I write to be read. I'm quite direct about that. I'm not writing to thrill colleagues or to impress the professors at the University of Iowa; that's not my goal.
At first glance, the story of the Lusitania doesn't seem like the sort of thing I would take on. I usually like ideas that are a little bit more complex, things that people don't know about - or maybe they once did, but now you bring it to life for them for the first time.
I do think hubris played a role here as well, the belief that the Lusitania was too big and too fast to ever be caught by any submarine, and that, in any case, no U-boat commander would think to attack the ship because to do so would violate the long-held rules governing naval warfare against merchant shipping.
The one place where I do think our culture today has to be extremely careful is this whole thing about illegal aliens. Because any time you start defining a significant block of the population as 'others,' or as less than you, you start getting into dangerous waters.
I was a promiscuous reader. I loved Nancy Drew books and Tom Swift - never the Hardy Boys - but I also read Dumas, Dickens, Poe, Conan Doyle, and Cornelius Ryan's war books. As to favorite character: I'm torn between Nancy, on whom I had an unseemly crush, and Edmond Dantes, the Count of Monte Cristo.
What is clear is that in 1900, Galveston was growing fast, had already become the number one cotton port on the Gulf Coast, and was already being referred to as 'the New York of the Gulf.'
Trying to find ideas is the hardest part of my job. You'd think it would be the most fun. Just sitting around reading whatever I want, going to cafes and libraries. But I always feel so unproductive. I think I was raised too well by my parents.
Hitler was such an anomalous character - he was so over-the-top chaotic in his approach to statesmanship, his manner and in the violence which overwhelmed the country initially. I think diplomats around the world... felt like something like that simply would not be tolerated by the people of Germany.
I'm very perverse. If someone tells me I have to read a book, I'm instantly disinclined to do so.
There is no secret orchard where ideas grow. Oh my, do I wish there were.
'The Devil in the White City' - the 'White City' was the nickname for the World's Fair of 1893, the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
I started deliberately looking for characters, ideally outsiders and ideally Americans. So I just started reading widely, as I tell my students to do: read voraciously and promiscuously.
It's like being involved in a detective story, looking for that thing that nobody else has found.
I knew from an online search that the Wisconsin State Historical Society, on the vast University of Wisconsin campus, held the papers of Sigrid Schultz, a spunky correspondent for the 'Chicago Tribune' who became one of Martha Dodd's friends in Berlin.
I've really tried to strip my writing of as many adjectives and adverbs as I possibly can.
The writer marks the changes he wants to make, while a proofreader also goes through the galley, checking it page-by-page against the manuscript. Once all these changes are identified, a second-pass proof is made, and this, too, gets sent to the author and the proofreader, and the process begins anew.
My favorite zone is from 1890 -1915, that zone that spans the overlap of the so-called Gilded Age and the Progressive Era. People had such a boundless sense of optimism; They felt they could do anything they wanted to do, and they went out and tried to do it.
That's what I love about history - nuance. I don't believe in unalloyed heroes. Everyone's got warts, and everyone's got a surprise side.
My goal is to produce as rich and historical an experience for the reader as I possibly can, to the point where when somebody finishes reading the book, he or she emerges from it with a sense of having lived in the past.
The SA, that is the - shorthand, those are the storm troopers. Those are the folks who are commanded by Captain Ernst Rohm.
I've met many Holocaust survivors who find the era infinitely compelling because they have this deep hunger to understand how it all could possibly have happened.
As a writer, you always try to imagine, 'What if I were in a situation like this? How would I react?'
The sinking of the Lusitania wasn't the proximal cause for the U.S. entering WWI. It was almost two years between the sinking and the war declaration, and President Wilson's request for war never mentions the Lusitania.
I figured, correctly, that Berlin in February was not a destination coveted by tourists. I found good airfares on Lufthansa, an airline I quite like, and got a great rate at a brand new Ritz-Carlton, which clearly hoped to seduce visitors into forsaking Hawaii for Potsdammer Platz.
As a rule, I am very skeptical of tying books to anniversaries. I don't think readers care. I also feel that it just about guarantees that somebody else will be writing a book on the same subject, but being a former journalist, I'm always interested in, like, why write about something today? Why do it now?
I was in Bucks County at the 'Bucks County Currier Times,' which is a great place to start for any reporter who wants to start out.
I've been asked a lot lately what message is there in the Lusitania for the modern day. To be honest, not much. Except that maybe hubris and overconfidence are always dangerous things.
My office is tiny. I think most people would be shocked if they came to my home and saw it. It is, in fact, the former makeup room of a gorgeous local TV newscaster. I keep a neat desk. Clutter makes me anxious.
The Lusitania is a monument to this optimism, to the hubris of the era. I love that, because where there is hubris, there is tragedy.
I like all kinds of music, though I tend to prefer jazz and classics.
One of the really amazing things about the Lusitania saga was that, at the time, there existed in the admiralty a super-secret spy entity known as 'Room 40'.
The toilet from time to time imparted to the boat the scent of a cholera hospital and could be flushed only when the U-boat was on the surface or at shallow depths, lest the undersea pressure blow material back into the vessel.
The most painstaking phase comes when the manuscript is set in 'type' for the first time and the first proofs of the book are printed. These initial copies are called first-pass proofs or galleys.
With my research, I really need absolute confirmation of what actually happened, direct physical connections to the past.
I don't really have a bucket list, but if I did, one entry would be to dust off my college Russian and spend a big chunk of a year reading, or trying to read, 'War and Peace' as it was meant to be read, in Russian, with all that rumbly rocks-on-rocks poetry inherent to the language.
In hunting ideas for books, I look for stories about long-past events that once commanded the world's attention but that, for one reason or another, faded from contemporary awareness.
One question that often comes up is why, in this age of blogs and tweets and instant digital communication of all kinds, it still takes so long to publish a book.
I've heard from the movie marketplace that James Cameron did such a killer job with 'Titanic' that it's almost impossible to do anything better.
It's essentially taught in high school and college survey courses as an item on a timeline: 'The Lusitania was sunk; the U.S. gets into World War I'.
The thing I always tell my writing students - I'm not a full-time instructor, by any means, but periodically I've taught writing students - what I always tell them is that the most important thing in narrative nonfiction is that you not only have to have all the research; you have to have about 100% more than you need.
In 1933, the Gestapo was founded to become - to be a secret police agency to keep tabs on political opposition and so forth. Brand-new as of April 1933.
When I'm in New York, I have, like probably everybody else in Manhattan, a white-noise generator to use at night: a Marpac Dual-Speed Dohm-DS. It is terrific. I've never slept better in the city.
Anytime you look at someone in detail, you're putting the camera on that person. What I typically look for is one or two or three really strong characters who will hold the narrative throughout the work.
Every time I sit down to reread 'War and Peace' - I've read it three times - I feel as though I've lived another life.
It troubled me that we had these reports of torture of detainees, we had people jailed at Guantanamo Bay who couldn't even talk to their lawyers and couldn't see the evidence against them - sort of fundamental bedrock civil liberties things.
Room 40 knew a U-boat was heading south to Liverpool - knew the boat's history; knew that it was now somewhere in the North Atlantic under orders to sink troop transports and any other British vessel it encountered; and knew as well that the submarine was armed with enough shells and torpedoes to sink a dozen ships.