Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Inspiration can come from some of the strangest sources

When I was a senior in High School I chanced upon a movie that changed my life. Das Boot was a movie about the exploits of a WWII German U-boat during the infamous Battles of the Atlantic. Something about the movie fascinated me. Perhaps it was the cramped conditions on board the submarine, perhaps it was the maritime setting, perhaps it was the agonizing suspense. I think the main reason was Jürgen Prochnow, a wonderful actor who played the ship’s Kapitänleutnant and soon became an international star. I wasn't alone in these adventures, however. I was joined by my best friend and partner-in-crime, Beth Nagle, who was just as intrigued by the adventures of these hardy sailors as I was.

Seeing Jürgen’s picture it’s not hard to imagine why an 18 year old girl would have preferred to spend her days in his company rather than in Trigonometry or Chemistry. But it was the images of those sailors in those cramped conditions that really fired my imagination. 

About 25 years later all those afternoons in darkened movie theaters became the engine that drove my first novel, Transfer Day. The idea that a German U-boat officer could become a sympathetic character was very intriguing, and I wanted to make it work. First I had to learn what characteristics these hardy men of the sea possessed.

To understand what it was like to live and fight under these conditions I dove into the study of U-boats, reading such classics as “Iron Coffins” and “Steel Boats, Iron Hearts” as well as books about the War of the Atlantic and accounts of sinkings on websites like It was on this website that I made the acquaintance of my research partner, Robert Derencin, a Croatian naval veteran who is one of Europe’s leading U-boat experts. It was a partnership that grew into a friendship that lasted until this day. When I told Robert what I wanted to accomplish, namely, to write a book about a German U-boat officer who deserts his ship in the middle of war and escapes to the Caribbean, he provided all sorts of scenarios that made the book possible. 

In the end, I believe my character, Erich Seibold, fits the image of a hardy U-boat officer whose personal ethos prohibits him from sinking passenger ships. This is the engine that drives my novel forward and puts him in even greater danger when he escapes to a neutral Danish island only to find out that soon it will be transferred to the Americans and he will be behind enemy lines.

Kptlt. Otto Weddigen (1880 - 1915)
One of the most infamous U-boat captains of the Great War.

Perhaps the one scene in the movie that moved me more than any other was when the U-boat sailors sang the WWI song “It’s a long way to Tipperary”. That song, more than anything else, symbolized the war for both sides of the conflict, and I made sure to include it in my novel. 

Click here to watch the video

If you are a writer, what are some of the strangest sources of inspiration you've ever had? Did they inspire you to write an entire novel? Or did they take you on a completely different direction?

Transfer Day: When the whole world is at war not even an island is safe.

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