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Library nominates local author for new award

Longtime Skokie resident Phil DeNapoli self-published his novel, "Preying on the Innocent," and now the Skokie Public Library is nominating him for a state award. The book has met with positive reaction.  |  Mike Isaacs/Sun-Times Media
Longtime Skokie resident Phil DeNapoli self-published his novel, "Preying on the Innocent," and now the Skokie Public Library is nominating him for a state award. He is seen here with Library Manager of Adult Popular Services Lynnanne Pearson.  |  Mike Isaacs/Sun-Times Media
Longtime Skokie resident Phil DeNapoli self-published his novel, "Preying on the Innocent," and now the Skokie Public Library is nominating him for a state award. The book has met with positive reaction.  |  Mike Isaacs/Sun-Times Media
Skokie resident Phil DeNapoli holds up a picture of one of the heroes in his novel,  "Preying on the Innocent." |  Mike Isaacs/Sun-Times Media

Phil DeNapoli’s self-published crime novel, “Preying on the Innocent,” may end satisfactorily on the page, but behind it, the story goes on.

As DeNapoli works on a sequel to his gripping crime tale with a setting none other than Skokie (along with other nearby towns), “Preying on the Innocent” continues to gather accolades. It is now being pushed for a new award by the Skokie Public Library, and DeNapoli will try to republish the book — this time with an agent.

“Your style was amazing,” writes one reader about the book. “I felt like I knew the narrator on a personal level. My heart broke for Maggie.”

“Where did this story come from? Is there some truth in it?” asks another reader. “Did something like this happen to you? Too real not to ask.”

The story came from DeNapoli, 70, whose straight-forward prose has connected with readers.

He attended Skokie Police’s popular Citizen’s Police Academy and has stayed in touch with his police friends there to make sure his crime novel and the sequel he is working on feel true.

In the original, a murder occurs in Evanston, the weapon is found in Skokie and a second murder occurs in Rogers Park.

Skokie’s SWAT team figures prominently in the novel, which also uses the village’s state-of-the-art police headquarters as one of its backdrops.

“I didn’t want to have the murder occur in Skokie because I love Skokie too much,” DeNapoli said. “So I had it occur in Evanston and let Skokie clean up the mess.”

DeNapoli, a speech writer who penned dialogue for sales representatives for major corporations during a long career, retired a handful of years ago.

What inspired his “second career” was a reunion that included DeNapoli’s eighth-grade nun. When she saw her former pupil again, she told him she expected him to play Major League baseball or become a crime novel writer.

He had already tried playing baseball — he was a minor league pitcher associated with the Washington Senators many years ago. Sister Mary Georgita (now Mary Griffin) re-lit the spark about writing, and he went to work. Her response to his first novel may have been the most important one to him, he said.

‘“Preying on the Innocent’ is a true mystery with all the aspects of suspense written in Philip’s homespun style in which names of his close friends and school chums are those of his leading characters,” she glowingly wrote.

DeNapoli has lived in Skokie for more than 20 years with one notable interruption. He rented a friend’s condominium on Michigan Avenue for a year so he could concentrate on writing the novel. This was where most of its 366 pages were written. The book began merely as a writing exercise and just kept expanding until it reached a full-blown novel.

Instead of submitting the novel to a publisher, where he would have had to wait months for a response, he self-published with AuthorHouse. But now that the book has received such positive response and has scored well on amazon.com and other venues, DeNapoli has been advised to re-publish with an agent — especially since a sequel will be written.

“Preying on the Innocent” will also be a candidate for the new Soon To Be Famous Illinois Author project, the first of its kind. Illinois libraries can nominate self-published adult authors for the award. The winner will be announced during National Library Week April 13 to 19. DeNapoli’s book was the first one nominated by the Skokie Public Library.

Lynnanne Pearson, manager of adult popular services at the library, said DeNapoli’s book is consistently checked out. (The author will be donating more copies to the library soon).

Self-publishing has become increasingly popular in recent years, Pearson said, and the library has been pushing discovery of local authors.

“For years, libraries have been connecting readers with books,” Pearson said. “So now we’re trying to connect authors with their readers and also help to grow those authors.”

The library has a local author book display, where DeNapoli’s novel can be found on those rare days it isn’t checked out. During November’s Write Your Own Novel Month, the library sponsored several programs. A new writer’s workshop begins there in January, and DeNapoli, of course, was the first to sign up.

“I’m overwhelmed with what’s happened with the book,” he said. “I’m a humble kind of guy.”

The story behind his novel may not have an ending for awhile. DeNapoli will know in April how he fared in the Illinois Author Project. He will see if he can republish “Preying On the Innocent” with an agent. He will pen a sequel that answers key questions about his characters.

The final chapter — at least when it comes to author Phil DeNapoli’s new writing career — has yet to be written.

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