Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Why Write About a Flyer?

I am often asked: Why did you write about a flyer? Years ago, I stumbled across a letter in an advice column (and to my everlasting dismay I did not keep it as reference) about a nine year old boy whose mother had put him in a diaper for wetting the bed and made him play outside while still wearing it. The image of that poor child surely subjected to humiliation nagged at me. In some strange way, although I half-sympathized with his mother’s exasperation, I had a distinct impression that the boy would either grow up to be a psychopath or an aviator. 

I think it is human nature to want to be superior in some way to others; to be admired by a select group, by our peers, our family or the whole of humankind. Of course, there are many venues for this, but I thought war would be an excellent arena to show one man’s alienation, connections, and ideals. If that child did not have unconditional love from his mother, then he could certainly channel his desire for accolades from the boxing crowd or handling wild and barely manageable horses. But flying airplanes during wartime seemed so promising--excelling and being rewarded intrinsically through the promotions and admiration of others like him even, perhaps, the “enemy”.

The Characters of Forcing a Hand of God from My Perspective
Rodger, the flyer: A question posed to me after someone has read the novel is “Why didn’t Rodger stay home with his family?” Being a romantic myself, I also wanted him to decide to stay stateside. But characters, even though created by an author, have verisimilitude, and must remain true to the reality in which they exist. Rodger Brown would not choose to stay stateside and forgo the only arena where he could prove to himself that he exists as a man.

Adele, his wife: I think it is much different for a woman, particularly during the time of WWII. Not because a woman is softer or less capable, as Rodger’s wife Adele proved, but because biology defines her priorities. Pregnant women have a limited range of mobility. And I think once a woman bears a child, that sense of responsibility to make a perfect world then centers around the more personal sphere of family and home.

Ada, his neighbor: Rodger’s neighbor and mentor, Ada, is an example of a woman who defies convention on a minor scale. She’s discreet in her affairs, yet chooses to remain a widow as a protection against the prying eyes of the small town where she resides. Her love for Rodger is maternal; yet underlying that is a sexual tension, a longing for a relationship, a connection with Rodger’s father, John. She is the most interesting character to me, for her voice is complex. She is nurturing, yet aloof from the world, somewhat like Snoopy of Peanuts, who loves mankind but can’t stand people.

Madeline, his mother: Wouldn’t you love to hate Madeline? But if you are like me, I begrudgingly must admit that I understand her. For one thing, Rodger must have been a precocious child and difficult to manage, having all the attributes of her husband that she found hard to tolerate. And I can imagine a jealousy of the father/son connection that precluded her involvement, even if she had the capacity of understand it. But on the other hand, Madeline is a product of the times and conventions that dictated quite clearly the hows, whys and wherefores of womanhood. She could not transcend them because those very conventions defined her.

I still think about the characters and often consider how their lives are progressing. They are my virtual family and I care about each of them. I have other voices to answer to and am working on a new novel, The Eye of the Moon. But that’s another story.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Are You Lonely, Ms. Writer?

As a writer, I am often asked if I am lonely. The perception is that by spending all that time alone writing, I must miss the company of people. Quite the contrary, in fact. I have enough characters wanting their voice to be heard that I sometimes escape into the company of real life friends to chat about ordinary things.

In my novel, Forcing the Hand of God, the main character, Rodger Brown, became a distinctive voice in my life, a person so real to me that I felt I knew him as a family member.
Indeed, sometimes it’s hard for me to transition from the world of my story into my other life as wife, mother, and friend. While writing Forcing the Hand of God in 1982 for my master’s thesis, I would dream about the protagonist, Rodger Brown. I could see him clearly in a small village in China walking along the alley ways, alienated by the language barrier and misunderstandings of the customs and people. 

Twenty years later, with access to the internet, I could research hours at a time on any topic that interested me. One time, I came across a picture of a Flying Tiger in Benyang, strolling through a dirt street. It was the spitting image of the Rodger I'd dreamed about all those years ago. In the real photo, the pilot was self-contained and confident, yet his expression belied a wistfulness, perhaps a wish to belong where he was at that moment. There was something so intriguing about my character Rodger that I just knew the original short story had to grow into a novel.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Why the Title "Forcing the Hand of God"?

With the release of my latest book Forcing the Hand of God, I am often asked if this is a religious book. The answer is no, although it does have some elements of spiritualism, but mostly from a fighter pilot's perspective.

The title actually came to me while I was writing my college thesis, which was about flying and World War II. I discovered that the fighter pilots who flew in WWII--and those that fly in every war--know that every time they go up in the air to wage battle, they are challenging God and forcing him to choose the outcome of their life and mission. Engaging in air battle is a game of survival. With all the strength, knowledge and control the pilots seemingly have, in the end they really don't decide who lives or does...God does.

Roger, the main character in the book, struggles with the idea that God actually has the final say. He feels the need to continually challenge this possibility. It is what drives his passion for being a fighter pilot as well as what causes him great internal unrest because he is also a husband, father and son. His character is truly conflicted. Must he give up his passion for flying and living on the edge to be with the people he loves and end up living a sedentary life?

I'd love to hear from other fighter pilots, military personnel, and their family and friends about living with this kind of daily struggle. Are we all Forcing the Hand of God?