…Nazi Germany’s era as the only commercial supplier of transatlantic air travel came to a spectacular end.
Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon has been one of those books deep in my to-read list since I first read reviews of it in 1982, but I’m just getting around to reading it now. Imagine my surprise this morning when I ran across the following passage in that book (on page 370/location 6798 of the Kindle version) as the author enters New Jersey’s Pine Barrens.
It isn’t widely known in America that the descendants of Jolly Roger pirates put an end to dirigible flight. So I heard at breakfast in a diner.
As someone who did a little bit of research about the event that ended airship travel for my own 2014 novel Fire Answers Fire, the story about offspring of pirates bringing down the Hindenburg was new to me, but here are the details, as related to William Least Heat-Moon by a diner companion in a loud shirt.
“Let me tell you about the Pines,” he said. “Maybe you heard of the Hindenburg — the zeppelin — but I’ll let you in on the true story of what really happened. I’ve lived here all my life, and I know what happened even if the government said they didn’t know.”
The gist was this: a storm forced the Hindenburg into a holding pattern (that was a fact I could check out). The airship, only a few hundred feet off the ground, circled central New Jersey for two hours. Lakehurst, where it was trying to land, is on the edge of the Pines, and everyone knows Pineys don’t tolerate anyone poking into their woods. They figured the zeppelin was a government ship looking for their stills where they turn blueberries into whiskey, so they shot at the thing and opened leaks in the fabric. By the time the Hindenburg started to tie up, there was enough free hydrogen to blow the ship to kingdom come, which it did.
“The official explanation was St. Elmo’s fire,” he said. “Static electricity. St. Elmo never in his life set fire to any aircraft. People can believe it was anti-Nazi sabotage if they want, but I’m telling the truth. It was potshots by the Pineys, and it was nothing new. They’re descendants of pirates and smugglers who ran into the woods to hide. Mixed in with a few Tories and Hessians.”
Really, I’m not kidding! This is an official TRIGGER WARNING from the author!
If you have been a personal victim of anti-Nazi terrorism, traumatized by too many YouTube videos of the burning Hindenburg, or been otherwise affected by deeply contemplating the tragic cover image on Led Zeppelin’s first album while high, then the novel Fire Answers Fire could conceivably trigger something or other. Don’t buy or read my novel. Or maybe the decade of the 1930s or New York City or questions of suicide or ubiquitous radio waves or family secrets trigger feelings of … well, feelings of something. Really, who would want to read anything that might trigger something?
As ridiculous and embarrassing as this whole new warning fad is at the university level, does anyone else get the feeling that bright red TRIGGER WARNING labels on books could be as effective a marketing tool for literature as ‘Parental Advisory’ stickers on CDs that use the word ‘fuck’ were for the music industry and ‘NSFW’ labels are for websites that feature celebrity wardrobe malfunctions? It’s certainly worth a try.
Last month I suggested a soundtrack for Chapter 2. Today, May 6, 2014 is the 77th anniversary of the burning of the Hindenburg over Lakehurst, New Jersey, so here’s a musical suggestion for Chapter 9 of Fire Answers Fire, “Under the Falling Sky,” the section of the novel during which that key event takes place.
This video is a live performance of Steve Reich’s Hindenburg, Act I from Three Tales:
This amateur video of a live performance in Novosibirsk jumps from the screen showing Beryl Korot’s video to the small orchestra to the Russian audience, but it may drive some of you to check out the 2003 CD/DVD version for the clean audio and video of this Hindenburg section of Three Tales as well as Acts II and III, Bikini (the atoll) and Dolly (the cloned sheep).
(Oh, and if you’re reading this on May 6, check out the Coupon tab up above for a special Hindenburg-day $0.99 coupon.)
To the left is one early draft cover design for Fire Answers Fire showing the 1937 burning of the Hindenburg and to the right is the current cover based on the 1934 cover of Ernst Toller’s autobiography.
The question is, with the official May Day publication only an hour away at all major ebook outlets, did I choose correctly? Would sales benefit from a little touch of the famous ol’ flames and terror?
Which also brings up the question of the title (which, for me, is no question at all). There is an abandoned (and fictional) Toller play within the novel entitled Fire Answers Fire that sparks this conversation in Chapter 12, “And Happy Endings with Dead Villains”:
“Well, there’s nothing I’d rather hear than the songs that weren’t written for Fear Answers Fear.”
“Fire Answers Fire.”
“What did I say?”
“Fear. Fear Answers Fear. It was a mistake Grandpa made too, wasn’t it? Maybe that shows it wasn’t the best — or even a good — working title. Wasn’t very memorable. Maybe it should have been something like I Blew Up the Hindenburg!!, so the audience would know exactly what it was gonna be getting.”
Would I Blew Up the Hindenburg!! attract more readers than Fire Answers Fire?
If so, is attracting the “wrong” readers a bad thing? (And can any paying customers be considered the “wrong” customers?)
Coming on May 1, 2014 to e-book retailers and available for pre-order now. It can currently be pre-ordered at Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and at the iTunes store.