JOLIET – Bob Brink recalled the first time his fiction was critiqued.
Brink, a former reporter for The Herald-News, said he was studying journalism at the University of Iowa when author Kurt Vonnegut taught at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop. Brink said Vonnegut believed his piece lacked the troubling rise and fall Vonnegut associated with good fiction or good personal journalism.
“I was elated,” Brink said. “I still have that frayed yellow piece of paper that he wrote on.”
Brink’s second novel, “Murder on Palm Beach: The Homicide That Never Died,” shows that, at least for Brink, the most interesting make-believe is fact-based.
Truth to fiction
In 2002, while working as copy chief for the Palm Beach Illustrated, Brink heard the story of Richard G. Kreusler, an oil company president gunned down inside his home.
After talking to a former colleague at The Palm Beach Post, the man wrongfully convicted of the murder and his pro bono lawyer instrumental in the man’s release after he served 15 years of his 25-year sentence, Brink believed the case should be reopened, and he approached his colleague about collaborating on a nonfiction book.
Brink said the colleague declined.
“He said, ‘What do you want to do, get me killed?’ ” Brink said.
So Brink fictionalized the information and wrote his second novel. As much as Brink would like to see his book bring the man he considers to be the real killer brought to trial, “Murder in Palm Beach: The Homicide That Never Died” is really more about redemption.
“It’s the saga of a man that had plummeted to the depths of his life,” Brink said, “and then was restored.”
Overall, he’s pleased with the fictionalized version of the real murder. Brink’s first novel, “Breaking Out,” published in 2010, was really Brink’s memoir, which he also wrote as fiction.
“It was deeply personal, and I wanted to disguise it a bit,” Brink said. “Plus, it just makes a more interesting book if you can be creative with it.”
A teacher first
Brink’s did not intend to establish a writing career. His bachelor’s degree is in English and German, from Drake University in Iowa.
After spending a month in Germany, Brink realized teaching was not for him. He began taking master’s-level journalism classes at the University of Iowa.
He arrived at The Herald-News in the late 1960s after responding to a job posting. Brink said the assistant managing editor was Ray Hertel, fresh from The Des Moines Register copy desk. Brink also recalled three reporters: Elmer Ott, Madeline Hildebrand and Lea Kerr.
Brink recalled writing a story about the National Guard being called in to handle the riots after Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. That story, he said, made the front page. A story on fire hazards that Brink said earned him an award came with a price – living in “fleabag hotels” for a week.
“Every morning, I had to go to the police department, go through the reports and then come back and write under deadline,” Brink said. “We were still an afternoon paper then, and those deadlines were rough.”
After The Herald-News, Brink said he worked for The Associated Press, the Milwaukee Journal, Tampa Tribune and the Palm Beach Media Group. Single since 1996 and retired since 2007, Brink is happily working on his third novel.
After discovering the importance of “show, not tell” and learning how to construct a novel, Brink encountered one last hurdle, which he happily overcame.
“It’s very difficult to get published,” Brink said.