"You'll learn a lot more by watching people and listening to them, Mikey. Keep your eyes & ears open. Listen to their stories. Listen to the way they paint their picture. Listen to the way they use language. And remember the emotion in their words." - Gram & Gramps
Michael L. Proko
"I guess I became a writer in the usual way like so many others, by reading and listening to stories particularly those of my grandparents. Depending on who told the story would set the mood; the Russian side of the family usually told mostly sad stories; the Irish stories were somewhat melancholy with some touches of humor and the Czech stories that were usually light hearted. But like a good homemade stew, all went into the same pot and added their own flavor. Through their tutelage, my observational skills and tonal dialects were honed at a very early age."
Born and raised just outside Chicago, Mike got to grow up in an atmosphere that would make any seasoned writer jealous. Good Lord, what a list of characters! Priests. Politicians. Union Bosses. Actors. Poets. Writers. The high-lifes. The low-lifes. Good guys. Bad guys. And strangers who would give you the shirt off their backs. He found out at a very young age that some of the people that you were supposed to look up to were the ones that you should look out for and that more often than not sometimes the bad guys were the good guys. It came as no surprise that his first book,'Some Things My Grandparents Taught Me'  was an homage to his instructors, his grandparents. After all, everything that he had learned about life and story-telling he had learned at their knees."
Then, Mike began a series of short stories which would become 'A Box of Shorts'. Each one of the stories reads like a movie. A few of the spots in the stories were dark and somber [must have been the Russian side] and fellow writer & friend H.J. Weinand wondered if Mike should turn his pen towards a lighter fare for his next book. That suggestion would give birth to 'Pendleton The Penguin and His Magical Friends', an ongoing series of children's books that focus on the values of being assertive while being polite, being respectful and seeing the magic in all that is around us on a daily basis. Time and time again, Pendleton also shows us that our dreams can only be limited by the breadth of our imagination. The stories of hope, dreams and endless possibilities speak to a universal audience and so, to that end, the books are now being translated into different languages by students. The end result will be kids helping other kids around the world learn to read. Hopefully, one day these children will be able to tell stories of their own inspired by our little penguin friend.
Weaving his way through all of these stories and books, Mike has also penned over 120 columns aimed at the people who made this country great, our forgotten middle class. 'Life in America' [vol. 1&2] addresses the problems and challenges we all face on a daily basis using humor and plain old common sense to put it all into perspective.
(All copyright artwork for the Pendleton Project provided by Juan Carlos Baez & Associates)