I'm pleased and honored to be able to post an interview today with Karl Friedrich, author of Wings: A Novel of World War II Flygirls, released today, April 1, 2011. For those that may have missed my review a week ago, a link is provided at the end of this post.
Karl has agreed to answer ten questions. Here they are:
1. You can't write a book like this, a novel full of aviation about aviation without having some interest in aviation yourself. When did you first become interested in aviation and why?
My father was an Army Air Corps mechanic during WW II, and he talked about airplanes. Unfortunately he died when I was twelve; therefore I wasn’t old enough to ask him the kinds of questions about aviation that I would have if I’d been more mature. So my father was the seed of my interest. But beyond that, there were other reasons. My childhood was very unpleasant. I imagined airplanes as a kind of escape pod. And as it turns out, Sally Ketchum, the heroine of my book, has a similar relationship with airplanes. Also, airplanes are different. They aren’t cars. They aren’t motorcycles. They don’t look like any other machine. Airplanes are mysterious because they seem to defy gravity, and that makes them interesting. There’s a saying that an airplane flies like it looks. But I like all airplanes, even the ugly ones.
2. What's your favorite aircraft and what fascinates you about it? It doesn't have to an aircraft that is in Wings.
Hands down, the DC-3 (military version, the C-47), which was created before World War II as nothing more than a civilian airliner. Think back to any old black and white movie that has a large twin-engine airplane in it; that probably was a DC-3. The first one flew in late 1935, and eventually 10,655 would be built in the United States (the Russians and the Japanese built more under license–the Russians even claimed they invented it!) That was a long time ago, but hundreds are still flying today. Eisenhower called it one of the four most important tools in winning the war. Few machines have witnessed more momentous events, from the fall and rise of nations to the salvation of multitudes. And along the way, it’s managed the day-to-day transport of civilians by the millions.
To my knowledge, no DC-3 has ever suffered an in-flight structural failure. Assuming ordinary maintenance, no one has ever worn one out. Some pilots swear the 3 can’t be worn out! How much longer can this go on—how much longer can the DC-3 keep earning its keep? Well, assuming someday Hell really does freeze over, I think there’s a decent chance it’ll be a DC-3 that shows up with coal for the furnaces.
3. Sally Ketchum, the heroine of Wings, is a spunky woman. Is there a woman in your own life or family that Sally reminds you of? Is there a real life inspiration behind her character?
I’m the character mold for Sally. Unlike her, alcohol and violence weren’t part of my upbringing. But like Sally, I was determined to escape a stifling environment and make something of myself. Sally’s DNA is very similar to my own. She never gives up. I don’t, either. The hard truth for most of us Earth dwellers is that big rewards only follow unrelenting work. Sally learned that from me. Luckily for both of us, she’s an attentive student.
4. Skinner is a very colorful “drill sergeant” type of character in Wings. He says some of the funniest things, such as, “That air was so still yesterday morning, I could have heard an ant fart.” He made me laugh. Do you see yourself in Skinner?
No. I’m a much kinder, gentler soul than Skinner. He’s one of those guys who you’re eternally grateful to know in a crisis; and hope to God he forgets where you live the rest of the time. He’s loud, brash, bullheaded, domineering, opinionated, and supremely talented at what he does, which is fly airplanes and train young pilots. In other words, he’s a go-to guy if you’re in a war, and the last person you want to see when your momma’s throwing a tea party for her church friends.
5. About the Author…says you have a lifelong fascination with women who achieve great accomplishment despite the displeasure of men. What woman in history do you feel accomplished the most and why do you admire her?
You’re referring to my website, www.kfriedrich.com. I’ll answer that by saying that Jackie Cochran was one of the most accomplished, and that I admire her tremendously. As you know, she was the driving force behind the WASP, and it could be argued that she was a deeply flawed personality. She certainly was brash, bullheaded and a terrible loser. Some would say she was conceited. But my dictionary’s definition of conceited “…is someone who is characteristic of false pride; having an exaggerated sense of self-importance; a conceited fool.” She certainly was not that!
Jackie Cochran started life poor, but she made something of herself through sheer guts, gall and the force of her personality. By all reports she was a natural pilot, learning to fly in a fraction of the time needed by lesser mortals. She was the first woman to break the sound barrier, and I believe the first woman (maybe the only woman) to fly the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, which could kill a pilot in a blink. By the time of her death in 1980, Jackie held more speed, distance and altitude records than anyone else in aviation history. Her home near Palm Springs had become a watering hole for society’s stars, from Presidents to business moguls to aviation greats like Chuck Yeager, who first broke the sound barrier and who was her good friend. I admire Jackie Cochran because she pulled herself up by her bootstraps; because she never gave up; and because she genuinely was one of the greatest pilots that ever lived.
6. Did your wife help you in any way with the development of the women characters, their flaws, their weaknesses, their cat fights?
Great question! When I was talking about writing this book, several people suggested that my greatest hurdle was going to be creating female characters that are realistic. That concern was legitimate. The protagonists in airplane novels written by men are rarely female; but when they are, they have always seemed a little carboardy to me. (Perhaps those writers are less in touch with their feminine side than novelists who concentrate on other subjects.) Note that I’m not talking about books that incidentally have airplanes in them. In WINGS, airplanes are almost as important as the women. They have personalities. They are a vehicle that I use for the characters to evolve.
To make sure I didn’t screw this up, I started handing out parts of the manuscript to women early on. Some great anecdotes resulted from that experiment. I’d written about a hundred pages when I was in a restaurant with a friend and we were talking about the book, and I noticed that the five women sitting at a nearby table were listening to us. I whipped out the manuscript, offered it over, and to my amazement watched five middle-aged women gang-read my book. They were literally passing the pages around the table, and having great fun! Another time, a woman got a ticket from a traffic cop for reading through a green light. One of the neatest stories was the 5 a.m. phone call from my new barber—who’d stayed up all night reading WINGS—asking if it was OK to send the manuscript to his 13-year-old granddaughter. I agreed, and was rewarded several months later with a “thank you” note plus the revelation that those pages had also passed through the fingers of her girlfriends and most of their moms.
In total, more than one hundred women got a look at all or part of the manuscript in its various stages of development. When they came back to me—sometimes still crying or laughing, but almost always asking for more—I knew my characters had come to life. Then I got married and my wife, Rhonda, and finally my editor, Jackie Swift, helped me with the final tuning. So the answer is that literally more than one hundred women helped.
7. If Wings were to be made into a movie, who would you cast for Sally Ketchum? Dixie? Beau? Skinner? Mr. Waterman?
My wife and I discuss this endlessly. My best answer is that we don’t have an answer. The problem is that most of the cast would have to be both young and extremely accomplished as actors. Dixie, for instance, I think would be very hard to cast because she’s so powerful; even when she’s not saying anything, she stands out like a stripper at an Amish picnic. Her lines—which are many—would require a powerful actress. I’m sure the right people are out there. I’m just saying it’s going to be a challenge.
8. The ending of Wings leaves the reader in a bit of suspense. In your mind, do you feel Sally goes on to find work as a civilian pilot?
I know exactly what happens to Sally—and to Dixie and Skinner and Waterman, and to all the rest. But you’ll have to wait for a sequel.
9. I'm hoping you write another historical fiction. If you do, what era or subject would you like to tackle next?
The sequel, set in 1951.
10. My final question has nothing to do with the book, but being a dog mom, I must ask. Do you have pets? If so, please tell us about them and maybe share a picture.
We have two birds. One (a huge blue English parakeet) is called Binky. Curtis is our normal-sized green and yellow parakeet. They came into our lives because one of our earlier birds needed company after its friend, Slugger, died. The story of Slugger and his buddy (now also deceased) are on my website, www.kfriedrich.com. Click on Postcards From Portland and look up Tweet And Twit. All I’ll tell you is that we found Slugger as he was fighting his way out of a cat’s mouth, twice! It’s a great story; and the cat gets its share of ink, too.
I like Binky and Curtis. We feed them as if they are Royals; I rub their bellies and backs, and wait on them feather and claw; and they dive-bomb me while I’m trying to write. But eventually I’m hoping to add a white standard poodle to our household that will be named Hudson. And of course, we don’t want him to be lonely, so he’ll have to have a companion named Piper. And yes, those names come from the car and the airplane, both of which I also have a soft spot for.
Mr. Friedrich, thank you and keep us posted about that sequel.