Author aims to spark political awakening By Bret Hayworth (New 9/11 book: "Guests of the Nation" by Mike Palecek)

Author aims to spark political awakening
Few read his books, but Mike Palecek won't give up
By Bret Hayworth, Journal staff writer

SHELDON, Iowa -- Mike Palecek of Sheldon had his first book published in 2000, the same year he unsuccessfully ran for Congress.

The book sold a handful of copies.

He went back at it, wrote another.

Sales were about 100.

Palecek keeps returning to the well. With the recent release of "Guests of the Nation," in eight years he has written 11 books -- one nonfiction piece plus 10 fiction books that draw heavily on his own life, liberal politics and distrust of government, especially when in conservative hands.

His novel "KGB: Killing George Bush" is set in the Woodbury County Jail and involves an underground Sioux City radio station. "Terror Nation" was written with Cherokee, Iowa, where he once worked as a journalist, in mind. His fifth novel, "The Truth," he said, "was written in a rage against pre-war (Iraq) stupidity in Iowa."

Living in the heart of prime Republican Party turf in Sheldon since 1996, Palecek, 52, admits the themes of his books likely won't endear him to his neighbors. But, he added, it's likely no neighbors have read his novels, since they sell only about 100 to 150 copies each and he's never received local feedback on his writing. Palecek places ads to get some books sold and said book tours generally are the best way to move copies.

"Fiction is so hard (to sell), especially with the type I write, and being a no-name, it is so tough," Palecek said. "I just keep trying... I put my whole soul into it."

His nonfiction "Prophets Without Honor: A Requiem for Moral Behavior" is the only work to gain a New York publisher, so he's used a lot of smaller Midwest publishing firms, frequently paying them part of the printing cost. Recently, he founded 7th Street Press, named for his home along Seventh Street in Sheldon, to get books out.

"I don't make any money at the writing," he said.

But he's garnered some positive blurbs for the books. Of "Terror Nation," Russ Wellen of Intervention Magazine said, "Palecek is ... a natural -- or highly practiced -- writer. With his rolling rhythms, everything he writes, even Charlie Johnson's brutal confinement, goes down easy."

As a peace activist, Palecek in the 1980s frequently protested about nuclear weapons on the grounds of Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, resulting in four jail terms and a stint in federal prison.

Palecek said the 9-11 collapse of the Twin Towers in New York City seven years ago today was not a terrorist attack but "a controlled demolition" by the Bush administration to give a pretense to invade Iraq and "steal oil."

"I would be in the 9-11 'truther' camp. ... I think the real terrorists are in Washington," he said.

A former journalist who worked at five newspapers, including the now-defunct Cherokee Daily Times and the Northwest Iowa Review, Palecek said, "I think being a reporter is the coolest job." He raved about being able to work the sidelines at high school football games and interviewing people from all walks of life whom he otherwise never would have met.

But at the same time, Palecek said, "I don't miss the constraints, I guess is how I see it, of what you can write in the paper. ... I couldn't say what I wanted to say." So he took a day job at Hope Haven and writes in his free time. He said he's grateful for the support of his wife, Ruth, and two daughters.

"Without them, I couldn't do anything," he said.

His goal is to write something along the lines of "The Grapes of Wrath," the book that put a jolt in Norfolk, Neb., native Palecek years ago.

"I'd like people to consider that their government is a bunch of lying weasels, is what I'd like them to consider," Palecek said. "The other thing is, I'd like to write something that would be worth something, that would make a tangible difference to somebody who doesn't have too much. That is a real long-range stretch."

Bret Hayworth may be reached at (712) 293.4203 or