I have written nearly 1000 posts since the beginning of the blog. Of course most of them have been about submarines and leadership but its been fun to record other historical events and key events from naval history. One project that I started a few years ago was about Captain Cassin Young. His story fascinated me and as I dug deeper and deeper into who he was, the story began to evolve in my mind as a book.
Writing a book is an interesting endeavor. You start with a spark of an idea, create the shell, do lots of research and then craft your story. Sounds very simple until you actually do it. The original idea was to use my researching abilities to map out his life and fill in the details with as much as I could find. Then, I decided to link his life to the circumstances of the world in which he lived at the times in which he was developing as a person. I guess that is the history buff in me. I think there’s always a connection between our life and the times we live that life in.
But history is not always pretty or clean. There are bumps and bruises along the way. Even institutions have their dark moments. The trick is to be accurate and let the chips fall where they may.
Such was the case with Cassin Young’s early days in the Navy. He lost his father at an early age so getting into the Naval Academy was a sure way for his family to afford his education and chance for a future. But the Naval Academy was going through a time of transition when he attended. The focus on technology was forcing the school to adapt to many new things. The old curriculum was not going to propel the Navy into the age where electronics, air power and submarines would become more and more important. The pressure must have been intense.
Added to that pressure was an ongoing need to reform the way Midshipmen were treated. Hazing was still very prevalent and reformers were anxious to get it under control. This created conflict with traditionalists and more progressive thinkers. Add to that the difficulty of some of the curriculum changes being brought about in the non-engineering fields. The result was that several scandals were exposed to the public during the years Young was a midshipman. A cheating scandal impacted the entire school and resulted in months of negative press coverage and high profile trials. Even the reformer who was brought in to help the academy grow suffered defeat as he was removed from his office unceremoniously.
The whole point to telling that part of the story was to show the character development of the men who sailed through that messy sea and emerged on the other side as better men. Many went on to prepare the Navy for its role in World War 2. Cassin Young was one of those. His later life was filled with examples of a man whose character was created in the fires of the four years he spent at the Academy.
Unfortunately, not everyone saw the vision the same way I did. Some people who also came from the Academy saw the stories as an attack on the academy and their heritage. A key reviewer of the draft withdrew his offer of support because of that and some other percieved negatives. When I got the call a month ago that told me they could not support the project, I set everything on a shelf. I have not really been able to write much of anything since then. My ship has been kind of drifting. The publisher that I had been communicating with told me that without the support I had been offered, he would be unable to move forward.
So what do you do with five years’ worth of research?
Push on. Adjust the sails a bit. Refocus. Reexamine the original story line and see what can be done to extend it more. What did I miss the first time that would help to tell the story. I realized that you can’t have a hero without having a protagonist. And one emerged that was sitting there on my shelf all along. The night Cassin young was killed, he inadvertently met his protagonist. And their stories show the parallel paths that they took all the way up until the night of November 13, 1942.
Time to get back to work. The story of this incredibly brave man will be told. Even if I have to publish it privately and hand deliver the books to anyone who needs to read the story, I will finish this project.
I hope you are enjoying your summer. Never give up.