Today, I’m talking with Larry Partridge, retired pilot and author of just-released novel, Kindred Spirits, a story of “magical realism.” In this book, an American pilot flying relief missions into war-torn Cambodia deliberately crashes his airplane to avoid hitting a group of orphaned children. To his shock, he discovers he can see, hear and experience what’s happening around him, but-he’s dead. An Apsara, a Buddhist guardian angel, rewards the pilot by saving his spirit. He may become mortal again when he wishes, but cannot return to family or friends. This is story of adventure, intrigue, and love.
Larry, this novel is based somewhat on your own experiences flying relief missions into Cambodia during the mid-70s. You’ve published your memoir of this time in Flying Tigers Over Cambodia. What inspired you to write this novel?
One evening in Saigon, over a cold one, a fellow ricelift pilot asked me what my closest call had been so far. I said on March 11th, during take-off, a 105mm artillery round hit the runway 100 yards ahead of us. He said 100 yards was not close at all … he and his crew had seen several while at the ramp less than 50 yards away. I took a sip of my cold Tiger beer, then explained we were traveling at 120 miles per hour. Translate speed into time and you have a miss of two seconds. If we had started our take-off just two seconds earlier? He admitted … that was close, very close.
How did you learn about the mythology of the Apsara?
Later on, another pilot who was literate in the religious beliefs of Southeast Asians, told me about Buddhist deities called Apsaras who guided the spirits of heroes who had fallen while protecting the innocent. My close call was still very much on my mind. The innocents were a group of war orphans who lived off the end of the airport runway. If we had taken the hit and had tried to abort the take-off, we would have run right through the area occupied by the orphans. My novel grew from those seeds.
Is your hero, Pete Peterson, based on you?
Yes, has to be. I think in fiction the writer only knows what he or she would do when exposed to an extreme situation.
Have you always been interested in writing? How did you get started?
I finally got an A in high school English. The grade and admiration I received from classmates, especially the young ladies, felt pretty good. I took up writing for the school newspaper (even printed it myself in shop) and later wrote some stuff for the Air Force when I did a tour there. Since then, I have written columns for magazines, mostly aviation related and collected a bit of cash for that.
There’s an interesting story to your cover image. Will you share that with us?
My youngest son has studied graphic arts and agreed to do the cover designs for my novel. He was searching for images of airplane accidents when he saw a photo on the front page of The London Times. It was spectacular but he would have rejected it as it was not the same type of airplane in my story. However, when he glanced at an ad beside the photo he saw it was a dating service called “Kindred Spirits.” We had to use that. An added bonus was the fact that though the airplane was totally destroyed by fire, all aboard escaped with no injuries. This fact meant we could use it with only the photographer’s permission. There were no family members to be offended or hurt.
Tell us why you decided to do Print-on-Demand publishing with Amazon’s program.
Booksurge looked good but I decided to try “Create Space.” CS was difficult because I had to learn how to publish a book as I went along. My only investment was paying for three book proofs. It is a print-on-demand service run by Amazon. I keep all rights to my work and the royalties are excellent.
Do you have advice for others who might want to pursue that route?
It is not easy, or at least it wasn’t for me. I have two capable editors who were paid, but I had several moments where I wondered if I could put together something that looked halfway professional. I think it worked okay. There are still a couple or three errors that I missed but I don’t think I have ever read a book written by anybody that haven’t had at least a few.
When did you develop your interest in flying?
Probably a couple of months before I was born. My mother was a private pilot and Secretary/Treasurer of the Felts Field Flying club in Spokane, Washington. She blamed me for grounding her when the combination of morning sickness and exhaust gases in the open cockpit became too much. My father was not medically fit for the Army Air Force in WWII but was a civilian maintenance test pilot at a depot just west of Spokane. I had three uncles who flew during that war. One was shot down over Germany and spent over a year in a Stalag. I spent a lot of time around airplanes and started official flying lessons when I was fourteen years old. Paper route money got me a half-hour of flying a month. A stint in the USAF as a navigator, then flying charters for the then new Kenmore Air Harbor. Alaska bush pilot was next, then Alaska Airlines. Then, during a lay off at Alaska, I was in flight test at Boeing. Flying Tigers (airline) took me in and 22 years later, I retired. A very good life.
How did you get involved in the Cambodian relief project?
We were on a scheduled run from Manila, in the Philippines, to Bangkok with a stop in Saigon, South Vietnam. At Saigon, we were told that there was a DC-8 loaded with 96,000 lbs of rice there, but the crew scheduled to fly that airplane to Phnom Penh, Cambodia was stuck in Anchorage, Alaska because of weather problems. Could we leave this flight for the other crew and fly the rice to Cambodia early the next morning? The next words made it impossible to refuse … our agent told us there were literally thousands of people starving to death. There were rumors of cannibalism. Some were eating freshly killed victims of the war there. We went to the hotel in Saigon then, after a short sleep rose at five in the morning to fly our first load of rice to Phnom Penh.
How many missions did you fly?
What are the rest of your crew doing these days?
They’re not. Two committed suicide and the other died of complications from emphysema. Heavy smoker. I wondered in my book about the operation if we had done any good. I received a very nice letter from a gentleman named Sody Li, Director of The Cambodian Institute at UCLA. He stated our efforts had saved several thousand from starvation and allowed them to escape to Thailand. Too bad this news was so late in coming. I think my two friends would have not taken their lives after hearing that.
You’re still an active pilot. What kind of planes do you fly?
A couple of Cessna light aircraft and occasionally a really neat turboprop … very fast.
You’ve had a fascinating life, Larry. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Kindred Spirits and Flying Tigers Over Cambodia are both available on Amazon.com