Saturday, November 23, 2013

Research for WWII novels

In his book On Writing, Stephen King talks about how irritating it is when someone says they want to be a writer and when he asks what they read, they reply something like, "Oh, I don't have time to read!"

Really? You want to write, but you can't be bothered with reading? Wait, you want to be a physics teacher, but you don't want to study physics?

Therefore, the same is true with writing novels about a historic period. I wanted to write WWII novels, so I read more and more about WWII to increase my store of knowledge picked up over my lifetime. The reading of WWII non fiction books and researching on the web was crucial to a having a deeper understanding of what happened. I think of myself as a student of WWII.

In a previous post, I listed some of the WWII non-fiction books I've read

Weaving a story around real events requires paying attention to the little details like dates and locations, as well as troop disposition, for both sides. Finding accurate military maps just comes down to Google searches. The best site I've found so far is, perhaps naturally, West Point.

I write my stories around actual events, but typically haven't thrown the characters into an event. For example, in the first book, Operation Devil's Fire, the timeline is from 25 May 1944 to 19 June 1944. This time frame includes D-Day, which I'm sure you know was 6 June. However, my characters are not involved in the invasion itself. They have other missions and I wasn't about to try to squeeze in D-Day as part of the story--it's been done many times--because it was NOT directly part of the story.

I am a novelist, not a historian, so I sometimes have to take some liberties, but when I do, it's always for the sake of the story. However, whenever possible, I do stick to the known facts.

In addition to all of these important things, the weaponry has to be accurate. For example, I'm not about to give my main character, Sgt. Dunn, an M-16! Any student of WWII history or reader of military fiction / non-fiction would immediately think I have no idea what I'm talking about.

Here are some of the weapons and equipment I had to research to make sure I knew what I was talking about. I invite you to read about them yourself, just copy paste into Google.

  • 1911 Colt .45
  • Luger
  • Thompson .45 submachinegun
  • STEN submachinegun and sound suppressor
  • M1 Garand 
  • 1903 Springfield with Unertl sight (also needed muzzle velocity to calculate time to target).
  • MP40 submachinegun
  • MG42 machine gun
  • Panzerfaust
  • Explosives
  • Grenades, U.S. pineapple, German potato masher
  • parachutes - static line, also very low altitude drops
  • The Horten 18
  • P-51 Mustang
  • ME109
  • B-17
  • C-47 Goony Bird 
  • Heinkel 177 Greif
  • Tiger Tank
  • T-34
  • Sherman tank
  • German armor attack formations
Writer's tip

When I'm writing and discover I need information on something, instead of stopping the writing and hitting Google, I type in an asterisk and short description of what I need: "*nameofweapon." The purpose here is to prevent myself of falling into surfing mode because one thing leads to another and you can suddenly lose a half hour of writing time. Do your research between writing times, not during. Then go back into the document and search for the *.

Thanks for stopping by today.

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Friday, November 22, 2013

John F. Kennedy - 11/22/63

Fifty years ago today, at about 1:00 PM CST, President Kennedy died. Please consider taking a moment of silence today.

I was in the 6th grade and we all had just came back from the cafeteria, except for one girl, Alicia (I can still remember her name and appearance) who had gone home for lunch. She ran into the room and told us what had happened. After school, I turned on the TV and watched and watched.

If you want to watch that same coverage you can, starting today at 12:38 PM CST:

Real-time Earth and Moon phase