Rising Above it All: How Rambo’s Creator Earned His Pilot’s License – guest post by David Morrell

Posted in Event, Writing at 4:54 am by Amber

Rising Above it All: How Rambo’s Creator Earned His Pilot’s License
By David Morrell,
Author of The Shimmer

Readers familiar with my fiction know how much I love doing research. For Testament, I enrolled in an outdoor wilderness survival course and lived above timberline in the Wyoming mountains for 30 days. For The Protector, I spent a week at the Bill Scott raceway in West Virginia, learning offensive-defensive driving maneuvers, such as the 180-degree spins you see in the movies. I once broke my collarbone in a two-day knife-fighting class designed for military and law enforcement personnel.
Two years ago, I began the longest research project of my career. I was preparing to write a novel called The Shimmer, a fictional dramatization of the mysterious lights that appear on many nights outside the small town of Marfa in west Texas. When the first settlers passed through that area in the 1800s, they saw the lights, and people have been drawn to those lights ever since, including James Dean who became fascinated by them when he filmed his final movie Giant near Marfa in 1955.
The lights float, bob, and weave. They combine and change colors. They seem far away and yet so close that people think they can reach out and touch them. In the 1970s, the citizens of Marfa organized what they called a Ghost Light Hunt and pursued the lights, using horses, vehicles, and an airplane, but the lights had no difficulty eluding them.
Because an airplane was used, I decided to include one in The Shimmer. I’d never written about a pilot, and the idea of trying something new always appeals to me. The dramatic possibilities were intriguing. But a minute’s thought warned me about the monumental task I was planning. As a novelist version of a Method actor, I couldn’t just cram an airplane into my novel. First, I would need to learn how airplanes worked so that real pilots wouldn’t be annoyed by inaccuracies. Real pilots. That’s when I realized that it wouldn’t be enough to learn how airplanes worked. I would need to take pilot training.
I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Our small airport has a flight school: Sierra Aviation. I made an appointment with one of the instructors, Larry Haight, who took me up in a Cessna 172 on what’s called a “discovery” flight. The idea was to “discover” whether I enjoyed the sensation of being in the cockpit and peering several thousand feet down at the ground. Flying in a small aircraft is a much more immediate and visceral experience than sitting in the cabin of a commercial airliner. Even in a Cessna, the canopy is huge compared to the tiny windows on an airliner. The horizon stretches forever.
It turned out that I more than enjoyed the experience. It was exhilarating and fulfilling. I realized that this was something I wanted to do not only for research but also to broaden my life. As a consequence, I eventually earned my private pilot’s license and bought a 2003 172SP. The plane was based near Dallas, and my longest cross-country flight to date (600 miles) involved piloting it from there to Santa Fe. Truly, nothing can equal controlling an aircraft, making it do safely whatever I want while seeing the world as if I were an eagle.
In The Shimmer, I wanted the main character’s attitude toward flying (“getting above it all”) to help develop the book’s theme. The following passage shows what I mean. You only need to know that Dan Page is a police officer. When I started pilot training, I figured that one day I’d be relaxing in the sky, listening to an iPod and glancing dreamily around. As we learn in this section, the actuality is quite different and more substantial.
“Non-pilots often assumed that the appeal of flying involved appreciating the scenery. But Page had become a pilot because he enjoyed the sensation of moving in three dimensions. The truth was that maintaining altitude and speed while staying on course, monitoring radio transmissions, and comparing a sectional map to actual features on the ground required so much concentration that a pilot had little time for sightseeing.
“There was another element to flying, though. It helped Page not to think about the terrible pain people inflicted on one another. He’d seen too many lives destroyed by guns, knives, beer bottles, screwdrivers, baseball bats, and even a nail gun. Six months earlier, he’d been the first officer to arrive at the scene of a car accident in which a drunken driver had hit an oncoming vehicle and killed five children along with the woman who was taking them to a birthday party. There’d been so much blood that Page still had nightmares about it.
“His friends thought he was joking when he said that the reward of flying was ‘getting above it all,’ but he was serious. The various activities involved in controlling an aircraft shut out what he was determined not to remember.
“That helped Page now. His confusion, his urgency, his need to have answers — on the ground, these emotions had thrown him off balance, but once he was in the air, the discipline of controlling the Cessna forced him to feel as level as the aircraft. In the calm sky, amid the monotonous, muffled drone of the engine, the plane created a floating sensation. He welcomed it yet couldn’t help dreading what he might discover on the ground “
At one point a character asks Page, how high he intends to fly.
“Enough to get above everything,” he answers.
“Sounds like the way to run a life.”
That’s an important lesson I learned from flying.
©2009 David Morrell, author of The Shimmer
Author Bio David Morrell, author of The Shimmer, is the award-winning author of numerous New York Times bestsellers, including Creepers and Scavenger. Co-founder of the International Thriller Writers organization and author of the classic Brotherhood of the Rose spy trilogy, Morrell is considered by many to be the father of the modern action novel
For more information please visit www.davidmorrell.net
Learn more about The Shimmer at www.shimmerbook.com 


BBAW: Small Publisher Giveaway Winners

Posted in Event, Giveaway at 7:32 pm by Amber

My site was offline for a day or two but I decided to not extend the giveaway.  Instead, I’ll have another giveaway when I return from vacation.


The winner of Norah Labiner’s book, German for Travelers, is SFP at Pages TurnedCongratulations, SFP!

The winner of Dave Egger’s book, Zeitoun, is Karen at Bookin’ With “Bingo“.  Congratulations, Karen!


BBAW: Small Publisher Book Giveaways!

Posted in Giveaway at 12:44 am by Amber


I made a pledge earlier that for BBAW I would have book giveaways from small book publishers.  Here’s the post for it!

Coffee House Press – where good books are brewing – was founded in 1984.  They publish only a few titles a year.  The staff size is small.  Coffee House Press is a nonprofit publisher and will welcome donations.

The book I’ve chosen from them is one on my TBR pile by a Minneapolis author, Norah Labiner.  German for Travelers should be an interesting read.

German for Travelers

From the back of the book:

In Search of the key to unlock a great family mystery, Lemon Leopold, a Hollywood starlet, and her cousin Eliza, a romance writer, set off for Berlin.  Soon they are on a trail that leads back to their great-grandfather, Jozef Apfel, a Jewish pioneer of psychoanalysis in early twentieth-century Germany.

Alternating between the great doctor’s household, the mysterious case of his patient Eliza Z., the rise of Nazi Germany, mid-century Detroit, and modern-day Berlin, this is a story about a girl whose dreams reveal the future, a family beset by ghosts, and the place that haunts them all.

McSweeney’s was founded in 1998 as a literary journal by David Eggers.  It’s expanded into a few different divisions.  The book division has a book of the month club.  Several times a year they have some wonderful sales.  Dave Eggers is one of my favorite authors and I’m giving away a copy of his book, Zeitoun.


From the McSweeney’s description of Zeitoun:

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a prosperous Syrian-American and father of four, chose to stay through the storm to protect his house and contracting business. In the days after, he traveled the flooded streets in a secondhand canoe, passing on supplies and helping those he could. But, on September 6, 2005, Zeitoun abruptly disappeared. Eggers’s riveting nonfiction book, three years in the making, explores Zeitoun’s roots in Syria, his marriage to Kathy—an American who converted to Islam—and their children, and the surreal atmosphere (in New Orleans and the United States generally) in which what happened to Abdulrahman Zeitoun became possible. Like What Is the What, Zeitoun was written in close collaboration with its subjects and involved vast research—in this case, in the U.S., Spain, and Syria.


The giveaway is open to addresses in the United States and Canada.  You can only enter to win one book so leave a comment with the name of the book you’d like to win.  I will make a spreadsheet with the names and have my husband draw the winning names out of a hat.  Giveaway ends Tuesday, September 22nd at 8pm Eastern.  Good luck!


Found Books

Posted in Event at 5:10 pm by Amber


Today’s Book Blogger Appreciation Week topic is about the books we discovered through a book blog.  Here are the some books since the last BBAW that I’ve found through the help of Book Blogs:

  • That Went Well by Terrell Harris Dougan through At Home With Books.  The review was so catchy I couldn’t help but want to read this book.
  • Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford through multiple blogs.  This is one instance where power of persuasion worked.  The cover was pleasant but what really got my attention was my exposure to it.  On multiple blogs I saw this cover.  In fact, one blog (I’m sorry, I don’t remember which one) compared the ARC and retail covers.  Somehow, I managed to be exposed to multiple blogs without learning any spoilers about the characters and plot.
  • Sweetsmoke by David Fuller through Caribous Mom.  It’s the adjectives that got to me… gripping, complex and memorable are not often used in book reviews.

What books have you found through a book blog?

Bookmarks are like Socks

Posted in Event at 7:49 am by Amber


I have a theory.  There must be an elf in my house.  He doesn’t live in the dryer taking socks.  He hides in the attic, comes out when everyone is asleep, and takes my bookmarks.  The elf is considerate – he waits until I am done with the book to remove the bookmark.

Seriously… I honestly don’t know what happens to them.  I have honest to goodness real bookmarks.  Most were purchased for me as gifts.  But I do use movie postcards and a really nice ticket from the 2005 Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit from the Art Institute of Chicago.  They aren’t conventional bookmarks but they not only keep my place in the book, they let me gauge how much is left to read.

So you know what I usually use since I can’t find my bookmarks?  Library slips.  My library provides a slip of paper with the due dates of checked out materials.  They are flimsy and it can be difficult to find my place again.  But the elf doesn’t take them.


Meet Tess Hilmo during Book Blogger Appreciation Week

Posted in Event at 8:00 am by Amber

You haven’t met Tess Hilmo yet?  Well, let me fix that for you.

She’s a writer!  Tess is currently revising her Middle Grade novel, With A Name Like Love, so her agent can begin submitting it.  Her blog is all about her journey to publication.  The agent is a new addition to her adventure.  After you read the interview you can read the words of Tess for yourself at http://tesshilmo.blogspot.com/.


Amber: How did you find out about Book Blogger Appreciation Week?

Tess: A thoughtful and sneaky writing friend nominated my blog for an award. I still don’t know who it was but will take this opportunity to give a shout out of thanks.


Amber: Do you have one or two books about writing that you recommend to all of your writing friends?

Tess: There are so many wonderful craft books out there and, honestly, I have friends who write in all genres so it is hard to choose one that is applicable to everyone.  My favorite instruction has come from conferences and from reading other writing blogs.  That is one of the best parts about blogging, we all share our ideas and insights and help one another stumble along this path toward publication.


Amber: A lot of published authors advise reading as a way to learn how to write.  Are there any authors or genres you like to read?

Tess: I read all things Middle Grade.  If you are unaware, Middle Grade fiction encompasses ages 7-13. Great novels such as The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Island of the Blue Dolphins and even the earlier Harry Potterbooks are considered Middle Grade.  Some of my favorite Middle Grade authors include (but are not limited to) Kate DiCamillo, Patricia Reilly Giff and Richard Peck.


Amber: Looking at your blog I found out you’ve spent six years sitting in your chair and writing.  Getting the writing done is often the hardest part about writing.  Do you write novels and short stories?

Tess: I write middle grade novels.  I have written three novels, but the blurb for my novel currently on submission is:

With A Name Like Love is a middle grade murder mystery set in Binder, Arkansas.  In the early summer days of 1957, Ollie’s daddy pulls their green and gold teardrop trailer into town with the intent of offering a three day revival.

On their very first day, Ollie meets a boy whose mother is in jail for murdering his father – and who asserts her innocence.  But, even if Ollie were to believe the boy, could she convince her daddy to stay long enough to help him?  And, if the Love family did stay, how could two thirteen year olds free a woman who has admitted to the crime and signed a full confession?

If you want to take a peek, I have a book trailer up on my blog for this particular novel.

Amber: This is the year you became represented by an agent.  Is it anything like you imagined?

Tess: It’s wonderful to have someone who believes in your work and who has the ability to help you toward the goal of publication.  Steven Chudney is my agent and he is fantastic.  He is communicative, insightful and encouraging.  Acquiring representation has been a true blessing.  But, it has also been a lot of work.  The saying goes no rest for the weary, but I think it should be no rest for the aspiring author!


 Amber: What is your favorite tomato salsa recipe?  (I am up to my ears in friends’ tomatoes and could use a good recipe.)

 Tess: I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you 😉


New Review in Niteblade

Posted in Published, Review at 9:01 pm by Amber

I forgot to mention… my newest published review is available.  The September 2009 Issue of Niteblade has my review of C.C. Finlay’s The Demon Redcoat.  The cover for this issue is so good it could be a writing prompt.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week September 14th – 18th

Posted in Event, Giveaway at 8:24 pm by Amber



Just a reminder – Book Blogger Appreciation Week begins tomorrow.  The celebration of book bloggers is an idea that My Friend Amy came up with last year.  She did nearly all of the work herself and it was very well run.  This year it has it’s own web site and even merchandise to show off your appreciation of book bloggers all year round. 

The theme this year is Celebrate Books.  I will have posts during the week on this theme and you’ll find giveaways of books here too.


Interview with Elle Newmark

Posted in Event at 9:33 am by Amber

Last month I reviewed Elle Newmark’s book, The Book of Unholy Mischief.  She was kind enough to answer some interview questions via email.  Thank you goes to Tracee Gleichner from Pump Up Your Book Promotion for arranging the interview.

Amber: Your story is inspiring partly because it’s unique. You took a gamble on yourself and it paid off. It’s not usual to self-publish your novel, throw a virtual book launch party and walk away with an agent. To what do you owe your success?

Elle: Perseverance. Anyone who is lucky enough to find a passion in life should never never give it up. It might mean laboring for nothing but love—and I did for many years—but passion is the thing that gives live meaning.

Also, thinking out of the box. It’s true that I gambled on my novel by self-publishing, but if I don’t believe in myself, why should anyone else? Of course, I wrote four books before I self-published, and I felt I had found my literary voice. But I went through four agents unable to sell my work. That’s why I stepped away from traditional methods. When I invited 400 agents to a virtual book launch party, it started a buzz because it was a fresh approach. Many people looked a the website just to see what the heck it was.

Naturally, having a book with good reviews didn’t hurt. 


Amber: When your book was self-published it was originally titled Bones of the Dead and now it’s titled The Book of Unholy Mischief. Did anything else change?

Elle:Yes. I have the privilege of working with a wonderful and talented editor, Emily Bestler. With her direction, I tweaked characters and added scenes. It’s the same story, but better.


Amber: You lived in Germany for a while. Do you think Germany may end up as a setting for a future novel?

Elle:I have no plans for a book in Germany but nothing’s impossible. I loved living in Germany, and it’s certainly a setting to consider. However, right now I’m working on my next book, which is set in India. I spent last March in India, researching, and am in the process of organizing about 800 pages of notes for the final draft. I like rich exotic settings and complicated histories. It’s a challenge with a very satisfying pay off. 


Amber: The Book of Unholy Mischief had quite a book launch in Italy. What other fun experiences have come about because of your book?

Elle:The book launch in Venice was far beyond anything I ever dreamed. My Italian publisher had a Venetian chef recreate one of the dinners in my book and gave a lavish dinner party in a private palazzo. If that can happen, anything can happen.

Since The Book of Unholy Mischief was published, my life has changed. Instead of sitting alone in a room and writing for decades—literally—it’s been a nonstop whirlwind that has turned leisurely writing into a luxury. I now live in a world of deadlines, but it’s exciting.

Last year I went to New York to meet my agent, editor and publisher. It was a dream come true, everyone was simply lovely, and my feet didn’t touch the ground once while I was there.

In January I went on a national book tour. Meeting people in bookstores who were actually buying my book simply stunned me. Then came the month in India, the first research trip I’ve taken for a book that I already know will be published. It’s all quite astonishing. 


Amber: You recently held a fiction workshop at Lake Como in Italy. How do you feel it went?

Elle: It was fabulous! We had 5 great teachers and 12 very talented students. We had classes in a beautiful 200 year old villa, where I stayed with the teachers. The students stayed in a charming hotel on the Lake.

Students arrived at the villa every day around 10 a.m., broke for lunch and worked until about 4. To my surprise, they were so enthusiastic and the teachers were so generous that they usually came back to the villa in the evening for read and critiques that lasted into the wee hours.

By the end of the week, people felt quite bonded; at the farewell dinner on the lake we closed the restaurant and then hung around chatting. No one seemed to want to leave. It was a marvelous experience, and I hope to make it an annual event.

One student, Carol Nuckols, has posted pictures from the workshop on Facebook, and I will be putting more on my website.


Amber: Are you working on a new book?

Elle: My India book is a tale of two love stories, 100 years apart, both set against war in India. An American woman in 1947 India finds old letters hidden in her rented colonial bungalow. The letters hint at Victorian scandal in Anglo/India. Intrigued, she begins a search to uncover the story of the Victorian women who lived in the same house 100 years earlier. Struggling with her strained marriage to a Jewish veteran of WWII, she is looking for answers. Her quest takes her though Indian bazaars and the dying British Raj.

The two tales of love and war eventually dovetail. They echo universal themes against a backdrop of Himalayan peaks and curry scented air. The research has been utterly fascinating.


Amber: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Elle: Only that I am profoundly grateful to be a writer. Getting website mail from readers who enjoyed my book and were kind enough to take the time to let me know, well, it’s all I ever hoped for. And I truly believe my refusal to quit was the key. If one thing doesn’t work, try something else. But never, never, never give up.

Visit me at www.ellenewmark.com


August 2009

Posted in Status Report at 6:17 pm by Amber

These statistics are all for short stories, poems, or contest entries. Book reviews are not included.

  1. Sales in August: 0
  2. Rejections in August: 2
  3. Submissions sent out in August: 0
  4. Total stories/poems/contests pending responses: 3

So the lesson this month is… better tracking.  I know two of my submissions in pending response status are for markets not listed in Duotrope.  I can’t think of the third item though.  For record keeping, I might have to drop that unknown submission off the list until I figure out what it is.  Aren’t I silly?

Duotrope and Sonar2 software is what I use to keep track of submissions but obviously I missed an item somewhere.  I checked through my sent emails but nothing new was revealed.