Saturday, October 26, 2013

Birth of a Novel

Yesterday, we successfully launched the paperback version of my new novel, Hold Back the Sun. This was my first experience of a formal launch event, but I really enjoyed it. After reading several passages that introduced the main characters and set the tone for the story, I invited the guests to ask questions. Several people asked, “How long does it take to write a novel?”

The answer to this question varies with individual books. Like mammals, different novels have different gestation periods, varying by size. Gerbils take about 25 days from conception to birth; cats require about 64; Horses, 340; African elephants, 645. In similar fashion, the bigger the book, the longer it takes to complete it.

My first published novel, Fall Eagle One required about three years from conception to final draft. The nature of my writing requires somewhat exhaustive historical research. Having the Internet available was a Godsend to my research. Actual writing took a little over a year, while editing and rewriting under the guidance of a skilled editor required several more months before we were ready to shop the manuscript. 

Hold Back the Sun took a little longer. My interest in the exploits of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet early in WWII was sparked in the mid 1960s by reading John Toland’s popular history, But Not in Shame. In the late 1970s, I read The Lonely Ships, Edwin P. Hoyt’s history of the Asiatic Fleet. The germ of an idea for a novel started tickling my mind. I was on active duty in the Navy, so my time for exploring the subject was limited. Nevertheless, I began doing literary research and taking notes on the places I visited in Hawaii and Asia. I began serious writing about 1980 during off duty hours while serving a tour without my family. The result of this effort was a manuscript that was far too long to expect to be published as a debut novel. New writing ideas drew my attention, so Hold Back the Sun languished in my computer for several years. However, I was very attached to the story and always meant to publish it when the opportunity arose.

Once Fall Eagle One achieved some success, I decided to buckle down and rewrite Hold Back the Sun. Using skills learned from my editor, I pared the manuscript and completely rewrote the last third of the story. It took me about seven months of hard work to get to the point of publication. The success of the Kindle e-book (currently #6 in historical fiction-Asian) suggests that it was worth the effort.

Being in my late seventies, I no longer have the luxury of a taking a lot of time for my future works. Fortunately, I can now do most of my research by computer without leaving my desk. I plan to publish one new book every year for as long as I’m physically able.  I hope that my readers will continue to enjoy them.

Note: Both of Warren’s novels are Amazon Kindle Bestsellers Hold Back the Sun is #6 on historical fiction: Asian and #56 in action-adventure: war and military. Fall Eagle One is #56 on action-adventure/war and military.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Shameful Secret of World War II: Sexual Slavery in the Axis Armies

Korean Comfort Women held by the Japanese Imperial Army

The first scene of my new novel, Hold Back the Sun, takes place in Madam Kitty’s, a posh Gestapo brothel in Berlin. Nazi friends are giving a going-away party for the book’s chief villain, a Japanese Military Attaché.  Madam Kitty’s was an actual establishment located at the address I give it in the novel. Its purpose was to ply foreign diplomats with liquor and sex, and then extract secret information from them during “pillow talk.” All the rooms were bugged to capture the conversations on recordings.

I did not mention it in my novel because it did not fit into the story, but almost all the prostitutes in Madam Kitty’s were in fact sex slaves, the wives and daughters of political prisoners. The Gestapo gave these women a stark choice: become espionage prostitutes or have their loved ones executed.

All three of the Axis armies of World War II were supported by systems of military brothels. Compelling evidence exists that at least the Germans and Japanese employed conscripted sex slaves. What little has been written about the Italian Army suggests that they primarily utilized professional Italian prostitutes.

During the peak years of the war, the German Army and the Gestapo operated some 500 military brothels. Researchers have reported that some 34,000 women conscripted from the conquered races or from concentration camps worked in these entertainment houses. Ironically, when they became, ”worn out,” many were placed in concentration camps for the crime of prostitution. Perhaps because of the utter devastation of Nazi Germany and the fact that Stalin’s Army committed what has been called, ”the greatest mass rape of women in history,” during the conquest of East Germany, the suffering of Germany’s sex slaves has gone largely unmentioned in history.

By far the largest employment of military sex slaves was by the Japanese Army. After discipline broke down during the “Rape of Nanking,” the Army staff decided that providing the soldiers with their own prostitutes was necessary for “good order and discipline.” Detailed planning for the conquest of Southeast Asia included provision of Ianfu (Comfort Women) units down to at least the battalion level. Hard pressed to fill these units with volunteers, the Army resorted to deception and mass kidnappings. During the course of the war, over 200,000 Asian women from territories under Japanese control were conscripted, the vast majority from Korea. But thousands of women from China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaya, and other subject nations shared their fate. In Java, some 300 Dutchwomen were also enslaved. At least sixty were kidnapped from internment camps and placed in “comfort stations.” What they endured can only be described as a months long gang rape. Unbelievably, the suffering of “front line” Ianfu was even worse. Many were forced to entertain up to 40 “clients” per day while living in primitive conditions and being fed barely enough food to keep them functioning.   

Very few of the Japanese responsible for these crimes against humanity ever had to pay for their actions. Only those officers and noncoms responsible for the kidnappings and rapes in Java were tried by the Allies after the war. The officer held primarily responsible was hanged. Perhaps because of the racial attitudes of the time, the plight of the Asian women was largely ignored.

During the 1980s and 1990s, many of the former Ianfu came forward to tell their stories and demand compensation. In 1994, one of the Dutchwoman, Jan Ruff-O’Herne, wrote of her ordeal in her book, Fifty Years of Silence. After a long period of outright denial, one Japanese president finally offered something of an apology. A fund was set up for the Comfort Women, but payouts are minimal considering what these war victims endured.

I have long been troubled by the plight of the Japanese Army’s sex slaves. When I began writing HoldBack the Sun, I decided to illuminate these war crimes in my novel. I hope that I have done an adequate job.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Recharging the Batteries

Warren Bell at the Matterhorn
To visit Switzerland is like visiting at least three different countries. The northern regions were affected by Germany, and Swiss-German is spoken in this area. The eastern part of the country borders France. French influence dominates the east, and French is the everyday language. The southern part of Switzerland abuts Italy, and many here speak Italian. The best features of neighboring cultures has been absorbed and morphed into a uniquely Swiss flavor.  

Switzerland has two official languages (Swiss-German and French) and a third semi-official one – Rumantsch, the aboriginal tongue. While not an “official” language, most Swiss people also speak Italian. And we Americans gripe about having to study a single additional tongue?

My wife, Annette, and I spent 10 days in this wonderful country in September and early October. Most of our time was spent absorbing the sights and local food and learning something of the culture. I stored all these details in my brain with relish. Visiting new places and learning about their culture is like recharging the batteries of the intellect. 

One fact I learned long ago is that while all humans may look alike, it can be dangerous to predict what others will do based only on your own culture. All humans come with the same “hardware” in their brains. The “software,” however, may be quite different and varies by culture. Years ago, I coined the phrase, “cultural programming,” to describe this phenomenon.

When writing about characters from cultures other than their own, writers can

easily fall into the mistake of having them react as, say, Americans would.  Even
more dangerous is for political leaders to fall into this trap (consider the Pacific War, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars). In my new novel, Hold Back the Sun, I write about how Americans miscalculating the Japanese mind made the Pacific War inevitable.   

Authors can avoid such mistakes by carefully studying the culture of the characters about whom they write. Actually visiting the countries involved is the most effective way to do this, but careful document and Internet research can also yield satisfactory results.  Due diligence is the key.

Surprisingly, I didn’t gain any weight during our Swiss tour.  I certainly ate enough food. The one that made the most impression on me was Rösti, hash brown potatoes cooked in butter. The Swiss serve them with many meal, and they are delicious beyond description. Fortunately for my waistline, we also spent a lot of time climbing steps and mountain slopes to burn off all the calories.    

My batteries are fully recharged now. Book launch for the paperback version of Hold Back the Sun is coming up on October 25th, so I have work to do!  

Note:  Warren Bell's debut novel, Fall Eagle One, can be purchased at in either Kindle or Paperback form.  His newest novel, Hold Back the Sun, is available for Kindle, and the Paperback version will be available October 25th. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Tom Clancy: The Man Who Invented a Genre

 Tom Clancy signing books at the Burns Library, Boston College

I was planning to write this week’s blog post about my holiday here in Switzerland, but fate intervened. Just two days ago, those of us who write in the action/adventure genre lost a luminary who blazed the trail for those of us who are fascinated by military technology and love to share it with our readers. Tom Clancy was a pioneer who literally invented a new genre.

 In 1984, the venerable Naval Institute Press (NIP) published its first work of fiction, the product of a Maryland insurance salesman who liked to pal around with naval officers. Before being accepted by NIP, Tom Clancy had received rejections on The Hunt For Red October from a number of subsequently sorry publishing houses. Then something magic happened. Someone gave a copy of The Hunt For Red October to then-President Ronald Reagan. On his way to a helicopter to Camp David, the President was asked by a reporter what book he was carrying. The President told him the title and added, “It’s a really great thriller!” Sales of the book skyrocketed.

Tom Clancy’s debut novel was unique in that it included detailed descriptions of revolutionary Soviet submarine technology and the technical wonders employed by the U.S. Navy to locate the rogue Russian craft. It was the birth of a new genre, the “techno-thriller.” The book took the bestseller lists by storm. NIP continued the trend the following year with Stephen Coonts’s first novel, The Flight of the Intruder, a work crowded with cutting-edge aviation and weapons technology. Clancy soon returned with Red Storm Rising and Patriot Games. The Hunt For Red October and Patriot Games became blockbuster motion pictures. Tom Clancy was now a giant in the publishing industry.

Clancy was a pioneer who opened up many additional markets to the writing community. He branched out from his highly successful series of Jack Ryan thrillers to write non-fiction books on weapons systems and military units. Taking advantage of the technology explosion, he successfully entered the field of electronic war games. But the anchor of his empire remained the military-political-thriller arena. Jack Ryan rose through the CIA to eventually become Vice President and then President. Not happy with the policies of his successor, he returned to politics. Those of us who loved the series expected to be reading much more of Ryan’s story.

Tom Clancy was only sixty-six years old when he abruptly left us. This was much too young for the world to lose such an influential author. There had to be so many more adventure tales cooking in his fertile brain. But he leaves behind a whole school of adventure writers who employ the techniques he pioneered. He will be long remembered. Rest in peace, Father of Our Genre!

 Photo courtesy of: By Gary Wayne Gilbert (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Warren Bell becomes an Amazon Best Selling Author

My newest novel, "Hold Back the Sun," just became an Amazon Best Seller. It is currently #8 on the Historical Asian Fiction Best Seller List wherein only the top 100 are included.

The Kindle version of the book, "Hold Back the Sun," was released in advance of the paperback Book Launch, which is scheduled for October 25, 2013.