Posts Tagged ‘ron miner’

I’m thrilled to welcome Ron Miner back to Diary of an Eccentric today to celebrate the release of his new book, The Last Word: A Novel of the War in the Pacific. Ron is here to talk about his inspiration for the novel and share an excerpt. Please give him a warm welcome!


Hi, again, Anna.  Thanks so much for the opportunity.

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a journalist with an assignment in the year 2038. It’s an interview with an old man––a very old man.  And he fought in World War II.

My initial opportunity for an interview with a World War II veteran came six years ago, in 2014.  It was the first of nearly a dozen videotaped interactions with men who were members of a night flying Navy squadron that also included my father.  Dad had left behind a trove of writing and memorabilia, photos, artwork, and documentation about his adventures as a part of this little known group of flyers, and I had posthumously published a book about him and their exploits.  The book, Sketches of a Black Cat, was only the beginning of a journey that would include national museums, presentations, airshows, flights aboard World War II aircraft, experiences I never would have dreamed of when the project began.

As the interviews continued up and down the West Coast, I developed friendships and accumulated priceless narratives.  They told me stories with humor, sincerity, and tears––stories that begged for an audience.  By 2018, I knew it was time for a new book.

There was another influence.  A big one. This wonderful group of ninety-somethings that had so graciously invited me into their homes were passing away.  I was attending funerals and losing friends. I found myself wondering how long it would be before they were all gone. Some day, in the not so distant future, the process will play out until the last veteran in all of World War II surrenders to time.

It suddenly occurred to me that I should create that individual now.

I again put pencil to paper (OK, fingers to keyboard), and started developing a novel, my first attempt at historical fiction.  I was a reasonably experienced interviewer by then, had a wonderful assortment of compelling tales to draw from, and a pretty good notion of what my last World War II veteran might like to say on behalf of his colleagues, given the chance.  His personality became a composite of all the gentlemen that I’d interviewed, his mind filled with memories of skies above vast, unexplored regions, oceans between tiny specks of Pacific coral, and the nostalgia borne from well over a hundred years of living.  While my fictitious character recounts his story in 2038, it became a way of emphasizing how fragile––how finite––the World War II generation and their in-person accounts are today.

The Last Word seeks to include readers of novels and fiction, to share with them the legacies, drama, characters, and humor that made World War II a unique and unprecedented chapter in our nation’s history.

The following is an excerpt from Chapter One.  Dan, a journalist, and his self driving car piloted by his A.I. sidekick, Samantha, have stopped for coffee in rural, northern Minnesota:

Coffee in hand, Dan walked back toward the car.  He found the commercial paint job embarrassing, an off-white background veneering the sleek automobile’s body, with images of vintage newspaper clippings and pages covering every square inch of it, like decoupage. Local advertisers paid for the strategically placed, oversized electronic display ads that added color to the fictional edition. Each month, the ads rotated, and some of them could be real stinkers. Like the erection products.

At least they supplied him with a car for the trip, and there was no gas to buy.

Even with Samantha driving, Dan was ready to call it a night. He’d left work a little early to pack, but it had been a stretch getting everything together on such short notice. “Hey Sam, is there a decent hotel out here anywhere?”

“There are several choices within twenty minutes of driving, Dan. A Best Western Hotel, a Quality Inn, and a Radisson Hotel are showing occupancy. Would you like to travel to one of those?”

“Which one has a bar?”

“I think you better choose the Radisson, Dan. Serving until 1:30 a.m.”

That decided, Dan settled back and looked at his messages. Jenna was still concerned about the kitten. The little guy hadn’t been feeling well, running a high temperature, and the vet was at a loss. He wasn’t even a year old yet and seemed to be getting worse by the day. She had gently protested when Dan announced the paper’s sudden assignment, one involving a trip halfway across Minnesota that would keep him overnight. Jenna was a person who was heavily invested in her family, and that included animals that found their doorstep or had digital portraits featured in Saturday’s homeless pets section. He could feel the anxiety when she asked him why he needed to take this trip up there right now, while things seemed to be hanging in the balance.

But he had no choice really. This was not the kind of story that could wait, he’d explained. What could he do? He still wasn’t even sure why he’d been singled out for this, or for that matter, why his paper was contacted instead of the Star-Tribune or one of the other big Minneapolis dailies. Pulitzers had been handed out to some of the hotshots up there. The Winona Bulletin? Little league trophies. Yet here he was, three hundred miles north and at the approximate segue, the point from which some suggest the state is covered by nearly as much water as soil. The land of ten thousand lakes.

The Radisson did have a bar, and after Dan had secured a first floor room and dropped off his belongings, he headed straight for it. At this hour he hadn’t expected to see much going on, but the place was surprisingly peppy. He pulled a stool away from the handsome bar rail and sat down.

“What can I get you?” asked a rugged, silver-haired bartender dressed all in black.

“Bourbon and seven, if you would.”

“Coming right up. My name is Ted. All we have is a snack menu after 10, but we can still rustle up a sandwich. Like anything?”

“Sounds great.”

Ted expertly slid Dan’s drink and a short menu toward him. “Business in the area?” he inquired, wiping down glasses as Dan surveyed the choices.

“Actually, yeah. I’m up here on a story. More of an interview, I guess. There’s an old gentleman that lives west of here that, if you can believe it, fought in World War II.”

The bartender broke into a wide smile. “Hell, you mean old Owen Trimbel? I haven’t seen him in years. Navy guy. Glad to hear he’s still chugging along. Damn, he’s got to be, let’s see…”

“A hundred and twelve.”

“Geez, is that right?” Ted let out an impressive whistle. “You know, he used to come into Bunyan’s Bar and Grill every so often when I worked up there, sip a Schmidt Beer for an hour and talk with his buddies.” He continued with a chuckle, “But he outlived ‘em all, even the ones way younger than he was. After that, I’d hear something about him now and then, a Veterans Day article in the local rag here a time or two, but it’s been quite a while. How’s he doing?”

“I’ve never met him. In fact, never even spoke to him.” Dan took another sip of his drink. “I’m heading over there tomorrow. He and his daughter must share a place. Hell, even she’s nearly twenty years older than I am.”

“Well, I’ll be. You’re going to interview Owen Trimbel. I hope he’s holding up okay. A hundred and twelve! Damn!” A waitress flagged Ted down with a drink order and he quickly grabbed four glasses and headed toward the mixers.

Dan tossed back the last of his bourbon and slid a ten across the bar. Vending machine would do for tonight. He needed to turn in. As he stood, he found himself softly repeating Ted’s final refrain. “I hope he’s doing okay, too,” he whispered under his breath. “Hundred-and-twelve-year-old Owen Trimbel. The last surviving World War II veteran in the world.”


About The Last Word

A small town journalist is tasked with the most important assignment of his life––a conversation with the last surviving World War II veteran. And the man is willing to talk.

Gleaned from real life filmed interviews with ten squadron members, this novel is a poignant tale of a life well lived, and an evocative legacy of rescue missions and night flight from New Guinea to the Mariana Islands of World War II’s South Pacific.

Dan Callahan’s next three days take him on a pilgrimage of over one hundred years in the life of Owen Trimbel, a Great Depression-era Minnesota farm boy. Owen’s story begins with an unforgettable visit to an uncle’s home near Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Over the next hours and days, he enchants Dan with his collective wisdom, humor, and philosophy––from the intricacies of attaching a plow to a mule to firing the .50 caliber machine guns from his PBY Catalina’s waist hatches.

Dan soon realizes that he currently occupies a rare instant in the trajectory of history: he can actually speak with an individual who lived the World War II experience––and it is something that will end with Owen.

The Last Word takes us on missions over an endless sea, lacing together stories of duty, friendship, responsibility, and ninety-year-old secrets.

Buy on Amazon


About the Author

Ron Miner

In the late 60’s, I attended the University of Rhode Island, playing soccer, baseball, and graduating with a B.A. in English and minor in landscape design. In 1979, I began a career as a landscape designer and contractor. The opportunity to pen my father’s memoirs, developing the story from a library of unknown resources, rekindled my passion for writing. I am currently submitting articles about the Black Cats and their saga to magazines around the country.

My wife, Heidi, and I live with our dogs in the Oregon countryside near Salem. Heidi is a retired school teacher and we are both active hikers, gardeners, and photographers.

Connect with Ron Miner: website | Facebook | Goodreads



Ron is generously offering a mobi, PDF, or epub version to three lucky readers, open internationally. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. This giveaway will be open through Sunday, July 5, 2020. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

Thank you, Ron, for being my guest today, and congratulations on your new book!

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sketchesI’m delighted to welcome Ron Miner to Diary of an Eccentric today to celebrate the release of the Expanded Edition of Sketches of a Black Cat. I reviewed the first edition of Miner’s book in 2014. Please give Ron a warm welcome as he talks about compiling his father’s artwork and journals from World War II into this fascinating memoir.

This is the simple version of a puzzle that fell into my lap a few years ago when my father passed away at 92. I guess he was typical of most WWII veterans, choosing not to say much about his war experiences and pursue life in a different lane. Just as typically, I was one of four children who never really asked enough of the right questions, and when he passed, assumed I had squandered any chance of exploring this important part of his life with him. But there is more to the story — remember I mentioned art?

When I was a boy, Dad led me to a file cabinet in our basement one morning and pulled from it a worn manila folder. In it were wonderful images — sketches and watercolors of planes, soldiers, and jungles — exciting stuff for a kid. For years afterward I would sneak to the basement to show friends his artwork, until one day I found the cabinet locked. He was on to me, and I wouldn’t see the sketches again as a young man.

Fast forward to the fall of 2011, when after considerable difficulty in making the arrangements, my siblings and I flew across the country and gathered at a small country cemetery for a ceremony. Afterward, we began the sad task of going through his things. I was greatly relieved when my wife found his WWII artwork in an album. Then my brother discovered the first box, and we quickly found others, a nearly 70-year-old trove of war memorabilia, photos, letters sent home, notebooks, and scrapbooks. It occurred to me that my father’s entire wartime story might be hidden within these boxes — if I could just figure out how to put the all of these pieces together again.

In July of 2016, Sketches of a Black Cat was released as an expanded edition — expanded because the original version of the book that was intended for the family generated more traction than I had ever dreamed. More about that later. I mentioned flying huge planes in the dark.

Dad was one of the Navy’s Black Cats, guys who flew at night, without lights, in planes painted entirely black — the original stealth aircraft. He was a pilot aboard one of these PBY Catalinas, 100’ wingspan amphibious airplanes as well suited to the bays as they were the landing strips. The Cats searched the South Pacific, dropping everything from bombs and torpedoes to beer bottles in an attempt to harass and disable a cunning adversary. And to a downed flier, a PBY on a rescue mission was a welcome sight indeed.

His is a tale of seven buddies who flew at night, slept and got into mischief by day, then repeated it all, often cruising 12 hours or more at a time on missions in and around Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands. Dad also used this stretch between missions to sketch and write about what he was seeing. Eventually, the squadron would find nearly every island between the Solomons and the northern Philippine group, searching for Japanese shipping, discovering native cultures, and rescuing surviving airmen. It is a warm and personal story, one that can be humorous or poignant and sometimes tinged with drama and tragedy.

It is written in a memoir style, feeling much as if you or I were suddenly swept away from college life and into the chaos that was WWII. Relating the war through the eyes of an artist, at times there is a certain poetry to the telling:


Courtesy of Ron Miner

Our flight took us over a towering range of mountains shrouded in a heavy blanket of clouds, creating the illusion of an endless snowfield stretching out as far as the eye could see. Occasionally, the clouds parted revealing craggy green mountaintops. As we broke through the cover, a tiny group of islands appeared in the distance. I was in the copilot seat and could soon see the atoll below, an arrowhead shaped perimeter of coral surrounded by a deep cobalt central lagoon that gradually became reddish brown where the various colored coral rose toward the surface, and jade near the edges in areas that sand had collected over it. A garland of foam surrounded the outside fringe of the island where the incoming waves were split by the jagged reefs. As we drew closer, villagers appeared on the beach, among them, groups of young women prancing about topless, somewhat of a new experience for most of us on board. To our disappointment, by the time the outriggers arrived, the ladies were discreetly re-clad in white blouses and there was nothing more to do than drop anchor and set about unloading the cargo. These were a handsome people with strong physiques, somewhat lighter skinned and with smooth complexions. It seemed the men did not readily mark their bodies or paint their hair, and women were shy and attractive with flowers adorning their long hair and sometimes their necks. Most spoke broken English. They escorted us to the beach in canoes through spectacular coral beds. I would have loved to have shared this experience with my Zoology group at Woods Hole — intriguing masses of red pipe and blue and yellow star coral, white brain coral, sea urchins, giant sea squirts, and colorful protochordates of every kind. This was truly a paradise.

Such was the contradiction of war and my father found himself at times conflicted about it all — the natural beauty of the islands and cultures, and the need to destroy an enemy that was using it all as cover.

The first book led to a fortuitous meeting with a special man, a Black Cat who had flown with my father and was living right here in Salem, Oregon. Over time, with his help, I was able to locate 7 PBY crewman from the war and gather filmed interviews to be used in a short, upcoming documentary. Gradually, I was finding answers to the questions I had never asked and gaps in the story were filled with new first hand accounts and historical insights. Characters and personalities revealed themselves more fully and I now felt a compelling story about a largely unheralded squadron was truly complete and ready to share.

The book and artwork have found their way into galleries and museums, most notably the National Museum of the Pacific War in Texas. Who knew? I continue to contact museums and search for other surviving Cats, and whenever I can, encourage families who are lucky enough to have a surviving veteran as a friend or loved one to ask the questions, gently at first. I’ve found most of them to be very forthcoming with the stories at this point in their lives. And it is so important to capture the narratives and the history of this generation while we still can. These legacies are their gifts to us and all of those who will follow.

Thanks, Ron, for sharing your father’s story and a bit about how the project came to be. Best of luck with the documentary!


About Sketches of a Black Cat

(Available in Color or B&W) This beautiful, new FULL COLOR second edition is now one hundred pages longer, filled with additional fresh stories, artwork, photos, and adventures. Since the release of the original, I’ve interviewed seven Black Cats and PBY crew members, discovered a host of new writing, over a hundred letters and documents, and had the pleasure of meeting and corresponding with an array of squadron family members. “Sketches of a Black Cat” will interest first time and repeat readers alike.

Howard Miner was a student at a small Midwestern college when the War broke out. His journey through training and tours of duty as a PBY pilot in the South Pacific are skillfully captured in his art and narratives, framing a wartime drama with a personal coming of age story. This memoir has been reconstructed from a small library of unpublished artwork, journal entries, and writing, providing an enjoyable behind the scenes look at the Navy Black Cats. The descriptive verse from the artist’s viewpoint gives us a creatively told and intriguing portrayal of WWII’s Pacific Theater.

Check out Sketches of a Black Cat on Amazon | Goodreads


About the Author

Ron Miner

Ron Miner

In the late 60’s, I attended the University of Rhode Island, playing soccer, baseball, and graduating with a B.A. in English and minor in landscape design. In 1979, I began a career as a landscape designer and contractor. The opportunity to pen my father’s memoirs, developing the story from a library of unknown resources, rekindled my passion for writing. I am currently submitting articles about the Black Cats and their saga to magazines around the country.

My wife, Heidi, and I live with our dogs in the Oregon countryside near Salem. Heidi is a retired school teacher and we are both active hikers, gardeners, and photographers.

Connect with Ron Miner: website | Facebook | Goodreads

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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sketches of a black cat

Source: Review copy from author
Rating: ★★★★☆

The smoke covered hillside dimmed the flashes as our altitude increased.  Ahead, a last bursting shell fanned out in the clear smokeless sky like a brilliant American star to light our way.

(from Sketches of a Black Cat, page 94)

Quick summary: Sketches of a Black Cat is the World War II story of Howard Miner, a PBY pilot in the South Pacific.  His son, Ron Miner, found his artwork, journal entries, and other writings after his death and transformed them into this memoir, which chronicles Howard’s military training, service during WWII, and his life after the war.

Why I wanted to read it: I had never heard of the Black Cats, who flew at night in black seaplanes.  I also was curious about Howard Miner’s story and his artwork.

What I liked: The sketches and writings found by Ron Miner after his father’s death are a real treasure.  Sketches of a Black Cat not only shows his father’s evolution from student to soldier but also emphasizes Ron’s love and admiration for his father.  Howard Miner’s story is detailed, full of adventure and even humor.  The photos, sketches, and watercolors bring this memoir to life.

What I disliked: I wouldn’t say I really disliked anything in this book, but at times, it was too detailed for me.  The descriptions of the planes and their maneuvers, for instance, were not as interesting to me as the overall story.

Final thoughts: As fewer and fewer heroes from WWII remain to tell their stories, books like Sketches of a Black Cat take on greater importance, and the inclusion of original artwork make it one of the most unique WWII memoirs I’ve read so far.  I appreciate Ron Miner taking the time to reconstruct his father’s story, sharing it with the world and ensuring his father and his tales of courage during wartime will live forever within its pages.

war challenge with a twist

Book 18 for the War Challenge With a Twist (WWII)

Book 1 for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Book 1 for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received Sketches of a Black Cat from the author for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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