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A World More Numinous

A reader asked me, "How much of Patton's beliefs in Wind Raker are true?" I had posted about this on my private journal when I was working on Wind Raker, so here's my best answer -- all of his beliefs as presented in Wind Raker are as far as I know absolutely true. But this is certainly not the first time I've used them.

Here is the jumping off point -- what if everything he believed about himself and about his past lives were literally true? Not delusions, not metaphors. What if he were actually right about his own experiences?

So what did he say? Let's start with the poem he wrote in which he addresses it all most directly and take a look at a world more numinous.

Through a Glass, and DarklyCollapse )

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Where the stories come from

A bunch of people have asked over the years where the stories come from that we tell in The Order of the Air. Many of them are based on real incidents either that happened to people our families know, or that we heard about somewhere. Here's a perfect example from the May 2015 issue of Air and Space, from a retrospective article on V-E day. The man this actually happened to is Richard Leo Smith, of the 303rd Bomb Group, a B-17 unit that was based in England. I'll quote the story to you in his words:

We went to Wiesbaden on the 15th of August, 1944. My squadron, the 360th, had 36 airplanes in it. And the first we eer saw any Folke-Wulf 190s was over that target. A hundred of them made one pass, and shot down 12 of those 36 airplanes. Our number 3 engine quit, and we feathered the prop and made it back. The tire was blown on that side and we ended up in a field.

We were sitting in the officers' club that night and the crew chief comes in and says, "I found out why your number 3 engine quit -- I dug this out of the supercharger." And he held up a 20-millimeter shell. He says, "It went through your number 3 main tank, blew the tire on the right side, and stopped in the supercharger. And here's why you're still alive." He pours out a bunch of sand from the shell and says, "Some Polish slave laborer had filled it full of sand instead of gunpowder." That's why I'm still here.


And that's a story we have to retell. That solitary act of defiance and courage, never knowing what came of it, saved eleven men.

So look for that story when we get to the right point in the series. That's the kernel we'll build a chapter or two around.

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Six Degrees of Jo Graham

A bunch of people have commented on how real the people and situations are in the Order of the Air, and a couple have wondered how we make history so real. It's interesting, because to me the Order of the Air is barely history! Unlike writing about something that happened thousands of years ago, writing the twentieth century is simple -- it's writing about things that are only at a few degrees of separation from my own life! If I were to play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with myself and the fictional characters in the Lodge, it would only be a few steps to reach them in a whole bunch of ways. Here are some ways that you can connect Jo Graham to the real characters who appear with the Lodge in the Order of the Air.

Jackie Cochran (aviatrix, first woman to win the Bendix Prize, appears in Steel Blues) and her husband Floyd Odlum (financier, real life Howard Stark, appears in Steel Blues and Wind Raker) were good friends with Gen. Chuck Yeager (first man to break the sound barrier, Air Force general) who served at Edwards AFB with Col. Dana T. Moore (veteran of three wars, author) who is the uncle of Jo Graham.

George Patton (American general, appears in Steel Blues and Wind Raker) had as a chief liaison officer French Major Gustave Moutet (Free French officer) who is the father of Anne-Elisabeth Moutet (noted French journalist) who has been a friend of Jo Graham for ten years.

Beatrice Patton (author, amateur anthropologist, appears in Steel Blues and Wind Raker) visited Germany after World War II where she met Elma Edwards, the wife of Col. Raymond Edwards, who is the grandmother of Jo Graham.

An example from upcoming books -- Vice President Henry Wallace (Vice President of the US, noted Spiritualist, who will appear as Jerry's occult connection in Night World) was supported in his primary run for president by Henry Hay (early gay rights activist) who later founded the Mattachine Society with Frank Kameny (first openly gay candidate for US congress, gay rights activist) who Jo Graham met in her DC political years.

The hard thing in the Order of the Air isn't to make people real. It's to not get too close to real life in our portrayals of people who are living or their immediate loved ones! Yeager is still living, but he's already appeared in a number of fictional portrayals, including Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff, so I wouldn't flinch from having him walk on. But my uncle? Hummm. Anne-Elisabeth's father? Hummm.

In some cases we've already decided to fictionalize. For example, in Night World there will be an episode based on the experiences of my mother's college friend and her family's escape from Nazi Germany. However, my mother is long out of touch with her college classmate, who might be still living and might or might not want her college confidences in a book. Therefore we won't use her real name and we will fictionalize the events somewhat. This is even more important when it comes to real figures in the occult world, who often even today do not appreciate the publicity. While there are certainly people appearing who are based on real people, other than people who were open about their occult connections during their life, or who are public figures whose connections have been discussed in print many times (like Henry Wallace), we're going to fictionalize them. This also goes for a lovely old lady in Paris that my aunt introduced me to in 1991 and who I interviewed about her experiences as the confidential secretary of a certain English occultist living in Paris during WWII -- her stories about the Resistance, the paratrooper in the attic, and an unexpected visit from Hermann Goring will appear in the books, but her real name and that of her boss will not.

So the answer to how do we make things seem real is that it's usually hard to disguise the real things enough!

Why don't they tell the authorities?

I saw an interesting discussion the other day of the Order of the Air, with one reader asking why they didn't just tell the authorities what was happening. After all, if all this strange and weird stuff was happening, why didn't everybody in the world know it? Why don't our guys just honestly say what happened?

Ok, let's take for example the flashback scene in Wind Raker when Mitch saw Gil move the hand grenade by telekinesis. What if I told you it was true? What if I told you that scene really happened? What if I told you that my grandfather was a telekinetic, and he did exactly what Gil did in that scene? Would you believe me?

Some of you might. But most people would start explaining that it wasn't true. My grandfather was a liar. I'm a liar. I'm stupid. I think you're stupid. I'm playing some kind of game with my readers. I'm a deluded dimwit who doesn't know the truth between fiction and real life. I'm much too well educated a woman to believe that. Obviously my grandfather was a con man.

Now imagine what people would say if Mitch, with his history of mental illness, told people that he saw Gil move a hand grenade by telekinesis. They'd say he was delusional and needed to be committed to inpatient care. Certainly nobody would hire him to work as a pilot. At best he'd be unemployable. At worst he'd be in one of the state-run asylums of the day. Why in the world would Mitch tell anyone what he saw? Only someone who was actually delusional would be stupid enough to tell the authorities what happened.

Another example -- all of George's past life things in Wind Raker are real. They're documented. They're in perfectly conventional primary sources. Much of the wording of the ritual on the beach, including the names of some of the actual participants, is real. The ritual is actually from 1936 rather than 1935 and is a blessing on the publication of Bea's book, as quoted by her daughter in Ruth Patton Totten's The Button Box and grandson Robert Patton's The Pattons. Every last word about his past lives is real and I can give you the biographical references. Why? Because George Patton was terrible at keeping his mouth shut, and on more than one occasion nearly ruined his career by talking publicly about esoterica in ways that gave the press a field day and his superiors apoplexy. Did they believe him? Or did they think he was a nut? Pick up any biography of Patton. You can find accounts of him telling people about his past lives as a Carthaginian and as a Roman, accounts of him explaining that he was formerly a Napoleonic Marshal. It was even in an Academy Award winning movie -- as an example of him being a dangerous lunatic. It's not secret. Everyone knows it. But nobody believes it.

Why would anyone tell the authorities? Why would anyone talk about it? The old injunction in esoterica -- to know, to dare, to keep silent -- is because running your mouth harms you. Our Lodge knows that. Alma, Jerry, Mitch, Stasi and Lewis know better than to tell anyone outside a trusted circle of what they see. If they do, the consequences would be devastating to them.

Wind Raker and foresight (and hindsight)

A bunch of people have commented on foresight in Wind Raker and how it works in the world of the Order of the Air. Here are my thoughts.

One of our greatest weaknesses is believing that the future will be just like the present. We plan for a future that's static. We assume that a great career choice when you enter college will be a great career choice in twenty years. We assume that interest rates will remain steady, or at least rise in a predictable fashion. We think about our lives in ten years, or fifteen, or thirty, as though the world in which we live has changed very little. Maybe pop music changes, or hairstyles, but when we imagine ourselves sixty we essentially imagine sixty year olds today. Which of course is not true. This will not be the decade in which nothing happens, any more than any decade is. The world constantly changes.

With the benefit of hindsight rather than foresight, the reader knows what's coming in the Order of the Air. The reader knows that war is on the horizon. It's 1935. When Jimmy says he's going to start college at 18 in the fall of 1942, you know he won't. You know that whatever his fate is, whether he's drafted or joins up, whether he goes to Europe or the Pacific, whether he lives or dies, he's not blithely starting college. Whatever he's doing in 1944, it won't be going to football games and cheering for his team with a co-ed girlfriend. You know the world is about to change.

The characters don't. They only know the same things that we know about the present. Only the crazy or the astute imagine what will actually happen in five or ten years. And nobody can imagine the postwar world. No one can even conceive of a world in which the great colonial empires don't exist. No one can imagine the devastation of Europe or the prosperity of America, the technological advances or the Cold War. Everyone is planning for a world in which the 1950s look like the 1930s and the 1970s look like the 1920s.

Except the crazy and the astute. The only thing is, it's hard to tell which is which. That's why there are parallel scenes with Pelley and George. Both of them absolutely believe that things are about to change. Both of them are right. (And both of them actually said these things in real life.) So let's look at the scene with George and Lewis a little closer. George has an encyclopedic mastery of world military history. He is extraordinarily informed and well read in addition to practical experience. He believes that offensive and defensive technologies develop in response to one another, and therefore move in predictable cycles. He sees what's happening with new technologies and hypothesizes that a shift in the balance is about to occur. This is an informed and professional opinion formed at the cutting edge. It's also what he feels in his bones, believing as he does that he has seen many such shifts over the millennia. For him, this coming change is as obvious as looking at the changing colors of autumn leaves and concluding that winter is coming. And because he believes this, because he knows this, he can prepare for it.

When he explains it to Lewis, Lewis can see it. It gives shape to Lewis' vague foresight. In the scene with Lewis and Stasi looking out over Pearl Harbor, Lewis is trying to give shape to his own foresight, to learn to understand his own language as he said in Steel Blues. He sees shadows of wings on the water. Yes, those are the shadows of planes making torpedo runs, but also shadow=negative=zero. Zero. What he sees are attack waves of Zeroes. But what can he do about it? Outside of a small group of people who trust him, who would believe him if he told them?

And that's always the way, isn't it? People believe -- people want to believe -- that the future will be just like the present or maybe a little better in some specific way. No one wants to believe that upheaval is possible. Mitch certainly doesn't. Alma doesn't. They'd like the economy to keep improving in a modest way and for business to keep getting better again. They'd like aeronautical technology to keep improving. But big change? Especially a big change like a world war? They don't want to believe. And it may be that like many others they refuse to believe until it's tragically late. They don't want to think Pelley is right. They want to believe he's a nut, because if he's telling the truth horrible things are about to happen.

So that's one of the things we really want to explore in the Order of the Air -- what does it mean to live in such times?

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A Quick Poll

Which is your favorite so far of the Order of the Air?

Lost Things
1(14.3%)
Steel Blues
1(14.3%)
Silver Bullet
3(42.9%)
Wind Raker
2(28.6%)


Why did you like that one best?

Wind Raker live!

The ebook of Wind Raker is now going live! If you preordered, it should be delivered to you. I hope you enjoy it! (Also it's now possible to leave Amazon reviews, as the review page has now gone live too.)

I'd love to hear what you think when you've read it!

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Wind Raker -- Auction

Wind Raker comes out tomorrow in ebook, so for Valentine's Day I thought I'd share a scene about love. This was one of the first scenes I wrote for Wind Raker, and I'd love to hear what you think!

AuctionCollapse )

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Books within books

A reader asks, "I just read Wind Raker and I loved it! I have a couple of questions. I tried looking up A Little Less Than Gods and I couldn't find anything about it. Also is Bea's book real?"

Ford Madox Ford was a prolific and critically acclaimed literary figure in the early part of the twentieth century, and is today best known for The Good Soldier. A Little Less Than Gods was one of his least successful books, and today has largely vanished except for lingering in university library collections here and there. It is, in my opinion, a terrible book! Not only is it horribly historically inaccurate, but it's not even entertaining! What is it about? It's about the death of Marshal Michel Ney. It has, hands down, the most wooden, ridiculous and out of character version of him that I have ever read anywhere. I can promise you that I will cover the same events MUCH more satisfyingly when we get to that part of Elza's story. I frankly couldn't do worse if I'd written it when I was sixteen. (Yes, I hate it that much!)

Bea's book, The Blood of the Shark, is real and you can find it here! It's an interracial love story, which in 1936 is about as out there on the edge as a polyamorous love story today or a gay love story written in the 1980s. While the writing is not without flaws, it is an absolutely gorgeous book for any number of reasons, including the gorgeous world building and the main characters. I love Kilohana and Adam, and their struggles to cross the cultural divides between them are resonant. Dr. Peter Buck wrote the foreword, which I share part of with you here:

From the native point of view, popular authors assemble a native background of coconut palms, pandanus trees, luau feasts, hula dances and Hawaiian words, to form the canvas upon which pictures are painted with brushes and pigments that the authors brought with them from the lands from which they came. The picture remains English or American though painted in Hawaii. Both the scientific writer and the popular author need the rare quality of sympathy to enable them to identify themselves with native life before they can paint word pictures which are worth while. Beatrice Ayer Patton possesses this quality to a remarkable degree.

And that, of course, is the challenge of the historical novelist -- to paint a picture which is true, not just in its particulars, but in its heart. That is what I strive for.

I own a first edition of The Blood of the Shark, one originally owned by a man named Richard Penhallow. Pasted inside is a letter he had from Beatrice responding to his feedback about the book. Her letter, written on onion skin monogrammed airmail paper, is dated January 2, 1937. Beatrice says,

Dear Dick, I opened your letter thinking it was a Christmas card, and you can't imagine how it has made me feel! Even though I don't understand the Hawaiian very well, I catch your meaning -- and if I have done what you say in your letter, I am entirely repaid. The book took me seven years to write, and I feel quite lost without it. When I first saw it, all dressed up in its colored paper jacket, mine and yet mine no longer, I felt much as I did when I saw my Beatrice in her wedding dress. (Her eldest daughter -- JG) I've offered it as a hookupu to Hawaii, and the aloha with which it has been welcomed is the reflection of the love I put into the writing of it. Please tell me some stories so that I can write another one! With love and best wishes for a Happy New Year to you and Olive, believe me, Sincerely your friend, Beatrice Ayer Patton

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Wind Raker reaction post

So now I'm hearing from the first people to finish Wind Raker! I'd love to hear what you thought -- character developments, Mitch, Stasi, Jerry and Willi, Pelley's plot, everything!

Spoilers in comments!

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