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 #22: The First Two Pages of My Belgium/CRB Book And My "Nut" Graph

January 25, 2014

A Spot of History: I've decided to use this post's Spot of History to showcase the first two pages of my Belgium/CRB book. No book title yet, but I've now roughed out the first 35 pages, which is the majority of Chapter One. I thought I would share these first to pages to see if anyone thinks they're interesting enough to want to read more. If you like them, please send me a message. Thanks!

Chapter One: August 1914
There Once Was a Nice Little Town in That Place.

On a cold evening in late November 1914, a German officer named Coumbus was drinking with a boisterous group of fellow officers in the luxurious Hotel Astoria. Situated in Brussels, Belgium, on Rue Royale near the city's major park, the hotel was in the fashionable upper part of town and had been commandeered by the German occupation forces for their officers, staffs and privileged guests.

A little more than three months before, on Tuesday, August 4, the German Army had started World War One by invading neutral Belgium on its way to its real objective, France, and Coumbus had been a part of that invading force. A "fine-looking man" with "agreeable manners," he was in his mid thirties and had lived in England for years before returning to Germany to become a cavalry officer in the Kaiser's army.

Even though it was late -- past midnight -- and all the other Germans had stumbled off to bed, Coumbus stayed at the table and spoke in perfect English to two Americans, E.E. Hunt (a war correspondent) and Lieutenant Herbster, USN (a neutral observer) visiting the German-occupied city.

Referring to the August days of the invasion, Coumbus calmly stated that the Belgians " 'do not understand war, and they do not understand the rules of war. I remember once riding into a little town down here in the South of Belgium and finding my four scouts lying dead in the streets. Civilians had butchered horses and men – shot them from behind.

" 'I ordered my men to go into the houses and kill every one they found. Then I ordered them to burn the town.'

"He leaned back in his chair and took a short swallow from his drink.

" 'There once was a nice little town in that place. There is no such town now.' ” [Source: War Bred, Edward Eyre Hunt, Henry Holt and Company, 1916, page 167.]

Hunt would never forget the German's calm, brutal words, and they would follow him as less than a month later in December he joined a small group of Americans who would try to save more than 9 million Belgian and French civilians from starving to death.  

The interlacing stories of German brutality, Belgian resistance, the struggles against starvation and the American men Hunt joined in the burgeoning Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB), all began back in those chaotic days of August 1914 when the Germans attacked the little Low Country. Few could have guessed it then, but the invasion acted like a toppling domino that would cause a tumbling together of extraordinary people into a chain reaction of life-and-death situations far from the trenches and killing fields of World War One.

And hanging in the balance were millions of civilian lives. 

It is a story that few have heard.

End of first two pages.

My Post: So there you have it -- the first two pages. I know it's not much to go on, but the rest isn't yet ready for posting. But I should say that somewhere in those 481 words is my "nut" graph -- that one paragraph that sums up what I hope the book will cover. I hope you spotted it.

I am happy to report that I did make the January 15 deadline I had set for myself. By that date I had roughed out the first 30 pages and began sending them to a very select group of people for review.

I'm relieved to say that all the feedback I've received so far has been very positive (although I'm still waiting to hear from one true academic historian who will be judging the accuracy of my history. I'm a bit nervous about what he'll say.)

Frankly, my opening 30-pages isn't exactly what I had envisioned, but it's actually better than I thought it would be.

I have always seen this book as a series of primary source vignettes strung together in chronological order to detail and describe as powerfully as possible the Belgian ordeal and the CRB delegates' work from August 1914 through April 1917 (when America entered the war). Most importantly, the stories would be of the little-known people who actually did the CRB work or suffered from the German occupation. 

Yes, I would cover the major players such as Herbert Hoover, German Governor-General von Bissing and English Prime Ministers Asquith and Lloyd George, but their coverage would be more through the eyes of those less famous then from their own eyes.

To me, this book has always been about the boots-on-the-ground people who have received very little exposure in the last 100 years. Their stories deserve to be told. And in the photo below of nearly faceless people, there are a handful of men and one of the women who readers will get to know very well by the end of my book.

Some Of The Nameless Who Did The Work;

You'll Get To Know Them In My Book

 [Multiple sources: Herbert Hoover Presidential
Library, and author's family collection.]

But I also knew that a simple string of stories would need historical context to make them fully understandable and to maximize their reader impact.

It's this historical context -- basically, mini history lectures -- that worries me the most. Can I write the history in such as way as to maintain the interest of mainstream readers? That's critical because I want this book to have a much wider/broader appeal than just WWI history buffs.

At least that's my plan. But, as famous boxer Mike Tyson once said, "Everyone has a plan, until they're punched in the mouth."

Keep your fingers crossed that I keep my guard up, write fascinating historical prose, and not get punched in the mouth!

End of Post.

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