Sunday, November 13, 2016

When Is Over-The-Top Just Right?

The Blue Angels over San Francisco Bay

My first novel, Tahoe Deathfall (2001), had Owen McKenna steal a Piper Tomahawk in order to make an escape and save a woman who'd been held against her will.

In the process, Owen - who has a private pilot's license and has a pretty good feel for how to handle a plane - does some tricky flying over mountains at night and through a snow storm in near-whiteout conditions.

Over the years, I've had several pilots tell me that those scenes are unrealistic and unbelievable. I've always smiled and said, "Yeah, that probably was too unrealistic." 

Never mind that with my own little bit of flying experience, I thought that, given the circumstances, I might have attempted the same thing that Owen succeeded at. Because, after all, the wild flying only happens after he's already in the air and the weather takes a dramatic turn for the worse. What else is he gonna do?

But I respect all those pilots who've said that a reasonable, cautious, and prudent individual wouldn't have gotten into such a situation in the first place, nor would he or she take such risks in a small plane.

Then again...

Not long ago, I was exhibiting books at a show and a distinguished-looking man came up to my tent. He picked up a copy of Tahoe Deathfall and waved it at me. His grin was wide and infectious. "The flying sequence in this book was great!" he said. "Really great. I loved it!"

"Really?" I said. "You didn't think it was over the top and unrealistic? Because that's what a lot have pilots have told me."

"Oh, no!" he said. "I'm a retired Navy pilot, and I used to fly with the Blue Angels. I would have done exactly the same as Owen McKenna! When you are up against the elements in a plane, you have to go for it! Sure, it took some real flying skills. But it was totally realistic, considering."

Okay, so this guy was a top-level pilot who can do tricks in an F/A-18 Hornet at several hundreds of miles an hour. But that makes him an expert who thought Owen's over-the-top sequence was just right.

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