As we enter the final countdown to the launch (pun intended) of my third novel, Up and Down, many people have been asking me about the origins of this story. (I have written about it before on the Indigo Fiction blog.) Well, in no small part, you can trace the roots of Up and Down back to Neil Armstrong, who passed away this weekend. On July 20, 1969, my twin brother Tim and I were on a remote 20 acre island in the southwest arm of Lake Temagami, about 100 kilometres north of North Bay, Ontario. We were nine years old, and our annual three week stint at our beloved Camp White Bear was drawing to a close. Late that night, the entire camp gathered in the main lodge. The younger campers, my brother and I included, were in our pyjamas and had brought our sleeping bags with us to spread out on the hard wooden floor of the lodge. A small, portable black and white television, the only one on the island, was set up next to the fireplace, with wobbly rabbit ears festooned with enough tin foil to encase a year’s worth of leftovers. As the evening wore on, many of our cabin mates fell asleep, but I was wide awake. I could look over my shoulder through the front window of the lodge and see the glowing moon hanging in the black sky.
Shortly before 11:00 p.m., thankfully, a couple of hours earlier than the official NASA schedule dictated, Neil Armstrong opened the hatch of the Lunar Module and stepped out onto what they literally called the “porch.” As soon as he pulled a lanyard to unfold and turn on the TV camera mounted to the side of the landing vehicle, a ghostly image materialized on the screen of that black and white television. I could actually see Neil Armstrong standing there at the top of the ladder. I looked again over my shoulder at the moon, and then quickly back to the TV. It didn’t seem possible, yet I believed it to my core. Then, he calmly descended the ladder, and after pausing on the last rung, finally stepped onto the surface of the moon. Neil Armstrong was standing on the moon, a different celestial body from where I sat, over 250,000 miles away. It was hard for my brain to process then. It’s still hard to fathom it now.
In that instant, something changed for me. Something clicked. Something shifted. It ignited in me a burning interest in space and all things flight-related. Over the intervening years, that fire has sometimes been a raging inferno, other times just a flickering flame. But that fire has always been there, and still is. It fuels the tale told in Up and Down. (In fact, a version of this camp story appears in Chapter 3 of the novel, although it’s been transplanted to rural Mississippi.) I’ve always believed that writers are at their best when they write about things they know about, care about, or most of all, are passionate about. It’s why I tend to write about things that have consumed me in my life. (It also cuts down on the need for research!) So when it came time to write a novel that was not about politics, it was completely logical, perhaps even predictable to those who know me well, to set it in the world of public relations, against the backdrop of the space program. Write what you know. Write what you love. Write what fascinates you.
More than forty years ago, Neil Armstrong helped set me on the path to writing Up and Down. It’s almost surreal that he’s gone now. I guess I just assumed that the first of our species to complete such an epic journey and set foot on the moon, would somehow live forever. For me, he will…