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Chicago Lit: Nothing supernatural about T.M. Goeglein’s YA universe

Author T.M. Goeglein’s office has view Edgewater Beach Hotel building whose residents have informed his writing. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

Author T.M. Goeglein’s office has a view of the Edgewater Beach Hotel building, whose residents have informed his writing. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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T.M. Goeglein will discuss and sign “Cold Fury”:

• With the Adults Who Love to Read YA Lit group, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13 at Magic Tree Bookstore, 141 N. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park.

• 4:30 p.m. Dec. 18 at Chicago Public Library
Lozano Branch, 1805 S. Loomis.

• 5 p.m. Dec. 20 at Chicago Public Library Little
Village Branch, 2311 S. Kedzie.

Updated: January 10, 2013 6:03AM

When author T.M. Goeglein decided to step into the growing world of young adult fiction, he wasn’t drawn to the futuristic rage of “The Hunger Games.” Nor was he into the vampire/supernatural leanings of the “Twilight” series. Instead, he concocted a clever story set in Chicago and built it around a family and its connections to the mafia underworld.

“Cold Fury” (Putnam, $17.99), the first in Goeglein’s trilogy, introduces 16-year-old Sara Jane Rispoli, whose family has gone missing. Alone and determined to find them, she is in possession of a steel briefcase containing $96,000 in cash, a credit card in her name, a gun and a mysterious old notebook filled with facts, notes and phone numbers. As the adventure unfolds, she faces roadblocks because of her family’s connections to the mob, as well as from a dangerous unnamed cartel moving in on mob territory.

Goeglein says there is a “slow-burning and dangerous anger” that drives Sara Jane. As she infiltrates this old-time boy’s club, she find herself in a very dangerous situation not of her own making, thanks to family secrets kept hidden. It’s a story told at breakneck speed and filled with a masked assassin, rogue cops and a turncoat uncle.

“She a very tough chick,” Goeglein says. “She has to find her family, but to do that she has to compromise herself. She has to become part of the outfit and do some very bad things. She can feel her moral center breaking down. By the time the third book is done, she will be a very different person, and she’s not going to necessarily like herself.”

“Cold Fury” is filled with familiar Chicago locations, from the Art Institute and the Green Mill to downtown architecture and restaurants like Twin Anchors and Lou Mitchell’s. And Goeglein, who lives in Uptown, didn’t have to look far for inspiration on the mob-related elements of the story (his use of secret getaway passages is inspired).

He says he “cracked a few books” in his research, but mostly it came from “just living in the city for so long.”

“My office is across the street from the Edgewater Beach Hotel [apartment building], and I’ve learned a lot from the older people who live there.

“And across the street is a beautiful little building called the Renaissance. In 1929, Al Capone bought the penthouse, and his car elevator is still there. So all you have to do is look around the city to find all this inspiration.”

While the mob mythology is certainly fused to Chicago history, using it as a plot point might seem stereotypical to some readers. But Goeglein feels young adult readers are unaware of much of this world.

“I thought it would be interesting to bring that urban mythology back to the surface for that age of readers,” he says. “And it’s not like it’s not there today, it’s just in another form.”

Goeglein began his career as a writer of print and television ads for advertising companies, and as a screenwriter, creating both original scripts and doctoring others. Taking that first step toward writing a novel took some pushing from both his wife and agent. “Cold Fury” actually began as a screenplay.

“In those two mediums, everything is abbreviated,” Goeglein explains. “They finally convinced me I had a bent toward writing a longer story and to give it a shot.”

Goeglein admits he’s often asked how a fortysomething male and the father of two small kids can write from the viewpoint of a 16-year-old girl. He paraphrases another author (whose name he can’t remember) who responded to the same question: “It’s simply because I’ve always regarded women as human beings.”

“I grew up around some very, very strong women and I’m married to a very strong woman,” Goeglein says. “Sara Jane is forced to become part of this male-centric criminal organization where she is being judged for the first time in her life by her gender. And she is determined to break through that. It gives her an interesting edge and me an interesting place from which to write.”

Goeglein says what keeps him writing is the challenge of “creating a really good story.” He grew up in Fort Wayne, Ind., and says he “hated school from day one.” He recalls at a young age winning a contest for creating a book titled “The Eraser” about the exploits of a rogue blackboard eraser.

“I wrote it and my brother helped me illustrate it, and we bound it,” Goeglein, said, laughing. “It was such a production that I’m sure they just said give the kid an award and get him off our back. But that was the start, I’ve been writing in one way or another since then.”

With his debut trilogy, Goeglein’s goal is to keep readers off balance in the upcoming books. “Cold Fury 2” is due out in June and is even darker than the first, he says.

“There are unexpected characters and plot twists that readers will never see coming” Goeglein explains. “These books are aimed at a really, really smart group of avid readers. If you write down to them, you’re dead. I just have to make sure I keep the books up to their discerning standards.”

Mary Houlihan is a local free-lance writer.

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