‘Pen & Sword’

I’m pleased to announce that Algora Publishing has agreed to publish my second book, Pen & Sword: Five Novelists As Soldiers.

Algora (“Nonfiction for the Nonplussed”) is a serious-minded NYC publishing house, as is immediately evident when viewing its Web site. I’m very grateful to Martin DeMers for this opportunity to continue my writing career at a challenging level. I look forward to presenting this little-known intersection of military history and literary biography in Algora’s catalog.

Literature of the sea and nautical writers like Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad and Jack London always entranced me. However, as I’ve grown older and increasingly begun thinking of myself not so much as an ex-sailor but as a veteran, I’ve become interested in famed authors who served in the military, in whatever branch, for whatever country.

I’ve drawn a distinction between writers who went to war as, say, ambulance drivers (e.g. Ernest Hemingway, E. E. Cummings, John Dos Passos), journalists (e.g. Stephen Crane), or nurses (e.g. Walt Whitman) versus bona fide military men: in other words, REAL soldiers who — it just so happened — were great writers. This (admittedly subjective) list has undergone several phases as I’ve continued to think about the subject.

An outgrowth of articles published in Military History magazine and elsewhere, this book is about six famed novelists:

  • Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), who lost the use of his left arm as a Spanish soldier fighting the Turks in the famed Battle of Lepanto. Afterward, while returning to Spain he was captured by North African pirates and held captive in Algiers for five years. Both episodes appear in his famed Don Quixote, which he wrote years later.
  • Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), who served four years as a gunnery officer in the Russian Army and saw fighting both against Muslim insurgents in Chechnya and in the Crimean War, including the Battle of Sevastopol. This was why he able to imagine Napoleon’s invasion of Russia so convincingly in War and Peace.
  • Raymond Chandler (1888-1959), who enlisted with the Canadian Army during WWI and was seriously concussed by German shelling, echoes of which can be found not only in his hard-boiled detective novels featuring Philip Marlowe, but in the Hollywood screenplays he wrote, including The Blue Dahlia and Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.
  • George Orwell (1903-50), who (along with many Americans) fought against Franco’s Fascists during the Spanish Civil War and caught a bullet in the throat before fleeing back into France one step ahead of Stalin’s death squads. Most people who’ve read Animal Farm don’t know that this, not the Russian Bolshevik Revolution, is the real historical backdrop to that novel.
  • Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007), who was a POW for a year and half after being captured in WWII’s Battle of the Bulge, during which time he barely survived the firebombing of Dresden, which is mentioned in several of his novels, especially Slaughterhouse-Five.

With this book, I’m moving back into more familiar territory with respect to my own professional background and education. This isn’t so much military history per se, but something perhaps best described as “literary nonfiction.” Among other things, I hope to demonstrate that beyond learning some very interesting and little-known elements of these men’s biographies, studying their military experiences leads one to read with new eyes such works as Don Quixote, War and Peace, and Animal Farm.

In a larger sense, I hope to deconstruct (at least a little) the classic either/or dichotomy between the Man of Thought and the Man of Action, demonstrating that these attributes, even at the highest imaginable level, are not and need not be mutually exclusive.

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