Former 'VeggieTales' author branches out; Peterson to speak at local authors fair

By DAVE HINTON
Rantoul Press editor


Little could Doug Peterson know when he decided to visit a Cincinnati museum that the experience would spark a major shift in his writing career.

The Champaign author, who wrote more than 40 of the well-received “VeggieTales” children’s books, was in that city with his wife for the preview of a “VeggieTales” movie. Having a free afternoon, the Petersons decided to visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

It was there that Doug Peterson stumbled across a small exhibit about Henry Brown — a slave who gained his freedom by mailing himself in a box to Philadelphia.

Peterson had never heard of Brown, so when he returned home he Googled the name of the runaway slave.

“I was just floored” by Brown’s story, said Peterson, who decided to write a book about the man, who later traveled to England to prevent being sent back to the South.

Peterson will be one of the speakers at this weekend’s Fifth Annual Local Authors Fair at Rantoul Public Library, which runs both Friday and Saturday. The topic of his talk, which begins at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, will be “From Book to Screenplay: How I Converted My Novel to a Screenplay in 3 1/2 Days and Lived to Tell About It.”

The decision to begin writing historical novels marked a major change for Peterson. Brown’s story is told in Peterson’s book, “The Disappearing Man,” published by Bay Forest Books.

Ironically, about the same time Peterson opted to make the writing change, the “VeggieTales” publisher announced it would discontinue publishing the books. It still produces the “VeggieTales” videos.

Peterson is in the midst of writing his third historical novel.

He has finished the first draft of another work that highlights two slaves’ flight to freedom — this  titled “The Vanishing Woman.”

The story deals with slaves William and Ellen Craft. Ellen Craft was a slave of mixed-race.

“Her mother was a slave,” Peterson said, and her father was her master. “Ellen looked completely white. They escaped when Ellen posed as a white man and her husband posed as her slave.”

At that time it was illegal for a white woman to travel alone with a slave.

Peterson has also written a historical novel whose backdrop is The Berlin Wall. “Puzzle People,” was published in March.

A murder mystery, “Puzzle People” is set in 2003 — 14 years after the wall dividing East Germany and West Germany came down.

It centers on a group of people who have been assigned the task of piecing together the remains of 16,000 sacks of shredded documents that the German Secret police had assembled on their own people.

“People would put them together like jig saw puzzles,” Peterson said. “As they put them together, (the story) flashes back to those people’s stories in 1961 and in 1989.”

They discover evidence of a murder.

Peterson makes it a point to visit the actual settings where his books took place. After he visited one former Berlin Wall watch tower that had been preserved, he rewrote three chapters of the book.

The caretaker of the watch tower was Jurgen Litfin, whose brother, Günter, was the first person killed trying to cross the border. Peterson was there on the 50th anniversary of Günter’s Aug. 24, 1961, death.

Peterson said the process of possibly getting “The Disappearing Man” made into a movie “is still moving forward.”

“I’m really learning (how to write screenplays) myself,” he said. “I’m going to share my experiences as a novice. Hopefully that will shed some light on if (people) want to tackle writing a screenplay.”

A native of Lombard, Peterson earned a journalism degree from the University of Illinois. He was the editor of a weekly newspaper just outside Madison, Wis., before moving with his wife back to Champaign-Urbana, where he began writing for the University of Illinois, primarily for the College of Agriculture, and is retired from the university after 30 years.

Peterson continues to work about 10 hours a week for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He estimates he spends three to four hours a day working on his historical novels. He also helps his wife, Nancy, with her private counseling practice.

“The Disappearing Man” has been used in the classroom at Champaign Centennial and Judah Christian schools and was adopted by the county of Canton, Ohio, for its One Book, One Community project.

Peterson will be one of four authors to speak Saturday at the library. The authors fair runs Friday and Saturday. (See related story.)

dhinton@rantoulpress.com


AUTHORS TO SPEAK AT AUTHORS FAIR WORKSHOPS

Doug Peterson of Champaign is one of four authors who will present workshops at this weekend’s Fifth Annual Local Authors Fair at Rantoul Public Library. (See related story.)

Other authors to speak Saturday will include David J. Kirk, Nicole O’Dell and Robert Hays.

A native of Ludlow who now resides in Indiana, Kirk will speak from 10-11 a.m. on “Seeing the Light in Young Adult Writing.”

O’Dell, of Paxton, will speak from 11:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. on “How to Get Published.”

Peterson will speak from 12:30-1:30 p.m. on “From Book to Screenplay: How I Converted My Novel to a Screenplay in 3 1/2 Days and Lived to Tell About It.”

“Creating Settings in Fiction” will be the focus of the talk by Hays, who will speak from 1:30-2:30 p.m.

Registration for the workshops may be made by email at rantoullib@gmail.com or by calling 893-3955.

Authors to read
Several authors will be reading from their works beginning at 7 Friday night.

Graphic designer Jerry Barrett is author of “Wide Mouth Frog Goes to the Zoo.” His wife will read from the book.

“We’re inviting families with kids to come at 7 to hear the book read,” said Violet LaPine, technical library assistant.

Also reading from their works will be Kirk, author of “Particular Stones”; Betty C. Kay of Jacksonville, who will portray a woman from the Civil War (her books are meant for children; she has written two books on Abraham Lincoln); and Hays, from Champaign-Urbana, author of a historical fiction suspense book, “Blood on the Roses.”

Those authors will also be available to sign their books Saturday. Also available for signing will be authors the Rev. Glenn Crouse of Rantoul Christian Church, who has written a workbook for families trying to decide whether to have their children baptized; Phyllis Morris of Rantoul; Rantoul native Kay Neal, who now lives in Champaign and has written a book to help people learn Latin; Maureen Hughes of Penfield; C.C. Wills, whose book “Treasure in the Shawnee Hills” is set in the Little Egypt region of  Southern Illinois; Charles Knox; Folo Watkins of Urbana, a living history re-enactor whose books deal with the time period of the Vikings; Jeff Goldberg, author of “Blind Authority” who is writing from the standpoint of a Jew who has found the Messiah; John Kohmstedt; Jerry Barrett; Kristine Trudeau; and Laetitia Cook.

Dave Hinton




 

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