Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Fine Line

As a historian/author, I have to walk a fine line in my writing about a subject.  When it comes to my books on the Great War, I have to present not just the good about the men I write about, but their weaknesses as well.  Such is the case with my latest book on Bert Hall which I’m hip-deep on writing. 

Historians should be relatively fair and balanced.  It isn’t easy with a character like Bert Hall.  But I am finding out some truths that were a bit surprising as I dig through the thousands of pages of research material.

When I was writing Terror of the Autumn Skies about Frank Luke Jr., I was tempted to expand on what I was thinking about Frank’s relationship with Marie Rapson and the possibility that they may have had a child.  I could never find the proverbial smoking gun, simply facts that, if taken in the right context, pointed to this birth happening. Proving it and thinking its right are two different things.  So I presented the facts in the book and allow the reader to form their own opinion.  It was the right thing to do and I stand by my decision. 

In Cruise of the Sea Eagle where I wrote about Count Felix von Luckner I did the same sort of thing about his alleged ties to the early Nazi movements.  There’s facts, then there are speculations.  As a historian, I had to straddle that line carefully.  I had to present the known facts and from there, readers need to draw their own conclusions. 

I’m having the same sort ‘fun’ with my Bert Hall book project. 

One thing I intend to probe is Bert Hall’s reputation.  Many of the ‘sources’ of the stories about bawdy Bert can be tied to one man – Paul Rockwell.  This presents something that every character needs, an antagonist.  Paul certainly filled that role for Bert.  It is clear that Paul Rockwell had a hatred of Bert Hall that began with his brother’s death in 1916.  He fed information (true or false?) to historians for years, working hard to minimize or even exclude Bert Hall from the Lafayette Escadrille’s history.  This was validated when I spent time at Washington and Lee University in their collection of Paul Rockwell’s correspondence and materials.  So while I will present the perspective of Bert that most people are familiar with – the brothel hopping, card cheating, scoundrel…I will also present how that image got formed and what was behind it. 

In the research for this book I have also come across some tid-bits of information that present Bert in a less-than-lovable light.  Those will go into the book as well. 

In the end I want readers to form their own opinions.  My job is to present the facts.  All I can say is if you think you know Bert Hall, I intend to give you some new details about his fascinating life and career that will force you to rethink your view on the man.  If nothing else, it is entertaining.  I’d write more, but Chapter Seven is calling me...


  1. I have "Terror in the Autumn Skies" and am looking forward to your book on Hall. Kudos to you for making the effort to look at the story from another angle.

  2. I hope I don't disappoint you or any other WWI fans. There's always someone out there that will cringe at what I write - the expert or self-proclaimed expert. That's what makes history so interesting - we're all constantly learning.