If you were to write a nonfiction book, what would your topic be?
By Rebecca Cantrell
As a technical writer I wrote literally thousands of nonfiction pages. I mean, I thought they were nonfiction while I was writing them, or that they would one day be nonfiction. Because I wrote about products long before the products were completely finished, this wasn’t always true, but I tried very, very hard.
But they weren’t about topics I would have picked on my own. Who exactly would spend their spare time writing the Hyperion Essbase Database Administrator’s Guide? The Sun Java Studio Creator online help? The Sybase APT/GUI Installation Guide for all seven Unix platforms? No, for those I was paid real cash money and my employer got to pick the topics (Data load? Dimension build? Attributes that look like dimensions? You betcha).
If I had an infinite amount of time (that is, enough to be a happy wife and mother and write and promote all the fiction books I want to, plus extra time left over) I would write a biography of Ernst Röhm. I almost didn’t want to say it because it sounds so nerdy, but I figured if you slogged through the Essbase references, you are toughened up.
Ernst Röhm was Hitler’s best friend. His right hand man. Hitler once said “When they write the history of the Nazi party, he will be second in importance only to me.” Röhm built up the storm troopers. He was in charge of the secret cache of German weapons after the first World War, and he gave some to the Nazis for the failed Beer Hall Putsch. He was the only who actually accomplished his objective, take the barracks and wait for Hitler. Decorated war hero that he was, the judge let him off easy.
Röhm shows up in my first book, A TRACE OF SMOKE, because he came back to Germany to save Hitler’s butt after the storm troopers rebelled. He’s an interesting guy, for a variety of reasons, one of which is that he was gay and out. And everybody knew it.
But there is no published biography of him that I could unearth. To find out about him, I had to read the bits where he's mentioned in huge history books (like RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH), plus a few passages in Sefton Delmer's autobiography, THE COUNTERFEIT SPY, but mostly I read Röhm's autobiography, published in 1928, then mostly destroyed later by the Nazis, but snagged from some school in Dresden and dragged back to UC Berkeley where it was bound in a bright orange cover. And it's all written using the old fashioned Fraktur font.
He's not a good guy or anything, but all the other Nazi figures have been profiled, from the important ones all the way down to the secretary who typed Hitler’s personal letters. But not Röhm. Why not? I think because he’s so gay that Nazi scholars are afraid to claim him, and he’s so Nazi that gay scholars don’t want him either. But somebody should. He was a fascinating guy, albeit a dangerous and scary brute.
How did he die? Hitler ordered his best friend shot in 1934 (yes, that’s in the second book, A NIGHT OF LONG KNIVES). It seems to have been one murder he actually felt guilty about too.
So, would some poor history PhD student somewhere write that book, so I don’t have to?