Prior to becoming an author, Jerry McLaughlin studied history, served in the US Army and worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. Now he’s the author of three books that bring American history to life. We wanted to find out more about his writing.
Q: Jerry, what motivated you to start writing books?
Jerry McLaughlin: My first book was totally motivated by the need to tell the story of how 15+ years of research had resulted in the solving of a family mystery that started the year I was born. The story tells how my generation of the family, and good people involved from outside the family, had worked with us to honor my uncle who had been killed in WWII on D-Day.
My second book was inspired by wanting to tell the story of an airplane restoration project I was involved with for six years in order to pay tribute to the people who had done the restoration work. There is no doubt that the feeling of accomplishment from my first book was a motivation to take on this second project.
My third book was an act of respect. A 94-year-old good friend asked me to help him complete his memoir, which had been started several times without success.
Q: Can you tell me about your writing process? What strategies do you use when writing your books?
Jerry McLaughlin: The keywords for my strategy in book #1 were research, coordination and storytelling! It is a history story which required a significant amount of formal archival research and interviewing of participants involved in the events. Coordination was another keyword as many of the early collaborators did not speak English, requiring translations at both ends of letter writing circles.
My strategy with my second book was pure storytelling. I had literally been at the center of events that took place over a six-year period and had kept notes during the entire time. My strategy was driven by a mission to give credit to all of the individuals who did the work on the airplane we were restoring. The largest challenge was making the choices of what and who had to be cut out of what would have been a thousand-page book if everyone and every tiny event were included.
The strategy for my third book was a major challenge. Taking on the project was not my idea, but when a friend asks for your help you do not back away! I could not at first determine a clear strategy. My friend had three pieces of work that had been done by other individuals over the years about various portions of his life. They were totally uncoordinated. My initial strategy was to blend the previous work together into one document and then interview my friend to fill in the blanks. My wife was acting as the editor for the project and quickly determined that the varied writing styles and lack of coordination in the three previous attempts made that work, as it stood, virtually unusable. A new strategy was required.
Strategy #2 was to start the memoir again using my writing style, in the first person, and utilizing the previous materials only as notes. This strategy worked, but involved a significant amount of interaction with the subject himself, and to some extent, the original writers. The final result, in a single style of writing and a first-person delivery, was difficult to complete but very well received by the subject, and therefore a success.
Q: Do you have a writing routine?
Jerry McLaughlin: No. I write when I want to and stop when I feel I have reached the end of that session. I cannot ever remember scheduling a writing session. Many times when I am running up against a decision in my writing I will pause, go back to what I have written previously, do some editing and then return to work on my problem spot. In my third book I would often stop, call the subject and discuss points of his story and then return to writing. I enjoyed that methodology.
Q: As a published author, what has been your biggest reward?
Jerry McLaughlin: In all three of my books, the motivation was the immediate audience: family and my uncle’s comrades in book #1, my fellow project participants in book #2, and the individual and his family and friends in book #3. I am very happy that others beyond the immediate audience have taken an interest in all three books. The positive feedback from strangers is quite rewarding.
Q: What advice would you give a first-time author who hopes to be well received by a particular market?
Jerry McLaughlin: I was very lucky in that I found Gail and Dudley Court Press through a friend who had been in the publishing business. DCP has the ability to adapt to the market in question.
I would recommend that a first-time writer find a small publisher that is going to offer strong 1:1 involvement.
Q: Why do you continue to write your books? What makes it worthwhile for you?
Jerry McLaughlin: All three of my books were brought about by specific events in my life that I found compelling to record, so I don’t know that I will ever write another book. As a child in school, and later in high school and college, I was appallingly terrible in math and science, but the English teachers loved me. I feel that I am using my natural gift for writing when I enter into a book project, but I need a serious mission to inspire me to undertake the project.
The reaction of my immediate audience to my books makes the effort more than worthwhile. I also like the idea that after I am gone there will be something important to all of those individuals and their families with my name on it.
Jerry’s book, B-17 Flying Fortress Restoration: The Story of a WWII Bomber’s Return to Glory in Honor of the Veterans of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, can be purchased here.