Gavin Schmitt is the local author of several nonfiction books including The Shallow Grave, Milwaukee Mafia, Fox Cities Murder & Mayhem, and most recently, Murder Capital. Although his book titles may sound grim, Schmitt is anything but that! We caught up with him at his new job as a Library Assistant at the Kaukauna Public Library, and staff there report he is quite the prankster. Comedy aside, Schmitt will be presenting at the festival about Wisconsin’s darker history, a time when Madison, Wisconsin, had the highest murder rate in the country. Read on to learn a little bit about Schmitt and his upcoming presentation.
Tell us a little bit about your presentation at the Fox Cities Book Festival.
If there is one thing I hope to achieve with my presentation (Madison: America’s Deadliest City), it is taking people’s assumptions and expectations and turning them on their head. Whether you’ve spent much time in the capital or not, there is a certain reputation the city has acquired over the years. A safe place to raise a family, relatively little crime, racially diverse… and, of course, politically left-leaning. This may be true today, but it took a long time to get there. In the not too distant past, Madison had the highest homicide rate in the country and thousands of Ku Klux Klan members marched in the streets. This forgotten history (and more!) will be revealed.
What is your favorite thing about the Fox Cities?
Only one thing? Well, off the top of my head, I adore Kaukauna Coffee and Tea. It’s my second home, my “Cheers.” I recently was named an honorary employee, which meant a lot to me. It’s the perfect place for making new friends, or writing your next book! But there are so many things I appreciate about the area… with the exception of one year, I’ve always lived here and always will.
We recently heard that you started working at a library. What’s that like?
That sounds like a blasphemous rumor, but I concede that it’s true. After years of avoiding the dreaded “real job,” when a position became available to oversee the local history collection of Kaukauna Public Library, how could I say no? I’ve been digging in those rolls of microfilm for over 20 years! But to answer you, the job has been ideal. What more could a book-lover want more than to surround themselves with books and help other people discover their love of reading and learning?
What are you reading in your free time?
Oh, gosh. I’m the worst. Unless it’s a classic, I almost entirely avoid fiction. At any given time I have three books going — on my nightstand, on my work desk, in my car… dreadfully awful things like analytic philosophy, studies on the silent films of Germany. My “light” reading is the never-ending pile of books on organized crime in the Midwest and beyond. I’d be a hoot at those stuffy cocktail parties you see in movies but don’t exist in real life.
Whose presentations are you going to attend during the Festival?
I’m trying to attend what I can, and as I said I tend to prefer non-fiction. So top of my list is Carolyn Porter. When I heard she was coming, I checked out her book, Marcel’s Letters, before anyone else could! I’m also interested in seeing one of Sarah Read’s events. Again, I’m not big on fiction, but I do like the horror genre and have had the misfortune of getting to know Ms. Read personally. She’s an exceptionally talented writer and I urge others to give her work a try. Most of it is short stories, so there’s very little risk.
Where can we find you when you aren’t at work or writing?
Does such a time exist? I guess I’d be in bed.
Do you have any pets?
Simple question, complicated answer. My home is overrun with four cats (Tigger, Harley, Pumpkin and Munchie) but it would be a serious error to think I had any control over them.
Do you have a personal favorite among the books you have written?
I’m exceptionally proud of SHALLOW GRAVE and what that book was able to bring to light. A few years later, and I wouldn’t change a word of it. MILWAUKEE MAFIA will always be my baby because of the doors it continues to open for me — I’ve been blessed with so many invitations to so many functions I never thought I’d attend, let alone as a guest. But, of course, MURDER CAPITAL is the new favorite. Each new book is a chance to learn from previous work, to expand and grow… I truly believe I’m still getting better, and I think readers will agree!
Schmitt will be participating in a book signing at Lyons Fine Books on October 10 at 10:00 am and will also be presenting, Madison, America’s Deadliest City, on October 11th at 6:30p at the Kaukauna Public Library. His presentation is great for history buffs and Wisconsin enthusiasts!