So Others May Live

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Dear Readers,

As most of you know, I completed my World War Two novel tentatively titled So Others May Live in November. In the nick of time, as it turned out, as I ended up in the hospital for six days over Thanksgiving Break. If you are new to this blog, I wrote a whole series of posts called Reaping the Whirlwind which details the writing process and you may read an excerpt from said novel here, but be warned, it is graphic. Anyway, I thought I’d give you a list of some of the sources I utilized during the writing of said novel. This is not an exhaustive list by any means and I’m leaving some stuff out, but here is your World War Two reading list, particularly relating to the air war and the German Civil Defense system.

General Histories

These are general World War Two histories.

Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History

Allen, The Nazi Seizure of Power

Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

Hastings, Inferno

Hastings, Armageddon: The End of the War in Europe

Weitz, Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy

The Air War and It’s Impact

Knell, To Destroy a City

Friedrich, The Fire

Friedrich, Brandstatten

Hastings, Bomber Command

Crayling, Among the Dead Cities

Wilson, Bomber Boys

Wilson, Men of Air

Lowe, Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg

Middlebrook, The Berlin Raids

Everitt & Middlebrook, The Bomber Command War Diaries

Wartime Berlin/German Home Front

Read & Fischer, The Fall of Berlin

Beck, Under the Bombs: The German Home Front 1942-1945

Grunberger, The Twelve Year Reich

Johnson, What We Knew

Moorhouse, Berlin At War

Mayer & Evans, They Thought They Were Free

Selby, A Serial Killer in Nazi Berlin

German Military

Since the firefighter character spent time in the Germany Army before being returned to his pre-war occupation due to wounds, it was important to bone up on German military attitudes, etc.

Knappe, Soldat

Neitzel & Welzer, Soldaten 

Koscherrek, Blood Red Snow

Bellamy, Absolute War

Reese, A Stranger to Myself

Cooper, The German Army 1933-1945

Fritz, Frontsoldaten

Beevor, Stalingrad

Sajer, The Forgotten Soldier

Wartime London

Gaskin, The Blitz

Gardiner, The Blitz: The British Under Attack

Longmate. How We Lived Then

Todman, Britain’s War

Ingham, Fire and Water: The London Firefighter’s Blitz, 1940-42

Novels

Why novels for research? There are a couple of reasons. First, from a professional standpoint, they teach be about plotting, creating characters, etc. Second, they often include historical nuggets that I can follow up on in non-fiction books.

Ledig, Payback

Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

Remarque, A Time to Love and a Time to Die

Deighton, Bomber

Bird, London’s Burning

Frei, Berlin

Gillham, City of Women

Misc

Thankfully I was able to view several pieces of film footage shot of German firefighters during the war, including a “how to put out an incendiary fire” video. In addition, there are tons of documentaries on YouTube about the London Blitz, life in Nazi Germany, the Bomber War, etc. Far too many to list here, but I probably watched 50-60 hours worth of them and took notes.

In graduate school, I had the opportunity to interview some individuals who had worked in the German Civil Defense system during the war, either with the Luftschutz or as auxiliary firefighters/rescue workers. My notes from those conversations helped me craft a logical response from the Berlin fire brigade to air raids. Or at least I hope it did.

I also made use of some maps of wartime London and Berlin to help give me a handy reference when dealing with directions, etc.

Again, this list is not comprehensive. My World War Two library alone includes 500 volumes (it totals a little over 2,000 when you add all the other books). If any of you are interested in this subject, the list above provides a good place to start.

L.H.

 

 

 

 

 

 

City of Fire

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Dear Readers,

For those who have been following me for the past year, you no doubt know of my novel which was recently completed. For those of you who are new to the site, you can read an excerpt from it here.  So what is next on the agenda for me? Writing wise, that is. Well, the completed novel will go on a shelf for four to six months, long enough for me to basically forget about it. After enough time passes, I’ll re-visit it and read through it with fresh eyes so that I can correct the myriad of mistakes it no doubt contains, some plot, some continuity, some character development, and far more grammatical ones. This does not mean I will do no writing in between now and then. Nay! Quite the contrary! I’m now at work on another novel, this one set in New York City during the Civil War.

Here is the teaser:

A story ripped from the headlines……….from 1864.

Eight men, including Captain Thomas Fitzgerald, slip across the US border with Canada and make their way to New York City. Their goal? To create a wave of destruction that will interrupt the upcoming presidential election.  Michael, a New York City detective desperately tries to ascertain their identities and their plan while Patrick, a firefighter, stands on the front lines of the city’s defense against an attack. Maggie, a fiery redheaded prostitute, is the link between the attackers and the defenders, but while one man holds the key  to her escape from her life and from the city, another holds the key to her heart. She must chose between them as chaos erupts throughout the city. From the squalor of the Five Points, to opulent mansions on Fifth Avenue, New York City is a City of Fire.

I have my character sketches done along with a 10,000 word outline. Plus, I have all of my scene cards mapped out on a storyboard. I’m not sure how long this one will take to write. It might be a while as it is plotted to be roughly 100,000 words, which is 4K longer than the one I just completed. It is nice to revisit the Civil War from a writing standpoint, but I wanted to focus more on the untold stories rather than a traditional military action novel. The Confederate Plot to Burn New York City is known by some, but not many. It does touch on many modern themes, though. The Confederates involved in this plot believed themselves to be soldiers conducting a military operation while the Northern authorities believed them to be terrorists.

This is a tale of heroes, villains, and the line between the two that often blurs in time of conflict. Every man can be a sinner. And every man can be a saint. This is, perhaps, my most ambitious project yet and it is a book I’ve wanted to write since I first got the idea in 2004.  So we’ll see how long it takes, and I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Hutch

Me

Me as a young firefighter with my son who is now 15. I was much younger and better looking back in those days…….

 

Of Box Alarms and Phrases: The Historical Origins of Some Fire Service Terms

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Friends,

With my previous post about a historically significant fire in Houston, Texas, I thought I’d revisit the subject of fire service history. Fire departments are big on tradition, and a lot of the terms in use in some areas today have very old origins and harken back to the days of wooden ladders and leather lungs. Helmets, for example, are usually a firefighter’s most iconic piece of equipment, especially the traditional style (as opposed to the salad bowl type). When I was a humble fireman, my department issued us the “modern” style helmets but allowed us to purchase our own, so long as we stuck to the department color requirements. (Yellow for firefighter, red for captain, white for chiefs). Most of us purchased our own. Mine was a Morning Pride traditional helmet called the Ben Franklin. Why? Because Franklin was once the chief of a volunteer fire company! I went through a couple of different helmets, all the same style. When I was an arson investigator, I wore a leather Cairns New Yorker which has, other than a few modifications, been the same helmet for 168 years. Cairns began to make helmets in the 1850s and prior to that, made leather helmet shields going back to the 1830s. Ah yes……tradition! Thankfully I still have my arson helmet and one of my firefighter helmets. They make for nice conversation pieces.

Keep in mind that what I discuss below may vary from department to department. Some use all of the terms, others may use none of them. Not only that, but the meaning of the terms may vary as well. The meanings and origins I give are the originals, rather than how they’ve morphed over time. Though the fire service is strong on tradition, things do change no matter how resistant some may be. Change comes slowly, but it does come. So without further ado here are some historical terms still in use.

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Box Alarm/Assignment: This is a holdover term from the days of telegraph fire alarm systems which existed in most major cities. Alarm boxes like the above stood on street corners. Should a citizen witness a fire emergency, they could hurry to the nearest box and pull the lever. This transmitted a coded series of numbers by telegraph to the central alarm system. The dispatcher reviewed the box number (which corresponded to an intersection), and then selected a punch card which had the apparatus assignments for that intersection. The punch card was fed into a second telegraph which sent the box number to the stations assigned to that intersection. Meanwhile, at the station, the alarm bell would ring to notify the station where to go. Let’s say it was box 427. The bell rang four times, pause, two times, pause, followed by seven times. It may sound complicated, but alarms could be transmitted from alarm box to station in seconds and, believe it or not, horse drawn apparatus often cleared the floor in less than 30 seconds! Though the FDNY doesn’t use fire alarm boxes (thanks to things like cell phones), they do use box numbers. Boston, however, maintains their fire alarm boxes as a redundancy should their 911 system fail. In my hose dragger days, I typically heard the term Box Alarm to denote a working residential fire with a Heavy Box used for commercial buildings or multifamily dwellings.

(Note also, however, that ambulances are commonly referred to as “the box”, not to be confused with “box alarm”.)

Antique Wooden Telephone

Still Alarm: As telephones became more commonplace, fire departments began to receive calls by phone, along with calls from alarm boxes. If a call came in by phone, it was called a “still alarm” because it didn’t ring the bells at the station. In other words, the bells were still. Though not as commonly used today as “box” is, it is sometimes and by some departments used to refer to fire alarms, medical calls, etc, in other words, anything not a box alarm.

Ready to be confused? You can still a box and you can box a still. If a still alarm turns out to be a working fire, then an officer may box a still, in other words, convert it to a box alarm assignment. Conversely, if a box alarm turns out to be a fire alarm, an officer can still the box, ie: downgrade it to a still alarm assignment.

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Tap this location out: This one is still very common in my area. When an assignment is complete, or nearly complete, the ranking officer will radio the communications center and say “Tap this location our holding units on scene (or a specific unit).” Again, this harkens back to the good old days of the aforementioned fire alarm boxes. Fire department officers carried keys to the boxes and when an assignment ended, they would open the fire alarm box and use the telegraph inside to tap out a message to Central Dispatch, hence the “tap this location out”. I cannot state this as a fact, but apparently the keys were shaped like a “J” and might be the origin of the nickname “jakes” for firefighters. Part of me wonders how many officers, especially the younger ones, know the origin of this phrase since they have mostly likely used, or at least heard it, before. I guess I can say the same for all these phrases.

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I’m sure that there are some other terms or phrases that I’m forgetting or that even I don’t know the origins of, though I try to stay up on my fire service history. When I was in graduate school, my favorite paper to write was the one about firefighting in Colonial America. I learned a lot of interesting things, though when I shared them at the fire station, the guys were underwhelmed by it all. Their loss, not mine. When it comes to firefighting, I think you can truly say that the more things change, the more they really do stay the same. Assuming that the world is still here in 100 years, I imagine some fire service historian will write an article on all the quaint terms from today that will still be in use.

Hutch

Houston’s Forgotten Tragedy

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Friends,
Houston and indeed all of the Texas coast and part of Louisiana has seen a great tragedy this week. I do not have the words to adequately describe it. I just can’t. I live in the affected area and though I was spared by the flooding, so many friends and family were not. So I took pen in hand today to talk about another tragedy which struck Houston in the midst of World War Two. A tragedy which has been sadly forgotten by all but a few who live in the area. I was a firefighter and then a fire marshal, the law enforcement arm of the fire service. In that capacity, I enforced fire code regulations and investigated fires. If we ruled a fire arson, we pursued those responsible. (In Texas, arson investigators are fully sworn peace officers with the same authority as any other peace officer, though that may differ in different states.) When I was a young fireman in the late 90s, a grizzled old 35 year veteran of battling the flames mentioned that Houston had experienced one of the deadliest hotel fires in US History. I’d never heard that before and it peaked my curiosity which is how I came to learn about the Gulf Hotel Fire, the subject of today’s sad tale.
Houston during World War Two was a happening place. It was nowhere near as large a city as it is today, with a population of just under 400,000. The city added 100,000 people between 1930 and 1940 and would add another 200,000 by the end of the 40s, partially due to the growth brought about by the War. Americans were lucky in the sense that here in the Continental United States, we did not face bombing raids as did our allies and our enemies. Houston, with its port and oil, played an integral role in the allied war effort. The downtown area was booming with restaurants, movie theaters, and dancing at the Rice Hotel. But there was an underside too. Cheap hotels and boarding houses dotted the landscape filled to the brim with transient workers who traveled to Houston seeking employment. The war gutted the Houston Fire Department with many members enlisting right after Pearl Harbor. The City of Houston created an Auxiliary Fire Department to supplement their missing manpower. This created the perfect storm which broke over the downtown skyline on the night of September 7, 1943.
The Gulf Hotel was located at 615 Preston which was the corner of Preston and Louisiana in the Downtown District. As you can see from the photo, it was probably a nice looking building when not on fire. As was often the case in downtown buildings at the time, the hotel only occupied the second and third floors. The Gulf Hotel would be happy to rent you a bed for forty cents a night. Or if you were down on your luck, you could get a cot for 20 cents! Though the hotel register listed 133 guests that night (all male), in reality there were probably many more than that. The 87 beds were often divided by thin wooden partitions and two men often shared a bed and split the price. Fifty cots were also crammed into the building. Every bed was occupied by at least one person and so were all of the cots. The hotel was located one block from the city’s major bus depot which meant that many of the guests arrived and booked a “room” with little familiarity with the layout of the building or the surrounding area.
While making his rounds in the middle of the night, a clerk noticed a smoldering mattress on the second floor, most likely due to a carelessly discarded cigarette. This was the 1940s and non-smokers were a rarity and you could smoke just about anywhere. The clerk and some guests dumped water on the mattress and thought that the fire was out. Rather than tossing the mattress outside, they stuck it in a closet. Bad idea. A few minutes later, other guests noticed heavy smoke pouring out of the closet and you began to hear shouts of “Fire!” There were only two exits from the building, an interior stairwell which led to the street and another which was a rickety fire escape. The fire quickly moved to cut off most of the guests from the interior stairwell, fueled by the wooden partitions used to separate the rooms. This left the fire escape as the only option, but just days earlier a Fire Department Inspector cited the Gulf Hotel for not installing a red safety light to point the way to the fire escape.
Around 12:50 am, the officers and men at Houston’s Central Fire Station received the alarm. The station was only six blocks away. After the fire, Deputy Chief Grover Cleveland Adams (what a name!) said “As we started out of the station, we could see the reflection of the fire against the sky.” That always signifies a big job. As they pulled up, the sole fire escape was already crowded with men. Some of them were on crutches and making slow progress which backed up the rest of the men trying desperately to get out. Then people started jumping out of the third story windows as that was the only means of escape left. With bodies thudding on the sidewalk, the fire department tried to rescue as many men as possible while the flames continued to light the downtown sky. The body of one victim, unable to escape from the third floor, hung limply out the window for the duration of the fire as a gruesome reminder of a fire’s deadly power.
Houston TX Gulf Hotel Fire 9-7-1943
Victims were transported to the two nearby hospitals, Saint Joseph and the old Jefferson Davis Hospital, many of them by private auto or police car. Doctors arrived and provided what first aid their could on the scene. Two victims died at the scene and another fifteen died after arrival at the hospital. The city was already dealing with a major tragedy. It took two hours for the fire department to battle their way inside and extinguish the fire. What they found was far worse. Thirty-eight bodies were inside the hotel, overcome by smoke and flames as they tried in vain to reach safety. The fifty-five men who died that night were victims of the deadliest fire in Houston history. Indeed, it is one of the five deadliest hotel fires in 20th Century American History. The 40s saw many deadly hotel fires, unfortunately, and this was just one.
Given that this happened during the midst of World War Two, it did not receive much coverage. Fire disasters like this were not unheard of at the time. Indeed, not even a year earlier, the City of Boston experienced the Coconut Grove Nightclub fire which killed 492 people, the second deadliest fire in American History. The post war brought era brought two other mass fatality fires when the Winecoff (Atlanta) and the La Salle (Chicago) hotels burned. Today, few Houstonians know anything about the Gulf Hotel tragedy. Part of this is because so many of the people who live in Houston today are part of the boom in population that happened after the War. Also, the City of Houston is partially to blame. They gleefully bulldoze any building more than thirty years old. The city has totally lost touch with its past, both good and bad. That is a tragedy of a different sort.
Twenty-three of the victims from this fire were never identified. They were buried in a mass grave at Houston’s South Park Cemetery, where they remain just as forgotten today as they were in 1943. The Houston Chronicle summed it up best at the time when it said the following:
“Who were these men? What strange, pathetic, colorful,
or drab histories led to a fate that sent them unrecognized
to this tragic grave?
Histories that shall be forever unwritten, unknown.
Some of them had good jobs, as shipyard workers,
defense plant workers. Some perhaps were newspaper vendors
peddlers, or clerks in hideaway stores.
Or they were beggars and crippled derelicts wandering
in the city streets with nothing to do, no place to go but
their cots in the crowded hotel.
What kind of homes did they come from? Where?
No one will ever know?”
Perhaps the finest words ever written by the Houston Chronicle. Sadly, we still do not know.
My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian.
Source Notes: In my college years I wrote a paper about this tragedy and had the opportunity to speak with a few people who witnessed the fire. (None of them were inside the hotel at the time.) I also collected newspaper articles, etc, and had a pretty nice file on it. I also consulted a publication available at the Houston Fire Museum called Houston Fire Department: 2000 Traditions & Innovations. There is some debate as to the number of remains buried in the mass grave with some sources saying 23, 31, or even 38. Most of the sources say 23 and so that is what I am going with.

Reaping the Whirlwind (Pt. 6)

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Date: Monday, November 22, 1943

Time: 2230

Picture yourself in the dark interior of a brick lined basement. The stench of unwashed bodies and fear overcomes the odor of mildew. A thin sheet used as a curtain in a corner hides a large bucket, the only toilet available for the two dozen people packed into the small room. Everyone sits on wooden benches. Their ages range from elderly to infants. There are no able bodies men present, as they are all at the front. A few buckets of sand line the floor and everyone wears a helmet, even the children. A radio in the corner keeps up a running commentary on what is taking place above ground. Enemy bomber formations have passed east of Braunschweig. Anticipated target is Berlin. Outside, the sirens howl. Then, antiaircraft batteries open fire, sending sheets of flame shooting into the night sky. And then you hear it, the shriek of falling bombs. Each one explodes with a loud CRUMP which causes your building to shake. Dust drifts down from the ceiling. The bombs march closer and closer. Some of the children start to cry. A few of the adults begin to pray. Will the next bomb have your name on it? Or will it hit the next block?

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Now picture yourself in the sky overhead. Searchlights stab at the sky around you. To be caught in one means death, unless you can escape the cone. This is your 30th mission. If you make it back, you’ll be the first in your squadron to complete a tour in several months. Before takeoff, you learn that some of the other crews have placed bets on your odds of survival. The odds aren’t good. In the past five months, you’ve seen crews come and go. New crews get shot down so fast you don’t have time to learn their names. Two of your own crew died a few nights ago over the same city where you find yourself now. A burning Lancaster drifts across your line of sight. It rolls onto its side and plummets towards the ground, the seven men inside trapped in a fiery coffin. Your bomb aimer, in the nose of your plane, calls out corrections as you reach the target indicators. Left, left. Steady. Right. Right. Steady. Steady. Almost there. A sudden noise makes you jump as your rear gunner opens up on a night fighter. Shrapnel from the flak batteries ping against the side of your plane, like a child throwing pebbles against it. And then the searchlights catch you.

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Now transport yourself 600 miles away. Several months ago, you met a young pilot while he was on leave. Six weeks ago, he proposed and you said yes. When he completes his tour tonight, he’ll be off operations for a while and receive a much safer assignment as an instructor pilot. You know he is flying tonight, and you’ll be married in three days time. As the searchlights catch his aircraft, you are traveling to the small village near his airbase so you can greet him when he gets back. There’s something you need to tell him before the wedding. You meant to do it when you saw him a couple of days ago, but you couldn’t bring yourself to do it. Will he care? Will he cancel the wedding? He seemed withdrawn last time you saw him. And with good reason, he’d just come back from a mission in which two of his crew were killed and one seriously injured. That’s why he got a weekend pass to begin with. His last words when you parted at the train station were “I’m glad I met you.” Hardly the words of a man planning on having a future.

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Let us now return to the city under the bombs. You wait out the raid in a reinforced room on the ground floor of your fire station. In the midst of war, your job is still to save lives. You are a veteran fireman with over ten years on the job. The war interrupted your career and you spent several years on the front lines in Poland, France, and Russia before an injury led to your discharge, aided by the fact that cities needed experienced fire service personnel. You saw the firestorm in Hamburg and its images flash through you mind every time you close your eyes. And now? Now your city is being pounded. As soon as the heaviest bombing passes, you and your crew, one other experienced man and four young women who belong to the Luftschutz leave the station and drive towards the fires burning in the distance. A few bombs are still falling, and as you pull up in front of a blazing apartment building, a bomb explodes just up the block. Shrapnel leaves pockmarks on your truck, but it cuts down four firemen in the street ahead. You can hear the screams over the roar of the flame as you exit the fire engine and go to work. A quick glance up. You see a bomber caught in the searchlights. Black objects tumble from the center of the plane and start their way towards the ground. Towards you.

This gives you a bit of insight into the four main characters in the novel. They all have their own backstories and personal conflicts not necessarily detailed above. I hope that when I am finished, they will become as real to you as they are to me.

Hutch

 

Reap the Whirlwind (Pt. 5)

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Friends,

This post continues a series on my novel in progress. If you are new to the blog, you can catch up on the previous posts here: OneTwoThree, and Four. The novel is now almost halfway complete, though to be honest I have dealt with writer’s block and accompanying challenges over the past couple of months which brought things to a full stop. The second half of any semester is the most difficult for me, teaching wise, since I am snowed under with grading and then end of the semester paperwork. The pain from my injuries is a daily thing which ranges from moderate to murderous. The past six weeks or so, it has been murderous. When you can’t sit for more than 15 or 20 minutes, stand for more than an hour or two, or lie down for more than an hour, it is difficult to focus on anything else. Athletes play with pain. Writers write with pain. I guess I’ll have to just suck it up and soldier on. Something else has been gnawing at me too. Something which I don’t quite know how to handle.

I am a perfectionist in some things. Teaching is one of them. Writing is another. I agonize over every word I say in the classroom. I feel such a solemn obligation to the past that I worry that I’m not doing justice to the experiences of those who lived through the events I teach about. At the end of every class, I engage in self destructive criticism of the day’s lecture where I think of all the better ways I could have said something. Needless to say, I do the same with my writing. Given the current work is an historical one, and of a subject that does not get much attention in the way of fiction, I feel the same sacred obligation. I will type, delete, type, delete, and then type and delete the same line five or six times until I think it sounds right, only to do it all over again when I read over the completed chapter. Once upon a time, I could dash out 6 or 7K words a day in a matter or three or four hours. Now it takes closer to 7 or 8 hours to write 3K words, which is my daily goal. On one hand, being a perfectionist is a good thing when it comes to writing, but on the other and much larger hand, it definitely slows me down.

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Like all writers, I struggle with self doubt. Writing is such a solitary endeavor that forces you to spend hours inside your own head where your personal demons sally forth to assail your confidence. Is anyone going to pay money to read this? It isn’t good enough! The side of a cereal box is more interesting than this garbage! You aren’t going to finish it anyway! I put tremendous pressure on myself. Without getting into too much detail, I teach history part time at a community college. For over ten years, I’ve slaved away at the lowest rung of the academic ladder. Despite two Master’s Degrees, a career outside academia, and a decade of direct experience, it has become blatantly obvious that I will never get a full time faculty position. Given the extent of my injuries, I can’t really do much else and to be fair, I’m not sure I could even handle one of those positions anyway. I’ve been a finalist many times, but these days I can’t even get a first interview. As much as I love being in the classroom, the writing is on the wall. If education, experience, excellent evaluations, and stellar student reviews are not enough to land you a position, then I need to get over my stubborn streak and accept defeat. What does that have to do with my writing? Well, to be blunt, the time has come for my writing to pay. In order for it to pay, I have to beat the writer’s block. And what I write has to be, you know, good. Writing is a struggle. I doubt it comes easy for even the best among us, I do not number among that group.

When you write a period piece, you really have to get inside the period as best you can. My novel is set in 1943 and takes place in two primary locations. Berlin and the inside of a Lancaster bomber. I’ve been out of the right mindset for a long time, so this week I’ve been doing nothing but listening to music from 1939-43 (both British and German) and watching movies and newsreels from the same years. It takes a few days for me to get my mind right to write (see what I did there). I’ve been going through my research files as well as reading the first 11 chapters over again. There is stuff I need to change, but I’m not allowing myself to do that until I’m done with the entire thing. Poring over photos of bomb ruins and bombing victims, reading interview notes, and examining documents and reports is a difficult task, but one you have to do if you want to get it right. Or as right as you possibly can without having been there yourself.

So excuse me now as I gallop off into the sunset on my trusty steed with a redheaded saloon girl behind me in the saddle. (Hmmm…….maybe I should write a western next.)

Alas, I have no horse but I am married to redhead.

Hutch

Reaping the Whirlwind (Pt. 4)

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Dear Readers,

I’ve reached the 1/3rd point of my work in progress. It’s been a mixture of slow and fast going. I write much slower now than I ever have before. When in college, I could dash off 10 pages in a matter of an hour or two. Now, my 3,000 word a day limit sometimes takes me the better part of 6 hours to finish. Of those words, maybe half of them are actually any good. But books a rewritten more than they are written. That’s what editing is for. The important thing is to get the first draft finished. I’ve identified several issues with the overall plot and layout which will require extensive revision. I may end up cutting the four characters down to two so that I can get more in depth into them and their world. We’ll see. There is much left to write.

As I slave away in front of the computer, I have been pondering great works of World War 2 fiction that I’ve read in my life. If you are a writer, you have your favorites that influence your style and even the type of fiction you write. I’m a HUGE fan of the Dave Robicheaux series by the great James Lee Burke. Indeed, my completed novel is a mystery set in a fictitious Texas town on the Gulf Coast. It’s pretty good, actually. I haven’t take the time to revise and edit it though. I might once I finish with my current project. So please allow me a few moments to discuss my favorite World War 2 novels. For those who tough it out to the end, you’ll get to read the opening of my own novel So Others May Live. 

Bomber by Len Deighton. This is an incredibly written novel which takes place over a 24 hour time span. It details everything that went into planning and carrying out a bombing raid on the fictitious German town of Altgarten. At the same time, it also details the town itself with all its secrets and intrigue. Deighton is a master storyteller. As an added bonus, the BBC did a radio dramatization of the novel in the early 90s too, so you can both read it and then listen to a radio version of it. Both are excellent. I would tell people that if they read any novel about the Second World War, make it this one.

A Time to Love and a Time to Die by Erich Maria Remarque. Wait, I hear you saying, isn’t he the guy that wrote All Quiet on the Western Front? Yes, Dear Readers, he is. This novel is, in my opinion, perhaps better even than his best known work. It takes place over a short span of time and involves a German soldier on leave from the Eastern Front. Particularly evocative of the paranoia and claustrophobia of wartime Germany, Remarque does an excellent job showing the behavior of people in wartime. It is worth noting that Remarque’s books were banned in Nazi Germany and he fled to Switzerland. In retaliation, the Nazis arrested his sister who remained behind. At her trial for undermining morale, the judge said “Your brother is unfortunately beyond our reach but you, however, will not escape us.” She was beheaded in 1943. Remarque eventually immigrated to the United States and became and American citizen. He married actress Paulette Goddard who was both incredibly hot and a redhead. But I digress.

The Burning Blue by James Holland. A friendship. A forbidden love affair with a best friend’s twin sister. Spitfires. The Battle of Britain. They blend together in this wonderful novel to create a perfect tale of wartime England. Told through a series of flashbacks whilst the main character lies recovering in a hospital bed in North Africa, the book starts a few years before the war and builds towards an exciting climax. You feel for the main character as he lives on a razor’s edge during the Battle of Britain. You want him to get the girl and you genuinely grieve when he doesn’t. Or does he? The aerial combat scenes are magnificent as are the personal interactions between the characters. Holland is a master of aviation fiction. (See his other work A Pair of Silver Wings as well.) For fans of British period dramas (Foyle’s War, etc) or The Battle of Britain, I highly recommend this novel. If you want to find yourself behind the controls of a Spit, read this book at once.

Berlin by Pierre Frei. This is technically not a World War 2 novel as it is set in Berlin, but it is at least in the immediate post-war period. A serial killer stalks the streets and a Kripo detective is partnered up with the Americans to track him down. What is really neat about this novel is that you have a chapter about each victim that tracks their lives up until the instant they are murdered. Then you’ll have a chapter about the investigation of their death. Getting deep into the lives of the characters makes their deaths all the more tragic. The novel does an incredible job of describing post-war Berlin; the hunger, the black market, the fraternizing between GIs and German girls that wasn’t supposed to be taking place, the secrets people tried to keep about the lives during the Nazi era. The author was born in Berlin in 1930 and grew up there. First published in German in 2003, it was translated to English in 2005. Definitely read this, especially if you like murder mysteries.

Payback by Gert Ledig. “When the first bomb fell, the blast hurled the dead children against the wall.” Holy F–k! What an opening! This book is rare and difficult to get a copy of, though used copies do exist. First published in German in 1956, it was not translated into English until 1999. The author served on the Eastern Front and was sent home after he was wounded near Leningrad. Whilst at home, he experienced Allied air raids which are the subject of this novel. The book isn’t long. The whole thing takes place over the course of an hour or so in a nameless town as it is pummeled by bombs. Each short chapter tells about one person in the town. Before each chapter is short piece where the character introduces themselves to the reader. You see the raid unfold with all its macabre horror. From a 16 year old girl raped in a cellar as bombs fall to the dead unburied by explosions and hurled into the trees, Payback provides a stomach churning glance into life under the bombs. The book is controversial because British and American audiences do not generally like to read about what their bombs did. Still, this book is an anti-war classic and a must read.

Now, Dear Readers, as promised, here is the opening to So Others May Live. Keep in mind this is an unedited first draft and I cannot state with certainty that this will be the opening scene in the finished product and even if it is, it’ll probably be a bit different.

Fire. A tornado of fire. Flames shot upwards, a thousand feet or more, and turned the night sky to daylight. Wind swirled around the base of the inferno. Over the roar of the conflagration, a new sound emerged like the scream of wounded animals. People staggered over the rubble choked streets as the heat seared their bodies. Clothing burst into flame. The human torches ran in circles until they dropped to the street and lay still. The wind grew in intensity until it lifted, first children and then adults, and hurled them into the seat of the fire. They screamed and flailed in the air until the flames devoured them. Hair burned. Clothes burned. Even the streets burned. The odor roasted flesh overpowered that of the phosphorus driven firestorm. Somewhere, a bell rang.  

There you have it, friends.

Hutch