A new title for his resume, bookshelf

Port businessman’s first novel is a murder mystery, but local readers won’t be stumped by the setting for story that unfolds in a small, lakeside city

FROM THE WINDOW of his office at Franklin Energy in downtown Port Washington, CEO Paul Schueller can see “his rock” on the breakwater, one of many Port settings that readers of his first novel, “The Squeeze,” will recognize. A number of locations around the city are recognizable in the book, which is set in Chicago and an unnamed Wisconsin city that bears uncanny resemblance to Port Washington. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington businessman Paul Schueller, founder and CEO of Franklin Energy, has a new title to add to his resume.

Author — and not author of a business tome that would sit on the bookshelves of other leaders of industry.

Schueller’s first novel, a murder mystery titled “The Squeeze,” was published last month.

“I think there are hundreds of copies out there,” Schueller said, laughing.

The book draws on some of his personal experiences and is set, in part, in “an unnamed Midwestern community that looks just like Port Washington,” he said. 

The breakwater and lighthouse play a prominent role, as do locations such as Schooner Pub and Harry’s.

He didn’t name Port, Schueller said, because he initially intended to publish the book under a pen name. 

“I didn’t want the attention,” he said. But he changed his mind about using a pen name because of advice he gives his three children.

“I have always tried to instill in them not to fear failure and to try things, even if they’re scary,” Schueller said.

In addition to a few places, some of the characters might seem familiar. Schueller said he sees a younger version of himself in a teenage boy who plays a pivotal role. 

Another character, a self-described “townie,” is a compilation of the people he knows in Port, Schueller said.

“That’s all my friends and everyone I know,” he said.

For Schueller, an engineer by trade, writing has always been a hobby, a way of countering the social aspects of his job.

“Writing for me was always my escape,” he said.

He writes longhand whenever he has a few spare minutes, Schueller said, noting he carries pen and paper with him everywhere.

“I write anytime I’m waiting for anyone,” he said. “I write on planes. I get really anxious if I don’t have something to do in those situations.”

Through the years, he’s written thousands of pages, everything from journal entries to short stories. About five years ago, he said, he realized that three of his short stories were related.

“I thought maybe it could be a book,” Schueller said. So he began working to flesh out the novel, filling in the gaps between the short stories.

That process took about three years, he said.

“Front to back, it was at least a story,” Schueller said, noting it was about 70,000 words at that point. “It was pretty crude, but it was a story.”

The story is “based partially on first-hand knowledge and unwitting participation by the author in fraudulent and corrupt activity in early carbon markets,” Schueller writes in the book’s introduction. 

It happened in the early 2000s, he said, when he and his company put together some of the first carbon offset credits and sold them on the Chicago Climate Exchange.

Some credits that he had done work on but not signed off on made their way to the market under his name and signature, he said.

“Someone forged them,” Schueller said.

The story deals with business partners who are caught up in illegal activity that leads their carbon-trading business to fall apart. The partners are suspicious of one another, and after one is murdered the question of who is to blame — for the death of the business and the partner — becomes central.

“One of the themes I tried to get across is people are greedy,” he said, and society needs protection from that. When he realized that theme, Schueller said, his history and his stories came together.

With the story fleshed out, Schueller began considering a publisher. 

He wasn’t interested in vanity publishers, who will print whatever someone pays them to put out, Schueller said.

 “I wanted some level of vindication,” he said.

 He submitted his manuscript to some of the big publishing houses, which have a stable of big name authors, “just for kicks,” Schueller said.

“I got my 10 rejection letters,” he said.

He also submitted the book to what he said are mid-level publishing houses, which will take on new authors. One recommended he hire an editor to polish the manuscript.

“They said, ‘You’re not quite there. You’re close,’” Schueller said. 

So with the help of an editor, Schueller polished the book, then resubmitted it. Two publishers vied for the rights — one in Illinois and the other in Waukesha. 

He picked Orange Hat Publishing in Waukesha because it was closer, and then the company’s editors went to work.

“The writing was fun for me,” Schueller said. “The editing process, not so much.”

Especially, he said, when the publisher’s editor recommended changes that were diametrically different from his original editor’s recommendations.

It took about two years, but the book was finally ready to print this summer. 

The publisher recommended a price of $13 for the paper version and $10 for the ebook but Schueller decided on $15 and $5, respectively.

“I didn’t want people to say it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on,” he joked.

The price might also help encourage people to read the ebook, encouraging the conservation and environmental ethic his business is built on.

When his book came out in mid-August, Schueller said, he found himself unexpectedly on edge.

“I thought, ‘Damn, people might read it,’” he said. “It took me a full two weeks to get over that.”

He has sent copies of the book to a service that reviews books and is anxiously waiting to hear what reviewers have to say.

“I felt it was important to have someone other than an editor tell me it was OK,” he said. “If my mom tells me she likes it, that doesn’t count.”

Is there another book in his future? Schueller said he’s not sure.

“We’ll have to see what comes of this,” he said.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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