The Writer’s Handful with Arnie Bernstein

Photo by Jennifer Girard
Photo by Jennifer Girard

Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

It is a new year, and we have a whole lot of new interviews with some of today’s most interesting writers. I’m excited to introduce to you a fellow Chicago author who fears no story: Arnie Bernstein.

Arnie Bernstein is author of the new nonfiction book from St. Martin’s Press Swastika Nation: Fritz Kuhn and the Rise and Fall of the German-American Bund, a history of 1930s American Nazis and how a disparate confederacy of politicians, newsmen, movie stars, and mobsters brought them to an inglorious end.Swastika_Nation_3-210

Welcome Arnie!

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

Besides this? Well, yes and no. I’m working on a new book proposal, so I’ve written notes within the research material I’m using. The kind of scribbling that ultimately grows into bigger things.

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

Since I was cognizant I created little comedy sketches, stories, biographies, and comic strips, so pinning an exact piece and age is impossible. Suffice to say, I learned early on that I had some sort of talent for stringing words together in entertaining fashions.

What are you reading right now?

Lots of stuff. Research materials for the nonfiction proposal I’m working on. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buddhism by Gary Gach as part of the proposal research, but also out of personal inquisitiveness. Buddhism is a complicated belief system (contrary to the watered down New Agey versions of Buddhism you find peddled via trinkets hawked at incense shops), and this book breaks down the basic tenets into concepts I can comprehend. Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz by Thomas Harding; given my own book on Jews bringing down Nazis, I want to see how someone else dealt with similar themes.

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

Your name is on it.  Make it the best it can be.

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

A chimpanzee. I love to explore new terrains in my writing and figure out how to solve the problems I stumble across, plus I’m driven by natural curiosity. Also, I love bananas. Jane Goodall would have the time of her life watching me when I’m working, albeit I’m not one of those proverbial chimps who could turn out a Shakespeare play if given a typewriter. I’m good at nonfiction, not iambic pentameter.



Arnie Bernstein earned his master’s degree in creative writing from Columbia College Chicago’s Fiction Writing program.  His book Bath Massacre: America’s First School Bombing told the true story of a madman who in 1927 murdered thirty-eight children and six adults (including himself) in rural Michigan by wiring the local school building with 600 pounds of dynamite.  Bath Massacre was honored as a Notable Book for 2010 by the State Library of Michigan.  The Illinois State Library has also recognized him for his work.  He is determined to next grab all-expenses paid honors from the State Library of Hawaii.  Arnie previously wrote two books on Chicago history, looking at the city through its movies and its connections to the Civil War; and edited a collection of film reviews and essays written by Carl Sandburg during the 1920s.  He lives in Chicago and teaches freshman composition and developmental writing at Triton College in River Grove and Morton College in Cicero.  Check out his website at

→Thanks for the chat, Arnie. And thanks, all, as always, for reading! -PMc←

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