British historian Sir Max Hastings, whose book Catastrophe 1914, Europe Goes to War I am re-reading since I just completed another trip through Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, once made the comment: “I would be miserable if I went to bed without having written 1,000 words about something.” I am much the same way and hopefully one day I might be one tenth as good, and as successful writer as him or Tuchman.
I do most of my writing before I go to bed at night and usually set my articles to post at 6:30 in the morning. I have a hard time going to sleep without writing be it for this website or for one of the books that I am working on. I read voraciously whenever I get the chance sometimes going to a bar just to read a book while enjoying a good craft beer or Germanor Irish import. Likewise once I am done with whatever I am writing I go right back to reading, sometimes keeping whatever Papillon is sleeping with me from getting the sleep that they want. That’s what I will be doing tonight when I finish this article which you will be reading tomorrow when it posts. In a sense my writings are kind of like Schroedinger’s cat, they are written yet unwritten at the same time, but I digress…
Today while on vacation in Huntington, West Virginia, I have been doing a lot of my own reading, as well as keeping up with the latest news about the building crisis regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles and President Trump’s unrelenting bellicose tweets and statements. Likewise today I’ve walked about seven and a half miles, much of it around the campus of Marshall University and walking my dogs around the neighborhood that we are staying. As I walk I tend to take in everything I see and because of my PTSD I am still somewhat hyper vigilant which causes me to be a bit more observant about my surroundings than a lot of other people. But I also muse about things going on in the world as well as things that I am writing or plan on writing about. I did a lot of today and over the past few days. The next couple of days won’t be as free because Judy has scheduled us for some social activities, but I will still find a way to in get my reading, writing, and walking.
But going back to writing and reading I have to say that I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t do either, I think I would be in some sort of hell if I couldn’t write every night or read. Doing these things helps me keep my perspective and to more fully appreciate the events of the day. Honestly, if I had not consciously immersed myself in history from the time that I was a child, including the many days that I cut 10th grade Geometry class to read the history reference books that I couldn’t check out of the school library I wouldn’t be who I am today.
I like writing history because I become immersed in the people, the places, and the intricacies and complexity of the events. I like to incorporate the little known back stories of people help understand their actions at a given point. Likewise think that the lives of the individuals involved in the events I write about, both before, and after the event should they have lived through it, give my readers a more human connection to the events, as well as understanding of the people involved. I find that the stories of people allow readers to make those connections, maybe even inspiring in them a bit of sympathy for scoundrels or suspicion of supposed saints.
I think that the character of people, good, bad, or wherever it falls on the spectrum, and their basic humanity; their strengths, weaknesses, contradictions, and their feet of clay, matter immensely and need to be part a of the story. I hate it when I read a history where a given character’s actions during a given event are examined in detail, but who they are as a person never comes through because the authors didn’t give their readers the courtesy of introducing them as people because they included little or no biographical details to make them interesting. Instead they become one dimensional caricatures of who they were in life, which in my view does them, the story, and the reader a grave injustice. So when I write I try to find interesting parts of a person’s life that is not directly related to the event to paint the picture. Walter Lord, who wrote prolific books on some of the key events of the Twentieth Century including books about the Titanic, Pearl Harbor, Midway, Dunkirk, the desegregation of the University of Mississippi, and many more noted something that I have taken to heart, I look for something that is highly unusual, involving ordinary people caught in extraordinary situations.”
That’s one reason I like the writings of both Tuchman and Hastings, they bring life to to the events they write about, they allow your imagination to run and to want discover more about the people and the events. The late Walter Lord, who I also mentioned was also excellent at doing that, and I think that is how I would like my writings be remembered. But in order to do that I have to read and write, as Stephen King said “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” So back to Hastings’ Catastrophe 1914.