Saturday, July 30, 2016

13 Year Old Patrick & His Younger Brother Teddy Survive the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis Only To Find Themselves Surrounded by Sharks. . .

Christal Cooper

All excerpts given copyright privilege by Michael P Spradlin and Scholastic Press.

Photograph Description & Copyright Information located at the end of the piece.

Michael P Spradlin’s INTO THE KILLING SEAS:
Spradlin’s Greatest Passion

“Writing is a solitary occupation and you spend a lot of time in your own head. But because I had been so passionate about this book for so long and had already read and researched so much, it was in some ways much easier than other novels I’ve written. It was a very important novel to me. I really wanted to tell this story for young readers. All of those feelings and emotions poured out on the page. I’ve gotten some very moving letters from readers who obviously connected with the book on an emotional level.”
--Michael P Spradlin on Into The Killing Seas

It is December 1941 and 9-year-old Patrick and his younger brother Teddy have been living in Manila, Philippines for the past year where his father helps Filipinos build an automatic factory owned by Mr. Henry Ford. 

But now the last things on their minds is their father’s job at the factory; instead, the family is now rushing to catch a flight heading toward San Francisco just as the Japanese are about to attack Manila. 

There is just one problem – there are only two seats available.   
Their parents, both devout Catholics, urge their sons to take the remaining two seats on their own for their own safety. 

Fortunately their mother notices a nun, Sister Felicity and begs her to take of her boys and watch over them.  Sister Felicity is one of those rare nuns – compassionate, loving, not the typical nuns you see on television who are stoic and like to use a wooden paddle to hit your hands when you do something wrong. 

Sister Felicity is their lifeline as they fly from the Philippines with a refueling stop in Guam and then hopefully to their final destination of San Francisco, but due to the Japanese planes in the area of Guam, the three are forced to stay in Guam.   

Sister Felicity watches over the boys in Guam, even when she is very ill.  Soon the Japanese attack the area and Sister Felicity urges the boys to leave her and run into the jungle for safety.

       A small band of Chamorro Guam natives find the boys and take them under their wing – and for the next three years train the boys how to survive in the jungle and how to hide from the Japanese.  

Soon the American forces take over Guam and there they meet Benjamin Franklin Poindexter, Private First Class United States Marine Corp who has been assigned to the USS Indianapolis which is to set sail toward the Philippines where Patrick and Teddy’s parents are.  The three concoct a plan to sneak the two boys onto the ship with the goal of getting the two boys free passage to Philippines without anyone knowing about it except Benny. 

But, on July 30, 1945, fourteen minutes passed midnight their plan as well as their lives goes awry:  The USS Indianapolis is sunk by Japanese torpedoes and they find themselves clinging on a piece of debris, without food or water, and with hungry sharks circling below.

Now it was the sharks.  There were sharks in the water.  And from the sound of it, they were all around those men.  I stopped paddling and floated there, waiting for someone, anyone, to tell me what to do.  Benny was too far gone at the moment to realize what was happening.
And then, below the surface of the water, something hard and scaly brushed against my leg.
The sharks had found us.
And just like the other men had, I screamed.

Excerpt, page 76.

       Michael P. Spradlin grew up the son of a World War Two Veteran in Homer, Michigan. 
       “Growing up, almost every man my father’s age that I knew was a veteran of the war.  This was an entire generation who served.  And as I said, they saved the world.  And when the war was over, they came back home, set down their duffel bags, and picked up where they had left off.  My father, who very rarely spoke of his war experiences, one told me they did just what needed to be done.”

Michael P Spradlin knew from an early age what needed to be done in his life – to pursue a career in history and writing.  After graduating from Homer High School, he attended Central Michigan University where he received a degree in History.
He is now the author of more than twenty books, most of them geared toward young adults and most of them on the New York Times bestseller list.

“I have been nominated for an Edgar Award for my novel Spy Goddess: Live and Let Shop, winner of the Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame for my picture book, OFF LIKE THE WIND: The First Ride of the Pony Express. My most recent novel is The Enemy Above: A Novel of World War II.”

       In writing most of his novels, specifically Into The Killing Seas, Spradlin’s job is two-fold – that of a researcher and a fiction writer.

Given that Into the Killing Seas is set in World War II, there are ample photographs of the ship before the attack, as well as the survivors and their condition afterward. Research for the book was much easier given the extensive amount of photographs, documents and other materials that were there for examination.   

There are numerous recordings of survivors who tell their stories. What really happened to these men, in their own words, is found poetry. And the true story and their experiences is far more profound and thrilling than any book any author could every write.”

       Spradlin also read other non-fiction books about the incident, including Douglas Stanton’s In Harm’s Way.

       The character development of Into The Killing Seas was a difficult task because of its adult type theme.
       “It’s not an easy topic.  There’s death, destruction, horrific tragedy and it’s all based on a true story.  The first characters that came to me were the brothers Patrick and Teddy.  I knew I had to have characters the age of the intended audience in the story. 

What really crystalized the story was Benny, the young marine who helps the boys. He doesn’t really take part in much of the action, but his voice and his guidance of Patrick is what makes the story come alive in my opinion.

When I first saw Benny in my mind, I visualized the actor Jimmy Cagney. A lean, wiry guy with a tart tongue. But in this case, Benny is a little more softhearted than the typical Cagney character.

Then I was watching one of my favorite movies “The Best Years of our Lives” and by listening to the characters in that movie, their voices, the way people talked back then, the cadence, the slang, it all came together.

Language evolves over time. Even though the movie came out in 1946, it was close to the incident and I think Dana Andrews’ character in the movie speaks a little like Benny does in the book. When Benny became ‘real’ in my mind, all the elements in the story fell into place and I started writing.”

Spradlin’s technique of writing Into The Killing Seas was not to give himself as the writer the power, but the characters the power.

“I use a (writing) technique I call the ‘rainbow’ outline. It means I know where the story starts and sort of where I want it to end, but in between I let the characters tell the story and move the narrative. I’ve learned that they are generally much smarter than me about what the story needs.

There’s no question, my characters become very real to me. I do all the things every writer does. For example, who would play them in the movie? Any writer who says they don’t do that is lying! And they have a place in my subconscious that I think enables them to communicate with me when I get off track. It’s almost like they tap me on the shoulder and say, “hey, I would never say or do that.”
But I think once the story is complete, I’m very rarely surprised by the characters. I share their emotions in the sense that they’ve completed the mission or accomplished their goal.”

       Spradlin discovered that his characters are most alive at night, like he is.  Though he writes all the time, his most rewarding times to write is at night.
“I’m a night owl by nature and my mind is a little clearer and focused in the evening.  I usually write 2 to three hours per day, sometimes more.  It really depends on how the words are behaving. If they’re coming easy and I’m in a zone, I can easily write longer. If it’s a struggle that’s usually a sign to go back to previous chapters and do some revision until the dam breaks again.”

Spradlin does most of his writing in the basement of his home in his book-lined office that overlooks the woods, where is so engrossed in the story that he is not even aware of the weather outside, but he is always aware of the atmosphere of his office.  

“My walls are covered with book related ephemera, including a framed quote of the last line of The Great Gatsby, which my son got me for my birthday. It’s my favorite line of all time. So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Besides his laptop, pen, paper Spradlin needs two other things to write – a glass of water and the radio broadcasting the Detroit Tigers’ baseball games. 
 “I’ve listened to baseball on the radio since I was a kid and there is something about the rhythm of the game that relaxes me.”
It is in this relaxation that Spradlin is able to communicate with his characters the best, and this is when his characters surprise him the most.
“The twist at the end of Into the Killing Seas surprised me a little bit. Even my editor (Jenne Abramowitz) said she didn’t see it coming, which made me very happy.”
       The most difficult part of the Into The Killing Seas project was convincing an editor and publisher that this type of book should be a book for middle grade readers, which Spradlin finally did with Scholastic editor Jenne Abramowitz.

“I have a wonderful editor, with a jewelers touch, and if something needs to go, she’s usually right or else I need to rework it to make it better or more easily understandable to the reader. I think this might have been one of the easiest books I’ve ever written in terms of working on the editorial changes and suggestions. It’s quite easy to become too close to the material when you’re writing. You need that editorial relationship so that you don’t slow down the narrative (and) to keep the story moving. They’re not just editors they are readers also. And they give you invaluable input.”
The very day that Scholastic offered him the contract for Into The Killing Seas was both an exciting and memorable day.
       “I immediately thought of my father.  He died long before I was ever a published writer. But I thought to myself, I now get to tell a story of the Greatest Generation. He was a veteran who served in Europe and all of my World War II novels, including the upcoming Prisoner of War are homage to my father and all of the men and women who served in World War II.”

       On June 30, 2015 Scholastic Press published Michael P. Spradlin’s young adult historical novel Into the Killing Seas.

The most compelling excerpt from Into The Killing Seas for Spradlin to write was the scene where Patrick and Teddy’s parents realize there are only two seats available on the airplane out of Manila before the Japanese attack.
“As a parent, I wouldn’t hesitate to give up my life for my children, but the instinct to hold them close and protect them is so visceral. I think their parents’ sending them out alone was beyond difficult and hard to imagine.”

There was an elderly nun boarding the plane who was very sick, and she was flying to San Francisco.  I remember my mother begging her to take Teddy and me with her.  I remember it like it was yesterday.
“My oldest – Patrick – he’s a good boy, Sister.  He’s almost nine and he can help take care of you, if you’re not feeling well.  And Teddy will do whatever my Patrick says,” my mother pleaded with her.  “We’re from Detroit, we go to Most Holy Trinity every Sunday.”  The nun’s name was Sister Felicity, and she agreed to take us with her.
Then I see my other, holding my face in her hands, demanding that I pay attention to her.
“You listen to me, Patrick, my sweet boy,” she said.  “you and Teddy are going with Sister Felicity.  This plane will eventually get you to San Francisco.  We’ll wire ahead and have your aunt Maggie pick you up there.  You mind your manners and listen to the sister.  And take care of Teddy.  Promise me you’ll take care of Teddy.  Can you do that for me?  Your dad and I will be on the next plane, right behind you.  Do you understand me, Patrick?”
My dad knelt down in front of me and put his hand on my shoulder.
“It’s going to be okay, champ,” he said.  We’ll be there before you know it.  You mind the sister now, okay?”
“I will, Dad.  I promise,” I said.
My mother hugged me harder than she ever had in her life.  Up until then, I’d never seen my dad with tears in his eyes.  It was the last time I saw either of them.

Excerpt, pages 3-4

       One of the most common questions Spradlin is asked, especially after over 20 novels, is if he is the actual writer of every single novel?

“All of my own books are 100% me. I did co-write three books in the I, Q series with Roland Smith.

I do have writer friends that I talk to but most of the times we don’t talk about specific plots. Some were experts in certain areas before they were writers and I call on that expertise. Some have connections that help me. A writer friend put me in touch with Dr. Sonny Gruber who was really helpful in learning about shark behavior. Turns out he’s one of the top two or three shark experts in the world. So there is a ‘team’ in that sense. But the writing is all on me.”

       When not writing Spradlin works his day job as marketing director of Midwest Tape, a wholesaler of media products to public libraries. 

He resides in Lapeer; Michigan with his wife Kelly, two adult children Michael and Rachel, and two dogs Willow and Apollo.    

Photography Description & Copyright Information

Full Jacket cover of Into the Killing Seas and Michael P Spradlin in the middle.


Manila, Philippines in 1940 on the left.
Henry Ford in December of 1940 on the right.
Public Domain

Manila Philippines: Inside the Quiapo Church looking out just before the bombing and the invasion by the Japanese in December of 1941.
Public Domain

1940s photograph of two boys looking into an hourglass.
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright law

Image of Mother Theresa with two boys.
Unknown description or attribution
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

The Japanese invading Manila, Philippines in December of 1941
Public Domain

Image of 3000 Japanese soldiers landing on the island of Guam in December of 1941.
Unknown attribution.
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Natives in the Island of Guam.  Guam was a remote tropical paradise virtually unknown to the outside world.
Public Domain

The USS Indianapolis in Mare Island in on July 10, 1945.
Public Domain

Zoomed in Jacket Cover of Into The Killing Seas

Michael P Spradlin

Heard Sprawling during basic training.  Army Sergeant Hearl Spradlin, served from 1943 to 1946, and was awarded the Bronze Star.

Michael P Spradlin at a book signing

Jacket cover of Spy Goddess:  Live and Let Shop

Jacket cover of Off Like The Wind:  The First Ride of the Pony Express

The Enemy Above:  A novel of World War 11.

Jacket cover of Into The Killing Seas

USS Indianapolis Survivor James Jarvis, left, and Michael P Spradlin, right.

Michael P Spradlin, left, and USS Indianapolis Survivor James Jarvis, right.

Jacket cover of In Harm’s Way, and, right, Douglas Stanton

Zoomed in shot of jacket cover of Into The Killing Seas

Two USS Indianapolis survivors are bought aboard the Cecil J Doyle. 
Public Domain

James Cagney and Gloria Stuart in the motion picture Here Comes The Navy, 1934.  The motion picture was filmed on the USS Arizona
Public Domain

Movie poster for The Best Years of Our Lives

Dana Andrews in The Best Years of Our Lives

Inside USS Indianapolis Memorial

USS Indianapolis Memorial

Michael P Spradlin in character, left, and illustrator Ard Hoyt at a Book signing for Daniel Boone’s Great Escape

Image of books outside of Michael P Spradlin's office

Image of books inside of Michael P Spradlin's office

Image of The Great Gatsby quote given to Michael Spradlin from his son.


Facebook photo of Jenne Abramowitz
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law


Heard Sprawling during basic training.  Army Sergeant Hearl Spradlin, served from 1943 to 1946, and was awarded the Bronze Star.

Women of World War Two

Scholastic web logo

Two public domain photos photo shopped by Christal Rice Cooper

Michael P Spradlin

Jacket cover of IQ Book Four:  The Alamo

Jacket cover of IQ Book Give:  The Windy City

Jacket cover of IQ Book Six:  Alcatraz

Web logo photo of Roland Smith
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Web logo photo of Dr. Sonny Gerber
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Web logo for Midwest Tape
Fair Use under the United States Copyright Law