When Roger Bares decided ten years ago to write a book, it wasn’t Beyond The Sea: A Tale Of Love & War In The South Pacific, his 240-page historical novel set in the weeks and months just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. What Roger set out to write was a sober historical study of Navies Of The World in the early years of the Pacific theater of World War Two.
He had begun the book with the help of Pat Collins Bares, his wife of 45 years. “Pat was a great help with the research on Navies Of The World,” Roger said the other day on the telephone from California, where he and Pat had traveled from their home in Saluda to visit family. “But then she got a job as a full-time assistant editor, and work on the book pretty much slowed down.”
But having been bitten by the writing bug, Roger decided to instead produce a work of fiction, using the background research that had already been done. “I’d never written fiction before,” Roger says, “but I just knew I wanted to write about a boat.”
Thus was born Beyond The Sea, much of the action of which centers around a PT boat in the South Pacific in 1941 and which stars as its hero 25-year-old Navy Lieutenant Allen Moore, first seen in the book piloting his craft into Manila Bay just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He is from Illinois (as is his creator), and is, as Roger writes, “lean and strong…long hours in the sun had toughened and tanned his fair complexion and bleached his light brown hair to a dusty blonde.”
Roger himself is now seventy and eschews any intentional similarity with his fictional hero. “He’s a clean-cut, all-American boy from a rural area near Chicago,” Roger offers by way of the character’s backstory. “He wanted to join the Air Force and become a pilot, but his father’s business back in the States needs him, so he enlists in the Navy because he can get home sooner.”
None of this happened to Roger, who wasn’t even in the Navy but served in the Marines. Forty years ago, though, while he was working as the credit manager for the Chicago Tribune, he became friendly with the company’s treasurer, a man named Don Christiansen. Commuting home one evening on the train together, Roger noticed Christiansen reading a story from the Military Book Club about a naval battle in the Solomon Islands during World War II. “I’ve been reading World War II histories ever since,” Roger wrote in his book’s acknowledgment of his debt to Christiansen.
Beyond The Sea does include two characters who are Marines, but the rich historical tapestry out of which the story is woven is pure Navy. “I have a buddy who was in the Navy for nine years, so he helped with some of the detail,” Roger says. “I like description and detail, rather than character, so I thought I could keep the number of characters small if I put it on a PT boat. There’d be a lot more characters if it was set on a destroyer, say.”
Then, too, the books short, terse chapters — some only a page long — lend a sense of urgency and danger to the narrative. Still, Roger’s novel doesn’t totally revolve around torpedo-armed war heroes. There are women involved, chiefly Allen Moore’s girlfriend Maryann and Ysabel, who is the significant other of Allen’s ensign friend, Charlie Osborne. The fate of both women, who live in Manila, provides a thread of dramatic and romantic tension as the novel begins. “In the distance,” Roger writes as Allen guides his craft through the bay in the opening chapter, “fires burned all over Manila and smoke rose in the evening sky, giving the shoreline an eerie glow.”
“Writing non-fiction is a lot harder than writing fiction,” Roger says. “With non-fiction, you have to get the facts exactly right,” although his novel is set against a factual backdrop that’s historically accurate. The book might never have seen the light of day without the help of Pat, who put her editing and research skills to work to help shape the story as it emerged, and who shares a cover credit with Roger. For inspiration and accuracy, the couple drew on John Toland’s landmark The Rising Sun: The Rise And Fall Of The Japanese Empire and on the works of military historian Samuel Eliot Morrison. “Both authors belong on the shelves of anyone interested in military history,” Roger says. Then, too, there was John Ford’s They Were Expendable, MGM’s 1945 war drama with Robert Montgomery and John Wayne aboard a PT boat in the Philippines and Donna Reed as the love interest, based on a book of the same name by William White. “I’m sure I must have seen the film somewhere along the line,” Roger says.
Roger submitted the book to iUniverse, the on-line publishing house, early last year and it appeared in print in November, selling enough copies to encourage Roger to consider a sequel. “Writing the book was fun to do,” Roger says, “but it was a labor of love.”