Former local journalist, a graduate of Fenwick and Miami, pens historical novel

Dan Conti’s third book surrounds characters in small Pennsylvania town.

Dan Conti, a former Butler County reporter and broadcast journalist, has recently released his first historical novel, “Nittany Lion,” which was inspired by his father.

The story unfolds in a time when the country seems hopelessly divided, torn apart by a war overseas, economic distress and transformation and political corruption, as a young family is coping with tragedy, a health care crisis, and is confronted by a future that appears fraught with peril. It is 1970 and Francis Rosselli is coming home from Vietnam.

“Nittany Lion” tells the story of a decorated veteran battling things he can’t control and those he can, unsure if he’s always able to tell the difference between the two. The novel was published by Pittsburgh-based RoseDog Books.

Set in the hills of central Pennsylvania, the tale revolves around happenings and characters in the small town of Nollville near the Penn State University campus. A young widow, her grown son, and eight-year-old daughter who loves basketball, struggle to make sense of a world in constant turmoil.

Though “Nittany Lion” is a work of fiction, Conti said, many of the things that stitch the story together actually happened. They include Penn State’s challenging 1970 football season, the ill fate of the school’s mascot and other world and national events.

Conti is a graduate of Bishop Fenwick High School in Middletown and Miami University alumni. He’s a former Butler County journalist, having worked at WPFB in Middletown and WMUB in Oxford. He spent 29 years in Butler County and has many fond memories. Conti is a native of New Castle, Penn.

Conti has written two other books, “POWs: Stories from America’s Wars” in 2006 and “A Reporter’s Notebook” in 2017. Conti is the winner of more than 35 news reporting awards from the Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana Associated Press. He retired in 2017 and currently lives in Morehead, Kentucky.

The Journal-News caught up with Conti in a Q&A to find out more about his debut novel and the inspiration behind it.

Q: Tell us more about your writing and what inspired your first historical novel, “Nittany Lion.”

Dan Conti: In 2017, the year I retired, my father was 88 years old, and he had prepared a bucket list of things he wanted to do. And he was a terrific athlete in Western Pennsylvania when he was a kid, and one of the things he wanted to do was to see Penn State’s football stadium. So, right after I retired, we went there and inside the stadium, there’s a shrine to the Nittany Lion, and I did not know that the Nittany Lion was an extinct animal, until I saw that shrine. And, when we left Penn State, I was thinking that was rather curious that Penn State’s mascot would be an extinct animal.

I had written two other books and some of my friends said, ‘You ought to write a novel,’ and I thought, ‘Well, maybe, I could try writing a novel about the last days of the Nittany Lion.’ So, I started thinking about doing that and I did some research on the animal. And I was trying to build a story around the extinction of this mountain lion, but then, all these awful things started happening in the United States in 2018, 2019, and topped off by the pandemic, I reached the conclusion that after all that social upheaval and economic turmoil, and political corruption, that no one was going to care about the extinction of the Nittany Lion. So, I decided to build a story around the Nittany Lion during a time when things similar to that were going on in the country, and I thought back on my life, and the time that seemed the most tumultuous to me was the period between the late 1960s and early 1970s, pretty much when I was in high school.

I built a story around opposition to the Vietnam War, and the economic turmoil that was going on in the country as guys were coming back from Vietnam. Of course, there was no pandemic at that time, but I put into the story a tale about a little girl that was having a serious health crisis, and that took the place of the pandemic.

So, a lot of things that were happening in the country in 2018, 2019, and 2020, that seemed to divide people, I wanted to write about those things, but I didn’t want to write about them contemporaneously.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of authoring the book?

A: I had never written a novel before, and when you write a novel, you have to imagine conversations between people, and sometimes, conflict in those conversations, and I had to figure out what one character would say to another and what the others’ response was likely to be. I found myself sitting in a room, by myself, sometimes, acting out the parts, and I hope I got it right, but I’ll know when people read the book and tell me what they think.

Q: What are you most excited about now that you’ve completed the book and it’s out?

A: If it brings some people a little bit of satisfaction to know that the country went through a horrible time in the late 1960s and 1970s and we came out of it okay. That will make me feel good, because one of the underlying messages in the book is the importance of resilience. The novel, “Nittany Lion” is really a story of resilience of things that happened to this young family in Central Pennsylvania and how they battled back against it.


For more information on “Nittany Lion” or to purchase a copy, go to and It is also available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and on other websites that sell books.

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