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 #8. Letting The Goat Out To Play

A German Affiche
January 5, 2013

But first, A Spot of History: During the occupation of Belgium, the Germans took their normally high art of control to new levels. As conquerors, they felt it was their right and duty to manage and dictate every aspect of Belgian life.

The Belgians thought otherwise.
A major tool in the war to control the country was the "affiche" -- a poster, bill or placard. Each new affiche would proclaim a new rule, regulation or make some announcement. Affiches could be issued for a commune, town, city, region or the entire country. They covered every topic from public displays of patriotism (banned) to how to behave around German officers (respectful or else). A red affiche was particularly feared because it usually announced those who had been imprisoned or executed.
One example was the affiche that covered pigeon owners, especially carrier pigeons (which could carry messages to the Allies). Owners had to have their birds in their pens until 4 p.m., could have them free from only 4 to 6 p.m., then had to have them back in their pens by 6 p.m. No excuses, no hall passes. Any unlucky pigeon caught flying around after 6 p.m. could end up as a German soldier's blue plate special.
The Belgians chafed under such tight and many times petty regulations. While they knew outright disobedience was futile, they chose to fight the system in subtle ways.
One sadly illustrative story revolves around a Belgian man who committed suicide by shooting himself. Because guns were illegal for Belgians to own, the Germans fined the man's commune 500 marks for having a concealed gun. In subtle Belgian fashion, the burgomaster posted his own affiche requesting that anyone who was going to kill himself, please do so by hanging, as the use of a revolver was too expense for the commune.
My Post: Speaking of control issues...A friend of mine -- Annie -- sent me a link to an astrologer friend of hers, Terry Guardino  (Thanks, Annie!) Terry's website has some really good write ups of each sign under "Sun Sign Personalities." Reading my sign (Capricorn), I found -- to no surprise -- that I have "a powerful need to be in control and consequently the need to control others, as to ensure the vision of the perfect world where nothing out of control ever happens." (Sounds scarily like the German occupiers in 1914!)
What does Terry suggest a Capricorn do to have a more fulfilling, less controlling life?
I'm happy to report that Terry states: "Let that goat out and play."  Wow! Certainly stimulates my thinking! :)
He goes on to explain: "You need to learn to let go of what you think is acceptable and learn to relax and be your own person."
While I can think of all kinds of imaginative ways of letting my goat out to play, unfortunately most of them ultimately involve some kind of jail time (not an attractive idea to me).

The reason I bring all this up? It's because this blog is a bit of "letting the goat out to play" (in a definitely safe and benign way!) The simple act of deciding the CRB will be my 2013 project is my way of letting go and being my own person. That's because, if I'm honest, I know that many people would "rationally" think this project is NOT the best one for me to take on -- especially considering my age, lack of income, and low probability of success.

But, as I explained in other blogs, my self confidence as a book writer has returned after 10 long years of hiding in a cave. Cominging out of that cave is my way of  returning to being my "own person." And that person now "knows" with an unshakable certainty that I will produce something good and readable and worthy of those who served in the CRB.

So, what have I actually done so far on the project since I last posted? Four important things:
  1. Started typing up my nearly 1,000 3x5 index cards (deadline: Jan. 15). I haven't done many because I'm waiting for the Avery forms I've ordered to show up so I can confirm the template I'm using will work. 
  2. Started typing up the legal pads of handwritten research notes. My god, it's a lot of left-handed writing! (Have you ever had to decipher left-handed writing? I can barely read my own handwriting!)
  3. Email reconnected with a great guy, Matt Schaefer, archivist at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in Iowa. He's once again offered to help in any way he can if I need to do more research. Thanks, Matt.
  4. Email reconnected with another great guy, Branden, who is a legitimate scholar (as opposed to my semi-pro status), and university history professor who is writing a significant book on the CRB. No word back from him yet.
Not much, I admit. But it's significant simply because there's forward movement. That means I've overcome inertia, which is half the battle on any large project.

However, if I'm to make my second self-imposed deadline (Jan. 15), I have to really start cranking on typing the index cards once the Avery forms show up.

Lastly, thanks to those friends and family who have taken time to read my postings and to  make comments. I'm especially appreciative of Blake, who gave me some great recommendations of books to read. Thanks!

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