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Growing up under Stanley Kutler’s roof on Madison’s west side, there was no way Andy Kutler was going to idle away time in the morning reading the back of a cereal box.
“My dad and I used to talk about the Federalist Papers at the breakfast table,” Andy recalled last week, by phone from the Washington, D.C., area, where he has lived for 26 years.
Stanley Kutler, who died in 2015, was a longtime University of Wisconsin–Madison professor of history and celebrated constitutional scholar best-known for his successful effort to get Richard Nixon’s White House tapes released to the public.
“He loved talking about history and I loved learning about it,” Andy says. “I like to think I inherited that passion from him.”
Another shared passion was baseball. Stanley cheered for the Indians — he grew up in Cleveland — and while living in Wisconsin, there were family road trips to Milwaukee for Brewers games.
“Some of my favorite memories,” Andy says.
History and baseball intersect in Andy’s new novel, “The Batter’s Box.” It’s publication this week brings him back to Madison. He and I will chat about the book at 7 p.m. Friday, March 15, at Mystery to Me on Monroe Street.
It’s Kutler’s second novel, and writing is a passion he developed somewhat late in life.
After graduating from Madison Memorial High School, Kutler attended Michigan State University, returning in the summers to intern for state Senator Russ Feingold, who was a student of Andy’s father.
In 1992, the year Kutler graduated from Michigan State, Feingold ran for the U. S. Senate.
“He hired me onto the campaign,” Kutler says. “He won and I followed him to Washington.”
After a few years with Feingold, Kutler joined Nevada Senator Richard Bryan as a senior legislative assistant. When Bryan retired in 2000, Kutler also left politics.
“Capitol Hill was slowly becoming more toxic every day,” Kutler says. “It was a difficult environment.”
He took a job with the U.S. Secret Service, serving as a legislative liaison. He liked the work very much, less so the travel, especially once he and his wife started a family.
“My daughter took her first steps while I was in Moscow,” Kutler says.
It led to his leaving government service a dozen years ago, when he became a consultant for the national security community.
“Unfortunately,” he adds, “that’s about all I can say about that.”
Around the same time, Kutler began writing for the Huffington Post — travel and humor pieces, and articles drawing on his background in politics. He’s kept it up, submitting a personal story after Senator John McCain’s brain cancer diagnosis became public.
The essays eventually gave him the confidence to try a novel and the kind of he likes to read — historical fiction.
“My favorite historical fiction books,” Kutler says, “are the ones that have me right near a computer because I need to look something up to see if it really happened. Sort of fact-checking the author.”
His first novel, 2015’s “The Other Side of Life,” is set in both the Civil War and World War II, and opens aboard the USS Nevada, the only battleship to get underway during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“I had no idea how difficult it is,” Kutler says of fiction writing, including, “creating characters out of whole cloth.”
He found a small publisher who believed in the book, and it went on to win a bronze medal in military/wartime fiction at the 2016 Independent Publishers Book Awards. Kutler began
“The Batter’s Box” soon after his first novel’s release.
“I discovered that when I’m not writing I’m not happy,” he said.
he new novel concerns a star player for the Washington Senators who leaves Major League Baseball to enlist in the U.S. Army following the Pearl Harbor attack. He participates in an infamous battle at Bastogne, Belgium. Like many others, he comes home indelibly changed.
“I met some [World War II vets] when I worked on Capitol Hill,” Kutler said. “Their stories stayed with me.”
No surprise, the new novel is dedicated to Stanley Kutler.
“What better gifts to pass on to a son,” Andy writes in the dedication, “than a love of baseball and a passion for history.”
Doug Moe is a Madison writer. Read his monthly column, Person of Interest, in Madison Magazine.
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