Alan Winter Author

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Kirkus Review:
Publish Date: December 23, 2019

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Kirkus Review:
Best Book Selection 2013

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Wolf Interviews




Historical Novel Society | Published: Issue 92, 05/2020 | By: MYFANWY COOK


In writing their novel Wolf (Skyhorse, 2020), Herbert J. Stern and Alan A. Winter were faced with two major hurdles. The first was maximizing and sharing their writing skills. The second was depicting highly controversial characters from relatively recent history.

Stern is a former US Attorney and US District Court Judge, who has also served as a judge of the United States Court of Berlin, while Winter combines periodontistry with novel writing. “We met over forty years ago and over time, we became friends. As each of us worked on our own books, we would share manuscripts with each other and ask for comments.” Winter explains: “Eventually Herb suggested we write a book together. Herb had been doing research into Hitler’s life and had uncovered information he believed was largely ignored by historians. He wanted to write a novel that would begin when Hitler was hospitalized for hysterical blindness at the end of World War I. Herb’s idea was for a fictional character to befriend Hitler at the hospital through whom Hitler’s personal life as he rose to power from 1918 to 1934 would be told. We researched and wrote our novel, meeting almost weekly for the next three years.”

“It was always a collaboration in every sense of the word. In the end, our research led us to paths we hadn’t known existed, but made our story richer and more accurate.”

From the outset they identified three critical points. Firstly, they note, “We had to start when Hitler was blinded in a gas attack in the last days of World War I. The hospital had to be understaffed and overflowing with patients. It was logical (to us) that Hitler would need a fellow patient to help him navigate the daily routines. So, believing such a man could exist, we created our fictional character, Friedrich, who forged a bond with Hitler. As a character, Friedrich was strengthened by having amnesia … a tabula rasa. As such, he allowed us to follow all that happened to Hitler in those early years from the time the Nazi Party was formed until the day he became dictator of Germany.”

Secondly, because they wanted to be as accurate as possible, they realized that the story had to be chronological. Thirdly, they explain, “because we knew the direction the story had to take, we did not stop to outline it or even write a synopsis of where it would lead. We had history as our template.”

When researching, they “did not automatically accept footnotes,” but they “verified them by going to original sources.” As research progressed, the authors say, “We ran into difficulties when the original sources were in German. Since neither of us read German, we hired a translator, Alan Wallis. This proved invaluable.” They also found primary sources in interviews by the noted historian, John W. Toland and in post-WWII interviews conducted by Michael Musmanno, who they authors say “sought out everyone he could find who had worked directly with Hitler.” Before commencing writing, they hadn’t envisaged any major obstacle to co-writing a novel. One thing they hadn’t anticipated: “Our notions of an historical novel were different. Our writing styles are different, and we had differences of opinion about how much exposition should be part of the story.”

They addressed this challenge for historical character by, they note, “using their original words. We described their physicality as best we could. We did not give them attributes they didn’t have or take away those they did have. We are particularly proud that when we needed a new character to help move the story forward, we didn’t just make one up out of convenience but searched the historical record for persons from that same place and time who would enhance our story. Aside from Bernhard Weiss, two other notable characters were portrayed in the book as they were in real life: Kitty Schmidt, who ran the most famous bordello in Berlin, and Lilian Harvey, who was not only Germany’s favourite film star, but all of Europe’s. Both will reprise their roles in the next book, as will the Jewish gangster, Longie Zwillman, who was very real.” They discovered, the authors note, “that Hitler went to great lengths to conceal his mental illness and the fact that he preyed on teenaged girls. Not only did he succeed in erecting a curtain that shielded the German people from these aspects of his life, but historians, to this very day, have failed to lift that curtain to reveal what was behind it. We felt it was time to tear down that curtain.”

They suggest that readers might “look at biographies of Hitler and see if there is mention of him being in a mental ward at the end of the Great War. Some might go so far as to say he had been exposed to a gas attack and was temporarily blinded, but they stop there. None mention the doctor who treated Hitler. Certainly, there is no mention of an eye doctor in any biography treating Hitler. Nor do any mention that a psychiatrist treated him.” 1

Winter points out, “Two men did find out: Professor Rudolph Binion of Tufts and John W. Toland. Both made their discoveries and worked together in the early 1970s. Rather than tell these truths, most Hitler biographers have been content to repeat Hitler’s own description of his blindness as reported in his autobiography, Mein Kampf. A careful reading of Hitler’s own words reveal that his blindness was mental, not organic. We felt strongly that rather than censor history, it should be presented it happened.” The authors believe that “another reason for exploring this period in Hitler’s life was that he has been described in various ways as a subhuman, un-human, asocial, a black hole, incapable of having a friend or being in a meaningful relationship. Nothing could be further from the truth. We wrote Wolf to make certain that the world would know that the embodiment of evil can be wrapped in a man who loves women, is loyal to his friends, and is admired by many.”

References:1. Notes on Wolf | Stern and Winter’s 115 pages of historical notes explaining what they have uncovered.

Myfanwy Cook is a prize-winning short fiction writer. She is also HNR New Voices Editor and author of Historical Fiction Writing: A Practical Guide and Tool-kit and Creative Writing Cocktails.


Bookishloom | Published: 02/14/2020 | By: Ninu Nair


For someone like me who isn't interested in reading Biographies or Non-Fiction, Historical Fiction is a savior. 'Wolf' by Herbert J. Stern and Alan A. Winter was published on 11th February 2020 and I was glad to have received an ARC. It is an incredible book, where you meet Hitler up close and personal through a fictional character's prism. Many people read 'Mein Kempf' to understand Hitler but 'Wolf' isn't his version of the story. Wolf is based on extensive research bringing to life Hitler's rise to power from 1918 to 1934 for the readers.

I bring to you a wonderful interview with Alan A. Winter, co-author of 'Wolf'. He shares the incredible experience of writing this exhaustive historical fiction and the sequels planned ahead.

Q 1. How were you inspired to write a fiction centered on Hitler?
Herb presented the idea that we should collaborate on a book about Hitler a little less than four years ago. You see, he was an ardent student of Hitler, the Nazis, and World War II. And while most of us - me included - may think that everything that could be written about Hitler has already been written, Herb pointed out that there were gaps in the historiography.

Q 2. Tell us something about the process of writing, since 'Wolf' is authored by both of you?
Writers use a variety of processes for writing, from outlines to chapter synopses to letting the characters tell the story to see where it leads. In our case, we had an historical outline to use as our template for where the book was going. That said, it was never our goal to detail every key event that occurred from the end of World War I to the time Hitler became the Führer sixteen years later. Rather, through our research, we identified gaps and errors in the historiography of the period and then figured out ways to incorporate them into WOLF.

Q 3. Was the title always 'Wolf' or there were other shortlisted titles as well?
We only had one other working title taken from a John Dunne poem: "No Man Is An Island."

We thought it suited the story and Friedrich in so many ways, given that he was a man without a memory, a blank slate, and he had to figure out what the emerging Germany was all about after World War I ended, including how Hitler and the Nazis evolved during those critical years. But no one we asked liked that title. Many suggested WOLF. And nothing could be more perfect, since few know that Hitler referred to himself by that mononymous name. For the record, Adolf is a shortened version of the German name, Adawolf, which means "splendid wolf."

Q 4. How much time did it take for the research?
Given that Herb had studied Hitler and the Nazis for more than fifty years, it took four months of working together to bring me up to speed. This included being spoon-fed books and articles that Herb gave me before I was comfortable enough to perform my own research. Once we started writing, Herb and I both dug deeper into the period, reading memoirs and interviews, not accepting footnotes and references but following them for their veracity and accuracy. We worked with archivists from the Library of Congress, Duquesne University, Ohio State University, and most importantly, the FDR Library in Hyde Park, New York, where the John W. Toland papers on Hitler are housed. It is fair to say that even after the book was written and while we edited the galley, we were still conducting research.

Q 5. Hitler is one of the most discussed/ controversial personality in world history and so much is out there for people to read. How does 'Wolf' stand out?
Hitler in WOLF is portrayed unlike any other book written about him: with human qualities. Let me be clear: we do not glorify him, adorize him, or give him attributes he did not have. Rather, we show his personal side . . . and this may make readers uncomfortable.

That was not our primary goal when we started. Our first goal was to call attention to the fact that most history books failed to mention that Hitler was in a mental institution at the end of World War I. While some have described how his eyes were affected in a gas attack, none mention that he was treated by a psychiatrist rather than by an ophthalmologist. The more we researched, the more we discovered other flaws or gaps when it came to describing Hitler, the man, and how he came to power.

For instance, most books describe Hitler as "sub-human" or "a black hole" or "unhuman." They go out of their way to point out that Hitler was "asocial," incapable of loving a woman or having a friend. Many say he was homosexual or asexual. This is simply not true. Readers of WOLF will discover the real Hitler loved children and women, and he was loyal to his friends even when he had reason not to be. Hitler could be the life of a party. None of this changes the horrors and evil that we all know happened. But if WOLF does nothing else, it highlights that demagogues, dictators, and monsters that commit inhuman acts are people, too. And if we forget that, we may miss an opportunity to stop the next "Hitler" from gaining power before it is too late.

Q 6. Was Friedrich Richard, an amnesiac without any past memory, the undisputed protagonist for the book from the beginning? Did you have any second thoughts during the course of writing, maybe Emil or Goebbels could have turned out better?
That's an insightful question. In those early days, when we were consumed with research more than story, everything pointed to Emil Maurice being our protagonist. After all, Emil was with Hitler from the first days of the founding of the Nazi Party and was given #2 as an SS member, second only after Hitler. But the more we studied Hitler and the men who comprised his inner circle, we realized that we needed to create that perfect character who had no prejudices, could not be accused of favoring Hitler or his beliefs, and was in a position to challenge Hitler when necessary. In other words, we needed a character with the moral conscience of us all . . . including the German people. That is why we had to create Friedrich, a man without a memory. A tabula rasa. Friedrich was not prejudiced, not an anti-Semite, not anything. He was the eyes and ears through which the reader could view history while enjoying themselves at the same time.

Q 7. What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing 'Wolf'?
That historians have censored history. That historians have failed to be objective when it comes to describing Hitler as a man. We have found inaccuracies in timelines and descriptions of events that occurred from one book to another. "New" and "updated" biographies of Hitler have made no effort to correct the record. WOLF changes that, and it does so in an entertaining way. For those who want to better understand how WOLF changes the historical record, our research is posted on www.NotesOnWolf.com.

Q 8. I think 'Wolf' is a perfect amalgamation of fiction and reality; it is like crossroads, you have read it before but in an impersonal way. How difficult was it to strike this balance?
Striking that balance of presenting unique history in an historical novel that flies in the face of "accepted" facts was a challenge every step of the way. We knew from the beginning that this could not be a history book. And yet, if our inner secrets were revealed, we hoped that WOLF would serve as a resource book for high schools and college programs on Hitler and how the Nazis came to power. Our challenge was to take all the good information we had uncovered, and figure out how our protagonist, a made-up character in a book filled with real characters and real lives depicted, could present these truths. We argued about how much exposition should be in the book, and how much "storytelling" we needed to write, and still maintain the suspense and tension readers expect in a novel.

Q 9. One fun question, which is your favorite book and why?
Oh my, that is quite the challenge. Many, many titles come to mind: "The Remains of the Day," "The English Patient," "The Incredible Lightness of Being," "The Kite Runner," "All the Light We Cannot See," "The German Girl," "The Reader," and more. But perhaps because I read it more recently, Alyson Richmond's "The Lost Wife" gained my admiration.

Q 10. And, lastly, do you plan to come out with a sequel to Wolf? (If yes, how soon can we expect?)
Not only do we plan to come out with a sequel, but it is our hope to write a trilogy. If all goes according to plan, our next book will be a continuation covering the time period from 1934-1939. The third book will be from the beginning of WWII in 1939 until sometime before the end of the war. At the time of this writing, we are actively performing the same research and are in the midst of creating the storyline for the next book. We cannot predict when it will be finished, but we can assure readers of WOLF that it will fulfill all their expectations.

Read Ninu Nair review of Wolf here




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Kirkus Review:
Publish Date: December 23, 2019

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Kirkus Review:
Best Book Selection 2013



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