On a hot August morning in 1966, Charles Whitman shot 48 people from the observation deck of the UT Tower in a shooting spree that lasted more than an hour and a half. In Elizabeth Crook’s latest novel “Monday, Monday,” she portrays the tragedy through the eyes of three UT students and recounts their journey over the following 40 years as they reconcile what they witnessed.
“Monday, Monday,” which was released Tuesday, is Crook’s fourth historical fiction novel. The book recounts the intertwined lives of fictitious UT students Shelly Maddox, Wyatt Calvert and Jack Stone, who meet as they all find themselves on the plaza during the shooting.
Crook was initially inspired to recount this event after reading “96 Minutes,” an article by Pamela Colloff, executive editor at Texas Monthly. The in-depth article, which ran in 2006, recounted the event from the perspective of witnesses and survivors, resulting in a collection of stories and facts from that day.
“I was interested in finding the people who were there and giving them a voice and remembering what happened and how it changed the city,” Colloff said.
For nine years, Crook worked on “Monday, Monday,” perfecting and revising her characters and their stories to best portray the emotions of that day.
“[The Tower] is the genesis of everything that happens,” Crook said. “They end up extremely emotionally bonded by the fact that they were there that day together, and it pulls them together in some really unsuspected and unusual ways.”
Though she was careful to not describe or involve anyone who was actually present during the shooting, Crook meticulously researched the event.
Crook said since Whitman was the first to introduce the concept of a mass university shooting to the nation, there were no guidelines for how to handle such an event. There were no counselors for grieving students, there was no support for survivors and, for a long time, there was not even a memorial on campus. UT’s foremost concern was to not give Whitman any more press than he was already receiving and to sever the public’s connection with the University and the shooting.
But for older generations in the Austin community, the memories of Aug. 1, 1966 are not just moments from history but parts of their personal lives.
Before Crook, Gary M. Lavergne, UT director of admissions research and policy analysis, was the first and only person to write a book on the subject. Lavergne wrote “A Sniper in the Tower” in 1997 and remembers the event clearly from his childhood.
“It’s a very resilient story in that it involves questions that we ask ourselves to this day about what are the causes of violence, and how can someone who appears to be well adjusted and someone who appears to be well liked and intelligent would do such a thing,” Lavergne said.
Crook, Colloff and Lavergne each received similar emails during their research from people who wanted to share their stories from that day — some of them for the first time ever.
“It was eye-opening to me how real this story is for a lot of people who live here,” Crook said. “For a lot of my friends, it was something that happened that they witnessed.”
Crook said that for her, “Monday, Monday” has taken on a new meaning in the wake of multiple public school shootings since the Tower shooting.
“What started out as a novel about what I considered a historical event very quickly became a novel about a situation in our country now,” Crook said.
Crook said she hopes her book will bring to life a story that has been buried for decades.
“What’s so brilliant about what Elizabeth has done is I feel like she’s taken things to the next level, and she’s made you really feel what that day was like in a way that only fiction can do,” Colloff said. “It’s the perfect pairing of subject and writer.”