Author George T. Chronis
December 2-11, 2014
Release date: September 30, 2014
Hardbound Equivalent = 600 pages
Sudetenland© is the premiere novel by author George T. Chronis. The book delivers suspenseful and sweeping historical fiction set against Central European intrigue during the late 1930s leading up to 1938’s Munich Conference. Having swallowed up Austria, Adolph Hitler now covets Czechoslovakian territory. Only France has the power to stand beside the government in Prague against Germany… but will she? The characters are the smart and sometimes wise-cracking men and women of this era – the foreign correspondents, intelligence officers, diplomats and career military – who are on the front lines of that decade’s most dangerous political crisis. If Czechoslovak president Edvard Beneš ignores the advice of French premier Édouard Daladier and refuses to give up Bohemian territory willingly, then Hitler orders that it be taken by force. The novel takes readers behind the scenes into the deliberations and high drama taking place within major European capitals such as Prague, Paris, Berlin, Vienna and London as the continent hurtles toward the crucible of a shooting war.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
After years as a journalist and magazine editor, George T. Chronis decided to return to his lifelong passion, storytelling. A lover of both 1930s cinema and world history, Chronis is now devoted to bringing life to the mid-20th Century fictional narratives that have been in his thoughts for years. Sudetenland© is his first novel. Taking place during turbulent times in Central Europe during the 1930s, the book took eight years to research and write. The author is already hard at work on his second novel.
Chronis is married with two daughters, and lives with his wife in a Southern California mountain community.
Today we have an interview with George T. Chronis. He recently published a novel set around the 1938 crisis between Czechoslovakia, Germany, France and Great Britain. Sudetenland is historical fiction with a dash of alternative history at the end. In tackling such a large European canvas we wanted to talk more with Chronis, an American journalist, about what led him to write the book and how he developed the characters.
These days we hear many comparisons between the tragic events in the Ukraine and what happened in the Sudetenland during 1938. But you started work on your book back in 2000. How did you get interested in the political intrigue between Paris, Berlin, Prague and London over territory in Western Bohemia?
When I was a kid I devoured as many history books as I could afford on my allowance. How France and Britain almost got pulled into World War II a year early over Adolph Hitler’s decision to use force to settle the question of ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia was something I was aware of. Later, as a teenager, I had a pen pal in Prague during the 1970s. Through him I was introduced to more personal perspectives on the crisis that always stuck with me. For years afterward I kept saving material on the subject.
France and Czechoslovakia were the two foundations of a treaty alliance intended to keep the peace in Europe after World War I. When the British refused to support France during the summer of 1938 as the crisis escalated, the French wavered and events progressed to the Munich Conference where Prime Minister Chamberlain and Premier Daladier gave Hitler permission to take the Sudeten territories. Without their main alliance partner, the Czechoslovak government concluded it was hopeless to fight alone and accepted the Munich diktat. Despite this there was strong support within the country to fight on alone and they had the means to do so. The echoes of German propaganda from the 1930s are still very strong and most people today don’t know how strong the Czech army was, or the mountains ringing the border that made invasion difficult, or the thousands of concrete fortresses adapted from the French Maginot Line designs built into those mountains. Similarly, the many deficiencies the German army had to work with are usually glossed over. It is no surprise that a significant portion of the front-line tank divisions rolling into Poland in 1939 and France in 1940 were led by Czech tanks the Germans had taken over.
For years this what-if question had been rolling around in my mind: what would have changed if the Czechoslovaks had fought? A good friend lobbied me that someone needed to write that story and I decided to start work on Sudetenland.
But Sudetenland is much more than a military story. You have journalists, spies and politicians aplenty. How did you develop these characters, and why?
My original focus was around a smaller, tighter plot that was more heavily rooted in the espionage aspects of the history. But what I have found as a writer is that your best characters and material write themselves. I fell in love with Ros, my American foreign correspondent. She was always in the story but I kept wanting to give her more to do. I was a magazine editor for many years and the journalism angle was very appealing. Add to that my love of 1930s cinema and all the great films with reporters like His Girl Friday, Too Hot to Handle, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Arise My Love and Foreign Correspondent. To open up more opportunities for Ros I threw out the original second act and created a new one set in Vienna as Hitler puts the screws to the Austrians. That was a natural prelude to the Sudeten Crisis so it worked, but in the process I needed some cohorts for Ros to play off of and I developed a group of foreign correspondent characters around her.
One of the advantages of having these reporters available is that there is a lot happening in different geographic locations during the second half of Sudetenland. Reporters like to be where the action is, so they became a wonderful way to have characters in places necessary to drive the story.
You also make use of many real people as characters. How did you go about deciding which of these individuals to use, and how much to use them?
Generally, I employed actual personages where they were needed to drive the story in circumstances where they actually played a part. Take William Shirer, for example. He was a reporter with Hearst International News who went on to be one of the early radio correspondents for Edward R. Murrow at CBS. Shirer wrote several memoirs including Berlin Diary. He bounced around from Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany during 1938 and had tremendous first-person observations that I wanted to use. There were so many examples that I decided to make him a character. It was the best way I could pay homage to him while employing his material.
Charles de Gaulle is also a major character in your book. How did that come to pass?
De Gaulle was one of the great strategic warfare modernists in the 1930s. He was very vocal about his ideas and one of his pivotal books was The Army of the Future. Naturally, this put him at odds with the more traditional French generals who considered de Gaulle a pain in the ass. But as de Gaulle did lecture in the early 1930s at the Ecole Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr, France’s foremost military academy, and the best Czech officer cadets were also sent there in those years, I thought this was a good opportunity for de Gaulle to provide some inspiration to some of my Czech characters. During 1937 and 1938, de Gaulle was posted to an experimental brigade at Metz intended to test some of his strategies. When war comes in the book during 1938, France invades the Saar and de Gaulle is in the lead. Given the opportunity to show what his units could accomplish, I believe de Gaulle would have seized the moment and gone beyond the bounds of his instructions. Another historical question that has intrigued me is with such a powerful military how did France fall so easily in 1940? Through de Gaulle, the reader gets a clear picture of the why.
Another reason de Gaulle is important is that the common take on Czechoslovak strategic thinking was that it was a carbon copy of the French model. That wasn’t the case. The Czechs had a much more fluid sense of moving their assets around to meet tactical threats than in French doctrine of the time. De Gaulle is the French exception that helps the reader understand the Czech exception.
What were your goals when Sudetenland moves into alternative history? Some novels in this genre can be pretty imaginative.
There were two aims I laid out for myself. Having spent so many months researching so I could be accurate I had no desire to become whimsical with the history as Czechoslovakia and France come to blows with Germany in the book. At every step I tried to take the facts as they were and adapt them to the changing situation. That includes the mindsets of the characters. I always asked myself the question: “How do you stay honest to what really happened prior to September 25th, 1938?”
The other aim regards where I take the story in future installments. I was always rather fond of Cold War spy fiction. But after 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall that genre lost much of its steam. A tantalizing idea I’ve played around with for a long time is what would it be like to have my own unique Cold War to work with. In addition to being a solid work of historical fiction in its own right, Sudetenland sets up a different Cold War that is very compelling and I am really excited about exploring in the future.
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