In the early 70s, my mighty Mom, Abby Jane Nicholson Hodges, decided she was going to write a book. She had an idea about a Panzer driver in the German Wehrmacht during WWII who had a brother in the British Royal Navy. So she did what all determined people did -- she started writing.
But it soon became clear to her that she had no knowledge whatsoever of tanks, European terrain, naval ships, or who knows what else. So she began a long, storied quest to learn what she needed to learn so she could write her book.
This quest led her to read over 400 books, taking notes on every single thing she learned. Her approach was to write down things on index cards by date -- keeping track of everything that happened from the mid-1930s through the end of the war.
She filled probably thirty file card drawers with index cards. (Four of them are pictured above.) It was literally years of work. She read and wrote and read and wrote.
But reading wasn’t enough. She needed to write about the Blitzkrieg, and to do that, she had to follow the path of the German army. So she went to Europe, rented a car, and drove the path taken by the Panzers. This was not a normal path for tourists, and she ran across many people in the Netherlands, Belgium, and France who were surprised to see her.
She sought out older folks who might remember those times. She used her college German and even took French lessons to be able to talk to people. Some were hesitant to talk, and it was common for them to ask with a suspicious look, “Êtes-vous le Boche? ” “Are you German?” Once they found out she was an American, attitudes changed, and people were helpful, kind, and pleased to tell their stories.
But how do you describe what it is like to be in a tank? There is only one way to truly know that, and my mother overcame a lot of obstacles and skepticism to be able to spend a day driving around in tanks at Camp Ripley in northern Minnesota. She wasn’t afraid, and by the end of the day, she had earned the grudging respect of the soldiers taking her out.
To learn about the British Navy, she of course read everything she could get her hands on. One of her favorite books was “U-Boat Killer” by Captain Donald MacIntyre, RN. Captain MacIntyre was well-known for sinking the famous U-Boat Commander Otto Kretschmer. My Mom was so interested in him and his stories -- they were perfect for her research -- that she wrote to Captain MacIntyre, and the soon became regular correspondence. That correspondence led to a marvelous friendship and numerous visits together until Captain MacIntyre’s passing in 1981.
Somewhere along the way, my Mom started writing. She had learned enough to get started, and she wrote and wrote. Her first manuscript was written with a fountain pen on college-ruled notebook paper. Once that was complete, she practically wore out the IBM Selectric typewriter my father had bought for her. That was quite a gift, as this was well before computers and word processors, and the Selectric was a state-of-the-art typewriter.
I can’t say how many hours and hours my Mom typed and retyped her book. I have very strong memories of trying to watch television as she pounded away on her keyboard in the family room. IBM Selectrics are not known for their quiet operation.
Finally, my Mom finished. She found an agent in New York who loved her book. He told her that if there were a sequel, it might sell better. So what did she do? She wrote a sequel. What else would she do? More writing, researching, and typing led to a follow up book, “The Winter Soldiers”. (Keep an eye out -- I'm working on publishing that as well).
But alas, it was not to be. For reasons unknown, these two wonderful books were never published. My Mom revised them, retyped them, and did everything she knew to make them appealing to publishers, but none bought the books.
It was tough for her, but eventually she set the books aside. But she wasn’t done -- my Mom was not one to sit still -- and so she started an organic fertilizer company. What else?
The years passed, and the manuscripts sat in a closet. I had been busy as well, self-publishing three books on software development. It occurred to me that I know how to publish a book, and so I set about to publish my Mom’s book.
The book was a large stack of typewritten pages. The challenge was to get it into digital form. I tried OCR scanning, and that was not at all successful. Then I tried typing it into my computer myself. But eventually, the thing that got it all done was reading it aloud into a transcription software package. It was tedious, but I got it done. Then came the countless proofreadings and endless copyediting. Even then it wasn’t perfect. But in the end, I was able to put a published copy of my Mom’s book into her hands.
So thank you for your interest, thank you for reading my Mom’s book, and thank you for reading this about my wonderful, strong, mighty Mom.
-- John Nicholson Hodges