MONTICELLO — Teacher Brad Garrett's first book began with a December dream, was nurtured by encouragement from family and co-workers and has culminated with an e-book that went on sale July 11.
"Layups with Lincoln" is a work of fiction that combines sports, history and fascination with Abraham Lincoln into a book Garrett hopes appeals to youth in grades 3-6.
"I knew there wasn't a lot of sports (fiction) books out there, and it was always a goal of mine to write those kind of books," said the 25-year Washington Elementary fifth-grade teacher, who grew up reading books like "Touchdown for Tommy" and "Long Shot for Paul."
Garrett has dabbled with different ideas for books for a couple of decades, but "Layups With Lincoln" came to him quickly during a Christmas break snooze.
"I actually dreamt the beginning of it and woke up and had to get up and write," he said. The 37,000-word book — now a 171-page e-book — was finished in April, and uploaded to Amazon last week.
He doesn't have any sales numbers, but it sold enough to get as high as 29th in the sports/fiction category among Kindle eBooks. Garrett said that underscores his point that "there just isn't much out there" in that particular genre, especially for elementary school children.
Fellow fifth-grade teacher Kathy White said the quality of the book might have something to do with the high ranking. She helped proofread and edit "Layups" — and said she was hooked early.
"It all started with that (proofreading), and then I couldn't stop reading the book."
Despite the book's name, the 16th president is not actually in this book and its modern-day setting. But his presence can still be felt in a work that features a boy who loses his father and moves in with his uncle Alfred Blaine Ellison — A.B.E. Ellison looks like the railsplitter and even lives on a hill between two subdivisions dubbed "the north" and "the south."
The boy — Blaine — helps bridge the gap between those two housing developments through the small school they attend, uncle A.B.E. and basketball games on the playground. It isn't all easy, as Blaine is opposed by Rodney Lee, who lives in "the south."
The book ties into the Lincoln fascination, which in the past year spawned not only a critically-acclaimed biodrama, but also a portrayal of Honest Abe as a vampire hunter.
So why not use him as a modern-day history professor?
"That's why it is so unique," said White, who at times seems more excited than Garrett about the book. "You can take basic historical facts that the kids know, and they can make those connections. It's just fun."
There are also shout-outs to central Illinois and to Garrett's upbringing. That includes the setting for the story, which takes place in Monfield — a combination of Monticello and Garrett's home town of Fairfield.
The decision to go with an e-book was clinched when Garrett surveyed his fifth-graders at the end of the school year. He estimates nearly 70 percent said they read books electronically.
"That's what kind of clinched it for me to go this route; it was the kids. They read like that," he said.
In a collaborative effort that also included input from wife Robin and his three children, Washington Elementary computer teacher Clay Dunker helped him with the Amazon process and even designed the cover.
A print version may be available in the future, especially if sales take off. Garrett said there is a print-on-demand option he is investigating.
In in the meantime, the ebook costs 99 cents, with the author netting about 35 cents per sale. It was up to Garrett how much to charge, and he came to the conclusion to "keep it low, keep it simple."
The writing bug has hit him hard enough that his second book, tentatively titled "Fastballs With Franklin" is nearly completed. An idea for a third book that could have some fantasy elements is also in the works.