Thanksgiving may have passed but I want to express my gratitude to the Forest Park businesses and residents who participated in the “Local Authors Series,” helping to promote the historical novel The Ghost of Cleopatra. The series was the brainchild of my colleague Joe (I just call him Joe) Chomiczewski. He lined up the venues and faithfully videotaped the readings. 

Our first reading was an impromptu event at Amy’s Wine House. The place was packed. Some were there for the book, others came to hear the musical stylings of Tam & Dan. There was also a family who had no clue what they had gotten into but were good sports about it. 

Next up was Shanahan’s. Tim and Radana Shanahan served food and drinks in the back room. There was a good turnout and a very diverse crowd. They ranged in age from 13 to 80. I could see the 13-year-old wasn’t feeling well and feared we’d lose him. But he rallied and later told his mom they should go to more events like this. 

At Yearbook, we were competing against the Cubs, so the turnout was small. However, Noel Eberline and Jef Anderson provided cheese, crackers and wine and our intimate group enjoyed the evening. The actual reading took 15 minutes but there was so much interest, the discussion lasted for 90 minutes. A local woman told me she was hooked on three levels: Native American history, art history and Egyptology. 

The tour continued to Francesca’s Fiore, where Gabriela Barker arranged for us to eat pasta and salad in a private room. Again the audience was diverse, with listeners coming from Austin and Oak Park. They enjoyed the food and wine and the Q&A stretched into coffee and tiramisu. There were two repeat-listeners in the crowd, so I read a fresh section for them. 

Patrick O’Brien, owner of Scratch Deli and Café, was equally accommodating but we learned that it’s tough to get a turnout on the eve of a presidential election. We plan to go back at a more opportune time. The turnout was better at our second reading at Amy’s Wine House. Mark and Amy Storey treated us well and the crowd listened attentively. 

After Manager Dennis Miller accommodated our reading at FatDuck on Nov. 29, we still have one gig left. We’re being hosted, on Dec. 8, in the private room at Big Boss, which just held its lavish Grand Opening, at Desplaines & Madison. Owner Paul Duen and master chef, Jasmine Lee, will provide listeners with a variety of Asian food. We’re looking forward to another good crowd, and Joe claims he’s not tired of the reading yet.

That’s because our story contains so many areas of interest, including African American and local history. Though it’s an epic story, spanning continents and centuries, much of the action takes place right in Forest Park. It’s also an unusual book, containing first-person narration by sculptor Edmonia Lewis, her statue, “The Death of Cleopatra,” and the Queen of the Nile herself.

My co-author Gail Tanzer and I geared the book toward the teenage and young adult crowd. This genre largely consists of books about vampires and the end of the world. We thought young people today need a true story that is uplifting. In fact, our teenage test reader, Maura Flanagan, found the book to be “insightful and inspiring.” I want to thank Maura and hope her comment will be on the jacket of the book someday. 

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.