Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Novel Update

Writing a novel is like living another life. Every day, I get up and disappear into a world that exists only inside my head. I live in that world for four or five hours at a time. When I re-surface, I always feel discombobulated. One moment I'm in a German Stalag Luft with my characters, the next I'm sitting in a small room in Ammon, Idaho, staring at my computer.

The characters in my novel are currently in their second POW camp. The first camp became too full, due to the fact that sometime in September of 1943, the Italians switched sides, and all the Italian soldiers and diplomats in German territory instantly became 'the enemy'. Massive roundups and imprisonment of Germany's erstwhile allies from Italy followed. Many of those who ended up in the German prison camps couldn't believe that they were there.

Though my camps are fictional, they are based on actual camps. The first camp is based on Stalag VII-A at Moosberg. The second is based on Stalag 17-B at Krems.

One of my favorite readings about POW life comes from my old friend John Chaffin. John was a pilot in the 95th Bomb Group who was shot down on the Munster Mission in October, 1943. He became a close friend after we met in 2000. A strong Christian and a writer, John sent me several of his own books, based on his journals and notes he kept while a pilot and POW. John was one of my earliest critics. When I wrote something that he thought stunk, he would tell me, and then tell me how to make it better.

Sadly, John passed away about three years ago. I lost one of my best editors. After 100th pilot Herb Alf passed away, I had only one of my original three 'hard-ass' editors left, namely Maurice Rockett, who remains with me to this day, keeping me on the straight and narrow.

John's journals and notes are occasionally hilarious. John loved to cook. His mother had taught him to cook as a boy, though almost none of his fellow POWs had a clue how to do it. John therefore became the 'chef' in his 'combine' or group of POWs who shared food and cooking duties. An incredibly creative man, John developed recipes for dozens of dishes--no easy task when you consider that all his recipes had to be made from the limited ingrediants in a Red Cross Parcel.

Remember, all John's recipes were POW-tested, and all came from limited ingredients and were normally baked over improvised stoves on hand-made utensils.

Here is one of his Kriegie creations:

"Kriegie Cake:

The Kriegie Cake is likened to a sandwich in that it is built and not made. It is not unlike stew, since almost anything sweet in the pantry can be thrown in.

The bulk of the cake or rather the usual starting point, is one bowl of bread scraps. Soak these in hot water for fifteen to thirty minutes and then pour into a dishpan. You are now ready to start.

Throw in about one KLIM can of cracker crumbs. (Rob's note--Klim was a powdered milk and the crackers were either shredded biscuits or crackers that the Americans had traded for from the Brits). Add sugar to suit taste--about 3/4 pound should be close to right. Put in 1/2 can of Nestles milk if you have it handy; a can of any kind of jam helps and 1/2 can of chocolate powder is one of the few necessary ingredients. A half can of New Zealand coffee doesn't hurt anything and, if you like, a box of raisins might be added. An apple pudding or Yorkshire pudding (from British parcels) will help immensely but if you are not fortunate in having one, don't fret.

When you have tired of throwing things into the pan, roll up your sleeves and work at the mess with both hands until it is well mixed. (If it is obvious there is dirt on your hands and the weather is not too cold to run out to the latrine) you should probably wash your hands first---especially if any of the picky other Kriegies in your combine are watching.

Work the mess with both hands until it is well mixed. Pour the batch into a buttered pan and bake in the bottom of the oven until done. It should be baked slowly.

Almost any kind of icing will suffice for your cake. If you are lazy or pressed for time (rare event for a kriegie) a little jam or honey will do. Should you feel more industrious, here are a couple of ideas for your use:

Take 1/4 Klim can of milk, three spoons of sugar; mix well then add enough water to take a thick paste. Spread it on and there you are (italics John's).

To make a chocolate icing just add cocoa into the already mentioned mixture and there you are---chocolate!" (Italics John's).

John Chaffin was one wise man who took the lemons life gave him and figured out the best possible recipe for making lemonade! He returned from his incarceration to have a long career with General Dynamics. Before he passed away, my brother had a good visit with him down in Texas. To the end, John was a writer, a mentor, a leader in his Christian church in the Dallas area, and one heck of a contract bridge player and instructor.

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