Fire, fury and quiet



The Furies

Carl Rahl’s Orestes Pursued by the Furies (1852). Wikimedia

This has been an extreme week when it comes to North Korea—extreme political tension, extreme possible consequences and extreme differences in communications strategy, tone and messages.

Furious rhetoric

There’s no shortage of reaction to and analysis of the continuing verbal exchange between the Trump White House and the leadership in Pyongyang. I’ll let others debate the merits of two national leaders threaten each other with nuclear annihilation. What I will say is that the rhetoric itself is extreme, and shows an extremity of intention.

On the other hand, two days ago the world learned that Hyeon Soo Lim, Pastor of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ontario, was released from prison in North Korea. Pastor Lim had been sentenced to hard labour for life for sedition—in the words of the North Korean state, for attempting to destroy North Korea through religion.

Canada sent a delegation, including the senior national security advisor, to North Korea earlier this week to negotiate the pastor’s release. Apparently, the Swedish embassy was involved, too, providing consular support to Pastor Lim over these past two years because Canada does not have an embassy in North Korea.

This came as a huge surprise to the public. Apparently, there have been communications behind the scenes among Canada, North Korea and Sweden for some time. The opposite in tone and volume from Donald Trump’s style of shouting threats of “fury, fire and power.”

How to choose your approach

Kim Jong-un does not back down to threats of nukes.

Image source: SkyNews

There are many who have supported Trump’s messaging. “It’s the language that Kim Jong-Un understands.” One author described it as “mad dog complex”: because nuclear war would destroy all sides in a conflict, each has to make the other believe they’re willing to use nukes, to make the opposition back down.

On the other hand, the Canadian and Swedish governments’ approach to communication, while not at all dramatic, was effective. They wanted to have Pastor Lim released from jail, and that’s what happened.

This is an excellent example of strategic communications in action. Whether your communications is effective always comes down to knowing your audience and knowing what you’re trying to achieve.

With the Canadians and Swedes, the audience was the North Korean government and judiciary. The goals was the release of the pastor. And it was effective.

When it comes to Trump and his communications, the strategy is completely different—if there is a strategy at all.

A guess at the strategy

I don’t have any insight into Trump’s mind or the communications team he has working for him, but I will assume that they do attempt to develop a communications strategy, with goals, hoped-for outcomes, audience analysis, key message development and so on. All the elements of a communications strategy.

So I will attempt to guess what the strategy was by looking at it from the receiving end.

Donald Trump threatens

Image source: The Independent

Threats of “fire and fury” have not worked—they’ve only escalated the rhetoric and the tension. Yet they continue.

Threats have an inherent problem: if you don’t follow through with them, you lose credibility not only with your enemy, who will no longer be afraid of you, but also with your friends. Unfortunately, following through with the threat of nuclear war, as I said, will only lead to losers, with no winners.

What is the goal, then? Before answering that, let’s look at the audience.

Trump’s audience is not Kim Jong-un. His messaging, whether spoken or tweeted, are not directed to Kim, but to other Americans. To the media, political aides, and the voters.

Trump is not trying to achieve peace—he’s bolstering the United States’ reputation as the greatest military power in the world, and his own as a strong man.

Trump’s “brinksmanship” is not a strategy to solving the North Korean problem. It’s a tactic in a long-term strategy to get re-elected, because he perceives that his supporters, his “base,” react well to his bullying and showing off.

What it will achieve in terms of international diplomacy—even international war or peace and the lives of billions—is not part of the calculations.

 

Writing tips: What is style?



Creative Commons: dbdbrobot

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing style lately. Actually, I’ve thought a lot about it for a long time — as long as I’ve been writing, which is most of my life.

I find that my response to a book or to a writer, no matter what the subject is, depends a lot on style. I like an author who is original, who does not just try to copy a best-seller or the current trend in books you can pick up at the drug store.

But there is also something else that determines how well I like a story, something about the way the writer uses language.

I’ll give you an example: Margaret Atwood is generally accepted as one of today’s greatest writers. She has written a great many books in of a range of types — I am trying to avoid using the word “style” in different ways here — and, it could be argued, in different genres. Alias Grace could be called “historical fiction,” set in 19th century Upper Canada and based loosely on real events. The Handmaid’s Tale is a set in a dystopian future and, while it doesn’t have a lot of sci-fi tropes, it won the Arthur C. Clarke award for best science fiction.

Atwood is both accomplished and unarguably a master of the writing craft, but while she writes about many different subjects, there is something about her manner of writing that puts me off a little. The only word I can use to describe it is heavy. Her writing is heavy — I don’t read it quickly or easily; on the other hand, I can’t put it down once I start, either.

One writer whose style I really admire is Mark Helprin’s, particularly in his Winter’s Tale, a fantasy set in New York City. In addition to his ability to meld fantastic elements, humour and action into a setting simultaneously believable and fantastic, Helprin also manages to be very descriptive as well as economical with prose. It’s as good an example of magical realism as any I’ve ever read.

But what is it that determines the style? Word choice? Sentence length? Description? Active voice? Those are just a few items in the writer’s toolbox. Also critical are creating realistic, believable and interesting characters, pacing, mixing action and pathos and so much more.

The accepted good

There is a tension between popularity and what is accepted as “good writing” by the publishers and the leading literary critics of any time.

For instance, today, “good” writing is usually characterized by lean prose, active voice, realistic dialogue and sparse description. Writing coaches keep advising us to avoid adverbs in favour of more precise verbs, except when it comes to describing dialogue. We should only use “said,” and not try to change that around with “exclaimed,” or “replied.”

Crime novelist Elmore Leonard came out with ’s 10 rules of writing a couple of years ago; he admitted that he was at least a little facetious at the time, but now he says he seriously believes them. Okay. And Leonard is a great writer, and changed the literary world, and sells zillions of copies, okay, okay — but is he the arbiter of the English language, now? What if something happens in a sudden way? Elmore, what is wrong with the word “suddenly”?

The exemplars of great writing are still supposed to be Fitzgerald and Hemingway. I love their work, but again — should we all try to emulate their styles?

On the other side of that tension is writing that flies in the face of those rules, yet sells millions of copies. The current target of criticism is EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey. Here’s a passage:

I watch José open the bottle of champagne. He’s tall, and in his jeans and T-shirt, he’s all shoulders and muscles, tanned skin, dark hair, and burning dark eyes.

Descriptive, yes. Also clichéd — it’s been done so many times. “Burning dark eyes”? While we can all imagine what those must look like, couldn’t the author have thought of something original?

And yet, millions of readers ate that up, burning eyes and all. Did the burning eyes cause heartburn, I wonder?

Description

Writing coaches also tell us not to use too much description. Hemingway and Fitzgerald did not describe what their protagonists looked like. Okay, but Dashiel Hammet did.

I agree that too much description can get in the way of the story. There is a lot of material for people to read, that communication of any kind must compete for an audience’s attention with so much more material than there ever was before, so we writers should always try to get as much information across as efficiently as possible — fewer words, more information. I get that.

Efficiency is the goal! (Photo: The Pug Father/Creative Commons )

But we do need to describe some things, some times. And occasionally, an adverb is the best way to do that. See?

Who says so?

Watch this space. Last week, children’s- and middle-grade author Roger Eschbacher opined about writing style. In future, other bestselling authors will weigh in on the subject. So watch this space, and leave lots of comments and questions for the guests, please. Maybe we can finally determine exactly what writing style is, after all.

How to format your book for e-publishing



I have found that a lot of independent authors feel intimidated by the process of e-publishing. In the past few posts, I showed you how to use Styles to make formatting more efficient and consistent, and how Styles also help automate other processes you’ll need to publish your book.

Your word processor has a number of other nice features to make it simple to format a book, whether for print or electronic publishing. Here are some of my favourites, based on the word processor I know best: Microsoft Word.

Elements of professional formatting

Start by getting your favourite print book off your shelf. There are some elements that you have probably taken for granted all your life, but getting them right in your own book will make the difference in making sure it looks professional.

  • Title page—a pleasingly designed page that tells you the title, author and publisher of the book, and the city or cities the publisher is located in. It may also list the series, if the book is part of one, or a subtitle.
    Sometimes, print books have a “half title” or “semi-title” page preceding the title page. This usually just includes the title, in smaller type than on the main title page. The reason for including this has to do with the fact that the number of pages in a paper book has to be divisible by four, which is also why there are sometimes blank pages at the end of a paper book.

    half-titletitlepages

    The half-title (left) and title pages

  • Copyright page—on the back of the title page, listing the copyright notice, date of publication, the warning not to copy the book, the publisher’s address, Library of Congress or Cataloguing in Publication Data information, ISBN and other information. It may also list the editor, designer and other contributors to the book.
  • Acknowledgements or dedication page.
  • Table of Contents.
  • Headers and footers—information at the top (header) or bottom (footer) of every page. Often, the left-hand header will have the author’s name, and the right-hand will have the title of the book. Non-fiction books may have the title on the left (verso page) and the chapter title on the right (recto).
  • Folios—the page numbers, on the top or bottom of the page, in the middle or on the outside corner. One way to tell that a book has been properly formatted: left-hand pages have even numbers, right-hand, odd.
    Notice that the title, copyright, dedication, acknowledgement and any blank pages at the front of the book do not have folios, headers or footers. Often, tables of contents are numbered in lower-case Roman numerals. Also notice that the first page of every chapter, part or section has no header or footer, and the page number is usually at the bottom, centred, even if the folios are on the outside top margins of other pages. This is an old convention in English-language publishing.

How to make your elements look professional

Word has a number of neat features that allow you to easily format a professional-looking book.

Page set-up

You want the first page of every chapter to look different from the rest. Word makes it obscure to set this up.

Double-click in the top margin or header area (or the footer) of any page. The ribbon changes. Select Different First Page and Different Odd & Even Pages. This allows you to put the folio in a different place on the first page of every chapter or section, and also to put them in the opposite, outer corners (when it comes to print books).

The Page Setup menu, where you set the size. Don't forget to click the menu beside Apply to: to make sure the whole document has the same size of pages.

The Page Setup menu, where you set the size. Don’t forget to click the menu beside Apply to: to make sure the whole document has the same size of pages.

If you’re going to publish only as an e-book, don’t worry about margins or page sizes. But if you are creating a paper book, you have to know what the page dimensions are. Amazon’s CreateSpace service offers pages of 5 inches by 8 inches, 5.25 by 8, 6 by 9 and others. Choose one, and set up your pages. Click on the Page Layout tab in the menu, opening that ribbon, and click on the triangle under Size to see the options available. If the size you’ve chosen isn’t in the list, click More Paper Sizes and enter the Width and Height. Make sure you apply it to the Whole Document using the drop-down at the bottom left. Click OK.

Adjust the margins, now. Click the Margins button, and set them for smaller—probably half an inch, or maybe a little more. Don’t set them too narrow.

The Gutter measurement adds space where the pages come together at the spine. Have you ever noticed that your paperback pages curve there? Add a little more space to keep text out of the curved part, which is harder to read.

Make sure you Apply to Whole document again.

Design your title page, or get a qualified graphic designer to do it for you: a large, attractive font for your title, smaller for the sub-title or series, large but distinct for your name as the author. At the end of the text, as long as there is room, insert one more blank line (Enter or Return key), then click on the Page Layout tab in the word processor and click on the Breaks menu. Select Next Page.

Decide whether you want to have a half-title page or not. If you do, hit Enter for a blank line, then choose a page break. Then repeat the above process to create a new page for your main title.

Enter another page break. On this page, you’ll put all your copyright information. Insert another page break for your dedication and acknowledgement pages, and any other “front matter” you may have.

To find the breaks menu, click the Page Layout tab in the ribbon at the top of the Word window.

To find the breaks menu, click the Page Layout tab in the ribbon at the top of the Word window.

Do you want to have a table of contents? Go to the Page Layout tab. Under Section Breaks, select Next Page. This makes the next page the First Page of a new section, which means its page numbering, header and footer characteristics will be different from following pages.

Because the First Page of each new Section (in Word) is distinct, you can have no page number on the first page (the ancient standard), or place it in a different place compared to other pages. So, for example, if you put the page numbers in the bottom outside corners as described above, for the first page of each new chapter, you could put the page number in the middle of the footer (bottom margin).

linktoprevious

It can be tricky and confusing to get to this menu. The easiest way is to double-click in the header or footer area of the page. If that doesn’t work, do it again.

Double-click in the footer. The Ribbon will change. From the centre of the ribbon, unclick Link to Previous, so that what you do to this section does not affect the title page.

The Page Number button is third from the left. Choose Bottom of Page, then one of the centred options. The page number will appear there. If you want to use Roman numerals for the front matter, right-click on the number and select Number format.

Scroll down so that you can see the next page. You’ll notice labels called Odd Page Header -Section 2- and Odd Page Footer -Section2-. You can put your author name on the Odd/right pages and the book title on the Even/left pages, or whatever you want. Since you’re creating each chapter as a separate section, you can also put the title of each chapter in the header or the footer, as you see fit.

That’s enough for this post. If you have any questions, leave them in the Comments section.

Happy writing!

#Writing tip: Take your Styles to the next level



don-draperIn the last two posts, I explained how you can use your word processing application’s Styles feature to help make formatting your document more efficient, consistent and professional looking. But the Styles feature can do more than just apply several formatting choices to your text with one click. Today, I’ll explain how you can use Styles while writing to make it even more efficient.

Following Style

Microsoft Word allows you to specify the style for the following paragraph. Unfortunately, this only works when you specify the Style first, then type it and hit Enter/Return. It doesn’t change the Style of something that’s already in the file.

When you design your sub-heading, for example, you could specify the following paragraph to be your First paragraph. The following style for your First paragraph should be Body text.

Shortcut keys

Specify a shortcut key for each style, so that you don’t have to move the mouse to select your Styles from the menu. I use Opt-b or Alt-b for Body text, -F for First paragraph, -a, -b etc for chapter headings and sub-headings, and so on.

You can save all these styles in a template in Word. While this seems unlikely, you can start writing your book in this template. You could write the title of your first chapter, and before hitting Enter or Return, hit Alt-a to set it in your Chapter head style. When you do hit Enter, the next paragraph will already be set up as First paragraph style. Write that, and then the next paragraph will automagically be in your Body text style.

However, most likely you will write your book before you decide on the graphic design and format. Still, with these Styles set up and with shortcut keys, you can quickly go through the file. Because Styles in most word processing applications apply to paragraphs, you don’t have to select the whole paragraph. Just place the cursor anywhere in the line, hit the shortcut key, and voila!

On the other hand, you can select a series of paragraphs and set them all in Body text with one keystroke. (Okay, an option-keystroke).

Beau Brummel by Wikimedia Commons

The Styles you’ll need

When you write a long document, such as a proposal, a report or a book, you’ll need at least these styles:

  • Body text – the basic text for most of the document. This should be an easily readable font. See the earlier post about the type characteristics you have to decide on, but also, set up the Paragraph characteristics. Decide whether you want to double-space paragraphs (good for reports and other corporate documents) or to indent the first line of every paragraph (standard for fiction and non-fiction books). Never do both.
    Tip: Add some extra space between each line. This is the word processor’s equivalent of what typesetters called leading (pronounced “ledding.”) This will make your text easier and more inviting to read.
  • First paragraph – the first paragraph in each chapter, as well as after each heading or subheading, or after each sub-chapter break. If your body text has an indented first line for each paragraph, the first paragraph should not be indented.
  • Chapter heading or title

    chaptertitlestyle

    The window for setting up spacing for your Styles.

    Tip: Put more space above every heading and subheading than below it. Use the Spacing, Before setting. For example, for my books, I like to have the first paragraph of each chapter start about half-way down the page. For a 5 x 8-inch page, that means three and a half inches, or 252 typesetter’s points, below the top margin. In that space, I put the chapter title and subtitle, which in my case are 24 points and 14 points, respectively. After the main title I put 10 points of space, and after the subtitle, 12 points (one pica), equivalent to one line of body text. That’s a total of 60 points. That leaves 192 points of space, so in the Chapter title Style window, I can set 192 points of spacing before the heading.

  • Chapter sub-heading or section heading—not always necessary for fiction, but non-fiction such as reports, proposals and textbooks benefit from multiple subheading levels as signposts for your organization. However, you rarely need more than three levels of subheadings.
  • Visual headers—These display  the titles of your tables, graphs and pictures, if any.
  • Captions—the explanatory text below tables, graphs and pictures. It should be smaller than your body text, and ideally in a different typeface, as well.
  • Tables—If your document has a lot of tables or graphs, you will need a text style for labels, column and row headings and so on. This is where you’ll benefit most from the way that Styles enforce consistency.
  • Header—the text in the top margin of each page
  • Footer—the text in the bottom margin of each page
    Tip 1: Header and footer Styles should be smaller than your body text. You can also use a distinct typeface; for example, if your body text is Times or another serif font, use a sans-serif like Helvetica or Avant Garde for your headers and footers. If it’s a good deal smaller than the body text, you could also use boldface. However, I don’t recommend italics for a page header or footer. They’re usually too hard to read at small sizes on a screen.
    Tip 2: Word has a large number of pre-set styles for headers and footers that include folios (page numbers). These are useful for corporate documents. Choose a simple one. You don’t want to distract your readers from the body text.
    For fiction, stay with very simple folios. A number will do.

Explore

There is a lot more to Styles. Explore the options and tell me if you discover other useful tips.

Writing tip: The cascading benefits of Styles



Wikimedia Commons

Last week, I wrote about the benefits of using Styles in your word processing program to make your writing more consistent, efficient and professional. This week, I explain some of the resulting efficiencies that come from understanding how to use Styles.

I am using Microsoft Word as the example, but the same concepts apply to most word processing applications.

Table of contents

Once you have set up styles for your chapter and section headings, you can use them to generate a table of contents. In Word, choose the REFERENCES ribbon, click on the arrow beside Table of Contents (first button from the left) and select Custom Table of Contents. In there, you can build your ToC from the styles you created.tocmenu

Another way to do it is to customize the pre-made heading styles built into the program, and then you can select the automatic ToC. Either way, you can choose to have multiple levels of headings and subheadings in your ToC. For fiction, you probably only need chapters, although if you have Parts, as well, you’ll need to add them and their styles to your Styles menu. In the main window, select 1 Level.

For non-fiction, where you have several levels of sub-headings, choose the number of levels you want to appear in the ToC. Usually two is enough.

Also choose the “tab leader”—whether you want dots, dashes or nothing at all between the heading and the page number in the table.

When you have selected what you want to appear in the table of contents, click OK.  The program then creates the Table of Contents, with the page numbers correctly listed.

If you change something, like add a new chapter in the middle or extend one of the them so that the new content pushes the following content onto further pages, all you have to do is click on Update Table in the ribbon, and the program corrects the page numbers.

Cascading effects

There are even more benefits to this. When you want to publish your book through Amazon or any other e-book service, the programs recognize styles. They may transform the typeface selections from, say, Times to Times New Roman, or Futura to Avenir, but at least the selections will be consistent.

This also works for blogging platforms like WordPress and Blogger. If you use Styles, such as Normal and Heading 2, WordPress recognizes this and replicates it in your blog post. Again, WordPress will change the type font, but will preserve the fact that it’s a Heading 2, and assign it size, weight and position according to its own system.

Use Styles throughout

Now that you’ve seen how Styles make your writing and publishing faster and more professional, use them throughout your work. I set up a Body Text and a First Paragraph styles, and modify the style for headers and footers to my preference.

The same idea applies to pages and sections. In a future post, I’ll explain how to start new chapters with their own styles for the first page. In the meantime, try out these techniques.

If you have any questions, put them in the Comments.

Happy writing!

 

Best post-writing tip: Use Styles



Want to publish your writing more efficiently? Make sure you use the Styles function built into your word processor when you write your manuscript.

oswald_achenbach_von_ludwig_des_coudres_001

Wikipedia

I have just finished editing or proofreading two manuscripts by fellow authors in Independent Authors International. And while both are excellent novels, both were just typed in, with all formatting applied individually to each chapter title.

This is inefficient. I took the time to apply Styles from the word processing program. This has three main effects:

  • automating the production of a table of contents, required by some e-book publishing platforms
  • ensuring chapter titles, sub-headings and body text remain consistent
  • making it faster to make changes and convert your word processing file into e-book format.

It’s easy to do, and there are lots of extra functions that make the whole process even easier, and it really pays off in the re-writing, editing and publishing processes. Here’s are my favourite post-writing tips.

Styles in your word processing program

Microsoft Word is the word processing program I know best, so I’ll use it as an example. It’s also the most popular, and most other programs work in analogous ways.

For example, let’s say you want the title of each chapter to be in big, bold letters, centred on the page. Most people write the words, then format them with

  • typeface
  • size
  • case — upper/capital letters or lower-case
  • weight — bold or lightface
  • style — italic or roman, strikethrough, etc.
  • alignment — justified; flush left, ragged right; flush right, ragged left; or centred
  • colour

You can save all these characteristics in a Style in Word. Then all you have to do is select your subheading, for example, and then click on the Style in the menu. One click to set all those characteristics. Faster, easier and consistent.

There’s more you can save in a Style, though.

  • indent — for example, whether you want the first line of each paragraph to be indented
  • line-spacing — you can control how much space should appear above and below each paragraph, or chapter title, or heading or subheading
  • borders—whether you want a box or a border around the paragraph
  • Shortcut Key — you can even set up a Ctrl- or Alt-character for a swift shortcut to invoke your style without taking your fingers from the keyboard.

For example, I like to have each chapter start on its own page, with the first line of text about half-way down. So that means I want about 8 lines of space above the title, which in my case is 24-point Futura Medium, flush left.

Instead of hitting the Return key eight times before typing the chapter title, I set up a style I called “ChapterHead.” I wrote the first chapter title, defined it with the cursor and set it for 24-point Futura Medium, flush left.

stylesribbonIn Word, I selected the heading, then selected the New Style button from the Styles pane. (Click the tiny arrow that points down and to the right in the lower-right corner of the Styles section of the Home ribbon to open the pane. The button I mentioned is the bottom-left icon of that.)

That opens up a window called Create New Style from Formatting. This will show the type characteristics of the selected text: 24-point Futura Medium, Bold, flush left with single-line spacing.

stylesmenuNote the Format button with the little arrow in the bottom left corner of that menu. Clicking that allows you to choose different controls, including Numbering and Paragraph.

Paragraph is the next one to choose. Here, you can decide how much spacing you want between lines. It gives you choices like 1.5 and double spacing, but you can pretty much choose as much as you like, like 1.1 or 1.2 lines. That opens up the spacing between lines in a paragraph — what typographers at one time called “leading” (pronounced “ledding”). I like to set my display text, like headings, at single, and my body text at 1.1 or 1.2 because it improves readability.

So, to get my chapter title to begin half-way down a new page, under Spacing (third section of the menu), I set Before to 96 points. With 12-point line spacing/leading (1.1 spacing for 11 point type), that’s eight lines. On a 5 x 8-inch page, that’s about right. You can play with it until it looks the way you like.

After is 0, but in my case, I like to have a subheading, like this:

firstpage

I called the Subheading “Subhead,” and set it to be 14 point Futura Medium, bold, flush left with no space above, and 12 points or 1 line below.

And you may have noticed that the first line of the first paragraph of that chapter is not indented, but the next one is. That’s deliberate, but the subject of another blog post. (By the way, if you prefer to double-space between paragraphs, all you have to do is edit the style so that there is 6 or 12 points of space after the paragraph.)

Then, at the end of every chapter, I insert a New Section break. That forces the program to create a new blank page, and when I type the chapter title and set it for ChapterHead style, I get exactly that white space above it that I wanted. Easy-peasy.

In a future post, I’ll write about how to use Sections to help get exactly the format you want in your book.

Efficiency

The problem with doing all of this to each individual chapter heading, sub-heading, first paragraph and so on is that it’s time-consuming and, worse, invites errors. You could easily forget to add the right amount of space above or below the heading or to not indent the first line of text, or to indent every following paragraph.

Another advantage is that, if you want to change the typeface for your chapter title or subtitle, or the amount of indent for each paragraph of text, or any other characteristic, all you have to do is go to the Styles pane (or the ribbon), right-click on the style in question, select Modify, make the change, and the program will apply it automatically to every instance in your document, no matter how long.

There are lots of cascading benefits of using Styles intelligently. I’ll write about them in the next blog post.

Till then, happy writing!

Secrets in an old wallet



mauriceI have been stuck for quite a long time in the writing of the third installment of the trilogy based on my father-in-law’s life, Walking Out of War.

Until I pulled a little slip of paper out of a tattered, old wallet and broke the logjam by putting the subject of my story, Maurice Bury, into a real time and place.

Writing this trilogy that began with has taken a lot of research. I don’t want to begin estimating the number of hours, but literally, the effort has spanned more than
10 years.

It began with Maurice’s stories about the war. Then, we sat down to serious interviews, where I took extensive notes.

His wartime experience fell into three phases, the first two of which I have already published in Army of Worn Soles and Under the Nazi Heel.

ArmyofWornSoles-smaller

The third part, Walking Out of War, covers Maurice’s experience as a private in the Red Army from 1944 to 1945. And while I still had those interview notes, Maurice passed away 12 years ago, so I cannot ask him about questions that come up only when you try to write a story like this.

So I had to turn to historical records. Thank you, Wikipedia and Professor Orest Subtelny.

Bringing the story to life

Anyone who has tried to tell an accurate story about the Second World War can tell you how confusing it can be, with many different forces acting in several
different theatres of war at the same time.

I used a range of sources, including some of Maurice’s personal effects. They included a tattered, battered old wallet containing some fascinating documents:

  • alliedtravelpass-tovienna-inside Allied Expeditionary Force D.P. Index cards, signed by Maurice in Cyrillic script
  • a notarized affidavit from Maurice’s aunt in Montreal, mentioning Maurice as a Canadian citizen living in a United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration Displaced Persons camp in Landeck, Austria
  • Allied Travel permits authorizing Maurice to go from Landeck to Vienna in early 1947.

These and other documents supported Maurice’s story and my notes about going from Berlin to Ingolstadt, Bavaria, and then Landeck, Innsbruck and finally Vienna before coming home to Canada.

But I was still having trouble getting Maurice’s journey clear in my own mind.

 

The final clue

tdbnletterMonths later, I saw a thin pocket in the old wallet that I had never noticed before. From it, I pulled out a thin slip of yellowed paper. Typed with an uneven manual
typewriter was the following:

 

Recen. Co. 692 T.D.Bn.

July 7, 1945.

To whom it may concerns:

 

     The following two men, Maurice Bury, and Tkacz

Bazyli , have been working for us as K. P.s for the last

xxxxx month, and we have found there  work to be very

satisfactory.

We recommend them very highly.

signed,

John Gardner

1st Lt. W.A.

commanding

 

I was very excited. I showed it to a retired Canadian Armed Forces general, who explained some of the abbreviations at the top. “T.D.Bn” stands for “tank destroyer battalion.” And the reference to “K.P.” indicated an American unit.

Maurice had told me that, following the war, he had worked for the American Army, first helping out in the kitchen and then as a translator—he spoke English, German and Russian as well as Ukrainian.

A Google search for the 692nd Tank Destroyer Battalion told me that it indeed had been formed in 1942, arriving in France in September 1944. It was attached to the 104th Infantry Division, and then to the First Canadian Army, which it supported in its attack on Antwerp, Belgium and the crossing of the Maas River.  The 692nd repelled the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge, and in February 1945 its accurate artillery fire preserved the Regamen Bridge over the Rhine, allowing the Canadian troops to cross, saving lives. It was also the only unit called upon to break the Siegfried line more than once.

This was the unit that liberated the Dachau concentration camp.

At the end of the war, the 692nd took on occupation duties in an area around the Bavarian-Austrian border.

At last, I had corroborating evidence putting Maurice Bury in southern Germany on a specific date shortly after the end of the war: July 7, 1945. It gave me two other names, as well: Lt. John Gardner, commanding officer of the 692nd on that day; and “Tkacz Bazyli.”

That’s just one of the mistakes in the letter. You’ll notice the other typos, too. “Tkacz” is a Ukrainian surname, and Maurice was friends with a man named Basil Tkacz in Montreal.

Why is this important?

This little slip of paper helped me put the end of Maurice journey out of the war into order.

This little slip of paper makes an anchor. He was in southern Germany, or maybe norther Austria, on July 7, 1945.

It gave me a timeline.

And that has allowed me to finish writing the story.

I know that I promised to release Walking Out of War before the end of 2016, and I’m sad to say that I won’t be able to do that.

I have written the draft and completed the re-write, adding all the little details. But now the manuscript has to go to an editor, a proofreader and some beta readers. It will also need a cover design before I format it and publish it as an e-book and a print book.

But know that it is imminent. All the pieces are in place, anchored with historical detail. So don’t despair, readers. The final installment of the trilogy will be in your hands soon.