Something clicked when Rick Lavender saw the bold shark face of the World War II-era P-40 Warhawk.
A freelance journalist, Lavender had been looking for a subject for a book. As a father, he had struggled to find good books to read his children.
On assignment, he and his oldest son visited Don Brooks for an interview. Brooks restores war planes and is CEO of the Liberty Foundation, an organization that honors veterans and raises awareness of American aviation history through past fighter planes.
Inside Brooks’ hangar, Lavender saw the nearly refurbished P-40 Warhawk.
“Seeing the P-40 was the spark. These planes are big, bold and even more powerful looking up close. That shark face is striking. I had read about P-40s and drawn them as a kid interested in World War II,” Lavender says. “I began to wonder, what if you put one of these in a boy’s life in South Georgia after the war?”
This wondering became Lavender’s book, “Flying Tigers: A Boy’s Adventure.” In this novel, a 12-year-old boy discovers a P-40 Warhawk in his grandfather’s barn and it inspires him to help his family.
Remarking on the subtitle “A Boy’s Adventure,” Lavender says this term is used in the “old-fashioned sense.” Though for boys, “it’s also a fun read for girls. My daughter enjoyed it.” Filled with chapter-ending cliffhangers, it is also written as a book that can be read to even younger children.
“Overall, my goal was to write something that is entertaining and engaging, but that is also accurate in regards to history and the regional setting and solid in its depiction of family and faith,” Lavender says.
He uses his experiences of living in South Georgia to create “Flying Tigers’” setting.
As he was starting high school, Lavender’s parents moved to an area between Omega and Lenox. His mother earned a teaching degree from Valdosta State and is now retired from teaching schools in Cook County. His father once worked for the Cook and Tift County sheriffs’ offices and is now employed with Tift Regional Medical Center in Tifton.
South Georgia “was home for me from then till I married and settled in north Georgia,” Lavender says. “Honestly, it also provides the setting for the book, from Warrior Swamp to Grandpa’s house on the hill.”
Lavender, his wife and their three children now live in Watkinsville, near Athens.
As a writer, Lavender developed his love for storytelling working as a newspaper reporter. He has many fond memories of his newspaper days, and many stories.
“As you know, journalism is also the best training ground for finding and telling stories,” Lavender says. “I had the opportunity to interview a band of brothers who survived World War II, a 103-year-old man who still lived alone and could play a mean harmonica, a woman who believed her great-great-grandfather beat the Wright brothers in the race for powered flight — she had an 1800s patent to support the claim —and a 32-year-old man who had lived in a nursing home for almost half of his life. Being able to write stories about such people was a privilege.”
With his first novel published, Lavender is focusing on more books. He has already written a children’s book called “Deacon” and is seeking an illustrator. He is also developing an adult novel.
“The genesis of that story is in my head,” Lavender says. “How it plays out, and how long it takes, will be interesting to see.”
Rick Lavender’s “Flying Tigers: A Boy’s Adventure” is available at The Potter’s House Parable Christian Store in Valdosta, La Dee Dah Gifts in Adel, and Moon’s Pharmacy and The Cabin in Tifton, Museum of Aviation gift shop in Warner Robins; amazon.com