A Journal is Like a Book of Poetry
And vice versa
As a commercial pilot flying floatplanes around the Canadian North, the inland passages of the West Coast, the islands of Fiji, the rain forests of Nigeria, the atolls of the Maldives and many other exotic places I have always been keen to record and share my experiences.
Pre-911 while flying as a passenger across the Pacific or the Atlantic I would get myself invited into the cockpit of B747s and A340s and keep the British Airlines, Lufthansa, Canadian Airlines or Air Canada pilots entertained with my seaplane flying stories. Universally and sincerely they would say, I’d love to do what you do.
On the other side of the coin, I started writing not to glorify what I do but because I have met so many people who enjoyed hearing my stories and said, you should write a book! For 38 years I have kept a personal (paper) journal and shot thousands and thousands of pictures. I found that keeping a journal and turning the recorded events and experiences into a story or article were a fairly easy transition. If you are inclined to keep a detailed journal that usually means you are inclined to spend some your evenings away from Walking Dead or Breaking Bad to write about those real life experiences. But writing a book and getting published are a whole different level of commitment. Even if you wrote a great article or book there is no guarantee it will get published.
I broke into the publishing world when my typewriter written story Floats and Frangipani-Life of a Bush Pilot in Fiji was published by Canadian Aviation in April of 1984. Hugh Whittington, the editor, wrote me a letter saying my story was a warm tropical breeze blowing across the icy slush of a late Canadian spring.
I wrote several other aviation articles over the years but since I was so involved in managing the air services that I worked for I did not have the time to do more than just write as a hobby. At $300 an article I would have to write at least 10 every month to make what I was making as a pilot. Besides flying for a living was much more exciting than writing about flying for a living. I wanted to find a way that I could do both and that meant finding a way to write and get published with the least amount of down time. Along came computers and the internet. I immediately recognized the digital world as the link between the now and the future.
To explore the digital revolution that was both defining and being defined by the word processing (typing and editing in one) computer programs in the mid ’80s, I bought a clunky 286 desktop PC with a 10MB hard drive from a company called MIND computer in Winnipeg and was immediately frustrated by the lack of graphic user support from the processor.
Using my MIND, however, I learned how to use MS-DOS, WordStar, WordPerfect and many of the other early computer programs that made writing and editing so much easier. When my wife went back to University in 1986 we “cut and pasted” on the computer as opposed to “scissored and scotched-taped” on the living room floor.
When the world wide web became user friendly in 1995 I bought a Compaq PC and geared up for the internet. I learned about dial-up protocols and TCP/IPs, Lynx and Mosaic, URLs and HTTPs, Archie and Veronica, Gopher and FTP. The new frontier was dynamic and littered with start-ups, failures and few successes. What I discovered, moreover, was that the WWW started with a whole lot of nothing; with sites that listed sites that listed links that in the end had no content. My wife kept saying that the web was the best place to go if you wanted to find nothing.
In early 1996 I had decided to help change that. I planned to combine my writing and photography skills and publish my own Bush Pilot on-line magazine. I named my e-zine Virtual Horizons because, from a pilot’s view, when flying along at altitude the horizon would continually appear but would never materialize. As in a web site… not physically existing as such but made by software to appear to do so.
In March of 1996 I bought my own domain. I settled for eBushPilot.com because virtualhorizons.com and bushpilot.com were already taken by speculators. After living and working in “under developed” countries where communication was so difficult, however, I liked the idea of having a website magazine that catered to those of us who were electronically connected. The electronic bush pilot!
To develop the initial web page content I scanned Kodak Kodachrome 64 slides using a Nikon Cool Scan. I then “borrowed” a set of 5 floppy disks with Adobe Photoshop 1.0 to edit my scanned and digitized analog images and FTP downloaded a little known program called Picasa onto a floppy to optimize the scanned images for the internet. As the dial up was pretty slow it was critical to have highly optimized images that still had good resolution. I still have many of those original images on my website today which I have not been able to improve on even when using Photoshop CS6.
I quickly adopted Netscape Navigator 1.0 (originally Mosaic) as my browser of choice because it supported img tags and posting of images on the internet in a way that did not interfere with downloading the text. The reader could start reading the text almost immediately while waiting for the image to load. To me text was crucial, to provide content rich stories and articles, but images were the prize of the web.
I learned, from HTML 2.0 and up, to code my own web sites and used notepad to control the quality of my code. I also learned to make all my own place holding images such as headers and horizontal bars. I designed my own web site logo on MS Paint which still adorns my original web site today. This might not sound like much but I was also working as a full time pilot and manager for the flight operations in remote locations where even telephones were a luxury.
Finally when it was all ready I uploaded all the .htm, .jpg and .gif files using WS_FTP to the root directory and fired up my first on-line story. The Eleventh Hour: Adventures Around the Arctic Circle was published on May 30th, 1996.
When Dan Good, my web Guru who encouraged me to publish online, and I searched the web there was only one other public web site catering to aviation at the time. I can’t prove it but as far as we could find using web searches of the time Virtual Horizons was the second ever aviation themed web site on the world wide web. Embry-Riddle University had a student site, but that was it.
Virtual Horizons grew quickly with additions of articles, book reviews, images and stories of bush flying. I did all of the writing and coding as I discovered most pilots and people in general were not writers and didn’t know HTML from Hotmail. Most young pilots still used their mom’s or their girlfriend’s email address to communicate. As pilots discovered email and the rest of the world-wide-web I started getting emails requesting information about aviation jobs and training. Initially I answered all these emails myself but to help pilots find answers without me doing all the work I started a Bulletin Board and a Chat Room.
I also programmed a Bush Pilot Registry using .asp code where the pilots could securely log in and upload their professional and personal information. The registry allowed members to search for other pilot’s email addressed and for companies to search for pilots who’s experience matched their job requirements. That was way back in 1997-98.
Later I added a “professional” site within the e-zine called The Bush Pilot Company as my bush pilot business grew. I programmed and offered downloadable Excel based Weight and Balance programs for popular aircraft and electronically formatted Safety Briefing Cards, along side knowledge based articles about How to Take the Bush out of the Bush Pilot and How to Start Your Own Airline in 30 Days or Less.
All of these services became very active in the early days and stayed busy until I could no longer support them when the Dot Net boom and bust created a huge migration and transition of hosting companies. When one hosting company bought out another they would migrate the data base and then not initialize it. That would crash my chat room, bulletin board and registry and because I was away in the Maldives or Nigeria or South Africa I would not know about it until weeks later. After this happened at least 6 times I gave up.
Shortly after that Facebook and LinkedIn took off and I realized that using existing social networks was a better solution for most pilots than me trying to support a non-profit social service for pilots.
The digital world has evolved almost beyond recognition and it’s tough to keep up. I found that I didn’t have the time to write long involved articles to support Virtual Horizons but I was writing shorter articles and taking thousand of pictures during my travels. In 2005 I started a web album Travelographer using PicasaWeb as the host and a personal blog Pilot Blog Book using Word Press which I contribute to monthly or as often as possible in order to keep my web content up to date and current. I added Facebook and LinkedIn to keep in touch with different social circles and Twitter to let my friends and family know what I was up to in real time.
Google, which developed link based web searches and became the world’s largest search engine in 2000, is continuing to take over from where others have left off and forge new relationships. They bought Blogger and Picasa and launched content-targeted advertising using their “search input” data source and web site analytics to better understand how the entire world thinks and Google Maps to map the demographics of where we are all at.
With Google Chat and Gmail and Chrome to map and control the flow of communications, all they need now is the combined processing power of the internet to turn this data into understanding and the internet can finally become the A.I. we all have been told to loath and fear.
Where we end up next only the future will tell. Google is certainly making all the right moves to prove that programmers, those with imagination and entrepreneur drive, will one day take over the world. I don’t fear the future. We will have what we have, pollution and global extinctions included, unless we make the necessary changes. One digit at a time.
Managing a website has been an 18 year labour of dogged dedication without a lot of reward. I have been the web site designer, programmer, editor and publisher throughout with no outside help what-so-ever. In other words, Virtual Horizons and the Pilot Blog Book, has been 100% self published. And it shows.
By today’s social content standards, my web sites are not updated nearly enough to keep the visitors actively coming back and as a result I have never made any money directly from the sites. No magazine could last more than 3-4 months without advertising revenues, but that is not the reason for my web presence. These sites advertise myself and my services and, along with word-of-mouth advertising, I manage to pull in jobs from all over the world.
As I already mentioned, in trying to keep the web content current I started publishing this Pilot’s Blog Book, a kind of electronic journal, which I have contributed to monthly since 2005. Traffic is up on my blog but that does not translate to my professional web sites. I enjoy the blogging, for my own reasons, but the web-based publishing concept still lacks the solid feeling of permanence I get from holding a printed and bound book. It’s not the answer to, Captain, you should write a book!
Several of my internet articles were originally or eventually published in books and magazines but I was not directly involved in publishing the printed versions. I merely sent in the images and stories and got paid. In these cases the stories or articles were well received but to move toward publishing a book was still a big step away.
In two cases, where I was involved in publishing books, one technical and one of travel stories, I decided to volunteer my writing and editing time to help produce these books to learn more about publishing. In other words, I farmed myself out as an apprentice. I learned that although each book takes a lot of work, cooperation and dedication there was no reason I could not do this on my own.
My first publishing cooperation was with the University of Texas (PETEX) where I worked as the subject matter expert, photographer, co-writer and co-editor for a text-book written for offshore oil workers titled Helicopter Safety.
To ensure the highest possible quality, PETEX receives guidance from subject-matter experts throughout the oil and gas industry who generously assist in creating and updating our books, making our books and training programs industry staples since 1944.
Publications :: Petroleum Extension Service.
The second book was a travel book titled Compass Companions: A Collection of Canadian Travel Stories that featured one of my stories as well as the introduction. On this book I worked one-on-one with the compiler’s team of editors who tuned up my writing and in the process tuned me up as an editor. In the end I wasn’t interested in promoting the book myself because most of the other stories were simply not in the same genre. I found it difficult to promote the flying adventure part of my writing along side knitting, cooking and How my Rich Husband and I Suffered During our Diplomatic Posting in Moscow stories.
The only way forward, it seemed to me, was to go the same route with hard copy printing as I have with my websites virtual printing. Do it yourself. With such amazing advances in self-publishing I could now have full control from start to finish without having to buy a printing press.
There are several good companies doing self publishing but for several good reasons, including the fact that they are Canadian, I choose FriesenPress. They have a system that works for self publishers like myself who don’t have the time to dedicate themselves fully to the process. Their schedule keeps me inline and keeps the production on schedule. But at the same time it was fully up to me to do the work and make the decisions. I called the shots.
So for my first attempt at “traditional” publishing I decided to re-publish my original book of poetry; a process I had been so disappointed with the first time around. Originally published by a University of Manitoba associated press called Pachyderm Press, I was pleased to be recognized as an author with an ISBN but at the same time the fact I had no control over the process left me feeling that the book wasn’t mine. It certainly wasn’t something I was proud to promote.
In the classic world of poetry the words stand on their own. So the original publisher over rode my request for adding the photographs that inspired or accompanied the poems by saying that images would mislead the reader. Thus, with no images, no attractive book cover and no marketing the drab little chapbook sat quietly on the McNally Robinson book rack like a plain brown wren. I learned that it wasn’t about the writing but rather it was about the marketing. Despite the lack of marketing the sales manager told me it was selling briskly for a book of poetry and in a matter of a few months they had sold out the 300 copies. By that time the book publisher had folder up and that was that. No second run.
So this second coming is to be my redemption. These poems are stories that I have told in smoky bars and Christmas parties and to Air Canada Captains as we crossed the glaciers of Greenland. These are not structured as traditional poems, such as sonnets or rhyming couplets, but each poem is like an entry out of my Journal. A moment in time captured by an impression and expressed using the spoken word on white paper. Like poetic entries in my journal each tells a story about a day or an event that has touched my life and the lives around me. My wife jokingly calls it my book of Poentry.
I completed the final edit and I hope to have the book published and on shelves within the next couple of months. Click on the link below for more information on the publishing date and how to order your copy when it comes out.