Opinion Matters

With Gazette Opinion Editor Greg Peck

My book, “Death Beyond the Willows,” is back in print

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Greg Peck
Friday, December 6, 2013

It might be a tad cold for a festive holiday gathering Saturday morning, but I'll be in my hometown of Marshall from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for the Marshall Area Business Association's “Christmas on Main” celebration at the American Legion Hall.

I will have a table and talk about and sign copies of a newly released and revised edition of my nonfiction book, “Death Beyond the Willows.”

The book debuted in 2005, and here is a synopsis: In 1927, Johnny Pirkl, a handsome young farmer from a large Marshall family, proposed to Hazel Ferguson, only child to a farm family from nearby Cottage Grove. Hazel's parents objected because Johnny was Catholic and Hazel was not. What followed this clash of religions was a shocking wedding-night tragedy in Portage that made national news and left both families grieving for decades.

The tragedy inspired Zona Gale, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and native of Portage, to write a fictional story. I spent years researching and weaving the true story, which encompasses the family farm and how we're losing that part of our heritage. The story also involves an old Chevy in the days when roads offered primitive transportation. I uncovered startling twists to the religious prejudice at the root of this saga.

Ben Logan, Wisconsin author of “The Land Remembers,” offered one of two back-cover blurbs for my book. “Greg Peck's work is a breath of fresh air,” Logan wrote, in part.

I appreciate Logan's words and all of you who bought and read “Death Beyond the Willows.” It has been out of print several years, and this edition is out through Rattlesnake Valley Publishing, based in Houston, Minn. This edition includes an impressive new cover design by Gazette graphic artist Tony DiNicola, updates and fresh graphics. An Afterword tells how the book inspired three bus tours, sponsored by the Marshall Area Historical Society, of key sites in the book. I agreed to lead those tours, and in my narration, I revealed three short, stunning coincidental stories that emerged and brought this rich history full circle. I included those in a new Afterword in this edition.

The book's cover price remains $16.95. On Saturday I'll also leave signed copies at Hellenbrands Ace Hardware and at He & She Design Parlor in Marshall. The book also is available through amazon.com. It might make a nice Christmas gift. For $20, including shipping, I can send a signed copy anywhere. Write to me at 1421 Eastwood Ave., Janesville, WI 53545. Or contact me at gregmpeck@sbcglobal.net.

I'll also be signing at Book World, 2451 Milton Ave., Janesville, from 5 to 7 p.m. next Friday, Dec. 13. In a blog next week, I'll share more about what it took to get this book back in print. I'm also scheduled to be on WCLO's “Your Talk Show” with Tim Bremel at 11 a.m. Wednesday to discuss the book and the Wisconsin Writers Association. I serve on the WWA's board of directors, and the association proved crucial to getting my book republished.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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