Irma native Chris Schotz has combined his love of history and familiarity with the local landscape to pen his first novel, Underground in the Underdown.
Schotz, who still lives right on the foothills of Irma’s Underdown area and teaches history in Rhinelander, set the book in his own backyard. The novel is takes place in a fictitious 1943, in a world where the South won the Civil War. As a teacher and student of American history, Schotz knows how easily the outcome of the war between the states could have been very different. Schotz points to the injustices against black Americans in the Jim Crow era South – in the real world where slavery had already been abolished.
“I set up how the South could have won the Civil War and go through three generations to remind people that the real Jim Crow era was brutal,” Schotz said.
In Underground in the Underdown, Schotz suggests a country in which “snakes” from the South travel north hunting for refugee slaves. In the back country of Wisconsin, they encounter the “hill dogs,” a band of young men who are part of an underground resistance.
“The local kids wind up being terrorists,” Schotz said.
The eight stages of genocide are an underlying theme of the book.
“It’s an adventure with some action, but it keeps coming back to those themes,” Schotz said.
Familiar Lincoln County places such as Prairie Dells, Heineman, Harrison Hills and Lincoln Hills School all make appearances in the book. Bill Underdown, for whom the area is named, is the only real person in the book, although his character has been fictionalized.
Underground in the Underdown contains some powerful history lessons and Schotz would like to see the book used in history classes. He purposely kept the tone of the book appropriate for middle and high school students. He uses the book in his own middle school history classes to get students to consider the paths that history could have taken.
“I want them to focus on why stuff happens,” he said. “We need kids who can think.”
The book is available through Amazon.com and lulu.com, with limited quantities also available at Book World.