Wednesday, October 8, 2014


I am delighted to host Author Jan Netolicky today. Please give her a big welcome.
Ross Benedict’s life is in the tank.  He’s fifteen, in trouble with the law, and has no one to lean on.   His only hope may be an old man with his own difficult past.
The manuscript which eventually became The Skipworth Summer (Wings ePress, Feb. 2012) began as a creative thesis for my master’s program in English education where my specialty was young adult literature.  But at the time I wrote it, I wasn’t thinking about earning my degree.  I was hoping to create a living legacy for my own children, a way to keep alive the memory of my beloved grandfather, Luther Skipworth.    While I was in grad school, Skip suffered a debilitating stoke which eventually claimed him.  I was desperate to hang on to him in whatever way I could. 
I wanted my kids to know the essence of this man I adored, a man whose difficult journey demanded to be told.  A biography would not be the best vehicle to tell that story, however.  It would certainly be colored by my loving bias.  Instead, I chose to write a fictional piece from the perspective of a troubled fifteen year-old boy who meets Skip for the first time when the teen is at his most vulnerable.  The result is a unique work which pays tribute to a complicated but resilient man, a work which celebrates his heroism even as it acknowledges his shortcomings.  An excerpt follows.
Prologue:  Looking Glass, Present Day
I promised myself I would never go back.  But then, I’ve broken  promises before.  Fortified by the enthusiasm of my ninth graders (Mr. Benedict, Dude, you should SO go), I packed an overnighter, gassed up the Nova, and headed north.      
Highway 7 west of Little Rock through Jasper is a little piece of motor-head heaven.  The views are incredible and the road fun to drive.  Those winding bends never reveal what’s ahead, and then suddenly you’re practically meeting yourself on a tight, hairpin turn.  I took my time, stopping briefly in Harrison before making my way into Berryville and that little corner building on Church Street.        
Skip’s is no longer there, of course.  I’ve heard the building has housed everything from an antiques store to a bait shop over the years.  It’s a tea room now, but I’m betting it won’t last.  Nothing does.  The Wal-Mart Supercenter on the north edge of town has sapped the flavor from the old town square.  Even so, I could still make out the faded mural painted on the side of the old barber shop.  I ran my hand along the rough bricks, then walked around to the glass front and tried to peer in.    
The place was closed and the dark impenetrable.  When I stepped back, though, I could see my reflection in the glass.  Whether it was a trick of light from the afternoon sun or just a wave of nostalgia, the years seemed to slip away, and I was just a frightened fifteen-year-old kid with a chip on my shoulder.  I looked down at my hands, expecting . . .
My grandfather’s shop is an iconic landmark in Berryville, where he barbered for over 60 years.  The faded mural referenced in the prologue has since been restored by a devoted group of volunteers calling themselves BON (Berryville Organic News).  The picture below depicts Skip’s shop circa 1942.  Much of the action in the novel, set in 1975,  takes place here.
 Luther “Skip” Skipworth, in his shop on Church Street in Berryville, Arkansas.
Author Jan Netolicky
Although The Skipworth Summer is my first novel for young adults, writing has been at the core of my professional life.  I completed my undergraduate program at Upper Iowa University and earned my Master’s degree in English Education at Northeast Missouri State. 
In addition to the thousands of comments jotted in the margins of student essays, I’ve written for a variety of purposes and audiences, including free-lance work for local businesses, university alumni papers, and amateur theatrical productions.  Primarily, I’ve spent 24 years sharing my love of reading and writing with hundreds of students.  They, in turn, have made rich deposits in my writer’s bank of ideas.
Now, following my retirement from the Cedar Rapids Community School District, I am delighted to introduce The Skipworth Summer.  Although a work of fiction, the story is inspired by the life of Luther Skipworth who lived and worked as a barber in Berryville for over sixty years.  “Skip,” my grandfather, died before my children knew him well.  I intended, originally, to write the novel as a way of keeping his memory alive, but the narrative took a life of its own with the introduction of Ross Benedict, a troubled young man on a path of self-destruction.  The plot weaves real events from Skip’s life with Ross’s fictional coming-of-age story.
I live with my husband in Robins, IA, where my favorite pursuits include reading, writing, volunteering, and spending time with my children and grandchildren.  My current project is a novel for adult readers, We Dare Not Whisper.
Find me on Facebook or at my website, where you can find links to Wings ePress, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.
Thank you, Jan, for visiting with us today. I love old buildings like your grandfather's. My father was also a barber.
Happy Reading!



  1. Always great when it takes a life of its own, sure you had a lot to draw on too.

  2. I read this book as a judge for a competition a couple years ago! How wonderful to hear the story behind it and to meet you, Jan! Best of luck to you.

    1. Stories about "real" people are fascinating to me, Kai. Love them. :)

  3. What a wonderful thing to do for both your kids and your grandfather!

  4. Thank you for visiting with us today, Jan. Best of luck with your book.

  5. Hi, Jan. Sounds like a great book. Best wishes!

    Beverly, thanks for sharing about this book and author.

    1. You're welcome, Susanne. Thanks for your nice comment to Jan.

  6. Jan, my grandfather was also a barber. I loved going in his shop.

    Beverly, it was a pleasure meeting you at Alex's blog this week.

    1. I loved my father's barber shop too. :)
      Thank you, Carol. I enjoyed meeting you.