“PACO” TOOK SOME TIME TO ANSWER OUR QUESTIONS:
- LIONS OF THE SKY is the Top Gun for a new generation! Very cool! Tell us about your novel.
Lions is a story that came to me after a squadron mate died. She was one of the first female fighter pilots, and unfortunately, the first to perish flying a fighter. She was a complete badass and I looked up to her. She had an amazing attitude, what we call Fighter Spirit, and her loss shook my squadron deeply. As I was coming up with a story for my first novel, I needed a great female character. I imagined what my squadron mate’s life might have looked like had she lived to keep flying. My character, Keely “Quick” Silvers is fun, vivacious, a natural pilot, and unrelenting.
Briefly, Lions of the Sky is about Slammer Richardson, a hardboiled, slightly sexist, instructor Fighter Pilot who wants nothing more than to ditch the students and get back to the real action of the Fleet. But to his ire, as he’s headed out the door he’s ordered to take on one last class with not one, but two, female pilots.
Quick Silvers and Dusty Rhodes are headstrong, passionate, and unwilling to just toe the line. They’re thrown together as unlikely allies, two women fighting for their place in a male dominated world. But they’re radically different people with opposing views on how to attack the issue. They aren’t interested in being female pilots, just fighter pilots. And while they struggle through training, a global flash-point is heating up to near boiling.
During the yearlong intense course, the three will be forced to confront their views, then work together to survive the all-too-real crisis brewing in the South China Sea where enemy jets with live missiles are itching to shoot down an American, man or woman.
- Is your book as hot as Top Gun or what distinguishes it?
Like Top Gun, there are lots of great flying scenes. Unlike the movie, my characters are real and relatable. I want the reader to feel as if they are in the cockpit with them as they progress through the training flights, sharing the exhilaration and terrors.
Nearly every scene is drawn from my 20 year career as a fighter pilot, with a little extra sizzle of fiction mixed in. It will leave you with sweaty palms and a racing pulse.
- “I feel the need for speed.” What’s it like flying one of these jets? Are you basically an adrenaline junkie?
Flying fighters in the Navy was the most intense thing I’ve ever done. It was incredible and I miss it every day. There’s nothing like zipping over the Earth supersonic at 200 feet, or flashing by another jet going the opposite direction at over 1,000 miles per hour in a dogfight. Or, most of all, there is nothing like landing on a pitching deck in the middle of the ocean.
Yes, I’ve always been an adrenaline junkie. Though I no longer fly fighters, I still get my extreme flying fix in an aerobatic plane, dogfighting with friends on weekends. I race my car on the track and ski crazy steeps. Thrill seeking has always been part of my personality. Much to other’s surprise, however, I have a huge fear of heights. I know, it makes no sense.
- Why are we readers so attracted to jets and the officers who fly them?
I think there is an enduring romance with flight that dates back millennia. Icarus, flying carpets, the Knights of the Sky in WW I, and of course, the heroes of the Battle of Britain in WW II. Even fictional future pilots, such as Han Solo, project the dream of flight into the next medium, space.
Flying in general, and flying fighters specifically, seems far beyond the pale of normal endeavors. Yet at the same time, it is a world most are somewhat familiar because of the many films. By their association, pilots enjoy an affiliation with a mystic aura. And fighter pilots today stand on the reputation built by the brave men and women flying in WW II. As Churchill so famously stated referring to the men who kept the Luftwaffe at bay, “Never have so many owed so much to so few.”
- You fly the 737. Any thoughts on the 737-max debacle? … which continues ….
Ugh. What a mess on so many levels. The design of the Max was deeply flawed, with poor management and decision making in the software and engineering. Conceptually, having a software patch for an area of aerodynamic vulnerability is a good idea, and commonly used on all advanced airliners. But the execution of the concept was shoddy and seems poorly thought out. As a pilot, I am comfortable with the notion that there is a system in place to ‘watch my back’ should I allow the plane to exceed the safe flying envelope. But I absolutely need to know it’s there so I can manage it if fails. Furthermore, the design of such a powerful system with only a single point of failure coupled with the inability of the pilots to disengage the system was negligent, at best. It is a gross tragedy that it took the deaths of 300 people to bring this to light.
That said, properly redesigned, the MCAS system is not a threat, but a safety enhancement. I have confidence that with the full force of its engineering might, Boeing can make the Max a successful plane that will carry billions safely for decades to come.
- Anything you’d like to ad?
Storytelling has been in my blood as long as thrill seeking has. Aside from writing, I created and produced a documentary about two of the last F-14 Tomcat pilots to train in that legendary plane. The movie, Speed and Angels, feels like a feature film, full of incredible characters, life changing drama, and real thrills. The dramatic conclusion is as gripping as any Hollywood film, made better because it’s all true.
I feel as if I have enough material for dozens of Slammer Richardson novels. I have the luxury to draw from all of the colorful personalities and crazy situation from two decades of high octane flying in Navy jets. Lions of the Sky is just the beginning.