by Kim Baldwin
I’ve always been interested in real life stories of endurance, survival, and resourcefulness, especially when that struggle is tied to nature. My home library contains several hundred volumes of nonfiction shipwreck and lost-at-sea stories, mountain climbing mishaps, polar exploration, plane crashes, epic journeys and quests, held in captivity autobiographies; you get the idea. No surprise I like movies like Castaway, 127 hours, The Edge, Touching the Void, Vertical Limit.
Most of my solo novels reflect these tastes: Hunter’s Pursuit opens during a blizzard, Force of Nature with a tornado, Whitewater Rendezvous had a bear attack, rapids, and other perils, Flight Risk had an air bombing, to name a few. High Impact, my new release, (available now on the BSB Website), has a plane crash, and survival and endurance are major themes explored on several levels. It’s my third book set in Alaska, a majestic canvas that I love for its beauty and broad scope of adventure possibilities. From the email I get, I’d say it’s a milieu that resonates with readers as well.
While I love writing about brushes with death and other calamities, I now approach each new writing project with some measure of caution. The reason? From almost the time I started writing, I’ve had a number of uncanny coincidences where my real life imitated my fiction, and not usually in welcome ways.
Many of you know about the most notorious of these ‘coincidences’, because I’ve blogged and posted pictures of it. In Force of Nature, Erin’s cabin in the Michigan woods (which was based on my own home) is destroyed by a tornado. After the book had been sent to the printer, just before its release, I had my own tornado—the first ever registered in my county. It only affected my property, downing 200 trees and taking out my power line, propane tank, and denting my metal roof.
There have been many other coincidences as well, too numerous to count. So many, that when I started relaying them to friends, a few suggested I write a book where a character wins the lottery or something, and maybe that would come true, too! Well, I took that suggestion to heart in a way when I wrote Focus of Desire. The main character, Isabel Sterling, wins a trip around the world, money, a makeover, and other great things. Did any of them happen? Nope. What coincidence DID happen after I wrote Focus? I made Isabel clumsy, so of course as soon as the book came out I started tripping and walking into things in a way I never did before. I’m not joking here—I’ve broken my toes several times and even walked into a plate glass a couple of years ago.
So what effect has writing High Impact had on my real life, you might be wondering about now? I’m blaming my ongoing airline problems with my tendency to write about flying mishaps (Flight Risk, then Breaking the Ice, now High Impact). Ever since Flight Risk came out, I’ve rarely escaped some major drama when I fly, which is a few times a year. Some rare mechanical problem will surface to delay the flight several hours (the exit light won’t turn on, they don’t have the right tool to change the tire, the airport’s only de-icing truck just broke down), or some freak weather problem will happen. I was booked on a flight to Europe to write one of the Elite Operatives books with Xenia (Alexiou) the very same day the volcano in Iceland first erupted, stranding me in Detroit. On another occasion when I was in Europe to write an EOO book, I came home on the very same Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight the ‘underwear bomber’ had flown a week earlier. Security screenings that day took five hours, delaying the departure so long everyone on board missed their connecting flights.
The last few flights I’ve taken as High Impact was written and edited have had fairly monumental issues, forcing rebookings on other airlines, long delays, searches for lost baggage, and similar problems. My most recent mishap was one of the most harried and unusual. I arrived at the airport in Grand Rapids in late October in plenty of time for my late afternoon flight to Detroit, where I had a two-and-a-half-hour layover before my connecting flight to Paris. My traveling companion and I had been planning this two week European trip for many months—the first real vacation I’d had in a very long time. I’d been working all year on two books simultaneously (High Impact and Demons are Forever, out in March) and was finally taking a break from writing.
Things went smoothly until we got to the gate. Not long after we sat down, the board departure time slipped by twenty minutes, then thirty. An announcement was made that our plane hadn’t yet left its previous stop because of weather. I had already kiddingly warned my companion that she risked air woes by traveling with me.
The departure time slipped further, until we now began to worry we wouldn’t make our connection. When the plane finally got in and people began to get off, I overheard one gate agent tell another ‘the crew has timed out’, and my heart sank. Knowing what was coming, we ran back through the terminal to ticketing as they officially cancelled our flight over the loudspeaker and were first to be rebooked.
There were no more planes to Detroit until the next day, which left only one way to get us to Paris as scheduled. (We had prepaid for our stay in a rented apartment.)
We ran to the taxi cab stand in front of the airport with a ticket agent, who handed the driver a voucher and told him to take us to Detroit metro ASAP. I never thought we’d make it—there was a thunderstorm raging, it was already dark, and if you Google the distance, it says it’s a two and a half hour drive, and we had just about exactly that much time before the last Delta flight departed for Europe (heading to Amsterdam, we’d get to our final destination five hours later than expected).
But our Pakistani cabdriver gladly accepted the challenge, and covered the 150 miles at an average 80 miles an hour, often straddling both lanes of traffic as the rain poured down in torrents and lightning flashed all around us. In the back, we murmured ‘we’re going to die’ under our breaths, wondering what kind of omen this was for our trip. He got us there in time, I’ll give him that, and fortunately it was so late there were no lines at either ticketing or security and we made our rebooked flight.
My next trip will be to Palm Springs for the BSB Book Festival next March, an event I always look forward to. If I’m late, I’m probably stranded in some airport somewhere. On the upside, I’ve gotten quite a lot of frequent flier miles added to my account to apologize for all the problems – 5,000 alone for the taxicab-deathtrap diversion.
The eerie coincidences won’t deter me from writing about natural disasters and the like in future books, but they do give me pause sometimes when I thrust my characters into peril.