Necessary Background Info

When I was a teenager, I was close to my maternal grandfather, Milton M. Brown. I was fascinated by the time he spent as a "delegate" in Herbert Hoover's WWI Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB). He was one of only 185 American supervisors who ever worked for the CRB. After he died in 1979, I inherited all his diaries, correspondence and photographs from that period (1916-1917).

From 1986 through 1989, I worked full time researching the time period, WWI, the CRB, and numerous delegates. From those efforts, I wrote an 850-page historical novel, Honor Bound. I had a few nibbles -- agents and publishers who asked for the entire manuscript -- but no one offered a contract. In the late 1990s, I made a half-hearted attempt to rewrite the novel, but it didn't go far.

After my second book, Facing Your Fifties: Every Man's Reference to Mid-life Health came out in 2002 (and was included in Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2002), my agent looked at Honor Bound. He suggested the topic would do well -- and fit my writing strengths -- if it was a history book written in novel-like style.

At the end of 2012, as I turned 60 years old, I came to the conclusion that it was time to take up this incredible humanitarian story again and see if I could make it work.

After more than a year of researching and writing, and with the help of a talented book team, I published Behind the Lines: WWI's little-known story of German occupation, Belgian resistance, and the band of Yanks who helped save millions from starvation. 1914. It detailed the complex and chaotic beginnings of the CRB and CN during the critical first five months of the war (August to December, 1914). It was released in October 2014 in time for the 100-year anniversary of the start of WWI and the CRB.

Since then, I'm happy to report that Behind the Lines has garnered national recognitions and reviews that include a Kirkus Starred Review (only 750 out of 10,000 books annually reviewed by Kirkus are awarded a Starred Review) and inclusion in Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2014. The last sentence of the review states: "An excellent history that should catapult Miller to the top tier of popular historians." You can read all the reviews at the book's website, which can be reached by clicking here.

Below are my blog posts about re-immersing myself in this important humanitarian topic. The posts start in Dec. 2012 and come up to the present. The posts are laid out with the most recent first. A "List of All My Posts" is on the bottom right of this page. I start each post with a quick snippet of history. I used to call this item "A Spot of History," but now it's titled "Don't-Forget-WWI Project."

My main forcus now is to finish researching and writing WWI Crusaders, which tells the riveting full story of the American CRB delegates from August, 1914 to April, 1917, when America entered the war and the CRB delegates had to leave Belgium and Northern France.

I hope you find something of interest within this blog. For more information about Behind the Lines and/or WWI Crusaders, please go to the books' website by clicking here.

Post #6. I Made My First Deadline!

December 28, 2012,

A Spot of History: One source I have outlined a CRB oath that every delegate had to take before entering Belgium. While I have NOT yet confirmed this as fact, it certain covers the primary tenets of the organization:
"Upon your word of honor as a gentleman and a citizen of neutral America, do you solemnly swear to uphold absolute neutrality in word and act, vigilance and firmness in guarding the interests of the Belgian and French people, and tact in official relationships?" 
It's interesting to note that many of the CRB delegates were young, idealistic Ivy League grads, who -- upon entering Belgium -- promptly fell in love with young Belgian women (some of whom worked in the Underground against the Germans). That's why I titled my historical novel, Honor Bound.

My Post: First, thanks to all those who correctly pointed out that I will be working in my 61th year, not my 60th year. Yes, I do know about the passage of time, but I choose to ignore it for the greater glory of symbolism. Three simple questions: How old will be I be in March 2013? July 2013? November 2013? The answers are 60 and 3 months; 60 and 7 months, 60 and 11 months. Additionally, I believe that everyone who read my "60th Year" email understood I was talking about working in 2013, not working in 2012. All of which leads me to keep in my heart that I will be working in my 60th year during 2013. No atomic clock can tell me otherwise...

(Video of my research material laid out)

Now, on to more important things. I made my first deadline! Yes, it was a very wimpy one (simply collect all my material from numerous places and lay it all out on the basement floor by the end of my birthday, Dec. 27) but it had huge symbolic importance. I have taken my first half step toward climbing that gigantic mountain.

Stepping back for a moment, though, I want to share something that I said to my brother, Eric, last night when he called for my birthday. For me, getting to this very initial point of departure has been a monumental step. Here's what I told Eric:

I believe that any writer has to have a huge ego to believe that he or she will write something that everyone will want to read. No matter how shy, reserved or humble an author might be on the outside, he or she does have, somewhere deep down inside, a diamond-hard ego that maintains a tremendously conceited belief that others want to read what he or she has to write.

That ego is critical for keeping the author motivated and moving forward. Without it, nothing would get done. I had that necessary ego through:
  1. My first book, Stapleton International Airport: The First Fifty Years (6 part-time years in the researching and writing) -- published, great reviews, poor sales.
  2. My second book, Honor Bound (nearly 3 years of full-time research and writing) -- never published.
  3. My third book, Denver: Crossroads to Tomorrow (1 full time year under contract with publisher) -- never published.
  4. My fourth book, Facing Your Fifties: Every Man's Reference to Mid-life Health (nearly 2 years of full-time research and writing) -- published, great reviews, poor sales.
Sadly, the health book broke me, my spirit and even my ego. The co-author, Dr. Gordon Ehlers, and I had done everything right, vaulted every hurdle -- came up with a good idea, put together a good proposal, found a GREAT agent, wrote (with his help) the outline and first few chapters, got an established NYC publisher interested, got a five-figure advance, wrote a good manuscript and got wonderful reviews (Publisher's Weekly included it in their best books of 2002). We vaulted every hurdle but one -- sales.

After all the hard work, it was crushing to me that we had failed when only a few feet from the finish line.

As an author, I psychologically crawled into a cave to hide. My ego all but dried up and died...

Over the last 10 years, every time I looked at Honor Bound and the CRB material, the task of converting it to a nonfiction historical narrative seemed too daunting, too pointless..."what's the point when I do all the work and then I don't get rewarded for it with good sales?" My negative side was the only one talking.

During this time, I could never envision myself actually doing the work (a necessary psychological tool I've used all my life).

Then, as I mentioned in Post #1, "How This Blog Started," Dec. 16, 2012, I literally saw myself laying out all the CRB material on my basement floor and finally getting back into the research and writing stages.

My ego was back! No more questioning, no more doubting, no more wondering. I KNEW in my heart that this is what I need to do now.

AND, that it's my last real chance to do this work. After this year is up, if I haven't made any money (someway, somehow), I'll have to take a job as a WalMart greeter! :)

So, it doesn't matter to me that I don't yet have a theme for the book, or even a general concept of what it's going to be like. That will come, I'm confident, as I scuba down into my research. Working through all the material, I am absolutely sure -- with the purity that only comes from a diamond-hard ego -- that I will find the best way to write this book. The moment will come when the time is right. The inspiration will come when the work has earned it. The creative spark is just around the corner from the tinder of research.

All of which means -- Jeff's BACK! It's been a lonely 10 years in my cave (aka fortress of solitude), but I'm now back into the sunshine and I'm ready to work again -- unimpeded by dreams of fame or fortune (although I will hope for them! :). I'm here and I'm working because this is a GREAT story that needs to be told.

And so, the journey begins...unless, of course, I get a full-time job, magazine consulting client, or travel article assignement...Isn't the unpredictability of life grand?! :)

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