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

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


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.


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


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:


  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