I wrote a book.
Seriously, that’s the most amazing thing of all, to me at least. I’m a sixty year-old engineer and business owner and along the way I’ve written a lot, though none of it is anything your readers would be the least bit interested in. Not unless they wanted to know about groundwater aeration and treatment systems. Ho Hum.
But I’ve also had a life-long interest in World War Two history. Why? I’m not sure. I didn’t fight in it, and neither did my father (washed out of the army with flat feet). Perhaps it was because WW2 was one of the most significant events in human history, claimed more than fifty million lives, and changed the balance of world power. Sounds pretty heavy doesn’t it. Well, at any rate, I’ve always been interested and read everything I could about this greatest of all human conflicts.
About fifteen or twenty years ago I read Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War. And a few years later, the sequel, War and Remembrance. Now that I thought is the way to write about history. Make it real, and visceral, make it directly impact someone we care about. Make it well documented, but do it in a way that even though we know how the war turns out we can’t put down the book because we absolutely must find out what happens to Natalie.
So, the right part of my brain began to poke through and I wanted to write something. I wanted to write something about the war. But what? What could I write that hadn’t already been written by Wouk, or Leon Uris, or Alan Furst, or historians like Stephen Ambrose. Then, a funny thing happened. My daughter married a young man from Belgium and moved to Europe, setting our family on a course that has forever changed our lives.
Over time, while traveling to Europe 2-3 times a year, we became very close friends with my son-in-law’s parents. They are wonderful, caring people who are several years older than we are. They were young children during the German occupation of Belgium, young, but old enough to remember. They didn’t talk about it at first, in fact they still don’t, its over, it happened a long time ago, and they survived. End of story. But gradually, as they realized I really wanted to know, they began to tell me the stories. They told me about living in the cellar while their city was being bombed, about German snipers shooting at children in the streets, about not having anything to eat for months on end, about my son-in-law’s grandfather being dragged away from the family home by the Gestapo in 1941. . . and returning five years later when he walked home from Germany.
It inspired me. It made it real.
And I spent the next five years writing Night of Flames: A Novel of World War Two.
Since the book was published, a lot of good things have happened. It has received many excellent reviews, it received the “Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Library Association, and it has sold well, both here and in Europe. But what I find most gratifying is when someone who has read it comes up to me and says how much they loved one of the characters, like Anna, the college professor, or Jan, the cavalry officer, or Schmidt, the terrified German soldier. That makes it real. And that’s what it’s all about.
Douglas 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 Comete Line; Poland’s 1st Armored Division; and the liberation of Antwerp. Doug has just completed his second novel set in Europe at the end of WW2. You can visit his blog at www.douglaswjacobson.blogspot.com.