June 25, 2012

Cottonwood Summer '45 by Gary Slaughter -- Guest Post!

Danny’s Debut

by Gary Slaughter
Author of the Cottonwood Series

The star of the Cottonwood novels is Danny Tucker, a ten-year-old boy, with incredible powers to solve mysteries, outfox villains, and see into the future. His charming and irresistible personality gives him amazing power over those around him, especially adoring older women.

The character Danny is based Billy Curtis, my oldest and very best friend, growing up in Owosso, Michigan, during World War II. For the first dozen years of our lives, we were inseparable. But when my family moved to the other side of town, we might as well have moved to the other side of the moon. My friendship with Billy suffered greatly. Regrettably, after high school, Billy and I lost contact with each other.

Until the first of five Cottonwood novels was published, Billy had no idea that I was writing about our boyhood adventures together. When we launched the Cottonwood Summer book tour in Owosso, Billy’s older sister Betty, on whom the Cottonwood character, Queenie, is based, came to one of my book signings. I hadn’t seen her for years.

She bought copies for herself and for Billy, whom she told me was retired and living in Mesa, Arizona. I wrote a warm inscription in his book, and Betty sent it to him.

After a couple of weeks, she called to ask him how he liked the book. He said he’d really enjoyed it. Then she asked, “Did you recognize any of the characters?”

When he said no, she ordered him to get his book and read the first page. Queenie was like that, you know.

Here’s what I had written there:

From Cottonwood Summer, Chapter One, The Adventures Begin.

There, sitting in my swing, was a strange-looking boy that I had never seen before. He was about my size and, as I would learn later, almost exactly my age. His thick hair, matching the color of his black eyes, was butched short and his skin was heavily tanned. Immense ears framed his owl-like face.

The over-sized, olive drab army cap perched rakishly above his left eyebrow signaled a cocky demeanor. A tee shirt of alternating maroon and dirty yellow stripes was tucked carelessly into crumpled tan cotton shorts. Several passes of an adult-length, brown leather belt embossed with bucking broncos and branding irons encircled his waist.

But the most dramatic element of his fashion statement was the floppy pair of canvas infantry leggings, surplus from the Great War, I guessed, which if fully laced would have extended upward, well past his knees. Two scuffed brown work shoes, in need of new soles and strings, poked out from under his doughboy specials.
Billy Curtis wore that exact same uniform every day for first three years that I knew him. When Billy read it again, he recognized himself and suddenly realized he was the star of the Cottonwood series.

And from that moment on, his personality changed radically.

Two weeks later, I called him. We hadn’t spoken to each other in over 40 years. His wife Joyce, whom I had never met, answered the phone. When I asked if Billy were there, Joyce said, “Yes, Billy’s here. But I need to talk to you -- first!” I was slightly taken aback, but I was also curious about what she was going to say.

Joyce quickly got to the point. “After learning that he was Danny, Billy has read that book three times. And it’s a good thing that Betty had sent him a hard-cover book because he carries it under his arm like a Bible. Takes it with him everywhere he goes -- to show to people. At church. At the grocery store. At the mall. He’s driving me crazy!”

Suddenly I got it. Joyce was telling me that Billy had become Danny.

That would have been just fine but there was one small problem. At least two-thirds of the adventures in the Cottonwood books are pure fiction. His wife didn’t know the difference and, over the years, Billy and I have found delight in not telling her.

That too was driving her crazy.

In Cottonwood Fall, the second novel in the series, one of the storylines, pure fiction in this case, revolved around a black Cadillac limousine. When I talked to Billy after he read the book, he said to me, “Gary, I’m sure glad you included that story about the black limousine. You know, I’d almost forgotten about that.”

I must admit this exchange made me feel somewhat more sympathetic toward Joyce’s position. However, despite her pleas, I still refused to tell her what was true and what was not. My refusal reestablished the bond that Billy and I had shared back in the good old days in Owosso.

To learn about those days, I invite you to read:

Cottonwood Summer ‘45
Cottonwood Spring
Cottonwood Winter: A Christmas Story
Cottonwood Fall
Cottonwood Summer

About Cottonwood Summer '45...

Cottonwood Summer '45, the latest novel in the Cottonwood series, continues the tradition of delivering an entertaining, richly-detailed reminiscence of home front America during the summer of 1945, as well as details of the closing events of World War II. The last days of the war have a profound effect on America, as witnessed by the citizens of Riverton, Michigan, and Nashville, Tennessee, the settings of this fast-paced story in which Jase and his best friend Danny, the heroes of the Cottonwood novels, are plagued by yet another passel of bad guys.

When the story opens, Danny has disappeared, along with a desperate German POW bent on making his way back to the Fatherland. With Danny as his hostage, he too falls victim to the wit and valor of the villain-vanquishing team from Riverton.

On their train trip to Nashville, our heroes are robbed but quickly identify the crook. Next, by capturing a nasty Nazi POW, they are awarded the Key to the City by Nashville’s mayor. This action opens the doors to the exciting sights and sounds of Nashville in 1945.

You’ll weep as Danny causes the accidental death of a dear friend. And you’ll marvel at how the duo deals with their first experience with racial segregation. And you’ll laugh aloud at the antics of Danny as his clairvoyance and intelligence bewilder pompous politicians and unfortunate criminals alike.

About Gary Slaughter...

Gary Slaughter is the multi-award-winning author of the Cottonwood books. His critically acclaimed series includes five novels based on home-front America during World War II.

Slaughter was born and raised in Owosso, Michigan. After graduating from the University of Michigan, he served six years at sea as a naval officer on destroyers.

Over the course of his distinguished business career, he became an expert on the management of corporate information technology. He traveled extensively, lecturing and consulting to clients both in the United States and abroad. During this time, his list of professional publications, including books, articles, and white papers, grew to more than four pages.

In addition, he founded several information services companies in which he played an active management role. He also served on the board of directors for many other businesses.

But, he always dreamt about his early years in Owosso where he observed with boyhood fascination the German prisoners of war who were interned at Camp Owosso located on the outskirts of town.

He saw POWs every day at the local canning factory where they worked under the watchful eye of their Army guards with tommy guns at the ready. When two German prisoners escaped with the help of two Owosso women, the subject of German POWs seized his young imagination, and it’s never let go.

Finally, in 2001, he did what many of people have only imagined themselves doing. He put his business career on hold and sat down to write the “Great American Novel” – Cottonwood Summer (2004), the first in his series and winner of the PIAS Award of Excellence. He followed with Cottonwood Fall (2006), a Benjamin Franklin Award finalist in the Popular Fiction category; Cottonwood Winter: A Christmas Story (2008), a ForeWord Book of the Year Award finalist for Adult Fiction and a Next Generation Indie Book Award finalist in both General Fiction and Young Adult Fiction; Cottonwood Spring (2009), a Benjamin Franklin Award finalist in Popular Fiction and a Next Generation Indie Book Award finalist in Young Adult Fiction; and finally his latest, to be released in the summer of 2012, called Cottonwood Summer ’45.

When not writing, he presents his “Behind the Book” talk to audiences of all ages. And because of his extensive knowledge of POWs in America during World War II, he frequently speaks on that subject as well.

Slaughter and his wife Joanne make their home in Nashville, Tennessee.



  1. I like the premise of this...thanks for sharing

  2. I hadn't heard of this before and it sounds really interesting, I love the intersection of history and personal experience! Thank you for the share!


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