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

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"What's your purpose?"

“What's your purpose?” My ten-years-elder sister, who I think picked it up from either Saturday Night Live’s “Coneheads” or perhaps our (somewhat) less-awkwardly-intellectual PhD father, just seemed to love the terse, condescending cynicism of that question, posing it to me whenever my behavior struck her as odd or curious—which is to say, “often.”

Most humanoids—perhaps raised by less “evolved” specimens—seem content to simply react to their bodies’ cravings from minute to minute, working only to afford the most fleeting pleasures in life. Their pitiful existences are virtually guaranteed to end without effect, perhaps either in the throes of passion or the blissful afterglow of a life, well, lived.

But some of us develop the ability to deny our baser instincts and refuse to "just" live in the only time that’s ever truly ours - the present. For my entire subspecies of such mutants, the simple fact of our continued presence in the universe each morning fairly begs the question:

What is your purpose?

The problem is, we're still pestered by all the same lower, workaday needs that the non-obsessive humans have, so we only rarely get a chance to put much thought into our answer. Maslow, we feel you, buddy. "Self actualization?" Now who has that kind of time?

I started writing A Silver Ring with the blessedly simplistic motivation of a normal human. My career as a pilot had just begun to deteriorate, and I had a new wife, stepsons, baby, house, and airplane to support—or divest. When flying became unable to pay for, well, more flying, I decided to see if I could make money doing the only other thing in this life for which I have both love and aptitude. My purpose in writing would make an answer to my sister’s favorite question as simple as another of her favorite jokes whose source I can’t recall—something about the inner dialogue of an NFL kicker: “kick ball, get paycheck.” I was going to try my hand at Tom Clancy’s bread recipe—write thriller, get paycheck.

But before my first bargain laptop was obsolete, that damned existentialist in me was pacing his stark cell, probably going a little stir crazy from all the Presidential faces staring at him from the walls I’d papered with funny-money. Every time I sat down to write a chapter of my book’s present-tense, plot-driven, action-oriented frame story, I’d get bored and have to revert to my protagonist’s family’s back-story with all the rich characters and their quirky history. I had a big problem.

I didn’t give a shit about writing a thriller.

My project became a circular argument—a conundrum in (sort of) material form. My purpose in writing it veered from making money to finding my purpose for writing it. Like Mozart’s Requiem (only hopefully with a less tragic resolution), not even I could really know why I’d done it, until it was done.

As “The End” neared, I started to think A Silver Ring was just about growing up with a bug in your blood - your fluid environment helpless against fixed heredity; compelled by a drive that entertains fantasies of eradicating anyone who dares suggest you might want to just think about doing something else with your life. That’s how I’ve always felt about flying—so strongly in fact, that I might have seemed to steal a miracle from God himself in recovering from an accident that by all rights should have been my epitaph.

Now that it’s been a few months, however, I’ve realized the story I had to tell wasn’t really just about what it’s like to have been born already knowing the answer to the pesky question, “what is your purpose?” Pilots, musicians, artists, doctors, teachers, soldiers—not one of us was really put here to be a mindless, daytime-tv-addicted extra on the set of a more important person’s life. Some of us might have to look harder than others to discover our mission, and many may lack or lose the will to find or stay the course to their Destiny, but everyone’s here to do something no one else can do in exactly the way and at exactly the time and place it needs to be done.

Enough people would agree with all of that to make another book about it, however original in its details, cliché. But now that strangers have begun to tell me how deeply A Silver Ring affected them, I’ve realized my purpose wasn’t to write a book about wondering, or even learning, “what’s my purpose?” but about, already knowing well the answer, living plagued by its unanswerable follow-up…

“Why?”

Monday, November 14, 2011

From Flyover Country to the Lone Star

So. Two things happened at Oshkosh that kept me from seeing it through to its full potential: 1)the cell network coverage and/or free wi-fi supposedly present were completely inadequate, making going to the show like stepping back in time to 1995 or so. I had no way to connect with any of my peeps on Twitter, post anything to Facebook, or send or receive email, which makes it pretty tough to execute a social media promotion plan. 2) midweek, we got a call from a person who ended up buying our boat and another person who ended up not renting our house. But we did get it rented to another guy shortly thereafter so, with less than three weeks' notice, our long-awaited move to Texas was on.

Needless to say, it was a tall order, but we Carrikers are the M*A*S*H units of American families. We can pack, move, and unpack a four-bedroom house in a week - and we've proven it more often than most people move at all. That history in itself was the reason we were so willing to make such a rushed transition to a new life. See, I vividly remember showing up at several schools not only as the new kid, but several days or weeks into the school year, no less. I'd liken that experience to getting thrown onto a Broadway stage with no idea whatsoever what play you're supposed to be acting out, let alone having any lines memorized. Oh, and you're completely naked. And the audience - yeah, they're sociopaths on a furlough tonight. Sorry about that, but hey, whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? Mmhmm. No way was I ever going to do that to one of my kids.

My son was going to be attending a new school in his old district anyway, so the time to move him was this summer, but the housing market, which of course now resembles a fire sale at the general store in a ghost town, wouldn't cooperate. We also had a boat in a slip on a nearby lake, and no trailer or intentions to move it, so without a buyer for one and/or a renter for the other, we were stuck. Lovely of both of them to show up finally, but the timing couldn't have been worse.

So here we are in Texas four months later, and of all the things we miss our minds the most, but the chaos level is almost back to the previous low roar, so it's time to resume trying to get A Silver Ring out into the world. It's available everywhere you buy books now, in both print and pixels. I hope you'll take a look at the samples available at Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and lots of other online sources, particularly my own site, www.asilverring.com, where you can read the first half for free, order a signed copy if you like it, and find lots of other supplemental information about the book.

I'm also planning some updates, giveaways, and to resume posting all regular-like. So drop on by on your way out or back, and I'll sure try to have something good on the fire each and every time, (I just love saying this) y'all.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Why I Quit Querying and Proceeded to Publish, Part 5


I’ve been around the traffic pattern enough times to know how often the phrase, “How hard could it be?” precedes disaster. I do my own oil changes and a few other relatively simple things for which I have no specific training, but by and large I live by the philosophy that the world works best for everyone when we pay each other money we earn doing what we do well to do the things they do better than us. I don’t recommend my electrician try to fly his family to Bermuda, and I don’t screw around with stuff that makes sparks without gunpowder or wood. Life can be simple, if we just buck up for it.

With that in mind, I set about learning what was involved in converting my Word document, cover .jpgs, and back cover copy into .pdf files in the format required by the printer. Oh, wait. I didn’t know that yet, because I had yet to pick a printer. Since the widest possible distribution is the only hope one has of succeeding in this business, I was down to three main contenders, all of which seemed like very good choices and, to be completely fair, all probably are or there wouldn’t be that many. I think it’s a Ford/GM/Chrysler thing.

RJ Publications, operator of the website www.selfpublishing.com was the early favorite because of the sheer volume of helpful information they post for free. I particularly owe them a favorable mention for the education about ISBNs I gleaned from their site and for the ease with which I was able to calculate my per-copy production cost using the wide variety of trim sizes, papers, bindings, types of printing (digital or offset), and run sizes available. Distribution seemed fairly good with their plug-in to Ingram, called Thor, but I never really understood what Amazon would do with my title once it was in RJ’s system.

I also took a several sniffs around Amazon’s CreateSpace, drawn mostly to the idea of getting some kind of “home field advantage” for my book. Obviously, Amazon distribution was a given there, but as with RJ’s Thor system, I never really understood whether or how my title would appear on Ingram’s list. Even though I don’t expect much brick-and-mortar sell-through, based on what I’ve read from other self- and conventionally-published authors, a core component of my marketing plan involves getting airport bookstores to carry A Silver Ring and offering to do airport signings all over the country on my travels. They may not buy any as it is, but if they can’t order copies from Ingram, they’re sure not to. Complicating CreateSpace’s scheme is their nearly incomprehensible, certainly over-complex ISBN policy.  For space reasons, I won’t even try to explain what I never fully understood in the first place. I also heard some early feedback on CreateSpace related to poor construction and/or print quality, but I think they’ve addressed that by now.

Finally, and somewhat reluctantly, I looked at Ingram’s own Lightning Source. I say reluctantly because I found their site rather user-unfriendly and had to do far more digging than I’d have liked, including (the horrors!) sending some emails to their people, in order to get some idea of their pricing, distribution, and setup process. As with CreateSpace to Amazon, I assume my book’s availability on Ingram’s distribution network is implicit with being printed by Lightning Source, and they did a much better job of convincing me I’d also see receive distribution on Amazon than CreateSpace did of convincing me any of my airport bookstores could order a copy to make me go away. If I remember correctly, Lightning Source also offered a slight cost advantage and, using a promotion code now expired, free title setup.

With the fourth of July bearing down on me like a Chinese currency policy board, I needed to get my ‘meat’ ready for the ‘grinders’ as formatters call the various submission engines employed by different publishing outlets like Lightning Source, Kindle, and Smashwords. But, with less than two weeks before my market-maker’s preferred deadline, how?

Google still amazes me. I put in “self-publishing and book and formatting,” and right there near the top of the list is this little outfit calling itself DiamondPress Publishing. As with any Google search, the thought “what’s the worst that could happen?” stops by for a visit, and I click.

I like what I see. Though it does seem like just another small press looking for authors too timid to try what I’m doing themselves, they say they provide formatting services for self-publishers too, so before bed I send them an email describing my needs and compressed timetable.

A lady named Jeanette answers—the next morning.

She says she can get my Word file in shape to pass through the meat grinders at Lightning Source, Kindle, Nook, and any pretty much any other publishing outlet and get my cover files to fit into the template Lightning Source provided me, all for around a hundred bucks. I pinch myself, realize I’m not dreaming, and send her my stuff.

Three days later, right on time if not early, I get it back and upload it. It all works, perfectly. This has to be the best thing since perpetual motion. I’m ready to go in hours instead of weeks, all for less than a day’s wages doing what I’m supposed to be doing in this life, which is to say, not throwing my laptop through the dining room window. Files uploaded and accepted, proof will be on the doorstep before Uncle Sam’s birthday. What a country!

Before they send a proof, however, Lightning Source emails to tell me there’s an error with my ISBN. There are, of course, books with both ISBN-10s and ISBN-13s. The file I uploaded wants to become the world’s first ISBN-14. Assuming there are no radioactive isotopes of my ISBN number I, crimson-faced, ask Jeanette at DiamondPress to make the correction necessary (one of several of my own screw-ups she’d end up fixing for me as I spent more time with my proof) and bill me, since it was clearly my error. Jeanette cheerfully sends me a corrected copy—no charge. Did I mention Jeanette’s fast, good, and really nice?

When the proof shows up, it’s perfect, I not at all hastily conclude. I looked at everything. Chapter headings match, no gutter problems, no pagination errors, nothing glaring at all. I say again—nothing glaring at all. It looks like a winner! I complete my order with Lightning Source and head out for fourth of July in Seattle, confident of my book’s formidability versus its New York-based competition and pleased with having had to just barely extend my original deadline of July the first. Even big-time authors miss a few, right? So the book may not be perfect, but it’s damned good, and it’s on sale, on time. Order one and see for yourself.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why I Quit Querying and Proceeded to Publish, Part 4

Though the ring in my story is the tie that binds two families, it does so in a rather understated way. Sometime in 2010 I learned  today’s covers need to look good as thumbnails, and I just couldn’t see any way to make a ring discernible in that format without making it utterly dominate the cover, so I had to find another symbol. I remembered a famous war photograph of a lone B-24 bomber flying low over a burning oil refinery in Ploesti, Rumania, and since the B-24 and the spectacularly costly raid on Ploesti play no small part in my story—I had my cover symbol.

I did the best I could with the photo and software I had (Microsoft Office), and when I was finished I thought it looked pretty good, all considered. But Cassandra was always such a great critic (as in honest, balanced, and definitely not wont to dish up unwarranted praise), I thought I’d run it by her—and a few hundred other friends on Facebook. Predictably, everyone loved it except Cassandra. I asked her to tell me honestly if it screamed “self-published” and, a little sheepishly, she confirmed my fear.

Then she sent me a potential cover featuring a photo of a man in what she didn’t realize was a Vietnam-era flight suit standing next to a C-23 cargo plane, smiling like he’d never even been forced to spell ‘combat’. With our mutual honesty policy established, I told her it looked like any other of the garden-variety pilot and other “career” memoirs keeping vanity publishers thriving these days.

She asked me what I wanted my cover to convey. Thinking about my story, how a lot of nasty stuff that happens to my characters in the 1940’s gets buried by the war, only to be uncovered at a rather inopportune time in 1986, I said, “I want it to look mysterious and foreboding, and I want it to feature this airplane” and attached the picture of the Liberator. In way less than an hour, she sent me something very close to what’s now my cover.

I said out loud, “Oh my God. That’s it."

“Wait. You don’t mean you actually want to use this, do you? I was just messing around. I do this stuff for fun all the time. Kind of a hobby.”

“I can’t imagine it any better. It’s absolutely perfect. Except the letters—can you make them silver?”

I had my wife, Pam, a published artist and writer in her own right, standing by to help me with my cover design and even had another artist/author friend of hers, Chrysti Hydeck, offer to help me if I wanted another professional’s take on it. When I showed them Cassandra’s design, they both abdicated. Put the fork away and just trust me—we’re done.

Now all I had to do was select a printer and figure out how to turn my Word and .jpg files into usable .pdfs. Memorial Day was upon me.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Why I quit querying and proceeded to publish, Part 3

Knowing well and deeply desiring to transcend the often-deserved stigma surrounding self-publishing, I resolved not to undertake it unless I made a book that would stand up to any other, self-published or otherwise. I didn’t want it falling apart in readers’ hands, I didn’t want someone else’s ISBN on it, and I absolutely, positively would not stand for the typos, grammatical and other glaring errors I often see even in conventionally published books. To do that, I knew I’d need to pay a professional for a comprehensive edit.

I know it’s another cliché, so I’ll throw this in, if only to entertain the sardonic experts out there who refuse to assign it any value: I’d had my old English teacher edit my first draft. Now, if you knew Mr. Robert Webb, you wouldn’t see any humor in this. Kids didn’t get A’s from Mr. Webb; kids got psychological damage (which we overcame years later, after testing out of college English). I still recall him remorselessly reducing to tears one of the hardest-boiled smart-asses in my class—a kid who actually bullied another, less confident teacher. Mr. Webb found lots of mistakes, but he loved my story, and he read it when I had the whole trilogy—161,000 words’ worth— in one book.

Nevertheless, I felt I needed someone actually in the industry to check my work. I looked around at various editor’s sites, marveling at the prices charged by some, the obvious lack of qualifications of others, and the sheer caustic hubris of one, whose following still amazes me. It wasn’t very difficult to winnow the field to a manageable number.

Around this time Cassandra Marshall had just begun offering her services as an editor. Cassandra and I met very soon after I joined Twitter. Her old handle, @thatwemightfly, had me thinking she might be a pilot, but we got on the same page soon enough, became friends, and she gave me tons of help with my queries, never asking for a thing in return. Needless to say, she was the early favorite. I thought her comments on my queries were good, I’d read some of her own writing and her CV and knew she was a well-educated, well-read “organic” linguist, and her price was reasonable.

We came to terms quickly, she got my markup back to me on time, and a few months later, I’d finally found a way to incorporate nearly every change she’d recommended and many more she’d inspired. I felt like my novel had transformed from an awkward teenager with clear potential to a beautiful, fully developed young adult. All that was left to do was the cover. And deciding on a printer. And converting the Word manuscript to a .pdf file. And converting that to a different format for e-books. And the audio book. Oh, and there was that whole marketing/promotion plan to figure out. Easter was over, and AirVenture was in late July. I needed to get a move on.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Why I quit querying and proceeded to publish, Part 2


I never once broke into the cool clique as a kid, but I was never a loner, either. Except on the many first few days at a new school I endured, I always had at least one friend, even if it was a geek, misfit, or reject like me. So I couldn’t interest anyone in New York in my little “aviation love story.” Fine. I still loved and believed in my book, and I was almost sure my true peers—irony addicts and/or aviation nuts who feel no need for time-traveling or benevolent undead characters for a story to be romantic—would love it too. Why not just accept my fate as one of the publishing world’s Goonies, self-publish, and take it straight to them?

When I finished my first draft back in 2006 or so, I briefly looked into self-, or as I now know it, vanity publishing. Fortunately, I saw right away that the deck would be stacked against me, though I didn’t fully understand some of the reasons why. I did some research and soul-searching and quickly realized that just seeing my work take the form of a book wasn’t my goal. Neither was getting any certain amount of money or fame. Entertaining the people who’d enjoy my story as much as I did was the goal, and I thought the credibility that comes with contracting with a big New York house would be the surest route to that goal. Self-publishing seemed the writer’s analog to opening a little specialty restaurant of my own versus trying to sell my recipes to a huge, established chain whose numbers bore out a dire need of fresh ideas. Even if my food was fantastic, how would I ever get any customers?

But as the queries went out and the years rolled by, the form rejects and just a single partial request came in, and I was compelled to take another long, hard look at self-publishing. Perhaps the chain restaurants had no interest in putting my stuff on their menu because nothing like it had ever been tried. Perhaps it was, but had been badly executed. Whenever I cooked for friends or family, people sure seemed genuinely impressed, and yes, I know it’s cliché, but people who know me consider me to have an emotional bloodlust. I despise minced words and small talk, insist on blunt honesty, and usually give and get it in spades. So was I really the world’s reigning chef specializing in Curry Ken-L-Ration with a too-strong-for-my-own-good support structure, or was I just having foreseeable difficulty getting my little brand of nihilist southern redneck cuisine placed?

I inquired about getting a booth at a few of the larger airshows. Kristin Schaick of the Experimental Aircraft Association, arguably the most passionate group of wingnuts (intermittently) on Earth, said for their annual fly-in convention in Oshkosh, WI each year, they select a few dozen writers for a program called Authors’ Corner, where authors talk about their books and people can interact with them and purchase signed copies. When she said I was welcome to submit A Silver Ring for consideration, I confessed I didn’t actually have any physical books to send in. She asked me to send her a .pdf to read and said if I were selected, I would have to have a small number printed. A couple of weeks later, she emailed to say she adored the book, and a few weeks after that notified me I was officially on the program. I’d need to send at least fifty copies to participate, but the more successful authors often sell many more. There’s no fee or other cost—just a consignment commission that benefits the EAA—a true win/win if I ever saw one. It looked as if this aviation goonie had found his little hole in the wall—smack in the middle of the annual Aviation Goonie-Pride Parade route.

The grass outside my window was still its winter shade of yuck. I had plenty of time to get cooking.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why I quit querying and proceeded to publish, Part 1


The die is cast. After about five years of writing, two years of editing, and three more of miscellaneous handwringing and acute analysis paralysis researching and pitching it and a couple of nonfiction experiments, my debut novel, the story that made me start writing in the first place, is at the printers.

My publisher gave me a deal no other could match and that I couldn’t refuse: a professional, ethical editor, a small promotional budget, roughly three to twelve dollars per copy directly to me, total and final authority over content and cover, and no advance. I guarantee you’ve never heard of the house, because it didn’t exist until last month. The name’s almost certainly meaningless to you, but I think it has a certain ring to it, and everyone who should knows what it’s about—Karcher Prince. I’m ignoring a certain amount of conventional wisdom with my marketing plan, but I think if you’ll just postpone dismissing me as another half-baked self-publisher waging jihad on the rain forest, you might find something of value in this series of posts.

Against the odds, I spent a great deal of time researching and querying roughly forty top agencies about my novel. The first ten or so were admittedly amateurish tell-fests, but the next ten or so were merely unacceptable by today’s standards, which is to say they were unique and honest. I’ve always longed to blend in and be cool with my wardrobe, hairstyles, and other material aspects of life, but I’ve never well tolerated forcible assimilation where affairs of the heart or mind are concerned. Nevertheless, I soon realized if I wanted my story set free into the world, I’d have to submit to a certain amount of monkey-do in how I pitched it to gatekeepers.

I thought of New York’s publishing machine as just another exclusive clique of cool kids, and if I wanted my writing to get a part of it, I was going to have to put some makeup on it, buy it some fashionable clothes, and make sure not to let it be seen getting out of my stodgy old Midwestern station wagon, no matter how unique or dependable—or that a 455 big block may lurk beneath the hood.

So with my next 20 queries or so, I sold out. I read blog after blog, accepted well-intended, on-target advice from dozens of other writers, and sent my writing to New York in various shades of mascara and blush, skinny jeans, and those fashionable high-waisted tunic things that honestly could make Jennifer Aniston look frumpy, but the cool kids were still just too smart for me. They must have seen through my façade and realized mine doesn’t look much like the trendy writing that gets agents and contracts and advances and royalties these days. The unanimous crop of form rejects from my first, honest queries were soon in good company with a whole new bunch from my sellout queries, albeit garnished with a few kindly tailored notes, as if passed my way when the Alpha dogs weren’t watching.

In frustration, I took the holidays off from everything. I needed time to lick my wounds and decide what to do next. No posts, no status updates, no tweets, except with friends—one being agent intern, freelance editor, and cool-kid-clique double-agent Cassandra Marshall (@CA_Marshall), on whose shoulder I cried my virtual eyes out over the icy reception my unrequited love had received. Her advice, surreptitiously slipped into my hand in a dark hallway of Direct Messaging, was a blog post that purportedly sought to help writers discern if they've reached their limit and should give up on their dream. I read it several times…and wondered.

Monday, May 2, 2011

While bin Laden was Hiding


It took us nine years, and change, but bin Laden's finally in his place. Few people, even those closest to me, seemed to understand how deeply 9/11 cut. As a lifelong flyer who still lovingly, reverently, though sometimes secretly pats an airplane after a flight, the idea of someone using airliners as weapons to kill innocents was beyond abhorrent to me.

It was blasphemy.

But one person - one of the last you'd ever expect to - somehow "got it," and she sent me a balloon bouquet anchored by this simple coffee cup as proof. It said all anyone could say to help me right then: she understood. Now, are you ready for this? It came from my mother...in-law.

Since then, I've had my morning coffee in it hundreds of times, and not once has the memory of that first time failed to surface, followed shortly by a silent prayer that someday we'd get the filthy rats that did it. Today, I'm retiring it.

Like SEAL Team 6, it did its job.

Back then, Mom's doctors had given her less than five years to live, courtesy of acute pulmonary hypertension caused by the diet drug Phen-Phen. Well, Osama's dead, but Mom's still alive, and doing pretty well, all considered. Apparently, she and I both love her daughter and proving doctors wrong.
The core of my fan base...
It's fitting that she outlast this, one of the simplest, most thoughtful, and meaningful gifts I've ever received. She heard the pain in the words I still haven't found to describe 9/11/01.

Now that's what I call some seriously selective hearing. Happy Mothers' Day Kathy Kolke - and thanks again.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Structure - - FAIL. System - - SUCCESS.

got toupee?
The news media have been getting a lot of mileage out of the depressurization of a Southwest Airlines 737-300 over the weekend, replete with the sadly typical barrage of incredulity and extreme visualizations from the talking heads after playing a few sound bites from passengers high on adrenalin and low on facts.

Regardless of how many of these cats' nine lives were needlessly spent in this "accident" (the NTSB's label for any occurrence of "substantial" damage to an airplane), it was not, I say again, was NOT a failure. It was a contingency for which decades-old systems design and procedures training provided ample response, as shown by the death toll/injury count: one (1) bump on one (1) flight attendant's head.

Just like your family car, airplanes lead a life of constant trial. Every bump of turbulence, every imperfect landing, even the simple fact that an airliner spends 99% of its life fully exposed to the elements, causes wear and stress on strong, but ultimately destructible, materials. Check out this video of a 777 wing being purposely stressed far beyond any certification standards, which themselves far exceed any conditions the aircraft is expected to ever encounter in the course of its service. Note how far the wing flexes before it breaks. That's not balsa wood or plastic, kids. That's several tons of the highest-grade aluminum alloy available on Earth.
Thanks to uncompromising, costly certification and maintenance programs (among those from which the government did NOT release the airlines when it "deregulated" the industry's revenue stream in 1978), our airliners almost always endure these observable insults without incident for tens or sometimes hundreds of thousands of hours. But, in addition to the bump and grind of flying five hundred miles per hour, twelve hours a day, seven days a week for weeks on end between scheduled off-line maintenance events, airplanes bear a stealthy stress that only one other type of vehicle, submarines, ever encounter: pressurizations.

Even SCUBA tanks are taken out of service after being pressurized and depressurized a certain number of times. They're steel (I think) and they bear no structural burden whatsoever. To make the air inside the fuselage thick enough to sustain human life at 35,000 feet, an airliner's fuselage has to be pressurized (using air tapped from its engines' compressor stages) to around eight PSI.

Here's an analogy: first, just try to make a submarine using only the lightest possible materials (to make it fuel efficient and thus cheaper to operate) to give roughly thirty years' service. Then, take it down to about 20 feet (1.5 atmospheres of pressure there, analogous to the .5 atmosphere at 35,000 feet), then surface it. Repeat this tens of thousands of times, always while moving at twenty knots or so through anything from calm to heavy seas. Would you expect weaknesses to develop at some point? Would you expect some to develop that you might not be able to economically detect before it developed a manageable leak and the sub had to surface unexpectedly for repairs? Would you expect it to be international, front page news when it did? Am I making this situation seem adequately ridiculous?

To make it even more so, I'd like to point out that, unlike the sub, the physical manifestation of an airplane is really just the wing. The fuselage is just something we humans use to make the wing carry a payload for us, like a horse can carry a saddle or saddlebags. Would Jesse James have been able to carry out a train robbery already in progress if someone shot a hole in his saddlestrap? Sure. Would he set out to rob one, knowing of the weakness beforehand? Not likely.

Since the dawn of high-altitude, pressurized flight, equipment and procedures have been developed, employed, and continuously improved to allow fragile humans inside a pressurized fuselage to survive a sudden depressurization with little more than an earache to show for it. The procedure is to use a provisioned supplemental oxygen system for the few minutes it takes to get that otherwise indifferent wing to "plummet" (puh-lease) as quickly as possible from an inhospitable altitude to a livable one. We then continue to "plummet" into the nearest suitable airport, tell Geraldo about our harrowing experience, and let the bidding wars for a book deal begin. Ok, ok, you're right. Geraldo was on his field trip to Libya that day.

What occurred on that Southwest Airlines flight was this: The System Worked. It's built like a brick outhouse for a reason - so we don't have to be. Kudos to Boeing for making an airplane that survived decades of Life's abuse and still delivered its precious cargo safely back to Earth after an easily reasonable failure. Kudos to Southwest for hiring and retaining employees capable of effectively managing those failures when they happen. And kudos to the passengers for listening to them and letting them do their jobs without being second-guessed.

And shame on the media, for perpetuating the fearful flyers' illusion that the proper function of an obsessively redundant aviation safety system designed to preserve life in a hostile world, utterly without respect for cost, is actually anything newsworthy. If only it were so safe to drive to the airport.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Aircraft Stewardship, Part One: Tiedown

Teach a fellow pilot the basics of tying down, before it's too late.
Perhaps I should have started this series with, "If you can't afford a hangar, don't buy an airplane," but even those who normally do well at keeping their machines out of the merciless elements must, sooner or later, take them somewhere a hangar isn't available. Today at Sun 'n Fun 2011, we had an awful reminder of just how vulnerable our birds are when we have to rely on nylon to keep them from becoming UAVs in a thunderstorm.

To the neophyte, tying an airplane down can seem, well, a little OCD. And anyone who actually thinks there's a few right ways and a lot of wrong ways to do it might seem downright certifiable. That would be me: a card-carrying member of EAA, AOPA, APA, and the lesser-known ARPA (Anal-Retentive Pilots Anonymous). I'm "that guy" at every airport who lands 30 minutes early just to wipe the bugs off with a bucket of clear water and a sponge, while they're still hot 'n juicy. My plane's belly (when I had one) was either clean or spotless, and I was never at a loss for something to do in the hangar, if only I could get out there.

I hate seeing airplanes get hurt or destroyed, and hate seeing it happen when their pilots aren't even with them worse. My first instructor's first instructor made a point of teaching him how to tie an airplane down very early in their time together, and I carry the tradition on with my students, (when I have one).

Like a good story, a good tiedown has a beginning, a middle, and an end. I'm going to call the bottom of the tiedown the beginning.

The Beginning: "Nothing beats a tight bottom."
Obviously, a ring of heavy metal set into a well-maintained paved surface isn't likely to give up much to a little airplane trying to use it for a dance floor, but when we're away from home, sometimes we have to park on crumbly concrete or grass. This isn't the time to get some really good tent stakes from Wal-Mart and call it good. Buy a set of portable tiedowns from Sporty's or your own favorite pilot shop, and use them as directed. Good beginning.

The Middle: "Get a rope!"
Again, cheap and/or dried, brittle, weather-beaten nylon or, God forbid, even lesser-quality rope for less-expensive purposes is not the way to go here. If your rope looks like the last time it bore a color was the Carter administration, or if it's got a great start on the afro hairdo your dad had back then, save it for someone who considers their airplane a "tool." Tools can be replaced, after all. Airplanes can't - each is unique, like us.

The End: "(Insert your favorite 'knot' pun here)"
This is the part I see done wrong more often than (ugh!), knot. When you tie an airplane down, you're doing much more than merely slipping it onto a loop you've made from each of three pieces of rope. The idea is to put the airplane securely at THE END of those ropes, with a little bit of tension on all of them, so that it's being held down tight and no possibility exists of the ropes accumulating any slack. If you don't believe me, try breaking a door down, starting with your body right up against it. Get the idea?

The way I was taught to do this is to put the rope's end through the tiedown ring, from the side nearest the tiedown's anchor first, pull it tight, then make a simple, single half-hitch (the simplest of all, and what most people think of as a "basic," knot) in the rope as close as you can possibly get it to the tiedown ring. After that, I make another series of double half-hitches right up against the first one to lock it into position.

You can also score big OCD points if you start with the airplane well-centered in the tiedown, so all the tiedowns bear equal loads from similar angles, each hopefully close to 45 degrees to the ground, and tie down the wings first, then pull the tail tight, taking out any slack that might otherwise exist in the wing ropes. When you're done, your plane will be bonded to the ground tighter than you were to your instructor after your first lesson in spins, and any wind that comes will have to be strong enough to pull the airplane's tiedowns from the ground or break the ropes themselves, because the way you tied the ropes to the plane won't be the weakest link.

My heart goes out to the hundreds of pilots and aircraft owners who suffered the trauma of seeing their planes damaged or destroyed at Sun 'n Fun 2011. But we have a long summer of airshows still ahead, and if any of us can help a fellow pilot keep his plane safe when the next thunderstorm zeroes in on Oshkosh, Dayton, Cleveland, or any other of our gatherings, we should. Get involved. Meddle. Watch out for each other out there. If you see a plane not tied down right, try to show its caretaker what's missing, or if there's no other way, provide it yourself. It might be your plane next time.

More info on this subject is available in an FAA advisory circular at

Monday, March 28, 2011

My first bloghop...hope I don't trip!

Multi-tasking. I used to think I did it well. I can re-tie my tie, scarf down a crew meal, figure a top-of-descent point, make an arrival announcement, and prioritize my first five trip trades of the month at four-hundred knots in the five minutes of level flight between Dallas and Austin, but with my novel's self-imposed release date of July 26 rattling in the distance, I have to steel myself to not be deer-in-the-headlights about everything left to do beforehand. Blogging effectively about my writing is one such thing. So I'm participating in Cali Cheer Mom's blog hop--and hoping to God I don't commit the cyber-equivalent of walking in with t.p. stuck to one of my left feet.

Yes, folks, I am a pilot. But I'm also a son, brother, uncle, husband, and father to a family of non-pilots, and a plane crash and spinal-cord injury survivor. I'm also a nephew of a man they say I've never met, who was killed in the skies over France sixty-seven years ago this week. A Silver Ring was inspired by his short life's deep affect on mine.

I'm posting a chapter per month, roughly the first half of the book, from January until July at http://www.asilverring.com/p/story.html. Copies go on sale on the day my son's story, and thus my own, began--July 26th.

So please don't think my blog, or my book, is about becoming, or even being, a pilot--or anything else. They're about having always been what we're meant to be, and why. Thanks for reading and supporting new authors!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

DCA tower reverts to "Channel Z"

The headlines blare, in 48-point Tsunami Bold font,

"PILOTS FORCED TO LAND WITHOUT HELP FROM TOWER!"

Can we stop screaming long enough to don our oxygen masks? Please? Thanks. Now...

First of all, there isn't a person alive on this Earth who was ever going to "help" those pilots land. Air Traffic Control's primary function is singular: to keep aircraft from swapping paint. Period. Controllers do a marvelous job of fulfilling that and their secondary mission to keep them from contacting terrain, obstructions, and thunderstorms. They also provide much-needed periodic doses of levity for pilots and each other as a byproduct, but honestly, that's it. Oh, and they do call the fire department and/or 5-O if/when necessary, but as for "helping" airline pilots with up to forty years' experience land, "Negative, Ghost Rider, the logbook is full."

Every tower in the world could get sucked into the twilight zone simultaneously and no passenger would ever know the difference. Airliners have collision avoidance equipment (Mode S transponders and TCAS) that act independent of, and has primacy over, ATC instructions. Pilots also have biological photo-imaging devices and software (eyes and brains) with a virtually uncorruptible down-time minimization bias (survival instinct) built in that virtually guarantees they will not intentionally attempt any rogue airline mergers. Rules and standard procedures make operations from airports that have never had a control tower as smooth and safe as a suburban intersection with a four-way stop sign -- that is, if drivers had to prove their competence every year or so and could lose their licenses forever by making a mistake.

Second, tower (or "local," as it's called in the ATC community) exists mostly as a runway utilization manager. They "clear" aircraft to either take off or land on the active runway based on their own authority to ensure no other aircraft are doing anything that will interfere. That clearance either comes or is withheld without regard for whether pilots have lowered their landing gear, done their checklists, or ensured that an F5 tornado isn't sitting smack in the middle of their flight path. That's why pilots get paid "so much, just for flipping switches and pushing buttons." For a controller, it's all about keeping a certain-size bubble of air around every airplane from getting popped by another plane - and thereby getting themselves "popped" later.

If a tower controller falls asleep, gets locked out, or is abducted by Tom Cruise's Mothership, he isn't going to be able to clear any planes to take off, either, which, short of the plane ahead of them being left unable to taxi after landing (maybe the controller forgot to "tell" them to lower their landing gear!), is the only conceivable way that runway isn't going to be clear for another that's been cleared to approach.

Finally, all of aviation is built around the idea of safe recovery from failure. It's almost as ingenious as the Constitution (and followed far more closely), and it's how we've amassed the enviable safety record that allows passengers to act as if they've just had their birthday taken away when a flight that couldn't be safely operated at any reasonable cost, cancels. In the old days of tube-driven radios, a thin filament of metal was all that made a radio a radio and not a paperweight.

When a good frquency suddenly reverts to Channel Z (all static, all day, forever), we've got that covered. As Robert Stack, playing self-admiring Captain Rex Kramer in the 1980 classic, Airplane!, would say, we do "just what they're expecting us to do." We follow our flight plan - religiously. And by "religion" I mean something far closer to Sharia Law than Zen.

These pilots had already been cleared for their approach, which means they were guaranteed separation from other aircraft all the way to the runway. Since landing is the reason for, and thus the expected outcome of any approach, it's what anyone tracking the flight would plan for. If the communications failure had occurred aboard the plane, the controller would have directed other planes as needed to clear a path for the quiet one. Put the failure on the other end of the wireless, however, and pilots still have no logical choice but to land, if possible, on that first approach. The only other thing they could possibly do is execute a busy missed approach procedure which, at DCA, could provoke a military response to any mistake. They'd then have to fly another approach that may, or may not, rate a landing clearance. Knock out a control tower at a busy airport and, employing this flawed logic, you'd eventually get a lot of airplanes taking evasive action awfully close to the ground and/or each other, and ultimately running out of fuel and being truly "forced" to land somewhere probably far less hospitable than their stricken destination airport. And this, still, without any "help" from the tower, by the way.

The next time you see something in the news media that frightens or angers you about flying, please, please talk to someone who works in The System and get their perspective. I'm always open to questions here. But regardless, next time you fly, take a dramamine (and maybe a shot of your favorite aperitif) and rest assured there's far more than one of everything that's truly needed to keep you from becoming a statistic--and not a single one of them is free.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Romance and Reality

J. Relay Doggenheimer
Shortly after my early-rising tween son let his Jack Russell Terrier, Relay, outside this morning, he dashed upstairs to wake us with, "This is the best day ever! Relay got his first kill! He got a mole!" A few jarring moments of unsanctioned first-thing-in-the-morning activity later, the dog's prey was identified as not a mole, but a baby rabbit.  Who knew the balance between the Best Day Ever and the Worst Day Ever, it turns out, lay in the arrangement of a few genes on a rodent chromosome that make it become a mole or a rabbit. Yet another pre-morning-coffee debriefing with mini-me ensued.

The romantic in him saw his purebred hunting dog bounding merrily through the hilly countryside, Born Free playing in the background, and vanquishing a common pest his parents despise for the damage it does to our yard. But then reality crashed the party, transforming his mutt into J. Relay Doggenheimer, aka Death, the Destroyer of Rodent Worlds. The sole survivor of Relay's morning raid was a single, helpless baby bunny, for which international law obligates, nee mandates, us to provide reparations of food, shelter, healthcare, and and endless supply of newly-released PS3 games.

I’ve had a few people comment on my catchphrase, “Reality has a heart; Romance has a brain,” and I’ve assumed, perhaps without good cause, that my meaning will be clear, particularly after people read the free chapters I'm posting from A Silver Ring until its July release. Beta readers have seen in it exactly what I hoped to show: a balance between Fate’s magic and Life’s uncooperative chaos that rings true. For those who haven't yet read it, however, this key component of my branding strategy might still need explanation.


Reality has taken over our, well, reality. Nobody seems to care a whit about make-believe anymore. People would seemingly prefer to take a kind of Mythbusters approach to their entertainment, leering into real people’s real (boring) lives, watching them do real (boring) things (or, occasionally, even nothing) and being shown they’re not as fun, exciting, difficult, or rewarding, as one might think. The underlying message seems to be, “See? There’s no such thing as princes, princesses, magic, destiny, or love and, rather than being duped into investing your finite attention in a “fake” story that (OMG!) never really happened, concentrate instead on the mediocrity all around you and be assured that no one else ever does or witnesses anything truly extraordinary, either.”

I don’t get it. Those “realities” aren’t particularly funny, nor inspirational—and rarely even truly sad. They have no real stakes. They have no heart. My reality, and that of everyone I know well, by contrast, does. People get hurt. People are victimized. People die. And yes, occasionally, people win against all odds, like I did after my 1994 plane crash/spinal cord injury. It’s just that when we see it happen through the unflattering lens of a handheld camcorder, sans theme music and pretty actors smiling impossibly white smiles and tossing their hair in slow motion, it loses its romantic punch.

On the other hand, like many writers (cro-magnon “fratire” author Tucker Max being one obvious exception), I consider myself a romantic. A recovering romantic, to be perfectly honest. I say recovering because I consider it a character flaw, a foible, endearing though it may be to most women and the very few men capable of admitting it without fear of sudden-onset-homosexuality. I see it as such because of a long series of heartbreaks I endured as a boy and young man as I very slowly came to "realize" love just doesn’t work like it did in any of the really corny television and movies I probably shouldn’t have been allowed to watch growing up.

While my parents and siblings were out living their post-adolescent lives, circa 1980, I was often found trustworthy to stay home alone, free to torment cats with impunity, set random fires -- and note how no one ever walked down The Love Boat’s gangplank without their heart’s desire on their arm.

My sibs, each my elder by at least six years, all married people who, for all I knew, were only their first or second serious love interests when they were eighteen or twenty years old. My parents married when they were barely twenty. So it seemed entirely plausible to me, as my pituitary gland began to order my first shipments of testosterone, that when I really, truly fell in love with someone, getting from there to the altar was just a matter of learning, then making, all the right moves. Making yourself completely vulnerable (and thus irresistible) by showing a love interest how strongly you felt with words, deeds, and gifts was always step one.

Eh, bebe, voulez-vous coucher avec moi?
Despite having embarked on a love-note writing campaign that could have led to a great career writing for Harlequin, I didn’t get to see those fireworks Peter Brady did when I got my first kiss. I had to live with the fact that a platonic girl friend of mine, who was inside the locked doors of our school one day and knew I was crushing on another girl who “luckily” was out in Ohio’s winter with me and needed to get back inside to get warm, forced my heart’s desire to kiss me to be let back inside. So basically, my first experience of physical intimacy with a woman was an act of prostitution, funded by extortion, and performed under duress. Now, is that not just as precious as pink pajamas? Not exactly what I’m wishing for my son’s first foray into manhood…

I hadn’t yet heard J. Geils’ Band’s Love Stinks, and Queensryche had yet to even form, let alone record I Don’t Believe in Love, but I really could have used those, or even just some self-effacing, maybe even embarrassing truth-in-stalking disclosures from my elders about their experiences with the opposite sex, just for a little reality check. I was in for quite a few rude, which I admit now seem only bittersweet, awakenings. Let’s just say they undoubtedly still know who they were.

I thought I’d finally cracked the code for the first time at age 22, and gladly paid the 2-months’ salary to prove it, but it turned out I’d only signed up to learn an almost unbearable object lesson in the relatively short half-life of physical attraction in the face of crisis. I became an embittered cynic, a turnkey reality-tv fan years ahead of its time, and I stayed that way until I fell in love—the real kind that crisis only tempers—with my wife.

She’s not out of the woods just yet, however. That lonely boy who never once managed to transform a crush into love is still hitch-hiking a dark, empty highway somewhere in her enigmatic, otherwise cocky husband’s mind, kicking the daylights out of a can along the way and swatting at the swarm of question marks buzzing around his head.

So when I inject romance into my writing, I do it with due consideration for that sad character and write with my brain, which, thankfully, did eventually learn to translate for my heart what it could never understand.

Reality has a heart; romance has a brain. To me it means there’s just too much magic in this life for anyone to pretend it never happens, but those of us who've fallen too many times to take even one foot off the ground can’t just write blank check after blank check to people with imaginations as simple and predictable as pixie dust.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Out of the hard drive & into the Skydrive!

Back when I first began learning about the need for a writer to have a “platform,” I went with Yahoo’s SiteBuilder and hosting services, and those Yahoos really made it fairly easy to put together a pretty decent website for my writing. But as I learned more, I realized I was putting my stuff at least one critical click away from many readers, and switched to Google.

I’d posted quite a bit of material to the Yahoo-hosted site and figured one day I’d haul it all over to the bLogbook. Today was supposed to be “the” day, but I realized just how much work Yahoo’s SiteBuilder software had saved me when I wanted to post a piece of work with a picture and have at least a link to it remain a permanent part of my main page, and not just another life-limited blog post.

After an embarrassing length of time spent trying various dead-ends, I've finally found what I need, and holy cow do I love the name: Skydrive, by Microsoft. It's basically an on-line file cabinet for files created with Word, which is the program in which nearly every writer works, and with it I have total access control. I can keep my files private (but what fun is that?), post links to them, or leave them completely open to the public.

Starting today, I’ll be posting my older work, all under the heading Skydrive at the top right of my home page. Most of it’s at least a year old, and some of you may have already read some of it, but this is the best way I can figure to get all my work cataloged the way I need it to be.

As always, your readership and comments are most appreciated!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

BINGO

I try hard to avoid sounding like a poser by throwing military pilot expressions around, like saying "tally-ho" instead of "traffic in sight," "head" for "lavatory," "casualties" for "family members," you get the idea. But in some cases, our protectors just have a term for which there is no better, or any, civilian equivalent. One such example is "bingo fuel." My understanding of "bingo," gleaned from twelve years working for an airline which, if one knew only its initials and its pilots, one might think was called "Academy Alumni," is that "bingo" represents the fuel level at which, if the ordnance, ugh, I mean aircraft, hasn't been delivered to its intended target, er, destination, then diversion to the secondary or alternate is required in order to preclude a phenomenon known to both military and civilian aviators as fuel exhaustion - which itself is one of myriad mistakes a pilot can make known collectively, rather colorfully, as "screwing the pooch."

I began writing A Silver Ring, as a trilogy, shortly after 9/11. As the creative process almost always goes, my path took more than a few dead ends, laborious shortcuts, and innocuous-looking end-arounds along the way, and by 2006 I'd written either a tome, two novels with copious amounts of backstory, or nearly all of a trilogy. Having spent every minute of my writing time for four years actually writing and braiding the stories like a length of three-phase wire, I began researching what I'd need to do to get it published. Discovering that writing a book is actually the easy (and fun) part of being an author took me on a similarly circuitous route.

Two paths diverged before me and, yes, I really did try to take the one less traveled - that being conventional publishing. I wrote A Silver Ring as an aviation story that didn't require a pilot's license to understand, or appreciate. Growing up with a father who loved flying, a mother who despised it, and a very real fear of their divorce imbued me with a neurotic compulsion, perhaps you could even call it a mission, to bring - or keep - the flying and non-flying worlds together. I wrote it as if trying to tell my Mom about a really great day I'd had flying with Dad, and I was reasonably sure I could get a literary agent to love it before I ran out of fuel. Not much unlike taking off for New York with Kennedy below minimums, expecting improvement - which is plenty legal. But Hope's not a Plan, and the last two letters in bingo are "g-o."

If getting someone in New York to publish my novel was LaGuardia, my ideal alternate needed to be a place from which my cargo could still be considered as having reached its destination without undue sacrifice to image. LaGuardia? Good. Newark? Not so much. I may have no choice but to bring my story home through a crowded corridor, but it doesn't have to smell like failure when it arrives.

Poring over my options, the positive aspects of one place in particular made the Choir Invisible sing that high-C note when I saw it.

Oshkosh.

My son Reagan was, before he was even conceived, my inspiration for A Silver Ring. He was born July 26, 2001, right smack in the middle of the U.S.' preeminent airshow hosted by the Experimental Aviation Association there. I even fantasized about branding him with the pet name "Oshkosh" before 9/11, but the havoc that day wrought on our lifestyle kept me from saturating him in aviation to the degree I'd intended, and the notion began to seem contrived.

Nevertheless, ten years later, Oshkosh remains Mecca for we poor bastards who can't help but look up at the sound of a passing plane, and therefore represents the single best place I could introduce my book to the world, which is the next best thing to introducing the world to it, via conventional publishing.

So I sent a digital copy to the EAA with a humble request that I be privileged to sell signed copies at AirVenture 2011. Someone Up There really likes it, and I'm hoping, no - planning Reagan's birthday, 7/26/2011, to become known as not only his birthday, but that of the book he made me able to write as well.

I'm posting Chapter One here today, and chapters two through six will be posted at 7:26 on the 26th of every month between now and July 26th, at which time signed, bound hard copies and fully-formatted e-books compatible with most e-book readers will go on sale.

I've also negotiated with my characters, Justin, Paul, Frank, Eileen, Wes, Melody, and Christina, to have them create and post to their own blogs about what's going on in their lives during that month in the story, albeit in a different year. Justin begins the series as the Space Shuttle Challenger is being readied for her next launch in the middle of a cold snap in Florida, on January 26, 1986.

He's a lonely guy who's had a pretty rough life, so I hope you'll stop by and leave him an encouraging word. Something's bound to break his way sooner or later, but it's not always easy to remember that when you just can't see past the next storm on the 'scope.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Speed of Life

When Pam and I were married in 1999, she was busy enough being a world-class mom to her boys, Christopher and Justin. Mini-me came along a couple of years later, and then, just as we were really starting to hit our stride as a blended family, came 9/11. I began to think I'd better forget any definition of the word "stable" that didn't have to do with horses.

They say when times get tough, however, survivors flourish. I'm not sure what that makes me, since by all outward appearances I'm still doing about the same as I was then, but Pam's a different story. As the airline industry cinched our belts, she insisted she do something more to contribute to our little branch of Household Finance, but with no degree or professional experience, we agreed she'd be very lucky to get any job that would bring home even minimum wage after taxes and child care expenses. Having grown up in an often dual-income family, I knew a job would put our family's bedrock, the one that two boys, their stepdad, and a baby all loved and were loved by unconditionally, under stress -  and cast our relatively happy home into chaos. Not to mention strangers would be "helping" raise our child. Joe Pesci couldn't have said, "No friggin' way!" any better. If she wanted to help, that was fine, but it had to be on our terms, and whatever she did had to make her no less happy. This house never has been big enough for two active neurotics.

For my part, I was going to just fly my wings off, bypass those low-paying magazine gigs, and use my layovers to write The Great American Novel. When I finished that "in a couple of years" (I was pretty sure it'd be fantastic), it would bring a modest but helpful figure, and by that time the predictably cyclical airline industry would be back to making really bad excuses for not treating its employees better. If you want to give God a laugh, tell Him your plan, right? Ten years later, I'm done writing that book, I only hope it's good because I've been unable to sell it so far, and I'm still working under conditions that would have made any 20th century airline's pilots go on strike.

Pam, however, as she's known for doing, found a way.

She started by getting back into scrapbooking - something she did in her previous life in Washington. She did it so well and enjoyed it so much, she started making "ready to fill" scrapbooks for other people. She sold some on E*Bay, and reinvested all the money into more supplies. The feedback she got from exercising those creative synapses made her start branching out into Artist Trading Cards and various other things, which stoked her fire. Then somebody poured some gasoline on it. She successfully competed for a job doing what's quite possibly her purpose on Earth - something that blended her love and talent for art with her love and talent for teaching: she became an art teacher at a local private school.

School politics left her in a dilemma about whether to stay after the first year, and she ultimately decided to leave, but that fire reached critical mass when a fund-raising student art auction at the end of the year raised a record amount of money. That fire was now sucking all the air out of every room she walked into. She didn't know how yet, but she was going to be able to say she was an artist.

By this time I'd finished my novel (the first time), and she swears she started feeling small around me. Here I was already making a living doing one thing I love to do and nearly at the top of my (decimated) profession, and now I was (someday) going to become an author to boot. Now, my love's not exactly competitive, but she cuts herself less slack than Tiger Woods (luckily for me). She started submitting articles for art magazines, and perseverance paid off. After one or two, heck, maybe even three rejections, she got her first byline.

They, and she, haven't stopped since.

Last month, just before she helped teach at a retreat in Paris, she got her first look at her biggest gig yet. Art at the Speed of Life is now available for pre-order from Interweave Press on Amazon, and several dozen advance copies are sitting here on our kitchen table, waiting to be sent to anyone who wants one personally inscribed by one of the newest, most productive, and I have to say most friendly and down-to-earth mixed-media artists in the world. If you're one such person, you should have a look around Pam's website and then maybe to her Etsy shop and become one of the first to read this visually stunning book in which she and over a dozen other established contributing artists show how Life doesn't have to stop you from doing what keeps you Alive.

Oh, and she's also a great kisser, by the way, but before you go get all googly-eyed and falling in love, I'd like to point out that she has yet to take even a single flight lesson. Guess my second-favorite Missouri author/artist Sara Evans had it right - love doesn't have to be perfect.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Crossings

Happy New Year, readers loyal and new! As I begin what will be my eighth year as a serious writer, my tenth as a father, twelfth as a husband, twenty-sixth as a pilot, and my forty-first lap around the sun, I find myself (surprise) airborne, this time coming home from the country of Ben Franklin's frequent dalliance, France. This time, for a change, I take no compensation, nor any passengers, for the trip.


For the first time, it was my dear wife's turn to pit her career against jetlag, conducting a retreat in Paris with two other talented mixed-media artists. We crossed The Atlantic a few days early in the course of my work, but on the 26th, I abandoned her to the City of Light, worked the westbound alone, then swapped bags and headed back across The Pond again, off the clock, to rejoin her.


Along the way, I waxed philosophical (not just about how exactly we 'wax' an adjective) about that particular frame in the movie of my life, so against my better judgment, I allowed myself the momentary fantasy of being a poet, with the following result:


Crossings

  To know the route's unimportance
The destination as only a plan
And plans' slavery to Fate

Having come, and gone, and been
Felt the wind's rush build, the heat of the fall
And treasuring the calm even while missing
The helplessness

The hov'ring sun like a dirge, we head West
Vanishing still too fast at Journey's end

Between a New World and the Old
Dreams pass, some touching, most not
And sweep, all, behind our wings
into Memory



I write for the same reason I listen—and occasionally try to play—music: to come as close as I can, with the tools I have, to fully feeling, then relaying so well that others can also feel, the inexpressible joys and sorrows that mark where our Life transcends existence. In the five years since I finished what may be my one book, I've struggled to find the easiest, fastest, most efficient way to build my audience, with modest results. Since I must reluctantly agree insanity can be defined as doing the same thing the same way and expecting different results, this year I'm going to start doing some things differently.


I hope we both enjoy it…

An aviation love story...

Twilight landing at LAX

Martinez Canyon Rescue