Letter to a flyboy

http://www.amazon.com/Final-Salute-Together-Valor-Combat/dp/0982089201/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1314549687&sr=1-2

Jan. 18, 1991

Dear Tuck,

When I was young, I used to visit Aunt Cora at her funny smelling

farmhouse on the outskirts of town. The house had a long

front porch that stretched from one end of the house to the other. I

liked to sit on the porch and take in the view of the air base. The

highway, railroad tracks, and a chain-link fence separated us, the

farmhouse people, from them, the military. The front porch had the

best seat in the house. Unfortunately, the rattlesnakes thought so,

too.

Nevertheless, I spent hours camped out in a rusted metal lawn

chair and clung to an old garden hoe in case Mr. No-Shoulders

decided to slither up through the honeysuckle and join me while I

waited for the jets. The boom of the F-100 Super Sabers’

afterburners caused my aunt’s teacups to rattle, the windows shake,

and the life blood pump through my veins.

Then a big, dark jet would shoot straight out of nowhere over the

top of the farmhouse and scream like a mighty bird of prey. Its steel

belly so close I knew if I jumped high enough off the porch, I could

reach up and touch it before it landed on the other side of the fence

and rolled down the shimmery black runway and out of my life.

For one brief, shining moment, nothing else mattered. Then I

went back to look for snakes. You know Tuck, in all those years I

never did see one, dead or alive, near the premises. Yet I heard all

about them in the stories Aunt Cora would tell anybody who

listened—like how she nearly died wrestling the devil’s serpent with

the blade of her hoe. In the world of snake kills, the woman was an

ace.

Looking back, I realize I could have stayed inside and peered out

the picture window in Aunt Cora’s living room instead of venture

out into the danger zone of the porch, where things could bite. But I

had to see the jets and feel the thunder they created in the

atmosphere. Their arrivals and departures made my daydreams take

flight. The jets so close, yet so far away, in a world I wasn’t privy to.

A world my dad once moved in and out of as an airman, but left

before I was born. A world I didn’t think dangerous, until I married

you.

Last night, when they showed footage of an A-10 from Myrtle

Beach shot down over Iraq, the war came crashing into my living

room. After all these years, Tuck, one of those goddamn snakes has

finally crept beyond its boundaries.

It pisses me off. I’m sitting here 7,000 miles away on the edge of

your chair, armed with nothing but this lousy remote control. So

I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands. As soon as I stick

this letter in the mail, I’m headed out to the shed to fetch the garden

hoe and tie a yellow ribbon on it.

Love You,

Gina

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10 comments on “Letter to a flyboy

  1. Robin,

    My apologies. I just screwed your name up. Time for a glass of vino!! ❤

    Kathleen

    PS: Thank you so much. This weekend has been a blast being on Debut Authors with you!! I wish you much success with YOUR novel and other writing projects.

  2. Roibin,

    About the stakes. I always have such a hard time answering these kinds of questions but I’ll try my best. Over and over in the course of writing and revising TFS, I had to remind myself why I wanted this so bad. It had to be more than the bylines and credit. It had to be more than seeing my name in print. (I’d done that already in magazines and newspapers.) It had to be more than crossing another goal off my to do list. On pg 79 in Donald Maass’ “Writing the Breakout Novel, he says, “Some say success as an author requires a big ego; I say it requires a big heart.” For me, HEART is everything. If I can’t FEEL something when I’m writing, then I know the reader won’t feel it either.

    What were the stakes for me? I had to prove to myself that I was the person to tell this story. I had to give myself the authority to keep working. If I didn’t tell this story, who would? I also started out writing the story out of anger. I was angry at certain commanders who got away with things than the average enlisted man would have gone to Leavenworth for. The sex scandal in my novel helps drive the plot, but in the early drafts I got tired of it. So I started having fun with it. When I started having fun with it, my characters came to life. On the same note, the tragic parts of the story drove me to keep going. To plunge deeper and darker. To be real. I wanted to tell the real story of Air Force life, the things that nobody likes to talk about.

    Maybe this is my mission statement: Pilots and crew members who die in peacetime crashes are sadly the forgotten fliers, somehow less heroic because they didn’t perish in combat. Make no mistake, these pilots and crew members died serving their country. We should all remember them. And the women and children they leave behind. For every military jet that passes overhead, there’s a widow who is reminded that one day her husband took off and never made it back.”

    I was one of the lucky ones. My husband made it back. He survived 20 years flying fighter jets. I survived years of living in fear that he would crash and burn. Once my husband retired and started flying for the airlines, I had to put all the leftover fear somewhere. I guess you could say I gave it to Gina and the others and poured it into the book. And I gave it to Tuck, my fighter pilot and protagonist. Tuck lived in fear every time he went up. But being the typical fighter jock, he didn’t sit around and talk about it.

    And every time I sit down, I think “TENSION ON EVERY PAGE.” Or I try to.

    BTW – off subject here. But there’s a ton of dark humor in The Final Salute.

    Kathleen

    • “Pilots and crew members who die in peacetime crashes are sadly the forgotten fliers, somehow less heroic because they didn’t perish in combat. Make no mistake, these pilots and crew members died serving their country. We should all remember them. And the women and children they leave behind. For every military jet that passes overhead, there’s a widow who is reminded that one day her husband took off and never made it back.”

      The women, children, friends, and family–brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers all are left behind. Ah, Kathy. You know I know how true this is. I thought my loved ones were safe because they were good at what they did. They flew and flew well. I never got over the fear, but I never let my fly boy know how great it was. I didn’t want it to affect his focus at a critical point.

      • Good morning, Marcia,

        I knew you would totally get my little editorial about pilots and crew members who die in peacetime crashes. I actually “lifted” that paragraph from an essay I wrote for Air Force Times 16 March, 1992. It’s titiled, “Remembering Forgotten Fliers, Their Survivors.”

        Okay, will sign off now. Loved having your thoughtful comments on here. It wouldn’t have been the same with you. 🙂

        Kathy

  3. Dear Mary, Leila, Marcia, and Robin,

    I’m thrilled you all loved Gina’s letter. I told Robin I love her title “Letter to a Flyboy.) Wish I’d thought of that. 😉 This excerpt is so close to my heart for so many reasons. As you all have probably figured out, I draw from my own life experience in my fiction. Change the names, change the hair colors.. When I was writing the original essay – the one that I would eventually sell to Family Circle for big $$$ – I got up at 2 and 3 in the morning while the boys were still asleep to creep into the den and settle in front of the computer screen. No laptops back then. I always knew that I would write about my Aunt Cora’s farmhouse, I just had no idea it would take this form.

    The farmhouse is still there today, but the current owners have totally remodeled it. Two years ago when I went home to New Mexico for some book signings and readings, I was out driving my dad around, and on a whim, we headed in that direction. Dad is pretty feeble and he wasn’t up to attending my reading that night at the library. So I pulled off the highway onto the shoulder, whipped out a copy of the novel, and gave my daddy his own private reading. We both choked up!!!

    While I’m at, I might as well tell you that we’d just come from the cemetery where I stood at my little brother’s grave and showed him a copy of The Final Salute. I knelt down, placed the copy on the grave marker for a few moments, and said, “Larry, I did it. I got better. I got over bulimia. I started writing again. I quit wasting my life.” And right there on the spot, I dedicated my talk that night at the library to my brother, Larry. (These are the little things that bring meaning not only to my life, but to my writing.)

    You all are the best,

    Kathleen (Kathy)

  4. Love this letter. It gives such a sense of place, conveys the frustration of being one of the ‘society of the grounded’, and shows her strength in the making of a tangible symbol of her anger, determination to fight against ‘snakes’ and her hopes for a future together.

  5. debutauthors says:

    On one of my writer sites, we’ve been discussing the stakes for the writer. Donald Maass in his ‘The Breakout Novelist’ (first couple of pages) says a writer better know this and it better be a reason other than getting it published. I’d love for you to share what the stakes were for you.

  6. Fabulous descriptions, Kathy. Love this:
    “The highway, railroad tracks, and a chain-link fence separated us, the

    farmhouse people, from them, the military. The front porch had the

    best seat in the house. Unfortunately, the rattlesnakes thought so,

    too.”

  7. Robin,

    Thanks for posting Gina’s letter to Tuck. This “letter” was actually adapted from an essay I sold to Family Circle Magazine in 1991. It was published again in Air Force Times later that year. During the long process of revising The Final Salute, I decided to turn the essay into a letter and so I “gave it” to my character, Gina. I love to “recycle” my work.

    Kathleen

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