Howdy folks! Welcome to the premiere blog for my brand new author’s web site!
As I was wracking my brain for what to write about today, I remembered that a number of reviewers of both Gettysburg: A Tale of the Second Pennsylvania War for Independence and Susquehanna: A Second Tale of Bestimmung Company have singled out a couple of characters from those tales as their favorites. So, I thought I’d talk a little about (literary-tradition wise) how I came up with one of those—Sergeant Joseph “Stug” Miller.
Who’s This “Stug” of Whom You Speak?
For those of you who haven’t read the B Company Books yet, the two tales that are out (and a third one that’s coming after the first of the year) are set in Michael Bunker’s world of Pennsylvania, a future wherein the Transport Authority (think “evil empire”) has severely limited people’s freedoms. A resistance group, known as TRACE, is fighting Transport to win back those freedoms.
Stug is second in command of Alpha Squad, one of five squads that make up TRACE’s Bestimmung Company. He’s a big, burly guy, always quick with a quip at someone else’s expense (though they almost always deserve it) and prone to whining in the middle of battle; not because he’s scared, but because he’s often frustrated. You see, Stug prefers to pummel Transport soldiers with his fists rather than shoot them from a distance with a weapon. The nature of warfare in the far future being what it is—reliant on lasers and such—means that Stug doesn’t get to do that as often as he’d like. He’s loyal to a fault to his commanding officer and friend, Lieutenant Sean Hatch, and he’s often the first one to charge into a dangerous situation (even while he’s complaining about it). Most reviewers find him a likeable if irascible character a little like Tyrion in George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books. (Only bigger and less lascivious. 😉 ) Stug was born on an Amish farm—the Amish have a central role in Bunker’s innovative take on the future—but left that pacifistic culture to join the resistance when he was young.
Blah, Blah —— You Said Something about Literary Traditions?
You don’t have to be a scholar to realize shortly after you meet Stug that you’ve probably met him before; at least, sort of. Falstaff, Robin, Tonto, Spock, Jesse Pinkman, Han Solo, Samwise Gamgee, the list goes ever on and on (kinda like the road in Tolkien’s tales). But all those characters I mentioned are more than sidekicks—they’re integral players in a larger story centered around someone (or something) else. Without them, we wouldn’t learn nearly as much or get nearly the nuanced storytelling we get regarding the central characters or events in the story.
Stug’s obvious Prince Henry, Batman, Lone Ranger, Captain Kirk, Walter White, Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, etc., is Lieutenant Hatch. They play off one another like a comedic duo sometimes, with Hatch having to bail Stug out of situations the sergeant’s mouth (and tendency to charge forward without thinking) often get him into. Maybe the closest literary comparisons for the Hatch-Stug team are the characters of Richard Sharpe and Patrick Harper, the officer/sergeant duo from Bernard Cornwell’s excellent Richard Sharpe series. Set in the Napoleonic Wars, Cornwell takes his hero-partner team (and the rest of their British Rifleman company) across Europe in tales of derring-do to free the continent from the despotic grip of Napoleon Bonaparte. I cite Cornwell in both B Company tales as a primary influence on my own adventure stories, and if you like historical fiction, there’s no better writer of them today. Looking for more tales like Gettysburg and Susquehanna? You can’t go wrong with the Sharpe series, starting with Sharpe’s Rifles. (Bit of trivia: a BBC movie series based on the novels is credited with giving Sean Bean, who plays the titular character, his big break. Bean went on to die valiantly as Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring and Eddard Stark in Game of Thrones. He seems to die valiantly a lot, come to think of it.)
One influence I haven’t, to date, acknowledged in the afterwords to my tales is an almost-forgotten comic book from the 1960s: Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos. (Let’s forego the argument about comic books as “literary”; we’ll be here all day, otherwise.) This was yet another comic created by the amazing team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who gave us the most memorable creations from Marvel Comics—Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Avengers. My brother Randy taught me to love history, especially military history, at a very young age, and so I latched onto this comic then too. What boy wouldn’t? Wise-cracking heroes, lots of cool battle scenes, beating up Nazi bad guys. It was great adventure fare more akin to war movies from the 1940s than to its super-hero counterparts on the comic book stand. (Still, I loved those too!)
The commandos were led by Nick Fury (the analog to Lieutenant Hatch in my stories), a tough-as-nails sergeant who loved chomping on cigars while mowing down Nazis—and honestly, who wouldn’t? You know him now as the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Marvel movies (as portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson), but in the Howlers comic books he was a sergeant in World War II. His sidekick/main buddy was named Dum-Dum Dugan, a former circus strongman who became a corporal (and second in command) of Fury’s elite commando unit during the war. (You knew he was a corporal because he wore his stripes on his signature bowler hat.) Along with Fury, who became its leader, Dum-Dum went on to be part of S.H.I.E.L.D. after the war. In fact, if you look closely in the recent Captain America movies, the Howlers (sans Fury, whose leadership role is taken on by Captain America himself) are there, including Dum-Dum (portrayed by actor Neal McDonough) fighting right beside Cap. The next time you see one of those movies, look for McDonough sporting Dum-Dum’s fire-red handlebar mustache and that bowler hat with the corporal’s stripes. Of all the secondary characters I’ve mentioned, I think Dum-Dum’s tendency to wisecrack and enjoy a good fistfight make him Stug’s literary granddad, hands down.
Are We There Yet?
Whew! So that was a long way around the Maypole, but I thought you might like to know a little bit about where Stug came from. Oh, and his name? The Sturmgeschütz (or StuG)—which means “assault gun”—was a widely feared German tank destroyer in World War II. Short, squat, but with a powerful punch, I thought its short, squat, powerful-sounding name fit my character to a T; despite the fact that my Stug isn’t very short or squat. 😉
I hope you enjoyed this “behind the scenes” look at Alpha Squad’s sergeant. If you’d like to meet him personally, have a look at Gettysburg; it reimagines the historic battle as a future conflict in the land of New Pennsylvania as TRACE goes looking for a resource it desperately needs. Based on the reviews at Amazon, folks seem to like it.
Thank you for reading my blog and visiting my site. More to come!