The Making of a Novel

Novelists get ideas from many places: Museums, newspaper or magazine articles, family or personal history, and books. In my case it was a book I bought on one of my family visits to Germany. It covered the history of Ramstein Air Base as well as personal memories of the local population. I had worked on this base as an administrative clerk for many years, but I had no idea what occurred during the 1950s when the base was being built.

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While I studied the pages and gazed at the photos, I learned that many Germans and refugees found employment at the base. Others made extra money by renting rooms to military personnel or operating bars, restaurants or ice cream parlors. The clubs on base frequently hosted concerts that attracted German and American entertainers: Caterina Valente, Conny Froboess, Max Greger, Bata Illic, Little Richard, Count Basie, and the Golden Gate Quartet, among many others.

The soldiers with their pockets full of dollars, rock ‘n’ roll records, and their huge cars (we called them Straßenkreuzer) were the envy of the German youths and the girls found them irresistible.

There is a novel in there, I thought while I was reading, and I’m going to be the one to write it. After all, I had lived the life I was writing about. Research would help me recreate the world of the Fifties on the page. But what about a plot? I decided on a historical murder mystery to give the book a tight structure. During my next trip to Germany I visited two newspaper archives, an image archive, and interviewed a retired German police officer. I also reached out to a few former servicemen. A final plot twist occurred to me when I recalled an event in my village during the late 1970s.

I enjoyed myself so much during the research and writing that I am now thinking about a sequel.

 

Image: Courtesy of U.S. Air Force

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