In the aftermath of my review of the impressive book Rock Force, author Kevin Maurer kindly accepted to answer questions for this blog. Here is the content of our interesting exchange.
Rock Force is an excellent book and now ranks among my favorites. Where did the idea of this book come from?
The idea came from my editor, Brent Howard. We were talking about World War II books and he mentioned his grandfather jumped with the 503rd. He said no one had really told the story in a narrative fashion, so I took the challenge. It was great working with Brent because from the start, it was clear he was as invested in the success of the book as I was. He was an amazing collaborator and the book is much better thanks to his edits.
I wrote Rock Force at night from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.
You have written several books about military history and Special Forces. Could you tell us more about your writing process? In other words, what are the steps you are following and do you have any specific ritual (like wearing something special like I’ve read about an author in the past)?
I don’t do anything special. I grew up in newsrooms and did a lot of reporting in the field, so I am used to working under a deadline. I treat writing like work. I get up every day and dig the ditch. The only thing I try to do is block off time and stick to it. I wrote Rock Force at night from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Essentially, I imagined how I would write the story if I was following Calhoun and McCarter during the battle.
There are several poignant stories in Rock Force – my favorite being the one about the amputation. Is there another one that was not included, but that you might accept to share with our readers?
I got all the best stuff into the book. One of the things I tried to do was bring some of my experience embedded with airborne units to this story. Essentially, I imagined how I would write the story if I was following Calhoun and McCarter during the battle. One of the things I am proudest about this book is how many interesting stories I got into the narrative and how these stories really helped us understand the men who fought on Corregidor.
One of the reasons I think you’re seeing more in the Pacific is because there aren’t as many untold or under told stories in the Europe.
I have a feeling that the military history of Pacific theatre during World War II is a growing trend, notably outside the US. Would you agree with this assessment and why is it important to know more about that Theatre of operations in your opinion?
I think the Pacific Theatre has taken a backseat to the European Theatre for a long time. One of the reasons I think you’re seeing more in the Pacific is because there aren’t as many untold or under told stories in the Europe. There are a few – I’m researching one now – but I don’t think modern readers know the Pacific war history as well, nor do they know the locations, so there is something exotic about all of it. For those readers interested in getting more from the Pacific Theatre, I’d read some of James Scott’s work. His latest on the Battle of Manila is a masterpiece.
Donovan’s assessment of the ideal OSS recruit always stuck with me: “a PhD who could win a bar fight.”
Who’s your favorite World War II warlord (marshal, admiral, general or any other rank) – the one with whom you’d love to have a beer – and why?
I’m split between Gen. Matthew Ridgway, the 82nd Airborne Division’s commanding general, or William Donovan, the head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). I covered the 82nd and love the division history. Ridgway is one of the forefathers of the airborne and you have to love a general who will jump with his troops. He also replaced MacArthur in Korea.
Donovan is a fascinating guy from his service in World War I to the creation of the OSS. I’ve been searching for an OSS story for a while now, so I’ve been poking around its history. I find unconventional warfare fascinating. Donovan’s assessment of the ideal OSS recruit always stuck with me: “a Ph.D. who could win a bar fight.”
Beers with either one would be fascinating and depending on where, high adventure.
The military is a special thing because it is one of the rare places where America’s ideals around being a melting pot are realized.
You have spent lots of time with soldiers and you have written about them – in a brilliant and engaging way. What do you admire the most about these women and men who make tremendous sacrifices – sometimes even the ultimate one?
There is something compelling being around folks who are committed to one another and a common cause that is much bigger than themselves. The military is a special thing because it is one of the rare places where America’s ideals around being a melting pot are realized. You’ll see men and women from drastically different backgrounds who wouldn’t ever talk to one another work in tight quarters to accomplish a mission.
I assume you must be a book lover yourself. What are your favorite military history books on your bookshelf? And is there an author that inspired you in a particular way?
Elmore Leonard is probably my favorite novelist. Don Winslow is amazing too. For Nonfiction, I love Hampton Sides and Jon Krakauer. When it comes to military history, I’ll read anything Annie Jacobson, Alex Kershaw, James Scott and Mark Bowden write. I got into military reporting because of Bowden and Neil Sheehan. Both writers really inspired me, but the one correspondent that was my north star was Ernie Pyle. He wrote about soldiers in such a unique way. I loved his prose and how he told the human story. I tried – and often failed – to do the same thing. Everyone here can tell a story first. That is what I aspire to do with every project.
Are you currently working on another book? If so, would it be indiscreet to ask you what it will be about?
My next book comes out in April 2022. It’s called Damn Lucky and follows the career of John “Lucky” Luckadoo, a B-17 bomber pilot in the 100th Bomb Group. Lucky is still alive and I’m really honored to get a chance to tell his amazing story. You can preorder it here.
Thank you, Mr. Maurer, for your generosity in answering these questions and you can be sure I’ll be among the first readers of your next book! Another masterpiece, I am sure.