Why I Became an Author.

Skyway pilot phots

This blog spun from the writing exercise I posted this morning on my Facebook Fan Page. Drills that were initially intended to improve my writing, but have somehow evolved into life lessons that nudge me along on my track. Who knew?

Not a day goes by without someone asking a version of this question. “How did you become an author?” Or “where did you get your inspirations from? Do they come from real life experiences? Didn’t I hear you use to do something with airplanes? Why did you switch careers?”

On the eve of what I consider Scene II in my extraordinary adventure, it seems timely to share answers to these questions. (Spirit Dance, my first young adult novel will be released tomorrow.)

Here’s the backstory.

As you may know I am a pilot by trade. My last position was a Captain on a Falcon 2000. A job, frankly, I’d worked towards every day since graduating high school. In order to build hours, I flew at numerous companies, some okay, a lot not so great. But this last job, was a flight department I loved. My boss was a mentor whose flying skills I admired, my coworkers, proficient pilots who were easy to get along with. The company we flew for honored us and all of our earned experience. I was home, as it related to professional flying gigs. The place I planned to remain until retirement.

But then everything changed. My husband took a job in Oklahoma. Not horrible as these things go, since my aviation tribe was based in Chicago that was less than a two hour airline commute. So I chose to try to do it all; fly for a company headquartered on the north side of Chicago, and support my husband at corporate in a town called Tulsa.

Many of you that travel will be able to relate to my schedule. I flew about 15-18 days a month, a lot of the times on weekends. In addition, my husband’s new post required he get out on the road and familiarize himself with the company’s operations. So if we wanted to see each other at all, I needed to travel with him on my days off. Between his trips, my trips and commuting back and forth to Chicago, it wasn’t uncommon for me to be on the road, twenty-four to twenty six days a month.

No problem right? Or that’s what I told myself. After all, I had superpowers, reinforced by my Wonder Woman underpants. (Don’t forget Wonder Woman was a pilot. She flew an invisible jet.) It worked, for awhile, until even after marathon sleeping stretches, I remained completely exhausted. I pushed for another month or so and then painfully, resigned from my dream position.

The dark days descended. Sleeplessness, the daunting abyss of endless unfilled hours. My husband continued to work 12-14 hour days, but instead of matching his stride, I was now home, alone, friends and family in Chicago. With no relationships to speak of in this unfamiliar town.

Time slugged by, months, maybe even a year, as I wandered around, disorientated (depressed if you asked the Red Baron) unsure where to focus next. Until the day I found myself standing in front of Hobby Lobby for the third day in a row. Loitering outside, I picked through a bin of foam pumpkins, while floods of tears cascaded down my cheeks. I was sad, lost, confused, unchallenged. I can’t do this anymore. I told myself.

Unraveling, I emptied my cart, returned it to the rack, climbed in the car and headed back to the ranch.

The third floor of our house at that time was used for storage. For some reason I can’t explain, I was summoned to the attic-like space. I scaled the stairs. Weaved through the clutter on the landing. Split two glass French doors and entered what used to be a bedroom.

Dust molted through the air as I scanned stacks of unpacked moving boxes. One after another, I dug through the rows. I opened every crate. Until I found them. The journals I’d kept all the years I was a pilot.

I learned to fly in the ’80’s. A time when female pilots were very scarce; less than one percent in industry if I’m remembering correct. Being outnumbered brought many challenges. Obstacles I handled by putting pen to paper.

The attic fan cycled in the unconditioned space. Hours flew by, I was uncertain how many, and I stayed until I had read every written word. When I looked up, the sun had set, the sky had faded to the color of ink. I glanced at the journals scattered around me and collapsed against the soiled rug. So many adventures. I stared at the pitched ceiling. I cried, sniffled, laughed and cried again. What if…I picked up a ring binder. Then reached for another. What if I took all these experiences and massaged them into stories. I sat up. Flipped through pages and creased both journals open. Would anyone be interested?

I didn’t sleep at all that night. Instead, I had handwritten a notebook full of any story ideas that crept into my head. Stories, that I now understood, were just as much for me as for everyone else. When the sun rose, a surge of energy sparked. One I hadn’t felt since leaving the cockpit. At that moment I knew what to do next. I set out to be an author.

EL Chappel author of Spirit Dance/Storm Chasers/Risk

If I hadn’t stepped away from professional piloting, I’d never expanded and become an author.

Understanding we can have more than one epic passion in our lives

aka The Glamorous Wife

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