Peter can tell you how to run a great marketing campaign. He can tell you everything there is to know about successful trade show programs. He can tell you stories about the thousands of people he has met, miles he has flown, hotel rooms he has stayed in, and ways to work the system to your advantage. Still, he can’t tell the woman he loves how he feels.
Peter in Flight is a novella by Paul Michael Peters designed to be the perfect read for a cross-country flight or extended layover. Life moves fast in this quick read about a “trade show guy” and a love he thinks he can never have.
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I’m in Vegas staying at the Hilton next to the convention center. There’s a place in the hotel called Star Trek: The Experience, based on the television series and movies. There are games and a Star Trek-themed bar along with artifacts from the show and a “virtual experience.”
Two years ago during COMDEX, the largest conference I attend, I made friends with a bartender at the Star Trek Experience. Dressed as an alien character called a Ferengi, with a large prosthetic forehead and enormous ears, he stands behind the bar on a riser. Once he is off the riser to grab a drink or walk the floor you realize he is five feet tall at best. I only know him as Phil the Ferengi, but he may be the best bartender I have ever met. He also owns a string of car washes.
“Hu-mon,” he greets me in character, “what can I get you? Drink? Holodeck? Games?”
“Hello Phil, good to see you again.”
“Ah, yes hu-mon, I thought I recognized you. What are you drinking tonight?”
“I’ll have a gin and tonic please.”
He steps up on his platform with the drink when he returns. I know I can talk to him because it’s a slow night and I know his name.
“How are your travels, hu-mon?”
“They’re good, thank you. How is your car wash?”
“They are very profitable. All of this desert dust can eat away at a car’s finish. But there’s also a new city ordinance; I have to “go green.”
“What will that mean for you?”
“I have to add these tanks that collect used water, then filter it, and use it again. They call it gray water.”
“I can imagine why.”
“Are you sad, hu-mon? Or tired? You don’t look well.”
“I’m losing sleep. I’ve never had this problem before. I can usually sleep anywhere, but in the last week I can’t get a full night.”
“What’s her name?”
“It’s that obvious?”
“It is usually women or money. What’s her name?”
“Tatiana. She is both unavailable and my obsession.”
Phil grabs the bottle of gin and puts in on the bar in front of me. “Do you know Plato?”
“The philosopher? A little.”
“Through Aristophanes, who was a peer of Plato’s, we know this one interesting story about early hu-mons. Hu-mons were not separate from one another, but were made in pairs. They had two heads, four arms, and four legs. And they wouldn’t walk around so much as they would roll around tucked up in a ball.”
“This is not Star Trek?”
“No, ancient Greek philosophers describing the earliest version of humankind.”
“So here they were—women and women, men and men, men and women—all sorts of these paired creatures rolling at great speed across the countryside of ancient Greece. The speed at which they move, the power they have, starts building confidence in humanity. The confidence turns to pride. And it’s with this pride, what the Greeks call hubris, that they decide they are better than the gods and try to overthrow them.”
A couple comes to the bar interrupting Phil and he takes their order. Once they are settled, he returns.
“So the hu-mons think they can conquer the gods. But when the hu-mons attack the gods, Zeus strikes them with such great power that he splits them all in two. Now the hu-mons are sad, desperate, and alone, and they start to kill themselves because they’re having a hard time without the warmth and comfort of one another. Some remove themselves from the community. Others get lost in the wilderness and are never seen again.”
“So what happens?”
“Zeus is wise. He and the other gods need the hu-mons to worship them. While they are asleep, he changes their bodies to what we know today, so that we walk upright and find it easy to reproduce.”
“Well, here’s the part that applies to you, sleepy hu-mon. After all of those changes, the gods left a memory, a longing inside each of them for their other half. That craving for the other half is instilled so deep inside, that we end up traveling the world searching to fill that absence. And when we are fortunate enough to find that other half, we know instantly—getting lost in the entwinement of friendship and love and intimacy—that we have finally found home. People like this will spend their whole lives together. If you ask them what they find attractive or appealing about one another, they can’t explain it—they just know it’s right.”
“It’s a beautiful idea, that something is missing from each of us, and we have to trust others to fill that. I guess the heart wants what the heart wants; there’s no getting around it.”
“Easier to say, but I like my story better.”
“Thanks for your time and the drinks,” I say, getting up.
“Any time, hu-mon. We’re always open.”
1.With this being your debut novel, what have you enjoyed most about the process?
For me the best part of writing is the resolution. There are challenges each character faces, the rise and fall of the plot, getting the language right and making certain it connects with the reader. Resolving these challenges are fun for me. They are emotionally rewarding. While “Peter in Flight” is the first thing I’ve published, I’ve spent years writing. There were times I would dream about certain characters after thinking about them all day. Or when something is complete, I’ll feel a real loss, just like when you read a good book and you don’t want it to end. I am writing about situations and characters I’ve come to enjoy and spend time with.
2.What have you enjoyed least?
While I enjoy the characters, plot, adventures, romance, and dialogue, I am not good at punctuation and grammar. It’s important. There are these rules that we all accept in a way to communicate with each other accurately, and I’m not good at them. I don’t have them memorized, and I can’t always tell what’s most accurate. It’s why I took time to find an editor that I liked, that I trusted, and that will be honest with me. I use Hollow Tree Literary Services, with Steve Bauer. It’s not something everyone would need or could use, but I do. Steve is someone I trust and can bounce ideas off of, and he is honest and generous in his feedback. He see’s things I don’t. Much of this comes from his time as a teacher, he has been witness to a lot of writing, and working with him I leverage experience I just don’t have.
3. Where do you like to do your writing?
For “Peter in Flight” in its final form, I was living in Toronto. Each weekend morning I had a ritual. First there was breakfast at this place called Hazel’s Diner. Canada’s idea of a diner is different than those in the US I find. Hazel’s had this small but wonderful menu. It was all about quality ingredients. This was in York Mills, a neighborhood on the North side of Toronto. A father ran the place with his daughter. It was small enough that I could listen in to other conversations over breakfast. I am awful for doing this I am sure, but some conversations other people have really make you think about what a character might say. How they perceive a situation. After breakfast, and some notes on where I left off, I would go over to a small coffeehouse and write for 3 – 4 hours straight. During the week, when I had free time, I would go back over what I’d put down the weekend before to clean up and reshape.
Today I do something similar, however I live in Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor is home to Zingerman’s coffee house, which for my money is the greatest coffee on the planet. I spend hours each weekend writing here, and then on weekdays, I go back over what I produced.
I’ve tried writing in other places, but coffee houses have a background noise that helps me to concentrate. The only other place I’ve found to be this productive is on a plane. During a four hour flight I can crank out lots of pages. It’s where I wrote the first draft of “Peter in Flight” over ten years ago. But it was a much different story in the early versions.
4. Have you looked to any particular authors as a guide for your own writing?
I have. After adding many books to my collection on writing, I find very few of them helpful. “Bird by Bird” was one of the first, and most helpful. After that I found them redundant. It was more productive for me to write. I wrote in different styles and formats, short story, novella, novel, and the more I write, the more I read, the better I think I get. But the books on writing were not insightful of inspiring outside of Lamott.
5.What are a few of your favorite books?
I am a bit odd when it comes to reading. No one has made me more interested in literature than W. Summerset Maugham, Steinbeck, Dickens, and Kipling. These are not the names many of my peers will tell you. Maugham was big, but it was generations ago. People today tell me they find him difficult to connect with. Maybe I was born at the wrong time as I connect with people from a different age.
6.What are you currently reading?
This is going to sound, I don’t know, pathetic was the first word to come to mind. But I am reading two books at the moment, Judy Bloom’s “Are you There God? It’s me Margaret” and “Night Owl” by M Peirce. The thing of it is, I don’t understand women. I would like to understand them better. I would like to be a better writer with a voice that reaches them. I never feel like I know what women want. I’m always concerned that what I write might be too pornographic when I was really looking for something steamy. This happened a few times in “Peter in Flight”, but in my current writing, “The Symmetry of Snowflakes” I am not letting this fear hinder me. I would rather have some one pull me back for having gone too far.
Fiction, literary fiction, is about escape. Readers want to forget about what’s going on that day, who they had to put up with, and what they have to go back to in the morning to pay the bills. Sometimes it’s the man in their life who doesn’t understand or get them, fails to rise to an occasion to meet the needs they have. For men, it’s similar, but I get what distracts them.
7. What is one thing that you’d like to share that most people wouldn’t think to ask?
Be nice to your fellow traveler. I travel all the time and it surprises me how many people think that because they have a first class seat, they are first class. Or others who are bubble people, those who only consider themselves when interacting with the rest of us. They don’t get that they are holding up others from getting off the plane because they need to adjust something, or can’t get their bag. People who are walking up a jet way, or in the airport, and just stop. It’s equal to being on a freeway and slamming on the breaks for no reason. We are all trying to get to a gate for departure, get home to the one’s we love, or to the bathroom because of all the water we drank on a flight. Be nice to your fellow traveler.
8. Do you have any advice for other writers hoping to put out their first book?
A lot of what I’ve done comes from practical experience. If I had the chance to write, “Peter in Flight” over, I would spend more time re-writing and get more people to provide feedback. Now that I’ve got a larger base of people I trust to read early drafts, I am using them for my next book, “The Symmetry of Snowflakes.” My friends who saw the early version of “Peter in Flight” were very kind and generous with their time, but I didn’t understand what I should listen to for comments or feedback. I have an editor at Hollow Tree, he has good advice, I should have considered it more, I should have taken more time to re-write. Part of that just comes with understanding the process, part of that is having enough confidence in what you are writing. You want it to be true and honest and good, but you need to make certain that is what the reading is gaining from it.
My first draft of “Peter in Flight” was over ten years ago. It was a very different story. I took into consideration what people said after reading it to shape the plot and characters into a better story. It’s an odd balance. You want to get it right, but you also want to put it out there. I could have spent another two months with the story, but I was also very interested in getting it out on the market.
9. What do you enjoy doing outside of writing?
Writing is my escape. I love writing. If I could afford to do it full time I would take it. Right now in my other free time, I am visiting all of the US Presidential museums. There are now two remaining on my list and I’ll have been to all of them. I’m doing this interview from Kansas City where I have just been to the museums for Ike and Truman, along with the WWI museum. My mom was a teacher, so every vacation had to include something educational, a stop at a historical sight, or something that would give you perspective in the world, like art appreciation, or science. So in my free time I like to learn or grow somehow. It’s just the way I was raised.
10.What can we expect from you next?
In the spring of 2014 you will be seeing a novel called, “The Symmetry of Snowflakes.” It’s about family.
Family is complex. The relationships we have with our family, the commitments we keep, and the choices we make to support that family is the heart of the story. There is a growing group of people who have parents on a second or third marriage. When they get together during the holiday’s there are multiple generations, several locations, and more expectations placed. Caring for these families can be complicated. The story is about John Hanson, who has a large family, and at times, the only one that others can turn to for help. He is trying to live his own life while helping his family during lean times.
Thank you for taking the time to interview me, and thank you for reading.
The pleasure was all mine! Thanks for sharing!! We’ll be watching for The Symmetry of Snowflakes!
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About the Author ~ Paul Michael Peters
Paul Michael Peters is an American fiction writer based out of Ann Arbor Michigan. After studying at the Second City in Chicago he spent extended periods of time living in Philadelphia and Toronto before returning home to his beloved big mitten shaped state. “Peter in Flight” is his debut work. You can follow him at paulmichaelpeters.com where he writes a blog called “Everywhere Man”.
“I wrote this story while I traveled extensively for work between 1998 and 2008 taking notes on the things that happened on each trip. I could not include all the good stories. Looking back on my time on the road, I always liked to think of myself as George Clooney from Up in the Air, but in reality, I was John Candy from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.”
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