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Book by ETSU storytelling student to be made into movie

Contributed • Oct 26, 2019 at 11:53 PM

An East Tennessee State University graduate student in storytelling has learned that an award-winning book she self-published in 2012 is to be made into a major motion picture.

The film adaptation of Cassie Dandridge Selleck’s “The Pecan Man” will star Laurence Fishburne (“The Matrix,” “CSI”) and be directed by So Yong Kim (“In Between Days,” “For Ellen,” “Lovesong”).

In “The Pecan Man,” a widow hires a homeless black man to mow her lawn. Known as the “Pee-can Man” by the neighborhood children and held in suspicion by their mothers, the man Ora knows as Eddie is charged with the murder of the police chief’s son, who was found near his camp. Twenty-five years later, Ora sets out to tell the truth about the Pecan Man.

“The Pecan Man” won first place in the CNW/FFWA Florida State Writing Competition in the Unpublished Novel category in 2006.

Selleck is also the author of “The Truth About Grace,” a sequel to “The Pecan Man” published in 2018, and “What Matters in Mayhew,” which is book one in her new Beanie Bradsher Series.

The town in “The Pecan Man” closely resembles Selleck’s hometown of Leesburg, Florida, where she grew up during the desegregation era. She does not remember any protests, but does recall seeing and feeling the injustice of the “whites only” signs on water fountains.

She said she met her best friend — a black girl — on the first day of sixth grade, when full integration took place.

“From that moment on, I was able to see the world didn’t treat her the same way it treated me, and that set this passion in my heart for discovering why we do this.

“It’s not the overt racism that causes the most problems, because with overt racism, everybody goes, ‘Whoa, no!’ Every decent person would say, ‘No, we’re not going to be like that.’ No, it’s the things we don’t know. I would see people say things that they didn’t recognize as racist or hurtful, and so that was what I explored in the book – what happens when you mean well but you don’t do well.”

Selleck is thrilled to see that her story is well on its way to the screen. She learned four years ago that BCDF Pictures of New York was interested in adapting “The Pecan Man” as a movie after finding her on Amazon.

“It’s crazy to see words you’ve written performed by people you’ve respected and watched for years, and it’s a little surreal,” she said. “I’ve known that it’s coming, but with all the announcements they’re making, it’s getting real.”

Selleck’s presence at ETSU continues a journey she has been on since her second-grade teacher first told her she was a writer and she started imagining the shed in her backyard as a playhouse with a stage where she could write and produce plays.

After working as a young adult in various sales and marketing jobs, including stints with Merrill Lynch, Anderson Crane and Bridge Technologies Inc., while raising her children, Selleck wanted to mark two items off her “bucket list.” The first was obtaining a college degree, and the second was to write a book. She worked on and off on the manuscript that would become “The Pecan Man” for 10 years, and she also took a class at a time for 20 years in community college.

When “The Pecan Man” started doing well after she self-published it in 2012, she was able to leave her job and go to school full time. She completed her bachelor of fine arts degree in creative writing within two years at Vermont’s Goddard College, graduating in 2016.

The study of storytelling seemed like the logical next step for Selleck, who considers herself more of a storyteller than a writer. She worked in children’s programming for a tri-county library system in Florida, and quickly discovered that the children responded better when there was no book between her and them, when it was just her telling the stories with greater interaction with the children.

The library system sent her to various storytelling events, one of which was the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, where she learned of ETSU’s well-known Storytelling Program, through which students earn a master of arts degree in communication and storytelling studies.

“It just seemed like the thing to do,” Selleck said. “I’ve never cared about the degree, but about the experience, and if this is going to be part of my life — and it is — I want to know as much as I can about it.”

In addition to earning her master’s degree, Selleck says her goals include writing a mainstream novel, as her agent has been encouraging her to do, and delving into screenplays and stage plays.

“I want to explore all the different ways to tell a story,” she said, “and I want to be an encouragement to other writers.”

Selleck and her husband, Perry, live in Northwest Florida, in a home they built on the banks of the Suwannee River. She has three children and six grandchildren. In addition to attending school at ETSU, she travels frequently for speaking engagements, including creative-writing workshops and book-signing events. More information is available on her website, www.cassiedandridgeselleck.com.

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