Appears In

Illinois State is proud to be able to acknowledge the work of graduates who are successful authors.

If you’ve written a book that has been released by a publishing house within the past decade, submit it for review by Professor Emerita of English JoAnna Stephens Mink ’73, M.S. ’75, D.A. ’85.

All books authored by alums will be added to a collection of work by other graduates on display in the Alumni Center. Autographed copies are especially appreciated.

Please send your book to Illinois State editor Susan Blystone at Illinois State Alumni Center, 1101 N. Main Street, Normal, IL 61790. Inquiries can be sent to

Robert Gilbert Run With the Outlaws: Epic Western Tales book cover

Run with the Outlaws: Epic Western Tales

Robert Gilbert. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017. 172pp.

Summary: Robert Gilbert’s most recent book is a collection of stories set in the American Wild West. While a few of the stories in Run with the Outlaws were previously published in the magazine Frontier Tales, more than half are new. The 10 stories in this self-published collection feature U.S. Marshal Warren Brothers and “other desperadoes who drift across the same landscape and test their fate.” Gilbert promises characters who speak in cowboy twang and evoke the smell of whiskey and smoke, which drifted in every saloon.

“Long Journey to Issaquena” is original to Run with the Outlaws. Marshal Brothers is described by one of the townsmen: “Brothers? I heard he’s a rowdy and mean streakin’ lawman, tough as they come. Whenever the stage comes through with supplies for my store I jaw with every driver in being nosey as far as who’s known for bein’ a crusty ol’ marshal. Them drivers keep talkin’ ’bout two that are known to be the dern best, no matter what territory you come from. Ain’t nothin’ but straight talk ’bout Brothers. He’s plain gun shootin’ fast” (27).

Tales of Marshal Brothers’ quest for law and order are set in the atmospheric landscape of the West, often described in opening paragraphs as illustrated in these examples:

“The first glimpse of sunlight peeked through an open slit between the pinnacle of Angel Fire Mountain and Pedasco Ridge. Across that distant landscape, the stair-step elevation was bathed in hues of lavender mist and blue columbine” (“Posse from Cimarron”).

“Morning haze began to thin out across Colmer Valley, the divide between Summit Range and the Twin Peaks of Red Stone Pass. The land lay peaceful and still this side of the valley, a thin gust of wind caressed my face, and in the far remoteness came the faint howl of coyotes. … A partial moon painted against the open sky was cream and crescent shaped, seemingly resting between the spires of Ghost Ridge” (“Pointed Gun”).

“It was high country, Twin Fingers, and it had me looking down into a canyon divide most call Bitter Creek Run. In the summertime, the area along Border Ridge burned with valley heat. Waves of scalding temperatures would eat away at a man’s skin like hot grease bein’ licked away by a fire—just plain, damn awful, and that’s a truthful fact if there ever was one” (“Too Much of a Kid”).

Bank robbers, murderers, damsels in distress—Gilbert’s colloquial diction and first-person narration make them come alive in their interactions with Marshal Brothers. Details in each story move the plot quickly with the myriad characters who inhabit the American Wild West.

About the Author: Robert Gilbert ’72 lives northwest of Chicago. Run with the Outlaws is his third book.

Return to the Mother: a Lover's Handbook Poems of Self Remembering and Self Observation inspired by Lao Tsu's Tao Te Ching Red Hawk book cover

Return to the Mother: A Lover’s Handbook

Red Hawk (aka Robert Moore). Chino Valley, Arizona: Hohm Press, 2017. 128pp.

Summary: The full title of Red Hawk’s most recent collection of poetry is Return to the Mother: A Lover’s Handbook: Poems of Self Remembering and Self Observation Inspired by Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching. For centuries the Tao Te Ching—the book of ancient wisdom by Lao Tsu— has offered insight, inspiration, and consolation to millions of readers. Although numberless translations and commentaries exist around the world, Return to the Mother is “a groundbreaking effort and a unique contribution to the canon of contemporary poetry” (back cover).

Each of the 94 poems in Return to the Mother is 16 lines long. The title of each poem is a line from one of Lao Tsu’s sutras, which are rules or aphorisms in Sanskrit literature. Each poem, says Red Hawk, is a “response and a commentary on Lao Tsu’s Sutra, a call-and-response over the centuries between two spiritual seekers after truth.” Inspired by the teachings of Zen Buddhism, this anthology is the third volume in Red Hawk’s trilogy, which includes Self Remembering: The Path to Non-Judgmental Love and Self Observation: The Awakening of Conscience.

The final poem in the collection demonstrates both Red Hawk’s form and his theme:

“Having known the children, we should go back and hold onto the Mother.” (52,ii)
She who knows herself
knows the other
as herself and therefore

knows the universe
in a grain of sand; she ceases
to follow the restless mind

as it travels endlessly from the past
to the future, leaving in its wake
a multitude of sorrows,

the orphaned children of fear.
Like a prodigal child, she tires
of her restless wandering; her desires

exhausted, she longs for her home
in the present; humbled, she is embraced.
Coming home to the present is called

Returning to the Mother.

About the Author: Robert Moore ’67, M.S.’68, is a full professor of English at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. Writing under the pseudonym of Red Hawk, he is a prolific author. All of his many books of poetry, except one, have been published by Hohm Press, as have his nonfiction books. He has also published poems in several prominent journals, including The Atlantic, Kenyon Review, and Atlanta Review.

Kristin Skenderi Holding Hope in Our Hands: A profound, true story to trust your instincts, push for more options, live for a smile and never, ever give up! book cover

Holding Hope in our Hands

Kristin Skenderi. Naperville: Fig Factor Media, 2017. 184pp.

Summary: The full title of Kristin Skenderi’s book is Holding Hope in Our Hands: A profound, true story to trust your instincts, push for more options, live for a smile and never, ever give up!

Hearing the words “There is no cure” never stopped Kristin and Ozzie Skenderi from consulting every resource, medical expert, and alternative option available to help save their 6-month-old son. Diagnosed with Gaucher disease type 2 in April 2014, Nixon was given a life expectancy of three years. He turned 4 on November 1, 2017. Holding Hope traces Nixon’s parents’ journey, the roller coaster ride of their lives.

Gaucher disease type 2 is an inherited metabolic disorder in which harmful quantities of a fatty substance called glucocerebroside accumulate in the spleen, liver, lungs, bone marrow, and brain. Symptoms usually develop by 3 months of age and include brain damage, seizures, abnormal eye movements, poor ability to suck and swallow, and enlargement of the liver and spleen. While enzyme replacement therapy is available for some types of Gaucher disease, children with Gaucher disease type 2 generally don’t respond to this treatment, and many die by ages two to four (

Kristin Skenderi’s account of her and her husband’s journey begins with her forthright admonition to her audience: “If you are a parent with a healthy child and consider yourself to have a ‘normal’ life, please be grateful and do not take that for granted. … From the first second we discovered that our six-month-old baby boy was not healthy, everything changed” (Preface). Complicating their dealing with Nixon’s medical situation was Skenderi’s guilt because Gaucherdisease is inherited: “We did this”—not intentionally, but in the way “our genes mixed.”

This self-published book is aptly titled. Skenderi’s account in Holding Hope in Our Hands is well-written and compelling. Her personality is apparent on every page as she charts the ups and downs of her journey. But the reader learns about more than Kristin Skenderi. The various doctors whom she consults in person or by email, the internet searches she conducts, the other people who provide support, the information she learns are all included in her amazing account. Readers experience the weeks of Nixon’s chemotherapy treatments and his stem cell transplant. Other treatments, incubations, crises follow.

As of the publication of Holding Hope, Nixon had been home for seven months, off his Parkinson’s and seizure medications, and off his ventilator during the day. He needs other medications, including one that friends bring back from Japan, and vitamins known to help brain function. He’s a strong little guy with strong parents and an amazing mother who shares their experience in the hope of helping others.

About the Author: Kristin Spatzek Skenderi, ’04 lives in Chicago with her husband and son Nixon.

Maggie Wells Love Game book cover

Love Game

Maggie Wells. Naperville: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2018. 384pp.

Summary: Love Game is Maggie Wells’ mass market publishing debut, though she has previously published dozens of romance novels. The aptly titled Love Game features Kate Snyder, coach of the No. 1 women’s college basketball team. She’s a coaching legend, having captured a national championship for her alma mater Wolcott University. But Kate cannot simply rest on her laurels because the university has just hired a men’s football coach—at a much higher salary than Kate’s—and he’s the one in the media spotlight. What’s more, by taking the job at Wolcott, Danny McMillan is trying to escape a scandal.

While she’s still basking in the glory of her and her team’s remarkable achievement, Kate feels sidelined by Danny’s entrance onto campus. Her competitiveness surfaces even while she recognizes his attractiveness: “Danny McMillan was a fine-looking fella in his own right. Dark-haired, tall, and solid. … He looked like a man who could take a hit and keep his feet under him. This guy had the balls to step foot into her press room, walk onto her campus, and stand on the mica-studded steps of the athletic center her program had built as if he owned them” (16).

In many ways, her observations say more about Kate herself than about Danny. Kate considers herself “a Wolcott Warrior and a champion. These men thought they could waltz into her world and take what they wanted? Not likely. … This was her time. Her turf. The center ring belonged to her. And she’d be damned if she let some clown run over her to get to it” (17). Let the games begin—indeed.

However, Love Game is a novel in the romance genre, and Kate realizes, “She’d fallen for his unperturbed arrogance” before much time elapses. “Without ceremony or apology, he dropped her on the bed, then extricated himself from her grasp. He couldn’t look at her as he shed his clothes. … She lay naked and exposed, completely open to him” (212). You get the idea.

Is it possible for these two competitors to maintain a relationship within Wolcott University’s Athletic Department?

About the Author: Margaret Ethridge ’90, writing under the pseudonym of Maggie Wells, has published 39 novels and novellas in the romance genre. She is past president of Diamond State Romance Authors. A Central Illinois native who has lived in and around the Chicago area, she currently resides in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Lost Boys of Hannibal: Inside America's Largest Cave Search John Wingate book cover

Lost Boys of Hannibal: Inside America’s Largest Cave Search

John Wingate. Minneapolis: Wisdom Editions, 2017. 260pp.

Summary: In May 1967, the largest cave search in U.S. history unfolded in historic Hannibal, Missouri. Joel Hoag, his brother Billy, and their friend Edwin Craig Dowell—three modern day Tom Sawyers—vanished after exploring a vast and complex maze cave system that had been exposed by highway construction. Fifty years later, their fate remains the ultimate unsolved mystery. John Wingate’s Lost Boys of Hannibal seeks to uncover the answer.

Wingate was childhood friends with Joel (aged 13) and Billy (11) Hoag, who went missing with Craig Dowell (14) not long after Wingate (aged 14 in 1967) had moved away from Hannibal. Solving this mystery was personal for the adult Wingate: “I wrote this book to ensure the lost boys and the heroic efforts by hundreds of participants are not forgotten, especially the many cavers who risked their own lives in unstable, coffin-snug cave passages” (news release).

The only thing known for certain is that Joel, Billy, and Craig were never seen again after 5:15 pm on May 10, 1967, when they were spotted near the site of the Highway 79 road construction project. The work of earthmovers had revealed several limestone cave openings to a previously unknown labyrinth of subterranean passages. The boys excitedly planned to explore them, in spite of the admonitions of various adults. This they did one afternoon after classes at Hannibal Junior High School.

In researching and writing Lost Boys of Hannibal, Wingate searched archival newspaper clippings and interviewed more than 200 cavers, emergency responders, and volunteers who helped in the search for the boys. He uncovered new information in the process. This information is explored in detail in the 13 chapters of Lost Boys.

Wingate includes maps, photographs, and newspaper articles to explain and support his theories. A five-page list of resources, appended to his discussion, reinforces Wingate’s detailed investigation in his pursuit of the truth.

Wingate acknowledges the truth may never be known. However, Lost Boys of Hannibal ensures that Joel, Billy, and Craig will never be forgotten.

About the Author: John Wingate ’75 spent 20 years as a broadcast journalist in Illinois and Minnesota. He has received nearly 20 awards for writing and reporting excellence, including three national TELLY Awards for screenwriting and video production. A former consumer reporter for KSTP-TV, he lives in Minneapolis, where he is a communications consultant.