Not only to fly, but to bring the world's eyes...skyward.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Reality Check

By mid-February, with less than a week to go before the conference, my pre-conference project evaluation had yet to arrive. It finally came, a few days before I left for San Francisco, but the novel I now planned to whittle out of the tome I’d described in it was so radically different, the lukewarm evaluation it received neither surprised nor hurt me. I was in the perfect frame of mind for the conference: I had a great core concept I just hadn’t yet found the way to articulate.

And actually, “inarticulate” is probably the exact word uber-agent Ken Atchity would have used to describe my pitch at the end of that first day of the conference, if he ever had cause to mention it to anyone, that is. Ken couldn’t come to the pitchfest scheduled at the conclusion of the conference Sunday morning, so he worked his visit in on Friday.

Before Ken’s arrival, we covered the industry, the market, the competition, what our pitches would need to get attention, and what our WIPs would need to live up to those great pitches. Conference coordinator Michael Neff had warned us many times in many ways not to come looking to have sunshine blown up our rears, and he didn’t disappoint. We spent a healthy portion of the day happily “off the agenda,” listening to our fellow writers’ pitches and questions, and Michael’s unabashedly honest critiques and occasionally overconfident answers. I felt that all points on the spectra of originality, salability, execution, and promotion were represented, and, looking around the room, I thought I could almost hear the Learning. It was fantastic.

Since we had 60 eager wannabes and one clearly weary agent, we drew names for who’d get to pitch Mr. Atchity, and I became a “winner.” Two of the writers preceding me gave polished, punchy pitches that seemed to cause the closest thing to a crack in the glazed, wake-me-when-I-can-go stare I’d begun to think might be the man’s permanent expression, but I personally couldn’t incite so much as a quiver in the long flat line. Ken Atchity obviously agreed with Michael that my terrorism-thriller-framing-a-family-saga WIP was “DOA.”

I felt about as far from getting published right then as I ever have. I skipped social hour that night (like everyone else, I later learned) and went back to lick my wounds (again, the prevailing motivation, I heard the next morning.) Sixty undiscovered literary giants had walked in that morning, but, for various reasons, almost sixty once-and-future nobodies sulked out that night.

Of course writers heal by (what else) writing, so I immediately pounded out an emotional, overwrought, perspectiveless sour grapes piece to tell the world off, and impetuously posted it and tweeted about it before I went to sleep that night. I’ve never done well with that whole “breathe” thing.

The only thing that got me out of bed that next morning was the fact that I’d paid a few hundred bucks for the conference, my hotel room was already paid for, and Rolex had nothing on my travel and work schedule for precision. I’d get up and go through the motions, sure, but I was so not going to fool myself any longer about ever really getting anywhere as a writer.

But as they so often have in my life, a friend materialized beside me in my hour of need: Karlene Petitt, or, as we in the Twitterverse know her, @KarlenePetitt, whom you’d be doing yourself a big favor to find at her blog, http://karlenepetitt.blogspot.com

Sunday, March 28, 2010

What got me to my first writers’ conference

I went to my first writers' conference last month. To normal people, that may not sound momentous; after all, anyone serious about making it's going to attend one before they get too far along in this masochistic so-called lifestyle we call Writing.

But I was one of Bob Webb's best 8th grade English students ever. I never got less than a B in the subject and even tested out of college English after only three years of it in high school. I rarely failed at anything I really put my mind to, so I wrote and began pitching my novel using only my obvious gift (for those just joining us, Sarcasm and I go way back) and "common sense" for guidance.

After six years of writing and two years of sending queries I'm now too embarrassed to detail, I'd gone partway down so many paths I thought led to publication, I was hopelessly lost in the woods. It was time to ask for help. So, last fall, I registered for Algonkian's San Francisco Write and Pitch conference.

Unexpectedly, "things" began changing immediately, months before the conference—all of them internal. Registering for it had been my Step One: I'd admitted I had a problem. I was going nowhere.

I'd been reticent to Reading about Writing. I've lived a very blessed life by following my gifts, and had long been convinced that having a gift for something and having that thing come easily were one and the same—that, if someone's really meant for something, their time's always best spent just doing it.

But success is an alloy of Talent, Training, and Trial. Yes, we've already discussed my formidable Talent (ad nauseum), and yes, I exposed myself to all the Training a prodigy like me really needed (the Cliff's Notes on Getting Published for Dummies), so all that seemed to remain was to make the Publishing World aware they could, for a price, tap into my wellspring of Genius.

Like an Ebay auctioneer hawking a Messianic image in a slice of cinnamon toast, I was wildly overestimating either my product's intrinsic value and/or the effectiveness of my marketing strategy, if not both, and nothing was going to change before I did.

So, with months to go before the conference, I cut snippets from my novel, query letter(s) and synopsis to complete the "strongly suggested" evaluation of my project and tried to be patient awaiting the response. I'd submitted my writing to two other such "evaluations" before: one was for acceptance to another Algonkian conference in New York, called the Pitch and Shop, and the other to query service Writers' Relief. Both had accepted me without reservation (which so stroked my paranoid streak that I chickened out each time), so I was expecting a largely "encouraging" response to this deep analysis of my product.

While I waited, I immersed myself in reading blogs, sites, magazines, and books about Writing, or, more accurately, getting Writing published, with particular emphasis on platform construction. I went on Absolute Write daily for months, put up a website and this blog and later began my highly worthwhile experience with Twitter. I began to understand that the greatest writer in the world would remain obscure until and unless he learned how to get his Word out the right way.

My queries weren't queries but trite, amateurish, gimmicky short synopses that weren't even all that short. My project was a "genre-bending, thrilling saga" that I clearly felt deserved its own little corner at Borders (right beside the "New Adult" section, perhaps). Worst of all, I'd written a frightening monster of a novel just this side of Stephen King's It, and mine apparently had a voracious appetite for form rejections.

At some point over "The Winter I Read Instead," I finally made peace with the idea that my 166,000-word novel-that-ate-New York would never be published, even if any of the red herrings I'd dreamt up to "make a name for myself first" with something simpler, something easier, something smaller, something non-fiction, or something self-published, ever bore fruit. It may have even been the day I helped Jane Friedman get her luggage back from England. I think "hearing" her polite shock at my project's size is what snapped me out of it.

I had to cut it down to size if I wanted ever to share it with the world.

I'd start as soon as Algonkian got back to me with my evaluation. I'd be in training for my day job for all of January anyway, and my right brain would be in stasis.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Isolation

"Does anyone know where the love of God goes,

when the waves turn the minutes to hours?"

-Gordon Lightfoot,

"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"


With simulator training over, all that remained to be considered a fully-requalified International 767 pilot was to take a trip with an instructor pilot and do nothing that scared him. Never having been to Paris before, that was where it was ordained I go. Darn the luck!

Having gotten quite attached to that wife and those kids, I sure saw things rather differently out there over the North Atlantic last week. The first time I heard the joke about what ETOPS, the acronym for Extended Twin-engine Overwater operations, "really" stands for (Engines Turn Or People Swim) was when I was a new husband ten years ago, and it just seemed much so much funnier back then than now, as I tried to catch ten winks on my break.

Greenland's fjords didn't used to sound that scary. The Azores used to be just over there to the right, Keflavik a skosh closer on the left. The MTBF, Mean Time Between Failures, for jet engines on an ETOPS-approved maintenance program is such a really ridiculously long time, a three-way mid-air collision with two flying saucers invading Earth is a statistically larger risk than suffering a mechanically-induced dual engine failure.

Smoke in the cockpit? You never used to hear of that happening (SwissAir 111 had just crashed and was then still under investigation). Fire in the cargo hold? Nah—give me something realistic to worry about (Valujet 592, same thing)—now where's Betty with our hot towels, anyway?

Tonight, at our second ETP, Equal-Time-Point, where our choices of emergency diversion airports switched from Goose Bay, Labrador or Keflavik, Iceland, both more than two hours away, to Lajes Field in the Azores or Shannon, Ireland, also more than two hours distant, it occurred to me as I fought to sleep through as much of my two-hour rest break as possible, just how quickly those two hours could flash by were I were summoned to the cockpit to help work a complex problem—and just how endless a simple, merciless one could make them seem to three "superhuman" pilots and our two-hundred fragile charges.

Sixty-six years ago this April Fool's Day, my Uncle and his crew lost an engine to flak over their secondary target, far more than a mere two hours from the safety of Dover's Cliffs. To survive, they had to not only keep their wits about them despite how badly damaged their plane and their bodies were, but also to fight off hypoxia, hypothermia, and any number of German fighters thrilled to use their crippled ship for gunnery practice. They almost made it. Their luck ran out over Reims.

Nothing of the sort occurred to us, however, and not long after I began drooling on my pillow in my comfy chair, beneath my soft, warm blanket, in my air-conditioned, pressurized cabin, dawn seeped through the cracks around my window shade, telling me, "get back to work, Monsieur. Et bienvenue au France."

The flying Carrikers were back in Europe's sky.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Entering the Pattern!


With profuse thanks to my new friends at aviationnewsfoa.com, I’m all a-twitter (groan) to announce that I'm now a guest blogger for those who are, like myself:

I wrote the following post to introduce myself to their membership, but I was so happy with the way it came out, I just had to post it here as well. Those who think they know me best may even find a surprise or two, so, as always, comments are most welcome - particularly from those with a different surname!

Actually, calling me a Friend of Aviation is like calling Saddam Hussein’s son Uday a Friend of Hedonism (not that there’s anything wrong with that). If I could only live and breathe flying, I’d be deprived. I live it, breathe it, eat it, sleep it, snort it, shoot it, deal it, ogle it, fondle it; if I could get enough of it together in one place I’d stop, drop, and roll around in it then walk around making people smell me.

I could brag that this lusty affair began in my childhood, but I honestly believe it goes far deeper. When my dad told me about my favorite uncle, whom I’ve never met—at least not in the workaday temporal sense—something went “CLICK” inside me and never stopped. B-24 flight engineer/turret gunner Sergeant Raymond “Rudy” Carriker was killed in action April 1, 1944.

Uncle Rudy wanted to be a pilot in the worst way, but lacked the education for an officer’s commission, so he got as close as he could, and the only man to survive their last mission remembered him as a tireless, paternal, tinkering custodian of their plane, Barfly. His baby brother, my dad, also wanted to be a pilot but, like so many have, he waited until the pressure built to an intolerable level before he ignored the bills and learned to fly anyway at age forty-five. “Carriker” is a mangled version of the medieval German title/name “Karcher,” which was, in those days, a guy who drove carts from village to village. So, while my life may not advance my family’s standing in the world one iota, no one can say I didn’t heed the call. Every time I raise my palm and call, “gear up,” I can almost hear Uncle Rudy, and so many Karchers before him cheer, “Go, kid.”

The crowd’s really been going wild this year. In what seems to be a never-ending pattern of me going “zig” when my company goes “zag,” I was just awarded a bid to return to flying the 757/767 internationally after a decade in its narrow-body domestic route system. Now, flying’s flying, don’t get me wrong; but ten years of layovers in places like El Paso, Tulsa, Indianapolis, Raleigh, well, you get the idea. Let’s just say I got a lot of writing done…a LOT of writing. About 200,000 words’ worth, to tell the truth.

I had been forced to fly in the international system for less than a year when I was very new, back in what airline people now call “the good old days” before 9/11. I know it sounds crazy on several levels that flying a 767 internationally could be involuntary, but most pilots avoid bidding “up” until they’re senior enough to have a schedule they can live with, and I was not yet off new-hire probation when they ran out of heroes, I mean volunteers, that year. In other words, the needs of the company had to prevail, and they were (almost) sure I’d do just fine. If I didn’t, they’d be ok; they’d just find someone else who would. No pressure.

I’d been hired as a flight engineer on the 727, so that first time through 767 training, I hadn’t touched a control yoke in nearly a year. That last one was attached to bellcranks and pushrods with which I manually moved controls to an airplane that carried 30 people in only moderate discomfort for up to 90 minutes at 300 miles per hour.

I awoke from what seemed like another of my bizarre dreams to find myself over the Amazon jungle in a 200-ton behemoth with power-everything, auto-pilots and -throttles, and a cockpit full of CRTs I could double dribble in. It was great, but it didn’t take much coffee to stay eyes-bugged-out alert all night long, and being a “junior puke” on reserve kept me from my new family far too much, so I squeaked like a wheel and squealed like a pig until They finally let me step down a few pegs on that scary-tall ladder.

Just last month, after only ten years of domestic flying, two weeks of ground school, two weeks of simulator training (the subject of an earlier blog post) and a couple of days of international ground school, it was finally time for my Operational Experience, or OE, trip with an instructor pilot. Time to stop trying to drink from a fire hydrant and just step headlong into the stream

This is the part where I think everyone expects me to digress into a long, for some tedious travelogue of what we did on that trip to Paris and the others since, and how and why we did them, but that’s where I’m hoping to carve my own little niche within the pack (ok, the den) of aviation writers.

My literary wings can’t get enough exercise just flapping about my trips from perch to perch, but neither is my artistic wingspan big enough to effortlessly toy with the zephyrs and thermals all day like the seagulls we all so admire. I’d like to consider myself more like, let’s say, a falcon: I fly for a purpose: I fly to survive. That said, I still enjoy the hell out of it and work at it every second to get as good as I can be, to live as well as I can live, by my craft.

My glare belies my pleasure, and my grin belies my purpose, so I write—and hope you’ll understand.

An aviation love story...

Twilight landing at LAX

Martinez Canyon Rescue