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The USS Indianapolis and Writing About History for Kids

Writers are asked all the time ‘what inspired you to write this book?’ Into the Killing Seas, my newest novel, is told through the eyes of a young boy who, along with his brother, stows away about the USS Indianapolis. Almost two days out of port, the ship was sunk by a Japanese submarine.

Two torpedoes tore the ship nearly in half. It sank so quickly only 900 of the 1200 man crew were able to abandon ship. Most of them were burned and wounded. They floated in the ocean nearly five days before they were spotted and rescued. They survived exposure, dehydration, starvation, and relentless heat and rolling seas. And they had the great misfortune to sink in some of the most heavily shark infested waters on earth.

Scientists have called it the worst human-shark encounter in history. Of the 900 men who made it off the ship, only 317 were pulled from the water. It was the worse disaster at seas in US Naval history. It was, by any definition, a horrific event.

What inspired me to write Into the Killing Seas? First, like any writer, my primary goal is to tell the best story I possibly can. And in the case of the Indianapolis disaster, to introduce young readers to an important historic event through historical fiction.

There is a lot of action and tragedy in Into the Killing Seas. Booklist called it “grim and vivid.” And it is very difficult to ‘sanitize’ a shark attack. Which brings me to the inspiration question. Why write about such a horrible event, a war, death and destruction? Especially in a book for children?

It’s my own opinion, but I believe young readers deserve honesty and truth, just as much as adult readers. Writing a book like Into the Killing Seas gives readers a glimpse of a true event that was beyond horrible. And the horribleness is the point. My goal in writing historical fiction for young readers is to try and give them an understanding that war and the things that go with are awful. It is not a movie or a video game. It is at times both the best and worst of humanity. There is no reset button. Sometimes men and women fight and die. And in my opinion, I think it’s important that young readers learn that reality.

And that’s my question. Does giving kids a glimpse of the reality of war, or the truth of history provide them with a valuable lesson? We have a tendency these days to want to protect our children from the harshness of life. But life is not always kind. Does opening their eyes to events like the Crusades or World War II make them better prepared to understand the world as they become adults? I’d love to know what you think about using historical fiction to introduce young readers to history. 

Eight Ways To Get You Started In Getting My Books Banned!

Dear Readers,

This week is the annual Banned Books Week, sponsored by the Association of American Publishers, the American Library Association and many other organizations. As you may know, as a writer, I welcome all opinions and all incarnations of free speech. For our democracy to work, everyone has to have a voice. Even morons like racists, homophobes, religious fanatics and idiots who say that Alan Trammell doesn’t belong in the Baseball Hall-Of-Fame. It has to be this way. Either everyone has free speech and  freedom of expression or no one does. Picking and choosing who gets to speak leads to totalitarianism. That’s bad. And that’s why I support the ALA in their efforts to stamp out censorship.

BBWLogoGenerally, when I find some idiots like the Westboro Baptist Church or people who speak out in support of white chocolate and even advocating using it in recipes, my first rule is to ignore them. Moronic people are looking for an audience. More, they are looking to cause controversy. If they can get your dander up, they’ve won. Which is why I have a “Don’t listen to idiots policy.” White chocolate. Please. It’s not chocolate, it’s an abomination. OutForBloodBut hey, whatever floats your mousse.

Yet as a writer, I’m torn. Except for a weird guy from Germany, many years ago, who sent me a 12,000 word screed on why the Knights Templar were the reason for every evil in the world, none of my books have ever been remotely challenged or banned. As far as I know. And while I would protest vigorously if anyone challenged or banned one of my books, I would kind of appreciate the attention. You know why. Because when something is deemed forbidden, it makes it a little more attractive to us. Especially young readers, which is most of my audience.

Believe me. Writing is hard. It takes time, practice and a lot of luck and perseverance to build an audience. Getting one of your books banned makes it a lot easier. Paraphrasing Mark Twain “the banning of one book will insure the sale of 100 of its mates.”
So you can see my dilemma.

For my own work, based on what I perceive to be the greatest benefit to me (and let’s face it, I look at most problems in the world through one prism: how is it going to effect me?) I need to be banned and censored. I’ve given it a lot of thought and decided it’s the right decision.

If you are a teacher, librarian or parent, I’m asking you to challenge one of my books and demand it be removed from your school or public library. Or both. You should protest in front of your local bookstore. In fact, you should go into said bookstore, buy all my books and burn them. Ask your friends and relatives to do the same in their town. Let’s start a Keeper-of-the-Grailmovement.

To help get you started, I’ll even tell you why some of my books should be censored.

1. Blood Riders has illicit sex outside of marriage and lots of violence and carnage.

2. Pirate Haiku talks a lot about wenches and rum. Wenches and rum = bad.

3. Killer Species is all about genetic engineering. Need I go any further? Seriously?

4. Spy Goddess has a really mouthy heroine who steals a car and breaks rules.

5. The Youngest Templar has violence, a mysterious secret society and horses.

6. Zombies. Enough said.

7. The Monster Alphabet is scary for small children (not really but you could make a case for a really small child).

8. Off Like The Wind and Daniel Boone’s Great Escape are all about the conquering of the bloodridersAmerican West and the displacement of Native Americans. (Not really, but they were there when some of that stuff happened).

I really think this is enough to get you started. If you consider yourself a fan, please take it a step further and get my books banned.

I ask for so little. Let’s do this!

Your authorness,

Michael P. Spradlin

5 Things You Might Not Know About Sharks!

It’s the hap-happiest season of all!

No I’m not talking about Christmas, I’m talking about Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. It’s must see TV!

While researching my new novel Into the Killing Seas I needed to learn about shark behavior. Into the Killing Seas tells the story of two boys, Patrick and Teddy O’Donnell who stow away on the U.S.S. Indianapolis during World War II. They are trying to get back to the Philippines to find their parents who sent them away before the Japanese invaded. Stuck on Guam during the war, the boys are snuck aboard the ship—which just happens to be headed to the Philippines—by Benny Poindexter, a tough but tenderhearted Marine who is sympathetic to their plight. When the ship is sunk by a Japanese sub, Patrick, Teddy and Benny must survive relentless shark attacks.

USS_Indianapolis_at_Mare_IslandThe U.S.S. Indianapolis had a crew of nearly 1200 men. 300 perished when the torpedoes struck the ship. About 600 crewmen abandoned ship and made it into the water, most of them without life jackets or life rafts. Many of them were wounded or dying. And they were now trying to survive in some of the most shark infested waters in the Pacific. After four days in the water only 317 men ultimately survived the ordeal.

mako01Writing the book required a great deal of research about shark behavior. Luckily I was able to make contact with Dr. Sonny Berger of the Bimini SharkLab and one of the world’s foremost authorities on sharks. And through his generosity, I learned a great number of things we’ve come to believe about sharks simply aren’t true. Here are five interesting facts.

1. Sharks cannot smell blood in the water from miles away.
There is no hard evidence that human blood is more attractive to sharks than ordinary fish blood. Sharks do not have a particularly acute sense of smell. Salmon and catfish have a much better sense of smell than sharks. Sharks are attracted to sound and their acoustical receptors work for hundreds of meters. When the Indianapolis exploded it sent out sound waves that drew sharks from miles around.

2. Sharks are not swimming and eating ‘machines’.
Contrary to myth, sharks are not constantly feeding. Most Lemon sharks for example feed only every three days on average. Larger species eat even less frequently and most sharks eat 2-3% of their body weight before they stop feeding.

3. Certain species of sharks including Mako and White sharks are warm blooded.
Cold blooded species tend to feed during the day when the temperature of the water increases. Warm blooded sharks will feed whenever suitable prey presents itself.

4. Sharks are not territorial or particularly aggressive .
Sharks do not drive off other sharks from a feeding area or food supply. In fact they are by and large social animals, although they do have a personal space.

5. Your best bet in fending off a shark attack is to poke at its eyes or gills.
Don’t punch or kick the nose like we’ve heard. You’ll only make the shark mad. And besides shark skin is covered with sharp teeth-like dermal denticles that will only cut and scrape your hands or feet causing you to bleed. And sharks can smell blood close up.

Enjoy Shark Week and check out my book Into the Killing Seas!

Your authorness!

Michael P. Spradlin

Julia Child Was A Spy…And Other Things You Learn Researching Novels.

julia-childWriting a book is messy. There are lots of blind alleys, false starts and horrible cliches in your early drafts. (You see what I did there?) One of the biggest distractions to getting your book finished is what we writerly types call ‘research’. Research is vital to your work. It makes your writing stronger and more immediate to the reader.

It can also be a great way of dodging your deadlines. Your editor can’t to mad at you for being late with your manuscript if you are ‘actively engaged in research that will only serve to make the book stronger.’

At least that’s what you tell them. Especially if you have a very short attention span like me and you tend to find out odd or interesting things that draw you in. The next thing you know hours have gone by and you’re reading about some tangential detail that is never going to make it into your book.

Like the fact that Julia Child was a spy during World War II and developed a recipe for shark repellant. 

oss8It’s true. I discovered this little nugget while researching sharks for my new book Into The Killing Seas (coming out next summer from Scholastic, just sayin’) The woman who single handedly changed the American view on cooking worked for the OSS. The Office of Strategic Services was the early version of today’s Central Intelligence Agency. Julia started out as a typist, and eventually worked her way up to a research assistant for OSS Director William ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan.

During the course of her duties, Mrs. Child became directly involved in Navy research into shark repellants. The Navy was reluctant to admit to the public that their personnel were falling victim to shark attacks and sought out a way to prevent them. Enter Julia Child and a large bathtubs.

According to several sources Julia reported that she tried many different combinations of ingredients before settling on a combination of black dye and copper acetate that was put into a water soluble wax packet. Her early efforts were mixed up in a bathtub with a big wooden paddle. Her final substance was largely ineffective in repelling sharks but as with most things developed by the government it continued to be issued to American servicemen until the Vietnam war.

And that is what happens when you’re writing a book. You think you’re going one way and you go another. Research. It’s been causing writers to miss deadlines since Shakespeare. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


The Buzz on Killer Species: Out For Blood!

So the weather outside is frightful. But a new Killer Species book is so delightful. Especially when it’s the next book in the Killer Species series, Out For Blood. And its in flapping its OutForBloodway to bookstores everywhere on February 25th! What strange and evil critter has the devilish Dr. Catalyst cooked up this time?

I’ll tell you!

Each time Dr. Catalyst has tried to introduce a genetically altered creature to save the environment, he has only created more problems. Now he is out to show the world what happens when an invasive species arrives and threatens another native of the local ecosystem. Only this time the species being threatened is man.

Dr. Catalyst has decided to give everyone a glimpse of what happens when an invasive species threatens human beings. He has genetically engineered a creature he refers to as a “Blood Jackets,” a particularly deadly combination of Vampire Bat and Bald Faced Hornet. When the Blood Jackets are released into the wild near Florida City they reign havoc on the civilian population.

One again Calvin and Emmet must race to find a way to stop Dr. Catalyst. And this time Dr. Catalyst is turning the tables. He is coming after Emmet and Calvin directly. And he won’t stop until he gets them. And in the middle of action, Calvin mysteriously disappears. Has he fallen into Dr. Catalyst’s clutches, or is he on the trail of a clue that might lead to real identity of the mad scientist?

You’ll find out when you pick up your copy of Killer Species: Out For Blood. It’s on sale February 25, 2014. And you can pre-order a copy of Killer Species: Ultimate Attack! book four in the series! It will be on sale June 24, 2014 everywhere that books are sold. WindyCIty

And while you’re at the bookstore, you can also pick up a copy of I,Q: The Windy City co-written with my buddy Roland Smith. Q and Angela have just barely escaped another disastrous encounter with the ghost cell in San Antonio, Texas. Now as the Match tour makes its next stop in Chicago. And as the game of cat and mouse continues, Q and Angela determine there is a traitor in their midst. And if they can’t find out who it is, Boone, Croc and the rest of the S.O.S team could face certain death. Pick up your copy today!

Your authorness,


Michael P. Spradlin

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