Pull the Chocks!

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” ― Leonardo da Vinci

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In yesterday’s TKZ post, James Scott Bell deconstructed the movie The Fugitive and shared some lessons from it. Today, I want to look at a very different movie for a different reason.

The1957 film The Spirit of St. Louis is the story of Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight from New York’s Roosevelt Field to Le Bourget Field in Paris. Lindbergh hoped to win the $25,000 Orteig Prize by being the first to fly non-stop from New York to Paris, but this was no easy task. Six men had already died trying.

Now you would think a movie that follows a thirty-three-hour flight over the ocean would be a huge bore, but the filmmakers came up with a way to present it that engages the audience. Jimmy Stewart in the role of Charles Lindbergh lends authenticity, humor, and occasional hilarity to the film.

Like most stories, this movie is divided into three parts.

Act One covers the night before the flight when Charles Lindbergh is lying awake, dreading the sound of raindrops plunking against the window of his hotel room. This 53-minute act fluctuates between scenes of Lindbergh’s insomnia and flashbacks to his experiences as a U.S. Post Office airmail pilot, and other humorous scenes. From the story-telling point of view, this act provides movie-goers with knowledge of Lindbergh as a man, not a legend. He comes across as a likeable, shy, and determined young pilot.

Act Two recounts the take-off scene in seventeen minutes. I’ll come back to this in detail below.

Act Three is another long segment that follows the flight across the ocean and the landing in Paris, alternating between scenes of the sleep-deprived Lindbergh’s efforts to stay awake, a scary moment when ice forms on the wings and threatens to bring the plane down, and more flashbacks of his life as a barnstorming pilot and as a cadet with the United States Army Air Service.

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But it’s Act Two where the real tension lies. Even though we all know the outcome, I find myself holding my breath whenever I watch the scene.

It begins when Lindbergh arrives at Roosevelt Field on the morning of May 20, 1927. The conditions are awful. The rain has made the field a muddy mess, and the fog renders a successful takeoff over the very tall trees at the end of the runway unlikely. Frank Mahoney, the owner of the Ryan Aircraft Company which built the plane, advises Lindbergh to wait and try again later. But the young pilot thinks there may be a chance, and he places a white marker at a certain point on the side of the sloppy runway. If he tries the takeoff and reaches the marker before the plane gets off the ground, he says he’ll abort the effort.

Only Lindbergh can make the Go/No-Go call, and he knows the odds are not good. He suits up, climbs into the cockpit, and does the runup. You can see the doubt on his face when he raises his hand in a goodbye gesture to the small group of people who came to see him off.

No one would blame him if he decided to wait. But you can almost hear his inner voice say, “This is your moment. Don’t let it pass you by.”

At approximately the exact middle of the movie (and I know James Scott Bell will love this), Lindbergh finalizes his decision by calling out the words that will start the plane forward: “Pull the chocks.” There will be no turning back.

A group of men actually push the plane to get it moving in the muck, and the little aircraft, heavy with fuel and struggling against the poor-to-horrible weather conditions, slogs its way down the field toward a line of trees that look increasingly ominous.

It would be hard to describe the scene of the actual takeoff, so I’ll let you watch this three-minute clip instead:

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Charles Lindbergh was passionate about his chosen profession, and he put in the time to learn his craft. He had honed his experience through years of barnstorming, flying airmail routes, and giving lessons. He went through training with the United States Army Air Service at Brooks Field in Texas and earned his Army pilot’s wings and a commission as a second lieutenant in the Air Service Reserve Corps.

But even though he was the sole pilot of The Spirit of St. Louis when he flew across the ocean, Lindbergh’s effort would have been impossible without the support and knowledge of many others.

A group of St. Louis businessmen had financed the building of the aircraft. The owners and employees of the Ryan Aircraft Company supplied the experience and commitment to design the plane that could make a journey of almost four thousand miles. Lindbergh couldn’t have lifted off the ground without their help.

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It seems I find an analogy to writing in just about everything these days, and it’s easy to see the connection between lifting off on a flight where the conditions aren’t perfect and launching a novel.

As everyone here knows, the preparation for bringing a novel to publication is long and difficult. And it isn’t just the hard work of meeting the weekly quota. The background of life experiences, craft books, writing courses, and blogs like The Kill Zone, all combine to prepare the writer for his/her effort.

In most books, only the author’s name is on the cover. But the product is usually the result of many people who willingly came alongside to make the book a success. Friends, editors, mentors, beta readers, endorsers, experts, and supporters from other areas pour their knowledge and expertise into the project.

But at some point, the author has to make the last preparations and commit to the flight. A new book launch may not be as risky as taking off in an airplane to fly a course no one has flown before, but to the author, it is just as exciting.

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So there you have it. Today is launch day for Lacey’s Star: A Lady Pilot-in-Command Novel. It’s been a long, bumpy runway. Now we’ll see how she flies.

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So TKZers: Have you launched a book recently? Tell us about it. What advice do you have for authors about making a book launch successful?

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PULL THE CHOCKS!

Private pilot Cassie Deakiin is smart, funny, and determined. She can land a plane safely in an emergency, but can she keep her cool when confronted by a murderer?

Lacey’s Star: A Lady Pilot-in-Command Novel began flying off the shelves today. $1.99 at Amazon   Barnes & Noble   Apple Books   Kobo   Google Play

Have a nice flight, Cassie.

30 thoughts on “Pull the Chocks!

    • Good morning, Grant, and thanks for the kind words.

      Sometimes it’s hard to let go, but we do need to release our works to the world. Hope all your books are flying high.

  1. Kay, I loved this Billy Wilder movie as a kid. Need to see it again. Jimmy, at his age, somehow pulled off playing the much younger Lindbergh. What an actor.

    One other aspect of the story is the calculated risk. Lindbergh didn’t take a foolish risk. He and his team did their homework. But then came flight time. No one knew for certain how it would turn out.

    A selling writer should take some calculated risks to elevate their writing, and avoid foolish risks (which is what good beta readers are for). Then your book has a chance to take flight.

    • Good morning, Jim. Great point about taking calculated risks while avoiding foolish ones. My editors and beta readers keep me from trying to take off with only one wing attached.

      Jimmy Stewart played the part of Lindbergh to perfection and made the movie enjoyable. I can’t imagine another actor who could have done that.

      And thank you, Jim. The effect of your courses, books, words of wisdom, and encouragement are evident on every page of my books.

  2. Congratulations, Kay, on the launch of Lacey’s Star.

    Wonderful analogy with the film, The Spirit of St. Louis.

    I hope your launch and flight through the challenging clouds of marketing are extremely successful! Bon vol!

    • Good morning, Steve. You’re one of the people who helped get Lacey’s Star off the ground, not only by perceptive feedback on the beta version, but by the special “propeller pens” you made for me. Thank you!

      Marketing is definitely going to be a challenge.

  3. Congratulations on the release. I’ve read the book, folks, and can recommend it. Well done.
    I have to wait for my heart rate to come down after watching the clip. Knowing it was going to be successful didn’t alleviate the tension.

    • Good morning, Terry, and thanks for the kind words. You’re one of the people whose feedback got Lacey’s Star ready to fly. Thank you.

      The takeoff scene in the movie is thrilling. I understand it’s very true to the actual takeoff. (With the exception of the telephone wires. I understand that was a Hollywood addition.)

  4. Great post! And like Terry, i was holding my breath until he cleared those trees. Stewart was a pilot, wasn’t he?
    And Congrats on the book. I have my copy and I can’t wait for the next one in the series!

    • Good morning, Patricia! Yes, I believe Jimmy Stewart was a pilot, but I’m sure he wasn’t the one flying the plane in the movie. (Did you know Lindbergh couldn’t see out the front of the plane? There was a gasoline tank in front of the pilot where you would expect there to be a windscreen. Lindbergh had a periscope that he could use to see out, but he apparently preferred to look out the side window.)

      Thank you, Patricia, for being one of the people who pre-read the book and helped get it to the runway.

    • He was indeed a genuine war hero, rising from private to colonel. His interview on the classic World At War documentary TV series, for the episode “Bomber,” was very compelling.

    • Thank you, Alan. I look forward to getting feedback on the book from all readers, but especially female pilots.

      Jimmy Stewart was a great actor and a true hero.

  5. Such an inspiring post, Kay. Jimmy Stewart shows again why he was such a marvelous, engaging actor. I imagine his experience as a B-24 pilot and eventual bomber wing commander leading dangerous missions against the Reich informed his performance here. “Release the chocks!” is indeed an apt metaphor for launching a book. Congratulations on “Lacey’s Star”’s release—my pre-order copy arrived and I very much look forward to reading it!

    I’ve had two releases of my own this year— “A Shush Before Dying” in April and “Farewell, My Cookie,” in August.

    I slaved over “A Shush” for over two years, pouring myself into working on it. Last December, after re-outlining the book, I began a new draft, keeping only about 10K words of the original, and wrote 65K words in two months, then revised it, ran it by my beta readers, revised it again, sent it to an editor, revised it again, proof read it.

    I made it as good as I could. It is Book 1 in a new series in a new genre for me, so it’s not going to have a huge readership all by itself. But it’s an important first step. It did reach readers. One of my beta readers went to a book talk by another Oregon mystery writer who noted that her series didn’t take off until book 4, so patience is called for.

    “Farewell, My Cookie,” was published on BookFunnel as a reader magnet for my newsletter, and so far, as had over a thousand downloads, building up what was a tiny mystery reader group, and I think has led to additional sales of book 1.

    My big take aways are be calm and write on when you launch a book.

    Hope you have a marvelous week. Enjoy your latest book’s birthday!

  6. Yaaay, Kay! Lacey’s Star is a terrific book that will fly high into bestsellerdom!

    The second time the plane dropped down to the ground, I gasped out loud. What a scene!

    The Spirit of St. Louis was built in San Diego, my old hometown. The airport is named Lindbergh Field and it’s nearly as scary. Landing means dropping down a steep hill crammed with downtown buildings. Taking off means climbing up over an equally steep hill full of homes on the other end of the runway. Whew!

    • Good morning, Debbie, and thanks for the kind words. You’re one of the reasons Lacey’s Star made it to takeoff. Thank you!

      We have flown into San Diego several times. Commercially, not privately. It’s quite an experience. The first time we landed there, I wondered if the plane was going to put down on a city street.

      There’s also a great Air Museum in San Diego’s Balboa Park.

  7. It’s a terrific flick, and it is a good thing to understand it from a structure standpoint.

    I learn every day here at TKZ and I thank my mentors for it.

    The Lone Eagle was a curious man in many ways.

    One can only wonder at the loss he felt when his child was taken and murdered. All his glory meant nothing at that point, as all America wept with him. I reckon only those who have lost a child through violence can understand it.

    A bronzed god with feet of clay? He knew his field but succumbed to the legerdemain of Germany and the America Firsters. Perhaps he was a homily on sticking with what you know and not straying too far into things you do not know.

    One thing Lindbergh did know beyond any shadow of a doubt was that the J-5 Wright Whirlwind was the best, dead ass reliable reciprocating aircraft engine ever made.

    • Hi Robert!

      “The Lone Eagle was a curious man in many ways.” So true. Most people know him for the transatlantic flight, but he had a lot more in his portfolio than that. Tragedy and bad decisions darkened the glow.

      That Wright J-5 engine may have been the real star of the flight.

      Have a good week.

      • Thank you. My father was a Curtiss Wright engineer so I am just a tech partial. But there is nothing-nothing! like the sound of a round engine in full cry.

  8. Perfect analogy, Kay! Yes, I launched Merciless Mayhem on October 17th after a few weeks of preorder. On #BookTok, we do all kinds of fun things for book releases. One of my favorites is the Word Game. We haven’t played it yet for Merciless Mayhem (launch week is crazy busy, as you know), but we will later this week.

    The rules are simple. Each commenter gives you a word. You respond via video by reading a paragraph from the book that contains their word. Another person leaves a word, and you respond in the same way. And on and on it goes. It’s a blast.

    Congratulations on your new book baby! Here’s hoping Lacey’s Star rockets up the charts!

    • Hi Sue!

      I haven’t tried #BookTok yet, but the Word Game sounds like something I’d like. Maybe I’ll have some time after this week to take a look. 🙂

      Congratulations to you on Merciless Mayhem. It’s waiting for me on my iPad!

      Have a good week.

  9. Congratulations on your new book, Kay.
    As a St. Louisan, I am especially interested in Lindbergh. I’ve seen the Spirit of St. Louis in the Smithsonian, and boy, is that plane small and flimsy. After his brilliant success, Lindbergh suffered a terrible tragedy and then made terribly unwise choices during WWII. Thanks for another fascinating blog.

    • Hi Elaine!

      Those early airplanes look so small, don’t they. The thing that always amazes me about The Spirit of St. Louis, is that Lindbergh couldn’t see out of the front of the plane because they had put a fuel tank there. He had to use a periscope or look out of one of the side windows!

      Have a good week.

  10. Just downloaded my copy and look forward to reading it. I haven’t launched yet but if all goes as planned, early 2024 will be the year. In the meantime, I’m thankful I can learn so much from all the TKZ contributors/commenters!

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