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 #7. And So the Work Begins...

January 1, 2013

But first, A Spot of History: Maude Allen (1873-1956, sometimes spelled Allan) was a pianist, turned actor, turned  interpretative dancer. She was a contemporary of the famous Isadora Duncan. Maude first danced in a private salon in Brussels and Lewis Richards (future CRB delegate) was there. Lewis had earned a B.F. degree from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels, before joining the CRB in January 1915.

Lewis was fortunate enough to see both Maude and Isadora dance. He said that when dancing, Duncan had "greater depth, more poetry" than Allen.

Why bring up Maude? There's no real connection between Maude Allen and the CRB -- other than I found in my research a CRB delegate (Lewis) who commented on her dancing. I just wanted to somehow work a half-naked woman into my blog. And I think her picture is pretty cool! I would have definitely watched her dance.

My Post: Happy New Year to everyone! I have this wonderful sense of optimism that this year is going to be a very good year for all of us!

Yesterday, I was explaining to a friend, Jerome Shaw, how the primary audience for this blog is myself -- so it can help me stay motivated and moving. Jerome came up with a great expression: This is an Accountability Blog. I think that's perfect for what it is. Thanks, Jerome!

Today, after an early morning basement workout on my inspirational Nordic Track (36 minutes and 4.4 miles), I spent hours on an incredibly frustrating job -- creating a 3x5 index card template that I could easily use to type up my nearly 1,000 index cards. Happily, I have a sister, Tina, who was incredibly helpful in working through the problems. I won't be sure what I've done is going to work until I receive the Avery labels I ordered. They probably won't be here until the end of the week.

But, because I wanted to start some real work on this first day of the year (can you tell I'm inspired by symbolism?), I've typed up about 25 index cards from the A's (hence my Maude Allen reference above). If my index card template doesn't work with the Avery labels, then I'll have to retype everything, but at least I appeared to get something concrete done on January 1.

Today I've also packaged up all the research material that I had laid out in the basement on my birthday (Dec. 27) (see a previous Post for a video of my materials).

Tomorrow, I plan on getting started with typing up the legal pads of research notes. These I'm going to do in a simple Word document because I can't find a data base that seems right for my historical research. I know I should get with the "new" technology of researching and data bases, but I just don't trust them to teach me and to be usable.

I have a firm belief that once I've typed up the nearly 1,000 index cards and all the legal pads of notes (my deadline for the first is Jan. 15 and the second is Jan. 31), then I'll be able to decide:
  1. What new research I need to do.
  2. What previous research material I need to re-read completely.
  3. What general themes or angles are starting to show themselves.
I've had some good friends and family members question what my ultimate plans are and what the basis of any book will be.

I've tried to explain that I won't know those details until I've been able to truly "grok" (Robert Heinlein's great term) all the material. Once I've become one with my research, then I'll be able to "see" very clearly what I need to do, and how to do it.

So, tomorrow's a big day -- the first full day of work that I hope to do. I'm be curious to see if life let's me do as I've planned! :)

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the mention Jeff. I like the photo too. Congrats on getting through the hardest part.

    "The beginning is the most important part of the work." -Plato

    Jerome
    @JeromeShaw on Twitter

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. While I agree that the beginning is an important part, I also agree with Dmitri Aleksandrovich Sologdin (see Solzhenitsyn's "In The First Circle") that The Final Inch is just as important. As Sologdin tells Gleb Nerhzin:

      “And now listen to The Rule of the Final Inch! In the Language of Maximum Clarity it is immediately clear what that is. The work has been almost completed, the goal almost attained, everything seems completely right and the difficulties overcome. But the quality of the thing is not quite right. Finishing touches are needed, maybe still more research. In that moment of fatigue and self-satisfaction it is especially tempting to leave the work without having attained the apex of quality. Work in the area of the Final Inch is very, very complex and also especially valuable, because it is executed by the most perfected means. In fact, the rule of the Final Inch consists in this: not to shirk this crucial work. Not to postpone it, for the thoughts of the person performing the task will then stray from the realm of the Final Inch. And not to mind the time spent on it, knowing that one’s purpose lies not in completing things faster but in the attainment of perfection.”

      Delete