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AIR Manuscript Finished - Three Years in the Making...

On February 6th, I finished the draft of my Pearl Harbor epic, AIR, nearly three years to the spark of the idea taking hold in my head, refusing to let go, that had me travel to Hawaii in search of the USS Oklahoma dead, those 429 boys who captured my heart, tore at my soul, and bled onto every page that became this literary novel.

I ended the manuscript tired, emotionally wrecked, physically depleted. In essence, not very damn well at all. Writers pay a price to put down words. And every book I write seems to take a toll, but this one much more than most.

I let AIR “breathe” for three weeks, allowing me to breathe as well, not touching it or any other written work so I could recover — rest, sleep, not think, not feel… just be. And those three weeks flew by. Now, the self-edit begins before AIR goes to my editor in New York.

In those three years, I became a virtual Annapolis “plebe,” studying the “Bluejackets Bible,” the manual all Navy ensigns receive as they train to set sail on the open seas to defend freedom. Terms, dress, regulations, Standard Operating Procedures and, of course, the history at Pearl… the learning list went on and on, never ending, but at some point, you have to lay down the education and weave the story. 

Nobody in my family had ever been in the Navy. We were WWI and WWII Army and RCMP. And I am Canadian, not American; although, many of my relatives were American. My life experience was as far from American Navy life as you could get… but one night, while watching an umpteenth TV documentary on the Pearl Harbor attack, the capsized hull of the USS Oklahoma came into view. It was not my first glimpse of that doomed ship. I had known of its fate for decades. But on this night, as I stared at the hull, the harbor seawater clapping against its side, the dock yard crew desperately attempting rescues, voices that seemed to emanate from the ship whispered in my ear, “You know we are here. Get us out.” And from then until February 6th, those voices, those men, followed me, haunted me, encouraged me every step of the way to know their lives, their history, and with their blessing tell their tales.

My dining room became my Okie research HQ with the ship’s full blueprints and the six characters’ back stories plastered on the wall. I’d wake up and these boys would say Good Morning. I’d head to bed and my boys would whisper Good Night. They travelled with me to Oahu and they took me by the hand and led me to all the places the ship’s sailors had been before that fateful day.
Too many tears were shed in these last few years, but much laughter, too. Too many inside jokes and too many sorrowful prayers said at too many heart-wrenching sites. The sailors of December 1941 still lingered at Pearl for me, still hovered in Chinatown and up the North Shore and on Waikiki beach, but as the remaining survivors pass and join their long dead friends, I felt in my heart that the WWII chapter was finally coming to close, as all stories do. One era and its people silently ebbing to make way for another. AIR has been written when it was supposed to be written, for me, for my late WWII parents, for that time in human history that washes out now with the tide.

When I typed the final word in the manuscript, there were no sirens or whistles, no confetti, no tears and no cheers. All I felt was empty, truly empty, rung out, worn out, and exhausted… but a quiet satisfaction filled my heart that what I had, all that I had, went into the book, the very best I knew how. A quiet satisfaction from those boys, too, I think. They knew I had given it my all.

Today, my dining room wall is back to normal. The panelling stands empty, bare. The blueprints and photos that filled the space for so very long, are long gone, as if they had never been. I wake up and no disembodied voices fill my mind, for “my boys” have gone back to their rest. They are no longer trapped, for through my tale told, I have finally set them, and me, free.


If all goes as planned, AIR will be released December 7, 2020, so my boys can live again for you.