To celebrate Giving Tuesday and the First Author's Initiative, one of UPM’s most prolific authors discusses his first book
Author Wolfgang W. E. Samuel came to UPM with his first manuscript, German Boy: A Refugee’s Story in the late 1990s. It was published in August 2000 and was an instant success. Publishers Weekly called it “An engrossing and powerful narrative." The Washington Post Book World, in their positive review, said,"German Boy is also a testament to human adaptability and the survival instinct."
Over twenty years later, Wolfgang has published eight books with UPM. To celebrate Giving Tuesday, and in support of the First Author’s Initiative, he writes about the experience of writing the one that started it all, German Boy.
German Boy is my first book which I wrote to honor my mother Hedy for all the sacrifices she made for her children. She and I never talked about those days once we came to the United States, and she would have never allowed me to publish this book when she was still alive.
When I came to the US as a 16-year-old I could not speak a word of English and had at best an 8th grade education. Eleven years later I was flying spy flights against the Soviet Union—only in America, it still is the land of opportunity. I served 30 years in the US Air Force and subsequently worked as a program manager for a major defense contractor. My mother’s death was a traumatic event for me. We were WWII survivors, survived the 8th Air Force bombings in Berlin, then fled Russian tanks in the final days of the war. Death was all around us. Hedy was shot and survived miraculously. We two bonded not only as mother and son, but as survivors of an ugly war. So, once she passed, I felt compelled to write her story. I did not know what I remembered since we had never talked about those days, so I started her story on day one when our lives turned upside down. I was surprised how it all came back. It was a very difficult book for me to write, but it was something I had to do. I, the German Boy, am just the storyteller of Hedy’s courage and perseverance.
Once I finished the book, I tried to find a publisher. I was always turned down, often with no reason given. At other times I was told the book was too detailed, meaning I made it all up. It was indeed discouraging.
One evening I was giving a presentation on my Berlin Airlift of 1948/49 experiences at the National Archives. After the event ended, a gentleman came up to me and said, “Colonel Samuel, you should write a book.” I told him that I had, but no one wanted to publish it. He scribbled his address on a piece of paper and said, “Please send me the manuscript.” I had no idea who he was. I assumed he thought I knew, so he didn’t write down his name. I sent him the manuscript. Only days later I received a lengthy fax message from Stephen E. Ambrose saying German Boy has all the qualities of greatness. His response became the Foreword to the book.
Now, who do I turn to. I did a little research and I learned that Ambrose had published some of his early books with The University Press of Mississippi, so I turned to them, not the big-time publishers who had shrugged me off before. Craig Gill, (now the Director of UPM), received my request cordially, gave me all the editorial assistance I needed, and in 2000, German Boy was released in a beautiful hard copy version to great acclaim. The book was very positively reviewed by the New York Times, The Washington Post, and many others. Publishers who once turned me down suddenly showed interest, and the book was released by Broadway Books, a division of Random House, as a paperback in 2001, with several printings, and in following years by Hodder & Stoughton in Great Britain.
Throughout the process, Craig Gill and his great staff stood by my side and provided whatever support I needed. It turned out writing became a passion for me, and many publishers this time around contacted me rather than me going to them. I had found the perfect publisher as far as I was concerned and saw no need to make any changes. To date, I have published eight titles with UPM’s wonderful director and staff. For any nascent author, I would say if they decide to do your book, you couldn’t do any better.
Wolfgang W E Samuel
Colonel. USAF (Ret)
A great UPM fan