Anatomy of Writing a Novel – Part 3

The first real scene I wrote

It was Monday, May 26, 1941.  Although it was early in the morning, it was already warm. It was also humid out. It was going to be an uncomfortable day. I stood on the sidewalk about twenty feet from the bus stop looking anxiously to the west waiting for the bus to arrive. In the distance, I saw the bus approaching. I was so intent on watching the bus pull up and stop that I didn’t hear the footsteps behind me until she said “Good morning Ted.”

The sound of her voice sent a thrill through my body. I knew it was Samantha’s voice. I turned quickly and there she stood with her face lit up with a big smile. “Hi, Samantha. What are you doing here?”

“I realized that with Doris in the hospital there would be no one here to say goodbye and wish you luck. I thought it would be a lot better if there was someone here for you.”

“That’s very thoughtful of you. I appreciate your coming so early in the morning.”

“I’m sorry I’m late. The bus is already here.”

            “That’s okay. At least you came. Being early was never your strong suit.” I said laughing softly.

“You’re right. It is always a struggle for me to be on time.” She responded sharing my laughter.

For a moment, we just stood there awkwardly looking at each other not saying a word. She stepped forward and put her arms around me. I put my arms around her. I realized that she was hugging me really tight with her body press tight against mine. In my ear, I heard her say “I wish you the very best of luck Ted. Please take care of yourself. Promise me that you will return safe and sound.” Her voice was very emotional, and I thought I felt her tear on my cheek.

I continued to hold her tightly as I responding in her ear “Thank you for coming. I can’t begin to tell you how much you being here means to me. I promise you that I will come back safe and sound.” My eyes were watery, and I was really choked up.

We continued to hold each other until we got our emotions under control. The bus driver called out “All aboard.”

As we broke our embrace, I caressed her cheek and looked directly into her watery blue eyes “You’re right.  It is really nice to have you here for me. Thank you!!”

She leaned forward and gave me a quick kiss on the lips. “Now go and win the war for us.” She said with a soft chuckle.

I smiled at her. “Okay.”

I picked up my bag, and as I started for the bus, I felt her hand slip into mine. I squeezed her hand, and she squeezed mine back. We walked holding hands to the bus. I gave my bag to the driver to load. I turned to Samantha “Thanks again for coming this morning. Goodbye.”

“Be careful Ted. Goodbye.”

I got on the bus and found an empty seat two-thirds of the way back and sat down by the window. The bus driver closed the door, and we started to move. I waved goodbye to Samantha. Samantha was smiling as she waved goodbye to me. She continued to wave to me until the bus rounded the corner and I lost sight of her.

This scene never appeared in the book

This scene was originally to occur at the bus station in Hooper. I quickly decided that I wanted the story line to unfold in a different direction. I wanted Ted to move to Lincoln. I also wanted a lot more interaction between Ted and Samantha before this scene would happen. But I really loved this scene and kept it in the novel for a long time before finally cutting it out.


Anatomy of Writing a Novel – Part 2

Did I have an outline of the book before I started writing?

I never put any type of outline down on paper, but in my mind I had a general idea of topics and some scenes that I wanted in the book. I wanted two years in high school. I wanted the school class play. I wanted my character to go through the all of the various steps required to become a bombardier and get to England. I wanted that process to as accurate as possible which I knew would require a lot of research. I wanted my character to fly the Schweinfurt mission. I also wanted what became the Michelle chapter although it changed dramatically from my original idea. I will expand more on that topic in a later blog. I did not know how the book was going to end until the vast majority (90%) of the story had been written. I then had to go back and tweak some sections.

When did I settle on the title of the book?

Through the completion of the first rough draft, the story was titled WWII B-17 Story because I had no idea what to call the book. For a very short period after the completion of the rough draft it was called Love – History – War, but I never really liked that title. A couple of months after the rough draft, I was writing a short description of the book and that is when I decided to call the book You Can Only be Lucky. See the first blog posting for the source of the title.

How did I determine the timeline of the book?

The timeline of the book was driven by the Schweinfurt mission on October 14, 1943. I wanted my lead character to fly that mission. The other driving force was that I wanted my lead character to attend high school as I had several things I wanted to write about high school. I wanted my lead character to be in high school on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. Before I started to write extensively, I did a lot of research about how long after enlisting would it take for a bombardier to be ready to fly a mission on October 14, 1943. What came after enlistment and where? How long would he be at the Classification Center? How long was bombardier training? How long was gunner school? How long was crew training? How long after arriving in England to fly the first mission? I also wanted to be as historically accurate as I could on what happened during each of these stages.

Why is my leading character a bombardier?

I didn’t feel comfortable in writing about being a pilot, co-pilot or navigator. I felt comfortable writing about a bombardier. I think part of that was because I am a numbers person. I remember in school once doing some very simple problems about how far in advance of the target you had to drop a bomb for it to hit the target. The altitude, speed, the wind speed, and weight are some of the factors in the computation.

I also decided that I wanted my character to become a lead bombardier and have all the planes in the group drop their bombs on his drop.

The first words that I wrote

In the early morning light, I sat in the bombardier station listening to the roar of engines. We were the 7th B-17 in line waiting to take off on our first mission. I had a flock of butterflies madly flying circles in my stomach. My hands were sweating. My throat was already parched. I was scared. I had to get my fear under control.

This was going to be the beginning of the book but I knew wanted to write about high school and Ted and Samantha’s first meeting. If I started the book this way, I would need to do one or more flashbacks. I decided that I did not want to do flashbacks so I scrapped this as the beginning of the book.


You Can Only be Lucky is now on Search on You Can Only be Lucky. Here is a link

Anatomy of Writing a Novel

You Can Only be Lucky, my soon to be published book, is historical fiction about a Nebraska, farm boy. The book starts on Saturday, March 11, 1939. The first half of the book follows him through his Junior and Senior years in high school where he experiences tragedy and finds love. Then December 7, 1941- a date that will live in infamy – thrusts him into World War II. He enlists in the Army Air Force and is sent to Santa Ana Air Force Base in Costa Mesa, California and then to bombardier school at Kirtland Air Force Base Albuquerque, New Mexico. After crew training at Rapid City Army Air Base in Rapid City, South Dakota, he is sent to England to serve in the Eighth Air Force. Along the way, he meets a cast of characters including movie stars. While flying missions for the Eighth Air Force, he faces fear and death in the frigid skies 20,000 feet over Germany and realizes that on missions you can’t be careful, you can only be lucky. Will his luck run out?

Source of my book title

The title of my soon to be published book comes from a quote by a soldier in World War II. His family was constantly asking him to be careful. His reply to them was that in combat you can’t be careful, you can only be lucky. If you are flying in a B-17 20,000 feet over Germany, you can’t be careful of the Me-109 flying right at you firing 20mm cannons at you and you can’t be careful of flak bursting all around you. At times the flak was so thick that you could almost walk on it.

Origin of the story

Over forty years ago I read Martin Caidin’s book “Black Thursday”. The book is about the Eighth Air Force’s October 14, 1943 attack on the ball-bearing factories located in Schweinfurt Germany. The bombers had no fighter protection for the last 220 miles to the target and back. The German Luftwaffe was ferocious in their attacks on the unprotected bombers. The Eighth Air Force suffered one of its worst loss days of the war. Over 1 out of 4 bombers that attacked were lost. Over 2 out of 3 bombers that attacked were lost or damaged. At the end of the day, over 1 out of 4 crew members who attacked were either wounded, killed in action or missing in action. Many of the MIA’s ended up in German POW camps for the remainder of the war. The loss data for the mission is as follows:

                         Dispatched   Failed Bomb  Attacked     Lost  % lost  Casualties

1st Air Division     149                48                   101          50      49.50%         481

3rd Air Division     142                14                   128          15      11.72%         158

Totals                   291                62                   229          65      28.38%         639

Note: failed to bomb were bombers that turned back before reaching the target because of mechanical, equipment or other reasons.

When I read the book, I thought that someday I wanted to write a novel about a B-17 crew. Over the years I read numerous books about the B-17 Flying Fortress. I visited museums to see in person aircraft from the World War II era. Busy with work and raising a family I just never got around to it. So when I retired, I decided to do as Nike says “Just Do It”.