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Chicago teacher turns novel-in-progress into a podcast

PRESS RELEASE — April 22, 2019

Bruce Janu began writing a novel many years ago. But then other things happened: work, marriage, a family. Then he made a couple of documentaries and created an online radio station. Life got in the way of finishing his novel.

The characters he created and the 250 pages were languishing and he so wanted to finish it. He needed to kick-start the writing process. But how?

And then it hit him: why not turn his historical novel into a podcast and finish it in real time, a chapter a week?

Lilac Wine-The Podcast premiered in January. In each episode, Janu reads a chapter and then makes comments on the writing process and the inspirations and challenges in writing each chapter.

“It’s been a great experience,” he says. “It’s allowed me to revisit the story and get back into the writing mode.”

“Lilac Wine” is set in 1917 and tells the story of Robert Bishop and Abelia Brody, two lonely people brought together by fate in the midst of war. Janu teaches history at Elk Grove High School and meticulously researched every aspect of the novel, which is set between Chicago and a small, fictional town near Dubuque, Iowa and then on the fields of France during the First World War.

“This is a novel in progress, so it is not as polished as it will be,” Janu explains. “There have been times when I have cringed at some of the things I wrote many years ago. But I have kept it in, wanting this to an authentic experience and knowing that it will be further edited. This is kind of a rough draft.”

Janu offers listeners the opportunity to critique and comment on each episode and sees the podcast not just as a means to share the story, but to give listeners a glimpse into the writing process. So far, the responses have been positive.

“One person wrote that each episode is like a history lesson,” he says. “As a history teacher, I like that.”

So far, the story has included Charlie Chaplin, riverboats, early automobiles and even early jazz music. “I try to base everything on newspapers and primary sources, so when a character goes to the theater to see a movie, I know what theater in Chicago he visited and what day and time,” Janu says. “I’m a little obsessive for accuracy. I want this world to be as real as possible.” In chapter 4, for example, Robert Bishop goes to the Gem Theater on South State to watch the Chaplin film, “The Cure” on a Saturday evening in June of 1917. Janu used the theater listings in The Chicago Tribune for guidance.

When one of the characters orders the first ever recorded jazz album by the Original Dixieland Jass Band, Janu found an original copy on Ebay and bought it. "I wanted to hear first-hand what Abelia Brody places on her Victrola in the summer of 1917,” he says. “Next, I want an actual Victrola,” he adds with a laugh.

At the center of the story is the Great War, of course.

“This was a turning point in our history,” says Janu. “And through the war, America lost its innocence. So, yes, the themes of war and loss is a constant in the novel.”

Janu has researched battles, pouring over books and primary sources. The research library at Cantigny in Wheaton, was indispensable. There, he was able to read some diaries from soldiers who fought in the war and at the Battle of Cantigny. Originally, the Battle of Cantigny was going to play a pivotal role in the narrative of “Lilac Wine.”

“But now I am not sure,” says Janu. “As the story is still evolving, many things can change.”

“After all,” he adds, “this is a ‘novel-in-progress.’”

Janu predicts that by summer, he will have to start writing new chapters in order to keep up with the weekly release schedule. The goal is to have the novel completed by the end of the year.

“And then, it’ll be re-edited. And once done, I can start on the sequel,” he says with a smile.

Lilac Wine-The Podcast is available on all podcast platforms. More information can be found at http:/

More information about Bruce Janu can be found at

This is a press release which we link to from our daily newsletter about podcasting and on-demand. This is reprinted verbatim; we may rewrite headlines and descriptions. Press releases can be sent to


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