Saturday, August 3, 2013

Researching My New Novel Hold Back the Sun

My second novel, newly released for Kindle, Hold Back the Sun is set during the opening months to the Pacific War around the Philippine Islands and the Dutch East Indies. I first became interested in this period of the war when I read John Toland’s 1960s popular history of the campaign, But Not in Shame. Not much else became available on the subject for a number of years.

When I decided to write a novel about the early months of the war, the resources for researching the Japanese conquest of Southeast Asia were mostly limited to old books published during the war or immediately thereafter. After framing the basic story in an outline, pressures of my job required that I put it aside for several years. In the interim, a marvelous tool, the Internet, became available. From a scarcity of sources about my project, I suddenly faced a flood of information.

Almost everything I wanted to know was suddenly at my fingertips. An excellent website on The Netherlands East Indies Campaign provided intimate detail about all the units and battles from both the viewpoints of both the Allies and the Japanese. Wikipedia has articles on every subject imaginable. Google Maps allows one to zoom in on any area in the world in both map and satellite formats. Simply Googling the names of historical characters brought up biographies and photos from several sources.  Historical photos of cities throughout the planet can be found with little effort, a boon when describing settings. Old newspaper articles from the period are readily available. A simple email to an Australian city prompted a reply with the address of the 1942 U.S. Navy headquarters there.

Perhaps the most help provided by the Internet was in tracing the saga of Lieutenant Commander Corydon Wassell, USNR Medical Corps. Dr. Wassell became a legend during the war for his heroic efforts in saving a number of wounded U.S. Navy sailors in Java. Wartime propaganda shrouded the actual facts of his heroism. Cecil B. DeMille’s 1944 movie, The Story of Dr. Wassell, did not let the truth get in the way of telling a compelling adventure. Many Internet sources cleared up these discrepancies. Wartime newspaper stories recorded Dr. Wassell’s own account of events as well as reporting the return of his sailors to their hometowns after the conflict. The websites, U.S.S.Marblehead & Dr. Wassell and its link to The Marby website are rich in detail on the Asiatic Fleet in the Southwest Pacific Campaign.

Not all information I needed was available online. William J. Dunn’s 1988 memoir, Pacific Microphone, proved especially helpful, as did Walter D. Edmond’s Air Corps history, They Fought With What They Had (out of print.)

The Internet remains a priceless tool for researching novels, but old fashioned digging in published books is also essential.

Check my Author’s website at for details about the release of Hold Back the Sun.

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