More than twenty-five years ago, a publisher’s rep got in touch with me with a simple question: What did I think about writing an organizational communication textbook? Good question, I responded. I didn’t particularly like anything that was available, and I figured I could just imagine myself lecturing to a roomful of undergraduates and write it all down. So I said yes, and wrote most of Organizational Communication: Approaches and Processes while my infant daughter slept (thank God the girl liked naps!). In the years since the book came out, I’ve come back to it multiple times for the extensive updates and revisions required to keep a textbook current. It’s now in its seventh edition, and with a co-author (Josh Barbour of the University of Texas), I hope it will continue to thrive in the changing world of digital textbooks as well as in its old-fashioned hardback form. Here’s the Amazon link to the book, if you’re interested.
A few years after that, another publisher asked if I would be interested in writing a book about communication theory. I gave that proposition a bit more thought (it’s a big discipline with a lot of theory!) but decided to give it a go, and the result was Communication Theories: Perspectives, Processes, and Contexts. This one only made it to two editions before I decided that the field of communication was too vast for me to update every few years. It’s still available on Amazon, though, in all its out-of-date glory.
Writing textbooks, though fun, is not generally thought of as a labor of love. My third book was just that. And also a labor of honor for family, a labor of regret for conversations missed … and a way to understand how our lives are shaped by both intimate relationships and global history. This book, War Makes Men of Boys: A Soldier’s World War II, had its genesis in a box of letters my sisters and I found after our father’s death in 2006. And this is what the cover blurb says about the book that resulted:
“Hundreds of novels have been written about young men coming of age in war. And millions of young men have, in fact, come of age in combat. This is the story of one of them, as told by his daughter, based on the daily letters he wrote to his family in 1944 and 1945. After ten months of stateside training, nineteen-year-old Joe Ted (Bud) Miller shipped out from New York harbor in November 1944 and served with the 63rd Infantry in France and Germany. Although he fought with his unit at the Colmar Pocket and earned a Bronze Star for his role in pushing through the Siegfried Line, his letters focus less on the details of battle than on the many aspects of his life in the military: food, PX, movies, biographies of friends and platoon-mates, training activities, travelogues, and the behavior (good and bad) of officers. The book serves as a window onto more general questions of how individuals navigate complicated turning points thrown at them by external events and internal struggles as they move from youth to adulthood.”
Writing War Makes Men of Boys (check it out here on Amazon) made me realize that I wanted to move even farther astray from my academic roots to explore — through both creative nonfiction and fiction — the ways in which lives are embedded in and shaped by the history that surrounds us.