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12 July 2008

The Ace

As Jonni, my loyal, stout-hearted amanuensis reported in last week’s blog, I revisited the shadowed valley once again and — once again — emerged miraculously intact. One more time, after eight decades in which The Big Bullet has often grazed me, I’m left with the puzzling question: Why is it that some emerge from the valley and some don’t? Especially in these days of my dotage I wonder: Why do so many young, beautiful, vital, more worthy ones vanish into the eternal gloom while an old cinder like me is granted some kind of cosmic parole?

I guess Jonni, who personifies an intriguing mixture of pragmatism and the metaphysical, has the only answer when she snaps, “Why? What means why? It’s because you still have work to do on this level, you old coot!”

So by that measure, I think now’s the time for me to talk to you about my latest work. It’s an historical novel called The Ace. It’s my seventeenth book — a labor of love and nostalgia that’s to be officially published on October 1 this year.

What’s it about? No surprise — World War I aviation. But from the American point of view.

My first novel, The Blue Max, served up a narrow-focus character study of a young, lower-class German WWI fighter pilot whose resentment of the arrogance and cruel condescension laid on him by the social elite among his squadron mates prepared him for the Nazism that would eventually consume his nation. By contrast, The Ace is a broad-scale, almost panoramic view of that same war, with emphasis on how a confused, post-Victorian American citizenry was dragged reluctantly into hostilities provoked by a handful of ruthless politicians and business tycoons on both sides of the conflict. And how, virtually out of nothing and in less than two years, those confused but resolute citizens built an air force ready to meet and defeat the Kaiser’s best.

In The Ace, four Americans — a sickly 20-year-old social outcast; a breezily iconoclastic Army officer; a corrupt and power-hungry U.S. Senator; and a beautiful, guilt-ridden heiress — are inexorably drawn together in their separate struggles to deal with America’s sudden involvement in the mindless fight to the finish between European aristocracies. Their interwoven destinies lead from poverty-stricken slums on the Niagara Frontier through the opulence of 1917-1918 Washington, London, and Paris and, climactically, into the Western Front’s savage aerial combat, which establishes the matrix for all air warfare to come.

So, while it has an ample share of roaring engines and rattling machine-guns in vicious dogfights, The Ace is not exclusively an aviation action thriller. It is, rather, a story of unrequited love and of the kind of noble dauntlessness that persists in face of human frailties and the cruel pressures of war.

Bringing all this together in less than 90,000 words was no walk in the park. But the fact that it wasn’t simple was a godsend, in a way. I’d been physically, mentally, and spiritually crushed by the prolonged decline and difficult death of my beloved wife of 62 years, and my only route to some kind of recovery lay in the hours and days and weeks of concentrated research, relentless writing, more research and rewriting, of creating fictional characters out of real people who had entered and left my life during good times and bad. In truth, there’s not one character in the story who hasn’t been fashioned from someone who has actually been in my life. Some are good and don’t know it; some are bad and don’t want to be; some are admirable, some are despicable; but all of them are lovable human beings who have either persevered and triumphed over their lonely wretchedness or faltered and eventually succumbed to it.

On a shelf, across the room from where I’m writing this, are a dozen large scrapbooks assembled by my wife during our six decades together. They’re swollen with press clippings, photos, magazine covers, and memorabilia that trace my career as soldier, journalist, musician, publicist, novelist, and painter. And by sheer volume they would seem to testify that now, after all that time and all those millions of words, there’s not much left for me to write about.

Even so, it appears that I’m not yet finished.

I still have this nagging feeling that there’s something else I must do.

Jack

Note from Jonni: For another writer’s take on all this, see Charlie Patton’s article in the July 10 issue of The Florida Times-Union.

Copyright © 2008 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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