Tag Archives: Douglas W. Jacobson

Guest Blogger Doug Jacobson: Getting it Right…Doing Research for Historical Novels

Night of Flames

Night of Flames

Getting it Right . . . Doing Research for Historical Novels

As the old saying goes, “The devil is in the detail.” One of the reasons I have always loved historical fiction is that it is a truly marvelous way to learn a bit of history. Some authors of non-fiction (Stephen Ambrose comes to mind) have a flair and style of writing that make their work enjoyable and easy to read. But, in my humble opinion, there’s nothing quite like curling up with Herman Wouk’s War and Remembrance or Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth for the ultimate reading experience . . . and, a great way to learn history.

And that brings us to the issue at hand. Writing good historical fiction places a special burden on the author, the burden of getting it right. And getting it right doesn’t stop with the big stuff, the dates and locations, the battles and who won the war. It gets right down to the detail. For example, what would a serf in the thirteenth century be likely to eat for breakfast? What type of profanity would a soldier likely have used during the Napoleonic wars? Did the troopers of the Polish cavalry carry lances during World War Two?

It’s the detail that immerses the reader in the time and place of your story. It’s the scent of the kerosene lanterns and the smell of the boiling cabbage, the sticky mud of the footpaths and creaking of the yardarms that give a story its life and vitality. It’s what makes it real. But, making it real, of course, means doing the research.

When I set out to write Night of Flames I had been studying and reading about World War Two for most of my adult life. I knew a lot, but not nearly enough. For instance, I wanted to write about the Polish cavalry because the notion of horse-drawn armies in WW2 has been largely ignored even though almost all the armies in the first few years of the war—including those of Germany and Russia—relied heavily of horses for transportation. But how was a Polish cavalry brigade organized? What type of weapons did they carry? What did their uniforms look like? How far could they travel in a day? Where did they find food for the horses and who re-shod them when necessary? Did they really charge tanks?

Let’s stick with this issue for a moment to pursue the ways and means of research. You can learn a lot on the internet these days and, indeed, I found numerous websites filled with detail about WW2 era cavalry. I also found a marvelous book entitled, The Cavalry of World War Two, chock full of information about specific cavalry regiments from Poland, France, Germany and Russia, their organization and leadership, the types of horses and weapons, battles and anecdotal accounts. But the most fascinating of all was my experience at The Battle of the Bzura Museum in Kutno, Poland, which I visited during one of my trips to Poland. It was a treasure of maps, artifacts, displays of uniforms and weapons, canteens and knapsacks. And, even more fascinating, was an encounter the next day with an elderly gentleman in Walewice, Poland who happened to be sitting on the front porch of his home while we were wandering around the town square looking for some type of commemorative plaque. Through the translation offered by my friend and Polish history scholar, Slawomir Debski, the elderly gentleman confirmed that the Wielkopolska Cavalry Brigade did, indeed, cross the Bzura River and confront a German infantry battalion in that town on 14 September, 1939. He knew . . . because he was there. And that’s the best kind of research.

Douglas JacobsonDouglas W. Jacobson is an engineer, business owner and World War Two history enthusiast. Doug has traveled extensively in Europe researching stories of the courage of common people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. His debut novel, Night of Flames: A Novel of World War Two was published in 2007 by McBooks Press, and was released in paperback in 2008. Night of Flames won the “2007 Outstanding Achievement Award” from the Wisconsin Library association. Doug has also published articles on Belgium’s WW2 escape organization, the Comet Line and other European resistance organizations. Doug is finishing up his second historical novel set in Europe during WW2, focusing on one of history’s most notorious war crimes. Doug can be visited on-line at http://douglaswjacobson.blogspot.com and at www.facebook.com/people/Douglas-W-Jacobson/1041418038

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Interview with Douglas W. Jacobson, author of historical fiction Night of Flames

Douglas JacobsonDouglas W. Jacobson is an engineer, business owner and World War Two history enthusiast. Doug has traveled extensively in Europe researching stories of the courage of common people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. His debut novel, Night of Flames: A Novel of World War Two was published in 2007 by McBooks Press, and was released in paperback in 2008. Night of Flames won the “2007 Outstanding Achievement Award” from the Wisconsin Library association. Doug has also published articles on Belgium’s WW2 escape organization, the Comet Line and other European resistance organizations. Doug is finishing up his second historical novel set in Europe during WW2, focusing on one of history’s most notorious war crimes. Doug can be visited on-line at http://douglaswjacobson.blogspot.com and at www.facebook.com/people/Douglas-W-Jacobson/1041418038

Night of FlamesQ: Thank you for this interview, Doug. Can you tell us what your latest book, Night of Flames: A Novel of World War Two, is all about?

Night of Flames is a story of the courage and determination displayed by ordinary people in the face of unimaginable danger. The main characters, Anna, a university professor in Krakow, Poland and her husband, Jan, a cavalry officer, become separated on the first day of the war. Through the long night of Nazi occupation Anna and Jan search for each other while fighting a covert war of sabotage and resistance against the overwhelming might of the German war machine. The struggle seems hopeless, but they are determined to take back what is theirs. I wrote this story to honor the courage of the common people caught up in humanity’s darkest hour.

Q: Is this your first novel?  If not, how has writing this novel different from writing your first?

This is my first novel.

Q: How difficult was it writing your book?  Did you ever experience writer’s block and, if so, what did you do?

Well, I still have the very first draft I wrote and when I go back to read it I shudder. I was very fortunate at that point to hook up with Redbird Writers Studio in Milwaukee where I got a lot of help polishing the story so someone might actually want to read it. I get writers block all the time, and when I do, I start editing and rewriting the last chapter I wrote and that usually gets me back in the groove.

Q: How have your fans embraced your latest novel?  Do you have any funny or unusual experiences to share?

People have been very supportive and tell me all the time how much they enjoyed the book. The best (and most unusual) experience I’ve had was actually getting to meet some of the veteran covert agents of the Comet Line, the WW2 escape organization I wrote about. They are Belgian ladies now in their mid 80’s and they were delighted that an American author wrote about their very heroic efforts rescuing Allied aviators. We met in Brussels and had a wonderful time sharing stories.

Q: What is your daily writing routine?

It varies a lot, depending on where I am at the moment. My favorite time to write is early AM but that usually only happens on weekends or when I can get away from my business for awhile. Usually I can block out 2-3 hours in the afternoon a few time a week as well.

Q: When you put the pen or mouse down, what do you do to relax?

A: Normally that’s about 5 PM and my wife, Janie, and I relax with a glass of wine and talk about our day.

Q: What book changed your life?

The books that set me on the path of WW2 history were Herman Wouk’s classics, Winds of War and War and Remembrance. These books really demonstrated to me the power of well-crafted historical fiction as a genre for the important stories in history. Along those same lines I would also put Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth.

Q: If someone were to write a book on your life, what would the title be?

He did it his way.

Q: Finish this sentence: “The one thing that I wish people would understand about me is…”

I firmly believe that you can be whatever you want be if you set goals and have the patience and perseverance to stick to it.

Thank you for this interview Doug.  I wish you much success on your latest release, Night of Flames!

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Books! Books! Books!

Well it’s that time of year again – summer is in full swing!  It’s buzzing here on the island – boats, jet skis, people riding bikes, you name it, are all whizzing by my front door.  It’s crazy, I’m telling you, and in a couple of weeks, I’ll be vacationing in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina…just can’t get away from the ocean, lol.

But I love it.  We had a disastrous trip to the Smokies last month what with the rental breaking down and the cabin being haunted – creepy stuff, so hopefully this one will be filled with nothing to do but relaxing stuff.

I do want to mention I’ve gotten in lots of wonderful books lately, so because I’ve had my nose in tours for weeks on end, I thought I’d take the time now to let you know what goodies arrived at my doorstep.

Oh where do I begin…not necessarily in the order of preference they are:

Too Many Visitors 2Too Many Visitors for One Little House by Susan Chodakiewitz.  I will be giving it a review on the 31st, but it is sooooo cute.  Beautiful cover and inside, the illustrations are masterfully done.  It’s a beautiful little picture book.  Susan is in fact one of our clients on virtual book tour this month and what a joy she has been to work with.

Gracious Living on Social Security by Valerie Kent.  Cheryl Malandrinos is in charge of her tour but I asked if I could have a review copy so I could review it here.  Cute cover with an old lady and old man dancing and in the prime of their life so that gives me the impression this book is going to help me when I’m at that ripe old age which isn’t that far off!  I haven’t even attempted to read this yet and I think I better check to see when I have to review it for the tour, but it shouldn’t take too long.  It’s roughly 130 pages so I should be able to do that in a couple of sittings but I do have to mention the illustrations inside are really, really cute.

Coming for MoneyComing for Money by F.W. Vom Scheidt.  Another one of Pump Up’s clients and another book I’m really looking forward to reading.  The book is labeled a literary fiction and I can now see why…this guy knows how to write!  I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to review it before his tour ends in August, but the review will be forthcoming!

Summer HouseSummer House by Nancy Thayer.  Yep, another client.  Look, this woman I have admired for years ever since I bought her book The Hot Flash Club.  And omg, I have started reading this….no wonder she’s a NY Times Bestselling author!  I’m taking this book with me to South Carolina and hopefully while I’m sitting on the beach, I can finish it.

Writing as a Sacred PathWriting as a Sacred Path by Jill Jepson.  Another client…Jill will be touring in August and let me tell you this is a wonderful lady.  Her book is EXCELLENT.  I’ve only read a few pages just out of curiosity but I’m hoping to have her a nice review before the end of her tour.  Another book I’m taking with me to Myrtle Beach.

Angel LaneAngel Lane by Sheila Roberts.  Sheila is an old bud of mine and I was so excited she was coming back to Pump Up in October.  Love this woman!  But look, this book is so up my alley it’s not even funny.  The main character moves to a scenic lakeside community and they all decide to do one good deed a day, or at least that’s what I’m getting from it.  It is from this  good deed doing, she falls in love.  I haven’t even started into this book, but I think it’ll be another one I’ll take to the Carolinas.

Affordable Paradise by H. Skip Thomsen.  Even though he spells his name quite different from the way I do, he can’t be half bad with the same last name as me!  Skip emailed me a few months ago about a tour which we’re getting ready to set up, but he wanted to send me his book so I could see just what it was all about.  Okay, who wants to move to Hawaii?  Me!  Me!  I wish I had the guts to move all the way across country but it sure is tempting.  The thing is, we all think it’s expensive to live in Hawaii, right?  Well Skip says he has found ways to live in Hawaii and not have to spend your life savings doing it.  Really looking forward to reading this book!

Distant ThunderDistant Thunder by Jimmy Root, Jr.  Jimmy (doesn’t it feel weird calling a pastor by their first name?), but Jimmy is so down to earth and not only that, this book is excellent. I’ve only skimmed it so I’ll let you know more later when I review it but whew this guy can write.  Jimmy is touring with us in August and September so you’ll be hearing a lot about him over the course of his tour.

Night of FlamesNight of Flames by Douglas W. Jacobson.  Who doesn’t love books about WWII?  I was frothing at the mouth to get this one.  Douglas will be touring in September and October I believe, but omg, this looks like a great read.

American LionAmerican  Lion by Jon Meacham.  Talk. About. A. Huge. Book.  This book is almost 500 pages but I LOVE biographies and supposedly you’ll be hearing about all kinds of things Andrew Jackson did in the White House that you never knew about.  Jon, btw, is editor of Newsweek and get this…American Lion was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize.  So you know I have to read this one.  He’s also been touring with us this week, so check out some of this reviews, guest posts and reviews…excellent writer and what a fantastic historian.

The Spies of WarsawThe Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst.  Another Pump Up client touring this month.  And another book that was based on history – WWII.  It’s gotten excellent reviews.  The L.A. Times says, “…one does not so much read them as fall under their spell,” when talking about Furst’s books.  I cannot wait to read this one either!

Homer's OdysseyHomer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper.  Another one of Cheryl Malandrinos clients at Pump Up and I just had to email her to see if I could review Gwen’s book.  What’s not to like about a cat story, you know?  But it’s no ordinary cat.  Homer is blind and supposedly he teaches a woman how to love, so there’s going to be a love story in there, too…sounds terrific!

Well that wraps it up.  Too many books, so little time, but my suitcase is going to be really heavy come the first of August!

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