And that's how I found this book and author. Ya'll know my aviation obsession...and what better story to tell than that of the Wright brothers...with a woman between them? Why were the Wright brothers confirmed bachelors? Did their obsession for flight control their lives or is there something more? Ms. Staley has a wonderful theory below that really adds a new twist things. I'll be reading this one and sharing my thoughts with you in the next few months, but meantime, please welcome Tara Staley as she tells us the inspiration behind this unique tale. I'm so happy to have her.
"I became a Wright brothers enthusiast when my husband and I visited the Wright Memorial atop Kill Devil Hills in ’99. I didn’t know much about them before then, but the park ranger’s presentation that day was electric, and I walked out of that room kind of in a trance. I’d been bit. I bought books, a model plane, a Christmas ornament, pencil sketch at the local Air Show, etc. and in the course of my reading, became fascinated at their behavior, particularly their bachelorhood. And the self-focus demonstrated in their letters annoyed me, to be honest. They were truly unique and talented individuals, but at the time I had no answers to their psychological disposition or what drove their obsession for flight.
What fascinated me the most was their extreme woman-shyness. It wasn’t that the Wrights were anti-woman—in fact, their sister Katharine was quite active in the suffrage movement and they supported it by attending marches and rallies with her. Their resistance to women was merely relational. They had both been turned down once in courtship and it was like the sting of rejection just never went away.
In 2002, we welcomed our first son into the world, William, only to be devastated when he was dx with autism 32 months later. He was nonverbal up to age 3, not even able to say or nod “yes.” He had very ritualistic behavior and seemed paranoid when we were out in public. Over the past 7-8 years, I’ve pursued all kinds of therapies, special education, medical regimens, diets, you name it. I’m beyond thrilled to report that William is high-functioning and making all A’s and B’s in a regular 4th grade classroom. His IQ has jumped nearly 50 points since he was first dx. And during this time, I was reading more Wright brother biographies, meeting other autism families and children, learning about the particular kind of autism called Asperger’s Syndrome and I came to the conclusion that the Wright brothers’ behaviors were symptomatic of Asperger’s. The high intelligence, their shyness, the self-focus and problems relating to other people. They were nowhere as severe as my son is, couldn’t even compare. Aspies tend to go years (or even a lifetime) without being dx, it’s so subtle. After I understood them in this way, everything about them made sense to the point I started predicting their behavior before I read about it in new biographies I bought.
How did Madeleine come to be—After understanding the Wrights in context of Asperger’s Syndrome, I realized it would take a very special kind of character in a novel to break through their social barriers and shyness “shells.” To not be afraid of their differences or oddities, but rather, be enamored by them. Madeleine’s a tough woman who regularly faces hurricanes, mosquitos and shipwrecks. Turn-of-the-century life on NC’s Outer Banks was absolutely brutal. The Wrights and the suburban, genteel way of life they represent appeal to Madeleine. I think this paragraph from the book sums it up: “…because all I ever wanted was to live in a house that wasn’t part-shipwreck lumber, to avoid the mosquitos, the graybacks, the whim of the weather. These Outer Banks, where you stumble over something and wonder ‘is it driftwood or a dead body?’ I’m tired of shoveling sand out of the kitchen. Flood waters raise houses off their foundations and entire families float by. Unfenced grazing, you have to clear cattle just to get to the outhouse. Sleeping with hot stones and cooking to stay warm. But the gentle-men said they’ve got gas lines, Selden road-engines, schools and bicycles . . . the thought makes me warm inside, like someone turned up the corner of a curtain and let in a slender ray of light.”
Madeleine is the type of woman who starts off with some emotional baggage. As the novel progresses, she learns to be independent and believe in herself, that she doesn’t necessarily need a gentleman to whisk her away to the mainland. She can get guts up enough and go herself. And flight becomes the symbol for that. Lessee…she also ‘adopts’ a Remington rifle to defend herself and can shoot at one minute of angle. Ventures out in the middle of a hurricane, drinks John Gagen…but the softer side of her falls for the Wrights, namely Orville. I had to develop the kind of heroine who could break through his shyness ‘shell.’"
Blurb: The year is 1900, when turn-of-the-century life on the Outer Banks of North Carolina consists of shipwrecks, shoot-outs…and flying machines. Orville and Wilbur Wright have arrived to conduct flight experiments, and their posh dignity stands in stark contrast to a community of rough old salts who believe in a “good God, a bad devil, a hot hell, and more than anything else, that the same good God did not intend for man to ever fly.”
The Wright brothers may be able to defy divine edicts, theorize about relative velocities and engineer the world’s first flying machine--but when it comes to women, they are terribly love-shy.
When Kitty Hawker Madeleine Tate meets these two odd bicycle mechanics from Ohio, she is struck by the brothers’ intellect, dandy appearance—and their grip on bachelorhood. Their shyness and fixation on flight puzzles her, too, but she finds her growing affections for Orville hard to resist. He represents a splendid taste of the Outside World, the place where she can escape the poverty and fear that define life on a stormy sandbar.
And Orville would reciprocate her affections, but he has long-accepted the fact that he and Wilbur are social misfits who let one bad experience with courtship harden their hearts forever. He finds his shyness, obsessions and memories tough enough to overcome. But when Wilbur sabotages Madeleine’s every move to connect with him, Orville realizes he must ultimately make a choice between bonding with the woman who loves him, or with a machine that can take him into the sky.
Find more about Tara Staley on her blog.