WIU professor publishes novel

Brian Bradley

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In 1970, John Hallwas began his career at WIU as a professor of English. During his 28 years, he has had 20 books published which he either wrote or edited. This past August, his latest book, “The Bootlegger,” hit the stands and has grown to become his quickest-selling novel to date.”The book sold more then 500 copies at Copperfield’s, which is the best-selling book in the history of the bookstore,” Hallwas said. “This is my most successful book to date.”

Hallwas tackled the arduous task of researching the book over a 10-year period. In his research, he was able to dig up facts about the town, the folklore and the characters involved.

“It’s a book that is a serious study of a small town, using Colchester to represent what happened in many small towns as we moved from the 19th century to the 20th century,” Hallwas said. “Also, it is a true crime story.”

The focus of the book is on Colchester, Ill., and especially on bootlegger Henry “Kelly” Wagle. The book features not only the history of Wagle and his family but the history of the town, going back all the way to the construction of the railroad that created Colchester. Included in the story line are a few names which pique the interest of the most cynical reader, such as Joe Jackson and Al Capone; they were affiliated with McDonough County.

Since its release, the reviews for “The Bootlegger” have remained positive and it has been a consistently strong-selling book.

“It’s still early in the game,” Hallwas said. “Many have reviewed the book in Illinois and elsewhere and have given positive reviews, but there are still others who will review it.”

Hallwas will have another book, due out in late winter, about WIU’s centennial year. The title of the new book is “First Century: A pictorial history of Western Illinois University.” His next book keeps him on track with his preference in writing.

“My special focus has been on Illinois literature and history,” he said.

According to Hallwas, he is able to pursue both interests he went to school to learn about. “I wanted to write and teach and went to school to learn both,” Hallwas said.

Hallwas explained that his best advice to writers just starting out is to read and take courses which highlight their genre of interest.

Then, the writer must find a publisher who is interested in that type of genre. “I have worked with the same press for a while,” Hallwas said.

“After having a few books under your belt, it becomes easier to go to press.” “The Bootlegger” is available at Copperfield’s on the Square for $24.95. The book promises to give a great history of small-town life in Illinois and the characters and events color it.

“‘The Bootlegger’ is a story of the failure of the American dream in an American small town,” Hallwas said. “It’s not just a story of violence or of a criminal.” sf rb ps cw