Pete Zakroff’s first time writing was pitching an episode of “The Twilight Zone” to show creator Rod Serling. His idea wasn’t used, but Serling encouraged him to keep writing.
More than 60 years later, Zakroff is bursting with stories.
Zakroff, a 1967 journalism alumnus, self-published his memoir “101 Tales of a Middle-Class Middle-Child,” on Amazon on Sept. 23. The book is made up of 101 anecdotal stories starting with Zakroff’s childhood in West Oak Lane, Philadelphia, to his retirement. It shares insights about how his experiences have shaped him into who he is now and what young people should expect when growing old.
“When an incident or something interesting happened to me, I figured I’d write it down and somewhere along the line I might be able to use it,” Zakroff said.
When he began looking back on the stories he had been collecting, Zakroff planned to put together a book with 25 vignettes, he said. However, 25 soon became 50, and 50 soon became 100, as he realized that there were still more stories.
Each vignette documents a specific moment in his life and begins with black-and-white illustrations emulating old photos created by his daughter, Laura Zakroff. The illustrations are a tribute to Pete Zakroff’s interest in photography, she said.
Laura Zakroff made an effort to capture the reader’s attention through the illustrations, she added.
“Rather than having exact images that describe every scene, to kind of create something that, sort of a montage, that inspires the reader, as they’re looking at the image going, ‘What could this be about?’ so they can almost put themselves into the story,” Laura Zakroff said.
In addition to illustrating the book, Laura Zakroff helped her father navigate Amazon’s self-publishing process, a task she said took three days.
“He’s still going through the process of hopefully being able to publish it mainstream,” she added. “But because of COVID, everybody’s been sort of pulling back on what they’re publishing.”
In the memoir’s introduction, Pete Zakroff recalls the idea of writing it during conversations with an old friend from high school, Larry Stein, who would frequently ask, “Do you have another tale?”
“Thus began the retelling of a lifetime of vignettes,” Pete Zakroff wrote in the introduction.
The vignettes begin with his childhood, when the streets of West Oak Lane served as a playground for him and his friends. It follows him chronologically, moving to his time at Temple University, where he originally planned to become a doctor, but soon decided to pursue journalism instead because of his passion for writing.
In a story about a journalism class at Temple, Pete Zakroff describes an instructor who required students to read obituaries and write news stories about them, an experience that has stayed with him until today.
“I read the obits every day, in two papers, just to make sure I’m not in there,” he said.
After graduating, Pete Zakroff worked as a general assignment reporter for the Coatesville Record in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, where he realized he did not want to have a career in journalism. He returned to Temple in 1968 to pursue a masters in educational media, which he used to start his own producing business, ZM Squared, creating programs for business industry education.
Before the book’s release, Marcy Altimano, who grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and worked with Pete Zakroff when he was a freelancer on pharmaceutical workshops for Drury Design Dynamics, gave him the perspective of a reader who doesn’t share the experience of growing up in the Philadelphia area.
The stories created a sense of nostalgia as she recalled her own childhood experiences, despite growing up in a different city, she added.
One of Pete Zakroff’s stories reminded her that she still had the key to her skates from when she was 10 years old, Altimano said.
“Your mind starts wandering to your own history,” she added. “You start reading the Philadelphia area history as though, you know, I’m just sort of converting it into Brooklyn history.”
Pete Zakroff hopes his memoir will bring familiarity to readers, especially as many books about current events are filled with fear and anxiety, he said.
“I actually got to over 100 vignettes or little stories about people I’d met, my adventures,” Pete Zakroff said. “It’s a lifetime of work.”