In Arts & Entertainment

Milwaukee author Phil Nero.

Milwaukee author delves deeply in first novel

You might think that Milwaukee novelist Phil Nero would pick a subject for his first novel that's relatively safe; in other words, easy to digest and -- more importantly -- easy to get published. But considering the Milwaukee journalist has been working on his rookie project since the early '90s, he made the decision to go big or go home.

Nero picked big. "Twice Upon A Time" deals with time travel, anti-war sentiments from both Vietnam and "Operation Iraqi Freedom," romance and the mind-twisting possibilities of meeting oneself, 33 years in the past.

A little science fiction, but mostly about life's second chances, "Twice Upon A Time" is a stimulating and quick read.

A transplanted New Yorker-- which where the novel takes place -- Nero now lives in Milwaukee. We caught up with him before his Jan. 24 book signing at Harry Schwartz Bookshops in Shorewood.

OMC: You picked some weighty issues for your novel, didn't you?

Nero: I don't know. It got to be more fun as I progressed through the book. I knew where I wanted to start and where I wanted to end. It started out very hard for me, but then I got to like the characters. It was written at the time of the first Gulf War, so the Internet wasn't there. The research component was a bit more difficult. I used microfiche. But fiction is hard. I had the general idea that I wanted to write about a military man who went back in time and had to rethink all his values. And I knew I wanted to end at ... well, I won't spoil the ending.

OMC: The book felt historically accurate. Did you have work hard to be so detail-oriented?

PN: I was there, I lived through it. There were things like a digital clock or an electric gas pump that weren't there. I remember the price of a loaf of bread. But I did have to research the outcome of the Kentucky Derby that year.

OMC: It seems like some of your own personality was injected into this book. And you went into great detail about horse racing, for example. Are you horse racing guy?

PN: I worked for three years in Saratoga Springs, so it's hard not to be.

OMC: What about the Kent State stuff?

PN: I think that ranks right up there with the Kennedy assassination for people who are of a certain age. They were two of the things in life in which I remember where I was (when they happened).

OMC: For someone who wasn't in the military, how did you create the realistic protagonist, Col. Ellis?

PN: I knew some military guys growing up. I spent two years at a military school. I knew some who were discerning people, who didn't just take orders. But lets face it, we live in a very military-oriented society, it's not hard to grab an image of a modern warrior and run with it.

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