Monty G. Sands: Turning Tales Into Text
While a busboy in Monterey, Monty G. Sands told a visiting Fresno sportscaster a string of fish stories. The visitor swallowed them, hook, line, and sinker.
At first, when Monty recognized the sportscaster, the man guessed he was a student from Fresno State. Monty didn’t dissuade him of that idea either.
In reality, Monty was a 16-year-old Kingsburg High School student working his dream summer job on the coast. During slack times, he enjoyed visiting with customers as they looked out over the bay. He also enjoyed making their visit a little more fun by telling them tales about the sea life in the watery world before them, stories not necessarily based on facts.
Monty’s tendency to tell stories started early on. During his childhood, his father took him on pack trips into the Sierra. Sitting around the campfire with their fellow travelers, he’d spin yarns for their entertainment. It turns out that Monty’s father was a storyteller, too. The difference was that when Dad told stories, a tell-tale smile would creep into his expression. Monty pulled it off with a straight face.
“My folks knew most of the time that I wasn’t telling the truth,” said Monty. “But friends and company very seldom knew I was telling a story.”
During all of these years, Monty didn’t think of putting his stories on paper. He graduated from Kingsburg High, attended college in Santa Maria, and joined the Air Force. During his enlistment, he competed on the pistol team. While at a police-sponsored match in Visalia, he ran into a Kingsburg schoolmate who was a policeman.
This encounter convinced him to give law enforcement a try himself, and so he wound up back in Visalia in the sheriff’s office. During his time in law enforcement, he worked in the police department, in the sheriff’s office, and spent time as both a detective and a patrol sergeant. Eventually, he left law enforcement to work in real estate, before returning to the field in the probation department. After 11 years there, he retired.
“After a while in retirement, I became bored,” he said. “A lot of friends said I should write a story. But I was more of a fireside storyteller, which was easy for me. Going from vocal storytelling to putting something in print was a lot different and a lot harder.”
When he told stories out loud, they simply evaporated into the air when he was done; there was no need to find a better word or rearrange sentences.
“When you put a story in print and see what you wrote and you’re not happy with it, it can be very discouraging,” he said.
Learning how to do it took some time. Making the process more complicated was the fact that he was attempting to compose on a typewriter.
“My son talked me into getting a computer, and that changed my life,” he said.
While Monty says that switching to writing was difficult, getting his first book published turned out to be relatively easy. He was surprised to find out that there was a publisher just up the road in Exeter—Bear State Books. When he showed his draft of the book to Publisher Chris Brewer, he was encouraged.
“He said ‘okay, there is a story here, but it’s in rough shape,’” said Monty. “I probably will publish it if you bring me something publishable.”
It took him about a year to attain that goal, and so Murder in Matheny was published in 2004. Matheny is a real community near Tulare where, in 1988, a young girl, April Holley, was brutally raped and murdered.
“That story was very depressing to write,” said Monty. “She was such a young girl and the guys who killed her were so horrible.”
Monty came across the court transcripts of the trial while he was working in the probation department and became interested in the story. He went to Matheny to see what it was like.
“When I saw the area, I was hooked because it was such a rough area for this little girl to grow up in,” he said.
Monty has two books that deal with true crime, including The King of Nine Mile Canyon, published in 2008 by Another New Day. Both books required extensive research as he would spend three or four hours a day going through old newspapers and other records.
In one instance, he noticed something interesting about the Matheny case—perhaps because of his years in law enforcement. While two men had been convicted of April’s murder, Monty saw some information that indicated to him that a third man might have been involved. He reported this to the sheriff who dispatched two detectives to a midwestern state to investigate. As Monty describes it, both deputies were of Mexican heritage and people in the town would not give them any information.
When they tried to see the sheriff, he was never available. When the money for the trip ran out, they had to return home emptyhanded.
The self-described king of Monty’s second true crime book lived far up in the Sierra where Tulare, Kern, and Inyo counties intersect. The subject molested his stepdaughters who lived with him. Eventually, in 1958, two of the girls escaped and traveled down the rugged nine miles of the canyon until they found a cowboy who assisted them. However, when he tried to call in the law, the response was complicated by the question of which of the three counties had jurisdiction.
During his research, Monty eventually tracked down the grizzled Tulare County deputy who handled the case and interviewed him about a month before his death. He also interviewed one of the daughters, bringing his wife, Beatrice, along to make a delicate situation more comfortable.
Monty’s other books are fiction, which he finds more entertaining to write. Even though he writes his true stories in the style of a novel, he feels obligated to learn as much as possible about the subjects and stick to the facts as best as they are known—unlike back in his story-telling days.
With his novels, on the other hand, he feels free to blend places and people he has known into situations he invents. Welcome to Ocean’s Mist and Just a Few More Miles are two of those stories.
His latest book is In More Innocent Times, which he self-published. It is the book he most enjoyed writing and tells stories of life in the Central San Joaquin from World War II into the mid-50s.
Monty said he writes because he has to. His characters demand to be set free. He kept the characters in his latest book in limbo for 20 years before he got back to writing their stories. He also writes for his readers.
“The long hours involved in writing are seldom rewarded financially,” he wrote. “But when readers tell you their version of your book, even if it is not what you had in mind, it is worth it. You have sparked their imagination. Isn’t that a writer’s job?”