Sunday, December 12, 2010

Michigan in December – What Was I Thinking?

The book tour in Michigan was incredible.  The Kalamazoo Air Zoo crowds were smaller than what I had hoped for – but it was an engaging group.  The gatherings in Galesburg and Battle Creek historical societies more than made up for the Air Zoo turnouts.  I was very pleased that people wanted to get out in the biting cold to hear a local history story of a remarkable man.  Even more exciting, in Battle Creek, members of the Zinn family came to the event.  They brought a wonderful family photo album which was a treat for everyone. 

At the Battle Creek Historical Society - Kimball House Museum

I managed a few television interviews as well.  Channel 3 in Kalamazoo taped an interview which will show sometime later this month.  Doing Be Scene TV was fun too.  As it turns out the host and I went to high school together, though we didn’t know each other. 

The cap of the book tour events was appearing at the Hatcher Library at the University of Michigan.  This was Fred Zinn’s (the subject of my book Lost Eagles) alma mater and for me it felt as if I was bringing his story back home.  Some old friends from my Ford days showed up as well as members of the Zinn family. Being at the U of M and speaking there made me feel like this project had gone full circle.

Even better, I got some face time with my editor at the University of Michigan Press.  I like writing for this publisher because they worked with me on the book, as opposed to against me.  I got a chance to discuss several projects and, hopefully, I’ll have a big announcement to make shortly involving my true crime book project.   

I have a secret source for some of the crime cases I’m researching for books and I got a chance to connect with him as well.  As it turns out, my hunch on one case may have been right.  More importantly it is a story that really may demand putting to paper as a book.  Yes, I’m being vague, but you have to be on such things.  Suffice it to say I have a few new things to research. 

Some things I learned from this trip:
  • The cold temperatures I remembered from my youth were not distant memories but crisp bitter realities.  I swear I didn’t feel my feet for three days after getting to Michigan. 
  • I rediscovered the importance of independent bookstores.  I had tried for weeks to get the local Barnes and Noble to attend two of my events to sell copies of Lost Eagles.  No dice.  One B&N was more interested in a knitting and crocheting event they were hosting. Big chain bookstores carry a lot of administrative baggage and can be hard to work with.  Most seem to have lost sight that their business is to sell books – not coffee, games, movies or e-readers.  Sure, I could have brought a box of books and sold them myself – but I wanted a local business to make some money off of these events.  Michigan’s economy has been hit hard with this recession and it seemed like the right thing to do.  Gloria from Kazoo Books (a store well-worth visiting and supporting) stepped up.  She hasn’t forgotten that this business is about actually selling books.  I’m pleased to say that she sold out that week!  If you are in Kalamazoo and doing some shopping, I recommend Kazoo Books for your holiday needs. 
  • People want to read books with local ties.  Lost Eagles is strongly tied to Galesburg, Battle Creek, and Ann Arbor.  I was pleased with how some of the local historical societies got good turnout and interest in the topic.  Having the Zinn family show up at two events was wonderful because they were able to add to my story with their own family history. 
  • There is a lot of interest in WWI aviation.  I brought some application forms with me for the League of WWI Aviation Historians and about 15 people took copies with them.  WWI is often a war that is glossed over so that was highly encouraging. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Michigan Book Tour

They say you can’t go home.  I’m not going to try to.  My return to Michigan for book tour lectures and interviews is not an attempt to recapture my past but an opportunity to tell a great story. 

I spend a lot of my time researching and writing about the past.  When it comes to my own past however, I have little desire to go back.  While I write about the past I don't see my own past as my "glory days."  I have always believed that my best is yet to come. 
I was an awkward kid (aren't we all?) during my high school years.  Like most youth, my thoughts were not how to make the most out of where I was, but focused on the future and where I wanted to be.  I prematurely outgrew my home town; at least in my own mind.  Like many people I spent many years thinking of my hometown as boring.  That simplification gets you through your youth I suppose.  Now, in later life, I have started to develop a deep appreciation for Michigan and the history of my local area. 
I am looking forward to the events I have coming up in Michigan but not for the reasons you might think.  This is not a matter of me seeing people I knew in high school and college…that will be nice.  I planned this trip to give back to the community.  The subject of my book Lost Eagles, Frederick Zinn, was born in Galesburg and raised in Battle Creek.  For me this is a chance to tell the people in those communities about a local hero that they might not have heard of.  I think Fred would have wanted it that way. 
This trip is not all promotion for Lost Eagles.  I am currently working on a true crime book set in Marshall Michigan and I'm hoping to do some research while I'm there.  It helps to know the locales, the people, the lay of the proverbial land.  Sometimes my family name opens doors, sometimes it slams them shut.  That's part of the fun.  
So, if you're in Michigan between December 3-7, please stop in at one of my events and soak in the discussion. Check my web site Blaine Pardoe News for the latest on where I will be.  I hope you find these lectures entertaining.  Obviously I hope you buy the book - that's a forgone conclusion.  If you get a chance, introduce yourself (or reintroduce yourself).  You never know where my next story may come from or how much you might be able to contribute.  After all, it's not my history, it's your history I'm fascinated with.

Monday, November 8, 2010

All Gave Some, Some Gave All…

My new book is out!  Lost Eagles (University of Michigan Press) has finally released.  It has taken a long time to reach this point and I must admit, its publication lets me sigh with relief.  For me, this book was a departure in many respects.  True, it's a biography.  At the same time it tells a much larger story, of how America deals with its missing in action.
This book demanded I write it.  I know that sounds weird, but hear me out.  I was born in Virginia but raised in Battle Creek Michigan.  My parents owned an antique store in the tiny town of Galesburg.  I encountered Zinn while writing Terror of the Autumn Skies and was shocked to learn he was born in Galesburg and raised in Battle Creek.  How was that possible?  I should have heard of him before then.  After all, someone who was a WWI aviator would have drawn my attention much earlier.  Where were the statues or the streets or schools named after him?  

Answer:  There weren't any. 
Initially I was excited that he was a member of the famous Lafayette Flying Corps.  He was a member of the French Foreign Legion, the original "Band of Brothers." To me these were incredible and caused me to dig deeper into his life.  When you work on such a book, you have to go where the research takes you.  What I discovered was that Zinn pioneered searching for missing servicemen, specifically aviators.  Up until he came along, the Graves Registration Service didn't look for the missing but if they found them, they tried to identify and inter them.  Zinn changed that.  He said, in essence, "we can look for these boys and bring them home."  No one had ever done or even suggested that before.  Of the 200 missing airmen from the Great War he recovered the remains or personal effects of 194 of them. 
Fred Zinn went on to set up the system for tracking missing airmen in WWII and served for a while in the OSS - the foundational origination for the CIA.   While he was a writer, he never wrote an autobiography.  His son told me that with his dad it was never about him, it was about the men.  So when I wrote the book I was compelled to honor that.  Between each chapter of his life story, I included a chapter on some of the missing men Fred Zinn searched for.  For WWI history buffs, this is something that will be a real treat for the readers.   
Picking the aviators to include in the book was not easy.  It meant a lot of research at the National Archives and in Zinn's files at the Air Force museum.  I selected pilots spread out across the country - from all sizes of towns.  Some were recovered by Zinn, some were not.  I tried to pick aviators that were not the "big names" in the WWI community, with one exception (Victor Chapman of the famous Lafayette Escadrille).  I wanted to bring some stories to light that most history readers had never heard before. 
The aviators covered two world wars - which expanded my horizons in terms of research, though the focus was clearly on the WWI cases.  I researched a lot of pilots, their final missions, and what happened after they died.  I got some wonderful stories by doing this, though a few never made it to print.
This book lured me into the records of the OSS at the National Archives.  I was a little humbled at first, it is a huge records group and navigating it is more of an art than a skill.  Every box I opened (and there were dozens) was filled with stories of intrigue, daring, spy work and espionage.  I am convinced I need to go back and put out more books on the OSS.  There's a lifetime's worth of stories in those records. 
My favorite chapter of the book is the last one because it goes back to almost every pilot featured and tells the story of what happened after their death.  There are some real moving stories there.  I don't see myself as a religious person, but some of these stories make you realize there are forces at work in the universe we simply don't and can't understand. 
I wish I could have covered more of the aviators but ultimately that was not possible.   As an author you have to draw a line every now and then about what goes into the book. 
My only real regret (other than never meeting Mr. Zinn) is that the only commemorative marker to Fred Zinn was stolen in the 1970's.  Battle Creek and Galesburg don’t have a statue, a park or a street named after him.  In these times where the media tries to force us to question our military actions around the world, his story is one we cannot question - how we treat our honored missing. 
So order the book and check it out for yourself.  If you are an aviation history buff, I think you'll enjoy it.  If you are a military history aficionado, you'll love it.  If you have a family member who was an aviator that never came home, this book will hopefully give you a new perspective. 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Why are there not more Great War books in the US?

For those of you who don't know me, I am the author of about 50 books and novels.  I write science fiction, military history, and business books (for the most part).  I really lead a double-life.  During my daytime hours I work for one of the Big Four accounting firms in their IT department.   It's like having a secret identity except it is no where as cool as being a super-hero. 
I am writing a blog to keep my writing skills polished, keep my creative juices flowing, and to enjoy myself a little bit. 
My first topic is one close to my heart:  Why are there not more Great War books in the US?
As a writer who has two published histories of the Great War and one coming out in a few weeks (Lost Eagles, University of Michigan Press); I have had to struggle to find the right publishers.  A number of mainstream publishers didn't weren't interested in doing books on WWI because they didn't believe there was as market for them. 
Wow.  Really?
There was over a million Americans involved in the St. Mithel offensive; despite being one of the last offenses of the war.  We didn't have a million troops involved in D-Day; so you'd think that it would have prevailed in our collective conscience. 
WWI introduced U-Boats, mines (on a large scale), Dreadnought battleships, rapid-fire artillery, flamethrowers, tanks, fighter and bomber aircraft, gas weapons, and countless other deadly innovations. 
There are several factors that drive the lack of interest (by publishers) in WWI books.  First, the Great War is overshadowed by events in WWII in the public conscience.  We still have veterans alive from WWII whereas all but a handful of WWI vets have "gone west."  There are grandfathers and great-grandfathers still able to tell their stories of combat from WWII whereas WWI is now a war that is dependent on the records and documentation left behind. 
Another factor that comes into play is that America's involvement in WWI was very late in the war and our combat operations were short-lived.  Oh sure, Americans were fighting starting in 1914; but they were volunteers in the French Foreign Legion and eventually the Lafayette Flying Corps and Lafayette Escadrille.  While iconic characters for sure, the rest of the United States didn't get involved directly with the war until April of 1917 when war was declared.  Even then we didn't have troops on the front lines and in battle until mid-1918.  With the war ending in November, America's contribution to the victory was noteworthy, but short compared to the time and losses suffered by our allies. 
Like the Korean War, the Great War is often overlooked or glossed over.  I was disappointed recently at the reopening of the Smithsonian's American History museum which had a single almost embarrassing display case on WWI.  While the artifacts were wonderful, it was sad to see it overlooked. 
But I would challenge that the Great War is making a strong comeback in terms of literature; and I hope the publishing world is taking note.  More books are coming out each year about the war and the subject matter is solid and offers new perspectives and directions.  Some of the books that have come out in the last year have really shed new light on topics and have broken the stereotype that the Great War was a boring trench war with great losses and little gains. 
The Great War laid the foundations not just for WWII but for the Cold War and the world we live in today.  The study of WWI and active research in this war helps us understand the context of policy and diplomacy now.