Praise for Night and Fog

I’m thrilled to announce (more like shout with glee) that Night and Fog received a very favorable editorial review from Midwest Book Review.

“The attention to detail and intersecting scenarios that Rizzo takes the time to explore in his characters and settings will especially delight historical fiction readers seeking authenticity and facts from their stories.” … “Night and Fog is a vivid story of a lesser-covered aspect of World War II that brings people and their wartime dilemmas to life. It’s a novel that should be part of any World War II history reading list or collection.”

                —D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

Check out the complete editorial review in ‘Recommended Reading – Donovan’s Bookshelf’ http://donovansliteraryservices.com/august-2021-issue.html

Or go straight to the review by clicking the hot link: Night and Fog.

This review will also be published in the August 2021 issue of Midwest Book Review.

Night and Fog will go on sale at Amazon on August 19, 2021.

Most Obeyed Their German Conquerors—One Woman Fought Back

               
On a hot August night in 1941, a twenty-four year old Belgian girl silently crouched in the darkness along the River Somme scarcely breathing as a German patrol officer bicycled by little more than a footfall away from the weeds that concealed her. If caught, she would be put to death—punishment for her seditious act of leading eleven fugitives fleeing from the Gestapo.

This would be her closest brush with the German conquerors so far. The dangers would increase as the German secret police honed their hunting skills. Her odds of surviving would continually decrease. But she brazenly defied the Nazis, rescuing Allied airmen while the German Gestapo, Abwehr, Secret Police of the Luftwaffe, collaborating French gendarmes and others bore down to catch, torture and eliminate all who participated, to demonstrate that such defiance would not be tolerated. Dozens of underground organizations were formed during WWII to aid airmen. Two, the Pat O’Leary Line and Comète are recognized as being the most successful against the Germans. But of the two, only Comète, the underground conceived by twenty-four-year-old Andrée (Dédée) de Jongh, would survive the war. August 19, 2021 marks the 80th anniversary of that first fateful night when Dédée struck her first blow against her country’s conquerors.

That’s why I chose August 19, 2021 as the date publish to my novel Night and Fog about the Comète underground. Look for it on Amazon.

ONE WOMAN’S TRASH …

“I won’t read that historical fiction garbage,” hissed a lady at the assisted living facility where a panel consisting of myself and other writers were describing our writing process. “History should be facts, not made up crap,”

Interesting question. Why would anybody want to read a fictionalized version when they can read a history book and get the real facts? What is historical fiction anyway?

Some books under the historical fiction umbrella may have other-worldly or supernatural themes. Some may pose what if questions, such as what if Hitler had won World War II. Others could be more historically accurate than the word fiction implies. The general criteria is that they be set at least 50 years in the past.

Historical novels may use fictional characters to transport us to a particular place and time so we may experience the protagonist’s world as someone living during that time might.  We could pursue a German saboteur through New York City during WWI with the police detectives in James Hockenberry’s Over Here (www.jameshockenberry.com). Soraya M. Lane lets us feel the joys, the fears and the heartbreaks of British war brides, as they follow their American G.I. sweethearts to the United States in Voyage of the Heart (sorayalane.com). Or we can experience World War I through the eyes of the early women battlefield nurses, complements of Lizzy Page’s novels War Nurses and Daughters of War (www.bookouture.com).

In another type of historical novel, the author imagines how an historic figure or a real-life person lived through an historic event. Through extensive research, physical retracing of the route and the woman’s written account, James Alexander Thom in Follow the River (www.ballantinebooks.com), takes us along with Mary Ingles, a white woman abducted by American Indians, as she escapes her captors and undertakes a treacherous journey through a thousand miles of hostile, uncharted wilderness to find her way back to her home.

But does an author using his/her imagination to fill in gaps or flesh out a real event make it less accurate? From TV detective shows, courtroom dramas and our own experience, we know that eyewitness accounts differ. People’s recollections of an incident are affected by their perspective. So we may never know the absolute truth. But the more corroborating information we obtain, the more we can trust that our conclusion is reasonably accurate.

In Little Cyclone, author Airey Neave tells us that in July 1942, Dédée, the real life leader of the Cométe underground, is ambushed by German soldiers. Neave writes: The party of airmen were scattered till Dédée, coolly collecting them, took them back to Urrugne, whence they crossed two days later. Neave’s book is nonfiction. His statement is true and accurate, but it doesn’t go into much detail.

Digging through evader reports, I found the same incident. So for my novel Night and Fog, in addition to Neave’s account, I had the perspective of the airmen evaders who were actually there. I knew where they were from, when and where the narrow escape took place, who the guides were, what the weather was like, who was shot at, who was captured and how others got away. I used this information to recreate the scene as I imagined it. I had to fill in minor details and dialog—which makes it historical fiction—but it lets readers experience the incident as if they were there.

There will always be people who turn up their noses at historical fiction just as there are people who say they hate cauliflower without ever tasting it. But there are writers like the ones mentioned above who are publishing some truly wonderful historical fiction that should be sampled before the genre is dismissed out of hand.

Night and Fog cover

Well I’m delighted to announce that it’s finally here—the cover for my new novel.

I love the way this cover hints at so many intrigues of the novel, especially the dangers faced by women partisans who had to throw themselves into the perilous task of saving Allied airmen because the men of their country between the ages of 18 to 50 had been conscripted to work in Germany factories.

I know it’s been a long time coming since my last book. Actually, I was afraid to take this story on because I knew it would be very difficult to write. But the more I researched the subject, the more I knew that no one else could tell the story the way I felt it needed to be told.

Look for Night and Fog coming soon.

A Writer’s Vacation

During my career as a civil engineer and land use planner I learned more outside the classroom than I ever did within. I’m not talking about working in the field on road construction or utility installation—although watching skillful craftsmen at their trade certainly helps to educate an engineer—I’m talking about what I learned by looking more closely at the details that make up our everyday world.

I’ve been known to be, shall we say, distracted by things that are of no interest to my family. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy every minute of vacation with my loved ones—but while they’re browsing souvenir shelves, my attention might be drawn to the building’s support structure—while crossing a picturesque foot bridge, I might be found admiring the beautiful flora while mentally dissecting the bridge’s construction—I could be captured by how cleverly a handicap ramp is disguised as part of the landscaping, I might contemplate the walkways, or whether the trees had been arranged to optimize shade on benches. Oddities might appear in my vacation photos. The picture sequence might be something like: my wife, my kids, a tree grate, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, a retaining wall, Dumbo, Snow White, flower planters … I thought I was the only fool with this affliction, until I found that many of my engineering buddies did the same thing.

Now I write historical novels. And while this profession is somewhat different, my habits haven’t changed all that much. I’m still likely to be drawn to things that others don’t notice—curiosities that relate to my writing. They say write what you know, but maybe that should be write what you’d like to know. Whether I’m at an amusement park, a historic site or at home on the internet, I look for details that will improve my writing. After all, it’s the details that help readers feel as though they are living in the world of the story be it ancient Rome or a planet in some far away galaxy.

I’ve always been interested in history. I want to know how horseshoes were forged in the 1700s. I want to eat in a colonial tavern and taste meals cooked on an open hearth. I want to smell the fresh leather in a shop where shoes are being cobbled and watch grain being milled. I want to hear the music young people listened to before going off to fight in WWII or learn what it was like to work in a factory at the turn of the last century.

Judging from the popularity of stories set in historical times, I suspect there are plenty of other people whose imagination is also piqued by glimpses into the past. So now when I become lost in my historical forays, or return home with photos of sadirons, powder horns and tin toys, I just chalk it up to a writer’s vacation.

Un-Canny

As I write this, there seems to be two things on everybody’s mind—the corona virus and the U.S. presidential election. I’m not going to write about either. Well actually, I guess you could say this post’s about something related to the virus—the quarantine. Sitting in lockdown trying to find ways to stretch our food supplies and paper and cleaning products has reminded me how helpless we’ve all become compared to our ancestors.

Back in February, on behalf of the local historical society, I published a column in the local newspaper about canning tomatoes when I was growing up, entitled, “Tomato Wars and the Italian Elixir of Life” (published in the Suburban Newspaper September 4, 2019). On another occasion a friend and I interviewed a lady who had grown up in rural America at a time when people baked their own bread in outdoor ovens, sewed their own clothing and canned anything and everything, including sausage. These two remembrances remind me how dependent on others I’ve become.

Some years ago, I got the bold notion to can tomatoes as my parents and grandparents had done. Buying two dozen mason jars, lids and caps, I fantasized about the rows and rows of puree and whole tomatoes that I would put up. But dust was all those jars ever saw.

Lured by the cheap convenience of the well-stocked grocery store, I allowed my self-sufficiency to be snatched away like some victim of a 1950s sci-fi movie. My independence faded as I was drawn deeper and deeper into this advanced alien civilization—a world of quick and easy. One by one my survival skills were erased from my memories. I became comfortable with having bread already baked, vegetables that appeared before me on my grocer’s shelf without me ever having to pull a weed, and meals that could be cooked in a flash in my microwave. I yielded to the luxury of having fresh fruit anytime I wanted, no matter the season.

I regret having become so lazy that I no longer have the skills to be self-sufficient. I have to give my wife credit for making delicious bread and pizza during our stay-at-home time. I’ve come to appreciate toilet paper like never before.

I know we’ll recount our adventures of making bread with brewers’ yeast before my sister found us packets of bakers’ yeast in Florida and mailed them to us. We’ll tell the next generation the toilet paper jokes that went around—offering toilet paper in exchange for a condo, betting rolls of toilet paper in poker games, rationing it, using both sides …

One thing the pandemic has taught me is to be more conservative. I’m not so quick to waste food or paper products anymore. I know I’ll never learn to put up jams and jellies like my mom did, or cure my own olives and make eggplant salad like my dad, but being in quarantine has given me new respect for how much more self-sufficient our ancestors were than we are.

Perhaps one of the TV food programs will teach me how to preserve my own food. I’d be interested in seeing how it’s done—but I know I’ll never get off my butt to do it myself.

What’s So Great About Malt Shops?

I was listening to an on-air personality, today’s politically correct term for what we used to call a disc-jockey or DJ, who was lamenting how lame his father-in-law was for thinking that dancing at record hops and hanging out in malt shops listening to the juke box and drinking Coca Cola when he was growing up was great fun

Hearing this DJ, pardon me, on-air-personality, put down this bygone era got me thinking of what he might tell his grandchildren about his youth:

Yeah, we used to sit around texting each other all day, even if we were in the same room. We’d send pictures of what we were eating and add a little imoji to show whether we liked it or not. If we left the house, we’d send selfies of our faces with a glimpse of background to show where we were. And sometimes we would use an app that made our faces into funny characters and we would laugh and laugh. We’d text and laugh until we were breathless! Boy our thumbs sure did get a workout!

While it was nostalgic for the guy who lived it, it was ancient history to the younger fellow. But it really doesn’t matter which one you are, visiting another era can be interesting and enjoyable.

I guess I’m just drawn to old-timey things. Don’t get me wrong, I love the things we have now, but wouldn’t it be fun to go to a hop like in Back to the Future, dance the tarantella at a 1940s Italian wedding like in The Godfather, or eat Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café? It’s why Walt Disney has a main street in his theme parks with street shows reminiscent of the turn of the last century, and why the entrance to Hollywood Studios is a recreation of the 1940s right down to the music.

We live in our modern world every day. We’ve grown accustomed to our lifestyle. It’s familiar and comforting. But stories that take us to places and times we’ve never visited can be an exciting escape from our humdrum lives.

Actually, the DJ’s lament reminded me to finally get back to work on a novel I had set aside. It’s about kids in Philadelphia and American Bandstand in the 1950s—and yes, it has scenes set in malt shops. So perhaps I should thank him for his rant.

PAYING HOMAGE TO MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS

We have been invaded by an army of viruses so small they cannot be seen with the naked eye, yet they’re the most difficult enemy we’ve ever tried to defeat. Unlike all wars before it, this one isn’t fought with guns and bombs. But like all other wars, doctor, nurses, medical professionals and support staff are on the front lines.

I’ve read about and written about ordinary nurses who had been thrust into unimaginably traumatic situations in our nation’s wars. Like their predecessors, nurses and doctors fighting COVID-19 virus had virtually no time to prepare and their resources were so limited that even if they had more time, it wouldn’t have made much difference.

Before December 7, 1941, Army and Navy nurses on Hawaii had been living in a tropical paradise with few medical cases of real concern. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, suddenly their paradise was turned into a horror show of broken bodies, burned sickening flesh and torn limbs that could never have been imagined in a nursing class. On Bataan, nurses not only had to treat their wounded patients who lay uncovered in open jungle wards that stretched for miles. Short on medicine and supplies, exhausted nurses, themselves suffering from malaria, beriberi, dengue fever and dysentery, tended the sick and injured while living on rationed food and little sleep.

Those nurses, just like the ones fighting the COVID-19 virus, were scared to death, but they pushed through their fears and did their jobs because they knew that they were the only ones who could.

Today’s nurses and doctors are praised and told how special they are and how much they are appreciated. Most of them are too exhausted to even think about that. When this is over, there will be residual trauma as the horrors are relived in their minds. I hope that when they need help from us, we will be there for them, to comfort them, to care for them and reassure them that their work to contain the virus saved hundreds of thousands of lives more than they lost.

LEAD ME ON

The best historical fiction breaks free from the confines of its genre.

Unlike fans of Sci-fi, romance, mystery, horror and suspense who generally know what to expect from a book in those genres, readers aren’t drawn to historical novels simply because they’re historical. They are instead attracted to specific eras or events. People who like the Middle Ages, World War II, or Colonial America, may not be interested in a racial tragedy set in the American south in the 1940s.

That’s why it’s so rewarding when an historical novelist lures us in and keeps us reading a story that we didn’t know would interest us. They transport us to bygone places to experience and explore. They introduce us to period characters whose attitudes and expectations are shaped by a world much different than our own. They intrigue us with mystery, ply us with romance, scare us with horror and make us hold our breath with suspense. And they do this while gently folding in details that dress us in period clothing, feed us tasty dishes and fill our ears with music and sounds of the times, all without giving us a history lesson.

Some historical novels which have delightfully transported me to times and places beyond my usual interests are:

Jeff Shaara’s To The Last Man takes us beyond the legend of the Red Baron to let us fly along with the skillful Manfred von Richthofen as he becomes the most deadly and the most feared pilot of WWI. He also shares with us the hardships of the men in the trenches who carry out General Pershing’s plan for bringing the war to a quick and victorious end.

Lizzie Page’s The War Nurses brings us to the battlefront with women whose exemplary courage forever changes women’s roles in times of war. I didn’t know a story about WWI could be so fascinating.

Soraya Lane’s The Girls of Pearl Harbor. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder existed long before we had a word for it. We know that WWII soldiers suffered what was then called shell shock, but we too often forget about the nurses who lived through the sickening horrors of trying to save broken and mutilated men.

POINT AND SHOOT

At a recent talk, author Steve Snyder discussed his book, Shot Down, the story of how his father trained as a WWII B-17 bomber pilot, bailed out over Belgium, was aided by the underground and fought with the French Résistance.

What culminated in an informative PowerPoint presentation began with an email I sent to Steve to let him know that I enjoyed his book and that I was particularly interested in one of the crew members who was from our town. The program took shape by networking with the Mayor’s office, the Library Board and the Historical Society.

IMG_1858 Snyder talk 1IMG_1856 Snyder talk 2IMG_1855 Snyder talk 3

The takeaway from all of this was how connections between writers can lead to opportunities for authors as well as people in the community. It also reminded me how slide shows and other visual aids help hold the audience’s interests and provides those of us historical writers, who would rather write than lecture, prompts to help us stay on track and keep our talks moving smoothly.

This came at a good time for me because I’m working on a PowerPoint of my own to supplement my talks about the underground in WWII. So I’m soaking up what I can by attending presentations such as this, arranging photos and working up a dialog to go with the pictures that will be both informative and interesting.

One thing I’ve learned through all these years is that the only antidote to those flashbacks to oral reports in front of high your school class is preparation.