They’re wrong. If you care about something, and you want to develop it, develop it! If I can influence that—if you have passion, and you care, you can do it. Don’t let anybody get in the way of that. And if they do, go around it.”

“A lot of our teenage artists have some self-confidence issues,” says Weston Thomson, community outreach manager at the Joslyn Art Museum Kent Bellows Mentoring Program. “They devalue their work a lot. I remember Jeremy had a student, and he was describing that their work as an artist will be the most important work for their life. And he meant it.”

“I get so excited when I talk art,” Caniglia says. It’s true that enthusiasm is never far removed from a Caniglia conversation. “It is life. I’m excited that I’m doing my work because that’s all I want to do, is my work. I have to do stuff,” he says. “I have to get in the way.”

Christopher McLucas thinks laughter 
is the best 
medicine.

December 20, 2013 by
Photography by Keith Binder
Illustration by Bob Donlan

Way down on the Giggle Farm, the Guffaw family grows grinning laughing stalks and chuckleberries by the bushel full. Farmer Guffaw and his wife proudly watch as their children spend days playing outdoors, inventing clever contraptions, daydreaming, and getting lost in reading. Soon, though—as is the case in all families—their children grow up and move away to lead their own lives. The Guffaws become sad and lonely while the laughing stalks wither and the chuckleberries shrivel.

Spoiler alert: The story does have a happy ending. The Giggle Farm, by 25-year-old Christopher McLucas, is a rare kind of children’s book, one that is funny and profound by turns. That’s because the young author didn’t want to write a typical children’s book. Instead, he set out to create the kind of story that would take both parents and children alike on a thoughtful and interactive journey.

Laughter: Something kids and adults love

Focusing on laughter as the book’s theme was a logical choice for McLucas, whose previous book Feint Peace & Other Stories, a collection of science fiction stories, was published in 2012. “I didn’t want the message to be just for children. I wanted it to be for adults, too,” he explains. “I wanted to communicate that laughter really is the best medicine. Laughter is what gets us through a lot. I thought it important to reference what both children and adults would know.”

A laughing stalk shown as a positive rather than a derisive term provided McLucas with his starting point. “I thought, ‘What if laughing stalk was something you could grow?’” he remembers. “The whole story started rolling from there and didn’t stop. I could see the entire idea in my head.”

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That idea involves witty puns, crisp story telling, and an imaginative interpretation of traditional family life. As a child, McLucas was particularly fascinated with how artist Norman Rockwell encapsulated entire narratives in his paintings. “There were stories locked inside them,” he says. “I wanted The Giggle Farm to be like that and to be an ode to Norman Rockwell. I wanted New Age Americana. We can all associate with this family.”

This is what gives the book a charming retro feel. For example, the small town of Gale (as in gales of laughter) has old-fashioned storefronts featuring a barber, a dry goods shop, and a laugh ware store. In place of a traditional county fair, there is instead a more playful Funny Festival. There are no video games, mp3 players, or cell phones. They use their imaginations, which McLucas sees as deeply important to 
childhood development.

It’s another reason why he wanted to make The Giggle Farm interactive and developed it as a coloring book. “I want parents and children to be able to work on it together,” he says. “It changes the dynamic of family reading. It makes reading time a family activity.”

Interaction: Something kids and adults need

McLucas also envisioned using coloring as a way to reinforce reading. The letters are in a plain, white, bubble font so that children can sound out the words as they color them in. Participating in how each page looks makes the experience personal and creates a sense of ownership in the book. “That way,” McLucas says with a smile, “it’s more yours than mine.”

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Illustrator Bob Donlan perfectly captures the Rockwellian mood that McLucas’ words convey. His illustrations have a gentleness to them and are filled with the kinds of details children can get lost in for hours. Donlan says he was impressed with the author’s vision for the book. “Chris wanted an interactive book for children to read and color. He liked the idea of a coloring book that would have sophisticated art,” he says. “He wanted it to have an imaginative quality. It is completely original.”

The element of The Giggle Farm with the most impact, McLucas thinks, is the dialogue that will occur between parents and children. “I really want them to talk about the story and for children to come back to it over and over.”

A book signing and launch party for The Giggle Farm (CreateSpace; $15.00) takes place on Jan. 23, 2014, at 6 p.m. at Legend Comics at 52nd and Leavenworth. You can also find the book at Chapter Two Books in Bellevue and on Amazon.com.

Lydia Kang is in Control.

December 16, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Lydia Kang has delicate, tiny hands. A long ponytail. She wears simple jewelry: a couple bracelets and some earrings.

That’s nearly as much detail as you’ll get about the characters she writes. Kang’s debut novel, Control, will be released the day after Christmas. “I would say I write for the impatient reader,” she says with a laugh. “I won’t spend three pages discussing why a certain scene is meaningful. I’ll try to get to the core of what is important and emotional and move onto that.”

A young-adult novel with a sci-fi twist, Control follows a young woman named Zelia as she overcomes her father’s death, her sister’s kidnapping, and her own introduction to a society of misfit teens that the government wants the world to forget.

While Zelia is kind of a blank slate, Kang does allow a couple extra descriptors for some of Control’s more unique characters. “Hex is Asian,” she says, describing a young man with four arms, “and Vera is Latina, although you can’t really tell because she’s green.” Oh, and Wilbert has two heads. He switches his sentience between them so he never has to sleep.

This is the kind of medical-thriller world readers get when it’s provided by a sci-fi fan who also happens to be a doctor. Kang, a New York City transplant, has worked at University of Nebraska Medical Center for the past seven years as a general internal medicine physician. She minored in English and has been published in a few medical journals, but, she says, “I have to credit Omaha—this is where I really started writing.” 

Shortly after moving to Omaha with husband Yungpo Bernard Su and giving birth to her youngest of three children, Kang took a stab at writing some poetry. “And it was really horrible poetry, really bad stuff,” she says, “but I thought, you know, this is kind of fun.”

After a few writing seminars and a couple of what she calls “practice novels,” Kang was ready in 2010 to put her latest idea to the test—a story centered around a young woman living with Ondine’s curse, an ailment that can cause respiratory arrest during sleep. “I was studying for my boards recertification,” she recalls, “and I couldn’t remember hearing about it in medical school. And I thought it was really fascinating and horrific and sad. And wouldn’t it be interesting to have a character with that?” She wrote her first draft in three months, she signed on with an agent in 2011, and a couple weeks later Control was picked up by Penguin.

To make herself more attractive to the publishing world, Kang also began blogging in 2010. But what to blog about other than the challenges of writing? “There are a million blogs out there like that,” she recalls thinking. “Do I have anything else to offer? And I sat there wondering, what makes me different, what do I have to offer, do I have any skills that I can share with people? And then—oh. I’m a doctor.” She laughs now at how completely she had separated her life in medicine from her writing life.

Kang spread the word online that if a writer were struggling with a fictional medical scenario, she’d assist them with authoritative advice. For example, an author might need a character to wake up after, say, a half hour; Kang could suggest a drug that might work in such a situation. She’s advised on medical situations that have been published in other books, and one author even gave her a cameo appearance in a book as Dr. Kang.

For the foreseeable future, she’ll remain Dr. Kang in both literary and real life. Though she plans to release Control’s sequel, Catalyst, in early 2015 and is currently revising a fantasy novel for her agent’s consideration, Kang says it would take a lot to make her give up practicing medicine to write full-time. “I really love my patients. It’s a bit hectic at times,” she admits, laughing, “but I’m managing.”

 A book release party for Control will be held Jan. 18 from 2-4 p.m. at The Bookworm in Countryside Village, 8701 Pacific St.

Jeremy Glasser’s Concrete Countertops

August 29, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Jeremy Glasser

Replacing the old tile kitchen countertops of his Morton Meadows home had been on Jeremy Glasser’s to-do list since moving into the house in 2008. When a break between jobs afforded him a bit of time to tackle the project, Glasser went to work creating new concrete counters, which offer an earthy look and tactile feel while also being extremely durable and resistant to heat and scratches.

Glasser did not go this DIY entirely alone, seeking expert advice and step-by-step instruction from the book Concrete Countertops Made Simple by Fu-Tung Cheng. The how-to book also comes with a helpful DVD.

First, Glasser measured the counter space and drew templates for the countertops on 1”-thick melamine board. Then, using the melamine and silicone, he created the forms in which to pour the concrete to set. (Glasser says plexiglass can also be placed inside the forms to offer a smoother concrete finish.) Reinforcing rebar was laid inside the forms to help strengthen the heavy cement counters.

The kitchen countertops before Glasser's project.

The kitchen countertops before Glasser’s project.

Second, Glasser hand-mixed 10 bags of countertop concrete mix and poured the wet cement into the forms. “If I were to do it again, I’d rent a cement mixer, though,” he shares. “One dry/unmixed patch did make it through to the finished product.” Though casual observers might not notice.

Next came settling the concrete. Though Cheng’s book recommends using a stick vibrator to help level out the poured concrete, Glasser employed his “inner MacGyver” ingenuity and rigged up an old motor from an off-balance washing machine to the bottom of the form’s table. The gadget shook out the concrete and eliminated all but the smallest bubbles quite well.

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Once the cement had cured (this took about a week), he used a file to sand down the unfinished edges “because they can be quite sharp,” he adds.

Then came sanding. The process took three passes: first with 320-grit sandpaper, then 800, and lastly 1500, using an orbital sander hooked up to an air compressor. Finding the right paper proved to be a bit of a chore. Glasser was able to procure his supplies at an auto body shop, “though [the paper] was fairly expensive—$40 a box.”

Lastly, Glasser applied a top coat of penetrating sealant and later, a coat of auto wax to the cement for a smooth finish. “You want carnauba wax or something that is going to be food-safe,” he says.

20130625_bs_8665-AFTER

In all, the project took approximately $300 and about three weeks’ time.

Asked what challenges the countertops project offered, Glasser says creating the forms, which required great care and patience so as to not create wrinkles in the forms, which can transfer to the cement. Also, moving the cured cement pieces from the forms into place. “That concrete was horrendously heavy. You have to have good, strong help to move it into place.”

The natural cement countertops that Glasser and wife Chris now adore in their updated kitchen were well worth the effort.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D.

August 26, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., has been teaching and researching business ethics for more than 20 years. She has been professor of Business Ethics at Creighton University since 1991. But the seasoned academic holds a strong belief that ethics discussions should reach outside the classroom and into Omaha’s day-to-day business life.

She found soulmates in many of Omaha’s business leaders who shared her passion for ethics. Working together, Omaha’s business community launched the Business Ethics Alliance in 2008. The group consults, trains, and speaks on ethics.

Founding partners are the Creighton University College of Business, Greater Omaha Chamber, Better Business Bureau, and the Omaha business community. The Business Ethics Alliance isn’t just for business. The group also interacts with college and K-12 students, as well as executives, employees, and entrepreneurs.

Business Ethics Alliance programming focuses on the core values of accountability, community responsibility, integrity, financial vitality, and moral courage. As holder of the Robert B. Daugherty Endowed Chair in Business Ethics & Society, Kracher is free to work outside the classroom. She teaches one Creighton graduate class each year.

Otherwise she leads the Business Ethics Alliance as executive director and CEO, often traveling to countries worldwide.

“Words are power. One of the easiest things we can do is practice articulating our ethics.”

“I spoke in Ethiopia recently, and they said they had never conceived of a relationship between ethics and success in business,” Kracher says.

But companies considering relocating to Omaha are well aware of the relationship, according to David Brown, president and CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber. One Illinois company, reeling from the indictment of the state’s governor, found solace in Omaha’s ethical business community.

“Another client specifically asked us to make part of our presentation about ethical practices in Omaha because they wanted a community that took ethics seriously,” says Brown. “We blew them away.”

Helping found the Business Ethics Alliance brought Kracher a great deal of satisfaction—and an award from the Greater Omaha Chamber as the 2013 Business Woman of the Year. She’s earned it, says Brown: “She has taken a fledgling organization and turned it into something unique to Omaha. It requires business acumen, as well as the ability to work with business leaders.”

Kracher said that ethical business communities have leaders with strong, shared, positive values who are fair to their workforce, give back to their communities, and have honest and accountable employees. The ethical communities have non-corrupt government and nonprofits that partner with for-profits.

She is a columnist for B2B Omaha magazine and co-authored the book Ethinary, An Ethics Dictionary: 50 Ethical Words to Add to Your Conversation. The book sits on many business professionals’ desks around the country. “Words are power,” Kracher said. “One of the easiest things we can do is practice articulating our ethics.”

Professor, researcher, author, columnist, CEO, she also is vice president of Plant Pros of Omaha, which puts her in the small-business arena.

Ethics haven’t changed over the years, she believes: “The ancient Persians used to burn bakers in their ovens for adulterating bread with straw, etc. So bad business has been around for centuries. Good has, too.”

Leo Adam Biga Releases Book about Alexander Payne

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by John Gawley

“Most of us are familiar with the actors who’ve come from here,” says Leo Biga, local journalist, author, blogger, and Omaha Publications freelancer. “Fred Astaire, Robert Taylor, Montgomery Clift. There are very few non-actors in the film industry from Nebraska. There’s Darryl Zanuck. Harold Lloyd. Then there’s a long pause, and we get Joan Micklin Silver. And now there’s Alexander Payne.”

Biga’s newly released book, Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film – A Reporter’s Perspective 1998-2012, is a compilation of the journalist’s many articles about the filmmaker from Omaha. “This is not a biography at all,” Biga says of the first book written about the famous director. “I almost never intrude on his life. There are tidbits there, but mostly it shows the arc of his film career.”

A native Omahan and movie buff himself with years of film programming under his belt, Biga was intrigued by Payne from the first he’d heard of him. “I read an article about this young filmmaker who’d done something called The Passion of Martin,” Biga recalls. The local journalist observed the director as he rose in the industry, finally calling on him in 1997 as Payne prepared to shoot his second feature, Election, in Omaha.

“We met at McFoster’s Natural Kind Café,” Biga says. “We talked about his creative process, the characters, the settings, the editing. Everything.” When 2003 rolled around and Payne was shooting Sideways, the director gave Biga full access to the set. “The red carpet was rolled out for me,” the author remembers. “The exclusivity of it was so unique.”

Even though the book is finished, Biga continues his years-long conversation with Payne as the director prepares for Nebraska, his fourth feature shot in his home state. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Biga says. “It’s the fact that I was there. I’ve seized the opportunity.”

Readers interested in purchasing the book can visit The BookWorm (8702 Pacific St.) or alexanderpaynethebook.com

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.