Monday, October 20, 2014

Ottawa inspiration penciled throughout book

By CLINTON DICK, Herald Staff Writer | 12/30/2013

When Mark Dengel envisioned the characters of his book, “Screaming Eagles,” walking the halls of their high school set in Rhode Island, he was imagining his days back in Ottawa High School.

“When I am trying to describe what is going on at the high school, I am in Ottawa High School in my mind because I don’t go to the high schools here in Rhode Island,” Dengel said. “When I am visualizing all of this stuff going on, it is happening in Kansas because that is where I played football, but I live in Rhode Island and the kids that are going to read it primarily are from around Rhode Island, so I want to serve their interests.”

When Mark Dengel envisioned the characters of his book, “Screaming Eagles,” walking the halls of their high school set in Rhode Island, he was imagining his days back in Ottawa High School.

“When I am trying to describe what is going on at the high school, I am in Ottawa High School in my mind because I don’t go to the high schools here in Rhode Island,” Dengel said. “When I am visualizing all of this stuff going on, it is happening in Kansas because that is where I played football, but I live in Rhode Island and the kids that are going to read it primarily are from around Rhode Island, so I want to serve their interests.”

The Ottawa native, who has taught middle school science for 18 years and is now a teacher at Parkview Middle School in Cranston, R.I., published his first novel in November after a lengthy process of writing, searching for a publisher and re-writing.

“Screaming Eagles” is a fictional story of two brothers, Jack and Sam Bowden, who must overcome a season of obstacles and adversity to win the Rhode Island state football championship. Jack, the star senior linebacker for Sacred Heart High School’s smothering defense, finds himself caught in between two of the school’s most beautiful girls, while attempting to lead a divided football team. Sam, a freshman, must overcome the challenges of being new to high school and the constant bullying by the team’s starting quarterback, Chuck.

Dengel said his inspiration for writing a high school football novel came from a couple of different areas of his life — including his time playing football at OHS.

“I just wanted to choose something that I was somewhat knowledgeable in,” he said. “I really enjoyed high school and I enjoyed football, so I thought the two would make a good combination. Plus, I teach middle school and I teach a lot of boys, and boys need motivation to read on their own. So, I thought if I wrote about football the boys would be more motivated to read. It was kind of a dual inspiration.”

Dengel, OHS class of 1981, wrote for the high school’s newspaper in the fall of 1980 and played football up to his sophomore year in high school, he said.

“As I am writing, I’m having images from my playing days and what the culture and the atmosphere is like,” he said. “I don’t know if you could write a football book without having some first-hand experience. It’d be difficult, I think.”

What was more difficult for Dengel, who initially was stationed in Rhode Island with the U.S. Army in the mid-1980s and later met his wife, Bernice, there, was going through the publishing process. While the book itself only took about six months to write, finding a publisher and re-writes made the overall time for the book to be published about three years, he said.

“Screaming Eagles” is published by the Kentucky-based Martin Sisters Publishing, of which Dengel said he had a good experience with throughout the process.

“When I originally wrote the book, there wasn’t so much Internet publishing,” he said. “I probably sent it out to 100 different publishers, and out of that I got about 10 positive responses. Martin Sisters Publishing was one of those. I wrote to some of their authors (who published with Martin Sisters Publishing) and they said they had positive experiences. Overall it was a very positive experience.”

However, the challenge of giving enough time to his three children while also writing created another obstacle for Dengel.

“I was raising three kids and they were smaller at the time and required a lot more attention than they do now,” he said. “One of the problems is, when you are in the mode of writing, you are always thinking about the characters, the plot and how it is all going to mold together. So, when someone wants your attention, you may not be able to give it to them because you are still thinking about the book.

His children, Alexis, 19, Mitchell, 16, and Sabrina, 12, found ways to be supportive of Dengel. Alexis, an AP art student in high school, drew the cover art for the novel.

“The publishers were ecstatic,” Dengel said. “They said they’d love to use [her drawing].”

When he finally got his first copy of the book, Dengel was excited, but also had a reaction of fear, he said.

“I got it in the mail and, yes, I was excited, but when the book is in your hand, you can see the mistakes differently than on a computer screen,” Dengel said. “There was actually two mistakes on the first page and I was mortified. I went through and made the corrections. It was more of a fearful time for me just making sure everything was going to be as close to perfect as it could get.”

Dengel said he has had all positive reactions to his book thus far, including a very supportive fan base from his students and co-workers at Parkview.

“I had a fair I went to at my school and sold books at my school,” he said. “Of course when I was at the book fair, all the money went to the school library. The school has been really helpful. They had an assembly and gave me a plaque.”

Now that his first novel has been completed, Dengel plans to continue writing, he said. He is in the editing stages of his second book, which is not a sequel to “Screaming Eagles,” but is still a story of young adulthood and high school, he said.

Dengel doesn’t get very many opportunities to come back to Ottawa because of the school year, he said, but he does journey home to visit every other year for a week or two during the summer, he said. His parents, Walt and Clarice Dengel, live in Ottawa, and his brother, Craig, owns Dengel and Son Mortuary, 235 S. Hickory St., Ottawa. He also has a sister, Carol, who lives in Overland Park.

Mark Dengel said putting time into his writing bonds him to the story.

“It becomes a personal thing more than anything,” he said. “It becomes a real personal goal, and it is about getting something you can hold in your hand rather than on a computer screen.”

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