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Photo by Fred Pollard
Alton resident Ron Wenzel, writing as Max Zero, has released his first book, “Vonnegut’s Ghost.” The post-apocalyptic, cautionary tale takes place in the fictional town of Almost, Ill., a reworked version of Alton.
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Although known as one of the most haunted small towns in America, Alton’s identity is disguised in Ron Wenzel’s novel about the supernatural.
“I decided to name the town ‘Almost’ because Alton has been ‘almost important’ in history on a number of occasions,” Wenzel, of Alton, said. “It was almost a state capital; it was almost a railroad hub.
“Changing the name also emphasizes the fact that the characters in the book are fictional.”
Writing under the pseudonym Max Zero, Wenzel published “Vonnegut’s Ghost” last November. The thriller presents a doomsday scenario inspired by the writings of “Slaughterhouse-Five” mastermind Kurt Vonnegut.
Although technically located in “Almost,” local residents will recognize their town immediately, even on the front cover, a mash-up design that features the old Grand Theatre and Lincoln Douglas Square.
In fact, Wenzel says the inspiration for the tale itself came from his own Alton experiences.
“I dealt with two power outages within one year that lasted a week each, one in the heat of summer and one in the dead of winter,” he said. “They got me thinking about what if that was a permanent situation, and what would normal everyday people do?”
Although heavy in tone, the book mixes tragedy with a healthy dose of unexpected humor (think “family-friendly Tarantino”).
“It would make a great dark comedy at Sundance,” the author said.
Wenzel, 58, is a pastor at Rosewood Heights Community Church. The married father and grandfather says authoring a book about the supernatural does not reflect on his faith in a negative way.
“The ghosts are more like the ghosts in ‘A Christmas Carol,’” he said. “This is not a horror story. The content does not justify that fear.”
He says he actually has received overwhelming support for the book, and even people of faith who may have been hesitant to read the book ended up loving it.
Wenzel’s forays into the printed word stretch back to his childhood, when he wrote and illustrated his own comic books.
“I have loved to write my whole life,” he said. “I used to write freelance for a regional trade newspaper for several years, and I also wrote marketing and business plans for work.”
Taking pen to paper also stretched to songwriting. If the name “Max Zero” sounds familiar, it is because that is the alter-ego Wenzel used when he created comedy songs for the nationally syndicated radio program “The Bob and Tom Show.”
Reviews for “Vonnegut’s Ghost” so far have been extremely enthusiastic.
“I couldn’t put it down, and I was laughing and giggling all the way through it,” Madison County Treasurer Kurt Prenzler said. “I give this book a five-star rating.”
"It is a homage to…a life lived in the Midwest,” says Ruth Bell of Alton. “The characters are realistic and feel like people I know."
However, the author says the reviews were not always quite so glowing.
“When I was done, I thought it was perfect,” Wenzel said, laughing. “I gave it to six people to read and critique. I then spent another nine months editing and rewriting the book.”
Future writing projects include a possible sequel and a non-fiction book about angels.
“Vonnegut’s Ghost” can be purchased through Amazon.com and at Second Reading in Alton and Godfrey Bookstore.