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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!

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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.”

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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

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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

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Giveaway

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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