Friday, February 18, 2011

On a Wing and a Metaphor with Guest Blogger Jeanne C. Davis

Meet author Jeanne C. Davis and win a copy of Sheetrock Angel today at the Book Boost!

Here's what she had to say...


Writer’s block never has been a problem for me. I have projects on my desktop lined up like aircraft awaiting departure at LAX. The problem is allowing my work to take off. Wait, let me de-ice that stale metaphor. Doesn’t that characterization need more lubrication? On closer inspection, I don’t know… the landing gear on that plot looks a little dicey.

My novel, Sheetrock Angel, was in and out of the hangar for over a decade. I’m hoping to get my next book, My Pan Am Memoir: a Novel, off the ground in a fraction of that time. One of the problems is that I’m not content to travel from point A to point B with fuel efficient dispatch. I meander down enticing taxiways, double back and turn three times, then challenge myself to find point B’s direction. A fun game when actually traveling the world, but it causes a great many delays when writing. Most of the explorations end their literary lives in the edit pile, but occasionally, that corner turned, that stream followed, that stair climbed, brings me to an unexpected wonderland, often leading me to the correct path rather than the one I had dictated for myself.

So while I’m carefully structuring my chapters to reflect the progressive years of my employment, I will allow myself to meander within those years to see where the side trips take me.

One such path seemed well trod. The first thing a stranger will ask when they learn of my 18 years with Pan Am is, “Did you ever have a close call?” Everyone has had one if they have traveled extensively and I recounted mine in a linear fashion.

It occurred three months after I had graduated from Pan Am’s flight service academy in Miami, Florida. The captain had pronounced the dreaded words over the PA: Will the in-flight director please report to the cockpit. We were lucky in that we had a seasoned veteran, a German woman who inspired confidence in her abilities. This was particularly helpful because out of sixteen flight service that day, I was fourth on the seniority list. That meant that most of the crew had been flying less than three months.

Because Pan Am had no domestic routes at the time, we had an interchange program with a domestic carrier and our crew would hop on one of their 747’s to take the flight from Washington D.C. to London. It seems that the other carrier hadn’t kept accurate oil consumption records because they were used to short haul flights and if they were a bit low, they’d just dump in a little extra oil. So when the director told us that an engine overheated and the captain had to shut it down, we didn’t really worry… even though we were a fully loaded 747. The next time the captain called the in-flight director to the cockpit, we learned that another engine had to be shut down and that we were to prepare for a water-landing. Now the bulk of the crew had just been through the procedure weeks before in the pool in Miami, so we were too stupid to know what very real peril we were in.

But here’s the side path. I’ve told the story enough to know the details, but I really have only two visual memories that have stuck with me over the years. The first is looking down at my life-vest and seeing stenciled in large black letters, DEMO. Though I’m sure that you all pay close attention to the safety briefing, you may not have noticed that the flight attendants yank pretty hard on the red tabs of the life vests, and yet, they don’t inflate. That’s because they are not really supposed to be used as flotation devices. I scrambled to retrieve my functional vest and managed to get it on before I had a heart attack.

The second image is of the face of a young mother holding her infant and weeping softly, saying, “What about the baby, What about the baby.” I experienced one of those moments of pure empathy. I felt the clutch in my stomach at the prospect of being responsible for such a treasure. It filled me with fear where none had been because I had been in emergency mode where all is action. I slammed that door as quickly as it had opened and went back into the rote lessons we had learned. I assured her that the baby would be fine as we all would. I could say it with confidence because I was too stupid to know differently. Only a short time later I would learn that had we hit the Irish Sea, we most assuredly would have broken to bits and had we not, had we been able to get out of the wreckage in our life vests, we’d have had approximately 90 seconds of useful mobility due to the frigid waters. Thanks to Thomas Gray for hitting it on the head: "Where ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise."

And that digression is more important than the details of the near miss for me. It surely had a more lasting impact. So yes, meandering off your writing’s beaten flight-path may cost time and add to your recycling basket, but it also can be a better destination than the one you determined. Follow those contrails.

A Note from the Book Boost: Wow Jeanne! This is an amazing story. I'm dying to know what happened next. Guess I'll have to wait for your next book. Thanks for joining us today and please tell us more about your current book.


Why is Audrey James fearful? Why now? Is it because she is getting a divorce? Moving to a run-down house? Possibly succumbing to the stress of her job at the Santa Monica DA’s office? Or is it just something she ate? At thirty-five, she figures she has missed the boat to schizophrenia where her mother now dwells. But now, questions surface, like, what happened to the guy who taped her drywall? Was one of her friends involved?

Having grown up with a mother who often conversed with people who weren’t actually there, Audrey does her best to deny that it could be happening to her. Is she seeing what everyone else is? Are the current men in her life—the drywall taper, her ex-husband and his best friend—who they represent themselves to be? Audrey ponders all of these notions when she is presented with murder, kidnapping and a situation where any or all of her closest friends and colleagues could be involved. How can you know whom to trust when you can’t trust yourself?

Her voyage of self-discovery coincides with her wade through the lies and half-truths woven for self-protection or in self-interest by her friends and acquaintances. When she begins to see that guilt and innocence are not always sharply delineated, she must finally make a conscious decision to trust. That decision allows her to be at peace with the result of both the mystery and her question of her own mental competence.


Audrey jogged along the bike path as the sun continued its ascent. She needed something to clear her head and, since sleep had become elusive, running had to substitute. In her travels, she had found that exercise mitigated the effects of jetlag, had invigorated rather than enervated her when sleep was scarce. As she breathed in the salt mist, she could almost feel her mind clearing. The familiarity of movement warmed her, reminded her of jogging along some eastern seaboard or European coast. As she passed early morning moms with strollers, her step lightened. Focused runners passed her, heads down in concentration, bodies slightly forward for momentum. She could feel herself relaxing. The world continued and that amazed her, continued to spin on its axis while individuals like Frances careened out of control. But what about the kidnapper. He was certainly out of control. What information was so important that a life had to be taken, that another hung in the balance? Or was this his daily bread? Was mayhem as much a routine for him as her deposition reading was for her? She imagined some shadowy figure pondering his Day Runner and worrying that he might not be able to fit in an extortion between Thursday's murder at noon and the five o'clock kidnapping. Yes, running lightened her spirit. She was beginning to feel almost human.

The vision was at a distance, yet so intimate to her that her breath caught. She thought of turning around but the figure drew her like a magnet, like an electromagnet with the power to transform her coppery glow of ephemeral contentment into the dusty verdigris of renewed doubt. A transient stood on a jungle gym in a children's play area and spoke in angry tones to the wind. The wind evidently answered, since the transient's side of the conversation acknowledged the other party. Her childhood eagerness to see what her mother had seen surfaced and melded with the present. To whom was he speaking? Was it his own personal Fred? She tried to force the scene through her intellect. What a travesty our mental health system has become. This man needs help. His clothes and emaciated body speak of chronic neglect. His personal hygiene hasn't crossed his ravaged mind in days. Someone should help him. As she moved closer, a tightness which had begun in her throat now seemed to reach around and constrict her chest like a boa squeezing the life out of its prey. The vision was leaking into her soul. His tapes had taken control of his reality. He needed no private moment to indulge in his fantasy. The tapes had sucked him into theirs.

She pulled a twenty from her running pouch and flung it at the man. He looked at it, seemed fascinated by the arc of its flight but not even a glimmer of recognition of its value lit those eyes, which were sunk in bony sockets. When the bill landed, it no longer held his interest. He returned to his oratory and she, to her fears.

Keep it together. Stay focused. Fantasy tapes of her rescuing Frances threatened to halt her momentum. She knew she was slipping, knew it would take an increasing amount of strength to hold herself together. She would have her hereditarily ordained, richly deserved nervous breakdown after she found Frances.

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