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The Pilot Answers

Author Patrick Smith comments on the review

Read the author's comments and explanations about his book and the context in which it was written below.




Who better than to comment on the book than the author himself.

After reading the review, author Patrick Smith graciously agreed to send in some comments to better explain the book and its underlying purpose.

Dear David:

To some extent, I think you've missed the point of the book.

It's not completely your fault, and allow me to explain:

I titled the original manuscript "HALF THE FUN," (as in "getting there is...") and it contained a varied mix of straightforward Q&A, personal stories, essays, anecdotes -- it even had poems.  I did not compile the book merely to be a self-helpy, everything-you-need-to-know-about-whatever sort of thing.  It was supposed to be something more serious.  The name and packaging were determined by the publisher (which was at least kind enough to let me create most of the back cover).

After the manuscript had been typeset and copyedited, I was suddenly asked to perform a massive, last second revision that required removal of almost a third of the contents, and serious rearranging of the rest.  I was not given much time to perform this -- a week, if I remember right.  This is when some of the errors managed to slip in, though most -- if not the matter of Qantas or the length of the nautical mile -- were corrected in later printings.

This revision, I was told, was to better engineer the book for sales at airports and newstands.  At the time, after some initial disappointment, that seemed a very sensible idea.  Alas, in the end, *very few* airport stores have actually agree to sell ASK THE PILOT.  Sadly, the book was overhauled only to end up hidden from its target audience.  The city stores, meanwhile, have buried it in their seldom-visted "Transportation" sections.  It was intended, from my point of view, to be a "Travel" book.

Even it its present state, the book is supposed to be quirky, and unusual.  I didn't want to *sound like a pilot,* and I try very hard to about "flying" in a way that is markedly different from past attempts. That's one of the reasons ASK THE PILOT intentionally has no diagrams or illustrations.  I wanted to use language instead of relying on pictures.

You state, in talking about one of the book's Q&A segments:  "But wouldn't you like to know how much extra efficiency winglets add? Is it 1% or 10% or ?%. He doesn't tell us."

Not by accident. That's exactly the line that I never like to cross, because then it becomes writing for airplane aficionados and gearheads versus writing that gets the average person to ponder the air travel experience.  My audience is not people with a predisposed interest in flight.  On the contrary.  Meanwhile, there's plenty of tech analysis already out there.  You have Popular Mechanics for that.  I don't want the reader to *care* whether it's one percent or ten percent.  From my perspective,  it's simply not important beyond letting the reader know that it saves a little bit of fuel.

I feel that the success of the book, and of the columns too, stems from their tendency to be interesting and curious in ways that people *do not expect.*  The plan is to make air travel compelling by going against the grain  -- be it in my unorthodox opinions about security, or waxing sentimental about the paint scheme of Air India.  The things I hope to highlight are the more curious and nuanced aspects of flight.   The question you point out about the allegories and images, for example, is possibly my favorite part of the entire book. *That's* the page I want people to turn to and think about.

And all of this helps explain why the columns on have thrived for so long -- and the book is compiled directly from the earlier ones.  Salon is mostly a politics and arts magazine.  Of the letters I get, the most flattering are from people who rarely fly and who couldn't care less about flying, but who tell me: "I didn't think I'd care about your articles, only to be drawn in."


Best wishes,

Patrick Smith.

[Return to Ask the Pilot review page here]


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Originally published 16 Dec 2005, last update 21 Jul 2020

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

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