THE HUNT FOR THE PEGGY C is a World War II-era adult historical thriller that I like to describe as Casablanca meets Das Boot. It’s about an American smuggler who struggles to rescue a Jewish family on his rusty cargo ship, outraging his mutinous crew of misfits and provoking a hair-raising 3,000-mile chase by an unstable Nazi U-boat captain bent on revenge. As the chase through storms, minefields, and naval battles intensifies, the smuggler falls in love with the family’s eldest daughter, a sweet medical student who must prove she’s as tough as her rhetoric to save them all.
John Winn Miller recently spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing his latest thriller, THE HUNT FOR THE PEGGY C:
Which took shape first: plot, character, or setting?
The plot. I had a dream one night and woke up and knew the first scene, the last scene, and the name of the tramp steamer at the heart of the story.
What attracts you to this book’s genre?
I’ve always loved adventure stories, particularly seafaring tales by Jack London or Joseph Conrad, as well as deeply research historical fiction by authors like Colleen McCullough. Tom Clancy and Frederick Forsythe also inspired me with their meticulous details about weapons and spy craft.
What was the biggest challenge this book presented? What about the biggest opportunity?
I had never been on a U-boat or a tramp steamer, nor had I been to many of the places in the novel. I spent years doing research, watching videos, consulting experts, and taking classes so I could accurately portray the technology, the history, and the look and feel of the time and place.
As a journalist, I was used to writing. As a novelist, I had a lot to learn. This process has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me, and I’m already working on sequels.
Was there anything new you discovered or that surprised you as you wrote this book?
I was stunned by how much I did not know about World War II, a subject I have read extensively about for years. In particular, I learned how individuals’ ingenuity and courage were as much responsible for the Allies’ victories as the generals.
No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?
This is really a story about how to be your true self and have the courage to face down your own demons and show courage in confronting evil.
What authors or books have influenced your career as a writer, and why?
John Le Carré. The utter genius of his writing style is breathtaking, not to mention his in-depth characterizations and intricate plots.
Colleen McCullough. Her series on ancient Rome is brilliant in capturing the personalities, the drama, and the historical background of a fascinating period in time.
Edgar Rice Burroughs. Yes, the author of the Tarzan and John Carter of Mars books. They were all books I couldn’t put down as a kid.
Is there a question that you feel is important to you and/or your novel? Write it in below but be sure to answer it too!
Q: How did your research for the novel affect your view of World War II?
A: It was even sadder, more brutal, and more shocking than I had imagined. The persecution of the Jews, for instance, was so much more insidious and widespread because the Nazis found willing collaborators in every country they occupied. Many German soldiers and sailors believed they had God on their side and were willing to commit unbelievable atrocities in the name of patriotism.
John Winn Miller is an award-winning investigative reporter (Pulitzer finalist), foreign correspondent, editor, newspaper publisher, screenwriter, movie producer, and novelist. The Lexington, KY, native was a foreign correspondent for The Associated Press and Wall Street Journal/Europe based in Rome, Italy; executive editor of newspapers in Pennsylvania and Florida; and publisher of newspapers in Washington state and New Hampshire.
He also helped produce four independent feature films: Hitting the Cycle with Bruce Dern; Armed Response with Adam and Alan Arkin; Band of Robbers, written and directed by Adam and Aaron Nee, and Ghost in the Family.
Miller and his wife Margo live in Lexington. Their daughter Allison Miller is an actress-screenwriter-director currently starring on the ABC series A Million Little Things.
To learn more about the author and his work, please visit his website.
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