Tropical islands, airline pilots, and the writer's mind.
August 22, 2014
Allowing a writer free reign to say whatever he wants to? If you're brave enough to follow along, welcome to the ride!
I have been asked 'Where do you get your crazy ideas?' If I ignore the obvious answer of 'I don't know', there is a faint trail to follow, if I look deep enough. For my novel The Pouakai, it started with a series of flights between Honolulu and Sydney I made in 2007 and 2008. I had been on furlough from my airline for three years before being recalled in 2006. If you don't understand how airlines work, don't worry. Most of us don't either. But briefly, the airline cut some routes and flying, and 'laid off' about a quarter of its pilots. We kept our positions on the seniority list, even if we weren't working there, so when the airline started expanding again we were recalled. I was away for about three years, and worked for two different airlines during that time. Once I came back the airline started bringing in more pilots rapidly, so I was soon able to bid for which flights I wanted to work. I love Sydney Australia, so I took as many of those flights as I could.
The trip from Honolulu to Sydney takes between nine and ten hours, so there is a lot of time to look at the vast Pacific. On the route we normally took, the first bit of land we saw after leaving Hawaii was a tiny speck of coral that appeared about five hours after takeoff. Passing over this remote island piqued my interest, and soon I found its name: Nanumea. As all writers do, I easily immersed myself in learning about it (i.e. spent hours wandering around the internet search result pages). The long history and current conditions on the island were the stuff of my dreams for a long time.
As a pilot, I also have a duty to focus on my job - keeping my passengers and crew safe. Early in my flight training my instructor told me to always have options for landing in case an engine quits. This applies more to single-engine aircraft, but it's always in the back of my mind even in a big airliner. As we passed over Nanumea on successive trips, I began to wonder what would happen if both engines quit at that point; where would I put the plane down, and what would be the best option for landing - beach or water? From there, the writer inside my head took over and started asking questions, like; what would cause both engines to quit? What would be the root cause of that reason? And so on...
The first result of that line of questioning led me to write a short story that is now essentially the first section of the novel. After having a neighbor who is also a writer read through it, her reaction was "Great! But what happens next?" Since it was a short story, I hadn't thought about what was next. But at her urging, I did. I incorporated parts of the aviation industry I knew well, including subjects like furloughs. And the eventual result is the novel now available.
The photo attached to this post is one I took as we passed by Nanumea one fine day on the way to Sydney. I dare you to look at it and not have your mind wander to subjects like white sand beaches, palm trees, and warm tropical breezes. After you read The Pouakai, you can add in deadly flying alien creatures too.
So the next time you ask 'Where do you get your crazy ideas', be prepared for a long, weird road.