Five Surprising Things I Learned Researching
My World War II Novel–Guest Blog
By John Winn Miller
I’m very pleased to present John Winn Miller’s guest blog for you today. John is the author of the recently published book, The Hunt for the Peggy C, a suspenseful novel set during World War II. His blog talks about five interesting topics he came across while researching the book. I was honored when John asked me to read an advance copy of the book and it turned out to be one of those books I couldn’t put down until finished. It was then that I asked him to consider writing a guest blog for us. John is a “Master of Research,” and I am confident you will not only enjoy this snapshot into his research but will learn some interesting facts. With that being said, I will now turn it over to John. (John’s bio can be found at the end of the blog as well as links to purchase his new book.) -- Stew Ross
I have devoured countless World War II histories over the years. And I have been a fan of almost every documentary, movie, or television show about the era. So, naturally, I thought I knew a lot about the subject. That was until I started to write my debut novel, The Hunt for the Peggy C. The story is about an American smuggler who struggles to rescue a Jewish family on his rusty cargo ship, outraging his mutinous crew of misfits and provoking a hair-raising chase by an unstable U-boat captain bent on revenge.
I had never been on a U-boat or a tramp steamer and knew next to nothing about life at sea. So why did I pick this subject, you might ask? Strangely, I didn’t. It picked me. Years ago, I had been watching a terrible action-adventure movie (I don’t remember which one) with my young daughter Allison (who now plays Maggie on ABC’s A Million Little Things), and I kept telling her, “I know I could write a better screenplay than this.” That night I had a dream, and when I woke up, I knew the first scene, the last scene, and the name of the ship. That was all.
So, like Michelangelo used to say, I knew there was a figure in that block of stone–in my case, a story–and all I had to do was spend years trying to chisel it free. The screenplay I wrote received some interest in Hollywood but no sales. When COVID hit, and I was stuck at home with my wife Margo, two standard poodles, and a Maine coon cat, I decided to turn the script into a novel.
That is when I learned just how little I knew about the war. As a result, I spent months reading histories, websites, historical archives, and first-hand accounts and watching documentaries and YouTube videos. I wanted all the history and technical details–and there are a lot of both–to be accurate. I even went so far as to study wartime logs by U-boat captains so I could accurately describe the moon’s stage during each phase of the chase at the heart of The Hunt for the Peggy C.
Every day, I seemed to come across something that would make me exclaim, “Wait. What? I had no idea about that.” So, thanks to Sandy and Stew, I’d like to share five of those surprising discoveries with the readers of this wonderful blog.