October 4, 2015

Debut novel from Janesville native reaches best-seller status (AUDIO)

Greer MacAllister

Greer Macallister

An Iowa native whose first novel of magic and murder has just hit the best-seller list will be making five stops in the state next week on her debut book tour.

“The Magician’s Lie” appeared on USA Today’s top sellers roster this week at #89, while last week, the book was named the nation’s #5 best-selling e-book on Amazon.

Author Greer Macallister, who grew up in northeast Iowa, is thrilled by the popularity of her premier publication.

“It’s set in 1905,” Macallister says. “It’s historical fiction and it’s about a female stage magician who comes under suspicion for a murder when a dead body is found under the stage after her act in a way that mimics her most famous trick.”

There are very few women magicians on the circuit today and that was also the case 11 decades ago. Still, there were some female prestidigitators and Macallister says she wanted to set the book in a time where it was unusual, but possible, for a woman to make her living in this profession.

The Magician's Lie“There’s a character in the book named Adelaide Herrmann who is a true figure from history,” Macallister says. “She started out as her husband’s assistant, he died in 1897 and she took over his act and became known as the Queen of Magic and practiced for a good long time, so she was the best known female magician on the stage in America.”

The opening scene is set in Waterloo and proceeds to Janesville, a sentimental time trip back for the writer, who grew up in the area. As a child, conjuring a career as a magician was never one of Macallister’s aspirations.

“I think most kids have a little bit of interest in it and a little bit of experience with it,” Macallister says. “I never got past that sort of basic level of, ‘Oh, let me see if I can move these cards around’ or make a marble disappear under a cup, but I never got good at it. I always tell people I did the only magic I can do which is, I made this book up out of thin air and presto, here it is!”

Macallister is making five stops in her home state next week: Monday at Prairie Lights in Iowa City, Tuesday at the Evansdale Public Library and at the Coralville Public Library, Wednesday at Beaverdale Books in Des Moines, and Thursday at Dragonfly Books in Decorah. For more details, visit her website.


Hear Matt Kelley’s full interview with Greer Macallister below.



Book chronicles how Iowa City area residents handled the deaths of a mom and daughter

Live-Like-LineSometimes triumph rises from tragedy and that’s the focus of a new book written by a Coralville man. Bill Hoeft spent four years doing interviews and research to compose the book: “Live Like Line, Love Like Ellyn.”

It’s the story of how many residents in the Iowa City-Coralville area were devastated by two deaths in August of 2011, starting with a crash that claimed the life of a 17-year-old girl.

“Caroline Found (who used the nickname Line) was killed in a single-vehicle moped accident and then 12 days later, her mother died of pancreatic cancer,” Hoeft says. “They weren’t the only ones devastated. The school and her volleyball team were as well. It talks about the good things that come from such a terrible tragedy.”

One focal point in the book is Ernie Found, a surgeon at University Hospitals who lost his daughter and his wife within two weeks of each other. Hoeft says Found is the type of person who, in his words, “makes me want to be a better man, a better father and husband.”

“He was so strong to be able to stand up and support the school and the volleyball team after these tragic events in his life, instead of laying in a corner and weeping,” Hoeft says. “He got in behind the volleyball team and really helped them. They couldn’t practice, initially, and he got in behind them and pushed them on.”

Hoeft isn’t an author by trade. He says his number-one job is being a stay-at-home dad. He’s also a Coralville city councilman. Initially, he balked at the idea of writing such a book, saying he’s “not good with death,” but the more he learned about the Found family, the more he was convinced he had to tell their story.

“I’m hoping that this is really a blueprint for anyone who’s lost someone,” Hoeft says. “Not that you’re going to get over it, not that you’re going to get over the grief but you’re going to be able to move on and you’re going to be able to celebrate the life of the individual by doing good things for others.”

The book is available through the North Liberty-based publisher, Ice Cube Press, also at Barnes and Noble, Amazon and at Iowa City-area Hy-Vee stores.



Parents urged to watch for stress in kids from school and activities

Lauren Nystrom

Lauren Nystrom

Most Iowa kids are about six weeks into the school year and now is around the time signs of stress start to appear. Lauren Nystrom, a mental health counselor from Urbandale, says some students are loaded with homework on top of competing in sports and participating in other extra-curricular activities.

While down time is important, Nystrom says parents need to resist the urge to pull their kid out of their clubs and teams.

“Because your child seems stressed doesn’t mean you want to cut out everything,” Nystrom says. “Balance is what’s important. You want to be talking to them and finding out what their stressors are and how they can find that balance between making sure they’re keeping up with their responsibilities at school and also getting that release from extracurricular activities.”

While every child is different and they’ll show stress in various ways, there are some common threads of which parents need to be aware. “Pay attention to changes in their behavior, if they’re seeming more irritable, if they’re complaining more,” she says. “Bigger things that could happen would be aggression or just avoidance of important things. If they’re developing more unhealthy habits or not sleeping or not eating, those are big things to watch out for.” A condition called “test anxiety” can be a reason for stress and a drop in grades. One study finds up to 20 percent of students have high test anxiety, making it the most prevalent scholastic impairment in schools today.

At what point should a parent take their child to a professional to help cope with stress? “A lot of times, what’s happening is common and it’s normal,” Nystrom says. “If you are feeling like you’re not sure, there’s nothing wrong with reaching out for help. You’re showing your children a really good model for handling stress and that’s to ask for help and to get input when you’re not sure about a problem.” Developing technology, the internet and social media may be simultaneously helping to relieve and create stress for students.

“I also spend time working in a school and I see both sides,” Nystrom says. “I see that this is where our world is going and we have to change with it and allow kids to use technology in a positive way. It can bring a lot of stress because they’ve got social media which, we know, is a big part of where bullying can come from, where peer pressures can come from.” Parents can help their kids with time management and organizational skills, she says, and also let them know that making mistakes is okay and it’s part of the learning process. Deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation exercises are also good things to know and apply to other areas of life as well.

Tips for Parents to Reduce School Stress:
1) Parents are role models and must handle stress appropriately.
2) Parents should meet and keep in contact with staff at school.
3) Tell children what they are doing well.
4) Remind children of stressful situations they have overcome.
5) Talk to your child about school and their friends.

Nystrom is a social worker at Compass Clinical Associates in Urbandale.


Rusty patched bee considered for endangered species list

The rusty patched bumble bee.

The rusty patched bumble bee.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether to declare the rusty patched bumble bee an endangered species. The bee once flourished in Iowa and would be the first bee to make the list and gain federal protection.

Sarina Jepsen, endangered species program director for The Xerces Society, says this type of bee has vanished from 87-percent of its historic range and where it still exists, its populations are as much as 95-percent smaller than they were just a few decades ago.

“Protecting this bee could take a wide variety of forms, from restoring habitat for the species to protecting it from diseases,” Jepsen says. “One of the concerns about this species in particular is that the cause of its decline may be from diseases from commercial bumble bees or rather, managed pollinators.” There are as many as 4,000 species of native bees in the United States and many of them are threatened. Jepsen says many people don’t realize how important bees are to our food supply and to the economy of an agricultural state like Iowa.

“Together, all of our pollinators provide pollination services to agriculture that are estimated to be worth $3 billion annually,” Jepsen says. “That, of course, includes our managed honey bees that we’re very familiar with as well as many other species of native bumble bees.” There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the decline in monarch butterfly populations and Iowans are being urged to plant certain plants, like milkweeds, to help that insect, which is also a vital pollinator.

“Planting hedgerows and flowering plants that bloom all throughout the year is a great thing to do for monarchs as well as bumble bees,” Jepsen says. “Avoiding using insecticides or being very careful about what types you use and how much you use will also help this bee.” Earlier this year, the White House released a strategy to protect native bees, honey bees and monarch butterflies. Jepsen says the national attention being given to pollinators has been great for native pollinator conservation.

The National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators is focused on protecting, restoring and enhancing their habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has launched a year-long review to determine if an Endangered Species Act listing is warranted for the rusty patched bumble bee. A decision is expected in September of 2016.

The Xerces Society is a non-profit conservation group, based in Portland, Oregon, which is focused primarily on invertebrates.


Senator Grassley pushing for more oversight of government credit cards

Senator Chuck Grassley.

Senator Chuck Grassley.

Legislation is in the works designed to ratchet up watchdog efforts to keep federal employees from abusing their government-issue credit cards by blowing taxpayer dollars on personal spending sprees.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is one of the lead cosponsors of the bipartisan bill which he hopes will go to a vote in the Senate very soon.

Grassley says, “The legislation would prevent charge card misuse and abuse by making sure the General Services Administration, GSA for short, continuously examines charge card purchases made across the federal government.” There’s a certain amount of trust placed in employees when they’re issued a government charge account and he says clearly, some federal workers are abusing that trust.

“In May, the Defense Department inspector general found that a number of Pentagon employees used their government charge cards at casinos and strip clubs,” Grassley says. “I know that doesn’t sound like any government employee would do that, but that’s the fact.” The bill would require government agencies to share what are considered “best practices” for detecting and preventing waste, fraud and abuse.

“Maybe our big, massive government can learn from each other what works best,” Grassley says, “because, obviously, the Defense Department had the responsibility to do this and they weren’t doing it and that’s where the misuse come.” Grassley says the measure builds on his earlier legislation, the Government Charge Card Abuse Prevention Act, which was signed into law by the president in 2012.


Mystery writer J.A. Jance to make stop in Des Moines


J.A. Jance

One of America’s most prolific and best-selling mystery writers will be in central Iowa this week to promote her latest novel, with more than 50 books now in print.

During her national book tour, J.A. Jance says she’s getting glowing reviews from fans on her new book, “Dance of the Bones,” which combines two of her popular storylines by pairing two familiar protagonists. If you attend her book-signing event, don’t expect her to read a chapter, as some authors do.

“I do not do readings at readings, I do talkings at readings,” Jance says. “I try to give people an idea of who I am, where I came from, how I came to write the books I write. I also like to give them some insights into the background of the current book, things they may not be able to discern, just from reading the words on the page.”

Fans of her earlier books will find Seattle detective J.P. Beaumont and Arizona sheriff Brandon Walker teaming up for the first time in the new novel. Jance will turn 71 next month and has been writing two novels a year for more than a decade. She found her calling later in life, first working as a teacher, a librarian and a life insurance saleswoman before finally pursuing her dream as a writer.

Dance-of-the-BonesJance says she knew she wanted to be a novelist when she was a second-grader, but she wasn’t published until 1982, when she was in her late 30s. “I was not allowed in the creative writing program at the University of Arizona in 1964 because, as the professor told me, I was a girl, so it’s pretty remarkable to have 51 books out,” Jance says, laughing. “I write murder-mysteries, so I usually start with somebody dead and then I spend the rest of the book trying to figure out who killed that person and how come.”

Jance was born in South Dakota and raised in Arizona and now has homes both in Arizona and Seattle, Washington. She considers herself both a Midwestern gal and a Southwesterner. “My stories and my life are firmly rooted in my Midwestern roots because that was the way my parents raised me,” Jance says. “We may have been geographically in Arizona, but it was definitely their values that were instilled in me as I grew up.”

Jance will appear on Thursday at 5:30 P.M. at the Central Library in Des Moines, her only Iowa stop on this tour. She’ll also do a talk and signing at the Omaha Public Library’s branch in Millard on Friday at 6 P.M. Learn more at www.jajance.com.


Audio: Matt Kelley interview with Jance. 5:36.

Iowa close to making honor roll for asthma policies

Asthma inhaler.

Asthma inhaler.

An annual report gives Iowa good — but not glowing — scores for the state’s policies that impact children with asthma and allergies. Larissa Kaczaniuk, advocacy and outreach manager for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, says they study 23 core standards and any states that match 18 of those standards are put on the Honor Roll.

This year, Iowa checked off 16 categories. “That is a decent score because you’re pretty close to those 18 to make the Honor Roll,” Kaczaniuk says. “Hopefully, within a year or two, Iowa might see itself on the list. The state scored really well on medication and treatment policies, particularly with the nurse-to-student ratio. That’s something that a lot of states struggle with so it’s great that Iowa met that indicator.”

While Iowa wasn’t among the 14 states on the Honor Roll this year, she says Iowa’s still doing well in providing a healthy and safe learning environment for children with asthma or allergies. “It was noteworthy because the state passed legislation in 2008 called the Smoke-free Air Act and that prohibits smoking in and around school buildings,” Kaczaniuk says. “Iowa also passed an epinephrine stocking law earlier in 2015. That law allows schools in the state to keep a supply of epinephrine auto-injectors which are used for any kind of severe allergic reaction.”

There’s always room for improvement, she notes, as none of the states had a perfect score. “The only area where Iowa sees a gap looks like it’s with outdoor air quality,” Kaczaniuk says. “This section of the report checks to see if schools notify parents before any pesticide applications. It’s also looking to see if there are any restrictions on the amount of time school buses are allowed to idle on school grounds. This is because vehicle emissions can be a trigger for asthma attacks.”

About 7 million children nationwide have asthma, another 6 million have a food allergy. She says it’s vital the state make more progress toward better school-based policies, as asthma and allergies are among the leading causes of absenteeism. Asthma alone leads to an average of 10.5 million missed school days in the U.S. each year.