How did I get here? Many times, I must ask myself, am I a writing pilot, or a flying writer?
When I was in second grade, just getting a handle on reading, I remember standing in the hallway of our house in Tampa holding a book, a children’s book, Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales. The unique thing about this book was that my uncle, James Caraway, illustrated it. My mother was doing the laundry again, a seemingly endless task with four young children. Holding the book, I looked at her and asked, “Mom, the people who write these books, do they make money?”
“No, they don’t,” she chuckled. Although I didn’t know it at the time, she lied to me. It wasn’t until later in my life I would discover the real truth about writing books and money—truth like John Grisham’s net worth was north of $200 million, made in part by his writing. Tom Clancy, Stephen King, Danielle Steel, Dan Brown, Nora Roberts, and others all created tremendous wealth by writing. Between the two of them, James Patterson and J. K. Rowling brought in a cool $1.38 billion over the last ten years. So, yeah, my mom lied to me. Oh well, she did teach me about logic and the importance of doing research, and that has been worth its weight in gold over my lifetime.
The ability to read and research were things I learned at a young age. It helped foster a curious mind, which made me seek out answers for ideas I did not know or understand. This turned out very helpful in both school and aviation. In school, it helped with those courses I enjoyed: music, chemistry, drafting, and history. In aviation, it helped me learn the importance of basic math and how the numbers interacted between how an airplane was built and how it performed.
I am very grateful for the curiosity I developed when young. I am also thankful for my childhood, one lived in a time before “dinklepods” as my friend Mike describes cell phones and other electronic distractions.
Naturally, I still found myself distracted by other things as I was growing up. Primary of which were girls. It’s a teenager’s lot in life, of course, and like all teenagers, many of my friends and I did not know what we were doing when it came to the fairer sex. It would be something we would learn more in-depth later in our lives. It was something my mother mentioned later that would honestly factor into my becoming a writer.
Now I was in the tenth grade. That was when I mentioned to my mother my three main interests were flying, writing, and music. Like most kids in high school, I wondered what I would do later in life for a career.
I said something to Mom about writing, and she said, “You can’t write.” That kind of shocked me.
“Why not?” I asked. What she said next has stayed with me since she said it, and while I could recognize the truth of it, I still thought I could write.
“You have not lived enough. You need more experience,” she answered. What she said made a lot of sense, but like all teenagers, I knew it all. Because of this, I did not know what I did not know. However, what I didn’t know, I would soon learn—but that learning would take a lifetime.
The thing about lifetimes is that no one is ever guaranteed a set amount of time. Some people live to be very old, while others live extraordinary lives that end far too soon.
But it is the living of an allotted time of life that gives one the experience enabling him or her to become a solid writer.
Some people recognize this; Benjamin Franklin was one.
He said, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” I can imagine that during Mr. Franklin’s time, many of the Founding Fathers were doing “something worth writing” about. This concept led me to aviation. In particular, Naval Aviation (nothing was more exciting).
In my mind, serving the military and flying for our nation was something I believed fit Ben Franklin’s definition of doing something worth writing. I was to find out later the truth of my mother’s words and wisdom.
Lifetimes. It seemed like I lived many. And in the process, I had great fun, went around the world. I loved. And I lost.
All of which became a part of that nebulous phenomenon known as “experience.”
Keep in mind, experience comes in many different formats.
There’s the experience of knowing what you are doing driving a car, sailing a sailboat, flying an aircraft. And there’s the experience of losing best friends.
And the worst, losing your life partner.
That was the kind of experience my mother was talking about way back in 1968.