At the back of my current edition of Piasa is a blurb about the upcoming second novel in this series, Cryptid. Cryptid was released in April of 2018. Although Cryptid references characters and events in Piasa, it stands alone.
Piasa is about the legendary bird that inhabited the area around Alton, Illinois, before the supposed ‘discovery’ of America. I think most people now know that people were living here long before the ‘discovery’ as such, so I won’t go there. In Piasa a number of other cryptids are mentioned as possible candidates for follow up by the protagonist, cryptozoologist Mike Kellogg. They included the Jersey Devil, Queensland Tiger or Tasmanian Devil, and the legendary black panthers sighted around England for many years.
While researching these cryptids to write about, I was drawn to the fact that cryptids are not only unknown animals few have ever seen, but they can be known animals out of place either in time or location. Black panthers are not cryptids if you live where leopards or jaguars abound. An African lion is not a cryptid in Africa but, unless he’s escaped from a zoo or other place, running free in the state of Illinois, he is. There have been reports of large African Lion like cats in Illinois. Not in zoos but running free. Most are thought to either be misidentified animals (large dogs or mountain lions) or escaped pets. I’m continually amazed at the number of lions, tigers and such that are kept as pets. To me, the domestic cat is a much prettier (as well as safer) version of these felines.
Of course, we in America’s Midwest, followed the ‘Lion in Milwaukee’ story in July of 2015. A short video showed what appeared to be a female lion strolling through a back yard there. No trace of it was ever found and depending on whose story you follow, it was thought to be a cougar, a big domestic cat, a dog, a dog whose hair was cut to look like a lion, or simply a hoax. It was briefly resurrected early in 2017 when someone claimed they caught a lion on their security tape. This video was not very clear and most people wrote that off as a large cat. You can still find these stories, and maybe some new ones, on the net, just search, ‘lion in Milwaukee.’
Further, most people do not know about melanism, why some animals, such as black panthers (they are either jaguars or leopards), are born black.
Putting these three things, (Out of time or place, lion in Milwaukee and melanism) together, I made that the focus of Cryptid. It takes place in downtown Chicago, continuing the personal story of Mike Kellogg and Sara Williams, a year or so after the events of Piasa. Whether or not you’ve read Piasa, I hope you read and enjoy Cryptid. I think I’ve gotten better as a writer and it’s different.
Will there be a third novel? At the present time, I’m not sure. I have an idea of a plot but other projects will tie up my time for the foreseeable future.
Back in 2002 I had a dream about an amusement park along the coast (out east) which was attacked by a creature that in my dream I thought was the Jersey Devil. Having been looking for a book subject of my own (as things were going slow for my daughter and I as outlined in how I got started) I thought this would be it. I had developed my fictional protagonists but needed a mysterious creature for the main subject. I began to become disenchanted with the Jersey Devil after my research showed it had been the subject of numerous books and movies. In the course of my research another huge flying creature was mentioned, the Piasa. While little information was available on the Piasa back in 2002, looking online today I find much more including some that discredits what was said in 2002. My original novel was written between 2002 and about 2008; published in 2010. I am re-releasing it after updating language however, I have not corrected any of the Piasa lore as it appeared in 2002. So, yes I know someone claims it was painted by the Chinese and someone else claims Piasa means little people and not the Bird that Devours Men. However the original lore is still also a viable option. These so-called researchers were not alive in 1840 so . . .
In short, the Piasa was first noted by Father Marquette in his journey down the Mississippi River with Louis Jolliet in 1673. One of them sketched a picture of a huge creature painted on the limestone cliffs just north of what would become Alton, Illinois. Marquette described the creature in his diary of the exploration. However in an accident where their canoe overturned the sketch was lost. Others claimed to have seen it but the only other sketch known was published by Henry Lewis, German artist who sketched various sites up and down the Mississippi River around 1841. Now I noted that some credit a J.C. Wild for the sketch. Regardless, it appeared in Lewis’s book, The Valley of the Mississippi, and was attributed to him.
In the 1870’s the Cliff face that contained the Piasa image was quarried for building a road and other projects. The original Piasa image was gone.
Other tales, including the supposed Native folklore of how it came to be and the story of a cave of bones attributed to the Piasa’s victims circulated and are touched on in my Piasa story. However, while the Piasa is the basis for my story, it more involves the story of Sara Williams who is orphaned after an auto accident in Alton, and Mike Kellogg the cryptozoologist, who lost his wife and daughter in an accident the same day and, following the discovery of additional caves in the Alton bluffs, comes searching for the truth about the Piasa.
While ‘Piasa’ presents an answer to the mystery it is purely fictional (as is, I think, the entire Piasa yarn) and not meant to be any kind of an actual explanation. My work is fiction but the references to the Piasa of the past are based on research, circa 2002-08.
What do I believe? I believe the painting was there and was painted by ‘someone’ to represent the creatures of Native American lore. It wasn’t necessarily a painting of one creature. Beyond that? Who knows.
My novel ‘Piasa’ was first released in 2011. The year is listed in the book as 2010 but that first batch, in late December, was misprinted and had to be redone. It was re-edited and a second edition released around April of 2017. The follow on story of Sara’s adventures, Cryptid, was released in April of 2018. Will there be a third novel? Who knows?
I got started in writing a year after I retired in 20** – well let’s not go there. No need to be exact. My daughter got married a few months later and got a job in Washington DC as a consultant. Her first love then was acting so at the same time, while living in Crystal City, she did various small filmed roles, commercials and appeared as the lead in an area play. Anticipating her husband’s transfer to San Diego, she got her SAG card and while he was in San Diego she lived up in Studio City pursuing what she thought was her life’s dream.
As long as she was in La La Land* her and I thought we’d pass the time and earn some money by doing screenwriting. We both had computers so distance wasn’t a factor. We both learned the craft, but naïve us found that just as you can’t get a novel traditionally published without an agent, you can’t get anywhere in the movie business without an entertainment lawyer to submit things. Unlike literary agents, most of who take submittals from new writers, TV and movie studios would not accept unsolicited work. We had developed treatments and scripts for a screenplay we called Road to Annapolis which was based on her time at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis but no one would even look at it. Finally an independent producer friend of hers suggested we should write it as a novel, sell that, then we could get someone to look at the screenplay. Height of Naivety, I know.
With her living in Studio City and I in Illinois, we started the novel version, Academy Daze. Time passed. Lots of time. She and her husband did 18 month tours in Memphis, Coronado CA, back to Washington DC, then back to Coronado. Academy Daze was rewritten many times and considered for long periods by several agents. However, eventually it was returned as it didn’t fit anyone’s genre. First they called it Chicklit, then tried to shove it in YA but the character, a high school graduate and then in her first year of college, was considered too old. Now, of course, there’s a niche, for that age, New Adult, but not back then. It was like there was not a market for teen-aged protagonists planning on going to or starting in college.
When my daughter’s husband received orders to Singapore, she said enough is enough. By now she had a son and daughter and was determined to do other things like being a mom.
However; because of the long time between agent submittals and times when my daughter was doing rewrites, I needed something else to work on. One day I came across the story of the Piasa. It brought back to me my interest in mysterious and strange animals and I thought what about a story that brings an obscure mystery like the Piasa brought up to present day? She was living in Memphis then and we needed to do a lot of work on Academy Daze. Since it was advantageous that we do it together we agreed to meet somewhere in between. It’s 483 miles from Schaumburg to Memphis. I wanted to research the Piasa so I suggested Alton, Illinois, where it all happened. A quick check found it was 286 miles for me and 306 for her so we met there and Piasa was born.
- Not referring to the movie. La La Land is a term for Los Angeles.