This Really Happened

I call myself a thriller author because that’s the genre I love and plan to move forward with, but two of my first three novels didn’t fit in that category. As such, I’m kind of glad to have them out of the way. They were stories that were somehow connected to my life experience and had to be told.

Big Sandy will always have a special place in my heart because the instigating event really happened, and I was one of the characters. I’ll always feel proud of the fact that Hollywood producer Timothy Blake purchased an option on the story and spent two years trying to raise production money.  It was a tough sell, though. Directors aren’t eager to get involved with projects that have kids and animals in key roles.

On a quiet small-town summer night, sometime in the 1950’s, a friend and I were sitting on the porch watching bats strafe the bugs around a street light. And then we heard a sound we’d never heard in real life–a woman screaming. It took a while to catch my breath, but then I remembered that people said a panther’s cry sounded like a woman screaming. There was a story going around that a panther had been seen in the area.

The sound came from behind the co-op, so my friend and I ran into the house, grabbed a flashlight, a hunting knife and a pellet gun and took off down the railroad tracks behind the co-op. There was a hole in the crawl space beneath a warehouse out there, and we thought it would be a good place for a panther to hide. We were right. We saw huge paw prints in the loose dirt under there. Fortunately, the panther wasn’t around.

There had been reports of  big cat prints in the snow out by the golf course and of a deer carcass that somehow ended up in a tree.  Apparently there really had been a big predatory cat in the area; it was probably a cougar, but everybody called it a panther. I can’t imagine where it came from (this was Northern Indiana), and as far as I know nobody ever actually saw it. But I heard it, and I saw its tracks. Big Sandy is the story of what might have happened if the thing had actually been under the warehouse when we showed up.

Although Big Sandy is classified as a middle grade children’s book, it’s a story that can also captivate adults. I think many would enjoy it as a quick read on a plane or at the beach.

Kids will certainly enjoy the book, too, but although the story ostensibly takes place in present day, in my mind things were unfolding in the 1950’s. So, overly-PC parents beware, there are scenes where: The Butch and Gary try to buy cigarettes at a popcorn stand (and learn a lesson); shoot at a couple of bullies with green grapes out of sling shot; play “war” with plastic guns; occasionally use mild swear words (like real 12-year-olds); and utter the word “Indian” once. I’m just sayin’…

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