Alan Schmitz’ name has long been on the sides of concrete mix trucks—now it’s also on the cover of a spy novel
What’s a man who spent most of his life pouring concrete — or teaching others how to do it — doing writing espionage thrillers?
Alan Schmitz didn’t have a hapless victim encased in concrete and dropped into Lake Michigan in his first novel, “Memories Never Die,” which was released in 2010. But that’s about all that doesn’t happen in the fast-paced novel with two storylines — one set in Port Washington and the other in Russia — that collide when a terrorist plot to destroy Chicago is uncovered.
Schmitz, who was 16 when he started pouring cement at his parents’ Schmitz Ready Mix in Port Washington and took over the business in 1988, said he has lots of time to write since he was “fired by my sons,” Matthew and Michael, who handle the day-to-day operations. The elder Schmitz is on the company’s board of directors.
Schmitz recently spoke to members of the Port Washington Yacht Club Book Club, who read his book last month.
Maureen Schmit recommended the book to the club in part because it’s by a local author and set in Port, but mostly because she liked it so much.
“I couldn’t put it down,” Schmit said. “I was a little nervous (about recommending it) because we usually read best sellers or well-known books.”
She needn’t have worried. When Schmitz asked how many read the book, then how many liked it, most hands shot up both times.
“Wow. I’m not used to speaking to so many people who have read the book, let alone liked it,” Schmitz said. “When I published it, I didn’t know if anybody besides my mother would like it.”
When asked if there was something they didn’t like, one woman said the gory part was difficult for her to read.
“It was difficult for me to write, but I felt it was important,” Schmitz said.
Another club member commented, “I never read much of anything in the thriller category. I left that to my husband. I think I’ve been missing out on a lot. I couldn’t put it down.”
It’s comments like that Schmitz really enjoys.
Although he didn’t fall back on his knowledge of concrete in his writing, he did rely on his other skills.
Schmitz, who lives in West Bend, is a pilot and owns a plane that he keeps at the West Bend airport. He is also adept with the latest technology and wrote a computer program years ago that the company still uses to keep track of projects.
In his book, a 70-year-old pilot with the National Guard accustomed to flying a Huey helicopter must learn to fly a Blackhawk equipped with the latest technology.
Schmitz did a lot of research on the helicopter. He met a pilot of a Blackhawk at the Experimental Aircraft Association convention in Oshkosh.
After learning Schmitz wrote a book in which the Blackhawk plays a major part, the pilot invited him to sit at the controls. “I started asking questions about the Blackhawk and found out the autopilot for the helicopter doesn’t work the way it does in the book,” Schmitz said.
In his book, his hero shows the beginning signs of dementia and experiences post traumatic stress syndrome, so Schmitz researched those conditions.
The author also did considerable research on Russia and how people were rewarded or demoted based on their usefulness. The book begins with an aging nuclear scientist living in Russia.
“It’s fiction, but those are real names of Russian cities. There were places where scientists had privileges to encourage them to produce,” Schmitz said.
“I really enjoyed the research part. The transition from Hueys to Blackhawks was very real and very big.”
Schmitz graduated from Port Washington High School in 1972 and went to flight school in 1973. He then got married and was too busy raising a family and running his business to fly.
In 1995, his wife encouraged him to go back to flight school and get his license. He loves flying.
Schmitz said he wasn’t good in English and didn’t take creative writing classes.
“I’m an avid reader and I know what I don’t like to read,” he said.
He started doing research for his book in 2006 and began writing it in 2008, completing a chapter, which his wife Cindy critiqued, and then not having another chapter ready for several months.
“I knew how I wanted to start the story and how I wanted to end the story, but the middle was a mystery,” he said. “I would spend hours on it, and it wouldn’t work. It wasn’t going in that direction.
“An editor told me a good story should be like a roller coaster, and that’s what I tried to do.”
Schmitz would talk to his family about ideas for the book, characters and plot lines.
“My son Robert finally said, ‘Are you going to write it or not?’” Schmitz said.
He finished the book in 2009 and tried to get publishers and literary agents interested in it.
“I got some very nice rejection letters,” Schmitz said. “The literary world was changing so fast with electronic sales, I decided I was wasting my time trying to get it published and published it myself.”
He designed the cover on his computer. His brother took a photograph of Schmitz and two nieces running toward Lake Michigan. Schmitz juxtaposed the image with photos of a Blackhawk helicopter and the Golden Gate bridge. A second edition of the book has a more dramatic cover with the same elements.
Schmitz is working on a potential book series featuring a U.S. senator who is asked by the president to become involved in diplomatic situations worldwide, but without anyone knowing about it. The next book, “DNA Never Lies,” is expected to be released before Christmas.
“If people like the second book, then I may have something going,” Schmitz said. “I’m already collecting data for the next one, ‘The Mexican Solution.’”
His first book was never intended to be part of a series, he said.
“Some people want me to bring Scott Seaver (the hero) back in another novel, but I can’t do that,” Schmitz said.
“But the senator will be a James Bond-type figure who gets into a lot of mischief. I have an outline for the third book, but that doesn’t mean I’ll follow the outline.
“I get my characters into situations, then stay awake at night trying to figure out how to get them out.”
Schmitz’ book is available through Amazon.com, at Baltica Tea Room and Gift Shop in Port Washington and Book World, 1602 S. Main St., West Bend, where a book signing will be held from 5 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 25. More information is available at www.memoriesneverdie.com.
Image information: With a Schmitz Ready Mix truck behind him, Alan Schmitz, retired president of the Port Washington company, held two editions of his first novel, “Memories Never Die.” Photo by Sam Arendt