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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014

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McComas returns to the scene of the novel

An award-winning filmmaker and a published novelist and short story writer, Paul McComas -- who lives in Evanston, Ill. -- is also a native Milwaukeean. He returns home Thursday, Feb. 21 for a 7 p.m. event at Schwartz Bookshop on Downer Avenue.

That's because McComas has a new novel, "Planet of the Dates," published by The Permanent Press. Milwaukee readers will find a lot of familiar sights and sounds in the 224-page book.

"As a semi-autobiographical novel, ‘Planet' contains fictionalized versions of incidents that actually occurred both inside Milwaukee and nearby -- Port Washington, Mars Cheese Castle, Whitefish Bay, Shorewood," McComas tells me. "The events I made up entirely were easy to ‘set' within the appropriate locales, simply because Milwaukee has a character all its own and is an easy city, over time, to ‘know,' as one might know a person."

The novel traces the exploits of girl-crazy Milwaukee teen Phil Corcoran on his constant search for sex and love. That quest takes him around Milwaukee to the Coffee Trader and beyond! The book earned positive nods from the respected Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly.

Although it might seem difficult to seamlessly plug Milwaukee into a novel without it feeling forced, McComas says it was simple and, in some ways, inevitable.

"Writing a Milwaukee-based book was easy, as I've known and loved the city my entire life. Growing up in the 'burbs, I always found Milwaukee proper familiar, yet exotic; when I was a teen, it was a place of adventure and escape -- especially with the advantage of a fake ID.

"Later, while in college (at Lawrence University in Appleton), I spent the summers back home and worked in Milwaukee; Phil's stint at the fictitious Meigs-Childress office building is based on my own employ as a night janitor at the Wisconsin Gas Co. building. Sadly, I never got up to the big flame!"

Most interesting to me are the many references to Milwaukee music in the book. McComas name-checks Radio Doctors, the Starship punk rock club Downtown, Sweet Doomed Angel across from The Oriental and bands like The Oil Tasters.

"I got into the Milwaukee music scene right when the novel's protagonist, Phil, does -- in 1980, at the height of the local punk/new-wave movement," McComas says. "The Oil Tasters -- who make a ‘live appearance' in chapter 14, playing at the long-defunct Starship Club -- were perhaps the most dramatic of the local bands I followed back then, which also included the X-Cleavers, The Haskels, and the Red Ball Jets.

"The only band that truly ‘made it' out of that scene was the Violent Femmes, but I'm happy to be able to ‘immortalize' the Tasters -- and the early-'80s Milwaukee music scene in general -- in my book's pages."

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