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 #27: Two Belgians Meet and Change Many Lives

February 13, 2015

An excerpt from Behind the Lines:

A Chance Meeting of a Businessman and an Abbé

During the morning of Thursday, August 20, 1914, on a hill within a newly built suburb east of Brussels, a small crowd of neighbors and passersby gathered. Such a coming together normally would have been filled with greetings, handshakes, embraces, and conversations, but that day nearly everyone stood silent and still. Those who did talk did so in frightened and anxious whispers. Parents held tightly to their children.

They had come to watch the beast enter their city. Off in the distance they saw the long, waving line of soldiers marching resolutely along “like some monstrous grey reptile.” The head had long since passed from view, moving with relentless resolve toward the heart of the Belgian capital, while the end was miles away.

The German army marching into Brussels.
 Standing in the small crowd on the hillside, watching this spectacle of massive force, were two men who were nearly a head taller than those around them. Neither man would ever have thought that a few inches of height would make the difference between life and death for people  they had not yet met, nor give hope to an entire nation. History would say otherwise.

Eugene van Doren was “for a Belgian . . . uncommonly tall,” slim, and with sloping shoulders. He had a scholarly look that was accented by close-cropped hair and pince-nez (glasses with a nose clip rather than ear pieces). At thirty-eight years old, with a wife and five young children, van Doren was a successful cardboard manufacturer with strongly held political beliefs. His blue eyes “were mild and thoughtful, but . . . they quickly reflect his feelings and occasionally flash with unexpected fire. His mouth, extremely mobile, smiles easily, and he has a ready laugh, when his eyes gleam boyishly.” Altogether, he was a passionate, enthusiastic man who was never afraid to show both.

Standing not far away, the Abbé Vincent de Moor, vicar of the nearby Church of Saint Albert, was “no ordinary priest.” He was “broad-minded, iron-willed, fearless and as strong as a horse,” with black hair and the “jawof a fighter. There was devil in his dark eyes and his mouth was like a steel trap. But the hard mouth frequently softened into a broad smile which, with the twinkling eyes, gave the aggressive features an unexpected and wholly attractive gaiety.” That day, no doubt, de Moor’s jaw was set, and his mouth was tightly resolute.

If not for their height, the two men might have missed sharing a look of disgust and anger. Though they had never met, van Doren was compelled by the moment of eye contact to move through the crowd and introduce himself to the priest. “In that chance meeting van Doren found the man who was to become one of his staunchest allies and a life-long friend.” And, together, they would accomplish the nearly impossible, all the while bedeviling the German civilian government, generating a 50,000-franc reward for their capture, and creating an obsession to stop them in the mind of the German governor general of Belgium, Baron Moritz Ferdinand von Bissing, a seventy-year-old Prussian officer.

But their actions would also lead ultimately to the imprisonment of many and the execution of some, including a heroic twenty-three-year old Belgian girl, Gabrielle Petit, who gave up a chance for freedom and said good-bye to her fiancé so she could work for their cause. She was to be one of eleven women the Germans tried, convicted, and executed by firing squad in Belgium during World War I.

My Post: It’s now mid-February and somehow time has once again slipped through my fingers like money on pay day. And sadly I don’t have a lot to show for its passing. It will probably be a few more weeks before I start writing Book Two—if I do. I feel, however, that there are some acceptable reasons for not having started the writing process yet.


I’m currently reacquainting myself with the mountains of research I’ve already done. Since I’ve now identified five sections to Book Two (see Post #26), I know what files I have to revisit and have begun doing so.

Additionally, I went to Stanford in January and spent three days at the Hoover Institution Archives doing some fill-in research. Once again I was helped by David Jacobs and Carol Leadenham (thank you!). I came across some wonderful new stories that I can’t wait to tell in Book Two and/or Book Three.  

I also rehired Wesley Beck to do some research at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library. He’s already turned in his work (thanks, Wes!) and I’ve started reviewing that.

Book Promotions

While I’m trying to focus on writing Book Two, I need to continue to promote Behind the Lines and the proposed series. This includes sending out review copies, looking for new avenues of exposure, and querying traditional book agents and book publishers to see if they’re interested in handling Book Two and Book Three. I’m happy to report that through the kindness of two friends,  Behind the Lines is now in the hands of a couple of movie-related people in Hollywood. I have no idea where those leads might take me and the book, but I’m open to anything!

Personal Appearances & Talk Shows

As my wife will tell you, I’m a ham at heart. I’d never turn down an opportunity to take the stage, no matter how small. Because of the book, I’ve been invited to speak at a number of venues and to a variety of audiences:

            * Honors history students at the University of Denver
            * 6th and 7th graders with fellow book author, Paul Aertkers (who wrote a terrific book
                        for middle-school kids, Crime Travelers: Brainwashed  at the Ricks Center for 
                        Gifted Students
            * 75 patrons of Denver’s famous Tattered Cover Bookstore at a book presentation and
                        signing on Jan. 15
            * Peter Boyles Denver radio talk show, Jan. 15. He said I’d be on for about a half
                        an hour; he kept me on the air for two hours! You can hear the podcasts of the
                        interview by clicking here
            * Stu Taylor’s national radio show on Jan. 27, which was syndicated to 16 U.S. cities.

Surgery – ouch!

On my birthday, Dec. 27, 2014, I discovered a rather unpleasant present—a hernia. I postponed the inevitable surgery until after my research trip to Stanford and a visit to my sick sister in Portland, Oregon. I went under the knife this past Monday, Feb. 9, and am still in recovery mode. It hasn’t been too painful, but it still has taken my focus off the book.
To Write or Not to Write

As my friends and family know, I spent $35,000 of my retirement savings during the two years it took to research and write Behind the Lines. This does not include my everyday living expenses (which also came out of my retirement savings).

Now I’m faced with a dilemma: On one hand, my retirement savings cannot afford to have me write and publish Book Two and Book Three. On the other, I can’t seem to bring myself to abandon this incredible story that all Americans should hear.

You can probably understand why I feel a little like a push-pull-me toy.

I am continuing to try multiple avenues for possible financing, from the above-mentioned querying of agents and publishers, to crowdfunding on Kickstarter (failed), to requesting a grant from the CRB-founded Belgian American Educational Foundation, (no word yet), to selling translation rights, etc.

I’m currently stumbling along, continuing the research and planning to start writing soon in hope that something will come through.

Anyone out there who’s reading this, please keep your fingers crossed! This great American story of humanitarian aid needs to be told. I’ll keep you updated here on what happens.

End of Post.

No comments:

Post a Comment