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 #28: I Could Hear Screams and Sobs

Refugees fleeing Antwerp across a tiny pontoon bridge (upper left) before the Germans began their three day bombardment of the city.
April 13, 2015

Following is an excerpt from Behind the Lines. It is E.E. Hunt’s first moments of the three-day bombardment of Antwerp, October 1914:  
Hunt was ripped from his sleep by a blast that was so ferocious it felt as if the house had been lifted from its foundation. Two more shells came screaming through in quick succession; then the fourth hit, and “every pane of glass in the house blew out in the chaos which followed the bursting of that fourth bomb. It had hit directly across the street, less than 35 feet from where I was hurrying into my clothes. I could hear screams and sobs; then the sound of people rushing by the house, and the crash
of glass which littered the sidewalks, splintering to bits as the people ran.” 

The bombardment of Antwerp had commenced, just minutes into October 7, as the Germans had promised.

“ ‘Everybody all right?’ I yelled, strapping on my belt of gold-pieces and flinging on my clothes.

“ ‘All right!’ answered Thompson shrilly from the next room. ‘Y-yes,’ called Weigle from upstairs.”

They dashed to the basement as more shells screamed into the city. They found de Meester already in the basement in a small coal closet. They joined him.

“To my astonishment, the cannonade gave me an intense feeling of exaltation. It was like the exhilaration of fever. I was convinced that we should all be killed, so I wrote on the walls of our cyclone-cellar the names and addresses of Thompson, de Meester, Weigle and myself. My
senses were keenly alive to danger, but there was a strange joy in the thought that life was to be obliterated in a mad chaos of flame and steel and thunder. Death seemed suddenly the great adventure; the supreme experience. And there was something splendid, like music, in the incessant
insane snarl of shells and the blasts of explosions.”

Hunt and Thompson ran upstairs and brought down mattresses and blankets. They tried to sleep, with intermittent success, as the pounding continued above.

At four in the morning, Hunt and Thompson, ever searching for stories and photos, went out onto the Avenue du Sud. Hunt wrote: “Refugees, most of them women, were hurrying by in every direction, half-dressed, only half sane, and horribly afraid. Many, no doubt, were crouching in the cellars, but most of the people ran. Old and young, in little coveys of fours, fives, half-dozens, dozens, ran along the sidewalks, slipping and crashing over the broken glass, making a terrifying and unearthly racket as they ran.”

One shell smashed into the corner of Avenue du Sud and Rue du Peage, ripping through the cobblestones and the curb and carving a hole three feet deep and seven feet across. People screamed and scurried for cover. Another shell hit the house across the street and blew out the whole hallway;
another took out the third story of a house four doors down. In the pre-dawn, a thick column of black smoke from the ignited fuel storage facilities near the Rempart d’Hoboken rose like some evil presence above the southern part of the city. Some said the Belgians had set them on fire so the petrol wouldn’t fall into German hands; others reported they had been bombed by German “Taubes”—the German word for “doves,” used because the single-wing airplanes had silhouettes from below that looked like birds.

Hunt wasn’t far from the blown tanks and could smell the acrid smell of petrol, but his mind was elsewhere. “I stood in the middle of the street and watched the gray sky in the hope of seeing a shell. The idea was absurd, yet I felt an odd sense of being cheated of part of the spectacle. The air seemed full of steel. I counted three explosions a minute: I wanted to see something. One could hear the shells so easily, it seemed ridiculous not to see them.”

End of excerpt

My Post: It’s now Monday April 13, and I’ve just made my final media push to try and get exposure for Behind the Lines. The push is a national press release sent out through Send2press Newswire. The title of the release is “Book About Band of Yanks Saving Millions from Starvation Garners National Recognition,” and you can read it by clicking here.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been struggling with how to move forward with Book Two (still no title yet) without bankrupting my retirement saving (I’m 62). I’ve also been struggling with two very different jobs:

            1. Marketing/Promotion of Behind the Lines. I could easy fill every workday with doing
                        just this, while probably getting less and less return on my time, energy, and
                        dwindling financial resources.

            2.  Starting Book Two. Reacquainting myself with my previous research, doing more
                        research, and starting to write the book will easily equate to 60-70 hour work

Trying to do a little of both in the past few weeks has been crazy, and both have suffered from my attempt to do so.

That’s why I’ve decided today’s national press release marks the last big media push for me. From this point on, I plan on focusing all my time and energy on Book Two.

A couple of weeks ago, I did turn totally to Book Two. I realized that before I could start writing, I’d need to carefully review all the material from my research trip to the Hoover Institution’s archives that I did in January. So, I began to review the nearly 2,000 photos I had taken of all the letters, journal entries, documents and photos that I had thought might be relevant to Book Two.

To get a print of each photo, however, I had to do at least 6 clicks in PhotoShop, which meant that my hand and wrist were practically dead by the time I finished. THEN, I had to hand write on each document where I had found it so that I could give proper attribution if and when I used the material. THEN, I had to actually skim or read each piece of paper and integrate it into my documents organization.

Altogether, it took a week and a half of solid work to do it, but happily I’m now done. And very happy I found what I found. Much of what I uncovered on this latest Stanford trip will lend real depth and color to what I already have.

But after all that work, I got sidetracked again with PR/marketing/promotional items – which seem to suck me dry like vampires coming off a weight loss program.

Speaking of PR, though, I should mention that the book has received some impressive recognitions since my last posting. They include:  

            * Finalist INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards, Foreword Reviews, history category.
                        Eight of the history finalists are from university presses. Winners to be announced
                        on June 26, 2015.
            * Finalist 67th annual Colorado Authors League Awards, general nonfiction category.
                        Winners to be announced on May 8, 2015.
            * Best Self Published Book by a Coloradan, Westword (Denver’s alternative weekly),
                        March 2015. 
            * Books to Bookmark, PR Newswire, Jan. 27, 2015. List of 19 “fascinating new books
                        published in 2014 that may have been missed due to not originating from major
                        New York publishers.”

Those items are on top of what I’ve already told you about: the Kirkus Best Books of the 2014 (Indie), and the Kirkus Starred Review.

When you consider that Bowker has reported there were more than 600,000 new print book (both traditionally published and self-published) released in 2013 (the last year for full stats), it’s a surprise that Behind the Lines has gotten any recognitions!

So in the end, even though I want – and dream of – more, I am happy with the recognitions the book has already received.

Now it’s time to turn to Book Two to see if I can top Behind the Lines. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. 

End of Post 

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