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 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 or an excerpt from Behind the Lines. I used to call this item "A Spot of History," but now it's titled "Don't-Forget-WWI Project."

I hope you find something of interest within this blog.

Post #35: Poison Gas vs. Food Relief

Friday, April 15, 2016

Don’t-Forget-WWI Project: One hundred and one years ago, from April 22 until May 25, the Second Battle of Ypres reminded the world of the horrors of trench warfare. The 35 days of fighting saw the first use of poison gas on the Western Front. The Germans released chlorine gas on April 22
French soldiers with improvised gas makes. Source: Greatwarproject.org
from thousands of 90-pound cylinders and watched as the deadly mist floated on the wind across No Man’s Land and into the Allied trenches. Altogether, the fighting for control of the Belgian town of Ypres resulted in more than 120,000 casualties from both sides, with little movement of the trench lines.

At the same time, counteracting such death and destruction, the American-led Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB), and its Belgian counterpart, the Comite National (CN), agreed in April 1915 to provide food for nearly 2 million northern French trapped behind German lines. This brought the total number of people it was feeding every day to nearly 10 million. By the end of the war, the efforts of the CRB and CN had saved millions from starvation and had become the largest food relief the world had ever seen. Few Americans know this incredible story. You can read the first 12 pages of my WWI nonfiction book about the CRB and CN, Behind the Lines,  by clicking here; while anyone interested in buying the book (print or ebook) can do so by clicking here.

My Post: A lot has happened to me and my CRB project since I last wrote a post Dec. 6, 2015. The biggest news is that I’ve applied for the National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Program.

The NEH describes the program as “intended to support well-researched books in the humanities that have been conceived and written to reach a broad readership. Books supported through the Public Scholar Program might present a narrative history, tell the stories of important individuals, analyze significant texts, provide a synthesis of ideas, revive interest in a neglected subject, or examine the latest thinking on a topic. Most importantly, they should present significant humanities topics in a way that is accessible to general readers.”

To my way of thinking, this program was written for me and what I’m trying to do with my CRB trilogy.

Best of all, it can provide up to $4,200 a month for up to a year. A princely sum for this starving author.

When I attended the annual conference of the American Historical Association in Atlanta in January, the NEH made a presentation about multiple programs, including the Public Scholar program. I was fortunate enough to meet with one of the NEH administrators of the Public Scholar program who was very helpful in guiding my approach to my application.

He did say, however, that the competition is fierce. Last year—the first year of the program—the NEH had anticipated 200 applications. They received 500. From those, only 36 were accepted in the program. I bet they’ll receive twice as many applications for this year’s competition.

I did get my application in by the February deadline and also secured two references from two kind and generous colleagues—Professor Branden Little (who teaches at Weber State University and wrote the foreword to Behind the Lines), and Dr. George H. Nash, the preeminent biographer of Herbert Hoover. Thank you to both!

Now it’s a waiting game—a long waiting game. The NEH will announce the 2016/2017 recipients in August. The program begins in September.

In the meantime, I am continuing my research on the CRB, Comite National, Belgium, and World War One. I hope to begin writing Book Two in June.

End of Post.  

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