As much as I’d like to believe that people find my day job fascinating, their interest may extend only as far as a visit to the cockpit. Reading a novel involving my profession may not be high on the entertainment list. I get it. The technical nature of flying airplanes might glaze over some eyes… well, unless you’re talking Top Gun stuff while listening to Kenny Loggins perform “Danger zone.”
Sorry, but most times flying airplanes doesn’t involve an impromptu, inconceivable, inverted formation flight with a Russian Mig, not with standing the extension of a certain middle finger. And therein lies the dilemma. How does one present an interesting profession that successfully and consistently achieves the mundane with very few exceptions? Nobody wants to read about the mundane.
Making a subject matter interesting requires passion. I’ve been passionate about flying airplanes since I started taking lessons before I could legally drive a car… actually at 6-years-old if you’ve read my bio. It goes without saying that inside knowledge of the subject matter adds the element of realism and credibility. If nothing else, 40-plus years of flying airplanes provides insight.
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After having stared into a CNN camera on a few occasions, my fear has not been the millions of potential viewers evaluating the credibility of my words but rather the scrutiny of colleagues who might raise the BS flag. (And trust me, they won’t hesitate.) In that regard, it is the anonymous scrutiny of my fellow pilots that keeps me true to the profession and true to the novel.
The other goal for writing an aviation novel was to offer a mystery, a whodunit. Who doesn’t like a good whodunit? From detective novels, to legal dramas, to the Stephen King supernatural thrillers, a mystery should be entertaining.
During the process of considering a novel, one of my goals was to refrain from beating up readers with technical jargon. But I didn’t want to insult reader intelligence either. So when it’s appropriate, I sprinkle in just enough airplane-speak to maintain the realism. You still probably won’t be able to fly a Boeing 767 when you finish the book, but you’ll have a better idea on how it might be done.
Also, it was important for me to provide characters to which readers can relate regardless of their vocation. As is true of life, none of my characters, especially the hero, is without flaws.
And judging by the continuous popularity of cop TV shows with the underlying plot to discover the culprit, I have paralleled that theme. People’s fascination with an airplane accident is a reflection of the thirst to piece together clues in order to solve a mystery. This is the ultimate function of the NTSB, to unravel the circumstances behind a tragedy and never allow the same event to occur again. But sometimes, what happens behind the cockpit door is not the end of the story.
Turn off your TV for a little while. Grab “Paper Wings.” Find your favorite sofa. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight!