Monday, April 9, 2007

I May Not Make Much, But . . .

by Barry Basden, an IWW member

Most writers hope for fame and money, but they also need to write for their own pleasure, if only to sustain themselves while researching markets and doing the grunt work needed to pull a story or article together. We can push our pet projects, or use our talents in politics or for whatever purpose grabs us. We might even help other people while we help ourselves.

My cause is military history. I got into saving World War II stories because the sister of my wife's best friend was married to an ace fighter pilot, one of the few hundred with at least five air victories. I joined the Friends of the Aces and started going to their reunions, where I heard amazing tales of air combat and survival that have never been recorded. Some of these guys were in wheelchairs and they were starting to die off at an alarming rate. Soon their personal stories would be as lost to us as those from the Civil War or World War I.

I felt a visceral panic, and sent letters urging them all to record their stories, offering help in any way I could to preserve them. I got nice letters back from several, including Tex Hill, but no takers. With his son, Tex later published his adventures with the Flying Tigers. I like to think my urging had something to do with it, but others had been after him for years to put it all down on paper.

Next, I began doing oral histories for the Nimitz Museum in nearby Fredericksburg, Texas, which has a nice archive, but where transcripts can gather dust for years. To get the stories of veterans in front of the public, I set up a small publishing company and began actively searching for manuscripts. On an obscure internet listing of vets looking for publishers, I stumbled across Bob Rogge and his story, which contained some of the most riveting combat scenes I'd ever read. They became Fearsome Battle; With the Canadian Army in World War II Europe.

Then I taped a brief 3-hour oral history with Charlie Scheffel for the Nimitz and dutifully sent in the transcript, but I couldn't get his story out of my mind. Finally, we agreed to try to make a book of it. Almost six years later, after some great editorial help and suggestions from the IWW nonfiction list, Camroc Press published Crack! and Thump: With a Combat Infantry Officer in World War II.

I do this because I love it so. There hasn't been much money in it, but the letters I've received from old soldiers or their family members who've read Charlie's story make it very gratifying.

Charlie's happy, too. Recently he got a letter from a woman whose husband fought with the Big Red One in North Africa and Sicily at the same time Charlie was fighting with the 9th Division a few miles away. She wrote that her husband is now in failing health and asked if Charlie would please inscribe a copy " To Bob, a great soldier." She ended her letter simply: "He's my hero."

And then there's always the next book, like the diary of a mechanic with the Tuskegee Airmen, or maybe the letters of a WAC who served with Patton and Bradley in 12th Army Group Headquarters and wrote to her family from London on June 6, 1944:

"You talk about the tension over there about the invasion, what do you think we
think about it? Sometimes I get sick. Of course we aren't blind, nor deaf, and
some things we know, and sometimes I sit in conferences and get shaky. I can't
swallow the lump in my throat."

You can see I'm not really a writer at all, just a sort of manic amateur historian. I don't know markets, or if you can make any money writing this stuff, though occasionally a book like Flags of Our Fathers breaks through. But then, lightning can strike in any genre.

Anyway, take a moment, if you will, and consider what your own personal love may be. Think about using your writing skills to share some of that love with readers who may not even be aware your subject exists. You never know how many folks you might touch, or in what ways.


Barry Basden is CEO, janitor, and majority shareholder, of Camroc Press, publisher of military history. In high school, he says, he hung out with the actors and poets. But five colleges, ten years, and countless false starts later, he became a CPA and financial manager. Go figure.

Now he's back dealing with what he's always preferred: stories. He tried to explain that to his mother one day a few years ago and she stopped him in mid-sentence. "I've always known you love books," she said, "ever since you hitchhiked home from New York with no clothes and only books in your suitcase."

Moms. They know stuff.


Ruth D~ said...

Hi Barry,

It was nice to read how you became interested in recording military tales.

I'd like to know what's involved in setting up your own publishing company. How about another blog post explaining how you went about that? I'd have no idea where to start. Not that I plan to. :>)


Freelance Writer-Mother-Wife-Veteran said...

I would also like to know more about your publishing plans.

I've rolled the insane idea over in my head as well, only to come up for air and realize I was way in over my head ;)

shaye said...

Barry --

I was delighted to read your encouraging post today. Especially in recent years, I have focused this energy into political and social concerns by writing letters/essays to various organizations and politicians, expressing my opinions and raising my concerns. I used to be apathetic and assumed no one read them and probably didn't care if they did read them. I was wrong! Maybe not one letter, or ten, but if a citizen writes regularily, they do begin to notice you, to listen. I don't doubt that they'd rather not hear from me sometimes :-) -- but it is one way to participate in the process, to empower yourself and others, and establish communication with those who make decisions for all of us. I do receive answers, not always to my liking, but it's a great feeling to have focused my writing energy into something that every now and then does seem to have some positive consequence.

It's wonderful what you're doing. Wishing you continued good luck and thanks for sharing this!


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