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 #1. How This Blog Started

Day One: Dec. 16, 2012
A Spot of History: Belgians ask the CRB for dog bread because dogs are so important in Belgium, but meat is too expensive to feed to their dogs anymore.

My Post: Where to begin?

I guess it all starts with the Inspiration Machine (IM). Like Rod Taylor in the classic, The Time Machine, I climb onto my IM, then start moving and suddenly I’m in a cocoon where I can think undistracted by the world whirling around me.
While my Inspiration Machine isn’t half as cool as Rod Taylor’s, it does have, in my book, better magical properties. It has taken me to creative places that I never even imagined before saddling up on it.

So, what’s my Inspiration Machine? 

My Inspiration Machine (IM)
It’s an old-fashioned Nordic Track and it lives in the basement of our (me and Susan’s) little house (850 square feet). As many mornings as possible, I drag my aging ass out of bed and hoof it down to my IM. Within a few minutes, I’m trekking through the vast wasteland of my morning mind, searching for things to think about.

To better understand what happened on this particular IM trip—which led to starting this blog—you need to know a few background details.

Back Story: Ever since surviving stage 4 throat cancer in 2009/2010, I’ve struggled to fully re-engage with life. It’s not as if there’s a lack of work or of interesting projects I could work on. They include:

1.      Return to freelance travel writing—where I was fairly successful from 1989-2002. But the Internet has changed the entire business, from killing markets (newspapers) to killing copyrights (“If it’s on the Internet, it must be free for me to take, right?” – I say Bah Humbug to that!)
2.      Online Magazine Consulting—A new business formed with great partners, Mike & Blake, and their Crown Point Solutions website development/consulting team (Seth and Waz). Great potential, strong interest from magazine publishers/editors, but few who want to sign on the dotted line.
3.      1914 Italy Glass Slides—My grandfather was a travel lecturer on the Chautauqua Circuit in 1915, speaking about Rome, Naples and the Amalfi Coast. In early 1914 he spent six months in Italy doing research and taking photos. He left Italy only a month before the Great War (WWI) started. I inherited all his trip notes, lectures and hundreds of B&W negatives and hand-colored glass slides. I’ve already sold one "Then-and-Now" article to the Toronto Star, with hopes of selling numerous magazine articles and ultimately a book. 
4.      WWI and the CRB—The same grandfather became one of only 170 “delegates” in the Commission for Relief in Belgium, which became the largest food and relief drive ever known. I inherited all of his diaries, correspondence, photos, etc. from that period (1916-1917), and in the late 1980s wrote an 850-page historical novel, Honor Bound. Unfortunately, no publisher or agent wanted it. It needs to be turned into a fast-paced, good read, nonfiction historical narrative that will sell millions and make me famous! But the thought of re-learning all that I had to learn back in the 1980s to do now what I did then, has seemed too daunting to me. I couldn’t even think of a plan of attack to reacquaint myself with my work.
5.      Continue to learn piano (which I started after the cancer treatments stopped) from a great teacher, LoriLynn Larson, and become a famous rock star.

Return to my Post: So, for the last few years, I’ve been floundering between these five large projects, with nothing capturing my total time, concentration or energy. And, as a result, I’ve only had mediocre success, at best. (My piano playing REALLY sucks!)  

Then, last Sunday, Dec. 16, I was on my trusty Nordic Track on the way to my usual 32 minutes and 4.0 miles when an epiphany hit.

It was a vision of myself bringing all the 1980s CRB boxes and research material from the garage, from under the stairs, and from the basement closet and laying them all out in a line for review and organization.

At the same time, the thought came to me of how I could rapidly reacquaint myself with my work 25 years ago.

After finishing my exercising, I rushed up the stairs and started making some handwritten notes. I was on my way!

Want to hear more? I certainly hope so. If so, continue reading my blog posts! If you aren't interested in reading further, thanks for reading this far!

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