Dana Griffin – A writer on auto-pilot

Author Pic 1It’s hard to pin Dana Griffin down. Besides being a writer with a great sense of humor, this fun-loving Kentuckian skis, jet-skis, camps, and hikes. Oh, and he’s also a professional airline pilot. You might want to call ahead and reserve a seat in the co-pilot’s chair if you want to catch this always-on-the-move guy for a conversation.

Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way. Who’s Dana Griffin?

Sure, start right off with a tough question. Can’t we start with something simpler like how an airplane flies, or why women are so complicated? No? Hmmm….I’m a middle-aged husband who flies for a major US airline and just became a grandfather to twins. What? I just became a what? How’d that happen? I’m not old enough.

It’s hard to imagine you being afraid a few grandkids—after all, you’re a pilot. Just thinking about flying always makes me watch documentaries on plane crashes until common sense kicks in and I decide to take the train instead. Speaking of flying, what’s your most memorable moment in the air?

Hmmm….Should I talk about the seaplane crash, or the engine failure, or the passenger with the medical emergency? Nothing comes to mind except the awesome sun set the other day. It’s amazing the multitude of shades from the deep dark orange near the horizon, to the black of the sky.

I’d have to agree. Sunsets good. Engine failure bad. Now, for those of us who can only dream of life in the skies, what’s the typical “flight path,” so to speak, for one to train to become a professional airline pilot?

Today, most aspiring pilots go to one of several colleges that specialize in pilot training. There they get a degree and all the licenses and ratings before working as flight instructors at the school. After they’ve acquired enough flight time, they get hired by a regional airline. Some will fly there for several years before going to work for a major airline. Some will stay at the regional.

I, however, went to work at the local airport pumping gas, washing airplanes, mowing the lawn or plowing snow, or any other job that needed doing to earn flying time. I eventually taught lessons until I was hired by a regional airline where I flew for thirteen years until being hired by the airline where I’ve worked the last fifteen.

The Cover UpYou mean there’s no quick training, like plugging my brain into The Matrix and learning Kung-Fu? Damn. Thought I still had a shot. Seriously, though, I’m impressed at your hard work and dedication—the qualities so needed of a writer—which leads us to the next question. Tell the world about your thriller, The Cover-Up:

It’s a fall-down-on-floor great book. Probably the best book ever written. I wonder if anyone will believe this BS?

There’s an accident during the takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia airport in the first chapter. During the accident investigation it’s discovered someone caused it. The people responsible for it go to great lengths to cover-up their involvement.

Well, you said “probably” the best book ever. It’s still a true statement that way, as these rankings are pretty fluid. Truly, though, I’ve always suspected that plane crashes are filled with cover-ups. Now we know.

Let’s dig a little deeper into Dana Griffin the man. Where do you live, and what makes it special?

When not at the Sea of Capricorn on the moon, I live in Kentucky, in the central part of the U.S. The seasons here are wonderful. The summers get hot, but only for a couple of months. The winters get cold enough for an occasional snow storm. But the springs and falls are several months of the most enjoyable weather. In Louisville, there’s enough culture to attract numerous concerts, plays, and other interesting events.

Sounds like a magical place—except for the snow, of course (we Canadians have had our fill). Living in a magical place, was there a magic moment you knew that you were going to be a writer?

Here we go again with the “deep” questions. No moments come to mind. I’ve dabbled at attempts to write several times, but was frustrated with the difficulty in getting traditionally published. Several years ago when middle age set in, I decided to give this dream a serious attempt so when I was an old man I wouldn’t have any regrets.

I hear you. A lot of writers have similar stories. Speaking along those lines, what books changed your life in a significant way?

Peter Benchley’s The Deep, was one of the first books I read in only a couple of sittings; so many years ago. Many of the books by an author we both love, Stephen King, made me wish for the ability to paint so well with words. Tess Gerritsen’s Gravity, showed me I can write about something I’m deeply interested in and make a compelling story.

Benchley can spin a tale as well as King, no question. Now, besides being a pilot yourself—and the old adage, ‘writing what you know’—what inspired The Cover-Up?

It wrote itself like in King’s novel The Tommyknockers.

Oh, okay. One day I had an FAA Safety Inspector observing one of my flights. For any pilot this is a stressful time. After the flight I began to wonder if we had a situation that he thought wasn’t handled properly, what would he do? What if his interaction caused an accident? What would the FAA do in today’s environment of cover your butt mentality in public officials.

It’s great when the book writes itself, isn’t? I hear the Bible came out in only a couple of weeks of tapping at the old stone tablet. In those days, they really knew how to get the message out. Is there a message in your book?

Love conquers all. Or, crime doesn’t pay. Okay, the serious answer is, Corrupt officials will be caught.

Life is filled with moments. What was your “biggest moment” as a writer?

Seeing the paperback proof of my novel.

Who is your favourite author? Why?

Favourite is singular. I don’t think I can name a singular author as my favourite. There are so many I love for different reasons.

It’s definitely a tough question, I know. But like those corrupt officials in your book, We. Need. Names. Who are the three most influential authors in your writing life? Why?

What’s with these hard questions? [Drumming my fingers]

Pam Godwin showed me to open myself up and expose a characters soul.

Elise Stokes showed me you can write engaging stories that keep you smiling without resorting to violence and sex.

C. K. Raggio taught me to take risks writing about stuff that might make readers squeamish.

Harlan Coben showed me you can write about serious subjects and still make your reader laugh.

You showed me how to get into a character’s head and bring him to life.

Was that three?

I lost count, but I’m flattered that I made your list. You’ve named some great writers here (we’ll pretend I wasn’t on the list … ah, hell, the jury already heard it), and they all have their own unique style. Are you character-driven, or plot-driven?

I do my own driving. Maybe when I’m rich and famous I might be chauffer driven. But in my stories, I hope my characters interactions with each other move the plot along. The authors who write plot driven stories I feel are not as engaging.

Being a pilot, I’m guessing you like doing your own driving for that, too. What do you do besides flying and writing?

Before I began writing, I loved to build furniture, but don’t have the time now. When not writing, my wife and I love to travel in our RV with our two dogs.

What was the most important thing you have learned in life?

I before E except after C. Hmmm….Be true to yourself and treat others as you’d like to be treated.

That I-E-C thing’s always been a bitch. It always decieves me. Damn.

What are your favourite movies? Why?

2010: A Space Odyssey. The characters have to come together to overcome incredible odds. There’s humor and a spiritual message.

The Razor’s Edge, the modern adaptation of M. Somerset Maugham’s novel with Bill Murray. Murray is traumatized by his experiences in World War I and goes on a quest to find the meaning of life. He finds it within himself.

Star Wars. How the characters interacted with each other to overcome evil. At the time, the cutting edge way the movie was filmed. The adventure, the …

E. T. Eliott’s love of his extra-terrestrial and how his friends help him get E.T. home.

Men In Black. I love these corny movies about something so outlandish, but the humor and characters envelope you making you not care.

What are five things on your bucket list?

  1. Get a list.
  2. Get a bucket.
  3. Become a glider pilot.
  4. Ski the alps.
  5. Write a novel.

If you could have dinner with one person (real or fictional), who would it be, and why?

Here we go again with the difficult questions. Hmmm…I’m having dinner with my wife tonight. Does that count? No? Obi-Wan Kenobi then. I’d like to know why he just gave up in the fight with Darth Vader in the first Star Wars instead of light sabering him down.

I’ll tell you why. Obi-Wan was a wimp and knew he couldn’t compete with the Big Boys. Pure fear. By the way, what is your greatest fear?

Believe it or not: heights. Put me on a tall ladder, or on a steep roof, and I’m a nervous wreck. Yet, I’ve flown airplanes upside down hanging by the seatbelt and thought it was so cool. Go figure.

I don’t think I want to fly on an aircraft with a pilot who’s afraid of heights. Moving on …

What makes this pilot angry? I’m praying it’s not heights.

Selfish people.

What music do you listen to?

Polka. Oh, okay. Popular rock from the sixties, seventies and eighties.

Was that a Freudian slip? Maybe you do like polka, or some classic rock-polka fusion. The point is, as writers, it’s fun to play what-if. If you could be anyone else (real or fictional), who would it be?

I’d be Richard Castle from the TV show, Castle. He’s a successful writer, and this season got the hot babe detective, Beckett.

The serious answer is: I don’t know anyone else, real or fictional who has as good a life as I do, so I’d be myself.

Dana, this has been a terrific interview. You’ve put me off flying completely now, so thank you for that. And thank you for a great time.

Thank you, David, for this opportunity to tell readers more about myself. I appreciate it.

The Cover Up
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